The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter x.

What Fleury Went to Do at Mazas

During the same night towards four o’clock the approaches of the Northern Railway Station were silently invested by two regiments; one of Chasseurs de Vincennes, the other of Gendarmerie Mobile. Numerous squads of sergents de ville installed themselves in the terminus. The station-master was ordered to prepare a special train and to have an engine ready. A certain number of stokers and engineers for night service were retained. No explanation however was vouchsafed to any one, and absolute secrecy was maintained. A little before six o’clock a movement was apparent in the troops. Some sergents de ville came running up, and a few minutes afterwards a squadron of Lancers emerged at a sharp trot from the Rue du Nord. In the centre of the squadron and between the two lines of horse-soldiers could be seen two police-vans drawn by post-horses, behind each vehicle came a little open barouche, in which there sat one man. At the head of the Lancers galloped the aide-de-camp Fleury.

The procession entered the courtyard, then the railway station, and the gates and doors were reclosed.

The two men in the barouches made themselves known to the Special Commissary of the station, to whom the aide-de-camp Fleury spoke privately. This mysterious convoy excited the curiosity of the railway officials; they questioned the policemen, but these knew nothing. All that they could tell was that these police-vans contained eight places, that in each van there were four prisoners, each occupying a cell, and that the four other cells were filled by four sergents de ville placed between the prisoners so as to prevent any communication between the cells.

After various consultations between the aide-de-camp of the Elysée and the men of the Prefect Maupas, the two police-vans were placed on railway trucks, each having behind it the open barouche like a wheeled sentry-box, where a police agent acted as sentinel. The engine was ready, the trucks were attached to the tender, and the train started. It was still pitch dark.

For a long time the train sped on in the most profound silence. Meanwhile it was freezing, in the second of the two police-vans, the sergents de ville, cramped and chilled, opened their cells, and in order to warm and stretch themselves walked up and down the narrow gangway which runs from end to end of the police-vans. Day had broken, the four sergents de ville inhaled the outside air and gazed at the passing country through a species of port-hole which borders each side of the ceiling of the passage. Suddenly a loud voice issued from one of the cells which had remained closed, and cried out, “Hey! there! it is very cold, cannot I relight my cigar here?”

Another voice immediately issued from a second cell, and said, “What! it is you? Good-morning, Lamoricière!”

“Good-morning, Cavaignac!” replied the first voice.

General Cavaignac and General Lamoricière had just recognized each other.

A third voice was raised from a third cell. “Ah! you are there, gentlemen. Good-morning and a pleasant journey.”

He who spoke then was General Changarnier.

“Generals?” cried out a fourth voice. “I am one of you!”

The three generals recognized M. Baze. A burst of laughter came from the four cells simultaneously.

This police-van in truth contained, and was carrying away from Paris, the Questor Baze, and the Generals Lamoricière, Cavaignac, and Changarnier. In the other vehicle, which was placed foremost on the trucks, there were Colonel Charras, Generals Bedeau and Le Flô, and Count Roger (du Nord).

At midnight these eight Representative prisoners were sleeping in their cells at Mazas, when they heard a sudden knocking at their doors, and a voice cried out to them, “Dress, they are coming to fetch you.” “Is it to shoot us?” cried Charras from the other side of the door. They did not answer him. It is worth remarking that this idea came simultaneously to all. And in truth, if we can believe what has since transpired through the quarrels of accomplices, it appears that in the event of a sudden attack being made by us upon Mazas to deliver them, a fusillade had been resolved upon, and that St. Arnaud had in his pocket the written order, signed “Louis Bonaparte.”

The prisoners got up. Already on the preceding night a similar notice had been given to them. They had passed the night on their feet, and at six o’clock in the morning the jailer said to them, “You can go to bed.” The hours passed by; they ended by thinking it would be the same as the preceding night, and many of them, hearing five o’clock strike from the clock tower inside the prison, were going to get back into bed, when the doors of their cells were opened. All the eight were taken downstairs one by one into the clerk’s office in the Rotunda, and were then ushered into the police-van without having met or seen each other during the passage. A man dressed in black, with an impertinent bearing, seated at a table with pen in hand, stopped them on their way, and asked their names. “I am no more disposed to tell you my name than I am curious to learn yours,” answered General Lamoricière, and he passed outside.

The aide-de-camp Fleury, concealing his uniform under his hooded cloak, stationed himself in the clerk’s office. He was charged, to use his own words, to “embark” them, and to go and report their “embarkation” at the Elysée. The aide-de-camp Fleury had passed nearly the whole of his military career in Africa in General Lamoricière’s division; and it was General Lamoricière who in 1848, then being Minister of War, had promoted him to the rank of major. While passing through the clerk’s office, General Lamoricière looked fixedly at him.

When they entered the police-vans the generals were smoking cigars. They took them from them. General Lamoricière had kept his. A voice from outside cried three separate times, “Stop his smoking!” A sergent de ville who was standing by the door of the cell hesitated for some time, but however ended by saying to the general, “Throw away your cigar.”

Thence later on ensued the exclamation which caused General Cavaignac to recognize General Lamoricière. The vehicles having been loaded they set off.

They did not know either with whom they were or where they were going. Each observed for himself in his box the turnings of the streets, and tried to speculate. Some believed that they were being taken to the Northern Railway Station; others thought to the Havre Railway Station. They heard the trot of the escort on the paving-stones.

On the railway the discomfort of the cells greatly increased. General Lamoricière, encumbered with a parcel and a cloak, was still more jammed in than the others. He could not move, the cold seized him, and he ended by the exclamation which put all four of them in communication with each other.

On hearing the names of the prisoners their keepers, who up to that time had been rough, became respectful. “I say there,” said General Changarnier, “open our cells, and let us walk up and down the passage like yourselves.” “General,” said a sergent de ville, “we are forbidden to do so. The Commissary of Police is behind the carriage in a barouche, whence he sees everything that is taking place here.” Nevertheless, a few moments afterwards, the keepers, under pretext of cold, pulled up the ground-glass window which closed the vehicle on the side of the Commissary, and having thus “blocked the police,” as one of them remarked, they opened the cells of the prisoners.

It was with great delight that the four Representatives met again and shook hands. Each of these three generals at this demonstrative moment maintained the character of his temperament. Lamoricière, impetuous and witty, throwing himself with all his military energy upon “the Bonaparte;” Cavaignac, calm and cold; Changarnier, silent and looking out through the port-hole at the landscape. The sergents de ville ventured to put in a word here and there. One of them related to the prisoners that the ex-Prefect Carlier had spent the night of the First and Second at the Prefecture of Police. “As for me,” said he, “I left the Prefecture at midnight, but I saw him up to that hour, and I can affirm that at midnight he was there still.”

They reached Creil, and then Noyon. At Noyon they gave them some breakfast, without letting them get out, a hurried morsel and a glass of wine. The Commissaries of Police did not open their lips to them. Then the carriages were reclosed, and they felt they were being taken off the trucks and being replaced on the wheels. Post horses arrived, and the vehicles set out, but slowly; they were now escorted by a company of infantry Gendarmerie Mobile.

When they left Noyon they had been ten hours in the police-van. Meanwhile the infantry halted. They asked permission to get out for a moment “We consent,” said one of the Commissaries of the Police, “but only for a minute, and on condition that you will give your word of honor not to escape.” “We will give our word of honor,” replied the prisoners. “Gentlemen,” continued the Commissary, “give it to me only for one minute, the time to drink a glass of water.” “No,” said General Lamoricière, “but the time to do the contrary,” and he added, “To Louis Bonaparte’s health.” They allowed them to get out, one by one, and they were, able to inhale for a moment the fresh air in the open country by the side of the road.

Then the convoy resumed its march.

As the day waned they saw through their port-hole a mass of high walls, somewhat overtopped by a great round tower. A moment afterwards the carriages entered beneath a low archway, and then stopped in the centre of a long courtyard, steeply embanked, surrounded by high walls, and commanded by two buildings, of which one had the appearance of a barrack, and the other, with bars at all the windows, had the appearance of a prison. The doors of the carriages were opened. An officer who wore a captain’s epaulets was standing by the steps. General Changarnier came down first. “Where are we?” said he. The officer answered, “You are at Ham.”

This officer was the Commandant of the Fort. He had been appointed to this post by General Cavaignac.

The journey from Noyon to Ham had lasted three hours and a half. They had spent thirteen hours in the police van, of which ten were on the railway.

They led them separately into the prison, each to the room that was allotted to him. However, General Lamoricière having been taken by mistake into Cavaignac’s room, the two generals could again exchange a shake of the hand. General Lamoricière wished to write to his wife; the only letter which the Commissaries of Police consented to take charge of was a note containing this line: “I am well.”

The principal building of the prison of Ham is composed of a story above the ground floor. The ground floor is traversed by a dark and low archway, which leads from the principal courtyard into a back yard, and contains three rooms separated by a passage; the first floor contains five rooms. One of the three rooms on the ground floor is only a little ante-room, almost uninhabitable; there they lodged M. Baze. In the remaining lower chambers they installed General Lamoricière and General Changarnier. The five other prisoners were distributed in the five rooms of the first floor.

The room allotted to General Lamoricière had been occupied in the time of the captivity of the Ministers of Charles X. by the ex-Minister of Marine, M. d’Haussez. It was a low, damp room, long uninhabited, and which had served as a chapel, adjoining the dreary archway which led from one courtyard to the other, floored with great planks slimy and mouldy, to which the foot adhered, papered with a gray paper which had turned green, and which hung in rags, exuding saltpetre from the floor to the ceiling, lighted by two barred windows looking on to the courtyard, which had always to be left open on account of the smoky chimney. At the bottom of the room was the bed, and between the windows a table and two straw-bottomed chairs. The damp ran down the walls. When General Lamoricière left this room he carried away rheumatism with him; M. de Haussez went out crippled.

When the eight prisoners had entered their rooms, the doors were shut upon them; they heard the bolts shot from outside, and they were told: “You are in close confinement.”

General Cavaignac occupied on the first floor the former room of M. Louis Bonaparte, the best in the prison. The first thing which struck the eye of the General was an inscription traced on the well, and stating the day when Louis Bonaparte had entered this fortress, and the day when he had left it, as is well known, disguised as a mason, and with a plank on his shoulder. Moreover, the choice of this building was an attention on the part of M. Louis Bonaparte, who having in 1848 taken the place of General Cavaignac in power; wished that in 1851 General Cavaignac should take his place in prison.

“Turn and turn about!” Morny had said, smiling.

The prisoners were guarded by the 48th of the Line, who formed the garrison at Ham. The old Bastilles are quite impartial. They obey those who make coups d’état until the day when they clutch them. What do these words matter to them, Equity, Truth, Conscience, which moreover in certain circles do not move men any more than stones? They are the cold and gloomy servants of the just and of the unjust. They take whatever is given them. All is good to them. Are they guilty? Good! Are they innocent? Excellent! This man is the organizer of an ambush. To prison! This man is the victim of an ambush! Enter him in the prison register! In the same room. To the dungeon with all the vanquished!

These hideous Bastilles resemble that old human justice which possessed precisely as much conscience as they have, which condemned Socrates and Jesus, and which also takes and leaves, seizes and releases, absolves and condemns, liberates and incarcerates, opens and shuts, at the will of whatever hand manipulates the bolt from outside.

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