PREPARATION FOR DEATH
THE King had now to prepare himself for the concluding act of his own tragedy. This preparation was twofold. As a Christian man he had to prepare his own soul to enter, as he firmly believed, into the presence of his Maker, and as a King he had still the seal to put upon the great work that he was laying down his life to accomplish for his people. He was opposing the power of the sword, that held them in its grip, with something of a different order, invisible and intangible--a moral force. He had so to perform his part on the tragic scaffold as to strip the last semblance of moral justification from the new régime, and expose it in the eyes of the nation for the thing it was--the thing that by its very nature it was doomed to be--a lawless and arbitrary tyranny to which it was not in the English nature and tradition to be reconciled.
In that case the Restoration might be a matter of time, but it would also be a matter of certainty. Only there must be no mistake. A word ill judged, a gesture mistimed, might ruin everything. Charles had the genius of an artist, but the life of a working monarch is not such as to afford scope for artistic creation. Now he had the opportunity to make his death his masterpiece.
In the late afternoon of Sunday the 28th they removed him from Whitehall back to St James's. For it was in the street in front of Whitehall that they intended the last act to be performed, and even they did not wish his last hours to be tormented by hammering of which the significance would be only too plain. The time fixed was the morning of Tuesday--it would have been Monday if they could have got through their preliminaries in time. He had now two nights and one clear day to live.
After the brutality to which he had been subjected during the trial, it is a relief to note the change of spirit that came over their treatment of him during these final hours. So far as it is possible to temper murder with mercy, it was done. It is at least a legitimate source of patriotic satisfaction to contrast the comparative decency of this English regicide, with the inhuman treatment meted out, in the ensuing century, not only to Louis XVI of France, but to his whole family; though even this is put into the