And then a ridiculous thing happened. They came to relieve my good old gendarme, with whom, ungrateful egotist that I am, I did not even shake hands. Another took his place; a man with a low forehead, heavy features, and stupid countenance.
Beyond this I paid no attention, but seated myself at the table, my forehead resting on my hands, and my mind troubled by thought.
A light touch on my shoulder made me look round. It was the new gendarme, with whom I was alone.
This is about the way he addressed me: "Criminal, have you a kind heart?"
"No!" answered I.
The abruptness of my answer seemed to disconcert him. Nevertheless, he began again hesitatingly:
"People are not wicked for the pleasure of being so."
"Why not?" answered I. "If you have nothing but that to say to me, leave me in peace. What are you driving at?"
[P. 143] I beg your pardon, criminal" he anwered; "I will only say two words, which are these: If you could cause the happiness of a poor man, and vhat it cost you nothing, would you not do so?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Have you just come from Charnston? Surely, you cannot allude to me, as having power to confer happiness?
He lowered his voice and assumed a mysterious air, which ill-suited with his idiotic countenance.
"Yes, criminal, yes,--happiness! fortune!" whispered he; "all this can come to me through you. See, I am a poor gendarme; the service is heavy, the pay is light; my horse is my own and ruins me. So I put into the lottery as a counterbalance. Hitherto I have only missed by not having the right numbers; I am always very near them. If I buy 76, number 77 comes out. Have a, little patience, if you please, I have almost done. Well, here is a lucky opportunity forme. It appears, criminal, begging your pardon, that you are to be executed to-day. It is a certain fact that the dead who are destroyed that. way, see the lottery before it is drawn on earth. Promise that your spirit shall appear to me to-morrow evening, to give me three numbers, three good ones, eh? What trouble will it [p. 144] be to you? and I am not afraid of ghosts. Be easy on that point. There is my address: Caserne Popincourt, escalier A, No. 26, the end of the corridor. You will know me again, won't you? Come even to-night, if it suits you better."
I would have disdained to reply to such an imbecile, if a mad hope had not crossed my mind. In my desperate position, there are moments when one fancies that a chain may be broken by a hair.
"Listen," said I to him, acting my part as well, as a dying wretch could. "I can indeed render thee richer than tlie king. I can make thee gain millions--on one condition."
He opened, his stupid eyes.
"What? what? I will doanything to please you, criminal."
"Then instead of three numbers I promise to tell you four. Change coats with me."
"Oh! is that all?" cried he, undoing the first hooks of his uniform cheerfully.
I rose from my chair; I watched all his movements with a beating heart. I already fancied, the doors opening before the uniform of a gendarme; and then the prison--the street--the Palais de Justice--left far behind me!
But suddenly he turned round with indecision.
"I say,--it is not to get out of here?''
[P. 145] I saw that all was lost; nevertheless, I tried one last effort, useless as it was foolish!
"Yes, it is," said I to him; "but as thy fortune will be made..."
He interrupted me.
"Ah! no, indeed! stop! my numbers! To make them good, you must be dead, you know,
I sat down again, silent, and more desponding, from all the hope that I had conceived.
[P. 146] XXXIII.
I shut my eyes, covered them with my hands, and sought to forget the present irt the past. In a rapid reverie, the recollections of childhood and youth came back one by one, soft, calm, smiling, like islands of flowers on the black gulf of confused thoughts which whirled through my brain.
I was again a child; a laughing, healthy schoolboy, playing, running, shouting with my brothers, in the broad green walks of the old enclosure dominated by the leaden dome of Val-de-Grâce, where my first years were passed.
And then, four years later, behold me there again, still a child, but a passionate dreamer. And there is a young girl in the solitary garden.
The little Spaniard, with large eyes and long hair, her dark polished skin, her rosy lips and cheeks, the Andalusian of fourteen, Pepa.
Our mothers had told us to "go and run together," we had come forth to walk.
They had told us to play, but we had talked instead, children of the same age but not of the same sex.
Only the year before, we used to play, and quarrel, and dispute together. I tyrannized [p. 147] over Pepita for the best,apple in the orchard; I beat her for a bird's nest. She cried; I scolded her, and we went to complain of each other to our mothers.
Now she was leaning on my arm, and I felt proud and softened. We walked slowly, and we spoke low. I gathered for her some flowers, and our hands trembled on meeting. She spoke to me of the birds; of the sky above us, of the crimson sunset behind the trees, or else of her schoolfellows, her gown and ribbons. We talked in innocence, but we both blushed. The child had grown into a young girl.
That evening, a summer night, we were walking under the chestnut trees, at the end of the garden. After a long silence she suddenly dropped my arm and said: "Let us romp!"
I can see her yet; she was all in black, inmourning for her grandmother. A childish idea had come into her head and she had said: "Let us romp!"
And she began to run ahead of me; she with her wasp-like waist and her little feet throwing her dress half way up her leg. I followed her; she flew; the breeze sometimes lifting her black cape, showing me her brown and shining back.
I was beside myself. I at last captured her; and, like a conqueror, took her by the belt [p. 148] and made her sit down on s bench. She was breathless and smiling. I was very serious, and gazed at her black eyes through their dark lashes.
"Sit down there," said she, "there is still daylight; let, us read something. Have you a book?
I happened to :have the second volume of the Voyages de Spallanzani with me. I drew near her, and opened it by chance. She leaned her shoulder against mine, and we began to read the same page. Before turning the leaf, she was always obliged to wait for me.My mind was less quick than hers.
"Have you finished? she would ask, when I had only just commenced.
Then our heads leaned together, our hair mixed, our breath gradually mingled, and at last our lips met.
When we again thought of continuing our reding, it was starlight.
"Oh! Mamma, mamma," said she on our return, "if you knew how we have romped!"
I was silent.
"You say nothing," said my mother, '"you look sad."
I had paradise in my heart.
It was an evening which I will remember all my life.
All my life!
[P. 149] XXXIV.
The clock had'just struck some hour, I do not know which. I do not hear the stroke plainly. I seem to have the peal of an organ in my ears. It is the confusion of my last thoughts.
At this supreme moment, when I look back over the events of life, I recall my crime with horror; but I would like to have still longer to repent it. I felt more remorse before my condemnation: since then it seems as if there were no space, but for thoughts of death. But now, how I wish to repent thoroughly. When I had lingered for a minute on what had passed in my life, and then came back to the thought of its approaching termination, I shuddered as at something new. My happy childhood! my fair youth! a golden web with its end stained! Between then and now there is a river of blood; the blood of another mingled with my own.
If any read my history, after so many years of innocence and happiness, they will not believe in this execrable year, which began by a crime, and will close with an execution; it would appear impossible.
[P. 150] And besides, miserable laws and miserable men! I was not ill-disposed.
Oh! to die in a few hours, and to think that a year ago, on this same day, I was innocent and at liberty, enjoying autumn walks, wandering beneath the trees tramping through the leaves!
[P. 151] XXXV.
To think that in this same moment, there are, in the houses which encircle
the Palais de Justice and the Grève, men coming and going, laughing
and talking; reading newspapers, thinking of business; shopkeepers selling
their wares, young girls preparing their ball-dresses for the evening; and
playing with their children!
[P. 152] XXXVI.
I remember once, when a child, going alone to see the belfry of Nôtre-Dame.
I was already giddy from having ascended the dark winding staircase, from having crossed the slight open gallery which unites the two towers, and. from having seen Paris beneath my feet, when I entered the cage of stone and wood-work where the great bell is hung.
I advanced with trembling steps over the ill-joined planks, examining at a distance that bell, so famous amongst the children and the people of Paris; and it was not without terror that I observed the slated pent-houses, which surrounded the belfry with inclined planes, were just on a level with my feet. Through the openings I saw, in a bird's-eye view, the Place du Parvis--Nôtre-Dame beneath, and the ant-like passers-by.
Suddenly the enormous bell rang; its deep vibration shook the air, making the heavy tower rock. The flooring started from the beams. The noise nearly upset me. I tottered, ready to fall, and seemed on the point of slipping over the pent-houses, In an agony [p. 153] of terror, I lay down on the planks, pressing them closely with both my arms, speechless, breathless, with this formidable sound in my ears, and beneath my eyes this precipice, this profound abyss, where so many quiet and envied passers were walking.
Well! it appears to me, as if I were again in that belfry. All my senses seem again giddy and dazzled: the booming of that bell seems to press on my brain, and around me I no longer see that tranquil and even life which I had quitted, and where other men walk still, except from a distance, and beyond a terrible abyss.
[P. 154] XXXVII.
The Hotel de Ville is a sinister edirice. With its sharp steep roof, its bizarre clock-tower, its great white dial, its tiers of little columns, its thousand windows, its foot-worn stairways, its arches to the right and the left, it is there, on a level with the Grève: sombre and funereal, its face all:wrinkled with age, and so black, that it is black in full daylight.
On days of execution, it vomits forth gendarmes from all its doors, and stares at the condemned with all its windows.
And at night, the dial, showing the hour, is the only light on its black façade.
[P. 155] XXXVIII.
It is a quarter past one.
The following are my sensations at present:
A violent pain in my head, my frame chilled, my forehead burning. Evdry time that I rise, or bend forward, it seems to me that there is a fluid floating in my head, which makes my brain beat violently against the bone.
I have convulsive tremblings, and from time to time my pen falls from my hand as if by a galvanic shock.
My eyes sting as though full of smoke.
I suffer greatly in all my limbs.
Only two hours and forty-five minutes more and I will be cured.
[P. 156] XXXIX.
They say that it is, nothing, that one does not suffer, that it is an easy end; that death in this why is very much simplified.
Ah! then, what do they call they call this agony of six weeks, this summing up in one day? What then is the anguish of this irreparable day, which is passing so slowly and yet so fast? What is this ladder of tortures which terminates in the scaffold?
So this is not suffering.
Are not the convulsions the same whether life is taken away drop by drop, or intellect extinguished thought by thought?
And then, they say one does not suffer, but are they sure? Who told them so? Has a cut off head ever stood on the edge of the basket and cried to the people: That does not hurt!
Are there any who have been killed in this way who have come back to give thanks and say: "It is a great invention. You can depend on it. The mechanism is perfect."
Was it Robespierre? Was it Louis XVI?...
No! less than a minute, less than a second, and the thing is done. None have ever, [p. 157] except in mind, been in place of the one who is there, at the moment when the heavy knife falls, cutting the flesh, tearing the nerves, and breaking the vertebrae...But what of it! only half a second!The pain is avoided in horror!
[P. 158] XL.
It is singular that my mind so often reverts to the king. Whatever I do, there is always a voice within me which says:
"There is, in this same town, at this same hour, and not far from hence, in another Palais, a man who also has guards to all his gates, a man alone, like thee, in the crowd, with this difference, that he is as high, as thou art low. His entire life is glory, grandeur, delight. All around him is love, respect, veneration. The loudest voices become low in speaking to him, and the proudest heads are bent. Everything about him is gold and silk. At this moment he is holding a council of ministers, where all coincide with his opinions. Or else he thinks of the chase tomorrow,--or the ball for this evening, feeling certain that the fête will come, and leaving to others the trouble of his pleasures. Well! this man is of flesh and blood like thee! And in order that at this instant the scaffold should fall, and thou be restored to life, liberty, fortune, family, it would only be requisite for [p. 159] him to write with this pen the seven letters of his name at the foot of a piece of paper; or even that his carriage should meet thy fatal cart! And he is good, and perhaps would like nothing better, and yet it will not be done!
[P. 160] XLI.
Well, then! Let us have courage with death, take this horrible idea and consider it face to face. Ask what it is, seek to know what it wants, turn it over in our minds, fathom the enigma and look ahead into the tomb.
It seems to me that, with my eyes closed, I see a great abyss of light in which my spirit revels with ease. It seems that heaven will be so luminous that the stars, instead of being brilliant points of gold on black velvet, will appear like black points on cloth of gold.
Or, wretch that I am, it will perhaps be a hideous gulf, bottomless, the walls of which will be hung with black, into which I will fall, and keep falling forever. Or, on rising after the blow, I will perhaps find myself on some great damp plain, where my head will roll about. It seems now as though a strong wind drove it here and there, jotted about by other rolling heads. There will be marshes and brooks of some unknown and fetid liquid; all will be black. When my eyes, in the rolling, are turned upwards, they will see nothing but the black heavens above; they will also [p. 161] see, darting about in the night, little red sparks, which, on approaching will become birds of fire. And it will be thus through all eternity.
It may also happen that at certain dates the victims of the Grève
will assemble on dark nights on the place which is theirs. It will be a pale
and bloody crowd, and I will not escape being one of it. There will be no
moon and all will speak under their breath. The Hotel de' Ville will be there
with its worm-eaten façade and its pitiless dial. A hellish guillotine
will be there, upon which a demon will
execute an executioner; it will be at four in the morning. We in our turn will be in the surrounding crowd.
It will probably be in this way. But if the dead come back, in what shape
will return? Who will have their incomplete and mutilated bodies? Will they
have their choice? Will it be the head or the trunk which will be the spectre?
Alas! what does death do with our soul? What is left of it? Does death sometimes
lend its eyes so that it may look down on the earth and weep?
Ah! A priest! A priest who knows all this! I want a priest, and a crucifix to kiss!
My God, always the same one!
[P. 162] XLII.
I begged him to let me sleep; and I threw myself on the bed.
In fact, I had a rush of blood to the head, which made me sleep. It was my last sleep of that kind.
I dreamed that it was night. It seemed to me that I was in my room with two or three of my friends, I do not know whom.
My wife was lying in her bedroom, asleep, beside her child.
We were talking in loud tones, my friends and I, and what we were speaking of was frightful.
Suddenly it seemed to me I heard some some in the other room; a feeble noise, strange, and indescribable. My friends had likewise heard. We listened; it was like a lock opening stiffly, like a bolt drawn carefullly. It was something startling: it froze us with fear. We thought perhaps it was robbers who had got into the house, as it was far into the night.
[P. 163] We decided to go and investigate. I rose, and took a candle. My friends followed me, in single file.
We passed through the bedroom. My wife was sleeping with her child.
Then we came to the salon. Nothing. The portraits in their golden frames were motionless on the red hangings. It seemed to me that the door of the dining room had been moved.
We entered the dining room; we inspegted it thoroughly. I went first. The door to the stairs was tightly closed, the windows likewise. Near the stove, I saw that the door of the linen cupboard was open, and was turned against the wall as though to hide something.
That surprised me. We concluded there was some one behind the door.
I put out my hand to close the door; it resisted. Astonished, I pulled harder, it suddenly gave way, and we discovered a little old woman, her hands hanging by her side, her eyes closed, motionless, and standing as though glued to the angle of the wall.
There was something hideous about her, and my hair stands on end when I think of her.
I asked her:
"What are you doing there?"
She did not answer.
[P. 164] "Who are you?"
She, neither answered, nor moved, and her eyes remained closed.
My friends said:
"She is no doubt an accomplice of some one who has entered with bad intent; they have escaped on hearing us approach; she was not able to, and has hidden there."
I questioned her anew; she remained motionless and silent, without a look.
One of us gave her a push, and she fell to the floor. She fell all of a heap, like a piece of wood, like a dead thing.
We kicked her, then two of us lifted her and leaned her against the wall. She gave no sign of life whatever. Some one shouted in her ear, but she was as silent as though she had been deaf.
Meanwhile, we were losing, patience, and becoming more angry than afraid. One of us said:
"Put the candle under her chin."
I put the burning wick under her chim Then she half-opened one eye; an empty, wan, frightful eye that saw nothing.
I took away the candle and said:
"Ah! at last! will you answer:now, old sorceress?"
"Who are you?"
The eye closed again as before.
[P. 165] "Really, this is too much," said the others. Again the candle! Again! she must speak.
I again held the candle under the old woman's chin.
Then she opened both eyes slowly, looked at us all, one after the other,, then, stooping over suddenly blew out the candle. At that very moment, in the darkness, I felt three sharp teech pressed into my hand.
I awoke, shivering, and bathed in a cold sweat.
The good priest was seated at the foot of my bed, reading his prayers.
"Have I slept long?" I asked him.
"My Son," said he, "you have slept an hour. They have brought your child. She is awaiting you in the adjoining room. I did not wish them to waken you.
"Oh!" I cried. "My daughter! Let them bring me my daughter!"
[P. 166] XLIII.
She is rosy and happy, and her large eyes are bright, she is so pretty!
They had put on a dress very becoming to her.
I drew her toward me, I raised her in my arms, and placing her on my knees, kissed her hair.
Why is her mother not with her? She was very ill, and grandmother also.
She looked at me with astonishment. Caressed, embraced, devoured with kisses, she submitted quietly; but, from time to time, cast an uneasy look towards her nurse, who was crying in the corner.
At last I was able to speak.
"Marie," I exclaimed. "My little Mari!"
I pressed her violently against my breast which was heaving with sobs. She uttered a little cry. "Oh! you hurt me, sir," she said.
"Sir!" It is nearly a year since she has seen me, poor child! She has forgotten me, face, words, voice; and then who could know me with this beard, this dress, and this pallor! What? already effaced from that memory, the [p. 167] only one where I wished to survive! What! already, no longer a father, am I condemed to hear no more that word, in the language children so soft that it cannot remain in the vocabulary of men: Papa!
And yet to have heard it from that sweet mouth, once more, only once more, that is all that I would havg: asked in payment for the forty years of life they will take from me.
"Listen, Marie," said I to her, joining her two little hands in mine. "Do you know me?"
She looked at me with her bright eyes and answered:
"Oh, no, indeed!"
"Look at me well," I repeated. "What? dost thou not know who I am?"
"Yes, sir," she answered. "A gentleman."
Alas! while loving one being on earth, loving with all your deep affection, having that being before you, who sees and looks at you, speaks and answers you, and yet knows you not! You wish for consolation but from this one being, who is the only one that does not know, that you require it because you are going to die!
"Marie," I continued, "hast thou a papa?"
"Yes, sir," said the child.
"Well, then, where is he?"
She raised her large eyes in astonishment
[P. 168] Ah! then you don't know? He is dead."
Then she began to cry; I nearly let her fall.
"Dead!" I exclaimed: "Marie, knowest thou what it is to be dead?"
"Yes, sir," sheanswered. "He is in earth and in heaven."
She continued of her own accord:
"I pray to God for him morning and evening at mamma's knees."
I kissed her on the forehead.
"Marie, say to me thy prayer."
"I could not, sir; you do not say prayers in the middle of the day. Come to-night to my house, and you shall hear me say it."
This was enough. I interrupted her.
"Marie, it is I who am thy, papa."
"Ah!" returned she.
I added, "Wouldst thou like me for thy papa?"
The child turned away.
"No, sir; my papa was much prettier."
I covered her with kisses and tears, she tried to escape from my arms, crying:
"You scratch me with your beard."
Then, I replaced her on my knees; devouring her with my eyes, and continued:"Marie, canst thou read?"
"Yes," she answered, "I can read very well. Mamma makes me read my letters."
[P. 169] "Well, then, read a little to me," said I, pointing to a printed paper which she held crumpled in one of her little hands.
She shook her pretty head.
"Oh! I can only read fables."
"But try, come, read."
She unfolded the paper, and began to spell with her finger,
"S, E, N--sen, T, E, N, C, E--tence--SENTENCE."
I snatched it from her hands. It was a copy of my own sentence of death she was reading to me. Her nurse had bought the paper for a sou. It had cost me much more.
No words can convey what I felt; my violence had alarmed the child, who was ready to cry. Suddenly she said to me:
"Give me back my paper! I want to play with it!"
I restored her to her nurse.
"Take her away!"
And I fell back in my chair, gloomy, desolate, in despair! Now they may come; I care for nothing more; the last fibre of my heart is broken. I am ready for whatever they do.
[P. 170] XLIV.
The priest is kind; so is the jailer. I believe tears came in their eyes when I sent away my child.
It is done. Now I must fortify myself, and think firmly of the executioner, of the cart, of the gendarmes, of the crowd on the bridge, of the crowd in the street and of the crowd at the windows, and of what they have erected for me in the Place de la Grève.
I believe I have still an hour to familiarize myself with these ideas.
[P. 171] XLV.
All the people will laugh and clap their hands, and applaud. Yet among those men, now free, unknown to jailers, and who run with joy to an execution, in that throng is more than one man whose head is destined to follow mine sooner or later, into the red basket. More than one who is here to-day on my account, will come hereafter on his own.
For these fated beings there is a certain fascination in the fatal, spot on the Grève; a centre of attraction. They are drawn towards what they are to be.
[P. 172] XLVI.
My little Marie! She is gone away to play; she will look at the crowd from the window of a cab, and already she thinks no more of the "Gentleman." Perhaps I may still have time to write a few page for her, so that she may read them hereafter; and weep, in fifteen years hence, for the sorrow of to-day.
Yes, she shall know my history from myself, and why the name I leave her is tarnished.
[P. 173] XLVII.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE--The pages which immediately followed this have not yet been found. Perhaps, as the next chapter seems to indicate, the condemned had not time to write his history. It was so late when he thought of it.
[P. 174] XLVIII
From a room in the Hotel de Ville.
The Hotel de Ville!...So I am here.
The execrable journey is over. The placee of execution is before me, and beneath the window, a horrible throng, laughing and yelling, while they await my appearance.
My efforts at composure were vain. My heart failed me. When above the heads of the crowd, I saw the frightful scaffold, my heart failed. I asked to be allowed to make a last declaration. So they brought me in here, and have sent for some prosecutor to receive it. I am now waiting for him; so there is thus much gained.
Let us see.
At three o'clock, they came to tell me it was time. I trembled, as though I had thought of anything else during the last six hours, six weeks, six months. It produced on me the effect of something quite unexpected.
They made me cross corridors, and descend stairs, they pushed me through a low door into a sombre room, narrow, arched, and [p. 175] scarcely lighted on this rainy, foggy day. A chair was in the centre, on which they told me to sit; I seated myself.
Some persons were standing near the door; and, beside the priest, and gendarmes, there were three other men.
The first of these, the tallest and oldest, was stout, with a red face. He wore a long coat and a cocked hat. This was he.
This was the executioner; the servant of the guillotine: the others were his servants.
When I was seated, these walked quietly behind me: then suddenly I felt the cold of steel in my hair, and heard the grating act of scissors.
My hair, cut carelessly, fell in heavy locks on my shoulders, and. the man with tho three-cornered hat removed them gently with his coarse hand.
All in the room spoke in subdued tones.
There was a heavy dull sound from without, which I fancied at first was caused, by the river: but a shout of laugh ter soon proved to me that it was the crowd.
A young man near the window, who was writing witha pencil, in his pocket-book, asked one of the turnkeys, what was the name of the present operation?
"The Toilet of the Condemned," he was answered.
[P. 176] From this I understood that it would be in to-morrow's newspaper.
Suddenly one of the servants removed my vest and the other one taking my hands, placed them behind me, and I felt the knots of a cord rolled slowly round my wrists, at the same time the other took off my cravat.
My linen shirt, the only remains of former times, being of the finest quality, caused him a sort of hesitation for a moment: but at length be began to cut off the collar.
At this dreadful precaution, and the sensation of the steel touching my neck, a tremor passed over me, and a stifled groan escaped; the man's hand trembled.
"Sir," said he, "I beg your pardon! Have I hurt you?"
These executioners are gentle fellows.
The people shouted louder in the street.
The tall red-faced man offered a handkerchief, steeped .m vinegar, for me to inhale.
"Thank you," said I, to him, in the firmest tone I was able to command, "it is needless; I am recovered."
Then one of the men. stooped down and fastened a small cord to my ankles, which restricted my steps, and this was again tied to the cord around my wrists. Finally the tall man threw my vest over my shoulders, and tied the sleeves in front. All was now completed.
[P. 177] Then the prmst: drew near with his crucifix.
"Come, my son," said he.
The men raised me by my arms: and I walked; but my steps were weak and tottering.
At this moment the folding doors were thrown open. A furious clamor, a chill breeze, and a strong white light, reached me in the shade. From the extreme of the dark chamber I saw through the rain a thousand yelling heads of the expectant mass. On the right of the door-way, a range of mounted gendarmes; in front a detachment of soldiers; on the left, the back of the cart, with a ladder. A hideous picture, with the appropriate frame of a prison-door.
It was for this dread moment that I had reserved my courage. I advanced a few steps, and appeared on the threshold.
"There he is! there he is!" Cried the crowd. "He is coming at last!"
And the nearest to me clapped their hands. Much as a king might be loved, there could not be more greeting for him.
It was an ordinary cart, the horse was lean, and the driver wore a blue smock coat with red pattern, like those worn by the market gardeners around Bicêtre.
The tall man with the three-cornered hat ascended the cart first.
[P. 178] "Good-morning, Mr. Sampson!" cried the children hanging by the lamp-posts.One of his servants followed.
"Bravo, Tuesday!" cried out the children, as the two placed themselves on the front seat.
It was now my turn. I mounted with a pretty firm step.
"He keeps up well!" said a woman beside the gendarmes.
This atrocious commendation gave me courage. The priest took his seat beside me. They had placed me on the hindmost seat, my back towards the horse. I shuddered at this last attention.
There was a mixture of humanity in it.
I wished to look around me; gendarmes in front, gendarmes behind: then crowd! crowd! crowd! A sea of heads in the street.
A detachment of mounted gendarmes were waiting for me at the gate of the Palais.
The officer gave the word, and the procession moved on, as if pushed forward by a yell from the populace.
We passed the gate. At the moment the cart turned towards the Pont-au-Change a shout went up from the pavement to the roof.
Here the detachment gathered around me.
"Hats off! hats off!" cried a thousand voices together--as if for the king. Then I [p. 179] laughed horribly also myself, and said to the priest:
"They, their hats...me, my head."
The Quai-au-Fleurs was blooming; it was market-day. The dealers left their flowers to look at me.
Opposite the square there is a street full of cabarets, in which the windows were filled with spectators, seeming to enjoy thehr good places, particularly the women. That day should have been a good one for the cabarets.
There were also people letting out tables, chairs, and carts: and these dealers in human blood shouted at the top of their voices:
"Who wishes places?"
A strange rage seized me against these wretches. I longed to shout out to them:
"Who wishes mine?"
Meanwhile the cart still advanced. At each step, the crowd in the rear dispersed; and I saw, with my wandering eyes, that they collected again farther on, to have, another view.
Crossing the Pont-au-Change, I chanced to look back. My glance rested on another quay, where above the houses, stood a black tower, isolated, bristling with sculptures, at the top of which I saw two stone monsters. I do not know why I asked the priest what the tower was.
[P. 180] "Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie," answered the executioner.
I do not know how it was; but: in the fog, and despite the fine rain, which hung over all like a curtain, nothing which happened escaped me. Every one of the details caused me torture. Words failed to express my emotions.
Towards the middle of the Pont-au-Change, so steepthat we mounted it with difficulty, horror came violently upon me. I feared I would faint, last: vanity! Then I tried to blind and deafen myself to all about, me, except to the priest, whose words I hardly heard, mingled with the tumult.
I took the crucifix and kissed it.
"Have mercy on me," said I, "oh! my God!" And I strove to engross myself with this thought.
But every shake of the cart disturbed me; and then I became excessively chilled, as the rain had penetrated my clothes, and my head was bare.
"Are you trembling with cold, my son?" demanded the priest.
"Yes," answered I.
Alas! not only from cold.
At the turn to the bridge, the women expressed pity at my being so young.
We approached the fatal quay: my hearing and sight seemed about to fail me: all those [p. 181] voices; all those heads at the windows, at doors, at shop fronts, on lamp-posts, these thirsting and cruel spectators; this crowd where all knew me, and I knew none; this road paved and walled with human visages; I was confounded, stupefied, senseless. There is something insupportable in the weight of so many looks being fixed upon one.
I swayed in my place on the seat; and paid no further attention to the priest, or the crucifix.
In the tumult which surrounded me, I no longer distinguished exclamations of pity from those of satisfaction, or the sounds of laughter, from those of complaint. All formed together a noise in my ears like sounding brass.
My eyes read mechanically the signs over the shops.
Once I felt a painful curiosity to look round on that which we were approaching. It was the last mental bravado, but the body would not aid it, for my neck remained paralyzed, and as though dead.
I saw on my left, beyond the river, the tower of Nôtre-Dame, which, seen from this point, hid the other. There were many people on it, and they ought to have been able to see well.
And the cart went on,--on, and the shops passed away; the signs succeeded each other, written, painted, gilded; and the populace [p. 182] laughed, while they tramped through the mud,--and I yielded my mind, as persons do in sleeping.
Suddenly this series of shops ended as we turned into the square; the voice of the mob became still more loud, yelling, and joyous the cart stopped suddenly, and I had nearly fallen on my face on the planks. The priest hetd me up--"Courage! murmured he.--They next brought a ladder to the back of the cart. I leaned on the arm of the priest and descended. I made one step, and turned round to advance another; but I had not the power. Between the lamps of the quay, I saw something sinister.
Oh! it was the reality!
I stopped, as if staggered by a blow.
"I have a last declaration to make!" I cried feebly.
And then they brought me up here.
I asked them to !et me write my last wishes. They unbound my hands, but the cord is here, ready to be replaced.
[P. 183] XLIX
A judge, a commissioner, a magistrate, I know not what was his rank, has just been here. I entreated him to procure my pardon, I begged it, with clasped hands, and dragging myself on my knees at his feet. He asked, with a fatal smile, if that were all I had to say to him.
"My pardon! my pardon? I repeated, "or, for pity's sake, five minutes more!
"Who knows? my pardon may come! It is so horrible at my age to die in this manner! Reprieves have frequently arrived, even at the last moment! And to whom would they show mercy, sir, if not to me?
That detestable executioner! He came in to tell the judge that the execution was ordered for a certain hour; that the hour was at hand, and that he was answerable for the event.
"Oh ! for pity's sake! one minute to wait for my pardon! or I will defend myself, I will bite!"
The judge and the executioner went out.
I am alone; alone with two gendarmes.
[P. 184] Oh! that horrible throng, with its hyena cry.--Who knows! but
that I shall escape from it? That I shall be saved? If my pardon...It is impossible
but that they will pardon me! Ah! the wretches! It seems to me some one is