There stood once in a public place a black tower with massive fortress-like walls and a few grim bastioned windows. It had been built by robber barons, but time swept them into the beyond, and the tower became partly a prison for dangerous criminals and grave offenders, and partly a residence. In the course of centuries new structures were added to it, and were buttressed against the massive walls of the tower and against one another; little by little it assumed the dimensions of a fair sized town set on a rock, with a broken skyline of chimneys, turrets and pointed roofs. When the sky gleamed green in the west there appeared, here and there, lights in the various parts of the tower. The gloomy pile assumed quaint and fanciful contours, and it somehow seemed that at its foot there stretched not an ordinary pavement, but the waves of the sea, the salty and shoreless ocean. And the picture brought to one's mind the shapes of the past, long since dead and forgotten.
An immense ancient clock, which could be seen from afar, was set in the tower. Its complicated mechanism occupied an entire story of the structure, and it was under the care of a one-eyed man who could use a magnifying glass with expert skill. This was the reason why he had become a clockmaker and had tinkered for years with small timepieces before he was given charge of the large clock. Here he felt at home and happy. Often, at odd hours, without apparent need he would enter the room where the wheels, the gears and the levers moved deliberately, and where the immense pendulum cleft the air with wide and even sweep. Having reached the limit of its travel the pendulum said:
"'Twas ever thus."
Then it sank and rose again to a new elevation and added:
"'Twill ever be, 'twas ever thus, 'twill ever be, 'twas ever thus, 'twill ever be."
These were the words with which the one-eyed clockmaker was wont to interpret the monotonous and mysterious language of the pendulum: the close contact with the large clock had made him a philosopher, as they used to say in those days.
Over the ancient city where the tower stood, and over the entire land there ruled one man, the mystic lord of the city and of the land, and his mysterious sway, the rule of one man over the millions was as ancient as the city itself. He was called the King and dubbed the "Twentieth," according to the number of his predecessors of the same name, but this fact explained nothing. Just as no one knew of the early beginnings of the city, no one knew the origin of this strange dominion, and no matter how far back human memory reached the records of the hoary past presented the same mysterious picture of one man who lorded over millions. There was a silent antiquity over which the memory of man had no power, but it, too, at rare intervals, opened its lips; it dropped from its jaws a stone, a little slab marked with some characters, the fragment of a column, a brick from a wall that had crumbled into ruin — and again the mysterious characters revealed the same tale of one who had been lord over millions. Titles, names and soubriquets changed, but the image remained unchanged, as if it were immortal. The King was born and died like all men, and judging from appearance, which was that common to all men, he was a man; but when one took into account the unlimited extent of his power and might, it was easier to imagine that he was God. Especially as God had been always imagined to be like a man, and yet suffered no loss of his peculiar and incomprehensible essence. The Twentieth was the King. This meant that he had power to make a man happy or unhappy; that he could take away his fortune, his health, his liberty and his very life; at his command tens of thousands of men went forth to war, to kill and to die; in his name were wrought acts just and unjust, cruel and merciful. And his laws were no less stringent than those of God; this too enhanced his greatness in that God's laws are immutable, but he could change his at will. Distant or near, he always was higher than life; at his birth man found along with nature, cities and books — his King; dying — he left with nature, cities md books — the King.
The history of the land, oral and written, showed examples of magnanimous, just and good Kings, and though there lived people better than they, still one could understand why they might have ruled. But more frequently it happened that the King was the worst man on earth, bare of all virtues, cruel, unjust, even a madman — yet even then he remained the mysterious one who ruled over millions, and his power increased with his misdeeds. All the world hated and cursed him, but he, the one, ruled over those who hated and cursed, and this savage dominion became an enigma, and the dread of man before man was increased by the mystic terror of the unfathomable. And because of this wisdom, virtue and kindness served to weaken Kingcraft and made it a subject of strife, while tyranny, madness and malice strengthened it. And because of this the practice of beneficence and goodness was beyond the ability of even the most powerful of these mysterious lords though even the weakest of them in destructiveness and evil deeds could surpass the devil and the fiends of hell. He could not give life, but he imposed death, that mysterious Anointed one of madness, death and evil; and his throne rose to greater heights, the more bones had been laid down for its foundations.
In other neighboring lands there sat also lords upon their thrones, and the origin of their dominion was lost in hoary antiquity. There were years and centuries when the mysterious lord disappeared from one of the Kingdoms, though there never was a time when the whole earth was wholly without them. Centuries passed and again, no one knows whence, there appeared in that land a throne, and again there sat thereon some mysterious one, incomprehensibly combining in himself frailty and undying power. And this mystery fascinated the people; at all times there had been among them such as loved him more than themselves, more than their wives and children, and humbly, as if from the hand of God, without murmur or pity, they received from him and in his name, death in most cruel and shameful form.
The Twentieth and his predecessors rarely showed themselves to the people, and only a few ever saw them; but they loved to scatter abroad their image, leaving it on coins, hewing it out of stone, impressing it on myriads of canvases, and adorning and perfecting it through the skill of artists. One could not take a step without seeing the face, the same simple and mysterious face, forcing itself on the mind by sheer ubiquity, conquering the imagination, and acquiring a seeming omnipresence, just as it had attained immortality. And therefore people who but faintly remembered the face of their grandfathers and could not have recognized the features of their great grandfathers, knew well the faces of their lords of a hundred, two hundred or a thousand ears back. And therefore, too, no matter how plain he face of the one man who was master of millions may have been, it bore always the imprint of enigmatic and awe-inspiring mystery. So the face of the dead always seems mysterious and significant, for through he familiar and well known features one gazes upon death, the mysterious and powerful.
Thus high above life stood the King. People died, and whole generations passed from the face of the earth, but he only changed his soubriquet like a serpent shedding his skin: The Eleventh was followed by the twelfth, the fifteenth, then again came the first, the fifth, the second, and in these cold figures sounded an inevitableness like that of a swinging pendulum which larks the passing of time:
"'Twas ever thus, 'twill ever be."
And it happened that in that great country, the lord of which was the Twentieth, there occurred a revolution, a rising of the millions, as mysterious as had been the rule of the one. Something strange happened to the strong ties which had bound together the King and the people, and they began to decay noiselessly, unnoticeably, mysteriously, like a body out of which the life had departed, and in which new forces that had been in hiding somewhere commenced their work. There was the same throne, the same palace, and the same Twentieth — but his power had unaccountably passed away; and no one had noticed the hour of its passage, and all thought that it merely was ailing. The people simply lost the habit of obeying and that was all, and all at once, from out the multitude of separate trifling, unnoticed resistances, there grew up a stupendous, unconquerable movement. And as soon as the people ceased to obey, all their ancient sores were opened, and wrathfully they became conscious of hunger, injustice and oppression. And they made an uproar. And they demanded justice. And they reared a gigantic beast bristling with wrath, taking vengeance on its tamer for years of humiliation and tortures. Just as they had not held counsels to agree to obedience, they did not confer about rebelling; and straightway, from all sides there gathered a rising and made its way to the palace.
Wondering at themselves and their deeds, oblivious of the path behind them, they advanced closer and closer to the throne, fingering already its gilt carving, peeping into the royal bed-chamber and attempting to sit upon royal chairs. The King bowed and the Queen smiled, and many of the people wept with joy as they beheld the Twentieth at close range; the women stroked with cautious fingers the velvet of the royal coat and the silk of the royal gown, while the men with good-natured severity amused the royal infant.
The King bowed and the pale Queen smiled, and from under the door of a neighboring apartment there crept in the black current of the blood of a nobleman, who had stabbed himself to death; he could not survive the spectacle of somebody's dirty fingers touching the royal coat, and committed suicide. And as they dispersed they shouted:
"Long live the Twentieth."
Here and there were some who frowned; but it was all so humorous that they too forgot their annoyance and gaily laughing as if at a carnival when some motley clown is crowned, they also shouted, "Long live the Twentieth." And they laughed. But towards evening there was gloom in their faces and suspicion in their glances; how could they have faith in him who for a thousand years with diabolical cunning had been deceiving his good and confiding people! The palace is dark; its immense windows gleam insincerely and peer sulkily into the darkness: some scheme is being concocted there. They are conjuring the powers of darkness and calling on them for vengeance upon the people. There they loathingly cleanse the lips from traitorous kisses and bathe the royal infant who has been defiled by the touch of the people. Perhaps there is no one there. Perhaps in the immense darkened salons there is only the suicide nobleman and space — they may have disappeared. One must shout, one must call for him, if a living being still be there. "Long live the Twentieth !"
A pale-grey, perplexing sky looks down upon pallid, upturned faces; the frightened clouds are scurrying over the heavens, and the immense windows gleam with a mysterious lifeless light. "Long live the Twentieth!"
The overwhelmed sentinel seems to sway in the surging crowd. He has lost his gun and is smiling; the lock upon the iron portals clatters spasmodically and feverishly; clinging to the lofty iron rods of the gate, like black and misshapen fruit are crouching bodies and outstretched hands, that look pale on top and dark below. A shaggy mass of clouds sweeps the sky and gazes down upon the scenes. Shouts. Someone has lighted a torch, and the palace windows blushed as if crimson with blood and drew nearer to the crowd. Something seemed to be creeping upon the walls and disappeared upon the roof. The lock rattled no longer. The glare of the torch revealed the railing crowded with people, and now it became again invisible. The people were moving onward.
"Long live the Twentieth!" A number of dim lights now seem to be flittering past the windows. Somebody's ugly features press closely to the pane and disappear. It is growing lighter. The torches increase in number, multiply and move up and down, like some curious dance or procession. Now the torches crowd together and incline as if saluting; the king and queen appear on the balcony. There is a blaze of light behind them, but their faces are dark, and the crowd is not sure it is really they, in person.
"Give us Light! Twentieth! Give us Light! We can not see thee!" Suddenly several torches flash to the right and to the left of them, and from a smoky cavern two flushed and trembling countenances come into view. The people in the back are yelling: "It is not they! The king has fled!" But those nearest now shout with the joy of relieved anxiety: "Long live the Twentieth!" The crimson faces are now seen moving slowly up and down, now bright in the lurid glare, now vanishing in the shadow; they are bowing to the people. It is the Nineteenth, the Fourth, the Second who are bowing; bowing in the crimson mist are those mysterious creatures who had held so much enigmatic, almost divine power, and behind them are vanishing in the crimson mist of the past, murders, executions, majesty and dread. Now he must speak; the human voice is needed; when he is silent and bows with his flaming face he is terrible to look upon, like a devil conjured up from hell.
"Speak, Twentieth, speak!" A curious motion of the hand, calling for silence, a strange commanding gesture, as ancient as kingcraft itself, and a gentle unknown voice is heard dropping those ancient and curious words: "I am glad to see my good people." Is that all? And is it not enough? He is glad! The Twentieth is glad! "Be not angry with us Twentieth. We love thee, Twentieth, love us, too. If you will not love us we shall come again to see you in your study where you work, in your dining-room where you eat, in your bed chamber where you sleep, and we shall compel you to love us. Long live the Twentieth! Long live the king! Long live our master!"
Who said slaves? The torches are expiring. They are departing. The dim lights are moving back into the palace, the windows are dark again, but they flush with a crimson reflection. Someone is being sought in the crowd. The crowds are hurrying, casting frightened glances behind. Had he been here or had it been a mere fancy? They ought to have touched him, fingered his garments or his face; he ought to have been made to cry out with terror or pain. They disperse in silence; the shouts of individuals are drowned in the discordant tramp of many feet; they are filled with obscure memories, presentiments and terrors. And horrible visions hover all night long over the city.
He had already attempted to flee. He had bewitched some and lulled others to sleep and had almost gained his diabolical liberty, when a faithful son of the fatherland recognized him in the disguise of a shabby domestic. Not trusting to his memory he looked on a coin which bore his image — and the bells rang out in alarm, the houses belched forth masses of pale and frightened people; it was he! Now he is in the tower, in the immense black tower with the massive walls and the small bastioned windows; and faithful sons of the people are watching him, impervious to bribery, enchantment and flattery. To drive away fear the guards drink and laugh and blow clouds of smoke right into his face, when he essays to take a walk in the prison with his devilish progeny. To prevent him from enchanting the passersby they had boarded up the lower portions of the windows and the tower gallery where he was wont to promenade, and only the wandering clouds in passing look into his face. But he is strong. He transforms the laughter of a freeman into selvile tears; be sows seeds of disloyalty and treason from behind the massive walls and they penetrate into the hearts of the people like black flowers, staining the golden raiment of liberty into the likeness of a wild beast's skin. Traitors and enemies abound on all hands. Descended from their thrones other powerful and mysterious lords gather at the frontier with hordes of savage and bewitched people, matricides ready to put to death freedom, their mother. In the houses, on the streets, in the mysterious wilderness of forests and distant villages, in the proud mansions of the popular assembly, there hisses the sound of treason and glides the shadow of treachery. Woe unto the people! They are betrayed by those who had been the first to raise the banner of revolt and the traitors' wretched remains are already cast out of the dishonored sepulchres and their black blood drenches the earth. Woe unto the people! They are betrayed by those to whom they had given their hearts; betrayed by their own elect; whose faces are honest, whose tongues are uncompromisingly stern and whose pockets are full of somebody's gold.
Now the city is to be searched. It was ordered that all should be in their dwellings at mid-day; and when at the appointed hour the bells were rung, their ominous sound rolled echoing over the deserted and silent streets. Since the city's birth there had never reigned such stillness; not a soul near the fountains; the stores are closed; on the streets, from one end to the other, not a pedestrian, not a carriage to be seen. The alarmed and astonished cats wander in the shadow of the silent walls; they can not tell whether it be day or night; and so profound is the silence that it seems as if their velvety footfall were plainly audible. The measured tones of the bells pass over the streets like invisible brooms sweeping the city clean. Now the cats, too, frightened at something, have disappeared. Silence and desolation.
Suddenly on every street there appear simultaneously little bands of armed people. They converse loudly and freely and stamp their feet, and although they are not many they seem to cause more noisy commotion than the whole city when it is crowded with a hundred thousand pedestrians and vehicles. Each house seems to swallow them up in succession and to belch them forth again. And as they emerge another or two more are belched forth with them, pale with malice or red with wrath. And they walked with their hands in their pockets, for in those curious days no one feared death, not even the traitors; and they entered into the dark jaws of the prison houses. Ten thousand traitors were found that day by the faithful servants of the people; they found ten thousand traitors and cast them into prison. Now the prisons were pleasant and awful to look upon; so full they were from top to bottom with disloyalty and shameful treachery. One wondered that the walls could bear the load without crumbling into dust.
That night there was a general rejoicing in the city. The houses were emptied once more and the streets were filled; endless black throngs engaged in a stupefying dance, a combination of quick and unexpected gyrations. Dancing was in progress from one end of the city to the other. Around the lamp-posts like the foaming surf that beats against the rocks, knots of merrymakers had gathered, clasping hands, their faces aglow with laughter, and wide-eyed, whirling around, now vanishing from view and ever changing in expression. From the lamp-post dangled the corpse of some executed traitor who had not succeeded in reaching the shelter of his prison. His extended legs seeking the ground, almost touched the heads of the dancers, and the corpse itself seemed to dance, yes, it seemed to be the very master of ceremonies and the ring-leader of the merriment, directing the dance.
Then they walked over to the black tower and craning their necks, shouted: "Death to the Twentieth! Death!" Cheerful lights gleamed now in the tower windows ; the faithful sons of the people were watching the tyrant. Calmed and assured that he could not escape, they shouted more in a jest than seriously: "Death to the Twentieth!" And they departed, making room for other shouters. But at night horrible dreams again hovered over the city, and like poison which one has swallowed and failed to spit out, the black towers and prisons reeking with traitors and treachery, gnawed at the city's vitals.
Now they were putting the traitors to death. They had sharpened their sabres, axes and scythes; they had gathered blocks of wood and heavy stones and for forty-eight hours they worked in the prisons until they collapsed from fatigue. They slept anywhere near their bloody work, they ate and drank there. The earth refused to absorb the streams of sluggish blood; they had to cover it with heaps of straw, but that covering too was drenched and transformed into brownish refuse. Seven thousand traitors were put to death that day. Seven thousand traitors had bitten the dust in order to cleanse the city and furnish life to the newborn freedom. They marched again to see the Twentieth and held up to his view the chopped off heads and the torn out hearts of the traitors. And he saw them. Then confusion and consternation reigned in the popular assembly. They sought him who had given the order to slay and could not detect him. But someone must have given the order to slay. Was it you? Or you? Or you? But who had dared to give orders where the popular assembly alone had the right to command? Some are smiling—they seem to know something.
"No! But we have compassion with our native land, while you express pity with traitors!"
Still peace is afar off, and treachery is growing apace and multiplying; insiduously it finds its way into the very hearts of the people. Oh! the sufferings, and Oh! the bloodshed—and all in vain! Through the massive walls that mysterious sovereign still sows the seeds of treachery and enchantment. Alas for freedom! From the West comes the news of terrible dissensions, of battles, of a crazed portion of the people who had seceded and risen in arms against their mother, the Freedom. Threats are heard from the south, and from the cast and the north other mysterious lords who had descended from their thrones are closing in upon the land with their savage hordes. No matter whence they come the clouds are imbued with the breath of foes and of traitors. No matter whence they blow from the north and the south, from the west and the east, the winds waft mutterings of threats and of wrath, and strike joyfully on the ear of him who is imprisoned in the tower, while they sound a funeral knell in the ears of citizens. Alas for the people ! Alas for liberty! At night the moon is bright and radiant as if shining above ruins, but the sun even is lost in the mist and the black concourse of clouds, deformed, monstrous and ugly, which seem to strangle it. They attack it and strangle it and a mingled shagginess of crimson, they crash into the abyss of the west. Once for an instant the sun broke through the clouds — and how sad, awesome and frightened was that ray of light. Hurriedly tender it seemed to caress the tops of the trees, the roofs of the houses, the spires of the churches,
But in the tower the one-eyed clockmaker, who could so conveniently use the magnifying glass, walking amid his wheels and gears, his levers and ropes, and bending his head to one side watches the swinging of the mighty pendulum. "'Twas ever thus — 'twill ever be 'Twas ever thus — 'twill ever be!"
Once when he was very young the clock got out of order and stopped for the space of two days. And it was such a terrifying experience, as if all time had slipped into an abyss. But after the clock had been repaired, all was well again, and now time seems to flow between one's fingers, to ooze drop by drop, to split into little pieces, falling an inch at a time. The immense brazen disc of the pendulum lights up faintly as it moves and seems to swing like a ball of gold if one looks at it with half-closed eyes. A pigeon is heard cooing softly among the rafters. "'Twas ever thus — 'twill ever be!" "'Twas ever thus — 'twill ever be!"
The thousand-year-old monarchy was at last overthrown. There was no need of the plebiscite; every man in the popular assembly had risen to his feet, and from top to bottom it became filled with standing men. Even that sick deputy who had been brought in an armchair rose to his feet; supported by his friends he straightened his limbs, crushed with paralysis, and stood erect like a tall withered stump supported by two young and sender trees.
"The republic is accepted unanimously," someone announced with a sonorous voice, vainly attempting to conceal its triumphant tone.
But they all remained standing. A minute passed, then another; already upon the public square, which was thronged with expectant people, there had burst forth a thunderous manifestation of joy, but in the hall there reigned a solemn stillness as in a cathedral, and stern, majestically serious people, grown rigid in the attitude of proud homage. Before whom are they standing? They no longer own a King, even God, that tyrant and king of heaven, had long since been overthrown from His celestial seat. They are paying homage to Liberty. The aged deputy whose head had been shaking for years with senile palsy now holds it up erect and proud. There, with an easy gesture of his hand, the has pushed aside his friends; the is standing alone, liberty has accomplished a miracle. These men who had long since forgotten the art of weeping, living amid tempests, riots and bloodshed, are weeping now. The cruel eyes of eagles which gazed calm and unmoved on the bloodreeking sun of the Revolution can not withstand the gentle radiance of Liberty, and they shed tears.
Silence reigns in the hall; but a tumultuous uproar is heard outside; growing in volume and intensity it loses its sharpness; it is uniform and mighty and brings to mind the roar of the limitless ocean. They are all freemen now. Free are the dying, free are those coming into the world, free are the living. The mysterious dominion of One which had held the millions in its clutches is overthrown, the black vaults of prisons have crumbled into dust — and overhead shines the cloudless and radiant sky.
"Liberty" — someone whispers softly and tenderly like the name of a sweetheart. "Liberty!" exclaims another, breathless with unutterable joy, his face aglow with intense eagerness and lofty inspiration. "Liberty!" is heard in the clanging of the iron. "Liberty!" sing the stringed instruments. "Liberty!" roars the many-voiced ocean. He is dead, the old deputy. His heart could not contain the infinite joy and it stopped, its last beat being — Liberty! the most blessed of mortals; into the mysterious shadow of the grave he will carry away an endless vision of Newborn Freedom.
They had been awaiting frenzied excesses in the city, hut none took place, The breath of liberty ennobled the people, and they grew gentle and tender and chaste in their demonstrations of joy. They only gazed at one another, they caressed one another with a cautious touch of the hand; it is so sweet to caress a free creature and to look into his eyes. And no one was hanged. There was found a madman who shouted in the crowd: "Long live the Twentieth!" twirled his mustache and prepared himself for the brief struggle and the lengthy agony in the clutches of a maddened throng. And some frowned, while others, the large majority, merely wonderingly and curiously regarding the hairbrained fellow, as a crowd of sightseers might gape at some curious simian from Brazil. And they let him go.
It was late at night when they remembered the Twentieth. A crowd of citizens who refused to part with the great day decided to roam around until daybreak. By chance they bethought themselves of the Twentieth and wended their way to the tower. That black structure merged into the darkness of the sky and at the moment when the citizens approached seemed to be in the act of swallowing a little star. Sonic stray bright little star came close to it, flashed for a moment and disappeared in the darkness. Very close to the ground, in a lower tier of the tower, two lighted windows shone out into the darkness. There the faithful custodians kept their unceasing vigil. The clock struck the hour of two.
"Does he or does he not know?" inquired one of the visitors vainly attempting to make out with his glance the contours of the pile, as if endeavoring to solve its secrets. A dark silhouette now detached itself from the wall, and a dull, weary voice responded:
"He is asleep, citizen."
"Who are you, citizen? You startled me. You walk as softly as a cat!"
Other dark silhouettes now approached from various quarters and mutely confronted the newcomers.
"Why don't you answer? If you are a specter please vanish without delay; the assembly has abolished specters."
But the stranger wearily replied: "We watch the tyrant."
"Did the commune appoint you?"
"No. We appointed ourselves. There are thirty-six of us. There had been thirty-seven, but one died; we watch the tyrant. We have lived near this wall for two months or longer. We are very weary."
"The nation thanks you. Do you know what happened today?"
"Yes, we heard something. We watch the tyrant."
"Have you heard that we are a republic now? That we have liberty?"
"Yes, but we watch the tyrant and we are weary."
"Let us embrace, brothers!"
Cold lips wearily touch the burning lips of the visitors.
"We are weary. He is so cunning and dangerous. Day and night we watch the doors and the windows. I watch that window; you could hardly distinguish it. So you say we have liberty? Very good. But we must go back to our posts. Be calm, citizens. He is asleep. We receive reports every half hour. He is sleeping now."
The silhouettes moved, separated themselves and vanished as if they had gone right through the walls. The gloomy old tower seemed to have grown taller, and from one of the battlements there stretched over the city a dark and shapeless cloud. It seemed as if the tower had grown out of all proportion and was stretching its hand over the city. A light flashed from the dense blackness of the wall and suddenly vanished, like a signal. The cloud now covered the whole city and reflected with a yellowish gleam the lurid glare of many fires. A drizzling rain suddenly commenced to descend. All was silent and all was restless.
Was he really sleeping?
A few more days passed in the new and delicious sensations of freedom, and again new threads of distrust and fear appeared like dark veins running through white marble. The tyrant received the news of his overthrow with suspicious calmness. How can a man be calm when deprived of a kingdom, unless he be planning something terrible? And how can the people be calm. when in their midst there lives a mysterious one having the gift of pernicious enchantment? Overthrown, he continues to be terrible; imprisoned he demonstrates at will his diabolical power which grows with distance. Thus the earth, black at close range, appears like a shining star when seen from the depths of azure space. And in his immediate surroundings his sufferings move to tears. A woman was seen to kiss the hand of the queen. A guard was observed drying his tears. An orator was heard appealing for mercy. As if even now he were not happier than thousands of people who had never seen the light? Who could warrant that on the morrow the.land would not return to its ancient madness, crawling in the dust before him, begging his pardon and rearing anew his throne which it cost so much labor and pain to overthrow!
Bristling with frenzy and terror the millions are listening to the speeches in the popular assembly. Curious speeches. Terrifying words. They speak of his inviolability; they say the is sacro-sanct, that he may not be judged like others are judged, that the may not be punished like others are punished, that the may not be put to death, for he is the King. Consequently Kings still exist! And these words are spoken by those who have sworn to love the people and liberty; the words are uttered by men of tried honesty, by sworn foes of tyranny, by the sons of the people who came forth from the loins of those that were scarred by the merciless and sacrilegious rule of the Kings. Ominous blindness!
Already the majority is inclining in favor of the overthrown one; as if a dense yellow fog issuing forth from that tower had forced its way into the holy mansions of the people's mind, blinding their bright eyes. strangling their newly gained freedom; thus a bride adorned with white blossoms might meet death in the hour of her bridal triumph. Dull despair creeps into the heart, and many hands convulsively stroke the trusted blade; it is better to die with Brutus than to live with Octavianus.
Final remonstrances full of deadly indignation.
"Do you wish to have one man in the land and thirty-five million animals?"
Yes, they wish it. They stand silent with downcast eyes. They are weary of fighting, weary of exercising their will, and in their lassitude, in their yawning and stretching, in their colorless cold words which, however, have a magic effect, one almost fancies the contour of a throne. Scattered exclamations, dull speeches, and the blind silence of unanimous treachery. Liberty is perishing, the luckless bride adorned with white blossoms, who has met her doom in the hour of her bridal triumph.
But hark! The sound of marching. They are coming; like the sound of dozens of gigantic drums beating a wild tattoo. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! They come from the suburbs. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! They march in defense of liberty. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Woe unto traitors! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Traitors, beware!
"The People ask permission to march past the assembly."
But who could stop an avalanche? Who would dare tell an earthquake, "So far and no further shalt thou go!"
The doors are thrown open. There they come from the suburbs. Their faces are the color of the earth. Their breasts are bared. An endless kaleidoscope of motley rags that serve for raiment. A triumph of impulsive, uncontrolled movements. An ominous harmony of disorder. A marching chaos. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Eyes flashing fire! Prongs, scythes, tridents, fenceposts. Men, women and children. Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!
"Long live the representatives of the people! Long live liberty! Death to traitors!"
The deputies smile, frown, bow amiably. They grow dizzy watching the motley procession that seems to have no end. It looks like a torrential stream rushing through a cavern. All faces begin to look alike. All shouts merge into one uniform and solid roar. The tramp of the feet resembles the patter of raindrops upon he roof, a sporific, will-subduing sound which dominates consciousness. A gigantic roof, gigantic raindrops.
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! One hour passes, then two, then three, and still they are filing past. The torches burn with a crimson glare and emit smoke. Both openings, the one through which the people enter and the one through which they file out are like yawning jaws; and it is as if some black ribbon, gleaming with copper and iron, stretched from one door and through the other. Fanciful pictures now present themselves to the weary eye. Now it is an endless belt, now a titanic, swollen and hairy worm. Those sitting above the doors imagine themselves standing on a bridge and feel like floating away. Now and then the clear and unusually vivid realization comes to one's mind: it is the people. And pride, and consciousness of the power and the thirst for great freedom such as has never been known before. A free people, what happiness!
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! They have been marching for eight hours and still the end is not yet. From both sides, where the people enter and where they file out, rode the thunderous notes of the song of the revolution. The words can be hardly heard. Only the time, the cadences and the notes are plainly distinguished. Momentary stillness and threatening shouts. "To arms, citizens! Gather into battalions! Let us go! Let us go!"
No need of a vote. Liberty is safe once more.
Then came the fateful day of the royal judgment. The mysterious power, ancient as the world, was called upon to answer for its misdeeds to the very people it had so long held in bondage. It was called upon to answer to the world which it dishonored by the triumph of its absurdity. Stripped of its cap and bells, deprived of its gaudy throne, of its high-sounding titles and of all those queer symbols of dominion, naked it will stand before the people and will tell by whose right and authority it had exercised its rule over millions, vesting in the person of one being the power to do wrong with impunity, to rob men of their freedom, to inflict punishment and death. But the Twentieth has been judged already by the conscience of the people. No mercy will be shown him. Yet, ere he goes to his doom, let him unbosom himself, let him acquaint the people, not with his deeds, they are sufficiently well known to them, but with the thoughts, the motives and the feelings of a king. That mythical dragon who devours children and virgins, who has held the world in thrall, is now securely fettered and bound with heavy chains. He will be taken to the public square and soon the people will see his scaly trunk, his venomous fangs and the cruel jaws that exhale fierce flames.
Some plot was feared. All night long troops had marched through the tranquil streets, filling the squares and passages, fencing in the route of the royal procession with rows of gleaming bayonets, surrounding it with a wall of somber and sternly solemn faces. Above the black silhouettes of buildings and churches, that loomed sharp, square-shaped and strangely indistinct in the twilight of the early dawn, there appeared the first faint gleam of the yellow and cloudy sky, the cold sky of the city, looking as aged as the houses and, like them, covered with soot and rust. It resembled some painting hanging in a dark hall of an ancient baronial castle.
The city slept in anxious anticipation of the great and portentous day, while on the streets the citizen-soldiers moved quietly in well-formed ranks, striving to muffle the sounds of their heavy footsteps. The low-browed cannons, almost grazing the ground with their chins, rattled insolently over the roadways with the ruddy glare of a fuse on each piece of ordnance.
Orders were given in a subdued tone, almost in a whisper, as if the commanders feared to waken some light and suspicious sleeper. Whether they feared for the king and his safety, or whether they feared the king himself, no one knew. But everybody knew that there was need of preparation, need of summoning the entire strength of the people.
The morning would dawn, but slowly; massive yellow clouds, bushy and grimy as if they had been rubbed with a filthy cloth, hung over the church spires, and only as the king emerged from the tower the sun burst into radiance through a rift in the clouds. Happy augury for the people, ominous warning for the tyrant!
And thus was he taken from prison; through a narrow lane formed by two solid lines of troops there moved companies of armed soldiers — one, two, ten, you could not have counted their number. Then came the guns, rattling, rattling, rattling. Then gripped in the vicelike embrace of rifles, sabers and bayonets came the carriage, scarcely able to proceed. And again fresh guns and companies of soldiers. And all through that journey of many miles silence preceded the carriage, and was behind it and all around it. At one point in the public square there were heard a few tentative shouts, "Death to the Twentieth!" But finding no support in the crowd, the shouts subsided. Thus in the chase of a wild boar only the inexperienced dogs are heard barking, but those who will maim and be maimed are silent, gathering wrath and strength.
In the assembly there reigns an excitedly subdued hubbub of conversation. They have been expecting for some hours the coming of the tyrant, who approaches with snail-like pace; the deputies walk about the corridors in agitation, every moment changing their positions, laughing without apparent cause and animatedly gossiping about any trivial thing. But many are sitting motionless, like statues of stone, and their expression is also stonelike. Their faces are young, but the furrows thereon are deep and old, as if hewn by an ax, and their hair is rough; their eyes either ominously hidden in the cavernous depths of the skull or intently drawn forward, wide and comprehensive, as if not shaded by eyebrows, like torches burning in the gloomy recesses of a prison. There is no terror on earth which these eyes could not gaze on without a tremor. There is no cruelty, no sorrow, no spectral horror before which this glance would flinch, hardened as they had been in the furnace of the revolution. Those who were the first to launch the great movement have long since died and their ashes have been scattered abroad; they are forgotten, forgotten are their ideas, aspirations and yearnings. The onetime thunder of their speeches is like the rattle in the hands of a babe; the great freedom of which they dreamt now seems like the crib of a child with a canopy to protect it from flies and the glare of daylight. But these have grown up amid the storms and live in the tempest; they are the darling children of tumultuous days, of blood-reeking heads borne aloft on lances like pumpkins, of massive and mighty hearts made to give forth blood; of titanic orations, where a word is sharper than the dagger and an idea more pitiless than gunpowder. Obedient only to the will of the people they have summoned the specter of imperious power, and now, cold and passionless, like surgeons dissecting a corpse, like judges, like executioners, they will analyze its ghostly bluish effulgence which so awes the ignorant and the superstitious, they will dissect its spectral members, they will discover the black venom of tyranny, and they will let it pass to its doom.
Now the hubbub outside prows faint, and stillness profound and black as the heavens at night ensues; now the rattle of approaching cannon. This, too, subsides. A slight commotion near the entrance. Everybody is seated; they must be sitting when the tyrant enters. They strive to look unconcerned. Heavy tramping of troops placed in various stations about the building and a subdued clanging of arms. The last of the cannon outside conclude their noisy peregrination. Like a ring of steel they surround the buildings, their jaws pointing outward, facing the whole world — the west and the east the north and the south. Something looking quite insignificant entered the hall. Seen from the more distant benches higher up it appeared to be a fat, undersized manikin with swift uncertain movements. Observed at close range it was seen to be a stout man of medium height, with a prominent nose that was crimson with the cold, baggy cheeks and dull little eyes, an expressive mixture of good nature, insignificance and stupidity. He turns his head, not knowing whether to bow or not and then nods lightly; he stands in indecision, with feet spread apart, not knowing whether he may sit down or not. Not a word is heard, but there is a chair behind him, evidently intended for him, and he sits down, first unobtrusively, then more firmly, and finally assumes a majestic posture. He has evidently a severe cold, for he draws from his pocket a handkerchief and uses it with apparent enjoyment, emitting a loud and trumpet-like sound. Then he pulls himself together, pockets his handkerchief and grows majestically rigid. He is ready. Such is the Twentieth.
They had been expecting a King, but there appeared before them a clown. They had been expecting a dragon, but there came a big-nosed buorgeois with a handkerchief and a bad cold. It was funny, and curious and a little uncanny. Had not someone substituted a pretender in his place? "It is I, the King," says the Twentieth.
Yes, it is he, indeed. How funny he is! Think of him for a King! The people smiled, shrugged their shoulders and could hardly refrain from laughter. They exchanged mocking smiles and salutes and seemed to inquire in the language of signs: "Well, what do you think of Him?" The deputies were very serious and pale. Undoubtedly the feeling of responsibility oppressed them. But the people were merry in a quiet way. How had they managed to make their way into the assembly hall? How does water trickle through a hole? They had penetrated through some broken windows, they had almost slipped through the keyholes. Hundreds of ragged and phantastically attired but extremely courteous and affable strangers. Crowding a deputy they solicitously inquired: "Hope I am not in your way, citizen?" They were very polite. Like quaint birds, they clung in dark rows to the window sills, obstructing the light and seemed to be signalling something to the people in the square outside. It was apparently something funny.
But the deputies are serious, very serious and even pale. They fix their eager eyes like magnifying lenses upon the Twentieth, gazing upon him long and intently, and turn away frowning. Some have closed their eyes altogether. They loathe the sight of the tyrant. "Citizen deputy," exclaims with delighted awe one of the courteous strangers; "see how the tyrant's eyes are glowing." Without raising his drooping eyelids the deputy replies, "Yes!"
"How well nourished he looks."
"But you are not very talkative, citizen!"
Silence again. There below the Twentieth is already mumbling his speech. He can not understand of what he could be accused. He had always loved the people and the people loved him; and he still loved the people in spite of all insults. If the people think a republic would suit them better, let them have a republic, He has nothing against it.
"But why then did you summon other tyrants?"
"I did not summon them; they came of their own accord."
This answer is false. Documents had been found in a secret drawer establishing the fact of the negotiations. But he insists, clumsily and stupidly, like any ordinary rascal caught cheating. He even looks offended. As a matter of fact he has always had the best interests of the people at heart. No, he has not been cruel; he always pardoned whomever he could pardon. No, he has not ruined the land by his extravagance, he only used for himself as much as an ordinary plain citizen might. He had never been a profligate or a wastrel. He is a lover of Greek and Latin classical literature and of cabinet making. All the furniture in his study is the work of his hands. So much is correct. To look at him, he certainly had the appearance of a plain citizen; there are multitudes of stout fellows like him with noses that emit trumpet-like sounds; they may be met a-plenty on the riverside of a holiday, fishing. Insignificant funny men with big noses. But he had been a King! What could it mean? Then anybody could be a King!
A gorilla might become an absolute ruler over men! And a golden throne might be reared for it to sit on! And divine honor might be paid to it, and it might lay dawn the laws of life for the people. A hoary gorilla, a pitiful survival of the forest!
The brief autumn day is drawing to a close, and the people begin to express impatience. Why bother so long with the tyrant? What, is there some new treachery being hatched? In the twilight of an ante-chamber two deputies meet. They scrutinize one another and exchange a glance of mutual recognition. Then they walk together, for some reason avoiding contact with their bodies.
"But where is the tyrant?" suddenly exclaims one of them and grasps the shoulder of his companion, "Tell me, where is the tyrant?"
"I don't know. I feel too ashamed to enter the hall."
"Horrible thought! Is insignificance the secret of tyranny? Are nonentities our real tyrants?"
"I don't know, but I am ashamed."
The little ante-chamber was quiet, but from all sides, from the assembly hall and from the public square outside, there was heard a dull roaring. Each individual perhaps spoke in low tones, but altogether the result was an elemental turmoil like the roaring of the distant ocean. A ruddy glare seemed to be flitting over the walls, evidently men outside were lighting their torches. Then not afar off was heard the measured tramping of feet and the subdued rattle of arms. They were relieving the watches. Whom are they watching? What is the use?
"Drive him out of the country!" "No. The people will not permit it. He must be killed." "But that would be another wrong."
The ruddy spots seem now climbing up and down along the walls, and spectral shadows make their appearance, now creeping, now leaping; as if the bloody days of the past and of the present were passing in review in an endless procession through the visions of a dreamer. The turmoil outside grows more boisterous; one can almost discern individual shouts. "For the first time in my life, today a feeling of dread has seized my heart."
"Likewise of despair, and of shame."
"Yes, and of despair! Let me have your hand, brother. How cold it is. Here in the face of unknown perils and in the hour of a great humiliation, let us swear that we will not betray freedom. We shall perish. I felt it to-day. But perishing let us shout, 'Liberty, liberty, brothers!'" "Let us shout it so loud that a world of slaves shall quake with fear. Clasp my hand tighter, brother."
It was still now; here and there crimson spots flared up along the walls, while the misty shadows moved with swiftness, but the abyss below roared and thundered with increasing fury, as if a dreadful and mighty hurricane had come sweeping onward from the north and the south, from the west and the cast, and had stirred the multitude with its terror. Fragments of songs and howls and one word as if sketched in stupendous jagged black outlines in the chaos of sounds:
"Death! Death to the Tyrant!"
The two deputies were standing lost in a reverie. Time passed on, but still they stood there, unmoved in the maddened chase of shadow shapes and smoke, and it seemed as if they had been standing there for ages. Thousands of spectral years surrounded them with the mighty and majestic silence of eternity, while the shadows whirled on frenziedly, and the shouts rose and fell beating against the window like windswept breakers. At times the weird and mysterious rhythm of the surf could be discerned in the turmoil and the thunderous roar of the breaking waves. "Death! Death to the tyrant!" At last they stirred from the spot.
"Well let us go in there!" "Let us go in! Fool that I was! I had thought that this day would end the fight with tyranny." "The fight is just commencing. Let us go in!"
They passed through dark corridors and dawn marble stairways, through chilly and silent halls that are as damp as cellars. Suddenly a gleam or light, a wave of heated air like the breath of a furnace, a hubbub of voices like a hundred caged parrots talking against time. Then another doorway and at their feet there opens an immense chasm, littered with heads, semi-dark and filled with smoke. Reddish tongues of candles stifling for want of fresh air. Someone is speaking somewhere. Thunderous applause. The speech is apparently ended. At the very bottom of the abyss, between two flickering lights is the small figure of the Twentieth. He is wiping the perspiration from his forehead with a handkerchief, bends low over the table and reads something with an indistinct mumbling voice. He is reading his speech of defense. How hot he feels! Ho, Twentieth! Remember that you are king. Raise your voice ennoble the ax and the executioner! No! He mumbles on, tragically serious in his stupidity.
Many watched the execution of the king from the roofs, but even the roofs were not sufficient to accommodate the sight-seers and many did not succeed after all in seeing how kings are executed. But the high and narrow houses, with the queer coiffure of mobile creatures instead of roofs seemed to have become endowed with life, and their opened windows resembled black, winking eyes. Behind the houses rose church spires and towers, some pointed and others blunt, and at first glance they looked the same as usual, but on closer observation they appeared to be dotted with dark transverse lines which seemed to be swaying to and fro; they, too, were crowded with people. Nothing could be seen from so great a height, but they looked on just the same. Seen from the roofs of houses the scaffold seemed as small as a child's plaything, something like a toy barrow with broken handles. The few persons who stood apart from the sight-seers and in the immediate neighborhood of the scaffold, the only few persons who stood by themselves (the rest of the people having been merged into a dense mass of black),those few persons standing by themselves oddly resembled tiny black ants walking erect. Everything seemed to be on a level, and yet they laboriously and slowly ascended invisible steps. And it seemed strange that right beside one, upon the neighboring roofs, there stood people with large heads, mouths and noses. The drums beat loudly. A little black coach drove up to the scaffold. For quite a little while nothing could be discerned. Then a little group separated itself from the mass and very slowly ascended some invisible steps. Then the group dispersed, leaving in the center a tiny looking individual. The drums beat again and one's heart stood still. Suddenly the tattoo came to an end hoarsely and brokenly. All was still. The tiny lone figure raised its hand, dropped it and raised it again. It is evidently speaking, but not a word is heard. What is it saying? What is it saying? Suddenly the drums broke into a tattoo, scattering abroad their martial beats, and rending the air into myriads of particles which hindered one from seeing. Commotion on the scaffold, The little figure has vanished. He is being executed. The drums beat again and all of a sudden, hoarsely and brokenly, cease from their tumult. On the spot where the Twentieth had stood just a moment before there is a new little figure with extended hand. And in that hand there is seen something tiny, that is light on one side and dark on the other, like a pin head dyed in two colors. It is the head of the King. At last! The coffin, with the body and the head of the King, was rushed off somewhere, and the conveyance that bore it away drove off at a breakneck speed, crushing the people in its path. It was feared that the frenzied populace would not spare even the remains of the tyrant. But the people were terrible indeed. Imbued with the ancient slavish fear they could not bring themselves to believe that it had really taken place, that the inviolable sacrosanct and potent sovereign had placed his head under the ax of the executioner: desperately and blindly they besieged the scaffold; eyes very often play tricks on one and the ears deceive. They must touch the scaffold with their hands, they must breathe in the odor of royal blood, steep their arms in it up to the elbows. They fought, scrambled, fell and screamed. There something soft, like a bundle of rags, rolls under the feet of the crowd. It is the body of one crushed to death. Then another and another. Having fought their way to the heap of ruins which remained of the scaffold, with feverish hands they broke off fragments of it, scraping them off with their nails; they demolished the scaffold greedily, blindly grabbing heavy beams, and after a step or two fell under the burden. And the crowd closed in over the heads of the fallen while the beams rose to the surface, floated along as if borne on some current, and diving again it showed for a moment its jagged edge and then disappeared. Some found a little pool of blood that the thirsting ground had not yet drained and that had not yet been trampled under foot, and they dipped into it their handkerchiefs and their raiment. Many smeared the blood on their lips and imprinted some mysterious signs on their foreheads, anointing themselves with the blood of the King to the new reign of freedom. They were intoxicated with savage delight. Unaccompanied by song or speech they whirled in a breathless dance; ran about raising aloft their bloodstained rags, and scattered over the city, shouting, roaring and laughing incontinently and strangely. Some attempted to sing, but songs were too slow, too harmonious and rhythmical, and they again resumed their wild laughing and shouting. They started toward the national assembly intending to thank the deputies for ridding the land of the tyrant, but on the way they were deflected from their goal by the pursuit of a traitor who shouted: "The King is dead, long live the King! Long live the Twenty-first!" And then they dispersed — after having hanged someone.
Many of those who secretly continued to be loyal to the King could not bear the thought of his execution and lost their minds; many others, though they were cowards, committed suicide. Until the very last moment they waited for something, hoped for something, and had faith in the efficacy of their prayers. But when the execution had taken place they were seized with despair. Some grimly and sullenly, others in sacrilegious frenzy pierced their hearts with daggers. And there were some who ran out into the street with a savage thirst for martyrdom, and facing the avalanche of the people shouted madly, "Long live the Twenty-first!" and they perished.
The day was drawing to a close and the night was breaking upon the city, the stern and truthful night which has no eyes for that which is visible. .The city was yet bright with the glare of street lights, but the river under the bridge was as black as liquid soot, and only in the distance, where it curved, and where the last pale cold gleams of sunset were dying away, it shone dimly like the cold reflection of polished metal. Two men stood on the bridge, leaning against its masonry, and peered into the dark and mysterious depth of the river.
"Do you believe that freedom really came today?" asked one of the twain in a low tone of voice, for the city was yet bright with many lights, while the river below stretched away, wrapped in blackness.
"Look, a corpse is floating there," exclaimed the other, and he spoke in a low tone of voice, for the corpse was very near and its broad blue face was turned upward.
"There are many of them floating in the river these days. They are floating down to the sea."
"I have not much faith in their liberty. They are too happy over the death of the Insignificant One."
From the city where the lights were yet burning the breeze wafted sounds of voices, of laughter and of songs. Merrymaking was still in progress.
"Dominion must be destroyed yet," said the first.
"The slaves must be destroyed. There is no such thing as dominion; slavery alone exists. There goes another corpse. And still another. How many there are of them. Where do they come from? They appear so suddenly from under the bridge!"
"But the people love liberty."
"No. They merely fear the whip. When they shall learn to love liberty they will become free."
"Let us go hence. The sight of these corpses nauseates me."
And as they turned to depart, while the lights were yet shining in the city and the river was as black as liquid soot, they beheld something massive and somber, that seemed begotten of darkness and light. From the east, where the river lost itself in the maze of gloom-enveloped meadows, and where the darkness was a stir like a thing of life, there rose something immense, shapeless and blind. It rose and stopped motionless, and though it had no eyes it looked, and though it had no hands, it extended them over the city, and though it was a dead thing, it lived and breathed. The sight was awe inspiring.
"That is the fog rising over the river," said the first.
"No, that is a cloud," said the second.
It was both a fog and a cloud.
"It seems to be looking." It was.
"It seems to be listening." It was.
"It is coming toward us." No, it remained motionless. It remained motionless, immense, shapeless and blind; upon its weird excrescences shone with a ruddy glow the reflected gleaming of the city's lights, and be-, low, at its foot, the black river lost itself in the embrace of gloom enveloped meadows, and the darkness was a stir like a thing of life. Swaying sullenly upon the waves corpses floated into the darkness and lost themselves in the gloom, and new corpses took their places, swaying dumbly and sullenly and disappeared — countless corpses, silent, thinking their own thoughts, black and cold as the water that was carrying them hence.
And in that lofty tower from where early that morning the King had been taken to his doom, the one-eyed clockmaker was fast asleep right under the great pendulum. That day he had been very pleased with the stillness that reigned in his tower. He even had burst into song, that one-eyed clockmaker. Yes, he had been singing; and he walked about affectionately among his wheels and levers until dark. He felt the guy ropes, sat on the rungs of his ladders, swinging his feet and purring, and would not look at the pendulum, pretending that he was cross. But then he looked at it sideways and laughed out loudly, and the pendulum answered him with joyous peals. It kept on swinging, smiling all over its brazen face and roaring; "'Twas ever thus! 'Twill ever be! 'Twas ever thus! 'Twill ever be!"
"Come now! Come now!" urged the one-eyed clockmaker, splitting his sides with laughter. "Twas ever thus! Twill ever be!" And when it had grown quite dark the one-eyed hermit sought rest beneath the swinging pendulum and was soon asleep. But the pendulum did not sleep, and kept on swinging all night long above his head, wafting strange dreams to the sleeper.