Book the Third - The Track of a Storm
15. XV. The Footsteps Die Out For Ever
Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh.
Six tumbrils carry the day's wine to La Guillotine. All the
devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could
record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet
there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate,
a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to
maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced
this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar
hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms.
Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again,
and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
Six tumbrils roll along the streets. Change these back again to what
they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time, and they shall be seen to
be the carriages of absolute monarchs, the equipages of feudal nobles,
the toilettes of flaring Jezebels, the churches that are not my
father's house but dens of thieves, the huts of millions of starving
peasants! No; the great magician who majestically works out the
appointed order of the Creator, never reverses his transformations.
"If thou be changed into this shape by the will of God," say the
seers to the enchanted, in the wise Arabian stories, "then remain so!
But, if thou wear this form through mere passing conjuration, then resume
thy former aspect!" Changeless and hopeless, the tumbrils roll along.
As the sombre wheels of the six carts go round, they seem to plough
up a long crooked furrow among the populace in the streets. Ridges
of faces are thrown to this side and to that, and the ploughs go
steadily onward. So used are the regular inhabitants of the houses
to the spectacle, that in many windows there are no people,
and in some the occupation of the hands is not so much as suspended,
while the eyes survey the faces in the tumbrils. Here and there,
the inmate has visitors to see the sight; then he points his finger,
with something of the complacency of a curator or authorised exponent,
to this cart and to this, and seems to tell who sat here yesterday,
and who there the day before.