The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter v.

The Darkness of the Crime

Versigny had just left me.

While I dressed hastily there came in a man in whom I had every confidence. He was a poor cabinet-maker out of work, named Girard, to whom I had given shelter in a room of my house, a carver of wood, and not illiterate. He came in from the street; he was trembling.

“Well,” I asked, “what do the people say?”

Girard answered me —

“People are dazed. The blow has been struck in such a manner that it is not realized. Workmen read the placards, say nothing, and go to their work. Only one in a hundred speaks. It is to say, ‘Good!’ This is how it appears to them. The law of the 31st May is abrogated —‘Well done!’ Universal suffrage is re-established —‘Also well done!’ The reactionary majority has been driven away —‘Admirable!’ Thiers is arrested —‘Capital!’ Changarnier is seized —‘Bravo!’ Round each placard there are claqueurs. Ratapoil explains his coup d’état to Jacques Bonhomme, Jacques Bonhomme takes it all in. Briefly, it is my impression that the people give their consent.”

“Let it be so,” said I.

“But,” asked Girard of me, “what will you do, Monsieur Victor Hugo?”

I took my scarf of office from a cupboard, and showed it to him.

He understood.

We shook hands.

As he went out Carini entered.

Colonel Carini is an intrepid man. He had commanded the cavalry under Mieroslawsky in the Sicilian insurrection. He has, in a few moving and enthusiastic pages, told the story of that noble revolt. Carini is one of those Italians who love France as we Frenchmen love Italy. Every warm-hearted man in this century has two fatherlands — the Rome of yesterday and the Paris of to-day.

“Thank God,” said Carini to me, “you are still free,” and he added, “The blow has been struck in a formidable manner. The Assembly is invested. I have come from thence. The Place de la Révolution, the Quays, the Tuileries, the boulevards, are crowded with troops. The soldiers have their knapsacks. The batteries are harnessed. If fighting takes place it will be desperate work.”

I answered him, “There will be fighting.”

And I added, laughing, “You have proved that the colonels write like poets; now it is the turn of the poets to fight like colonels.”

I entered my wife’s room; she knew nothing, and was quietly reading her paper in bed.

I had taken about me five hundred francs in gold. I put on my wife’s bed a box containing nine hundred francs, all the money which remained to me, and I told her what had happened.

She turned pale, and said to me, “What are you going to do?”

“My duty.”

She embraced me, and only said two words:—

“Do it.”

My breakfast was ready. I ate a cutlet in two mouthfuls. As I finished, my daughter came in. She was startled by the manner in which I kissed her, and asked me, “What is the matter?”

“Your mother will explain to you.”

And I left them.

The Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne was as quiet and deserted as usual. Four workmen were, however, chatting near my door; they wished me “Good morning.”

I cried out to them, “You know what is going on?”

“Yes,” said they.

“Well. It is treason! Louis Bonaparte is strangling the Republic. The people are attacked. The people must defend themselves.”

“They will defend themselves.”

“You promise me that?”

“Yes,” they answered.

One of them added, “We swear it.”

They kept their word. Barricades were constructed in my street (Rue de la Tour d’Auvergne), in the Rue des Martyrs, in the Cité Rodier, in the Rue Coquenard, and at Notre–Dame de Lorette.

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