Thursday, October 18, 2007

Une Femme Galante

"Designed by Dr Joseph Guillotine, a man described as kindly and who wanted to make execution more humane, the guillotine quickly became a symbol of tyranny during the French Revolution.
Victims were placed on a bench, face down, and their necks positioned between the uprights.
The actual beheading was very quick - often to the gathered crowd's disgust - taking less than half a second from blade drop to the victim's head rolling into the waiting basket.
However, debate rages over whether the quickness of the execution was humane or not, as many doctors put forward the notion that it could take up to 30 seconds before the victim lost consciousness.
That piece of gruesome news would not have worried the crowd, which continually called for aristocratic and royalist blood to be spilt.
An estimated 40,000 people travelled on the tumbrels through Paris to die under Madame Guillotine."

You know, I'm not all that different from you. Every day, hundreds of men just like me walk along the streets of this vast city. You may have even seen me, myself, as I went to buy bread, or cheese, or wine. Simple things. Things you do everyday. But when I wear the articles of clothing that conceal my identity, the mask in particular, everything changes. The people in the crowd back away from me in fear. I change from a simple citizen of this New France to The Man Who Kills. The crowd changes from a simple group of people, people like you, remember, transacting life, to a witless mob chanting for death. And maybe that is you as well.

Please understand, I am far from political. Though I am doing somewhat better under the new order, I had no objections to the way things were before. I had food, a roof over my head, enough money for a little wine. What more could any man want? Rather a lot, apparently, if the rumored excesses of the Royals are true...
(I have doubts about the veracity of the mob. Indeed, if you allow me to whisper, I might add that I have some doubts about the mob itself! It cackles like a bird, runs rough-shod over the laws of human decency, which should trump any law proposed by man. My late father never trusted the mob. He told me once, "If your only choice is between a tyrant and the mob, take the tyrant every time. The tyrant is only one man, and will thus be limited in the number of outrages he can conceive and commit. But there is no limit on the mob.")

It was not my day to offer death when the King was killed. I have heard that he approached his end with an almost inhuman dignity. He was said to have prepared himself for the blade before approaching the Guillotine. Louis, when approached by the Revolution guards who wanted to tie his hands before allowing him to ascend the platform, called out in a masterful voice, "Do what you have been ordered to do. I accept that. But you will not bind my hands!" He was a brave man, was Louis.

I admit that I am sympathetic to the King's position. He had actually been trying to reign in the nobility, not at all like his two predecessors on the throne. But the example we had been presented across the ocean, in America, was too tempting to ignore. I believe that, had an acknowledged saint been upon the throne at the point the Revolution began, he, too would have suffered the same fate as Louis.

But whatever was the point in killing his consort, Marie Antoinette? Certainly, she had been a prime example of the excesses at Versailles, but after her children were born she settled down, and became an exemplary mother, and wife to the King. And what was her reward? Separation from her children, imprisonment in the squalid Concierge prison. and the terror of facing the Revolutionary guards herself, as her husband had.

But for all the criticism and torment, she, too faced her death with a special type of grace. As she was led up to me, she stepped on my foot, Now if anyone deserved the freedom to do as they wished, Marie had earned it, Yet she spoke up then, the first and only words she spoke that day. "Pardon me Monsieur for stepping on your foot, I didn't mean to". (Now understand that more than a few have stumbled en route to that final encounter.None, except Marie Antoinette, had ever apologized for a misstep.) Those were the last words she spoke on this Earth.

I pray that, when my last hour comes, that I may approach my end with the dignity and calm that Marie Antoinette did. Quell femme galante!

-Something different from

Mike Riley


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