The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter iii.

Inside the Elysee

During the morning Dr. Yvan met Dr. Conneau. They were acquainted. They talked together. Yvan belonged to the Left. Conneau belonged to the Elysée. Yvan knew through Conneau the details of what had taken place during the night at the Elysée, which he transmitted to us.

One of these details was the following:—

An inexorable decree had been compiled, and was about to be placarded. This decree enjoined upon all submission to the coup d’état. Saint–Arnaud, who, as Minister of War, should sign the decree, had drawn it up. He had reached the last paragraph, which ran thus: “Whoever shall be detected constructing a barricade, posting a placard of the ex-Representatives, or reading it, shall be. . . . ” here Saint–Arnaud had paused; Morny had shrugged his shoulders, had snatched the pen from his hand, and written “shot!”

Other matters had been decided, but these were not recorded.

Various pieces of information came in in addition to these.

A National Guard, named Boillay de Dole, had formed one of the Guard at the Elysée, on the night of the 3d and 4th. The windows of Louis Bonaparte’s private room, which was on the ground floor, were lighted up throughout the night. In the adjoining room there was a Council of War. From the sentry-box where he was stationed Boillay saw defined on the windows black profiles and gesticulating shadows, which were Magnan, Saint–Arnaud, Persigny, Fleury — the spectres of the crime.

Korte, the General of the Cuirassiers, had been summoned, as also Carrelet, who commanded the division which did the hardest work on the following day, the 4th. From midnight to three o’clock in the morning Generals and Colonels “did nothing but come and go.” Even mere captains had come there. Towards four o’clock some carriages arrived “with women.” Treason and debauchery went hand in hand. The boudoir in the palace answered to the brothel in the barracks.

The courtyard was filled with lancers, who held the horses of the generals who were deliberating.

Two of the women who came that night belong in a certain measure to History. There are always feminine shadows of this sort in the background. These women influenced the unhappy generals. Both belonged to the best circles. The one was the Marquise of — — she who became enamored of her husband after having deceived him. She discovered that her lover was not worth her husband. Such a thing does happen. She was the daughter of the most whimsical Marshal of France, and of that pretty Countess of —— to whom M. de Chateaubriand, after a night of love, composed this quatrain, which may now be published — all the personages being dead.

The Dawn peeps in at the window, she paints the sky with red;
And over our loving embraces her rosy rays are shed:
She looks on the slumbering world, love, with eyes that seem divine.
But can she show on her lips, love, a smile as sweet as thine?13

The smile of the daughter was as sweet as that of the mother, and more fatal. The other was Madame K— — a Russian, fair, tall, blonde, lighthearted, involved in the hidden paths of diplomacy, possessing and displaying a casket full of love letters from Count Molé somewhat of a spy, absolutely charming and terrifying.

The precautions which had been taken in case of accident were visible even from outside. Since the preceding evening there had been seen from the windows of the neighboring houses two post-chaises in the courtyard of the Elysée, horsed, ready to start, the postilions in their saddles.

In the stables of the Elysée in the Rue Montaigne there were other carriages horsed, and horses saddled and bridled.

Louis Bonaparte had not slept. During the night he had given mysterious orders; thence when morning came there was on this pale face a sort of appalling serenity.

The Crime grown calm was a disquieting symptom.

During the morning he had almost laughed. Morny had come into his private room. Louis Bonaparte, having been feverish, had called in Conneau, who joined in the conversation. People are believed to be trustworthy, nevertheless they listen.

Morny brought the police reports. Twelve workmen of the National Printing Office had, during the night of the Second, refused to print the decrees and the proclamations. They had been immediately arrested. Colonel Forestier was arrested. They had transferred him to the Fort of Bicêtre, together with Crocé Spinelli, Genillier, Hippolyte Magen, a talented and courageous writer, Goudounèche, a schoolmaster, and Polino. This last name had struck Louis Bonaparte. “Who is this Polino?” Morny had answered, “An ex-officer of the Shah of Persia’s service.” And he had added, “A mixture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.” These prisoners had been placed in Number Six Casemate. Further questions on the part of Louis Bonaparte, “What are these casemates?” And Morny had answered, “Cellars without air or daylight, twenty-four mètres long, eight wide, five high, dripping walls, damp pavements.” Louis Bonaparte had asked, “Do they give them a truss of straw?” And Morny had said, “Not yet, we shall see by and by.” He had added, “Those who are to be transported are at Bicêtre, those who are to be shot are at Ivry.”

Louis Bonaparte had inquired, “What precautions had been taken?” Morny gave him full particulars; that guards had been placed in all the steeples; that all printing-presses had been placed under seal; that all the drums of the National Guard had been locked up; that there was therefore no fear either of a proclamation emanating from a printing-office, or of a call to arms issuing from a Mairie, or of the tocsin ringing from a steeple.

Louis Bonaparte had asked whether all the batteries contained their full complements, as each battery should be composed of four pieces and two mortars. He had expressly ordered that only pieces of eight, and mortars of sixteen centimètres in diameter should be employed.

“In truth,” Morny, who was in the secret, had said, “all this apparatus will have work to do.”

Then Morny had spoken of Mazas, that there were 600 men of the Republican Guards in the courtyard, all picked men, and who when attacked would defend themselves to the bitter end; that the soldiers received the arrested Representatives with shouts of laughter, and that they had gone so far as to stare Thiers in the face; that the officers kept the soldiers at a distance, but with discretion and with a “species of respect;” that three prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, Greppo, Nadaud, and a member of the Socialist Committee, Arsène Meunier. This last named occupied No. 32 of the Sixth Division. Adjoining, in No. 30, there was a Representative of the Right, who sobbed and cried unceasingly. This made Arsène Meunier laugh, and this made Louis Bonaparte laugh.

Another detail. When the fiacre bringing M. Baze was entering the courtyard of Mazas, it had struck against the gate, and the lamp of the fiacre had fallen to the ground and been broken to pieces. The coachman, dismayed at the damage, bewailed it. “Who will pay for this?” exclaimed he. One of the police agents, who was in the carriage with the arrested Questor, had said to the driver, “Don’t be uneasy, speak to the Brigadier. In matters such as this, where there is a breakage, it is the Government which pays.”

And Bonaparte had smiled, and muttered under his moustache, “That is only fair.”

Another anecdote from Morny also amused him. This was Cavaignac’s anger on entering his cell at Mazas. There is an aperture at the door of each cell, called the “spy-hole,” through which the prisoners are played the spy upon unknown to themselves. The jailers had watched Cavaignac. He had begun by pacing up and down with folded arms, and then the space being too confined, he had seated himself on the stool in his cell. These stools are narrow pieces of plank upon three converging legs, which pierce the seat in the centre, and project beyond the plank, so that one is uncomfortably seated. Cavaignac had stood up, and with a violent kick had sent the stool to the other end of the cell. Then, furious and swearing, he had broken with a blow of his fist the little table of five inches by twelve, which, with the stool, formed the sole furniture of the dungeon.

This kick and fisticuff amused Louis Bonaparte.

“And Maupas is as frightened as ever,” said Morny. This made Bonaparte laugh still further.

Morny having given in his report, went away. Louis Bonaparte entered an adjoining room; a woman awaited him there. It appears that she came to entreat mercy for some one. Dr. Conneau heard these expressive words: “Madam, I wink at your loves; do you wink at my hatreds.”

13 The above is a free rendering of the original, which is as follows:—

Des rayons du matin l’horizon se colore,
Le jour vient éclairer notre tendre entretien,
Mais est-il un sourire aux lèvres de l’aurore.
                   Aussi doux que le tien?

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