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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/667

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THE EUROPEAN LAW OF TORTURE.

scribed form of physical pain. An engraving shows one of the moderate methods. The victim's wrists are crossed behind the back and tied with a strong cord attached to a rope which passes over a pulley in the ceiling and down to a windlass. The Henkersknecht, or hangman's assistant, turns the windlass and the arms are strained upward, while the Scharfrichter (sharp judge, executioner) fiercely propounds the list of questions laid down in the code. In a trial for poisoning, for instance:

"Did you or did you not administer the poison that killed A. B.?
"When and where did you do it?
"For what reason?
"Who assisted or advised it?
"Who was present at the time?
"What sort of poison was it?
"Where and how did you procure it?
"Did the apothecary know your intended purpose?
"Have you ever poisoned others, or attempted it?
"What were the effects on the deceased?
"How long did he live after it? Was the body swollen? Did the nails turn blue or black? Did he froth at the mouth?" Et cetera.

The person undergoing torture (der Inquisit) of course stoutly denies each charge; so the servant gradually hoists him till he swings clear of the floor, with his arms undergoing backward dislocation, and the questions are thundered in his ears again and again as he whirls in dizzy agony. If able to persist in denial he is lowered for a brief rest, then raised again with a twenty-five pound weight attached to the cord that bound his ankles, and the questions are repeated. If the man has unusual strength of body and will, he may still remain obdurate; in which case Theresa's code requires a third hoisting with a forty-six-pound weight added. This may or may not draw from his screeching lips words of confession, which the eager scribe will record, to seal his fate on the gallows or at the stake; but it can hardly fail to cripple him for life.

This is but one of the many ways enacted and vividly depicted in this code for "tearing out the truth," or "putting him to the question," as Shakespeare and other English writers denominate similar practices of our ancestors; for quæstio (seeking or inquiry) was the mild legal term for such proceedings ever since the days of ancient Rome. Wherever Roman conquests spread and the code of Justinian was fastened upon new possessions, there the torture system was ingrafted. Perhaps it was nothing new to the Gauls and Germans, but Greece and Rome are generally held responsible for its wide prevalence in ancient times.