The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter x.

My Visit to the Barricade

My coachman deposited me at the corner of Saint Eustache, and said to me, “Here you are in the hornets’ nest.”

He added, “I will wait for you in the Rue de la Vrillière, near the Place des Victoires. Take your time.”

I began walking from barricade to barricade.

In the first I met De Flotte, who offered to serve me as a guide. There is not a more determined man than De Flotte. I accepted his offer; he took me everywhere where my presence could be of use.

On the way he gave me an account of the steps taken by him to print our proclamations; Boulé‘s printing-office having failed him, he had applied to a lithographic press, at No. 30, Rue Bergère, and at the peril of their lives two brave men had printed 500 copies of our decrees. These two true-hearted workmen were named, the one Rubens, the other Achille Poincellot.

While walking I made jottings in pencil (with Baudin’s pencil, which I had with me); I registered facts at random; I reproduce this page here. These living facts are useful for History; the coup d’état is there, as though freshly bleeding.

“Morning of the 4th. It looks as if the combat was suspended. Will it burst forth again? Barricades visited by me: one at the corner of Saint Eustache. One at the Oyster Market. One in the Rue Mauconseil. One in the Rue Tiquetonne. One in the Rue Mandar (Rocher de Cancale). One barring the Rue du Cadran and the Rue Montorgueil. Four closing the Petit–Carreau. The beginning of one between the Rue des Deux Portes and the Rue Saint Sauveur, barring the Rue Saint Denis. One, the largest, barring the Rue Saint Denis, at the top of the Rue Guérin-Boisseau. One barring the Rue Grenetat. One farther on in the Rue Grenetat, barring the Rue Bourg–Labbé (in the centre an overturned flour wagon; a good barricade). In the Rue Saint Denis one barring the Rue de Petit–Lion-Saint–Sauveur. One barring the Rue du Grand Hurleur, with its four corners barricaded. This barricade has already been attacked this morning. A combatant, Massonnet, a comb-maker of 154, Rue Saint Denis, received a ball in his overcoat; Dupapet, called ‘the man with the long beard,’ was the last to stay on the summit of the barricade. He was heard to cry out to the officers commanding the attack, ‘You are traitors!’ He is believed to have been shot. The troops retired — strange to say without demolishing the barricade. A barricade is being constructed in the Rue du Renard. Some National Guards in uniform watch its construction, but do not work on it. One of them said to me, ‘We are not against you, you are on the side of Right.’ They add that there are twelve or fifteen barricades in the Rue Rambuteau. This morning at daybreak the cannon had fired ‘steadily,’ as one of them remarks, in the Rue Bourbon–Villeneuve. I visit a powder manufactory improvised by Leguevel at a chemist’s opposite the Rue Guérin-Boisseau.

“They are constructing the barricades amicably, without angering any one. They do what they can not to annoy the neighborhood. The combatants of the Bourg–Labbé barricades are ankle-deep in mud on account of the rain. It is a perfect sewer. They hesitate to ask for a truss of straw. They lie down in the water or on the pavement.

“I saw there a young man who was ill, and who had just got up from his bed with the fever still on him. He said to me, ‘I am going to my death’ (he did so).

“In the Rue Bourbon–Villeneuve they had not even asked a mattress of the ‘shopkeepers,’ although, the barricade being bombarded, they needed them to deaden the effect of the balls.

“The soldiers make bad barricades, because they make them too well. A barricade should be tottering; when well built it is worth nothing; the paving-stones should want equilibrium, ‘so that they may roll down on the troopers,’ said a street-boy to me, ‘and break their paws.’ Sprains form a part of barricade warfare.

“Jeanty Sarre is the chief of a complete group of barricades. He presented his first lieutenant to me, Charpentier, a man of thirty-six, lettered and scientific. Charpentier busies himself with experiments with the object of substituting gas for coal and wood in the firing of china, and he asks permission to read a tragedy to me ‘one of these days.’ I said to him, ‘We shall make one.’

“Jeanty Sarre is grumbling at Charpentier; the ammunition is failing. Jeanty Sarre, having at his house in the Rue Saint Honoré a pound of fowling-powder and twenty army cartridges, sent Charpentier to get them. Charpentier went there, and brought back the fowling-powder and the cartridges, but distributed them to the combatants on the barricades whom he met on the way. ‘They were as though famished,’ said he. Charpentier had never in his life touched a fire-arm. Jeanty Sarre showed him how to load a gun.

“They take their meals at a wine-seller’s at the corner, and they warm themselves there. It is very cold. The wine-seller says, ‘Those who are hungry, go and eat.’ A combatant asked him, ‘Who pays?’ ‘Death,’ was the answer. And in truth some hours afterwards he had received seventeen bayonet thrusts.

“They have not broken the gas-pipes — always for the sake of not doing unnecessary damage. They confine themselves to requisitioning the gasmen’s keys, and the lamplighters’ winches in order to open the pipes. In this manner they control the lighting or extinguishing.

“This group of barricades is strong, and will play an important part. I had hoped at one moment that they would attack it while I was there. The bugle had approached, and then had gone away again. Jeanty Sarre tells me ‘it will be for this evening.’

“His intention is to extinguish the gas in the Rue du Petit–Carreau and all the adjoining streets, and to leave only one jet lighted in the Rue du Cadran. He has placed sentinels as far as the corner of the Rue Saint Denis; at that point there is an open side, without barricades, but little accessible to the troops, on account of the narrowness of the streets, which they can only enter one by one. Thence little danger exists, an advantage of narrow streets; the troops are worth nothing unless massed together. The soldier does not like isolated action; in war the feeling of elbow to elbow constitutes half the bravery. Jeanty Sarre has a reactionary uncle with whom he is not on good terms, and who lives close by at No. 1, Rue du Petit–Carreau. —‘What a fright we shall give him presently!’ said Jeanty Sarre to me, laughing. This morning Jeanty Sarre has inspected the Montorgueil barricade. There was only one man on it, who was drunk, and who put the barrel of his gun against his breast, saying, ‘No thoroughfare.’ Jeanty Sarre disarmed him.

“I go to the Rue Pagevin. There at the corner of the Place des Victoires there is a well-constructed barricade. In the adjoining barricade in the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, the troops this morning made no prisoners. The soldiers had killed every one. There are corpses as far as the Place des Victoires. The Pagevin barricade held its own. There are fifty men there, well armed. I enter. ‘Is all going on well?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Courage.’ I press all these brave hands; they make a report to me. They had seen a Municipal Guard smash in the head of a dying man with the butt end of his musket. A pretty young girl, wishing to go home, took refuge in the barricade. There, terrified, she remained for an hour. When all danger was over, the chef of the barricade caused her to be reconducted home by the eldest of his men.

“As I was about to leave the barricade Pagevin, they brought me a prisoner, a police spy, they said.

“He expected to be shot. I had him set at liberty.”

Bancel was in this barricade of the Rue Pagevin. We shook hands.

He asked me —

“Shall we conquer?”

“Yes,” I answered.

We then could hardly entertain a doubt.

De Flotte and Bancel wished to accompany me, fearing that I should be arrested by the regiment guarding the Bank.

The weather was misty and cold, almost dark. This obscurity concealed and helped us. The fog was on our side.

As we reached the corner of the Rue de la Vrillière, a group on horseback passed by.

It consisted of a few others, preceded by a man who seemed a soldier, but who was not in uniform. He wore a cloak with a hood.

De Flotte nudged me with his elbow, and whispered —

“Do you know Fialin?”

I answered —

“No.”

“Have you seen him?

“No.”

“Do you wish to see him?”

“No.”

“Look at him.”

I looked at him.

This man in truth was passing before us. It was he who preceded the group of officers. He came out of the Bank. Had he been there to effect a new forced loan? The people who were at the doors looked at him with curiosity, and without anger. His entire bearing was insolent. He turned from time to time to say a word to one of his followers. This little cavalcade “pawed the ground” in the mist and in the mud. Fialin had the arrogant air of a man who caracoles before a crime. He gazed at the passers-by with a haughty look. His horse was very handsome, and, poor beast, seemed very proud. Fialin was smiling. He had in his hand the whip that his face deserved.

He passed by. I never saw the man except on this occasion.

De Flotte and Bancel did not leave me until they had seen me get into my vehicle. My true-hearted coachman was waiting for me in the Rue de la Vrillière. He brought me back to No 15, Rue Richelieu.

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