The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter v.

A Wavering Ally

During this terribly historical morning of the 4th of December, a day the master was closely observed by his satellites, Louis Bonaparte had shut himself up, but in doing so he betrayed himself. A man who shuts himself up meditates, and for such men to meditate is to premeditate. What could be the premeditation of Louis Bonaparte? What was working in his mind. Questions which all asked themselves, two persons excepted — Morny, the man of thought; Saint–Arnaud, the man of action.

Louis Bonaparte claimed, justly, a knowledge of men. He prided himself upon it, and from a certain point of view he was right. Others have the power of divination; he had the faculty of scent. It is brute-like, but trustworthy.

He had assuredly not been mistaken in Maupas. To pick the lock of the Law he needed a skeleton key. He took Maupas. Nor could any burglar’s implement have answered better in the lock of the Constitution than Maupas. Neither was he mistaken in Q.B. He saw at once that this serious man had in him the necessary composite qualities of a rascal. And in fact, Q.B., after having voted and signed the Deposition at the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondissement, became one of the three reporters of the Joint Commissions; and his share in the abominable total recorded by history amounts to sixteen hundred and thirty four victims.

Louis Bonaparte, however, at times judged amiss, especially respecting Peauger. Peauger, though chosen by him, remained an honest man. Louis Bonaparte, mistrusting the workmen of the National Printing–Office, and not without reason, for twelve, as has been seen, were refractory, had improvised a branch establishment in case of emergency, a sort of State Sub–Printing-Office, as it were, situated in the Rue de Luxembourg, with steam and hand presses, and eight workmen. He had given the management of it to Peauger. When the hour of the Crime arrived, and with it the necessity of printing the nefarious placards, he sounded Peauger, and found him rebellious. He then turned to Saint Georges, a more subservient lackey.

He was less mistaken, but still he was mistaken, in his appreciation of X.

On the 2d of December, X., an ally thought necessary by Morny, became a source of anxiety to Louis Bonaparte.

X. was forty-four years of age, loved women, craved promotion, and, therefore, was not over-scrupulous. He began his career in Africa under Colonel Combes in the forty-seventh of the line. He showed great bravery at Constantine; at Zaatcha he extricated Herbillon, and the siege, badly begun by Herbillon, had been brought to a successful termination by him. X., who was a little short man, his head sunk in his shoulders, was intrepid, and admirably understood the handling of a brigade. Bugeaud, Lamoricière, Cavaignac, and Changarnier were his four stepping-stones to advancement. At Paris, in 1851, he met Lamoricière, who received him coldly, and Changarnier, who treated him better. He left Satory indignant, exclaiming, “We must finish with this Louis Bonaparte. He is corrupting the army. These drunken soldiers make one sick at heart. I shall return to Africa.” In October Changarnier’s influence decreased, and X.‘s enthusiasm abated. X. then frequented the Elysée, but without giving his adherence. He promised his support to General Bedeau, who counted upon him. At daybreak on the 2d of December some one came to waken X. It was Edgar Ney. X. was a prop for the coup d’état, but would he consent? Edgar Ney explained the affair to him, and left him only after seeing him leave the barracks of the Rue Verte at the head of the first regiment. X. took up his position at the Place de la Madeleine. As he arrived there La Rochejaquelein, thrust back from the Chamber by its invaders, crossed the Place. La Rochejaquelein, not yet a Bonapartist, was furious. He perceived X., his old schoolfellow at the Ecole Militaire in 1830, with whom he was on intimate terms. He went up to him, exclaiming, “This is an infamous act. What are you doing?” “I am waiting,” answered X. La Rochejaquelein left him; X. dismounted, and went to see a relation, a Councillor of State, M.R., who lived in the Rue de Suresne. He asked his advice. M.R., an honest man, did not hesitate. He answered, “I am going to the Council of State to do my duty. It is a Crime.” X. shook his head, and said, “We must wait and see.”

This I am waiting, and We must see, preoccupied Louis Bonaparte. Morny said, “Let us make use of the flying squadron.”

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