The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xviii.

The Representatives Hunted Down

At the corner of the Rue de Faubourg St. Antoine before the shop of the grocer Pepin, on the same spot where the immense barricade of June, 1848, was erected as high as the second story, the decrees of the morning had been placarded. Some men were inspecting them, although it was pitch dark, and they could not read them, and an old woman said, “The ‘Twenty-five francs’ are crushed — so much the better!”

A few steps further I heard my name pronounced. I turned round. It was Jules Favre, Bourzat, Lafon, Madier de Montjau, and Michel de Bourges, who were passing by. I took leave of the brave and devoted woman who had insisted upon accompanying me. A fiacre was passing. I put her in it, and then rejoined the five Representatives. They had come from the Rue de Charonne. They had found the premises of the Society of Cabinet Makers closed. “There was no one there,” said Madier de Montjau. “These worthy people are beginning to get together a little capital, they do not wish to compromise it, they are afraid of us. They say, ‘coups d’état are nothing to us, we shall leave them alone!’”

“That does not surprise me,” answered I, “a society is shopkeeper.”

“Where are we going?” asked Jules Favre.

Lafon lived two steps from there, at No. 2, Quai Jemmapes. He offered us the use of his rooms. We accepted, and took the necessary measures to inform the members of the Left that we had gone there.

A few minutes afterwards we were installed in Lafon’s rooms, on the fourth floor of an old and lofty house. This house had seen the taking of the Bastille.

This house was entered by a side-door opening from the Quai Jemmapes upon a narrow courtyard a few steps lower than the Quai itself. Bourzat remained at this door to warn us in case of any accident, and to point out the house to those Representatives who might come up.

In a few moments a large number of us had assembled, and we again met — all those of the morning, with a few added. Lafon gave up his drawing-room to us, the windows of which overlooked the back yard. We organized a sort of “bureau,” and we took our places, Jules Favre, Carnot, Michel, and myself, at a large table, lighted by two candles, and placed before the fire. The Representatives and the other people present sat around on chairs and sofas. A group stood before the door.

Michel de Bourges, on entering, exclaimed, “We have come to seek out the people of the Faubourg St. Antoine. Here we are. Here we must remain.”

These words were applauded.

They set forth the situation — the torpor of the Faubourgs, no one at the Society of Cabinet Makers, the doors closed nearly everywhere. I told them what I had seen and heard in the Rue de la Roquette, the remarks of the wine-seller, Auguste, on the indifference of the people, the hopes of the engineer, and the possibility of a movement during the night in the Faubourg St. Marceau. It was settled that on the first notice that might be given I should go there.

Nevertheless nothing was yet known of what had taken place during the day. It was announced that M. Havin, Lieutenant–Colonel of the 5th Legion of the National Guard, had ordered the officers of his Legion to attend a meeting.

Some Democratic writers came in, amongst whom were Alexander Rey and Xavier Durrieu, with Kesler, Villiers, and Amable Lemaître of the Révolution; one of these writers was Millière.

Millière had a large bleeding wound above his eye-brow; that same morning on leaving us, as he was carrying away one of the copies of the Proclamation which I had dictated, a man had thrown himself upon him to snatch it from him. The police had evidently already been informed of the Proclamation, and lay in wait for it; Millière had a hand-to-hand struggle with the police agent, and had overthrown him, not without bearing away this gash. However, the Proclamation was not yet printed. It was nearly nine o’clock in the evening and nothing had come. Xavier Durrieu asserted that before another hour elapsed they should have the promised forty thousand copies. It was hoped to cover the walls of Paris with them during the night. Each of those present was to serve as a bill-poster.

There were amongst us — an inevitable circumstance in the stormy confusion of the first moments — a good many men whom we did not know. One of these men brought in ten or twelve copies of the appeal to arms. He asked me to sign them with my own hand, in order, he said, that he might be able to show my signature to the people —“Or to the police,” whispered Baudin to me smiling. We were not in a position to take such precautions as these. I gave this man all the signatures that he wanted.

Madier de Montjau began to speak. It was of consequence to organize the action of the Left, to impress the unity of impulse upon the movement which was being prepared; to create a centre for it, to give a pivot to the insurrection, to the Left a direction, and to the People a support. He proposed the immediate formation of a committee representing the entire Left in all its shades, and charged with organizing and directing the insurrection.

All the Representatives cheered this eloquent and courageous man. Seven members were proposed. They named at once Carnot, De Flotte, Jules Favre, Madier de Montjau, Michel de Bourges, and myself; and thus was unanimously formed this Committee of Insurrection, which at my request was called a Committee of Resistance; for it was Louis Bonaparte who was tire insurgent. For ourselves, the were the Republic. It was desired that one workman-Representative should be admitted into the committee. Faure (du Rhône) was nominated. But Faure, we learned later on, had been arrested that morning. The committee then was, it fact, composed of six members.

The committee organized itself during the sitting. A Committee of Permanency was formed from amongst it, and invested with the authority of decreeing “urgency” in the name of all the Left, of concentrating all news, information, directions, instructions, resources, orders. This Committee of Permanency was composed of four members, who were Carnot, Michel de Bourges, Jules Favre, and myself. De Flotte and Madier de Montjau were specially delegated, De Flotte for the left bank of the river and the district of the schools, Madier for the Boulevards and the outskirts.

These preliminary operations being terminated, Lafon took aside Michel de Bourges and myself, and told us that the ex-Constituent Proudhon had inquired for one of us two, that he had remained downstairs nearly a quarter of an hour, and that he had gone away, saying that he would wait for us in the Place de la Bastille.

Proudhon, who was at that time undergoing a term of three years’ imprisonment at St. Pélagie for an offence against Louis Bonaparte, was granted leave of absence from tine to time. Chance willed it that one of these liberty days had fallen on the 2d of December.

This is an incident which one cannot help noting. On the 2d of December Proudhon was a prisoner by virtue of a lawful sentence, and at the same moment at which they illegally imprisoned the inviolable Representatives, Proudhon, whom they could have legitimately detained, was allowed to go out. Proudhon had profited by his liberty to come and find us.

I knew Proudhon from having seen him at the Concièrgerie, where my two sons were shut up, and my two illustrious friends, Auguste Vacquérie and Paul Meurice, and those gallant writers, Louis Jourdan, Erdan, and Suchet. I could not help thinking that on that day they would assuredly not have given leave of absence to these men.

Meanwhile Xavier Durrieu whispered to me, “I have just left Proudhon. He wishes to see you. He is waiting for you down below, close by, at the entrance to the Place. You will find him leaning on the parapet of the canal.”

“I am going,” said I.

I went downstairs.

I found in truth, at the spot mentioned, Proudhon, thoughtful, leaning with his two elbows on the parapet. He wore that broad-brimmed hat in which I had often seen him striding alone up and down the courtyard of the Concièrgerie.

I went up to him.

“You wish to speak to me.”

“Yes,” and he shook me by the hand.

The corner where we were standing was lonely. On the left there was the Place de la Bastille, dark and gloomy; one could see nothing there, but one could feel a crowd; regiments were there in battle array; they did not bivouac, they were ready to march; the muffled sound of breathing could be heard; the square was full of that glistening shower of pale sparks which bayonets give forth at night time. Above this abyss of shadows rose up black and stark the Column of July.

Proudhon resumed —

“Listen. I come to give you a friendly warning. You are entertaining illusions. The People are ensnared in this affair. They will not stir. Bonaparte will carry them with him. This rubbish, the restitution of universal suffrage, entraps the simpletons. Bonaparte passes for a Socialist. He has said, ‘I will be the Emperor of the Rabble.’ It is a piece of insolence. But insolence has a chance of success when it has this at its service.”

And Proudhon pointed with his finger to the sinister gleam of the bayonets. He continued —

“Bonaparte has an object in view. The Republic has made the People. He wishes to restore the Populace. He will succeed and you will fail. He has on his side force, cannons, the mistake of the people, and the folly of the Assembly. The few of the Left to which you belong will not succeed in overthrowing the coup d’état. You are honest, and he has this advantage over you — that he is a rogue. You have scruples, and he has this advantage over you — that he has none. Believe me. Resist no longer. The situation is without resources. We must wait; but at this moment fighting would be madness. What do you hope for?”

“Nothing,” said I.

“And what are you going to do?”

“Everything.”

By the tone of my voice he understood that further persistence was useless.

“Good-bye,” he said.

We parted. He disappeared in the darkness. I have never seen him since.

I went up again to Lafon’s rooms.

In the meantime the copies of the appeal to arms did not come to hand. The Representatives, becoming uneasy, went up and downstairs. Some of them went out on the Quai Jemmapes, to wait there and gain information about them. In the room there was a sound of confused talking the members of the Committee, Madier de Montjau, Jules Favre, and Carnot, withdrew, and sent word to me by Charamaule that they were going to No. 10, Rue des Moulins, to the house of the ex-Constituent Landrin, in the division of the 5th Legion, to deliberate more at their ease, and they begged me to join them. But I thought I should do better to remain. I had placed myself at the disposal of the probable movement of the Faubourg St. Marceau. I awaited the notice of it through Auguste. It was most important that I should not go too far away; besides, it was possible that if I went away, the Representatives of the Left, no longing seeing a member of the committee amongst them, would disperse without taking any resolution, and I saw in this more than one disadvantage.

Time passed, no Proclamations. We learned the next day that the packages had been seized by the police. Cournet, an ex-Republican naval officer who was present, began to speak. We shall see presently what sort of a man Cournet was, and of what an energetic and determined nature he was composed. He represented to us that as we had been there nearly two hours the police would certainly end by being informed of our whereabouts, that the members of the Left had an imperative duty — to keep themselves at all costs at the head of the People, that the necessity itself of their situation imposed upon them the precaution of frequently changing their place of retreat, and he ended by offering us, for our deliberation, his house and his workshops, No. 82, Rue Popincourt, at the bottom of a blind alley, and also in the neighborhood of the Faubourg St. Antoine.

This offer was accepted. I sent to inform Auguste of our change of abode, and of Cournet’s address. Lafon remained on the Quai Jemmapes in order to forward on the Proclamations as soon as they arrived, and we set out at once.

Charamaule undertook to send to the Rue des Moulins to tell the other members of the committee that we would wait for them at No. 82, Rue Popincourt.

We walked, as in the morning, in little separate groups. The Quai Jemmapes skirts the left bank of the St. Martin Canal; we went up it. We only met a few solitary workmen, who looked back when we had passed, and stopped behind us with an air of astonishment. The night was dark. A few drops of rain were falling.

A little beyond the Rue de Chemin Vert we turned to the right and reached the Rue Popincourt. There all was deserted, extinguished, closed, and silent, as in the Faubourg St. Antoine. This street is of great length. We walked for a long time; we passed by the barracks. Cournet was no longer with us; he had remained behind to inform some of his friends, and we were told to take defensive measures in case his house was attacked. We looked for No. 82. The darkness was such that we could not distinguish the numbers on the houses. At length, at the end of the street, on the right, we saw a light; it was a grocer’s shop, the only one open throughout the street. One of us entered, and asked the grocer, who was sitting behind his counter, to show us M. Cournet’s house. “Opposite,” said the grocer, pointing to an old and low carriage entrance which could be seen on the other side of the street, almost facing his shop.

We knocked at this door. It was opened. Baudin entered first, tapped at the window of the porter’s lodge, and asked “Monsieur Cournet?”— An old woman’s voice answered, “Here.”

The portress was in bed; all in the house sleeping. We went in.

Having entered, and the gate being shut behind us, we found ourselves in a little square courtyard which formed the centre of a sort of a two-storied ruin; the silence of a convent prevailed, not a light was to be seen at the windows; near a shed was seen a low entrance to a narrow, dark, and winding staircase. “We have made some mistake,” said Charamaule; “it is impossible that it can be here.”

Meanwhile the portress, hearing all these trampling steps beneath her doorway, had become wide awake, had lighted her lamp, and we could see her in her lodge, her face pressed against the window, gazing with alarm at sixty dark phantoms, motionless, and standing in her courtyard.

Esquiros addressed her: “Is this really M. Cournet’s house?” said he.

“M. Cornet, without doubt,” answered the good woman.

All was explained. We had asked for Cournet, the grocer had understood Cornet, the portress had understood Cornet. It chanced that M. Cornet lived there.

We shall see by and by what an extraordinary service chance had rendered us.

We went out, to the great relief of the poor portress, and we resumed our search. Xavier Durrieu succeeded in ascertaining our whereabouts, and extricated us from our difficulty.

A few moments afterwards we turned to the left, and we entered into a blind alley of considerable length and dimly lighted by an old oil lamp — one of those with which Paris was formerly lighted — then again to the left, and we entered through a narrow passage into a large courtyard encumbered with sheds and building materials. This time we had reached Cournet’s.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38