January 22st, 1793
Throughout the Rue de Aucoin, a soldier marched to and fro, back and forth, his eyes never focusing and his gate rigid. His uniform consisted of his own ragged clothes, dirty and frayed, a bayoneted rifle flung over his right shoulder, and around his waist, a tri-colored scarf so filthy it was better suited for dish rag than as the symbol for the greatest upheaval of French history. Over in the distance, muted cries were heard from a small child; a dog barking, chasing after the child. A bell tolled. One. Two. Three. Four. Five times. Five times and then the bell tower was silent and only the most practiced ear could hear small reverberations.
Fortunately, Delmont Fleuron did not have such a trained ear and could quickly return to his work as the loud ringing noise had interrupted his work. He was busy reviewing a document between France and England that would allow English citizens to visit Paris without being questioned as harshly as they had been. Delmont worked in the department of International Affairs with France, responsible for the interactions between France and England. Recently his respective English counterpart had been pushing for him to allow easier access for the English and through weeks of negotiation had come to terms and produced a compromise that benefited both countries.
Delmont had no quarries with the agreement for he himself often crossed the straight from Calais in order to visit some relatives in England. No, they were not any Frenchies who had escaped to avoid persecution, but his own flesh and blood. Delmont had been born and raised in France by his French mother, but his father was a blue blood from England, nearly as English as a man could be. But unfortunately, he was dead. Up until the ripe age of 15, Delmont spent his entire summers in England. But the winter before Delmont gained his 16th year, his father had died of a severe case of pneumonia. Delmont only received a small amount of the inheritance, for his father had married another woman with whom he had five other children.
Delmont used his inheritance to pay for education. He already knew how to read and write, but wanted to know more about the government. That was ten years ago. Now, he had his government job as an officer for the department of International Affairs between England. He divided his time between his trips to England and France and often stayed in the homes of other English families. While there, he partook in avid political conversations with the tenants. Of course, everything in England was appalled by the situation in France, the endless slaughter of human beings and the corrupt nature of those running the show. Much to their surprise, however, even though he was born and raised France, Delmont agreed with them most of the times. His beliefs were quite original, one might say.
He believed that the people deserved more rights, but did not agree in the endless slaughter of the people; the people that did not deserve their punishment, with no crime to justify it. And the punishment was horrific beyond compare.
As I walk through a side street, ahead of me I can hear some rather belligerent cries. I near closer to the rectangular stream of light from the exit of the street. All of a sudden: a loud scraping noise and an abrupt thud. Everything goes silent for a few moments. The only thing that can be heard is the soft yelps of a peasant dog in the distance. Time seems to stop until finally, "YAAAAAHHHHHH!" Yells of triumph and of ecstatic joy fill the air. I step into the open light. The blade of the Madame Guillotine is being raised once more; the stain of blood along her edge is glistens in the sunlight. The people in the Place de la Gréve are deeply enveloped in action up on the platform. The executor reaches down into the basket and raises a decapitated head by the hair, blood still dripping from the severed neck, and exclaims "[Insert French exclamation about here]!" All of this occurred yesterday, the 21st of January 1793: The execution of the King of France, Louis XVI. I could not have been more disgusted at the sight ahead of me.
He finished overlooking his document. Delmont Fleuron believed in the three words that represented what the revolution meant on July 14th, 1789, when the citizens stormed the Bastille: "Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité." Delmont stood up for liberty, equality, and brotherhood but what he saw everyday when he passed the guillotine, on the way to his office, was none of those things. All he saw was murder, horrible murder, characterized not through freedom, but by revenge. The actions did not liberate people, but instilled fear into their hearts for if they did not cheer along, they would only be suspected by the Committee of Public Safety.
The King, throughout this entire ordeal, was playing along with Maximillian Robespierre, the one who was running the entire show. In September 1791, he even signed a new constitution that would strip him of a majority of his power and give it more to the people. There have been riots and angry crowds. Numberless innocent people have been murdered, even those who were not aristocrats. People who were giving back and were actually helping have been murdered. Terror has gripped the streets of Paris. Nobody deserved the cruelty of this Revolution. I may be part of the system, but I never had to agree with it.
The Queen, Marie Antoinette, is set to be executed later on this week. The peasant women are more than likely to huddle under and around the platform, knitting their scarves and collecting scraps of hair that fall from the heads of the executed. The prices of goods have risen substantially over the years. Even with my reasonable salary, I have a tough time just paying for the basics: bread, meat, wine. I cannot imagine what life must be like for those stuck in poverty. I hear they are stealing from the Markets. That will only drive prices up even farther. This entire ordeal needs to end. Everything needs to go back to normal. At least, something close to normal because things will never be the same.
Delmont had to take his finished documents over to the office. His boss had been pressing him to finish it before eight and the bell had just stuck seven. At least his office was only a few kilometers away from his apartment. Slowly, his legs stiff from sitting for so long, Delmont rose out from his chair. He picked out his jacket from the where it was folded over the banister, pulled on his riding boots for the streets were still slightly muddy from an earlier rain, rolled up his document, tied it with a bow, stowed it in his pocket, and finally made his way out of his small apartment and down the stairs.
Delmont knocked three times on his cherry wood door that marked the entrance of the government building. After a few moments, a middle-age woman opened the door. Without waiting, Delmont strolled passed the woman and into a poorly lit hallway, up the stairs, and knocked the door on the second left. "Entre," Delmont heard, but also understood some others whispering in the background, masked by the soft crackling of a fire. He turned the knob and slowly swung open the door in front of him.
"I have your document here, Monsieur Chauvelin," explained Delmont, not looking up and seeing two French guards approaching him before they secured his arms. "Mobleu! What is the meaning of this Chauvelin? I have your document and I have not committed any crimes!"
"I am sorry, Fleuron, but I have evidence that proves that you have committed crimes against the Committee of Public Safety and are an enemy of the Republic," explained the Frenchman behind a desk. He was clad in dark britches and riding coat, a tri-color scarf tied around his waist. His jet-black hair was not concealed in a powdered wig, and his eyes were forever filled with silent hatred.
"Under what counts?" Delmont was not yelling, but his voice was stiff with contempt and slightly with fear. A thousand thoughts were running rampant through his mind: who had accused him, what had he been accused of, who might he have talked to who would have turned him in? He could not believe, could not understand the predicament that he was faced with. "Who accuses me?"
"I cannot legally relay the accuser's name to you, but you have been accused of conspiring against the republic and have been labeled a traitor." Chauvelin's dark eyes did not show remorse, and were stone solid. No emotion could have been told through rock-hard stare. However, if Delmont had known him better, he would have seen the smallest glimmer of regret. Delmont had had the greatest promise as a member of the committee. He had heart and drive: motivation to do great things. Chauvelin had seen that and now, he was about to lose his apprentice, and he could nothing about it. To his guards: "Take him away."
Before the two burly men in ragged uniforms could pull him away, Delmont reached into his coat and pulled the document from the inner pockets. As the guards dragged him away, he threw the document onto the floor. "Here's that correspondence paper I was working on. I hope you put it to good use." Chauvelin continued to stare after Delmont, watching as he faded into the darkness of the hallway. Moving around the confines of his desk, he leaned down and snatched the document from the hard, wooden floor. Without even untying it, he tossed it in the fireplace.
The clock tower rang nine. Delmont might have gone with the French guards, but not without a fight. If there was one thing he did not like, it was being manhandled, especially by some guards who had no sense of personal hygiene. He had spat in their faces, tried to free his arms in order to take a swing at the smaller guard, and yelled out certain French words that were not respectable in certain parties. He continued to struggle until they had finally made their way to a carriage, the guards binding his hands in rope before he was thrown head first into the cold and dark. The ropes pulled at his wrists, the fraying material making the flesh raw.
Delmont could feel every bump and divot the carriage rolled over. From what he could tell, they were also moving quite quickly, not yet a canter, but definitely a fast trot, which the journey ever the more unendurable. He knew where he was going: the prison where they held the prisoners that would be sent to the guillotine. He had been there before, had even served observed the jury as they condemned prisoner after prisoner, aristocrat after aristocrat. The means by which they were sent to their deaths were unimaginable. Perhaps they had, before the revolution, insulted a would-be official, establishing a grudge. Maybe they had tried to escape the walls of Paris, only to be spotted by one of the guards. Or perchance, one had relayed the name of a relative in England, so thus they would be suspected of being a traitor. Someone must have heard Delmont speaking of his family in England. He could find no other explanation. But he had never considered such a possibility that he would willingly be traitor against the republic. He may not have agreed with it at times, but he would never risk his own life but such reckless actions.
Everything was all a big misunderstanding. But maybe it wasn't. Who had condemned him? Who would wish for his death? Delmont did not believe himself to have any enemies. He had said some stern words over the years to some people, but none to warrant his own death—.
All of a sudden, the doors of the carriage flew open. Without, the night was dark, except from the slight luminescence of the quarter moon. The guards tore him from the carriage, his hands still bound. They dragged him into the prison, into the basement. He could hear the soft crying of women, the delicate whimpers of a small child. The rope was cut from his hands and he was thrown into the room, onto the freezing, dirt floor. "You'll be tried in the morning." Was all he heard before a door slammed and he was left in the pitch-dark hell.
Delmont awoke by a sliver a light shining bright into his eyes, nearly blinding him. Rubbing his eyes, he stood up and looked around him. He saw the small child, still whimpering in his sleep, the crying woman, quiet as she tried to retie her hair, another young man, staring listlessly into a dark corner. And himself, his wrists still burning. In these people he saw a complete loss of hope. He was one of them. He had no hope to share, none to give, none to take. He was done.
"Monsieur Delmont Fleuron, you have been accused of treason against the republic." Delmont heard no more. It didn't matter. He was done with. He had nobody to call, no one that would miss him before it was too late. Nothing that he heard now would have any affect against the outcome of his life: the end of it. He could plead a case, but as he had seen before, the defendant could have the best speech ever concocted, but would still be sent off to his death.
A slight drizzle was falling from the skies. His arms were tackled to the railings on the trolley, pulled by an old mule. To his right was an old man, his once-pristine riding coat was tattered and filthy. To his left, was a mother and child. Her face was marked by dirt and tears. The child could have been no more than six years old. And in-between the two, stood Delmont Fleuron, his head hung low. His clothes were wrinkled and torn by a night slept on the hard, dirt floor. As the trolley came to a halt, Delmont could see the last of the coffins being carted off, heading towards the gates to be buried in mass graves.
The blade of the guillotine, as he had seen it just the day before, was still stained red by the blood of prisoners, thousands before him. The mother and child had their hands untied. The mother screamed as her child was torn away from her, the little child struggling with the guards until he broke free and hugged his mother once more, before he was pried off, begging his mother not to let him go. By each step, he was led up the stairs to the platform of the guillotine. He was laid out on the board, his neck in the crevice, blood, still wet from the last prisoner marking his collar. As his mother had told him, he said once last prayer to God before the executioner released the rope, the blade falling.
Delmont looked away from the graphic scene before him. The mother went to join her son's fate. Two minutes later, it was his turn. A knife cut the rope around his wrists. He was wrangled up the stairs, and then released. He might have tried to run, but such action would have been no use. He would be caught, and sent straight to his fate once more. Instead, he boldly mounted to the top of the platform and laid himself on the board. Before, he had never believed in God himself. The republic had told him that such beliefs were wrong and were meant only to constrain the weak, that the era was now new. But as the knife was released, no fire reflecting in its blade, Delmont Fleuron found himself also muttering a few words to God, to forgive him and let him find peace.