The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

The Third Day — The Massacre.

Chapter i.

Those who Sleep and he who Does Not Sleep

During this night of the 3d and 4th of December, while we who were overcome with fatigue and betrothed to calamity slept an honest slumber, not an eye was closed at the Elysée. An infamous sleeplessness reigned there. Towards two o’clock in the morning the Comte Roguet, after Morny the most intimate of the confidants of the Elysée, an ex-peer of France and a lieutenant-general, came out of Louis Bonaparte’s private room; Roguet was accompanied by Saint–Arnaud. Saint–Arnaud, it may be remembered, was at that time Minister of War.

Two colonels were waiting in the little ante-room.

Saint–Arnaud was a general who had been a supernumerary at the Ambigu Theatre. He had made his first appearance as a comedian in the suburbs. A tragedian later on. He may be described as follows:— tall, bony, thin, angular, with gray moustaches, lank air, a mean countenance. He was a cut-throat, and badly educated. Morny laughed at him for his pronunciation of the “Sovereign People.” “He pronounces the word no better than he understands the thing,” said he. The Elysée, which prides itself upon its refinement, only half-accepted Saint–Arnaud. His bloody side had caused his vulgar side to be condoned. Saint–Arnaud was brave, violent, and yet timid; he had the audacity of a gold-laced veteran and the awkwardness of a man who had formerly been “down upon his luck.” We saw him one day in the tribune, pale, stammering, but daring. He had a long bony face, and a distrust-inspiring jaw. His theatrical name was Florivan. He was a strolling player transformed into a trooper. He died Marshal of France. An ill-omened figure.

The two colonels who awaited Saint–Arnaud in the anteroom were two business-like men, both leaders of those decisive regiments which at critical times carry the other regiments with them, according to their instructions, into glory, as at Austerlitz, or into crime, as on the Eighteenth Brumaire. These two officers belonged to what Morny called “the cream of indebted and free-living colonels.” We will not mention their names here; one is dead, the other is still living; he will recognize himself. Besides, we have caught a glimpse of them in the first pages of this book.

One, a man of thirty-eight, was cunning, dauntless, ungrateful, three qualifications for success. The Duc d’Aumale had saved his life in the Aurés. He was then a young captain. A ball had pierced his body; he fell into a thicket; the Kabyles rushed up to cut off and carry away his head, when the Duc d’Aumale arriving with two officers, a soldier, and a bugler, charged the Kabyles and saved this captain. Having saved him, he loved him. One was grateful, the other was not. The one who was grateful was the deliverer. The Duc d’Aumale was pleased with this young captain for having given him an opportunity for a deed of gallantry. He made him a major; in 1849 this major became lieutenant-colonel, and commanded a storming column at the siege of Rome; he then came back to Africa, where Fleury bought him over at the same time as Saint–Arnaud. Louis Bonaparte made him colonel in July, 1851, and reckoned upon him. In November this colonel of Louis Bonaparte wrote to the Duc d’Aumale, “Nothing need be apprehended from this miserable adventurer.” In December he commanded one of the massacring regiments. Later on, in the Dobrudscha, an ill-used horse turned upon him and bit off his cheek, so that there was only room on his face for one slap.

The other man was growing gray, and was about forty-eight. He also was a man of pleasure and of murder. Despicable as a citizen; brave as a soldier. He was one of the first who had sprung into the breach at Constantine. Plenty of bravery and plenty of baseness. No chivalry but that of the green cloth. Louis Bonaparte had made him colonel in 1851. His debts had been twice paid by two Princes; the first time by the Duc d’Orléans, the second time by the Duc de Némours.

Such were these colonels.

Saint–Arnaud spoke to them for some time in a low tone.

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