The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter iii.

What Happened During the Night. — The Petit Carreau

On the same night, almost at the same moment, at a few paces distant, a villainous deed was being perpetrated.

After the taking of the barricade, where Pierre Tissié was killed, seventy or eighty combatants had retired in good order by the Rue Saint Sauveur. They had reached the Rue Montorgueil, and had rejoined each other at the junction of the Rue du Petit Carreau and the Rue du Cadran. At this point the street rises. At the corner of the Rue du Petit Carreau and the Rue de Cléry there was a deserted barricade, fairly high and well built. There had been fighting there during the morning. The soldiers had taken it, but had not demolished it. Why? As we have said, there were several riddles of this nature during this day.

The armed band which came from the Rue Saint Denis had halted there and had waited. These men were astonished at not being pursued. Had the soldiers feared to follow them into the little narrow streets, where each corner of the houses might conceal an ambuscade? Had a counter order been given? They hazarded various conjectures. Moreover they heard close by, evidently on the boulevard, a terrific noise of musketry, and a cannonade which resembled continuous thunder. Having no more ammunition, they were reduced to listen. If they had known what was taking place there, they would have understood why they were not pursued. The butchery of the boulevard was beginning. The generals employed in the massacre had suspended fighting for awhile.

The fugitives of the boulevard streamed in their direction, but when they perceived the barricade they turned back. Some, however, joined them indignant, and crying out for vengeance. One who lived in the neighborhood ran home and brought back a little tin barrel full of cartridges.

These were sufficient for an hour’s fighting. They began to construct a barricade at the corner of the Rue du Cadran. In this manner the Rue du Petit Carreau, closed by two barricades, one towards the Rue de Cléry, the other at the corner of the Rue du Cadran, commanded the whole of the Rue Montorgueil. The space between these two barricades formed a perfect citadel. The second barricade was stronger than the first.

These men nearly all wore coats. Some of them rolled the paving-stones with gloves on.

Few workmen were amongst them, but those who were there were intelligent and energetic. These workmen were what might be termed the “pick of the crowd.”

Jeanty Sarre had rejoined them; he at once became their leader.

Charpentier accompanied him, too brave to abandon the enterprise, but too much a dreamer to become a commander.

Two barricades, enclosing in the same manner some forty yards of the Rue Montorgueil, had just been constructed at the top of the Rue Mauconseil.

Three other barricades, extremely feebly constructed, again intersected the Rue Montorgueil in the space which separates the Rue Mauconseil from Saint Eustache.

Evening was closing in. The fusillade was ceasing upon the boulevard. A surprise was possible. They established a sentry-post at the corner of the Rue du Cadran, and sent a main-guard in the direction of the Rue Montmartre. Their scouts came in to report some items of information. A regiment seemed to be preparing to bivouac in the Place des Victoires.

Their position, to all appearance strong, was not so in reality. There were too few in number to defend at the same time the two barricades on the Rue de Cléry and the Rue Montorgueil, and the soldiers arriving in the rear hidden by the second barricade would have been upon them without being even noticed. This determined them to establish a post in the Rue de Cléry. They put themselves in communication with the barricades of the Rue du Cadran and with the two Mauconseil barricades. These two last barricades were only separated from them by a space of about 150 paces. They were about six feet high, fairly solid, but only guarded by six workmen who had built them.

Towards half-past four, in the twilight — the twilight begins early in December — Jeanty Sarre took four men with him and went out to reconnoitre. He thought also of raising an advanced barricade in one of the little neighboring streets. On the way they found one which had been abandoned, and which had been built with barrels. The barrels, however, were empty, only one contained any paving-stones, and the barricade could not have been held for two minutes. As they left this barricade they were assailed by a sharp discharge of musketry. A company of infantry, hardly visible in the dusk, was close upon them.

They fell back hastily; but one of them, who was a shoemaker of the Faubourg du Temple, was hit, and had remained on the pavement. They went back and brought him away. He had the thumb of the right hand smashed. “Thank God!” said Jeanty Sarre, “they have not killed him.” “No,” said the poor man, “it is my bread which they have killed.”

And he added, “I can no longer work; who will maintain my children?”

They went back, carrying the wounded man. One of them, a medical student, bound up his wound.

The sentries, whom it was necessary to post in every direction, and who were chosen from the most trustworthy men, thinned and exhausted the little central land. There were scarcely thirty in the barricade itself.

There, as in the Quarter of the Temple, all the streetlamps were extinguished; the gas-pipes cut; the windows closed and unlighted; no moon, not even stars. The night was profoundly dark.

They could hear distant fusillades. The soldiers were firing from around Saint Eustache, and every three minutes sent a ball in their direction, as much as to say, “We are here.” Nevertheless they did not expect an attack before the morning.

Dialogues like the following took place amongst them:—

“I wish I had a truss of straw,” said Charpentier; “I have a notion that we shall sleep here to-night.”

“Will you be able to get to sleep?” asked Jeanty Sarre.

“I? Certainly I shall go to sleep.”

He did go to sleep, in fact, a few moments later.

In this gloomy network of narrow streets, intersected with barricades, and blockaded by soldiers, two wine-shops had remained open. They made more lint there, however, than they drank wine; the orders of the chiefs were only to drink reddened water.

The doorway of one of these wine-shops opened exactly between the two barricades of the Petit Cancan. In it was a clock by which they regulated the sentries’ relief. In a back room they had locked up two suspicious-looking persons who had intermingled with the combatants. One of these men at the moment when he was arrested said, “I have come to fight for Henri V.” They kept them under lock and key, and placed a sentry at the door.

An ambulance had been established in an adjoining room. There the wounded shoemaker was lying upon a mattress thrown upon the ground.

They had established, in case of need, another ambulance in the Rue du Cadran. An opening had been effected at the corner of the barricade on this side, so that the wounded could be easily carried away.

Towards half-past nine in the evening a man came up to the barricade.

Jeanty Sarre recognized him.

“Good day, Denis,” said he.

“Call me, Gaston,” said the man.

“Why?”

“Because —”

“Are you your brother?”

“Yes, I am my brother. For to-day.”

“Very well. Good-day, Gaston.”

They heartily shook hands.

It was Denis Dussoubs.

He was pale, calm, and bleeding; he had already been fighting during the morning. At the barricade of the Faubourg Saint Martin a ball had grazed his breast, but had been turned off by some money in his pocket, and had only broken the skin. He had had the rare good fortune of being scratched by a ball. It was like the first touch from the claws of death. He wore a cap, his hat having been left behind in the barricade where he had fought: and he had replaced his bullet-pierced overcoat, which was made of Belleisle cloth, by a pea-jacket bought at a slop-shop.

How had he reached the barricade of the Petit Carreau? He could not say. He had walked straight before him. He had glided from street to street. Chance takes the predestined by the hand, and leads them straight to their goal through the thick darkness.

At the moment when he entered the barricade they cried out to him, “Who goes there?” He answered, “The Republic!”

They saw Jeanty Sarre shake him by the hand. They asked Jeanty Sarre —

“Who is he?”

Jeanty Sarre answered —

“It is some one.”

And he added —

“We were only sixty a short time since. We are a hundred now.”

All pressed round the new-comer. Jeanty Sarre offered him the command.

“No,” said he, “I do not understand the tactics of barricade fighting. I should be a bad chief, but I am a good soldier. Give me a gun.”

They seated themselves on the paving-stones. They exchanged their experiences of what had been done. Denis described to them the fighting on the Faubourg Saint Martin. Jeanty Sarre told Denis of the fighting in the Rue Saint Denis.

During all this time the generals were preparing a final assault — what the Marquis of Clermont–Tonnerre, in 1822, called the “Coup de Collier,” and what, in 1789, the Prince of Lambese had called the “Coup de Bas.” Throughout all Paris there was now only this point which offered any resistance. This knot of barricade, this labyrinth of streets, embattled like a redoubt, was the last citadel of the People and of Right. The generals invested it leisurely, step by step, and on all sides. They concentrated their forces. They, the combatants of this fateful hour, knew nothing of what was being done. Only from time to time they interrupted their recital of events and they listened. From the right and from the left, from the front, from the rear, from every side, at the same time, an unmistakable murmur, growing every moment louder, and more distinct, hoarse, piercing, fear-inspiring, reached them through the darkness. It was the sound of the battalions marching and charging at the trumpet-command in all the adjoining streets. They resumed their gallant conversation, and then in another moment they stopped again and listened to that species of ill-omened chant, chanted by Death, which was approaching.

Nevertheless some still thought that they would not be attacked till the next morning. Night combats are rare in street-warfare. They are more “risky” than all the other conflicts. Few generals venture upon them. But amongst the old hands of the barricade, from certain never-failing signs, they believed that an assault was imminent.

In fact, at half-past ten at night, and not at eight o’clock as General Magnan has said in the despicable document which he calls his report — a special movement was heard in the direction of the markets. This was the marching of the troops. Colonel de Lourmel had determined to make the attack. The 51st of the Line, posted at Saint Eustache, entered the Rue Montorgueil. The 2d battalion formed the advanced guard. The Grenadiers and the Light Infantry, hurled forward at the double, quickly carried the three little barricades which were on the other side of the vacant space of the Rue Mauconseil, and the feebly defended barricades of the adjoining streets. It was at that very moment that the barricade near which I was happened to be carried.

From the barricade of the Petit Carreau they heard the night-strife draw near through the darkness, with a fitful noise, strange and appalling. First a great tumult, then volleys, then silence, and then all began again. The flashing of the fusillades suddenly delineated in the darkness the outlines of the houses, which appeared as though they themselves were affrighted.

The decisive moment drew near.

The outpost had fallen back upon the barricades. The advanced posts of the Rue de Cléry and the Rue du Cadran had come back. They called over the roll. Not one of those of the morning was missing.

They were, as we have said, about sixty combatants, and not a hundred, as the Magnan report has stated.

From the upper extremity of the street where they were stationed it was difficult to ascertain what was happening. They did not exactly know how many barricades they were in the Rue Montorgueil between them and Saint Eustache, whence the troops were coming. They only knew that their nearest point of resistance was the double Mauconseil barricade, and that, when all was at an end there, it would be their turn.

Denis had posted himself on the inner side of the barricade in such a manner that half his body was above the top, and from there he watched. The glimmer which came from the doorway of the wine-shop rendered his gestures visible.

Suddenly he made a sign. The attack on the Mauconseil redoubt was beginning.

The soldiers, in fact, after having some time hesitated before this double wall of paving-stones, lofty, well-built, and which they supposed was well defended, had ended by rushing upon it, and attacking it with blows of their guns.

They were not mistaken. It was well defended. We have already said that there were only six men in this barricade, the six workmen who had built it. Of the six one only had three cartridges, the others had only two shots to fire. These six men heard the regiment advancing and the roll of the battery which was followed on it, and did not stir. Each remained silent at his post of battle, the barrel of his gun between two paving-stones. When the soldiers were within range they fired, and the battalion replied.

“That is right. Rage away, Red Breeches,” said, laughingly, the man who had three shots to fire.

Behind them, the men of the Petit Carreau were crowded round Denis and Jeanty Sarre, and leaning on the crest of their barricade, stretching their necks towards the Mauconseil redoubt, they watched them like the gladiators of the next combat.

The six men of this Mauconseil redoubt resisted the onslaught of the battalion for nearly a quarter of an hour. They did not fire together, “in order,” one of them said, “to make the pleasure last the longer.” The pleasure of being killed for duty; a noble sentence in this workman’s mouth. They did not fall back into the adjoining streets until after having exhausted their ammunition. The last, he who had three cartridges, did not leave until the soldiers were actually scaling the summit of the barricade.

In the barricade of the Petit Carreau not a word was spoken; they followed all the phases of this struggle, and they pressed each other’s hands.

Suddenly the noise ceased, the last musket-shot was fired. A moment afterwards they saw the lighted candles being placed in all the windows which looked on on the Mauconseil redoubt. The bayonets and the brass ornaments on the shakos sparkled there. The barricade was taken.

The commander of the battalion, as is always the custom in similar circumstances, had sent orders into the adjoining houses to light up all the windows.

This was done at the Mauconseil redoubt.

Seeing that their hour had come, the sixty combatants of the barricade of the Petit Carreau mounted their heap of paving-stones, and shouted with one voice, in the midst of the darkness, this piercing cry, “Long live the Republic!”

No one answered them.

They could only hear the battalion loading their guns.

This acted upon them as a species of signal for action. They were all worn out with fatigue, having been on their feet since the preceding day, carrying paving-stones or fighting, the greater part had neither eaten nor slept.

Charpentier said to Jeanty Sarre —

“We shall all be killed.”

“Shall we really!” said Jeanty Sarre.

Jeanty Sarre ordered the door of the wine-shop to be closed, so that their barricade, completely shrouded in darkness, would give them some advantage over the barricade which was occupied by the soldiers and lighted up.

In the meantime the 51st searched the streets, carried the wounded into the ambulances, and took up their position in the double barricade of the Rue Mauconseil. Half an hour thus elapsed.

Now, in order to clearly understand what is about to follow, the reader must picture to himself in this silent street, in this darkness of the night, at from sixty to eighty yards apart, within speaking distance, these two redoubts facing each other, and able as in an Iliad to address each other.

On one side the Army, on the other side the People, the darkness over all.

The species of truce which always precedes decisive encounters drew to a close. The preparations were completed on both sides. The soldiers could be heard forming into order of battle, and the captains giving out their commands. It was evident that the struggle was at hand.

“Let us begin,” said Charpentier; and he raised his gun.

Denis held his arm back. “Wait,” he said.

Then an epic incident was seen.

Denis slowly mounted the paving-stones of the barricade, ascended to the top, and stood there erect, unarmed and bareheaded.

Thence he raised his voice, and, facing the soldiers, he shouted to them, “Citizens!”

At this word a sort of electric shudder ensued which was felt from one barricade to the other. Every sound was hushed, every voice was silent, on both sides reigned a deep religious and solemn silence. By the distant glimmer of a few lighted windows the soldiers could vaguely distinguish a man standing above a mass of shadows, like a phantom who was speaking to them in the night.

Denis continued —

“Citizens of the Army! Listen to me!”

The silence grew still more profound.

He resumed —

“What have you come to do here? You and ourselves, all of us who are in this street, at this hour, with the sword or gun in hand, what are we about to do? To kill each other! To kill each other, citizens! Why? Because they have raised a misunderstanding between us! Because we obey — you your discipline — we our Right! You believe that you are carrying out your instructions; as for us, we know that we are doing our duty. Yes! it is Universal Suffrage, it is the Right of the Republic, it is our Right that we are defending, and our Right, soldiers, is your Right. The Army is the People, as the People is the Army. We are the same nation, the some country, the same men. My God! See, is there any Russian blood in my veins, in me who am speaking to you? Is there any Prussian blood in your veins, in you who are listening to me? No! Why then should we fight? It is always an unfortunate thing for a man to fire upon a man. Nevertheless, a gun-shot between a Frenchman and an Englishman can be understood; but between a Frenchman and a Frenchman, ah! that wounds Reason, that wounds France, that wounds our mother!”

All anxiously listened to him. At this moment from the opposite barricade a voice shouted to him —

“Go home, then!”

At this coarse interruption an angry murmur ran through Denis’s companions, and several guns could be heard being loaded. Denis restrained them by a sign.

This sign possessed a strange authority.

“Who is this man?” the combatants behind the barricade asked each other. Suddenly they cried out —

“He is a Representative of the People!”

Denis had, in fact, suddenly assumed his brother Gaston’s sash.

What he had premeditated was about to be accomplished; the hour of the heroic falsehood had arrived. He cried out —

“Soldiers, do you know what the man is who is speaking to you at this moment? He is not only a citizen, he is a Legislator! He is a Representative chosen by Universal Suffrage! My name is Dussoubs, and I am a Representative of the People. It is in the name of the National Assembly, it is in the name of the Sovereign Assembly, it is in the name of the People, and in the name of the Law, that I summon you to hear me. Soldiers, you are the armed force. Well, then, when the Law speaks, the armed force listens.”

This time the silence was not broken.

We reproduce these words almost literally; such as they are, and such as they have remained graven on the memory of those who heard them; but what we cannot reproduce, and what should be added to these words, in order to realize the effect, is the attitude, the accent, the thrill of emotion, the vibration of the words issuing from this noble breast, the intense impression produced by the terrible hour and place.

Denis Dussoubs continued: “He spoke for some twenty minutes,” an eye-witness has told me. Another has said, “He spoke with a loud voice; the whole street heard him.” He was vehement, eloquent, earnest; a judge for Bonaparte, a friend for the soldiers. He sought to rouse them by everything which could still vibrate in them; he recalled to them their true wars, their true victories, the national glory, the ancient military honor, the flag. He told them that all this was about to be slain by the bullets from their guns. He adjured them, he ordered them to join themselves to the People and to the Law; and then suddenly coming back to the first words which he had pronounced, carried away by that fraternity with which his soul overflowed, he interrupted himself in the middle of a half-completed sentence, and cried out:—

“But to what purpose are all these words? It is not all this that is wanted, it is a shake of the hand between brothers! Soldiers, you are there opposite us, at a hundred paces from us, in a barricade, with the sword drawn, with guns pointed; you are aiming directly at me; well then, all of us who are here love you! There is not one of us who would not give his life for one of you. You are the peasants of the fields of France; we are the workmen of Paris. What, then, is in question? Simply to see each other, to speak to each other, and not to cut each other’s throats. Shall we try this? Say! Ah! as for myself in this frightful battle-field of civil war, I would rather die than kill. Look now, I am going to get off this barricade and come to you. I am unarmed; I only know that you are my brothers. I am confident, I am calm; and if one of you presents his bayonet at me, I will offer him my hand.”

He finished speaking.

A voice cried out from the opposite barricade, “Advance in order!”

Then they saw him slowly descend the dimly-lighted crest of the barricade, paving-stone by paving-stone, and plunge with head erect into the dark street.

From the barricade all eyes followed him with an inexpressible anxiety. Hearts ceased beating, mouths no longer breathed.

No one attempted to restrain Denis Dussoubs. Each felt that he was going where he ought to go. Charpentier wished to accompany him. “Would you like me to go with you?” he cried out to him. Dussoubs refused, with a shake of the head.

Dussoubs, alone and grave, advanced towards the Mauconseil Barricade. The night was so dark that they lost sight of him immediately. They could distinguish only for a few seconds his peaceable and intrepid bearing. Then he disappeared. They could no longer see anything. It was an inauspicious moment. The night was dark and dumb. There could only be heard in this thick darkness the sound of a measured and firm step dying away in the distance.

After some time, how long no one could reckon, so completely did emotion eclipse thought amongst the witnesses of this marvellous scene, a glimmer of light appeared in the barricade of the soldiers; it was probably a lantern which was being brought or taken away. By the flash they again saw Dussoubs, he was close to the barricade, he had almost reached it, he was walking towards it with his arms stretched out like Christ.

Suddenly the word of command, “Fire!” was heard.

A fusillade burst forth.

They had fired upon Dussoubs when he was at the muzzles of their guns.

Dussoubs fell.

Then he raised himself and cried, “Long live the Republic!”

Another bullet struck him, he fell again. Then they saw him raise himself once more, and heard him shout in a loud voice, “I die with the Republic.”

These were his last words.

In this manner died Denis Dussoubs.

It was not vainly that he had said to his brother, “Your sash will be there.”

He was anxious that this sash should do its duty. He determined in the depths of his great soul that this sash should triumph either through the law or through death.

That is to say, in the first case it would save Right, in the second save Honor.

Dying, he could say, “I have succeeded.”

Of the two possible triumphs of which he had dreamed, the gloomy triumph was not the less splendid.

The insurgent of the Elysée thought that he had killed a Representative of the People, and boasted of it. The sole journal published by the coup d’état under these different titles Patrie, Univers, Moniteur, Parisien, etc., announced on the next day, Friday, the 5th, “that the ex-Representative Dussoubs (Gaston) had been killed at the barricade of the Rue Neuve Saint Eustache, and that he bore ‘a red flag in his hand.’”

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