Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Capital Punishment

Many years ago I read a book about a family in France that were hereditary executioners from time immemorial. Everyone in the family belonged to the business. Once in a while someone would move away, change their name, and try to open a quiet shop somewhere in anonymity. Once their their actual identity got out, however, they would be shunned and ultimately had to return to the family business. The last execution in France (sometime if I remember correctly in the 1940's), by guillotine, was carried out by one of their descendants.

One of the many many horrific anecdotes in the book was about an aristocrat who knocked on the first door he could find in a drenching rainstorm. As it sank in whose home he was in, he began to poke around with horror-tinged fascination. Hanging on one wall was a massive, heavy sword that could easily lop a head off in a single swipe, compared to many situations where people were hacked on like logs. He said that if he ever was sentenced to death, he wanted them to use that sword on him.

Oh well sure enough he was condemned some years later, and the family sought to honor his wish. Except that the only two people in town that day were an eight-year-old boy and a frail, elderly man. So the fellow put his neck on the block, and the kid lifted the unwieldy monster of a sword and lopped off the guy's jaw. After a couple more similar swipes, the old man leapt onto the platform, bursting with adrenaline, chopped the head off in a single smooth blow, and dropped down dead.

Totally. No shit.