The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xiv.

Ossian and Scipio

Arrests grew more numerous.

Towards noon a Commissary of Police, named Boudrot, appeared at the divan of the Rue Lepelletier. He was accompanied by the police agent Delahodde. Delahodde was that traitorous socialist writer, who, upon being unmasked, had passed from the Secret Police to the Public Police Service. I knew him, and I record this incident. In 1832 he was a master in the school at which were my two sons, then boys, and he had addressed poetry to me. At the same time he was acting the spy upon me. The Lepelletier divan was the place of meeting of a large number of Republican journalists. Delahodde knew them all. A detachment of the Republican Guard occupied the entrances to the café. Then ensued an inspection of all the ordinary customers, Delahodde walking first, with the Commissary behind him. Two Municipal Guards followed them. From time to time Delahodde looked round and said, “Lay hold of this man.” In this manner some score of writers were arrested, among whom were Hennett de Kesler.20 On the preceding evening Kesler had been on the Saint Antoine barricade. Kesler said to Delahodde, “You are a miserable wretch.” “And you are an ungrateful fellow,” replied Delahodde; “I am saving your life.” Curious words; for it is difficult to believe that Delahodde was in the secret of what was to happen on the fatal day of the Fourth.

At the head-quarters of the Committee encouraging information was forwarded to us from every side. Testelin, the Representative of Lille, is not only a learned man, but a brave man. On the morning of the 3d he had reached, shortly after me, the Saint Antoine barricade, where Baudin had just been killed. All was at an end in that direction. Testelin was accompanied by Charles Gambon, another dauntless man.21 The two Representatives wandered through the agitated and dark streets, little followed, in no way understood, seeking a ferment of insurgents, and only finding a swarming of the curious. Testelin, nevertheless, having come to the Committee, informed us of the following:— At the corner of a street of the Faubourg Saint Antoine Gambon and himself had noticed a crowd. They had gone up to it. This crowd was reading a bill placarded on a wall. It was the Appeal to Arms signed “Victor Hugo.” Testelin asked Gambon, “Have you a pencil?” “Yes,” answered Gambon. Testelin took the pencil, went up to the placard, and wrote his name beneath mine, then he gave the pencil to Gambon, who in turn wrote his name beneath that of Testelin. Upon this the crowd shouted, “Bravo! these are true-hearted men!” “Shout ‘Long live the Republic!’” cried Testelin. All shouted “Long live the Republic!” “And from above, from the open windows,” added Gambon, “women clapped their hands.”

“The little hands of women applauding are a good sign,” said Michel de Bourges.

As has been seen, and we cannot lay too much stress upon the fact, what the Committee of Resistance wished was to prevent the shedding of blood as much as possible. To construct barricades, to let them be destroyed, and to reconstruct them at other points, to avoid the army, and to wear it out, to wage in Paris the war of the desert, always retreating, never yielding, to take time for an ally, to add days to days; on the one hand to give the people time to understand and to rise, on the other, to conquer the coup d’état by the weariness of the army; such was the plan discussed and adopted.

The order was accordingly given that the barricades should be but slightly defended.

We repeated in every possible form to the combatants —

“Shed as little blood as possible! Spare the blood of the soldiers and husband your own.”

Nevertheless, the struggle once begun, it became impossible in many instances, during certain excited hours of fighting, to moderate their ardor. Several barricades were obstinately defended, particularly those in the Rue Rambuteau, in the Rue Montorgueil, and in the Rue Neuve Saint Eustache.

These barricades were commanded by daring leaders.

Here, for the sake of history, we will record a few of these brave men fighting outlines who appeared and disappeared in the smoke of the combat. Radoux, an architect, Deluc, Mallarmet, Félix Bony, Luneau, an ex-Captain of the Republican Guard, Camille Berru, editor of the Avénement, gay, warmhearted, and dauntless, and that young Eugène Millelot, who was destined to be condemned at Cayenne to receive 200 lashes, and to expire at the twenty-third stroke, before the very eyes of his father and brother, proscribed and convicts like himself.

The barricade of the Rue Aumaire was amongst those which were not carried without resistance. Although raised in haste, it was fairly constructed. Fifteen or sixteen resolute men defended it; two were killed.

The barricade was carried with the bayonet by a battalion of the 16th of the line. This battalion, hurled on the barricade at the double, was received by a brisk fusillade; several soldiers were wounded.

The first who fell in the soldiers’ ranks was an officer. He was a young man of twenty-five, lieutenant of the first company, named Ossian Dumas; two balls broke both of his legs as though by a single blow.

At that time there were in the army two brothers of the name of Dumas, Ossian and Scipio. Scipio was the elder. They were near relatives of the Representative, Madier de Montjau.

These two brothers belonged to a poor but honored family. The elder had been educated at the Polytechnic School, the other at the School of Saint Cyr.

Scipio was four years older than his brother. According to that splendid and mysterious law of ascent, which the French Revolution has created, and which, so to speak, has placed a ladder in the centre of a society hitherto caste-bound and inaccessible, Scipio Dumas’ family had imposed upon themselves the most severe privations in order to develop his intellect and secure his future. His relations, with the touching heroism of the poor of the present era, denied themselves bread to afford him knowledge. In this manner he attained to the Polytechnic School, where he quickly became one of the best pupils.

Having concluded his studies, he was appointed an officer in the artillery, and sent to Metz. It then became his turn to help the boy who had to mount after him. He held out his hand to his younger brother. He economized the modest pay of an artillery lieutenant, and, thanks to him, Ossian became an officer like Scipio. While Scipio, detained by duties belonging to his position, remained at Metz, Ossian was incorporated in an infantry regiment, and went to Africa. There he saw his first service.

Scipio and Ossian were Republicans. In October, 1851, the 16th of the line, in which Ossian was serving, was summoned to Paris. It was one of the regiments chosen by the ill-omened hand of Louis Bonaparte, and on which the coup d’état counted.

The 2d of December arrived.

Lieutenant Ossian Dumas obeyed, like nearly all his comrades, the order to take up arms; but every one round him could notice his gloomy attitude.

The day of the 3d was spent in marches and counter-marches. On the 4th the combat began. The 16th, which formed part of the Herbillon Brigade, was told off to capture the barricades of the Rues Beaubourg, Trausnonain, and Aumaire. This battle-field was formidable; a perfect square of barricades had been raised there.

It was by the Rue Aumaire, and with the regiment of which Ossian formed part, that the military leaders resolved to begin action.

At the moment when the regiment, with arms loaded, was about to march upon the Rue Aumaire, Ossian Dumas went up to his captain, a brave and veteran officer, with whom he was a favorite, and declared that he would not march a step farther, that the deed of the 2d of December was a crime, that Louis Bonaparte was a traitor, that it was for them, soldiers, to maintain the oath which Bonaparte violated; and that, as for himself, he would not lend his sword to the butchery of the Republic.

A halt was made. The signal of attack was awaited; the two officers, the old captain and the young lieutenant, conversed in a low tone.

“And what do you want to do?” asked the captain.

“Break my sword.”

“You will be taken to Vincennes.”

“That is all the same to me.”

“Most certainly dismissed.”

“Possibly.”

“Perhaps shot.”

“I expect it.”

“But there is no longer any time; you should have resigned yesterday.”

“There is always time to avoid committing a crime.”

The captain, as may be seen, was simply one of those professional heroes, grown old in the leather stock, who know of no country but the flag, and no other law but military discipline. Iron arms and wooden heads. They are neither citizens nor men. They only recognize honor in the form of a general’s epaulets. It is of no use talking to them of political duties, of obedience to the laws, of the Constitution. What do they know about all this? What is a Constitution; what are the most holy laws, against three words which a corporal may murmur into the ear of a sentinel? Take a pair of scales, put in one side the Gospels, in the other the official instructions; now weigh them. The corporal turns the balance; the Deity kicks the beam.

God forms a portion of the order of the day of Saint Bartholomew. “Kill all. He will recognized his own.”

This is what the priests accept, and at times glorify.

Saint Bartholomew has been blessed by the Pope and decorated with the Catholic medal.22

Meanwhile Ossian Dumas appeared determined. The captain made a last effort.

“You will ruin yourself,” said he.

“I shall save my honor.”

“It is precisely your honor that you are sacrificing.”

“Because I am going away?”

“To go away is to desert.”

This seemed to impress Ossian Dumas. The captain continued —

“They are about to fight. In a few minutes the barricade will be attacked. Your comrades will fall, dead or wounded. You are a young officer — you have not yet been much under fire.”

“At all events,” warmly interrupted Ossian Dumas, “I shall not have fought against the Republic; they will not say I am a traitor.”

“No, but they will say that you are a coward.”

Ossian made no reply.

A moment afterwards the command was given to attack.

The regiment started at the double. The barricade fired.

Ossian Dumas was the first who fell.

He had not been able to bear that word “coward,” and he had remained in his place in the first rank.

They took him to the ambulance, and from thence to the hospital.

Let us at once state the conclusion of this touching incident.

Both of his legs were broken. The doctors thought that it would be necessary to amputate them both.

General Saint–Arnaud sent him the Cross of Honor.

As is known, Louis Bonaparte hastened to discharge his debt to his praetorian accomplices. After having massacred, the sword voted.

The combat was still smoking when the army was brought to the ballot-box.

The garrison of Paris voted “Yes.” It absolved itself.

With the rest of the army it was otherwise. Military honor was indignant, and roused the civic virtue. Notwithstanding the pressure which was exercised, although the regiments deposited their votes in the shakos of their colonels, the army voted “No” in many districts of France and Algeria.

The Polytechnic School voted “No” in a body. Nearly everywhere the artillery, of which the Polytechnic School is the cradle, voted to the same effect as the school.

Scipio Dumas, it may be remembered, was at Metz.

By some curious chance it happened that the feeling of the artillery, which everywhere else had pronounced against the coup d’état, hesitated at Metz, and seemed to lean towards Bonaparte.

Scipio Dumas, in presence of this indecision set an example. He voted in a loud voice, and with an open voting paper, “No.”

Then he sent in his resignation. At the same time that the Minister at Paris received the resignation of Scipio Dumas, Scipio Dumas at Metz, received his dismissal, signed by the Minister.

After Scipio Dumas’ vote, the same thought had come at the same time to both the Government and to the officer, to the Government that the officer was a dangerous man, and that they could no longer employ him, to the officer that the Government was an infamous one, and that he ought no longer to serve it.

The resignation and the dismissal crossed on the way. By this word “dismissal” must be understood the withdrawal of employment.

According to our existing military laws it is in this manner that they now “break” an officer. Withdrawal of employment, that is to say, no more service, no more pay; poverty.

Simultaneously with his dismissal, Scipio Dumas learnt the news of the attack on the barricade of the Rue Aumaire, and that his brother had both his legs broken. In the fever of events he had been a week without news of Ossian. Scipio had confined himself to writing to his brother to inform him of his vote and of his dismissal, and to induce him to do likewise.

His brother wounded! His brother at the Val-de. Grâce! He left immediately for Paris.

He hastened to the hospital. They took him to Ossian’s bedside. The poor young fellow had had both his legs amputated on the preceding day.

At the moment when Scipio, stunned, appeared at his bedside, Ossian held in his hand the cross which General Saint–Arnaud had just sent him.

The wounded man turned towards the aide-de-camp who had brought it, and said to him —

“I will not have this cross. On my breast it would be stained with the blood of the Republic.”

And perceiving his brother, who had just entered, he held out the cross to him, exclaiming —

“You take it. You have voted “No,” and you have broken your sword! It is you who have deserved it!”

20 Died in exile in Guernsey. See the “Pendant l’Exil,” under the heading Actes et Paroles, vol. ii.

21 Died in exile at Termonde.

22 Pro Hugonotorum strage. Medal struck at Rome in 1572.

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