The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

The Second Day — The Struggle.

Chapter i.

They Come to Arrest Me

In order to reach the Rue Caumartin from the Rue Popincourt, all Paris has to be crossed. We found a great apparent calm everywhere. It was one o’clock in the morning when we reached M. de la R——‘s house. The fiacre stopped near a grated door, which M. de la R—— opened with a latch-key; on the right, under the archway, a staircase ascended to the first floor of a solitary detached building which M. de la R—— inhabited, and into which he led me.

We entered a little drawing-room very richly furnished, lighted with a night-lamp, and separated from the bedroom by a tapestry curtain two-thirds drown. M. de la R—— went into the bedroom, and a few minutes afterwards came back again, accompanied by a charming woman, pale and fair, in a dressing-gown, her hair down, handsome, fresh, bewildered, gentle nevertheless, and looking at me with that alarm which in a young face confers an additional grace. Madame de la R—— had just been awakened by her husband. She remained a moment on the threshold of her chamber, smiling, half asleep, greatly astonished, somewhat frightened, looking by turns at her husband and at me, never having dreamed perhaps what civil war really meant, and seeing it enter abruptly into her rooms in the middle of the night under this disquieting form of an unknown person who asks for a refuge.

I made Madame de la R——a thousand apologies, which she received with perfect kindness, and the charming woman profited by the incident to go and caress a pretty little girl of two years old who was sleeping at the end of the room in her cot, and the child whom she kissed caused her to forgive the refugee who had awakened her.

While chatting M. de la R—— lighted a capital fire in the grate, and his wife, with a pillow and cushions, a hooded cloak belonging to him, and a pelisse belonging to herself, improvised opposite the fire a bed on a sofa, somewhat short, and which we lengthened by means of an arm-chair.

During the deliberation in the Rue Popincourt, at which I had just presided, Baudin had lent me his pencil to jot down some names. I still had this pencil with me. I made use of it to write a letter to my wife, which Madame de la R—— undertook to convey herself to Madame Victor Hugo the next day. While emptying my pockets I found a box for the “Italiens,” which I offered to Madame de la R——. On that evening (Tuesday, December 2d) they were to play Hernani.

I looked at that cot, these two handsome, happy young people, and at myself, my disordered hair and clothes, my boots covered with mud, gloomy thoughts in my mind, and I felt like an owl in a nest of nightingales.

A few moments afterwards M. and Madame de la R—— had disappeared into their bedroom, and the half-opened curtain was closed. I stretched myself, fully dressed as I was, upon the sofa, and this gentle nest disturbed by me subsided into its graceful silence.

One can sleep on the eve of a battle between two armies, but on the eve of a battle between citizens there can be no sleep. I counted each hour as it sounded from a neighboring church; throughout the night there passed down the street, which was beneath the windows of the room where I was lying, carriages which were fleeing from Paris. They succeeded each other rapidly and hurriedly, one might have imagined it was the exit from a ball. Not being able to sleep, I got up. I had slightly parted the muslin curtains of a window, and I tried to look outside; the darkness was complete. No stars, clouds were flying by with the turbulent violence of a winter night. A melancholy wind howled. This wind of clouds resembled the wind of events.

I watched the sleeping baby. I waited for dawn. It came. M. de la R—— had explained at my request in what manner I could go out without disturbing any one. I kissed the child’s forehead, and left the room. I went downstairs, closing the doors behind me as gently as I could, so not to wake Madame de la R——. I opened the iron door and went out into the street. It was deserted, the shops were still shut, and a milkwoman, with her donkey by her side, was quietly arranging her cans on the pavement.

I have not seen M. de la R—— again. I learned since that he wrote to me in my exile, and that his letter was intercepted. He has, I believe, quitted France. May this touching page convey to him my kind remembrances.

The Rue Caumartin leads into the Rue St. Lazare. I went towards it. It was broad daylight. At every moment I was overtaken and passed by fiacres laden with trunks and packages, which were hastening towards the Havre railway station. Passers-by began to appear. Some baggage trains were mounting the Rue St. Lazare at the same time as myself. Opposite No. 42, formerly inhabited by Mdlle. Mars, I saw a new bill posted on the wall. I went up to it, I recognized the type of the National Printing Office, and I read,

“COMPOSITION OF THE NEW MINISTRY.

Interior --M. de Morny.
War --The General of Division St. Arnaud.
Foreign Affairs --M. de Turgot.
Justice --M. Rouher.
Finance --M. Fould.
Marine --M. Ducos.
Public Works --M. Magne.

Public Instruction — M.H. Fortuol.

Commerce --M. Lefebre-Duruflé.”

I tore down the bill, and threw it into the gutter! The soldiers of the party who were leading the wagons watched me do it, and went their way.

In the Rue St. Georges, near a side-door, there was another bill. It was the “Appeal to the People.” Some persons were reading it. I tore it down, notwithstanding the resistance of the porter, who appeared to me to be entrusted with the duty of protecting it.

As I passed by the Place Bréda some fiacres had already arrived there. I took one. I was near home, the temptation was too great, I went there. On seeing me cross the courtyard the porter looked at me with a stupefied air. I rang the bell. My servant, Isidore, opened the door, and exclaimed with a great cry, “Ah! it is you, sir! They came during the night to arrest you.” I went into my wife’s room. She was in bed, but not asleep, and she told me what had happened.

She had gone to bed at eleven o’clock. Towards half-past twelve, during that species of drowsiness which resembles sleeplessness, she heard men’s voices. It seemed to her that Isidore was speaking to some one in the antechamber. At first she did not take any notice, and tried to go to sleep again, but the noise of voices continued. She sat up, and rang the bell.

Isidore came in. She asked him,

“Is any one there?”

“Yes, madame.”

“Who is it?”

“A man who wishes to speak to master.”

“Your master is out.”

“That is what I have told him, madame.”

“Well, is not the gentleman going?”

“No, madame, he says that he urgently needs to speak to Monsieur Victor Hugo, and that he will wait for him.”

Isidore had stopped on the threshold of the bedroom. While he spoke a fat, fresh-looking man in an overcoat, under which could be seen a black coat, appeared at the door behind him.

Madame Victor Hugo noticed this man, who was silently listening.

“Is it you, sir, who wish to speak to Monsieur Victor Hugo?”

“Yes, madame.”

“But what is it about? Is it regarding politics?”

The man did not answer.

“As to politics,” continued my wife, “what is happening?”

“I believe, madame, that all is at an end.”

“In what sense?”

“In the sense of the President.”

My wife looked fixedly at the man, and said to him —

“You have come to arrest my husband, sir.”

“It is true, madame,” answered the man, opening his overcoat, which revealed the sash of a Commissary of Police.

He added after a pause, “I am a Commissary of Police, and I am the bearer of a warrant to arrest M. Victor Hugo. I must institute a search and look through the house.”

“What is your name, sir?” asked Madame Victor Hugo.

“My name is Hivert.”

“You know the terms of the Constitution?”

“Yes, madam.”

“You know that the Representatives of the People are inviolable!”

“Yes, madame.”

“Very well, sir,” she said coldly, “you know that you are committing a crime. Days like this have a to-morrow; proceed.”

The Sieur Hivert attempted a few words of explanation, or we should rather say justification; he muttered the word “conscience,” he stammered the word “honor.” Madame Victor Hugo, who had been calm until then, could not help interrupting him with some abruptness.

“Do your business, sir, and do not argue; you know that every official who lays a hand on a Representative of the People commits an act of treason. You know that in presence of the Representatives the President is only an official like the others, the chief charged with carrying out their orders. You dare to come to arrest a Representative in his own home like a criminal! There is in truth a criminal here who ought to be arrested — yourself!”

The Sieur Hivert looked sheepish and left the room, and through the half-open door my wife could see, behind the well-fed, well-clothed, and bald Commissary, seven or eight poor raw-boned devils, wearing dirty coats which reached to their feet, and shocking old hats jammed down over their eyes — wolves led by a dog. They examined the room, opened here and there a few cupboards, and went away — with a sorrowful air — as Isidore said to me.

The Commissary Hivert, above all, hung his head; he raised it, however, for one moment. Isidore, indignant at seeing these men thus hunt for his master in every corner, ventured to defy them. He opened a drawer and said, “Look and see if he is not in here!” The Commissary of Police darted a furious glance at him: “Lackey, take care!” The lackey was himself.

These men having gone, it was noticed that several of my papers were missing. Fragments of manuscripts had been stolen, amongst others one dated July, 1848, and directed against the military dictatorship of Cavaignac, and in which there were verses written respecting the Censorship, the councils of war, and the suppression of the newspapers, and in particular respecting the imprisonment of a great journalist — Emile de Girardin:—

“ . . . O honte, un lansquenet
Gauche, et parodiant César dont il hérite,
Gouverne les esprits du fond de sa guérite!”

These manuscripts are lost.

The police might come back at any moment, in fact they did come back a few minutes after I had left. I kissed my wife; I would not wake my daughter, who had just fallen asleep, and I went downstairs again. Some affrighted neighbors were waiting for me in the courtyard. I cried out to them laughingly, “Not caught yet!”

A quarter of an hour afterwards I reached No. 10, Rue des Moulins. It was not then eight o’clock in the morning, and thinking that my colleagues of the Committee of Insurrection had passed the night there, I thought it might be useful to go and fetch them, so that we might proceed all together to the Salle Roysin.

I found only Madame Landrin in the Rue des Moulins. It was thought that the house was denounced and watched, and my colleagues had changed their quarters to No. 7, Rue Villedo, the house of the ex-Constituent Leblond, legal adviser to the Workmen’s Association. Jules Favre had passed the night there. Madame Landrin was breakfasting. She offered me a place by her side, but time pressed. I carried off a morsel of bread, and left.

At No. 7, Rue Villedo, the maid-servant who opened the door to me ushered me into a room where were Carnot, Michel de Bourges, Jules Favre, and the master of the house, our former colleague, Constituent Leblond.

“I have a carriage downstairs,” I said to them; “the rendezvous is at the Salle Roysin in the Faubourg St. Antoine; let us go.”

This, however, was not their opinion. According to them the attempts made on the previous evening in the Faubourg St. Antoine had revealed this portion of the situation; they sufficed; it was useless to persist; it was obvious that the working-class districts would not rise; we must turn to the side of the tradesmen’s districts, renounce our attempt to rouse the extremities of the city, and agitate the centre. We were the Committee of Resistance, the soul of the insurrection; if we were to go to the Faubourg St. Antoine, which was occupied by a considerable force, we should give ourselves up to Louis Bonaparte. They reminded me of what I myself had said on the subject the previous evening in the Rue Blanche. We must immediately organize the insurrection against the coup d’état and organize it in practicable districts, that is to say, in the old labyrinths of the streets St. Denis and St. Martin; we must draw up proclamations, prepare decrees, create some method of publicity; they were waiting for important communications from Workmen’s Associations and Secret Societies. The great blow which I wished to strike by our solemn meeting at the Salle Roysin would prove a failure; they thought it their duty to remain where they were; and the Committee being few in number, and the work to be done being enormous, they begged me not to leave them.

They were men of great hearts and great courage who spoke to me; they were evidently right; but for myself I could not fail to go to the rendezvous which I myself had fixed. All the reasons which they had given me were good, nevertheless I could have opposed some doubts, but the discussion would have taken too much time, and the hour drew nigh. I did not make any objections, and I went out of the room, making some excuse. My hat was in the antechamber, my fiacre was waiting for me, and I drove off to the Faubourg St. Antoine.

The centre of Paris seemed to have retained its everyday appearance. People came and went, bought and sold, chatted and laughed as usual. In the Rue Montorgueil I heard a street organ. Only on nearing the Faubourg St. Antoine the phenomenon which I had already noticed on the previous evening became more and more apparent; solitude reigned, and a certain dreary peacefulness.

We reached the Place de la Bastille.

My driver stopped.

“Go on,” I said to him.

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