The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter v.

Baudins’s Corpse

With regard to the Faubourg St. Antoine, we had, as I said, lost nearly all hope, but the men of the coup d’état had not lost all uneasiness. Since the attempts at rising and the barricades of the morning a rigorous supervision had been organized. Any one who entered the Faubourg ran the risk of being examined, followed, and upon the slightest suspicion, arrested. The supervision was nevertheless sometimes at fault. About two o’clock a short man, with an earnest and attentive air, crossed the Faubourg. A sergent de ville and a police agent in plain clothes barred his passage. “Who are you?” “You seem a passenger.” “Where are you going?” “Over there, close by, to Bartholomé‘s, the overseer of the sugar manufactory. —” They search him. He himself opened his pocket-book; the police agents turned out the pockets of his waistcoat and unbuttoned his shirt over his breast; finally the sergent de ville said gruffly, “Yet I seem to have seen you here before this morning. Be off!” It was the Representative Gindrier. If they had not stopped at the pockets of his waistcoat — and if they had searched his great-coat, they would have found his sash there — Gindrier would have been shot.

Not to allow themselves to be arrested, to keep their freedom for the combat — such was the watchword of the members of the Left. That is why we had our sashes upon us, but not outwardly visible.

Gindrier had had no food that day; he thought he would go home, and returned to the new district of the Havre Railway Station, where he resided. In the Rue de Calais, which is a lonely street running from Rue Blanche to the Rue de Clichy, a fiacre passed him. Gindrier heard his name called out. He turned round and saw two persons in a fiacre, relations of Baudin, and a man whom he did not know. One of the relations of Baudin, Madame L— — said to him, “Baudin is wounded!” She added, “They have taken him to the St. Antoine Hospital. We are going to fetch him. Come with us.” Gindrier got into the fiacre. The stranger, however, was an emissary of the Commissary of Police of the Rue Ste. Marguerite St. Antoine. He had been charged by the commissary of Police to go to Baudin’s house, No, 88, Rue de Clichy, to inform the family. Having only found the women at home he had confined himself to telling them that Representative Baudin was wounded. He offered to accompany them, and went with them in the fiacre. They had uttered the name of Gindrier before him. This might have been imprudent. They spoke to him; he declared that he would not betray the Representative, and it was settled that before the Commissary of Police Gindrier should assume to be a relation, and be called Baudin.

The poor women still hoped. Perhaps the wound was serious, but Baudin was young, and had a good constitution. “They will save him,” said they. Gindrier was silent. At the office of the Commissary of Police the truth was revealed. —“How is he?” asked Madame L—— on entering. “Why?” said the Commissary, “he is dead.” “What do you mean? Dead!” “Yes; killed on the spot.”

This was a painful moment. The despair of these two women who had been so abruptly struck to the heart burst forth in sobs. “Ah, infamous Bonaparte!” cried Madame L——. “He has killed Baudin. Well, then, I will kill him. I will be the Charlotte Corday of this Marat.”

Gindrier claimed the body of Baudin. The Commissary of Police only consented to restore it to the family on exacting a promise that they would bury it at once, and without any ostentation, and that they would not exhibit it to the people. “You understand,” he said, “that the sight of a Representative killed and bleeding might raise Paris.” The coup d’état made corpses, but did not wish that they should be utilized.

On these conditions the Commissary of Police gave Gindrier two men and a safe conduct to fetch the body of Baudin from the hospital where he had been carried.

Meanwhile Baudin’s brother, a young man of four-and-twenty, a medical student, came up. This young man has since been arrested and imprisoned. His crime is his brother. Let us continue. They proceeded to the hospital. At the sight of the safe conduct the director ushered Gindrier and young Baudin into the parlor. There were three pallets there covered with white sheets, under which could be traced the motionless forms of three human bodies. The one which occupied the centre bed was Baudin. On his right lay the young soldier killed a minute before him by the side of Schoelcher, and on the left an old woman who had been struck down by a spent ball in the Rue de Cotte, and whom the executioners of the coup d’état had gathered up later on; in the first moment one cannot find out all one’s riches.

The three corpses were naked under their winding sheets.

They had left to Baudin alone his shirt and his flannel vest. They had found on him seven francs, his gold watch and chain, his Representative’s medal, and a gold pencil-case which he had used in the Rue de Popincourt, after having passed me the other pencil, which I still preserve. Gindrier and young Baudin, bare-headed, approached the centre bed. They raised the shroud, and Baudin’s dead face became visible. He was calm, and seemed asleep. No feature appeared contracted. A livid tint began to mottle his face.

They drew up an official report. It is customary. It is not sufficient to kill people. An official report must also be drawn up. Young Baudin had to sign it, upon which, on the demand of the Commissary of Police, they “made over” to him the body of his brother. During these signatures, Gindrier in the courtyard of the hospital, attempted if not to console, at least to calm the two despairing women.

Suddenly a man who had entered the courtyard, and who had attentively watched him for some moments, came abruptly up to him —

“What are you doing there?”

“What is that to you?” said Gindrier.

“You have come to fetch Baudin’s body?”

“Yes.”

“Is this your carriage?”

“Yes.”

“Get in at once, and pull down the blinds.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are the Representative Gindrier. I know you. You were this morning on the barricade. If any other than myself should see you, you are lost.”

Gindrier followed his advice and got into the fiacre. While getting in he asked the man:

“Do you belong to the Police?”

The man did not answer. A moment after he came and said in a low voice, near the door of the fiacre in which Gindrier was enclosed —

“Yes, I eat the bread, but I do not do the work.”

The two men sent by the Commissary of Police took Baudin on his wooden bed and carried him to the fiacre. They placed him at the bottom of the fiacre with his face covered, and enveloped from head to foot in a shroud. A workman who was there lent his cloak, which was thrown over the corpse in order not to attract the notice of passers-by. Madame L—— took her place by the side of the body, Gindrier opposite, young Baudin next to Gindrier. A fiacre followed, in which were the other relative of Baudin and a medical student named Dutèche. They set off. During the journey the head of the corpse, shaken by the carriage, rolled from shoulder to shoulder; the blood began to flow from the wound and appeared in large red patches through the white sheet. Gindrier with his arms stretched out and his hand placed on its breast, prevented it from falling forwards; Madame L—— held it up by the side.

They had told the coachman to drive slowly; the journey lasted more than an hour.

When they reached No. 88, Rue de Clichy, the bringing out of the body attracted a curious crowd before the door. The neighbors flocked thither. Baudin’s brother, assisted by Gindrier and Dutèche, carried up the corpse to the fourth floor, where Baudin resided. It was a new house, and he had only lived there a few months.

They carried him into his room, which was in order, and just as he had left it on the morning of the 2d. The bed, on which he had not slept the preceding night, had not been disturbed. A book which he had been reading had remained on the table, open at the page where he had left off. They unrolled the shroud, and Gindrier cut off his shirt and his flannel vest with a pair of scissors. They washed the body. The ball had entered through the corner of the arch of the right eye, and had gone out at the back of the head. The wound of the eye had not bled. A sort of swelling had formed there; the blood had flowed copiously through the hole at the back of the head. They put clean linen on him, and clean sheets on the bed, and laid him down with his head on the pillow, and his face uncovered. The women were weeping in the next room.

Gindrier had already rendered the same service to the ex-Constituent James Demontry. In 1850 James Demontry died in exile at Cologne. Gindrier started for Cologne, went to the cemetery, and had James Demontry exhumed. He had the heart extracted, embalmed it, and enclosed it in a silver vase, which he took to Paris. The party of the Mountain delegated him, with Chollet and Joigneux, to convey this heart to Dijon, Demontry’s native place, and to give him a solemn funeral. This funeral was prohibited by an order of Louis Bonaparte, then President of the Republic. The burial of brave and faithful men was unpleasing to Louis Bonaparte — not so their death.

When Baudin had been laid out on the bed, the women came in, and all this family, seated round the corpse, wept. Gindrier, whom other duties called elsewhere, went downstairs with Dutèche. A crowd had formed before the door.

A man in a blouse, with his hat on his head, mounted on a kerbstone, was speechifying and glorifying the coup d’état. Universal Suffrage re-established, the Law of the 31st May abolished, the “Twenty-five francs” suppressed; Louis Bonaparte has done well, etc. — Gindrier, standing on the threshold of the door, raised his voice: “Citizens! above lies Baudin, a Representative of the People, killed while defending the People; Baudin the Representative of you all, mark that well! You are before his house; he is there bleeding on his bed, and here is a man who dares in this place to applaud his assassin! Citizens! shall I tell you the name of this man? He is called the Police! Shame and infamy to traitors and to cowards! Respect to the corpse of him who has died for you!”

And pushing aside the crowd, Gindrier took the man who had been speaking by the collar, and knocking his hat on to the ground with the back of his hand, he cried, “Hats off!”

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