For many years I have
delayed this letter, my confession, but I fear I can put these
words aside no longer. I am an old man, now, and my heart is
weakening in strides. My physician says that the end might be
only days away.
If I do not tell my
story now, I may never have the chance. I pray that the God I
abandoned in the name of reason will now take mercy upon me,
for I am not the wise fool I once was. I also pray that whomever
reads this can put aside his incredulity, and accept that what
I say is the truth.
The truth! How many
years have I been unable to admit to what I saw? I never told
my wife while she lived for fear of her doubting me. I have said
nothing to anyone who would have remembered the details of what
I will say for fear of being called a madman.
But these words are
true, both to my vindication and my shame. I pray you will not
judge me too harshly by what I say here. But if you must, I can
only take solace in the hopes that God is more merciful than
you shall be, or that I have been with myself.
It was the year of our
Lord Seventeen-Hundred and Ninety-Four. It was Spring, that I
remember clearly, for the flowers of Paris were blooming red,
and matching the blood that flowed from Mdme. Guillotine. Les
Tricoteuses were hard at work, even in the Autumn chill, and
watching their nimble fingers work filled my young heart with
no small measure of pride.
I was, as I said, filled
with the idea of Revolution - adrift on a sea of ideals and the
blood those ideals spilled. Would that I could have slit the
throats of every Aristocrat and servant to the ancien regime
I could! I am sure the catalog of my sins would be as thick as
some of the Bibles we tossed upon the fires of Reason.
I stood there, that
day, watching heads fall from their bodies. I was entranced by
the spray of blood upon the wind, the call of the crowds and
the glorious sight of it all. I barely noticed when my friend
and superior, Giles De Franquefort, came upon me.
How shall I describe
that terrible man? He was as vicious as he was corpulent: a wattle-jawed
pig in a suit stolen from a rich man's closet. But though he
was lecherous and petty, he had the silken tongue of a worldly
man. He could suggest with a kind-sounding word what it would
have taken a general a bloody-throated scream to do.
So when he put his hand
upon my shoulder, and whispered into my ear 'Come brother - we
have work to do for the good of the Revolution,' I followed his
lead like an obedient dog. It seemed that a certain man of the
town, Henri LeRoux, was suspected of hiding aristos in his cottage
and being a traitor to the cause. And there was but one penalty
for such a charge: I had been watching it all that afternoon.
I knew of this Monsieur
LeRoux - he was a man of some learning, no little means and a
frightening countenance. A doctor by profession, Msr. LeRoux
had a reputation for working miracles. In the past, he had brought
those at death's door back to health when others could not. He
also had a lovely woman, Madame LeRoux, for his wife of ten years.
That he had no children was a matter of some suspicion and gossip,
but such things were not unknown.
More unknown was the
nature of that countenance. It was said that he had a way of
looking at a man and, in a single unflinching glare, determining
them friend or foe, or determining their worth. In a less enlightened
time he might have been reckoned a sorcerer and burnt at a stake.
Indeed, prior to the Revolution such charges were leveled against
him several times by the more superstitious amongst us. But one
look from him could cause even the most steadfast amongst them
to crumble and falter, and so, those charges were never leveled.
There was more to this
story, as I learned later - things that involved Giles De Franquefort,
and should have served to cast doubt upon his charges.
If only I had known! I was not without some influence. I could
have spoken against Giles when he spoke to those who approved
such arrests, and would have been heard...
But, to my shame, I
did not know. And I am also quite afraid that had I known, things
might not have occurred any differently. In those days I was
lusty and headstrong, and just foolish enough to think myself
Had I known the truth,
I might not have cared.
And so, with Giles and
thirteen men, we went to arrest Monsieur LeRoux on The 21st of
October. He and his wife were eating dinner when we broke into
his house, and he brandished the knife as a ready weapon. Faced
with such a glaring countenance, and the prospect of a true fight,
some of the men lost their nerve and stepped back.
Not so Giles De Franquefort.
He stepped forward and put a pistol to Madame LeRoux's head.
'It is you or your wife, Monsieur,' he said. At that moment,
I noticed an odd sense of recognition between the three of them,
though so drunk was I on the thrill of this hunt that I noticed
Faced with such a choice
Monsieur LeRoux did the only thing a gentleman could, glaring
all the while. Giles tipped his hat to Mdme. LeRoux in what was
only a grotesque parody of being a gentleman, and then departed
with his prize under guard.
At that time the docket
of Lady Justice was as ample as her bosom; Monsieur LeRoux was
to spend a month awaiting trial.
In that time, it was
said that he was a model prisoner: as model as one can be under
such circumstances. His only vices were staying up late, reading
the books his wife - as we discovered later - had secreted into
the jail via her dress. I still have one of those books, and
reading it now illuminates much of what was to happen later.
At the time, when his crime was discovered, they were merely
confiscated and he beaten soundly, though we would have done
well to have read them.
The trial was, as I
look back upon my earlier days, as much of a farce as any of
the other trials I attended or arranged in that time.
The list of charges
were read to the jury, already jeering and calling for the guillotine
as Monsieur LeRoux's fate had been decided in advance. He was
accused of Conspiracy, Anti-revolutionary activities, Hiding
Aristocrats, Harboring Pro-Aristocratic sentiments, being one
of the Girondists...: anything and everything that could be leveled
against him in such a court was. That we had found no evidence
of any wrong-doing on his part was of no consequence. That he
was suspected of such made him guilty enough.
Once the prosecution
- headed by none other that I, with Giles De Franquefort goading
me on - had finished, Monsieur LeRoux was asked if he had anything
He said but one thing,
which brought howls of rage and derision from the Jury, yet chilled
my blood. For they could not see his eyes when he said this,
and thought them mere words. But I, being a mere six feet from
him, received the full force of that countenance and those words,
which, taken apart, might be for naught, but taken together could
shred the wings of angels and make devils beat their hooves and
He said: 'I have no
worthy defense to present at this time, Msr. Accuser, but I shall
doubtless acquit myself at a later date, in a trial where I shall
be the Prosecution, he -' Indicating Giles ' - the Accused, and
you, Msr., the jury.'
The sentence was death,
to be carried out immediately following the trial.
Oddly enough, Madame
LeRoux did not cry nor weep once the entire time. Not when her
love was sentenced. Not when he was taken on foot to the place
of death. Not when he was strapped into the waiting arms of Madame
Guillotine. Not even when Les Tricoteuses were sewing his name
into the list of the dead and his head was draining in a basket
did she blanch, or weep, or cry out. She was as stone.
I for my part did cry
out at one point. When I stood before the Guillotine and watched
him die, he fixed upon me a look: that same damned and eternal
stare of judgment he had given me before at the time of his arrest,
and at the trial. And he continued that look, even unto the moment
his head was struck from his shoulders, spun downwards, and landed
face up, gasping for air.
His eyes fell upon me
again at that moment, and it was as though I could feel that
moment of horror with him. I could feel the loss of sensation...
the draining... the screaming of the mind as when drowning or
deprived of breath. I saw the odd whiteness that comes to the
eyes as one's sight fixes upon something we, the living, cannot
In that moment I gasped
and cried out, stepping backwards away from the basket. I left
the crowds, and the mayhem and the screams of demented joy...
and I left the sight of Monsieur LeRoux as quickly as I could.
On my way from the square
another horror awaited me, for in my haste to escape that stare
I was not truly aware of where my feet were falling. I fell over
what I took to be a rut in the road and landed in odure, cursing
and snarling. I turned to gaze upon whatever caused my fall,
only to find the withered and dead face of a beggar who had died
in the night.
I screamed, drawing
no undue amount of attention to myself, and scampered away like
a frightened dog.
The next day I spent
away from my Revolutionary duties, convalescing at home with
my books and my wife. No matter what I did, or what I read, or
what I tried to think about, I could not clear the last moments
of Msr. LeRoux's life from my head. Almost everything brought
back a hideous memory: the sound of water dripping, the far-off
calls of the mob, the wet sounds my dog made while eating...
all these and more brought back the perspectives of a dying man.
Giles De Franquefort
came by at one point, heady, drunk and in a mood to celebrate
what he called 'His Shining Moment.'
'My enemy is dead!'
He exclaimed as he quaffed his bottle of wine, 'And tonight I
will collect his spoils for the glory of the Revolution!'
'You speak of Msr. LeRoux,
do you not, Msr?' My wife asked.
'None other!' Giles
said with a laugh, quaffing another measure of the wine with
a twisted smile upon his face.
'I am told you both
attended the same school?' She asked, trying to make conversation.
I seemed in need of it.
'Indeed,' Giles replied,
and in that moment his face was darkened: 'We took the same classes,
he and I. He was always of a mind that he was a better man than
anyone else there... a figment of the disease of the aristocracy,
'He had everything,
you see,' Giles went on: 'Everything...'
A strange look came
upon him, then. It was the same look preceding the moment he
tipped his hat to Mdme. LeRoux upon her husband's arrest. A look
of being very far away, in one's memory.
If I had been in any
state to place these pieces together, I could have denounced
Giles then and there, and seen him condemned that very night.
But so shaken was I by the gravity of what I had seen that I
could do naught but nod my weary head and smile. Giles left me
to the tender care of my wife, and went down to the pub to celebrate
his ill-gotten gains.
That night, as I lay
there, trying not to think of that horrible sharing of experience,
my mind entertained a most singular dream.
I dreamt I was standing
on the docket, watching my Doppleganger read a list of charges
to me. Giles sat behind the Doppleganger, ever leering and preening,
occasionally stealing glances at Madame LeRoux.
And yet, that was not
all that I could see in that courtroom. For a moment I wondered
why there were so many people there; Even though the courtrooms
were often filled to the ceiling with onlookers, I could not
remember there having been so many on that day.
But then I looked closer,
though those shared eyes, and I knew horror once more. These
were not people I had overlooked that day, for they had not been
in the courtroom at that time. But they were people I had seen
before: the people whose weeping, or disbelief, or indignant
stares of defiance had last been seen in the public squares where
Madame Guillotine presided - and had taken their very lives.
I tell you truly, I
saw the dead. And there were dozens of them in that courtroom
- all faded from view and yet plainly visible, like fireflies
flickering in the evening vapor from the Seine. Their skin was
white, gray, red or torn down to the bone. They were wrapped
in shrouds, or tattered clothing. They stood on tables, hung
from the ceiling and floated above the floor... all watching
the naive motions of we - the living - who walked side by side
with them, and yet saw them not.
But these were not the
angry phantoms of ancient superstition. They seemed as mortal
men do, only they did so apart from our senses. They watched
the proceedings with thought and concern. They spoke among themselves
in hushed tones, as though reverent of the court's decorum.
But by and by, one of
these approached me. His eyes were as black as coal, and his
gaze was even more unsettling by the fact that it came from the
crook of his arm. His name was known to me: Samuel Chetrien -
an aristo who I'd seen executed in the earliest days of the Terror.
'All is in readiness,
my friend,' He said to me: 'Fear not, for you shall indeed have
your revenge. We will see to it.'
The banging of the gavel
drove me from the dream. I awoke, soaked in sweat and agape at
what I had seen. Before I or my wife were fully conscious of
my actions I had dressed and left, heading for a rendezvous I
somehow knew must occur. The one that haunts me still and denies
my old body the sleep it has so desperately needed.
The guard was on watch,
but as a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal I was able to explain
my pernoctations away. 'Official business,' I shouted as I hurried
past: 'Stand aside of face the wrath of the Citizens!'
And they did as I commanded,
for I suppose the look in my eyes was enough to inspire fear.
For a moment I began to understand the kind of power Msr. LeRoux
must have commanded in life. I wondered what he would carry with
him unto the grave.
By that time I found
myself before Msr. LeRoux's home, aware of an open door and a
candle-lit kitchen. As I approached I heard the sounds of a struggle,
and hideous noises not unlike a horse being dragged under a tumbrel.
An almost inhuman cry for help could be ascertained, and I ran
inside, sword drawn in preparation for the worst.
The kitchen was a scene
of horror and bedlam. Madame LeRoux was nearly dead, draped over
the dining table like a drowned maiden. Her clothes had been
roughly torn from her body and her skull had been savagely opened
by a gunshot. The weapon responsible - a blood-spattered pistol
that I had last seen in the hand of Giles De Franquefort - was
strewn on the floor before the two struggling men I saw.
One, who was losing
the struggle, was undeniably Giles. He looked strangely foolish
with but one eye, one ear and his pants wound about his ankles.
The other mans bony hands were around his throat, and, judging
from the blood on Giles' hands, he had just committed the murderous
deed before his attacker waylaid him.
Of that attacker, I
could see little at first. He wore ragged, mud-soaked clothing
- the sort of thing a starving indigent might wear. But though
his hands were almost skeletal, and his exposed legs were in
an equal state of emaciation, he moved as though possessed by
At long last, after
I heard a strange, crunching noise coming from Giles' throat,
that other man turned to look me in the eye. And I knew horror
in double measure at that moment.
The face was known to
me; It was the dead beggar I had tripped over in the street.
His dried and mud-splattered face was crawling with tiny, white
worms. Matted, brown hair hung down over his face in clumps,
mercifully hiding some of the corpulent picture from view.
But neither it, nor
the worms or mud could hide the second source of horror: his
eyes. For they were narrow and powerful, and filled with hate
from beyond the grave. Though the face was that of a dead beggar,
and the body the absolute same, those eyes... they were the unmistakable
eyes of Henri LeRoux!
'It is as I have said,'
he croaked through the dead mans throat: 'I am now the Prosecution,
he the prisoner, and you the jury. The crime is plain for all
to see, sir: the charges are jealousy, false witness, rape and
intent to murder.
'How do you find the
I stared, unable to
say a thing. My sword hand drooped to the ground, releasing its
grip on the steel. The clattering noise angered the revenant,
and he cried aloud: 'For the Love of God, Msr! How do you find
The words flew from
my lips before I realized what I had done: 'Guilty, Msr. LeRoux,'
The dead man sighed,
and, with a strength I could never have guessed either beggar
or doctor possessed, tore Giles' bloodied, piglike head from
At that very moment,
Madame LeRoux breathed her last. Giles' headless body fell to
the floor next, and the beggar fixed its gaze upon the woman's
silent body. Then he fixed those eyes upon me once more, leaving
me with only the most unreadable of stares. And then he, too,
The gravity of my actions
crashed upon me. I seized my sword from the floor and ran into
the night, laughing hysterically. I shudder to think what the
guard might have said had they seen me. I might have been mistaken
for a madman, and shot.
I think I was mad by
then, and only that madness saved my sanity.
They found the murder
scene the very next day. It was not spoken of.
I assumed Giles' position,
but I did not stay in it for long. I discovered that, in my zeal
to eradicate the horrors I'd seen, I perpetrated even more horrors.
How many people did I sentence to death on a whim, or a grudge,
before I came to my senses and resigned? I shudder to think of
the numbers. God forgive me!
And I pray that my wife
shall forgive me as well. To her dying day I never told my wife
what I saw. She entreated that I do so; She said the fear in
my eyes was that of an unshriven soul before God. But I held
silent, all those years.
So, here in my dying
years, I now relieve myself of that burden. Whatever Henri LeRoux
may have been, he was no worse than his accuser. May the former
be granted a pardon for his crimes, whatever they may have been.
May the latter simply burn, as I fear I shall soon...
Enough of such hopes
and fears. It is Autumn, the leaves are falling, and my old heart
skips its track like a drummer without strength. I shall be dead
soon, but at the least I can say this story shall not die with
May God have mercy upon
Your Obedient servant