The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter ii.

From the Bastille to the Rue De Cotte

The Place de la Bastille was at the same time empty and filled. Three regiments in battle array were there; not one passer-by.

Four harnessed batteries were drawn up at the foot of the column. Here and there knots of officers talked together in a low voice — sinister men.

One of these groups, the principal, attracted my attention. That one was silent, there was no talking. There were several men on horseback; one in front of the others, in a general’s uniform, with a hat surmounted with black feathers, behind this man were two colonels, and behind the colonels a party of aides-de-camp and staff officers. This lace-trimmed company remained immovable, and as though pointing like a dog between the column and the entrance to the Faubourg. At a short distance from this group, spread out, and occupying the whole of the square, were the regiments drawn up and the cannon in their batteries.

“My driver again stopped.

“Go on,” I said; “drive into the Faubourg.”

“But they will prevent us, sir.”

“We shall see.”

The truth was that they did not prevent us.

The driver continued on his way, but hesitatingly, and at a walking pace. The appearance of a fiacre in the square had caused some surprise, and the inhabitants began to come out of their houses. Several came up to my carriage.

We passed by a group of men with huge epaulets. These men, whose tactics we understood later on, did not even appear to see us.

The emotion which I had felt on the previous day before a regiment of cuirassiers again seized me. To see before me the assassins of the country, at a few steps, standing upright, in the insolence of a peaceful triumph, was beyond my strength: I could not contain myself. I drew out my sash. I held it in my hand, and putting my arm and head out of the window of the fiacre, and shaking the sash, I shouted —

“Soldiers! Look at this sash. It is the symbol of Law, it is the National Assembly visible. Where there this sash is there is Right. Well, then, this is what Right commands you. You are being deceived. Go back to your duty. It is a Representative of the People who is speaking to you, and he who represents the People represents the army. Soldiers, before becoming soldiers you have been peasants, you have been workmen, you have been and you are still citizens. Citizens, listen to me when I speak to you. The Law alone has the right to command you. Well, to-day the law is violated. By whom? By you. Louis Bonaparte draws you into a crime. Soldiers, you who are Honor, listen to me, for I am Duty. Soldiers, Louis Bonaparte assassinates the Republic. Defend it. Louis Bonaparte is a bandit; all his accomplices will follow him to the galleys. They are there already. He who is worthy of the galleys is in the galleys. To merit fetters is to wear them. Look at that man who is at your head, and who dares to command you. You take him for a general, he is a convict.”

The soldiers seemed petrified.

Some one who was there (I thank his generous, devoted spirit) touched my arm, and whispered in my ear, “You will get yourself shot.”

But I did not heed, and I listened to nothing. I continued, still waving my sash — “You, who are there, dressed up like a general, it is you to whom I speak, sir. You know who I am, I am a Representative of the People, and I know who you are. I have told you you are a criminal. Now, do you wish to know my name? This is it.”

And I called out my name to him.

And I added —

“Now tell me yours.”

He did not answer.

I continued —

“Very well, I do not want to know your name as a general, I shall know your number as a galley slave.”

The man in the general’s uniform hung his head, the others were silent. I could read all their looks, however, although they did not raise their eyes. I saw them cast down, and I felt that they were furious. I had an overwhelming contempt for them, and I passed on.

What was the name of this general? I did not know then, and I do not know now.

One of the apologies for the coup d’état in relating this incident, and characterizing it as “an insensate and culpable provocation,” states that “the moderation shown by the military leaders on this occasion did honor to General ——:” We leave to the author of this panegyric the responsibility of that name and of this eulogium.

I entered the Rue de Faubourg St. Antoine.

My driver, who now knew my name, hesitated no longer, and whipped up his horse. These Paris coachmen are a brave and intelligent race.

As I passed the first shops of the main street nine o’clock sounded from the Church St. Paul.

“Good,” I said to myself, “I am in time.”

The Faubourg presented an extraordinary aspect. The entrance was guarded, but not closed, by two companies of infantry. Two other companies were drawn up in echelons farther on, at short distances, occupying the street, but leaving a free passage. The shops, which were open at the end of the Faubourg, were half closed a hundred yards farther up. The inhabitants, amongst whom I noticed numerous workmen in blouses, were talking together at their doors, and watching the proceedings. I noticed at each step the placards of the coup d’état untouched.

Beyond the fountain which stands at the corner of the Rue de Charonne the shops were closed. Two lines of soldiers extended on either side of the street of the Faubourg on the kerb of the pavement; the soldiers were stationed at every five paces, with the butts of their muskets resting on their hips, their chests drawn in, their right hand on the trigger, ready to bring to the present, keeping silence in the attitude of expectation. From that point a piece of cannon was stationed at the mouth of each of the side streets which open out of the main road of the Faubourg. Occasionally there was a mortar. To obtain a clear idea of this military arrangement one must imagine two rosaries, extending along the two sides of the Faubourg St. Antoine, of which the soldiers should form the links and the cannon the beads.

Meanwhile my driver became uneasy. He turned round to me and said, “It looks as though we should find barricades out there, sir; shall we turn back?”

“Keep on,” I replied.

He continued to drive straight on.

Suddenly it became impossible to do so. A company of infantry ranged three deep occupied the whole of the street from one pavement to the other. On the right there was a small street. I said to the driver —

“Take that turning.”

He turned to the right and then to the left. We turned into a labyrinth of streets.

Suddenly I heard a shot.

The driver asked me —

“Which way are we to go, sir?”

“In the direction in which you hear the shots.”

We were in a narrow street; on my left I saw the inscription above a door, “Grand Lavoir,” and on my right a square with a central building, which looked like a market. The square and the street were deserted. I asked the driver —

“What street are we in?”

“In the Rue de Cotte.”

“Where is the Café Roysin?”

“Straight before us.”

“Drive there.”

He drove on, but slowly. There was another explosion, this time close by us, the end of the street became filled with smoke; at the moment we were passing No. 22, which has a side-door above which I read, “Petit Lavoir.”

Suddenly a voice called out to the driver, “Stop!”

The driver pulled up, and the window of the fiacre being down, a hand was stretched towards mine. I recognized Alexander Rey.

This daring man was pale.

“Go no further,” said he; “all is at an end.”

“What do you mean, all at an end?”

“Yes, they must have anticipated the time appointed; the barricade is taken: I have just come from it. It is a few steps from here straight before us.”

And he added —

“Baudin is killed.”

The smoke rolled away from the end of the street.

“Look,” said Alexander Rey to me.

I saw, a hundred steps before us, at the junction of the Rue de Cotte and the Rue Ste. Marguerite, a low barricade which the soldiers were pulling down. A corpse was being borne away.

It was Baudin.

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