The Old Wives' Tale eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 635 pages of information about The Old Wives' Tale.
The executioner pointed to it, and two men picked it up and slipped it into its groove, and hoisted it to the summit of the machine.  The executioner peered at it interminably amid a universal silence.  Then he actuated the mechanism, and the mass of metal fell with a muffled, reverberating thud.  There were a few faint shrieks, blended together, and then an overpowering racket of cheers, shouts, hootings, and fragments of song.  The blade was again lifted, instantly reproducing silence, and again it fell, liberating a new bedlam.  The executioner made a movement of satisfaction.  Many women at the windows clapped enthusiastically, and the gendarmes had to fight brutally against the fierce pressure of the crowd.  The workmen doffed their blouses and put on coats, and Sophia was disturbed to see them coming in single file towards the hotel, followed by the executioner in the silk hat.


There was a tremendous opening of doors in the Hotel de Vezelay, and much whispering on thresholds, as the executioner and his band entered solemnly.  Sophia heard them tramp upstairs; they seemed to hesitate, and then apparently went into a room on the same landing as hers.  A door banged.  But Sophia could hear the regular sound of new voices talking, and then the rattling of glasses on a tray.  The conversation which came to her from the windows of the hotel now showed a great increase of excitement.  She could not see the people at these neighbouring windows without showing her own head, and this she would not do.  The boom of a heavy bell striking the hour vibrated over the roofs of the square; she supposed that it might be the cathedral clock.  In a corner of the square she saw Gerald talking vivaciously alone with one of the two girls who had been together.  She wondered vaguely how such a girl had been brought up, and what her parents thought—­or knew!  And she was conscious of an intense pride in herself, of a measureless haughty feeling of superiority.

Her eye caught the guillotine again, and was held by it.  Guarded by gendarmes, that tall and simple object did most menacingly dominate the square with its crude red columns.  Tools and a large open box lay on the ground beside it.  The enfeebled horse in the waggon had an air of dozing on his twisted legs.  Then the first rays of the sun shot lengthwise across the square at the level of the chimneys; and Sophia noticed that nearly all the lamps and candles had been extinguished.  Many people at the windows were yawning; they laughed foolishly after they had yawned.  Some were eating and drinking.  Some were shouting conversations from one house to another.  The mounted gendarmes were still pressing back the feverish crowds that growled at all the inlets to the square.  She saw Chirac walking to and fro alone.  But she could not find Gerald.  He could not have left the square.  Perhaps he had returned to the hotel and would come up to see if she was comfortable or if she needed anything.  Guiltily she sprang back into bed.  When last she had surveyed the room it had been dark; now it was bright and every detail stood clear.  Yet she had the sensation of having been at the window only a few minutes.

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The Old Wives' Tale from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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