The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter v.

Other Deeds of Darkness

Yvan had again seen Conneau. He corroborated the information given in the letter of Alexandre Dumas to Bocage; with the fact we had the names. On the 3d of December at M. Abbatucci’s house, 31, Rue Caumartin, in the presence of Dr. Conneau and of Piétri, a Corsican, born at Vezzani, named Jacques François Criscelli,29 a man attached to the secret and personal service of Louis Bonaparte, had received from Piétri’s own mouth the offer of 25,000 francs “to take or kill Victor Hugo.” He had accepted, and said, “That is all very well if I am alone. But suppose there are two of us?”

Piétri had answered —

“Then there will be 50,000 francs.”

This communication, accompanied by urgent prayers, had been made to me by Yvan in the Rue de Monthabor, while we were still at Dupont White’s.

This said, I continue my story.

The massacre of the 4th did not produce the whole of its effect until the next day, the 5th. The impulse given by us to the resistance still lasted for some hours, and at nightfall, in the labyrinth of houses ranging from the Rue du Petit Carreau to the Rue du Temple, there was fighting. The Pagevin, Neuve Saint Eustache, Montorgueil, Rambuteau, Beaubourg, and Transnonain barricades were gallantly defended. There, there was an impenetrable network of streets and crossways barricaded by the People, surrounded by the Army.

The assault was merciless and furious.

The barricade of the Rue Montorgueil was one of those which held out the longest. A battalion and artillery was needed to carry it. At the last moment it was only defended by three men, two shop-clerks and a lemonade-seller of an adjoining street. When the assault began the night was densely dark, and the three combatants escaped. But they were surrounded. No outlets. Not one door was open. They climbed the grated gateway of the Passage Verdeau as Jeanty Sarre and Charpentier had scaled the Passage du Saumon, had jumped over, and had fled down the Passage. But the other grated gateway was closed, and like Jeanty Sarre and Charpentier they had no time to climb it. Besides, they heard the soldiers corning on both sides. In a corner at the entrance of the Passage there were a few planks which had served to close a stall, and which the stall-keeper was in the habit of putting there. They hid themselves beneath these planks.

The soldiers who had taken the barricade, after having searched the streets, bethought themselves of searching the Passage. They also climbed over the grated gateway, looked about everywhere with lanterns, and found nothing They were going away, when one of them perceived the foot of one of these three unfortunate men which was projecting from beneath the planks.

They killed all three of them on the spot with bayonet-thrusts. They cried out, “Kill us at once! Shoot us! Do not prolong our misery.”

The neighboring shop-keepers heard these cries, but dared not open their doors or their windows, for fear, as one of them said the next day, “that they should do the same to them.”

The execution at an end, the executioners left the three victims lying in a pool of blood on the pavement of the Passage. One of those unfortunate men did not die until eight o’clock next morning.

No one had dared to ask for mercy; no one had dared to bring any help. They left them to die there.

One of the combatants of the Rue Beaubourg was more fortunate. They were pursuing him. He rushed up a staircase, reached a roof, and from there a passage, which proved to be the top corridor of an hotel. A key was in the door. He opened it boldly, and found himself face to face with a man who was going to bed. It was a tired-out traveller who had arrived at the hotel that very evening. The fugitive said to the traveller, “I am lost, save me!” and explained him the situation in three words.

The traveller said to him, “Undress yourself, and get into my bed.” And then he lit a cigar, and began quietly to smoke. Just as the man of the barricade had got into bed a knock came at the door. It was the solders who were searching the house. To the questions which they asked him the traveller answered, pointing to the bed, “We are only two here. We have just arrived here. I am smoking my cigar, and my brother is asleep.” The waiter was questioned, and confirmed the traveller’s statement. The soldiers went away, and no one was shot.

We will say this, that the victorious soldiers killed less than on the preceding day. They did not massacre in all the captured barricades. The order had been given on that day to make prisoners. It might also be believed that a certain humanity existed. What was this humanity? We shall see.

At eleven o’clock at night all was at an end.

They arrested all those whom they found in the streets which had been surrounded, whether combatants or not, they had all the wine-shops and the cafés opened, they closely searched the houses, they seized all the men whom they could find, only leaving the women and the children. Two regiments formed in a square carried away all these prisoners huddled together. They took them to the Tuileries, and shut them up in the vast cellar situated beneath the terrace at the waterside.

On entering this cellar the prisoners felt reassured. They called to mind that in June, 1848, a great number of insurgents had been shut up there, and later on had been transported. They said to themselves that doubtless they also would be transported, or brought before the Councils of War, and that they had plenty of time before them.

They were thirsty. Many of them had been fighting since that morning, and nothing parches tire mouth so much as biting cartridges. They asked for drink. Three pitchers of water were brought to them.

A sort of security suddenly fell upon them. Amongst them were several who had been transported in June, 1848, and who had already been in that cellar, and who said, “In June they were not so humane. They left us for three days without food or drink.” Some of them wrapped themselves up in their overcoats or cloaks, lay down, and slept. At one o’clock in the morning a great noise was heard outside. Soldiers, carrying torches, appeared in the cellars, the prisoners who were sleeping woke with a start, an officer ordered them to get up.

They made them go out anyhow as they had come in. As they went out they coupled them two by two at random, and a sergeant counted them in a loud voice. They asked neither their names, nor their professions, nor their families, nor who they were, nor whence they came; they contented themselves with the numbers. The numbers sufficed for what they were about to do.

In this manner they counted 337. The counting having come to an end, they ranged them in close columns, still two by two and arm-in-arm. They were not tied together, but on each side of the column, on the right and on the left, there were three files of soldiers keeping them within their ranks, with guns loaded; a battalion was at their head, a battalion in their rear. They began to march, pressed together and enclosed in this moving frame of bayonets.

At the moment when the column set forward, a young law-student, a fair pale Alsatian, of some twenty years, who was in their ranks, asked a captain, who was marching by him with his sword drawn —

“Where are we going?”

The officer made no reply.

Having left the Tuileries, they turned to the right, and followed the quay as far as the Pont de la Concorde. They crossed the Pont de la Concorde, and again turned to the right. In this manner they passed before the esplanade of the Invalides, and reached the lonely quay of Gros–Caillou.

As we have just said, they numbered 337, and as they walked two by two, there was one, the last, who walked alone. He was one of the most daring combatants of the Rue Pagevin, a friend of Lecomte the younger. By chance the sergeant, who was posted in the inner file by his side, was a native of the same province. On passing under a street-lamp they recognized each other. They exchanged quickly a few words in a whisper.

“Where are we going?” asked the prisoner.

“To the military school,” answered the sergeant. And he added, “Ah! my poor lad!”

And then he kept at a distance from the prisoner.

As this was the end of the column, there was a certain space between the last rank of the soldiers who formed the line, and the first rank of the company which closed the procession.

As they reached the lonely boulevard of Gros–Caillon, of which we have just spoken, the sergeant drew near to the prisoner, and said to him in a rapid and low tone —

“One can hardly see here. It is a dark spot. On the left there are trees. Be off!”

“But,” said the prisoner, “they will fire at me.”

“They will miss you.”

“But suppose they kill me?”

“It will be no worse than what awaits you.”

The prisoner understood, shook the sergeant’s hand, and taking advantage of the space between the line of soldiers and rear-ground, rushed with a single bound outside the column, and disappeared in the darkness beneath the trees.

“A man is escaping!” cried out the officer who commanded the last company. “Halt! Fire!”

The column halted. The rear-guard company fired at random in the direction taken by the fugitive, and, as the sergeant had foreseen, missed him. In a few moments the fugitive had reached the streets adjoining the tobacco manufactory, and had plunged into them. They did not pursue him. They had more pressing work on hand.

Besides, confusion might have arisen in their ranks, and to recapture one they risked letting the 336 escape.

The column continued its march. Having reached the Pont d’Iéna, they turned to the left, and entered into the Champ de Mars.

There they shot them all.

These 336 corpses were amongst those which were carried to Montmartre Cemetery, and which were buried there with their heads exposed.

In this manner their families were enabled to recognize them. The Government learned who they were after killing them.

Amongst these 336 victims were a large number of the combatants of the Rue Pagevin and the Rue Rambuteau, of the Rue Neuve Saint Eustache and the Porte Saint Denis. There were also 100 passers-by, whom they had arrested because they happened to be there, and without any particular reason.

Besides, we will at once mention that the wholesale executions from the 3d inst. were renewed nearly every night. Sometimes at the Champ de Mars, sometimes at the Prefecture of Police, sometimes at both places at once.

When the prisons were full, M. de Maupas said “Shoot!” The fusillades at the Prefecture took place sometimes in the courtyard, sometimes in the Rue de Jérusalem. The unfortunate people whom they shot were placed against the wall which bears the theatrical notices. They had chosen this spot because it is close by the sewer-grating of the gutter, so that the blood would run down at once, and would leave fewer traces. On Friday, the 5th, they shot near this gutter of the Rue de Jérusalem 150 prisoners. Some one30 said to me, “On the next day I passed by there, they showed the spot; I dug between the paving-stones with the toe of my boot, and I stirred up the mud. I found blood.”

This expression forms the whole history of the coup d’état, and will form the whole history of Louis Bonaparte. Stir up this mud, you will find blood.

Let this then be known to History:—

The massacre of the boulevard had this infamous continuation, the secret executions. The coup d’état after having been ferocious became mysterious. It passed from impudent murder in broad day to hidden murder at night.

Evidence abounds.

Esquiros, hidden in the Gros–Caillou, heard the fusillades on the Champ de Mars every night.

At Mazas, Chambolle, on the second night of his incarceration, heard from midnight till five o’clock in the morning, such volleys that he thought the prison was attacked.

Like Montferrier, Desmoulins bore evidence to blood between the paving-stones of the Rue de Jérusalem.

Lieutenant–Colonel Cailland, of the ex-Republican Guard, is crossing the Pont Neuf; he sees some sergents de ville with muskets to their shoulders, aiming at the passers-by; he says to them, “You dishonor the uniform.” They arrest him. They search him. A sergent de ville says to him, “If we find a cartridge upon you, we shall shoot you.” They find nothing. They take him to the Prefecture of Police, they shut him up in the station-house. The director of the station-house comes and says to him, “Colonel, I know you well. Do not complain of being here. You are confided to my care. Congratulate yourself on it. Look here, I am one of the family, I go and I come, I see, I listen; I know what is going on; I know what is said; I divine what is not said. I hear certain noises during the night; I see contain traces in the morning. As for myself I am not a bad fellow. I am taking care of you. I am keeping you out of the way. At the present moment be contented to remain with me. If you were not here you would be underground.”

An ex-magistrate, General Leflô‘s brother-in-law, is conversing on the Pont de la Concorde with some officers before the steps of the Chamber; some policemen come up to him: “You are tampering with the army.” He protests, they throw him into a vehicle, and they take him to the Prefecture of Police. As he arrives there he sees a young man, in a blouse and a cap, passing on the quay, who is being shoved along by three municipal guards with the butt-ends of their muskets. At an opening of the parapet, a guard shouts to him, “Go in there.” The man goes in. Two guards shoot him in the back. He falls. The third guard despatches him with a shot in his ear.

On the 13th the massacres were not yet at an end. On the morning of that day, in the dim light of the dawn, a solitary passer-by, going along the Rue Saint Honoré, saw, between two lines of horse-soldiers, three wagons wending their way, heavily loaded. These wagons could be traced by the stains of blood which dripped from them. They came from the Champ de Mars, and were going to the Montmartre Cemetery. They were full of corpses.

29 It was this same Criscelli, who later on at Vaugirard in the Rue du Trancy, killed by special order of the Prefect of Police a man named Kech, “suspected of plotting the assassination of the Emperor.”

30 The Marquis Sarrazin de Montferrier, a relative of my eldest brother. I can now mention his name.

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