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FOR some reason of his own Guillaume was bent upon witnessing the
execution of Salvat. Pierre tried to dissuade him from doing so; and
finding his efforts vain, became somewhat anxious. He accordingly
resolved to spend the night at Montmartre, accompany his brother and
watch over him. In former times, when engaged with Abbe Rose in
charitable work in the Charonne district, he had learnt that the
guillotine could be seen from the house where Mege, the Socialist deputy,
resided at the corner of the Rue Merlin. He therefore offered himself as
a guide. As the execution was to take place as soon as it should legally
be daybreak, that is, about half-past four o'clock, the brothers did not
go to bed but sat up in the workroom, feeling somewhat drowsy, and
exchanging few words. Then as soon as two o'clock struck, they started
The night was beautifully serene and clear. The full moon, shining like a
silver lamp in the cloudless, far-stretching heavens, threw a calm,
dreamy light over the vague immensity of Paris, which was like some
spell-bound city of sleep, so overcome by fatigue that not a murmur arose
from it. It was as if beneath the soft radiance which spread over its
roofs, its panting labour and its cries of suffering were lulled to
repose until the dawn. Yet, in a far, out of the way district, dark work
was even now progressing, a knife was being raised on high in order that
a man might be killed.
Pierre and Guillaume paused in the Rue St. Eleuthere, and gazed at the
vaporous, tremulous city spread out below then. And as they turned they
perceived the basilica of the Sacred Heart, still domeless but already
looking huge indeed in the moonbeams, whose clear white light accentuated
its outlines and brought them into sharp relief against a mass of
shadows. Under the pale nocturnal sky, the edifice showed like a colossal
monster, symbolical of provocation and sovereign dominion. Never before
had Guillaume found it so huge, never had it appeared to him to dominate
Paris, even in the latter's hours of slumber, with such stubborn and
This wounded him so keenly in the state of mind in which he found
himself, that he could not help exclaiming: "Ah! they chose a good site
for it, and how stupid it was to let them do so! I know of nothing more
nonsensical; Paris crowned and dominated by that temple of idolatry! How
impudent it is, what a buffet for the cause of reason after so many
centuries of science, labour, and battle! And to think of it being reared
over Paris, the one city in the world which ought never to have been
soiled in this fashion! One can understand it at Lourdes and Rome; but
not in Paris, in the very field of intelligence which has been so deeply
ploughed, and whence the future is sprouting. It is a declaration of war,
an insolent proclamation that they hope to conquer Paris also!"
Guillaume usually evinced all the tolerance of a /savant/, for whom
religions are simply social phenomena. He even willingly admitted the
grandeur or grace of certain Catholic legends. But Marie Alacoque's
famous vision, which has given rise to the cult of the Sacred Heart,
filled him with irritation and something like physical disgust. He
suffered at the mere idea of Christ's open, bleeding breast, and the
gigantic heart which the saint asserted she had seen beating in the
depths of the wound--the huge heart in which Jesus placed the woman's
little heart to restore it to her inflated and glowing with love. What
base and loathsome materialism there was in all this! What a display of
viscera, muscles and blood suggestive of a butcher's shop! And Guillaume
was particularly disgusted with the engraving which depicted this horror,
and which he found everywhere, crudely coloured with red and yellow and
blue, like some badly executed anatomical plate.
Pierre on his side was also looking at the basilica as, white with
moonlight, it rose out of the darkness like a gigantic fortress raised to
crush and conquer the city slumbering beneath it. It had already brought
him suffering during the last days when he had said mass in it and was
struggling with his torments. "They call it the national votive
offering," he now exclaimed. "But the nation's longing is for health and
strength and restoration to its old position by work. That is a thing the
Church does not understand. It argues that if France was stricken with
defeat, it was because she deserved punishment. She was guilty, and so
to-day she ought to repent. Repent of what? Of the Revolution, of a
century of free examination and science, of the emancipation of her mind,
of her initiatory and liberative labour in all parts of the world? That
indeed is her real transgression; and it is as a punishment for all our
labour, search for truth, increase of knowledge and march towards justice
that they have reared that huge pile which Paris will see from all her
streets, and will never be able to see without feeling derided and
insulted in her labour and glory."
With a wave of his hand he pointed to the city, slumbering in the
moonlight as beneath a sheet of silver, and then set off again with his
brother, down the slopes, towards the black and deserted streets.
They did not meet a living soul until they reached the outer boulevard.
Here, however, no matter what the hour may be, life continues with
scarcely a pause. No sooner are the wine shops, music and dancing halls
closed, than vice and want, cast into the street, there resume their
nocturnal existence. Thus the brothers came upon all the homeless ones:
low prostitutes seeking a pallet, vagabonds stretched on the benches
under the trees, rogues who prowled hither and thither on the lookout for
a good stroke. Encouraged by their accomplice--night, all the mire and
woe of Paris had returned to the surface. The empty roadway now belonged
to the breadless, homeless starvelings, those for whom there was no place
in the sunlight, the vague, swarming, despairing herd which is only
espied at night-time. Ah! what spectres of destitution, what apparitions
of grief and fright there were! What a sob of agony passed by in Paris
that morning, when as soon as the dawn should rise, a man--a pauper, a
sufferer like the others--was to be guillotined!
As Guillaume and Pierre were about to descend the Rue des Martyrs, the
former perceived an old man lying on a bench with his bare feet
protruding from his gaping, filthy shoes. Guillaume pointed to him in
silence. Then, a few steps farther on, Pierre in his turn pointed to a
ragged girl, crouching, asleep with open month, in the corner of a
doorway. There was no need for the brothers to express in words all the
compassion and anger which stirred their hearts. At long intervals
policemen, walking slowly two by two, shook the poor wretches and
compelled them to rise and walk on and on. Occasionally, if they found
them suspicious or refractory, they marched them off to the
police-station. And then rancour and the contagion of imprisonment often
transformed a mere vagabond into a thief or a murderer.
In the Rue des Martyrs and the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, the brothers
found night-birds of another kind, women who slunk past them, close to
the house-fronts, and men and hussies who belaboured one another with
blows. Then, upon the grand boulevards, on the thresholds of lofty black
houses, only one row of whose windows flared in the night, pale-faced
individuals, who had just come down from their clubs, stood lighting
cigars before going home. A lady with a ball wrap over her evening gown
went by accompanied by a servant. A few cabs, moreover, still jogged up
and down the roadway, while others, which had been waiting for hours,
stood on their ranks in rows, with drivers and horses alike asleep. And
as one boulevard after another was reached, the Boulevard Poissonniere,
the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, the Boulevard St. Denis, and so forth, as
far as the Place de la Republique, there came fresh want and misery, more
forsaken and hungry ones, more and more of the human "waste" that is cast
into the streets and the darkness. And on the other hand, an army of
street-sweepers was now appearing to remove all the filth of the past
four and twenty hours, in order that Paris, spruce already at sunrise,
might not blush for having thrown up such a mass of dirt and
loathsomeness in the course of a single day.
It was, however, more particularly after following the Boulevard
Voltaire, and drawing near to the districts of La Roquette and Charonne,
that the brothers felt they were returning to a sphere of labour where
there was often lack of food, and where life was but so much pain. Pierre
found himself at home here. In former days, accompanied by good Abbe
Rose, visiting despairing ones, distributing alms, picking up children
who had sunk to the gutter, he had a hundred times perambulated every one
of those long, densely populated streets. And thus a frightful vision
arose before his mind's eye; he recalled all the tragedies he had
witnessed, all the shrieks he had heard, all the tears and bloodshed he
had seen, all the fathers, mothers and children huddled together and
dying of want, dirt and abandonment: that social hell in which he had
ended by losing his last hopes, fleeing from it with a sob in the
conviction that charity was a mere amusement for the rich, and absolutely
futile as a remedy. It was this conviction which now returned to him as
he again cast eyes upon that want and grief stricken district which
seemed fated to everlasting destitution. That poor old man whom Abbe Rose
had revived one night in yonder hovel, had he not since died of
starvation? That little girl whom he had one morning brought in his arms
to the refuge after her parents' death, was it not she whom he had just
met, grown but fallen to the streets, and shrieking beneath the fist of a
bully? Ah! how great was the number of the wretched! Their name was
legion! There were those whom one could not save, those who were hourly
born to a life of woe and want, even as one may be born infirm, and
those, too, who from every side sank in the sea of human injustice, that
ocean which has ever been the same for centuries past, and which though
one may strive to drain it, still and for ever spreads. How heavy was the
silence, how dense the darkness in those working-class streets where
sleep seems to be the comrade of death! Yet hunger prowls, and misfortune
sobs; vague spectral forms slink by, and then are lost to view in the
depths of the night.
As Pierre and Guillaume went along they became mixed with dark groups of
people, a whole flock of inquisitive folk, a promiscuous, passionate
tramp, tramp towards the guillotine. It came from all Paris, urged on by
brutish fever, a hankering for death and blood. In spite, however, of the
dull noise which came from this dim crowd, the mean streets that were
passed remained quite dark, not a light appeared at any of their windows;
nor could one hear the breathing of the weary toilers stretched on their
wretched pallets from which they would not rise before the morning
On seeing the jostling crowd which was already assembled on the Place
Voltaire, Pierre understood that it would be impossible for him and his
brother to ascend the Rue de la Roquette. Barriers, moreover, must
certainly have been thrown across that street. In order therefore to
reach the corner of the Rue Merlin, it occurred to him to take the Rue de
la Folie Regnault, which winds round in the rear of the prison, farther
Here indeed they found solitude and darkness again.
The huge, massive prison with its great bare walls on which a moonray
fell, looked like some pile of cold stones, dead for centuries past. At
the end of the street they once more fell in with the crowd, a dim
restless mass of beings, whose pale faces alone could be distinguished.
The brothers had great difficulty in reaching the house in which Mege
resided at the corner of the Rue Merlin. All the shutters of the
fourth-floor flat occupied by the Socialist deputy were closed, though
every other window was wide open and crowded with surging sightseers.
Moreover, the wine shop down below and the first-floor room connected
with it flared with gas, and were already crowded with noisy customers,
waiting for the performance to begin.
"I hardly like to go and knock at Mege's door," said Pierre.
"No, no, you must not do so!" replied Guillaume.
"Let us go into the wine shop. We may perhaps be able to see something
from the balcony."
The first-floor room was provided with a very large balcony, which women
and gentlemen were already filling. The brothers nevertheless managed to
reach it, and for a few minutes remained there, peering into the darkness
before them. The sloping street grew broader between the two prisons, the
"great" and the "little" Roquette, in such wise as to form a sort of
square, which was shaded by four clumps of plane-trees, rising from the
footways. The low buildings and scrubby trees, all poor and ugly of
aspect, seemed almost to lie on a level with the ground, under a vast sky
in which stars were appearing, as the moon gradually declined. And the
square was quite empty save that on one spot yonder there seemed to be
some little stir. Two rows of guards prevented the crowd from advancing,
and even threw it back into the neighbouring streets. On the one hand,
the only lofty houses were far away, at the point where the Rue St. Maur
intersects the Rue de la Roquette; while, on the other, they stood at the
corners of the Rue Merlin and the Rue de la Folie Regnault, so that it
was almost impossible to distinguish anything of the execution even from
the best placed windows. As for the inquisitive folk on the pavement they
only saw the backs of the guards. Still this did not prevent a crush. The
human tide flowed on from all sides with increasing clamour.
Guided by the remarks of some women who, leaning forward on the balcony,
had been watching the square for a long time already, the brothers were
at last able to perceive something. It was now half-past three, and the
guillotine was nearly ready. The little stir which one vaguely espied
yonder under the trees, was that of the headsman's assistants fixing the
knife in position. A lantern slowly came and went, and five or six
shadows danced over the ground. But nothing else could be distinguished,
the square was like a large black pit, around which ever broke the waves
of the noisy crowd which one could not see. And beyond the square one
could only identify the flaring wine shops, which showed forth like
lighthouses in the night. All the surrounding district of poverty and
toil was still asleep, not a gleam as yet came from workrooms or yards,
not a puff of smoke from the lofty factory chimneys.
"We shall see nothing," Guillaume remarked.
But Pierre silenced him, for he has just discovered that an elegantly
attired gentleman leaning over the balcony near him was none other than
the amiable deputy Duthil. He had at first fancied that a woman muffled
in wraps who stood close beside the deputy was the little Princess de
Harn, whom he had very likely brought to see the execution since he had
taken her to see the trial. On closer inspection, however, he had found
that this woman was Silviane, the perverse creature with the virginal
face. Truth to tell, she made no concealment of her presence, but talked
on in an extremely loud voice, as if intoxicated; and the brothers soon
learnt how it was that she happened to be there. Duvillard, Duthil, and
other friends had been supping with her at one o'clock in the morning,
when on learning that Salvat was about to be guillotined, the fancy of
seeing the execution had suddenly come upon her. Duvillard, after vainly
entreating her to do nothing of the kind, had gone off in a fury, for he
felt that it would be most unseemly on his part to attend the execution
of a man who had endeavoured to blow up his house. And thereupon Silviane
had turned to Duthil, whom her caprice greatly worried, for he held all
such loathsome spectacles in horror, and had already refused to act as
escort to the Princess. However, he was so infatuated with Silviane's
beauty, and she made him so many promises, that he had at last consented
to take her.
"He can't understand people caring for amusement," she said, speaking of
the Baron. "And yet this is really a thing to see. . . . But no matter,
you'll find him at my feet again to-morrow."
Duthil smiled and responded: "I suppose that peace has been signed and
ratified now that you have secured your engagement at the Comedie."
"Peace? No!" she protested. "No, no. There will be no peace between us
until I have made my /debut/. After that, we'll see."
They both laughed; and then Duthil, by way of paying his court, told her
how good-naturedly Dauvergne, the new Minister of Public Instruction and
Fine Arts, had adjusted the difficulties which had hitherto kept the
doors of the Comedie closed upon her. A really charming man was
Dauvergne, the embodiment of graciousness, the very flower of the
Monferrand ministry. His was the velvet hand in that administration whose
leader had a hand of iron.
"He told me, my beauty," said Duthil, "that a pretty girl was in place
everywhere." And then as Silviane, as if flattered, pressed closely
beside him, the deputy added: "So that wonderful revival of 'Polyeucte,'
in which you are going to have such a triumph, is to take place on the
day after to-morrow. We shall all go to applaud you, remember."
"Yes, on the evening of the day after to-morrow," said Silviane, "the
very same day when the wedding of the Baron's daughter will take place.
There'll be plenty of emotion that day!"
"Ah! yes, of course!" retorted Duthil, "there'll be the wedding of our
friend Gerard with Mademoiselle Camille to begin with. We shall have a
crush at the Madeleine in the morning and another at the Comedie in the
evening. You are quite right, too; there will be several hearts throbbing
in the Rue Godot-de-Mauroy."
Thereupon they again became merry, and jested about the Duvillard
family--father, mother, lover and daughter--with the greatest possible
ferocity and crudity of language. Then, all at once Silviane exclaimed:
"Do you know, I'm feeling awfully bored here, my little Duthil. I can't
distinguish anything, and I should like to be quite near so as to see it
all plainly. You must take me over yonder, close to that machine of
This request threw Duthil into consternation, particularly as at that
same moment Silviane perceived Massot outside the wine shop, and began
calling and beckoning to him imperiously. A brief conversation then
ensued between the young woman and the journalist: "I say, Massot!" she
called, "hasn't a deputy the right to pass the guards and take a lady
wherever he likes?"
"Not at all!" exclaimed Duthil. "Massot knows very well that a deputy
ought to be the very first to bow to the laws."
This exclamation warned Massot that Duthil did not wish to leave the
balcony. "You ought to have secured a card of invitation, madame," said
he, in reply to Silviane. "They would then have found you room at one of
the windows of La Petite Roquette. Women are not allowed elsewhere. . . .
But you mustn't complain, you have a very good place up there."
"But I can see nothing at all, my dear Massot."
"Well, you will in any case see more than Princess de Harn will. Just now
I came upon her carriage in the Rue du Chemin Vert. The police would not
allow it to come any nearer."
This news made Silviane merry again, whilst Duthil shuddered at the idea
of the danger he incurred, for Rosemonde would assuredly treat him to a
terrible scene should she see him with another woman. Then, an idea
occurring to him, he ordered a bottle of champagne and some little cakes
for his "beautiful friend," as he called Silviane. She had been
complaining of thirst, and was delighted with the opportunity of
perfecting her intoxication. When a waiter had managed to place a little
table near her, on the balcony itself, she found things very pleasant,
and indeed considered it quite brave to tipple and sup afresh, while
waiting for that man to be guillotined close by.
It was impossible for Pierre and Guillaume to remain up there any longer.
All that they heard, all that they beheld filled them with disgust. The
boredom of waiting had turned all the inquisitive folks of the balcony
and the adjoining room into customers. The waiter could hardly manage to
serve the many glasses of beer, bottles of expensive wine, biscuits, and
plates of cold meat which were ordered of him. And yet the spectators
here were all /bourgeois/, rich gentlemen, people of society! On the
other hand, time has to be killed somehow when it hangs heavily on one's
hands; and thus there were bursts of laughter and paltry and horrible
jests, quite a feverish uproar arising amidst the clouds of smoke from
the men's cigars. When Pierre and Guillaume passed through the wine shop
on the ground-floor they there found a similar crush and similar tumult,
aggravated by the disorderly behaviour of the big fellows in blouses who
were drinking draught wine at the pewter bar which shone like silver.
There were people, too, at all the little tables, besides an incessant
coming and going of folks who entered the place for a "wet," by way of
calming their impatience. And what folks they were! All the scum, all the
vagabonds who had been dragging themselves about since daybreak on the
lookout for whatever chance might offer them, provided it were not work!
On the pavement outside, Pierre and Guillaume felt yet a greater
heart-pang. In the throng which the guards kept back, one simply found so
much mire stirred up from the very depths of Paris life: prostitutes and
criminals, the murderers of to-morrow, who came to see how a man ought to
die. Loathsome, bareheaded harlots mingled with bands of prowlers or ran
through the crowd, howling obscene refrains. Bandits stood in groups
chatting and quarrelling about the more or less glorious manner in which
certain famous /guillotines/ had died. Among these was one with respect
to whom they all agreed, and of whom they spoke as of a great captain, a
hero whose marvellous courage was deserving of immortality. Then, as one
passed along, one caught snatches of horrible phrases, particulars about
the instrument of death, ignoble boasts, and filthy jests reeking with
blood. And over and above all else there was bestial fever, a lust for
death which made this multitude delirious, an eagerness to see life flow
forth fresh and ruddy beneath the knife, so that as it coursed over the
soil they might dip their feet in it. As this execution was not an
ordinary one, however, there were yet spectators of another kind; silent
men with glowing eyes who came and went all alone, and who were plainly
thrilled by their faith, intoxicated with the contagious madness which
incites one to vengeance or martyrdom.
Guillaume was just thinking of Victor Mathis, when he fancied that he saw
him standing in the front row of sightseers whom the guards held in
check. It was indeed he, with his thin, beardless, pale, drawn face.
Short as he was, he had to raise himself on tiptoes in order to see
anything. Near him was a big, red-haired girl who gesticulated; but for
his part he never stirred or spoke. He was waiting motionless, gazing
yonder with the round, ardent, fixed eyes of a night-bird, seeking to
penetrate the darkness. At last a guard pushed him back in a somewhat
brutal way; but he soon returned to his previous position, ever patient
though full of hatred against the executioners, wishing indeed to see all
he could in order to increase his hate.
Then Massot approached the brothers. This time, on seeing Pierre without
his cassock, he did not even make a sign of astonishment, but gaily
remarked: "So you felt curious to see this affair, Monsieur Froment?"
"Yes, I came with my brother," Pierre replied. "But I very much fear that
we shan't see much."
"You certainly won't if you stay here," rejoined Massot. And thereupon in
his usual good-natured way--glad, moreover, to show what power a
well-known journalist could wield--he inquired: "Would you like me to
pass you through? The inspector here happens to be a friend of mine."
Then, without waiting for an answer, he stopped the inspector and hastily
whispered to him that he had brought a couple of colleagues, who wanted
to report the proceedings. At first the inspector hesitated, and seemed
inclined to refuse Massot's request; but after a moment, influenced by
the covert fear which the police always has of the press, he made a weary
gesture of consent.
"Come, quick, then," said Massot, turning to the brothers, and taking
them along with him.
A moment later, to the intense surprise of Pierre and Guillaume, the
guards opened their ranks to let them pass. They then found themselves in
the large open space which was kept clear. And on thus emerging from the
tumultuous throng they were quite impressed by the death-like silence and
solitude which reigned under the little plane-trees. The night was now
paling. A faint gleam of dawn was already falling from the sky.
After leading his companions slantwise across the square, Massot stopped
them near the prison and resumed: "I'm going inside; I want to see the
prisoner roused and got ready. In the meantime, walk about here; nobody
will say anything to you. Besides, I'll come back to you in a moment."
A hundred people or so, journalists and other privileged spectators, were
scattered about the dark square. Movable wooden barriers--such as are set
up at the doors of theatres when there is a press of people waiting for
admission--had been placed on either side of the pavement running from
the prison gate to the guillotine; and some sightseers were already
leaning over these barriers, in order to secure a close view of the
condemned man as he passed by. Others were walking slowly to and fro, and
conversing in undertones. The brothers, for their part, approached the
It stood there under the branches of the trees, amidst the delicate
greenery of the fresh leaves of spring. A neighbouring gas-lamp, whose
light was turning yellow in the rising dawn, cast vague gleams upon it.
The work of fixing it in position--work performed as quietly as could be,
so that the only sound was the occasional thud of a mallet--had just been
finished; and the headsman's "valets" or assistants, in frock-coats and
tall silk hats, were waiting and strolling about in a patient way. But
the instrument itself, how base and shameful it looked, squatting on the
ground like some filthy beast, disgusted with the work it had to
accomplish! What! those few beams lying on the ground, and those others
barely nine feet high which rose from it, keeping the knife in position,
constituted the machine which avenged Society, the instrument which gave
a warning to evil-doers! Where was the big scaffold painted a bright red
and reached by a stairway of ten steps, the scaffold which raised high
bloody arms over the eager multitude, so that everybody might behold the
punishment of the law in all its horror! The beast had now been felled to
the ground, where it simply looked ignoble, crafty and cowardly. If on
the one hand there was no majesty in the manner in which human justice
condemned a man to death at its assizes: on the other, there was merely
horrid butchery with the help of the most barbarous and repulsive of
mechanical contrivances, on the terrible day when that man was executed.
As Pierre and Guillaume gazed at the guillotine, a feeling of nausea came
over them. Daylight was now slowly breaking, and the surroundings were
appearing to view: first the square itself with its two low, grey
prisons, facing one another; then the distant houses, the taverns, the
marble workers' establishments, and the shops selling flowers and
wreaths, which are numerous hereabouts, as the cemetery of Pere-Lachaise
is so near. Before long one could plainly distinguish the black lines of
the spectators standing around in a circle, the heads leaning forward
from windows and balconies, and the people who had climbed to the very
house roofs. The prison of La Petite Roquette over the way had been
turned into a kind of tribune for guests; and mounted Gardes de Paris
went slowly to and fro across the intervening expanse. Then, as the sky
brightened, labour awoke throughout the district beyond the crowd, a
district of broad, endless streets lined with factories, work-shops and
work-yards. Engines began to snort, machinery and appliances were got
ready to start once more on their usual tasks, and smoke already curled
away from the forest of lofty brick chimneys which, on all sides, sprang
out of the gloom.
It then seemed to Guillaume that the guillotine was really in its right
place in that district of want and toil. It stood in its own realm, like
a /terminus/ and a threat. Did not ignorance, poverty and woe lead to it?
And each time that it was set up amidst those toilsome streets, was it
not charged to overawe the disinherited ones, the starvelings, who,
exasperated by everlasting injustice, were always ready for revolt? It
was not seen in the districts where wealth and enjoyment reigned. It
would there have seemed purposeless, degrading and truly monstrous. And
it was a tragical and terrible coincidence that the bomb-thrower, driven
mad by want, should be guillotined there, in the very centre of want's
But daylight had come at last, for it was nearly half-past four. The
distant noisy crowd could feel that the expected moment was drawing nigh.
A shudder suddenly sped through the atmosphere.
"He's coming," exclaimed little Massot, as he came back to Pierre and
Guillaume. "Ah! that Salvat is a brave fellow after all."
Then he related how the prisoner had been awakened; how the governor of
the prison, magistrate Amadieu, the chaplain, and a few other persons had
entered the cell where Salvat lay fast asleep; and then how the condemned
man had understood the truth immediately upon opening his eyes. He had
risen, looking pale but quite composed. And he had dressed himself
without assistance, and had declined the nip of brandy and the cigarette
proffered by the good-hearted chaplain, in the same way as with a gentle
but stubborn gesture he had brushed the crucifix aside. Then had come the
"toilette" for death. With all rapidity and without a word being
exchanged, Salvat's hands had been tied behind his back, his legs had
been loosely secured with a cord, and the neckband of his shirt had been
cut away. He had smiled when the others exhorted him to be brave. He only
feared some nervous weakness, and had but one desire, to die like a hero,
to remain the martyr of the ardent faith in truth and justice for which
he was about to perish.
"They are now drawing up the death certificate in the register,"
continued Massot in his chattering way. "Come along, come along to the
barriers if you wish a good view. . . . I turned paler, you know, and
trembled far more than he did. I don't care a rap for anything as a rule;
but, all the same, an execution isn't a pleasant business. . . . You
can't imagine how many attempts were made to save Salvat's life. Even
some of the papers asked that he might be reprieved. But nothing
succeeded, the execution was regarded as inevitable, it seems, even by
those who consider it a blunder. Still, they had such a touching
opportunity to reprieve him, when his daughter, little Celine, wrote that
fine letter to the President of the Republic, which I was the first to
publish in the 'Globe.' Ah! that letter, it cost me a lot of running
Pierre, who was already quite upset by this long wait for the horrible
scene, felt moved to tears by Massot's reference to Celine. He could
again see the child standing beside Madame Theodore in that bare, cold
room whither her father would never more return. It was thence that he
had set out on a day of desperation with his stomach empty and his brain
on fire, and it was here that he would end, between yonder beams, beneath
Massot, however, was still giving particulars. The doctors, said he, were
furious because they feared that the body would not be delivered to them
immediately after the execution. To this Guillaume did not listen. He
stood there with his elbows resting on the wooden barrier and his eyes
fixed on the prison gate, which still remained shut. His hands were
quivering, and there was an expression of anguish on his face as if it
were he himself who was about to be executed. The headsman had again just
left the prison. He was a little, insignificant-looking man, and seemed
annoyed, anxious to have done with it all. Then, among a group of
frock-coated gentlemen, some of the spectators pointed out Gascogne, the
Chief of the Detective Police, who wore a cold, official air, and
Amadieu, the investigating magistrate, who smiled and looked very spruce,
early though the hour was. He had come partly because it was his duty,
and partly because he wished to show himself now that the curtain was
about to fall on a wonderful tragedy of which he considered himself the
author. Guillaume glanced at him, and then as a growing uproar rose from
the distant crowd, he looked up for an instant, and again beheld the two
grey prisons, the plane-trees with their fresh young leaves, and the
houses swarming with people beneath the pale blue sky, in which the
triumphant sun was about to appear.
"Look out, here he comes!"
Who had spoken? A slight noise, that of the opening gate, made every
heart throb. Necks were outstretched, eyes gazed fixedly, there was
laboured breathing on all sides. Salvat stood on the threshold of the
prison. The chaplain, stepping backwards, had come out in advance of him,
in order to conceal the guillotine from his sight, but he had stopped
short, for he wished to see that instrument of death, make acquaintance
with it, as it were, before he walked towards it. And as he stood there,
his long, aged sunken face, on which life's hardships had left their
mark, seemed transformed by the wondrous brilliancy of his flaring,
dreamy eyes. Enthusiasm bore him up--he was going to his death in all the
splendour of his dream. When the executioner's assistants drew near to
support him he once more refused their help, and again set himself in
motion, advancing with short steps, but as quickly and as straightly as
the rope hampering his legs permitted.
All at once Guillaume felt that Salvat's eyes were fixed upon him.
Drawing nearer and nearer the condemned man had perceived and recognised
his friend; and as he passed by, at a distance of no more than six or
seven feet, he smiled faintly and darted such a deep penetrating glance
at Guillaume, that ever afterwards the latter felt its smart. But what
last thought, what supreme legacy had Salvat left him to meditate upon,
perhaps to put into execution? It was all so poignant that Pierre feared
some involuntary call on his brother's part; and so he laid his hand upon
his arm to quiet him.
"Long live Anarchy!"
It was Salvat who had raised this cry. But in the deep silence his husky,
altered voice seemed to break. The few who were near at hand had turned
very pale; the distant crowd seemed bereft of life. The horse of one of
the Gardes de Paris was alone heard snorting in the centre of the space
which had been kept clear.
Then came a loathsome scramble, a scene of nameless brutality and
ignominy. The headsman's helps rushed upon Salvat as he came up slowly
with brow erect. Two of them seized him by the head, but finding little
hair there, could only lower it by tugging at his neck. Next two others
grasped him by the legs and flung him violently upon a plank which tilted
over and rolled forward. Then, by dint of pushing and tugging, the head
was got into the "lunette," the upper part of which fell in such wise
that the neck was fixed as in a ship's port-hole--and all this was
accomplished amidst such confusion and with such savagery that one might
have thought that head some cumbrous thing which it was necessary to get
rid of with the greatest speed. But the knife fell with a dull, heavy,
forcible thud, and two long jets of blood spurted from the severed
arteries, while the dead man's feet moved convulsively. Nothing else
could be seen. The executioner rubbed his hands in a mechanical way, and
an assistant took the severed blood-streaming head from the little basket
into which it had fallen and placed it in the large basket into which the
body had already been turned.
Ah! that dull, that heavy thud of the knife! It seemed to Guillaume that
he had heard it echoing far away all over that district of want and toil,
even in the squalid rooms where thousands of workmen were at that moment
rising to perform their day's hard task! And there the echo of that thud
acquired formidable significance; it spoke of man's exasperation with
injustice, of zeal for martyrdom, and of the dolorous hope that the blood
then spilt might hasten the victory of the disinherited.
Pierre, for his part, at the sight of that loathsome butchery, the abject
cutthroat work of that killing machine, had suddenly felt his chilling
shudder become more violent; for before him arose a vision of another
corpse, that of the fair, pretty child ripped open by a bomb and
stretched yonder, at the entrance of the Duvillard mansion. Blood
streamed from her delicate flesh, just as it had streamed from that
decapitated neck. It was blood paying for blood; it was like payment for
mankind's debt of wretchedness, for which payment is everlastingly being
made, without man ever being able to free himself from suffering.
Above the square and the crowd all was still silent in the clear sky. How
long had the abomination lasted? An eternity, perhaps, compressed into
two or three minutes. And now came an awakening: the spectators emerged
from their nightmare with quivering hands, livid faces, and eyes
expressive of compassion, disgust and fear.
"That makes another one. I've now seen four executions," said Massot, who
felt ill at ease. "After all, I prefer to report weddings. Let us go off,
I have all I want for my article."
Guillaume and Pierre followed him mechanically across the square, and
again reached the corner of the Rue Merlin. And here they saw little
Victor Mathis, with flaming eyes and white face, still standing in
silence on the spot where they had left him. He could have seen nothing
distinctly; but the thud of the knife was still echoing in his brain. A
policeman at last gave him a push, and told him to move on. At this he
looked the policeman in the face, stirred by sudden rage and ready to
strangle him. Then, however, he quietly walked away, ascending the Rue de
la Roquette, atop of which the lofty foliage of Pere-Lachaise could be
seen, beneath the rising sun.
The brothers meantime fell upon a scene of explanations, which they heard
without wishing to do so. Now that the sight was over, the Princess de
Harn arrived, and she was the more furious as at the door of the wine
shop she could see her new friend Duthil accompanying a woman.
"I say!" she exclaimed, "you are nice, you are, to have left me in the
lurch like this! It was impossible for my carriage to get near, so I've
had to come on foot through all those horrid people who have been
jostling and insulting me."
Thereupon Duthil, with all promptitude, introduced Silviane to her,
adding, in an aside, that he had taken a friend's place as the actress's
escort. And then Rosemonde, who greatly wished to know Silviane, calmed
down as if by enchantment, and put on her most engaging ways. "It would
have delighted me, madame," said she, "to have seen this sight in the
company of an /artiste/ of your merit, one whom I admire so much, though
I have never before had an opportunity of telling her so."
"Well, dear me, madame," replied Silviane, "you haven't lost much by
arriving late. We were on that balcony there, and all that I could see
were a few men pushing another one about. . . . It really isn't worth the
trouble of coming."
"Well, now that we have become acquainted, madame," said the Princess, "I
really hope that you will allow me to be your friend."
"Certainly, madame, my friend; and I shall be flattered and delighted to
Standing there, hand in hand, they smiled at one another. Silviane was
very drunk, but her virginal expression had returned to her face; whilst
Rosemonde seemed feverish with vicious curiosity. Duthil, whom the scene
amused, now had but one thought, that of seeing Silviane home; so calling
to Massot, who was approaching, he asked him where he should find a
cab-rank. Rosemonde, however, at once offered her carriage, which was
waiting in an adjacent street.
She would set the actress down at her door, said she, and the deputy at
his; and such was her persistence in the matter that Duthil, greatly
vexed, was obliged to accept her offer.
"Well, then, till to-morrow at the Madeleine," said Massot, again quite
sprightly, as he shook hands with the Princess.
"Yes, till to-morrow, at the Madeleine and the Comedie."
"Ah! yes, of course!" he repeated, taking Silviane's hand, which he
kissed. "The Madeleine in the morning and the Comedie in the evening. . .
. We shall all be there to applaud you."
"Yes, I expect you to do so," said Silviane. "Till to-morrow, then!"
The crowd was now wearily dispersing, to all appearance disappointed and
ill at ease. A few enthusiasts alone lingered in order to witness the
departure of the van in which Salvat's corpse would soon be removed;
while bands of prowlers and harlots, looking very wan in the daylight,
whistled or called to one another with some last filthy expression before
returning to their dens. The headsman's assistants were hastily taking
down the guillotine, and the square would soon be quite clear.
Pierre for his part wished to lead his brother away. Since the fall of
the knife, Guillaume had remained as if stunned, without once opening his
lips. In vain had Pierre tried to rouse him by pointing to the shutters
of Mege's flat, which still remained closed, whereas every other window
of the lofty house was wide open. Although the Socialist deputy hated the
Anarchists, those shutters were doubtless closed as a protest against
capital punishment. Whilst the multitude had been rushing to that
frightful spectacle, Mege, still in bed, with his face turned to the
wall, had probably been dreaming of how he would some day compel mankind
to be happy beneath the rigid laws of Collectivism. Affectionate father
as he was, the recent death of one of his children had quite upset his
private life. His cough, too, had become a very bad one; but he ardently
wished to live, for as soon as that new Monferrand ministry should have
fallen beneath the interpellation which he already contemplated, his own
turn would surely come: he would take the reins of power in hand, abolish
the guillotine and decree justice and perfect felicity.
"Do you see, Guillaume?" Pierre gently repeated. "Mege hasn't opened his
windows. He's a good fellow, after all; although our friends Bache and
Morin dislike him." Then, as his brother still refrained from answering,
Pierre added, "Come, let us go, we must get back home."
They both turned into the Rue de la Folie Regnault, and reached the outer
Boulevards by way of the Rue du Chemin Vert. All the toilers of the
district were now at work. In the long streets edged with low buildings,
work-shops and factories, one heard engines snorting and machinery
rumbling, while up above, the smoke from the lofty chimneys was assuming
a rosy hue in the sunrise. Afterwards, when the brothers reached the
Boulevard de Menilmontant and the Boulevard de Belleville, which they
followed in turn at a leisurely pace, they witnessed the great rush of
the working classes into central Paris. The stream poured forth from
every side; from all the wretched streets of the faubourgs there was an
endless exodus of toilers, who, having risen at dawn, were now hurrying,
in the sharp morning air, to their daily labour. Some wore short jackets
and others blouses; some were in velveteen trousers, others in linen
overalls. Their thick shoes made their tramp a heavy one; their hanging
hands were often deformed by work. And they seemed half asleep, not a
smile was to be seen on any of those wan, weary faces turned yonder
towards the everlasting task--the task which was begun afresh each day,
and which--'twas their only chance--they hoped to be able to take up for
ever and ever. There was no end to that drove of toilers, that army of
various callings, that human flesh fated to manual labour, upon which
Paris preys in order that she may live in luxury and enjoyment.
Then the procession continued across the Boulevard de la Villette, the
Boulevard de la Chapelle, and the Boulevard de Rochechouart, where one
reached the height of Montmartre. More and more workmen were ever coming
down from their bare cold rooms and plunging into the huge city, whence,
tired out, they would that evening merely bring back the bread of
rancour. And now, too, came a stream of work-girls, some of them in
bright skirts, some glancing at the passers-by; girls whose wages were so
paltry, so insufficient, that now and again pretty ones among them never
more turned their faces homewards, whilst the ugly ones wasted away,
condemned to mere bread and water. A little later, moreover, came the
/employes/, the clerks, the counter-jumpers, the whole world of
frock-coated penury--"gentlemen" who devoured a roll as they hastened
onward, worried the while by the dread of being unable to pay their rent,
or by the problem of providing food for wife and children until the end
of the month should come.* And now the sun was fast ascending on the
horizon, the whole army of ants was out and about, and the toilsome day
had begun with its ceaseless display of courage, energy and suffering.
* In Paris nearly all clerks and shop-assistants receive
monthly salaries, while most workmen are paid once a
Never before had it been so plainly manifest to Pierre that work was a
necessity, that it healed and saved. On the occasion of his visit to the
Grandidier works, and later still, when he himself had felt the need of
occupation, there had cone to him the thought that work was really the
world's law. And after that hateful night, after that spilling of blood,
after the slaughter of that toiler maddened by his dreams, there was
consolation and hope in seeing the sun rise once more, and everlasting
labour take up its wonted task. However hard it might prove, however
unjustly it might be lotted out, was it not work which would some day
bring both justice and happiness to the world?
All at once, as the brothers were climbing the steep hillside towards
Guillaume's house, they perceived before and above them the basilica of
the Sacred Heart rising majestically and triumphantly to the sky. This
was no sublunar apparition, no dreamy vision of Domination standing face
to face with nocturnal Paris. The sun now clothed the edifice with
splendour, it looked golden and proud and victorious, flaring with
Then Guillaume, still silent, still feeling Salvat's last glance upon
him, seemed to come to some sudden and final decision. He looked at the
basilica with glowing eyes, and pronounced sentence upon it.
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