The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter iv.

What was Done During the Night — The Passage Du Saumon

When those on the barricade of the Petit Carreau saw Dussoubs fall, so gloriously for his friends, so shamefully for his murderers, a moment of stupor ensued. Was it possible? Did they really see this before them? Such a crime committed by our soldiers? Horror filled every soul.

This moment of surprise did not last long. “Long live the Republic!” shouted the barricade with one voice, and it replied to the ambuscade by a formidable fire.

The conflict began. A mad conflict on the part of the coup d’état, a struggle of despair on the side of the Republic. On the side of the soldiers an appalling and cold blooded resolution, a passive and ferocious obedience, numbers, good arms, absolute chiefs, pouches filled with cartridges. On the side of the People no ammunition, disorder, weariness, exhaustion, no discipline, indignation serving for a leader.

It appears that while Dussoubs was speaking, fifteen grenadiers, commanded by a sergeant named Pitrois, had succeeded in gliding in the darkness along the houses, and, unperceived and unheard, had taken up their position close to the barricade. These fifteen men suddenly formed themselves together with lowered bayonets at twenty paces from the barricade ready to scale it. A volley received them. They fell back, leaving several corpses in the gutter. Major Jeannin cried out, “Finish them off.” The entire battalion which occupied the Mauconseil barricade, then appeared with raised bayonets upon the uneven crest of this barricade, and from there without breaking their line, with a sudden, but regulated and inexorable movement, sprang into the street. The four companies, in close order, and as though mingled and hardly visible, seemed like a wave precipitating itself with a great noise from the height of the barricade.

At the barricade of the Petit Carreau they noted the manoeuvre, and had paused in their fire. “Present,” cried Jeanty Sarre, “but do not fire; wait for the order.”

Each put his gun to his shoulder, then placed the barrels between the paving-stones, ready to fire, and waited.

As soon as it had quitted the Mauconseil redoubt, the battalion rapidly formed itself into an attacking column, and a moment afterwards they heard the intermittent sound of an advance at the double. It was the battalion which was coming upon them.

“Charpentier,” said Jeanty Sarre, “you have good eyes. Are they midway?”

“Yes,” said Charpentier.

“Fire,” said Jeanty Sarre.

The barricade fired. The whole street was filled with smoke. Several soldiers fell. They could hear the cries of the wounded. The battalion, riddled with balls, halted and replied by platoon firing.

Seven or eight combatants whose bodies reached above the barricade, which had been made hastily and was too low were hit. Three were killed on the spot. One fell wounded by a ball in his stomach, between Jeanty Sarre and Charpentier. He shrieked out with pain.

“Quick, to the ambulance:” said Jeanty Sarre.

“Where?”

“In the Rue du Cadran.”

Jeanty Sarre and Charpentier picked up the wounded man, the one by the feet, the other by the head, and carried him to the du Cadran through the passage in the barricade.

During all this time there was continued file firing. There no longer seemed anything in the street but smoke, the balls whistling and crossing each other, the brief and repeated commands, some plaintive cries, and the flash of the guns lighting up the darkness.

Suddenly a loud void died out, “Forwards!” The battalion resumed its double-quick march and threw itself upon the barricade.

Then ensued a horrible scene. They fought hand to hand, four hundred on the one side, fifty on the other. They seized each other by the collar, by the throat, by the mouth, by the hair. There was no longer a cartridge in the barricade, but there remained despair. A workman, pierced through and through, snatched the bayonet from his belly, and stabbed a soldier with it. They did not see each other, but they devoured each other. It was a desperate scuffle in the dark.

The barricade did not hold out for two minutes. In several places, it may be remembered, it was low. It was rather stridden over than scaled. That was all the more heroic. One of the survivors28 told the writer of these lines, “The barricade defended itself very badly, but the men died very well.”

All this took place while Jeanty Sarre and Charpentier were carrying the wounded man to the ambulance in the Rue du Cadran. His wounds having been attended to, they came back to the barricade. They had just reached it when they heard themselves called by name. A feeble voice close by said to them, “Jeanty Sarre! Charpentier!” They turned round and saw one of their men who was dying leaning against a wall, and his knees giving way beneath him. He was a combatant who had left the barricade. He had only been able to take a few steps down the street. He held his hand over his breast, where he had received a ball fired at close quarters. He said to them in a scarcely audible voice, “The barricade is taken, save yourselves.”

“No,” said Jeanty Sarre, “I must unload my gun.” Jeanty Sarre re-entered the barricade, fired a last shot and went away.

Nothing could be more frightful than the interior of the captured barricade.

The Republicans, overpowered by numbers, no longer offered any resistance. The officers cried out, “No prisoners!” The soldiers billed those who were standing, and despatched those who had fallen. Many awaited their death with their heads erect. The dying raised themselves up, and shouted, “Long live the Republic!” Some soldiers ground their heels upon the faces of the dead, so that they should not be recognized. There, stretched out amongst the corpses, in the middle of the barricade, with his hair in the gutter, was seen the all-but namesake of Charpentier, Carpentier, the delegate of the committee of the Tenth Arrondissement, who had been killed, and had fallen backwards, with two balls in his breast. A lighted candle which the soldiers had taken from the wine-shop was placed on a paving stone.

The soldiers were infuriated. One would say that they were revenging themselves. On whom? A workman, named Paturel, received three balls and six bayonet-thrusts, four of which were in the head. They thought that he was dead, and they did not renew the attack. He felt them search him. They took ten francs which he had about him. He did not die till six days later, and he was able to relate the details which are given here. We may note, by the way, that the name of Paturel does not figure upon any of the lists of the corpses published by M. Bonaparte.

Sixty Republicans were shut up in this redoubt of the Petit Carreau. Forty-six were killed there. These men had come there that morning free, proud to fight, and joyous to die. At midnight all was at an end. The night wagons carried away on the next day nine corpses to the hospital cemetery, and thirty-seven to Montmartre.

Jeanty Sarre escaped by a miracle, as well as Charpentier, and a third whose name we have not been able to ascertain. They glided along the houses and reached the Passage du Saumon. The grated doors which closed the Passage during the night only reached to the centre of the archway. They climbed it and got over the spikes, at the risk of tearing themselves. Jeanty Sarre was the first to climb it; having reached the summit, one of the spikes pierced his trousers, hooked them, and Jeanty Sarre fell headforemost upon the pavement. He got up again, he was only stunned. The other two followed him, and gliding along the bars, all three found themselves in the Passage. It was dimly lighted by a lamp which shone at one end. In the meanwhile, they heard the soldiers, who were pursuing them, coming up. In order to escape by the Rue Montmartre, they would have to climb the grated gateway at the other end of the Passage; their hands were grazed, their knees were bleeding; they were dying of weariness; they were in no condition to recommence a similar ascent.

Jeanty Sarre knew where the keeper of the Passage lived. He knocked at his window, and begged him to open. The keeper refused.

At this moment the detachment which had been sent in pursuit of them reached the grated gateway which they had just climbed. The soldiers, hearing a noise in the Passage, passed the barrels of their guns through the bars. Jeanty Sarre squeezed himself against the wall behind one of those projecting columns which decorate the Passage; but the column was very thin, and only half covered him. The soldiers fired, and smoke filled the Passage. When it cleared away, Jeanty Sarre saw Charpentier stretched on the stones, with his face to the ground. He had been shot through the heart. Their other companion lay a few paces from him, mortally wounded.

The soldiers did not scale the grated gateway, but they posted a sentinel before it. Jeanty Sarre heard them going away by the Rue Montmartre. They would doubtless come back.

No means of flight. He felt all the doors round his prison successively. One of them at length opened. This appeared to him like a miracle. Whoever could have forgotten to shut the door? Providence, doubtless. He hid himself behind it, and remained there for more than an hour, standing motionless, scarcely breathing. He no longer heard any sound; he ventured out. The sentinel was no longer there. The detachment had rejoined the battalion.

One of his old friends, a man to whom he had rendered services such as are not forgotten, lived in this very Passage du Saumon. Jeanty Sarre looked for the number, woke the porter, told him the name of his friend, was admitted, went up the stairs, and knocked at the door. The door was opened, his friend appeared in his nightshirt, with a candle in his hand.

He recognized Jeanty Sarre, and cried out, “You here! What a state you are in! Where hove you come from? From what riot? from what madness? And then you come to compromise us all here? To have us murdered? To have us shot? Now then, what do you want with me?”

“I want you to give me a brush down,” said Jeanty Sarre.

His friend took a brush and brushed him, and Jeanty Sarre went away. While going down the stairs, Jeanty Sarre cried out to his friend, “Thanks!”

Such is the kind of hospitality which we have since received in Belgium, in Switzerland, and even in England.

The next day, when they took up the bodies they found on Charpentier a note-book and a pencil, and upon Denis Dussoubs a letter. A letter to a woman. Even these stoic souls love.

On the 1st of December, Denis Dussoubs began this letter. He did not finish it. Here it is:—

“MY DEAR MARIE,

“Have you experienced that sweet pain of feeling regret for him who
regrets you? For myself since I left you I have known no other
affliction than that of thinking of you. Even in my affliction itself
there was something sweet and tender, and although I was troubled, I
was nevertheless happy to feel in the depths of my heart how greatly
I loved you by the regret which you cost me. Why are we separated?
Why have I been forced to fly from you? For we were so happy! When I
think of our little evenings so free from constraint, of our gay
country chats with your sisters, I feel myself seized with a bitter
regret. Did we not love each other clearly, my darling? We had no
secret from each other because we had no need to have one, and our
lips uttered the thoughts of our hearts without our thinking to keep
anything back.

“God has snatched away from us all these blessings, and nothing will
console me for having lost them; do you not lament with me the evils
of absence?

“How seldom we see those whom we love! Circumstances take us far from
them, and our soul tormented and attracted out of ourselves lives in
a perpetual anguish. I feel this sickness of absence. I imagine
myself wherever you are. I follow your work with my eyes, or I listen
to your words, seated beside you and seeking to divine the word which
you are about to utter; your sisters sew by our side. Empty
dreams — illusions of a moment — my hand seeks yours; where are you, my
beloved one?

“My life is an exile. Far from those whom I love and by whom I am
loved, my heart calls them and consumes away in its grief. No, I do
not love the great cities and their noise, towns peopled with
strangers where no one knows you and where you know no one, where
each one jostles and elbows the other without ever exchanging a
smile. But I love our quiet fields, the peace of home, and the voice
of friends who greet you. Up to the present I have always lived in
contradiction with my nature; my fiery blood, my nature so hostile to
injustice, the spectacle of unmerited miseries have thrown me into a
struggle of which I do not foresee the issue, a struggle in which
will remain to the end without fear and without reproach, that which
daily breaks me down and consumes my life.

“I tell you, my much-loved darling, the secret miseries of my heart;
no, I do not blush for what my hand has just written, but my heart is
sick and suffering, and I tell it to you. I suffer . . . I wish to blot
out these lines, but why? Could they offend you? What do they contain
that could wound my darling? Do I not know your affection, and do I
not know that you love me? Yes, you have not deceived me, I did not
kiss a lying mouth; when seated on my knees you lulled me with the
charm of your words, I believed you. I wished to bind myself to a
burning iron bar; weariness preys upon me and devours me. I feel a
maddening desire to recover life. Is it Paris that produces this
effect upon me? I always yearn to be in places where I am not. I live
here to a complete solitude. I believe you, Marie. . . . ”

Charpentier’s note-book only contained this line, which he had written in the darkness at the foot of the barricade while Denis Dussoubs was speaking:—

Admonet et magna testatur voce per umbras.

28 February 18. Louvain.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hugo/victor/history_of_a_crime/chapter53.html

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