The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xii.

The Barricade of the Mairie of the Fifth Arrondissement

National Guards in uniform filled the courtyard of the Mairie of the Fifth Arrondissement. Others came in every moment. An ex-drummer of the Garde Mobile had taken a drum from a lower room at the side of the guard-room, and had beaten the call to arms in the surrounding streets. Towards nine o’clock a group of fourteen or fifteen young men, most of whom were in white blouses, entered the Mairie, shouting, “Long live the Republic!” They were armed with guns. The National Guard received them with shouts of “Down with Louis Bonaparte!” They fraternized in the courtyard. Suddenly there was a movement. It was caused by the arrival of the Representatives Doutre and Pelletier.

“What is to be done?” shouted the crowd.

“Barricades,” said Pelletier.

They unharnessed the horses, which the carter led away, and they turned the cart round without upsetting it across the wide roadway of the faubourg. The barricade was completed in a moment. A truck came up. They took it and stood it against the wheels of the cart, just as a screen is placed before a fireplace.

The remainder was made up of casks and paving-stones. Thanks to the flour-cart the barricade was lofty, and reached to the first story of the houses. It intersected the faubourg at the corner of the little Rue Saint Jean. A narrow entrance had been contrived at the barricade at the corner of the street.

“One barricade is not sufficient,” said Doutre, “we must place the Mairie between two barriers, so as to be able to defend both sides at the same time.”

They constructed a second barricade, facing the summit of the faubourg. This one was low and weakly built, being composed only of planks and of paving-stones. There was about a hundred paces distance between the two barricades.

There were three hundred men in this space. Only one hundred had guns. The majority had only one cartridge.

The firing began about ten o’clock. Two companies of the line appeared and fired several volleys. The attack was only a feint. The barricade replied, and made the mistake of foolishly exhausting its ammunition. The troops retired. Then the attack began in earnest. Some Chasseurs de Vincennes emerged from the corner of the boulevard.

Following out the African mode of warfare, they glided along the side of the walls, and then, with a run, they threw themselves upon the barricade.

No more ammunition in the barricade. No quarter to be expected.

Those who had no more powder or balls threw down their guns. Some wished to reoccupy their position in the Mairie, but it was impossible for them to maintain any defence there, the Mairie being open and commanded from every side; they scaled the walls and scattered themselves about in the neighboring houses; others escaped by the narrow passage of the boulevard which led into the Rue Saint Jean; most of the combatants reached the opposite side of the boulevard, while those who had a cartridge left fired a last volley upon the troops from the height of the paving-stones. Then they awaited their death. All were killed.

One of those who succeeded in slipping into the Rue Saint Jean, where moreover they ran the gauntlet of a volley from their assailants, was M.H. Coste, Editor of the Evénement and of the Avénement du Peuple.

M. Coste had been a captain in the Garde Mobile. At a bend in the street, which placed him out of reach of the balls, M. Conte noticed in front of him the drummer of the Garde Mobile, who, like him, had escaped by the Rue Saint Jean, and who was profiting by the loneliness of the street to get rid of his drum.

“Keep your drum,” cried he to him.

“For what purpose?”

“To beat the call to arms.”

“Where?”

“At Batignolles.”

“I will keep it,” said the drummer.

These two men came out from the jaws of death, and at once consented to re-enter them.

But how should they cross all Paris with this drum? The first patrol which met them would shoot them. A porter of an adjoining house, who noticed their predicament, gave them a packing-cloth. They enveloped the drum in it, and reached Batignolles by the lonely streets which skirt the walls.

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