The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter ii.

What Happened During the Night — The Market Quarter

I came back to my lodging, 19, Rue Richelieu.

The massacre seemed to be at an end; the fusillades were heard no longer. As I was about to knock at the door I hesitated for a moment; a man was there who seemed to be waiting. I went straight up to this man, and I said to him —

“You seem to be waiting for somebody?”

He answered —

“Yes.”

“For whom?”

“For you.”

And he added, lowering his voice, “I have come to speak to you.”

I looked at this man. A street-lamp shone on him. He did not avoid the light.

He was a young man with a fair beard, wearing a blue blouse, and who had the gentle bearing of a thinker and the robust hands of a workman.

“Who are you?” I asked him.

He answered — “I belong to the Society of the Last-makers. I know you very well, Citizen Victor Hugo.”

“From whom do you come?” I resumed.

He answered still in a whisper —

“From Citizen King.”

“Very good,” said I.

He then told me his name. As he has survived the events of the night of the 4th, and as he since escaped the denunciations, it can be understood that we will not mention his name here, and that we shall confine ourselves to terming him throughout the course of this story by his trade, calling him the “last-maker.”27

“What do you want to say to me?” I asked him.

He explained that matters were not hopeless, that he and his friends meant to continue the resistance, that the meeting-places of the Societies had not yet been settled, but that they would be during the evening, that my presence was desired, and that if I would be under the Colbert Arcade at nine o’clock, either himself or another of their men would be there, and would serve me as guide. We decided that in order to make himself known, the messenger, when accosting me, should give the password, “What is Joseph doing?”

I do not know whether he thought he noticed any doubt or mistrust on my part. He suddenly interrupted himself, and said —

“After all, you are not bound to believe me. One does not think of everything: I ought to have asked them to give me a word in writing. At a time like this one distrusts everybody.”

“On the contrary,” I said to him, “one trusts everybody. I will be in the Colbert Arcade at nine o’clock.”

And I left him.

I re-entered my asylum. I was tired, I was hungry, I had recourse to Charamaule’s chocolate and to a small piece of bread which I had still left. I sank down into an arm-chair, I ate and I slept. Some slumbers are gloomy. I had one of those slumbers, full of spectres; I again saw the dead child and the two red holes in his forehead, these formed two mouths: one said “Morny,” and the other “Saint–Arnaud.” History is not made, however, to recount dreams. I will abridge. Suddenly I awoke. I started: “If only it is not past nine o’clock!” I had forgotten to wind up my watch. It had stopped. I went out hastily. The street was lonely, the shops were shut. In the Place Louvos I heard the hour striking (probably from Saint Roch); I listened. I counted nine strokes. In a few moments I was under the Colbert Arcade. I peered into the darkness. No one was under the Arcade.

I felt that it was impossible to remain there, and have the appearance of waiting about; near the Colbert Arcade there is a police-station, and the patrols were passing every moment. I plunged into the street. I found no one there. I went as far as the Rue Vivienne. At the corner of the Rue Vivienne a man was stopping before a placard and was trying to deface it or to tear it down. I drew near this man, who probably took me for a police agent, and who fled at the top of his speed. I retraced my steps. Near the Colbert Arcade, and just as I reached the point in the street where they post the theatrical bills, a workman passed me, and said quickly, “What is Joseph doing?”

I recognized the last-maker.

“Come,” he said to me.

We set out without speaking and without appearing to know each other, he walking some steps before me.

We first went to two addresses, which I cannot mention here without pointing out victims for the proscription. In these two houses we got no news; no one had come there on the part of the societies.

“Let us go to the third place,” said the last-maker, and he explained to me that they had settled among them three successive meeting-places, in case of need, so as to be always sure of finding each other if, perchance, the police discovered the first or even the second meeting-place, a precaution which for our part we adopted as much as possible with regard to our meetings of the Left end of the Committee.

We had reached the market quarter. Fighting had been going on there throughout the day. There were no longer any gas-lamps in the streets. We stopped from time to time, and listened so as not to run headlong into the arms of a patrol. We got over a paling of planks almost completely destroyed, and of which barricades had probably been made, and we crossed the extensive area of half-demolished houses which at that epoch encumbered the lower portions of the Rue Montmartre and Rue Montorgueil. On the peaks of the high dismantled gables could be seen a flickering red glow, doubtless the reflection of the bivouac-fires of the soldiers encamped in the markets and in the neighborhood of Saint Eustache. This reflection lighted our way. The last-maker, however, narrowly escaped falling into a deep hole, which was no less than the cellar of a demolished house. On coming out of this region, covered with ruins, amongst which here and there a few trees might be perceived, the remains of gardens which had now disappeared, we entered into narrow, winding, and completely dark streets, where it was impossible to recognize one’s whereabouts. Nevertheless the last-maker walked on as much at his ease as in broad daylight, and like a man who is going straight to his destination. Once he turned round to me, and said to me —

“The whole of this quarter is barricaded; and if, as I hope, our friends come down, I will answer that they will hold it for a long time.”

Suddenly he stopped. “Here is one,” said he. In truth, seven or eight paces before us was a barricade entirely constructed of paving-stones, not exceeding a man’s height, and which in the darkness appeared like a ruined wall. A narrow passage had been formed at one end. We passed through it. There was no one behind the barricade.

“There has already been fighting here a short time ago,” said the last-maker in a low voice; and he added, after a pause, “We are getting near.”

The unpaving had left holes, of which we had to be careful. We strode, and sometimes jumped, from paving-stone to paving-stone. Notwithstanding the intense darkness, there yet hovered about an indefinable glimmer; on our way we noticed before us on the ground, close to the foot-pavement, something which looked like a stretched-out form. “The devil!” muttered my guide, “we were just going to walk upon it.” He took a little wax match from his pocket and struck it on his sleeve; the flame flashed out. The light fell upon a pallid face, which looked at us with fixed eyes. It was a corpse lying there; it was an old man. The last-maker rapidly waved the match from his head to his feet. The dead man was almost in the attitude of a crucified man; his two arms were stretched out; his white hair, red at the ends, was soaking in the mud; a pool of blood was beneath him; a large blackish patch on his waistcoat marked the place where the ball had pierced his breast; one of his braces was undone; he had thick laced boots on his feet. The last-maker lifted up one of his arms, and said, “His collar-bone is broken.” The movement shook the head, and the open mouth turned towards us as though about to speak to us. I gazed at this vision; I almost listened. Suddenly it disappeared.

This face re-entered the gloom; the match had just gone out.

We went away in silence. After walking about twenty paces, the last-maker, as though talking to himself, said in a whisper, “Don’t know him.”

We still pushed forward. From the cellars to the roofs, from the ground-floors to the garrets, there was not a light in the house. We appeared to be groping in an immense tomb.

A man’s voice, firm and sonorous, suddenly issued out of the darkness, and shouted to us, “Who goes there?”

“Ah, there they are!” said the last-maker, and he uttered a peculiar whistle.

“Come on,” resumed the voice.

It was another barricade. This one, a little higher than the first, and separated from it by a distance of about a hundred paces, was, as far as could be seen, constructed of barrels filled with paving-stones. On the top could be seen the wheels of a truck entangled between the barrels; planks and beams were intermingled. A passage had been contrived still narrower than the gangway of the other barricade.

“Citizens,” said the last-maker, as he went into the barricade, “how many of you are there here?”

The voice which had shouted, “Who goes there?” answered —

“There are two of us.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all.”

They were in truth two — two men who alone during that night, in that solitary street, behind that heap of paving-stones, awaited the onslaught of a regiment.

Both wore blouses; they were two workmen; with a few cartridges in their pockets, and a musket upon each of their shoulders.

“So then,” resumed the last-maker, in an impatient tone, “our friends have not yet come!”

“Well, then,” I said to him, “let us wait for them.”

The last-maker spoke for a short time in a low tone, and probably told my name to one of the two defenders of the barricade, who came up to me and saluted me. “Citizen Representative,” said he, “it will be very warm here shortly.”

“In the meantime,” answered I laughingly, “it is cold.”

It was very cold, in truth. The street which was completely unpaved behind the barricade, was nothing better than a sewer, ankle deep in water.

“I say that it will be warm,” resumed the workman, “and that you would do well to go farther off.”

The last-maker put his hand on his shoulder: “Comrade, it is necessary that we should remain here. The meeting-place is close by, in the ambulance.”

“All the same,” resumed the other workman, who was very short, and who stood up on a paving-stone; “the Citizen Representative would do well to go farther off.”

“I can very well be where you are,” said I to him.

The street was quite dark, nothing could be seen of the sky. Inside the barricade on the left, on the side where the passage was, could be seen a high paling of badly joined planks, through which shone in places a feeble light. Above the paling rose out, lost in the darkness, a house of six or seven storys; the ground floor, which was being repaired, and which was under-pinned, being closed in by these planks. A ray of light issuing from between the planks fell on the opposite wall, and lighted up an old torn placard, on which could be read, “Asnières. Water tournaments. Grand ball.”

“Have you another gun?” asked the last-maker of the taller of the two workmen.

“If we had three guns we should be three men,” answered the workman.

The little one added, “Do you think that the good will is wanting? There are plenty of musicians, but there are no clarionets.”

By the side of the wooden paling could be seen a little, narrow and low door, which looked more like the door of a stall than the door of a shop. The shop to which this door belonged was hermetically sealed. The door seemed to be equally closed. The last-maker went up to it and pushed it gently. It was open.

“Let us go in,” he said.

I went in first, he followed me, and shut the door behind me. We were in a room on the ground floor. At the end, on the left, a half-opened door emitted the reflection of a light. The room was only lighted by this reflection. A counter and a species of stove, painted in black and white, could be dimly distinguished.

A short, half-suffocated, intermittent gurgling could be heard, which seemed to come from an adjoining room on the same side as the light. The last-maker walked quickly to the half-opened door. I crossed the room after him, and we found ourselves in a sort of vast shed, lighted by one candle. We were on the other side of the plank paling. There was only the plank paling between ourselves and the barricade.

This species of shed was the ground floor in course of demolition. Iron columns, painted red, and fixed into stone sockets at short distances apart, supported the joists of the ceiling; facing the street, a huge framework standing erect, and denoting the centre of the surrounding paling, supported the great cross-beam of the first story, that is to say, supported the whole house. In a corner were lying some masons’ tools, a heap of rubbish, and a large double ladder. A few straw-bottomed chairs were scattered here and there. The damp ground served for the flooring. By the side of a table, on which stood a candle in the midst of medicine bottles, an old woman and a young girl of about eight years old — the woman seated, the child squatting before a great basketful of old linen — were making lint. The end of the room, which was lost in the darkness, was carpeted with a litter of straw, on which three mattresses had been thrown. The gurgling noise came from there.

“It is the ambulance,” said the last-maker.

The old woman turned her head, and seeing us, shuddered convulsively, and then, reassured probably by the blouse of the last-maker, she got up and came towards us.

The last-maker whispered a few words in her ear. She answered, “I have seen nobody.”

Then she added, “But what makes me uneasy is that my husband has not yet come back. They have done nothing but fire muskets the whole evening.”

Two men were lying on two of the mattresses at the end of the room. A third mattress was unoccupied and was waiting.

The wounded man nearest to me had received a musket ball in his stomach. He it was who was gurgling. The old woman came towards the mattress with a candle, and whispered to us, showing us her fist, “If you could only see the hole that that has made! We have stuffed lint as large as this into his stomach.”

She resumed, “He is not above twenty-five years old. He will be dead to-morrow morning.”

The other was still younger. He was hardly eighteen. “He has a handsome black overcoat,” said the woman. “He is most likely a student.” The young man had the whole of the lower part of his face swathed in blood-stained linen. She explained to us that he had received a ball in the mouth, which had broken his jaw. He was in a high fever, and gazed at us with lustrous eyes. From time to time he stretched his right arm towards a basin full of water in which a sponge was soaking; he took the sponge, carried it to his face, and himself moistened his bandages.

It seemed to me that his gaze fastened upon me in a singular manner. I went up to him, I stooped down, and I gave him my hand, which he took in his own. “Do you know me?” I asked him. He answered “Yes,” by a pressure of the hand which went to my heart.

The last-maker said to me, “Wait a minute for me here, I shall be back directly; I want to see in this neighborhood, if there is any means of getting a gun.”

He added —

“Would you like one for yourself?”

“No,” answered I. “I shall remain here without a gun. I only take a half share in the civil war; I am willing to die, I am not willing to kill.”

I asked him if he thought his friends were going to come. He declared that he could not understand it, that the men from the societies ought to have arrived already, that instead of two men in the barricade there should be twenty, that instead of two barricades in the street there should have been ten, and that something must have happened; he added —

“However, I will go and see; promise to wait for me here.”

“I promise you,” I answered, “I will wait all night if necessary.”

He left me.

The old woman had reseated herself near the little girl, who did not seem to understand much of what was passing round her, and who from time to time raised great calm eyes towards me. Both were poorly clad, and it seemed to me that the child had stockingless feet. “My man has not yet come back,” said the old woman, “my poor man has not yet come back. I hope nothing has happened to him!” With many heart-rending “My God’s,” and all the while quickly picking her lint, she wept. I could not help thinking with anguish of the old man we had seen stretched on the pavement at a few paces distant.

A newspaper was lying on the table. I took it up, and I unfolded it. It was the P——, the rest of the title had been torn off. A blood-stained hand was plainly imprinted on it. A wounded man on entering had probably placed his hand on the table on the spot where the newspaper lay. My eyes fell upon these lines:—

“M. Victor Hugo has just published an appeal to pillage and assassination.”

In these terms the journal of the Elysée described the proclamation which I had dictated to Baudin, and which may be read in page 103 of this History.

As I threw back the paper on the table one of the two defenders of the barricade entered. It was the short man.

“A glass of water,” said he. By the side of the medicine bottles there was a decanter and a glass. He drank, greedily. He held in his hand a morsel of bread and a sausage, which he was biting.

Suddenly we heard several successive explosions, following one after another, and which seemed but a short distance off. In the silence of this dark night it resembled the sound of a load of wood being shot on to the pavement.

The calm and serious voice of the other combatant shouted from outside, “It is beginning.”

“Have I time to finish my bread?” asked the little one.

“Yes,” said the other.

The little one then turned to me.

“Citizen Representative,” said he to me, “those are volleys. They are attacking the barricades over there. Really you must go away.”

I answered him, “But you yourselves are going to stay here.”

“As for us, we are armed,” resumed he; “as for you, you are not. You will only get yourself killed without benefiting any one. If you had a gun, I should say nothing. But you have not. You must go away.”

“I cannot,” I answered him. “I am waiting for some one.”

He wished to continue and to urge me. I pressed his hand.

“Let me do as I like,” said I.

He understood that my duty was to remain, and no longer persisted.

There was a pause. He again began to bite his bread. The gurgling of the dying man alone was audible. At that moment a sort of deep and hollow booming reached us. The old woman started from her chair, muttering, “It is the cannon!”

“No,” said the little man, “it is the slamming of a street-door.” Then he resumed, “There now! I have finished my bread,” and he dusted one hand against the other, and went out.

In the meantime the explosions continued, and seemed to come nearer. A noise sounded in the shop. It was the last-maker who was coming back. He appeared on the threshold of the ambulance. He was pale.

“Here I am,” said he, “I have come to fetch you. We must go home. Let us be off at once.”

I arose from the chair where I had seated myself. “What does this mean? Will they not come?”

“No,” he answered, “no one will come. All is at an end.”

Then he hastily explained that he had gone through the whole of the quarter in order to find a gun, that it was labor lost, that he had spoken to “two or three,” that we must abandon all hope of the societies, that they would not come down, that what had been done during the day had appalled every one, that the best men were terrified, that the boulevards were “full of corpses,” that the soldiers had committed “horrors,” that the barricade was about to be attacked, that on his arrival he had heard the noise of footsteps in the direction of the crossway, that it was the soldiers who were advancing, that we could do nothing further there, that we must be off, that this house was “stupidly chosen,” that there was no outlet in the rear, that perhaps we should already find it difficult to get out of the street, and that we had only just time.

He told this all panting, briefly, jerkily, and interrupted at every moment with this ejaculation, “And to think that they have no arms, and to think that I have no gun!”

As he finished we heard from the barricade a shout of “Attention!” and almost immediately a shot was fired.

A violent discharge replied to this shot.

Several balls struck the paling of the ambulance, but they were too obliquely aimed, and none pierced it. We heard the glass of several broken windows falling noisily into the street.

“There is no longer time,” said the last-maker calmly; “the barricade is attacked.”

He took a chair and sat down. The two workmen were evidently excellent marksmen. Two volleys assailed the barricade, one after the other. The barricade answered with animation. Then the fire ceased. There was a pause.

“Now they are coming at us with the bayonet! They are coming at the double!” said a voice in the barricade.

The other voice said, “Let us be off.” A last musket-shot was fired. Then a violent blow which we interpreted as a warning shook our wooden wall. It was in reality one of the workmen who had thrown down his gun when going away; the gun in falling had struck the paling of the ambulance. We heard the rapid steps of the two combatants, as they ran off.

Almost at the same moment a tumult of voices, and of butt ends of muskets striking the paving-stones, filled the barricade.

“It is taken,” said the last-maker, and he blew out the candle.

To the silence which enveloped this street a moment before succeeded a sort of ill-omened tumult. The soldiers knocked at the doors of the houses with the butt-ends of their muskets. It was by a miracle that the shop-door escaped them. If they had merely pushed against it, they would have seen that it was not shut, and would have entered.

A voice, probably the voice of an officer, cried out, “Light up the windows!” The soldiers swore. We heard them say, “Where are those blackguard Reds? Let us search the houses.” The ambulance was plunged in darkness. Not a word was spoken, not a breath could be heard; even the dying man, as though he divined the danger, had ceased to gurgle. I felt the little girl pressing herself against my legs.

A soldier struck the barrels, and said laughingly —

“Here is something to make a fire with to-night.”

Another resumed —

“Which way have they gone? They were at least thirty. Let us search the houses.”

We heard one raising objections to this —

“Nonsense! What do you want to do on a night like this? Enter the houses of the ‘middle classes’ indeed! There is some waste ground over yonder. They have taken refuge there.”

“All the same,” repeated the others, “let us search the houses.”

At this moment a musket-shot was fired from the end of the street.

This shot saved us.

In fact, it was probably one of the two workmen who had fired in order to draw off their attention from us.

“That comes from over there,” cried the soldiers, “They are over there!” and all starting off at once in the direction from which the shot had been fired, they left the barricade and ran down the street at the top of their speed.

The last-maker and myself got up.

“They are no longer there,” whispered he. “Quick! let us be off.”

“But this poor woman,” said I. “Are we going to leave her here?”

“Oh,” she said, “do not be afraid, I have nothing to fear; as for me, I am an ambulance. I am taking care of the wounded. I shall even relight my candle when you are gone. What troubles me is that my poor husband has not yet come back!”

We crossed the shop on tiptoe. The last-maker gently opened the door and glanced out into the street. Some inhabitants had obeyed the order to light up their windows, and four or five lighted candles here and there flickered in the wind upon the sills of the windows. The street was no longer completely dark.

“There is no one about now,” said the last-maker; “but let us make haste, for they will probably come back.”

We went out: the old woman closed the door behind us, and we found ourselves in the street. We got over the barricade and hurried away as quickly as possible. We passed by the dead old man. He was still there, lying on the pavement indistinctly revealed by the flickering glimmer from the windows; he looked as though he was sleeping. As we reached the second barricade we heard behind us the soldiers, who were returning.

We succeeded in regaining the streets in course of demolition. There we were in safety. The sound of musketry still reached us. The last-maker said, “They are fighting in the direction of the Rue de Cléry.” Leaving the streets in course of demolition, we went round the markets, not without risk of falling into the hands of the patrols, by a number of zigzags, and from one little street to another little street. We reached the Rue Saint Honoré.

At the corner of the Rue de l’Arbre Sec the last-maker and I separated, “For in truth,” said he to me, “two run more danger than one.” And I regained No. 19, Rue Richelieu.

While crossing the rue des Bourdonnais we had noticed the bivouac of the Place Saint Eustache. The troops who had been dispatched for the attack had not yet come back. Only a few companies were guarding it. We could hear shouts of laughter. The soldiers were warming themselves at large fires lighted here and there. In the fire which was nearest to us we could distinguish in the middle of the brazier the wheels of the vehicles which had served for the barricades. Of some there only remained a great hoop of red-hot iron.

27 We may now, after twenty-six years, give the name of this loyal and courageous man. His name was Galoy (and not Galloix, as certain historians of the coup d’état have printed it while recounting, after their fashion, the incidents which we are about to read).

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hugo/victor/history_of_a_crime/chapter51.html

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