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execution with a rope round her neck, as a further and disgraceful testimony of the enormity of her crime. The execution was to take place immediately, so that poor Helen Gillet had no longer to live than the time necessary to walk from the prison to the scaffold. The fatal intelligence of the confirmation of the sentence soon reached the convent. The nuns instantly hurried to the chapel, the tapers were lighted, the most sacred relics brought forth, and the whole sisterhood, with the abbess at their head, prostrated themselves before the altar, and, with prayers, and sobs, and loud lamentations, sought to move Heaven in favour of the young and the beautiful one that was doomed to an ignominious and frightful death. After some time, the Abbess Joan de Saint Joseph quitted the chapel and ascended to the cell of Sister Frances du Saint Esprit, to whose prayers and devout intercession she had particularly recommended poor Helen Gillet. She there found the heart-broken mother of the doomed one prostrated on the floor, near the bedside of the venerable nun, voiceless, motionless, and tearless. To an observation made by the abbess, Sister Frances du Saint Esprit, with her accustomed serenity, said, " I have told you, however, that this young creature shall not die by the hand of the executioner, and that long after we shall have departed this life she will remain upon earth to pray for us,—for such is the will of the Lord.” Though Madame Gillet seemed to be in a state of insensibility, and unconscious of what had taken place between the abbess and the venerable sister, yet all of a sudden she raised her head with a convulsive start from the ground, and uttered a shriek of horror, for her ear had caught the distant sound of a trumpet, marshalling the soldiers ordered to attend the execution.
“And aye, as if for death, some lonely trumpet wail'd." Still
upon her knees, and supporting herself upon her hands, she listened in mute agony to the death-signal; and again and again did the longdrawn and mournful note break with more thrilling distinctness upon her affrighted ear, as the sad procession neared the convent. Soon other sounds became audible: the noise of the horses' hoofs upon the pavement, the tramp of innumerable feet, and the confused but horrible hum of the multitude, interrupted from time to time by the cry sent forth from ten thousand lips, but seeming as uttered only by one voice, of " There she is !—there she is !” On hearing this appalling cry, the wretched mother, who could no longer doubt that it was her daughter who was passing to death, fell lifeless upon her face on the floor.
“ Listen! listen! sister,” said the abbess, as she stood wringing her hands in despair near the pallet of sister Frances. “Oh, my God, sister, do you not hear ?"
“ I hear, as you do," replied the venerable nun, an expression like that of the sweet smile of infancy lighting up her withered features. “I hear the sound of the trumpet and the noise of the horses and their riders ; I hear the cries of the people and the chants of the penitents. Yes," she continued, “ I hear all that; I know that that innocent creature is approaching; that she is now near the convent; I know that they are leading her to death; but verily I tell you, that this day she shall not die. You may comfort her mother with that assurance.”
Poor Helen Gillet walked between two Jesuits and two Capuchin monks, each of whom, in turn, held towards her a crucifix, which she
kissed with devout fervour. Never had she appeared so affectingly beautiful: her dress was spotless white; her long and beautiful raven-dark hair had not as yet been cut off, but was gathered up on the crown of her head, where it was confined by a ribbon. Soon after the commencement of the procession to the scaffold, the ribbon became partially loosened, so that a great portion of Helen's hair slipped from the knot, and fell in graceful and undulating disorder upon her left shoulder, thereby completely concealing from view the ignominious halter that had been placed round her neck. In this some saw only a trifling accident, while others thought they beheld in it the finger of God, thus covering and hiding from the sight the disgraceful addition superadded to the punishment by the Parliament of Dijon. This circumstance of the falling down of the hair led to results of infinitely more serious import than the concealing of the halter, as will be seen in the sequel.
The place of execution at Dijon, to which Helen Gillet was proceeding, was appropriately called the Morimont, or the Mount of Death. In the midst of this place stood the scaffold, hung with black cloth; it was constructed of wood, having a flight of eight steps, and was elevated upon a basement of masonry-work, to which there was an ascent of four steps. All round this structure, at the distance of fifteen or twenty feet, rose a barrier of strong wooden posts and planks to keep off the crowd. Within this barrier, and close to the scaffold, was seated the King's Procurator-General, attended by his huissiers d'honneur; here also were some Jesuits and Capuchin monks occupied in praying for the soul that was about to pass. Within the enclosure, but close to the barrier, were circulating, with slow and solemn steps, six black penitents,* whose appearance was startlingly spectral, from their forms and faces being entirely enveloped in long sable robes, the only features visible being their eyes, which glared upon the spectators from two small holes in each of the pointed hoods which covered their heads. With bare feet, lighted torches in their hands, and a hempen rope round their bodies, these frightful-looking figures went chanting the death-dirge of the poor sufferer, and begging alms in sepulchral and hollow tones for the benefit of the souls in purgatory. Within the wooden barrier was also a little brick building, in which the executioner kept his manacles, cords, flesh-tearing pincers, portable furnace, branding and limb-breaking irons, and all the other inhuman paraphernalia of his hideous ministry. One part of this storehouse of torture was fitted up as an oratory, and served as a succursale, or chapel of ease! dependent upon the bloody temple of the scaffold. It was specifically called La Chapelle, and into it were led to pray those hardened criminals who, having resisted all the ghostly exhortations wasted upon them in the prison, could only be brought to some sense of their awful situation by the sight of the instrument of their death.
An increased noise and agitation amongst the crowd, and every eye turned in one direction, announced that the sad procession had reached the Morimont. Helen Gillet alone ascended the scaffold, and took her station near the block, her eyes raised to Heaven, and her heart, to judge from her apparent serenity, firmly relying upon the justice and mercy of God. For several minutes she remained alone upon the scaffold, “ the observed of all observers,” for Simon Grandjean, the executioner, had not yet appeared. He had remained behind, praying in the chapel of the prison, where he had taken the sacrament that morning. He at length entered the barrier, accompanied by la bourrelle, that is, his wife, or, not to profane the holy name of wife, the female of the bourreau, who, on important occasions, aided him in his horrid functions. The executioner was armed with a short, broad-bladed, and heavy-backed sword—the bourrelle held in one of her hands a long pair of scissors, to cut off the hair of the sufferer. This woman, who seemed to be actuated by the cruelty of a fiend, hurried up the steps of the scaffold, brandishing the scissors above her head; and yet, when she stood by the side of the victim, she seemed, through some unaccountable cause, to have forgotten the purpose for which she had brought the scissors, so that the beautiful hair of poor Helen Gillet remained unpolluted by the touch of this female demon. At this moment Simon Grandjean advanced to the front of the scaffold, and making a sign to the crowd that he wished to address them, (a circumstance unheard-of in the history of judicial executions,) the hoarse murmur of the multitude was instantly hushed into a death-like silence. The executioner at that instant appeared an object of pity rather than of horror; for, pale and enfeebled from sickness, and emaciated and hollow-eyed from the macerations and fleshly mortifications which he had voluntarily undergone, in order to prepare himself for the fulfilment of his terrible ministry, he was scarcely able to stand upright, and leaned for support on the sword, the point of which he held against the ground. It was evident to all that a fierce struggle was going on in his mind between his duty and compassion for the young and beautiful creature that was awaiting death at his hands. At length, with fear and trembling, he exclaimed
* A self-constituted confraternity of laymen, who make it a duty to attend criminals to execution in a hideous and appalling masquerade dress. Some of these confraternities are still kept up, and play their lugubrious pranks, in the South of France.
“Mercy! mercy for me! Your blessing, reverend fathers! Pardon me, men of Dijon, if I should fail in my duty, for it is now more than three months that I have been grievously sick and afflicted in body. I have never yet cut off a head, and the Lord God refuses me sufficient strength to kill this young creature! Upon my faith as a Christian, I feel that I cannot kill her!”
As prompt as the lightning's flash was the reply of the crowd—“ Kill! kill!” roared out the savage populace.
“Do your duty,” said the King's procurator-general; but this mild expression, pronounced with seriousness and dignity, conveyed the same cruel meaning as the inhuman roar of the multitude —“ Kill! kill!"
Simon Grandjean then, with tottering steps, and his eyes filled with tears, approached Helen Gillet, and, throwing himself at her feet, and presenting her the handle of the sword, said, “Noble young lady, kill me or pardon me!”
“ I pardon and bless you,” replied Helen, as she knelt down, and laid her head upon the block.
The executioner, now excited by the bourrelle, who overwhelmed him with reproaches, could no longer defer striking the blow. He raised his arm—a deep drawing-in of the breath by the multitude was distinctly heard—the priests and the penitents exclaimed Jesus Maria! the bright blade gleamed like a lightning flash in the air, and then descended uponi the neck of the sufferer. But Helen's long hair, which, as has been already mentioned, had fallen down over her shoulders, turned aside the force of the blow, and the sword cut deep into her left shoulder. In her anguish she turned over on her right side, while the executioner, after dropping the sword, went to the edge of the scaffold, and called out to the crowd to put him to death.
Already a furious clamour began to rise from the multitude, whose sanguinary impatience had now changed its object, and turned into rage against the unskilfulness of the executioner, mingled with pity for the tortured victim. Some of the populace had already commenced throwing stones at the executioner, when the bourrelle, taking up the sword, sought to fix it firmly in his hands. While she was thus employed, poor Helen Gillet raised herself, and again laid her head, with her hair all dabbled in blood, upon the block. The wretched executioner, now still more confused by the horror of his situation, made another illdirected blow, which at first took effect upon the head of the sufferer, from which, after inflicting a deep gash, it descended upon her neck, entering it not more than a finger's breadth. Again the tortured girl turned over, and, rolling upon the floor, covered with her body the sword (another providential circumstance) which the executioner had thrown down after striking the blow. The fury of the multitude now rose beyond all control, and the executioner, to escape it, jumped from the scaffold, and ran for shelter to the little chapelle already described, whither he was followed by the Jesuits, the Capuchin monks, and the Penitents, as the populace had commenced pulling down the barrier; and stones, nó respecters of persons, were beginning to fly from all quarters, accompanied by the cries of “ Save the sufferer, and kill the executioner?” The masons who were amongst the crowd advanced to demolish the little chapelle, the door of which had been shut and barricadoed inside; and the members of the merciful company of butchers, who were present, followed close behind, determined and ready to slaughter the man of blood.
The monks and holy fathers, who had shut themselves up with the executioner in the little chapelle, fearing by a protracted resistance to draw the fury of the multitude upon their sacred persons, opened the doors, and issued forth chanting the hymn for the dead, as if they were going to their own execution, and holding out their crucifixes as if to conjure and ward off the showers of stones that were falling about them. In this guise they crossed the square of the Morimont, not without receiving on their bare and shaven heads some of the many
missiles that were hurtling in the air above them. Before they had half traversed the square, they heard the dying shriek of the wretched Simon Grandjean, who had been torn by the infuriated populace from the altar of the little chapel, dragged forth into the light and air, for the purpose of being instantly deprived of both, and put to death in a thousand different ways —by a thousand various wounds and
* These circumstances are not imaginary ones, but are expressly mentioned in the procès verbal, or official account of the affair, which was drawn up four days after its occurrence, in the council-chamber of the city of Dijon, and which bears the signature of the échevin Bossuet, the father of that brightest ornament of the French church, the eloquent Bishop of Meaux.
Whilst this popular tragedy was being performed close to the chapel, a still more atrocious scene of hellish cruelty was being perpetrated on the scaffold, where poor Helen Gillet was left alone with the bourrelle. This fiend, in the shape of a woman, not seeing the sword, which was concealed by Helen's having fallen upon it, took the rope which she had round her neck whilst coming to the place of execution, and again placed it round the sufferer's throat, and tightened it. The unfortunate girl, recovering her senses at the moment, raised her hands, and seized the rope, when her inhuman tormentor kicked her brutally and repeatedly in the bosom and stomach, trampled on her hands, and, drawing her up by the rope, shook her violently five or six times, hoping in that way to strangle her. In this she would most probably have succeeded, but, finding herself at the instant assailed by a shower of stones from the multitude, she dragged by the rope around its neck the half inanimate body across the scaffold, and down the eight steps---the late beautiful features now livid and distorted from pain and strangulation, the once finely-formed head now gashed with horrid wounds, and the
once flowing and glossy raven-black hair now a hideously matted and discoloured mass, thick with clotted blood, and gore, and saw-dust!
On reaching the stone basement upon which the scaffold stood, the bourrelle suddenly recollected the pair of scissors which she had brought with her to cut off the culprit's hair; and, as if excited to still more frenzied cruelty by the remembrance, she drew them from her girdle, and endeavoured to cut the throat of her victim with them; but failing in this, she plunged them repeatedly into the face, and neck, and bosom of the hapless girl.
The wretch would have certainly, and soon, completed her murderous design, had not, at the moment, two men, who had scaled the barrier, rushed upon her, and rescued poor Helen from her fiendish hands. They took the rope from her neck, and, making a kind of brancard, or litter, of their arms crossed, carried her towards the house of a surgeon named Nicholas Jacquin. They had not proceeded far with her, when, coming a little to herself, she complained of a burning thirst, and asked for a little water, which being given her, she said, finding her spirits return,
I knew well that God would assist me."
the crowd, getting over the barrier on all sides, rushed upon the bourrelle, and soon reduced her vile body, by innumerable blows of stones, hammers, knives, and poniards *, to a hideous and formless mass of bruised and mutilated flesh, and gore, and shattered bones.
At the house of the surgeon Jacquin (whose descendants, and of the same name, still exercise the same profession in Burgundy) Helen had her wounds visited, after permission had been asked of the municipal authorities. Besides the two inflicted by the sword of the executioner, she had six stabs of scissors ;-one which passed between the windpipe and the jugular vein; another through the under lip, and by which the tongue and palate were lacerated; one above the breast, which pierced nearly to the back-bone; two deep gashes in the head, and several wounds from stones; and a deep incision across the loins, made by the
* So in the original procès verbal.