The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter viii.

The Situation

Although the fighting tactics of the Committee were, for the reasons which I have already given, not to concentrate all their means of resistance into one hour, or in one particular place, but to spread them over as many points and as many days as possible, each of us knew instinctively, as also the criminals of the Elysée on their side, that the day would be decisive.

The moment drew near when the coup d’état would storm us from every side, and when we should have to sustain the onslaught of an entire army. Would the people, that great revolutionary populace of the faubourgs of Paris, abandon their Representatives? Would they abandon themselves? Or, awakened and enlightened, would they at length arise? A question more and more vital, and which we repeated to ourselves with anxiety.

The National Guard had shown no sign of earnestness. The eloquent proclamation, written at Marie’s by Jules Favre and Alexander Rey, and addressed in our name to the National Legions, had not been printed. Hetzel’s scheme had failed. Versigny and Lebrousse had not been able to rejoin him; the place appointed for their meeting, the corner of the boulevard and the Rue de Richelieu, having been continually scoured by charges of cavalry. The courageous effort of Colonel Grassier to win over the Sixth Legion, the more timid attempt of Lieutenant Colonel Howyne upon the Fifth, had failed. Nevertheless indignation began to manifest itself in Paris. The preceding evening had been significant.

Hingray came to us during the morning, bringing under his cloak a bundle of copies of the Decree of Deposition, which had been reprinted. In order to bring them to us he had twice run the risk of being arrested and shot. We immediately caused these copies to be distributed and placarded. This placarding was resolutely carried out; at several points our placards were posted by the side of the placards of the coup d’état, which pronounced the penalty of death against any one who should placard the decrees emanating from the Representatives. Hingray told us that our proclamations and our decrees had been lithographed and distributed by hand in thousands. It Was urgently necessary that we should continue our publications. A printer, who had formerly been a publisher of several democratic journals, M. Boulé, had offered me his services on the preceding evening. In June, 1848, I had protected his printing-office, then being devastated by the National Guards. I wrote to him: I enclosed our judgments and our decrees in the letter, and the Representative Montaigu undertook to take them to him. M. Boulé excused himself; his printing-presses had been seized by the police at midnight.

Through the precautions which we had taken, and thanks to the patriotic assistance of several young medical and chemical students, powder had been manufactured in several quarters. At one point alone, the Rue Jacob, a hundred kilogrammes had been turned out during the night. As, however, this manufacture was principally carried out on the left bank of the river, and as the fighting took place on the right bank, it was necessary to transport this powder across the bridges. They managed this In the best manner they could. Towards nine o’clock we were warned that the police, having been informed of this, had organized a system of inspection, and that all persons crossing the river were searched, particularly on the Pont Neuf.

A certain strategical plan became manifest. The ten central bridges mere militarily guarded.

People were arrested in the street on account of their personal appearance. A sergent-de-ville, at the corner of he Pont-au-Change, exclaimed, loud enough for the passers-by to hear, “We shall lay hold of all those who have not their beards properly trimmed, or who do not appear to have slept.”

Notwithstanding all this we had a little powder; the disarming of the National Guard at various points had produced about eight hundred muskets, our proclamations and our decrees were being placarded, our voice was reaching the people, a certain confidence was springing up.

“The wave is rising! the wave is rising!” exclaimed Edgar Quinet, who had come to shake my hand.

We were informed that the schools were rising in insurrection during the day, and that they offered us a refuge in the midst of them.

Jules Favre exclaimed joyfully —

“To-morrow we shall date our decrees from the Pantheon.”

Signs of good omen grew more numerous. An old hotbed of insurrection, the Rue Saint–André-des-Arts, was becoming agitated. The association called La Presse du Travail gave signs of life. Some brave workmen, at the house of one of their colleagues, Nétré No. 13, Rue du Jardinet, had organized a little printing-press in a garret, a few steps from the barracks of the Gendarmerie Mobile. They had spent the night first in compiling, and then in printing “A Manifesto to Working Men,” which called the people to arms. They were five skilful and determined men; they had procured paper, they had perfectly new type; some of them moistened the paper, while the others composed; towards two o’clock in the morning they began to print. It was essential that they should not be heard by the neighbors; they had succeeded in muffling the hollow blows of the ink-rollers, alternating with the rapid sound of the printing blankets. In a few hours fifteen hundred copies were pulled, and at daybreak they were placarded at the corners of the streets. The leader of these intrepid workmen, A. Desmoulins, who belonged to that sturdy race of men who are both cultured and who can fight, had been greatly disheartened on the preceding day; he now had become hopeful.

On the preceding day he wrote:—“Where are the Representatives? The communications are cut. The quays and the boulevards can no longer be crossed. It has become impossible to reunite the popular Assembly. The people need direction. De Flotte in one district, Victor Hugo in another, Schoelcher in a third, are actively urging on the combat, and expose their lives a score of times, but none feel themselves supported by any organized body: and moreover the attempt of the Royalists in the Tenth Arrondissement has roused apprehension. People dread lest they should see them reappear when all is accomplished.”

Now, this man so intelligent and so courageous recovered confidence, and he wrote —

“Decidedly, Louis Napoleon is afraid. The police reports are alarming for him. The resistance of the Republican Representatives is bearing fruit. Paris is arming. Certain regiments appear ready to turn back. The Gendarmerie itself is not to be depended upon, and this morning an entire regiment refused to march. Disorder is beginning to show itself in the services. Two batteries fired upon each other for a long time without recognition. One would say that the coup d’état is about to fail.”

The symptoms, as may be seen, were growing more reassuring.

Had Maupas become unequal to the task? Had they resorted to a more skilful man? An incident seemed to point to this. On the preceding evening a tall man had been seen, between five and seven o’clock, walking up and down before the café of the Place Saint–Michel; he had been joined by two of the Commissaries of the Police who had effected the arrests of the 2d of December, and had talked to them for a long time. This man was Carlier. Was he about to supplant Maupas?

The Representative Labrousse, seated at a table of the café, had witnessed this conspirators’ parley.

Each of the two Commissaries was followed by that species of police agent which is called “the Commissary’s dog.”

At the same time strange warnings reached the Committee; the following letter18 was brought to our knowledge.

“3d December.

“MY DEAR BOCAGE,

“To-day at six o’clock, 25,000 francs has been offered to any one who
arrests or kills Hugo.

“You know where he is. He must not go out under any pretext whatever.

“Yours ever,

“AL. DUMAS.”

At the back was written, “Bocage, 18, Rue Cassette.” It was necessary that the minutest details should be considered. In the different places of combat a diversity of passwords prevailed, which might cause danger. For the password on the day before we had given the name of “Baudin.” In imitation of this the names of other Representatives had been adopted as passwords on barricades. In the Rue Rambuteau the password was “Eugène Sue and Michel de Bourges;” in the Rue Beaubourg, “Victor Hugo;” at the Saint Denis chapel, “Esquiros and De Flotte.” We thought it necessary to put a stop to this confusion, and to suppress the proper names, which are always easy to guess. The password settled upon was, “What is Joseph doing?”

At every moment items of news and information came to us from all sides, that barricades were everywhere being raised, and that firing was beginning in the central streets. Michel de Bourges exclaimed, “Construct a square of four barricades, and we will go and deliberate in the centre.”

We received news from Mont Valérien. Two prisoners the more. Rigal and Belle had just been committed. Both of the Left. Dr. Rigal was the Representative of Gaillac, and Belle of Lavaur. Rigal was ill; they had arrested him in bed. In prison he lay upon a pallet, and could not dress himself. His colleague Belle acted as his valet de chambre.

Towards nine o’clock an ex-Captain of the 8th Legion of the National Guard of 1848, named Jourdan, came to place himself at our service. He was a bold man, one of those who had carried out, on the morning of the 24th February, the rash surprise of the Hôtel de Ville. We charged him to repeat this surprise, and to extend it to the Prefecture of Police. He knew how to set about the work. He told us that he had only a few men, but that during the day he would cause certain houses of strategical importance on the Quai des Cèvres, on the Quai Lepelletier, and in the Rue de la Cité, to be silently occupied, and that if it should chance that the leaders of the coup d’état, owing to the combat in the centre of Paris growing more serious, should be forced to withdraw the troops from the Hôtel de Ville and the Prefecture, an attack would be immediately commenced on these two points. Captain Jourdan, we may at once mention, did what he had promised us; unfortunately, as we learnt that evening, he began perhaps a little too soon. As he had foreseen, a moment arrived when the square of the Hôtel de Ville was almost devoid of troops, General Herbillon having been forced to leave it with his cavalry to take the barricades of the centre in the rear. The attack of the Republicans burst forth instantly. Musket shots were fired from the windows on the Quai Lepelletier; but the left of the column was still on the Pont d’Arcole, a line of riflemen had been placed by a major named Larochette before the Hôtel de Ville, the 44th retraced its steps, and the attempt failed.

Bastide arrived, with Chauffour and Laissac.

“Good news,” said he to us, “all is going on well.” His grave, honest, and dispassionate countenance shone with a sort of patriotic serenity. He came from the barricades, and was about to return thither. He had received two balls in his cloak. I took him aside, and said to him, “Are you going back?” “Yes.” “Take me with you.” “No,” answered he, “you are necessary here. To-day you are the general, I am the soldier.” I insisted in vain. He persisted in refusing, repeating continually. “The Committee is our centre, it should not disperse itself. It is your duty to remain here. Besides,” added he, “Make your mind easy. You run here more risk than we do. If you are taken you will be shot.” “Well, then,” said I, “the moment may come when our duty will be to join in the combat.” “Without doubt.” I resumed, “You who are on the barricades will be better judges than we shall of that moment. Give me your word of honor that you will treat me as you would wish me to treat you, and that you will come and fetch us.” “I give it you,” he answered, and he pressed my two hands in his own.

Later on, however, a few moments after Bastide had left, great as was my confidence in the loyal word of this courageous and generous man, I could no longer restrain myself, and I profited by an interval of two hours of which I could dispose, to go and see with my own eyes what was taking place, and in what manner the resistance was behaving.

I took a carriage in the square of the Palais Royal. I explained to the driver who I was, and that I was about to visit and encourage the barricades; that I should go sometimes on foot, sometimes in the carriage, and that I trusted myself to him. I told him my name.

The first comer is almost always an honest man. This true-hearted coachman answered me, “I know where the barricades are. I will drive you wherever it is necessary. I will wait for you wherever it is necessary. I will drive you there and bring you back; and if you have no money, do not pay me, I am proud of such an action.”

And we started.

18 The original of this note is in the hands of the author of this book. It was handed to us by M. Avenel on the part of M. Bocage.

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