This is the public execution of Berland and Dore, a big case in 1891 France. The two men robbed an elderly woman and killed her in a horribly gruesome manner (I’ll spare you but there was an attempt at ripping her tongue out with bare hands). Berland, a complete psychopath, told the police that “the sight of blood intoxicated me.”
The author of the story applauds the execution, and only regrets that Berland’s mother wasn’t also executed, because she was a horrible person and apparently came up with the burglary idea. “A woman in her position is so uninteresting – is she even really a woman any longer?- but the horror that she inspires gives way to pity because we in France are chivalresque and we don’t kill women, at least not officially.”
Shortly before the execution, Berland was told that his mother had been spared the same fate and “by no means seemed pleased.”
The author then laments the spectacle of public executions in France, saying, “You will have to agree that things unfold more cleanly in London.” That is, behind the walls of the prison. The last public guillotine execution in France was in 1939, the last guillotine execution was in 1977 (!).
The public execution of Berland and Dore was big enough to warrant coverage in the New York Times, which said that it took 300 foot policemen, 250 infantry soldiers, and 100 mounted policemen to keep the unruly spectators, thousands of them, in order.