The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xii.

The Exiled

The Crime having succeeded, all hastened to join it. To persist was possible, to resist was not possible. The situation became more and more desperate. One would have said that an enormous wall was rising upon the horizon ready to close in. The outlet: Exile.

The great souls, the glories of the people, emigrated. Thus there was seen this dismal sight — France driven out from France.

But what the Present appears to lose, the Future gains, the hand which scatters is also the hand which sows.

The Representatives of the Left, surrounded, tracked, pursued, hunted down, wandered for several days from refuge to refuge. Those who escaped found great difficulty in leaving Paris and France. Madier de Montjan had very black and thick eyebrows, he shaved off half of them, cut his hair, and let his beard grow. Yvan, Pelletier, Gindrier, and Doutre shaved off their moustaches and beards. Versigny reached Brussels on the 14th with a passport in the name of Morin. Schoelcher dressed himself up as a priest. This costume became him admirably, and suited his austere countenance and grave voice. A worthy priest helped him to disguise himself, and lent him his cassock and his band, made him shave off his whiskers a few days previously, so that he should not be betrayed by the white trace of his freshly-cut beard, gave him his own passport, and only left him at the railway station.34

De Flotte disguised himself as a servant, and in this manner succeeded in crossing the frontier at Mouscron. From there he reached Ghent, and thence Brussels.

On the night of December 26th, I had returned to the little room, without a fire, which I occupied (No. 9) on the second story of the Hôtel de la Porte–Verte; it was midnight; I had just gone to bed and was falling asleep, when a knock sounded at my door. I awoke. I always left the key outside. “Come in,” I said. A chambermaid entered with a light, and brought two men whom I did not know. One was a lawyer, of Ghent, M. ——; the other was De Flotte. He took my two hands and pressed them tenderly. “What,” I said to him, “is it you?”

At the Assembly De Flotte, with his prominent and thoughtful brow, his deep-set eyes, his close-shorn head, and his long beard, slightly turned back, looked like a creation of Sebastian del Piombo wandering out of his picture of the “Raising of Lazarus;” and I had before my eyes a short young man, thin and pallid, with spectacles. But what he had not been able to change, and what I recognized immediately, was the great heart, the lofty mind, the energetic character, the dauntless courage; and if I did not recognize him by his features, I recognized him by the grasp of his hand.

Edgar Quinet was brought away on the 10th by a noble-hearted Wallachian woman, Princess Cantacuzène, who undertook to conduct him to the frontier, and who kept her word. It was a troublesome task. Quinet had a foreign passport in the name of Grubesko, he was to personate a Wallachian, and it was arranged that he should not know how to speak French, he who writes it as a master. The journey was perilous. They ask for passports along all the line, beginning at the terminus. At Amiens they were particularly suspicious. But at Lille the danger was great. The gendarmes went from carriage to carriage; entered them lantern in hand, and compared the written descriptions of the travellers with their personal appearance. Several who appeared to be suspicious characters were arrested, and were immediately thrown into prison. Edgar Quinet, seated by the side of Madame Cantacuzène awaited the turn of his carriage. At length it came. Madame Cantacuzène leaned quickly forward towards the gendarmes, and hastened to present her passport, but the corporal waved back Madame Cantacuzène’s passport saying, “It is useless, Madame. We have nothing to do with women’s passports,” and he asked Quinet abruptly, “Your papers?” Quinet held out his passport unfolded. The gendarmes said to him, “Come out of the carriage, so that we can compare your description.” It happened, however, that the Wallachian passport contained no description. The corporal frowned, and said to his subordinates, “An irregular passport! Go and fetch the Commissary.”

All seemed lost, but Madame Cantacuzène began to speak to Quinet in the most Wallachian words in the world, with incredible assurance and volubility, so much so that the gendarme, convinced that he had to deal with all Wallachia in person, and seeing the train ready to start, returned the passport to Quinet, saying to him, “There! be off with you!”— a few hours afterwards Edgar Quinet was in Belgium.

Arnauld de l’Ariège also had his adventures. He was a marked man, he had to hide himself. Arnauld being a Catholic, Madame Arnauld went to the priest; the Abbé Deguerry slipped out of the way, the Abbé Maret consented to conceal him; the Abbé Maret was honest and good. Arnauld d’Ariège remained hidden for a fortnight at the house of this worthy priest. He wrote from the Abbé Maret’s a letter to the Archbishop of Paris, urging him to refuse the Pantheon, which a decree of Louis Bonaparte took away from France and gave to Rome. This letter angered the Archbishop. Arnauld, proscribed, reached Brussels, and there, at the age of eighteen months, died the “little Red,” who on the 3d of December had carried the workman’s letter to the Archbishop — an angel sent by God to the priest who had not understood the angel, and who no longer knew God.

In this medley of incidents and adventures each one had his drama. Cournet’s drama was strange and terrible.

Cournet, it may be remembered, had been a naval officer. He was one of those men of a prompt, decisive character, who magnetized other men, and who on certain extraordinary occasions send an electric shock through a multitude. He possessed an imposing air, broad shoulders, brawny arms, powerful fists, a tall stature, all of which give confidence to the masses, and the intelligent expression which gives confidence to the thinkers. You saw him pass, and you recognized strength; you heard him speak, and you felt the will, which is more than strength. When quite a youth he had served in the navy. He combined in himself in a certain degree — and it is this which made this energetic man, when well directed and well employed, a means of enthusiasm and a support — he combined the popular fire and the military coolness. He was one of those natures created for the hurricane and for the crowd, who have begun their study of the people by their study of the ocean, and who are at their ease in revolutions as in tempests. As we have narrated, he took an important part in the combat. He had been dauntless and indefatigable, he was one of those who could yet rouse it to life. From Wednesday afternoon several police agents were charged to seek him everywhere, to arrest him wherever they might find him, and to take him to the Prefecture of the Police, where orders had been given to shoot him immediately.

Cournet, however, with his habitual daring, came and went freely in order to carry on the lawful resistance, even in the quarters occupied by the troops, shaving off his moustaches as his sole precaution.

On the Thursday afternoon he was on the boulevards at a few paces from a regiment of cavalry drawn up in order. He was quietly conversing with two of his comrades of the fight, Huy and Lorrain. Suddenly, he perceives himself and his companions surrounded by a company of sergents de ville; a man touches his arm and says to him, “You are Cournet; I arrest you.”

“Bah!” answers Cournet; “My name is Lépine.”

The man resumes —

“You are Cournet. Do not you recognize me? Well, then, I recognize you; I have been, like you, a member of the Socialist Electoral Committee.”

Cournet looks him in the face, and finds this countenance in his memory. The man was right. He had, in fact, formed part of the gathering in the Rue Saint Spire. The police spy resumed, laughing —

“I nominated Eugène Sue with you.”

It was useless to deny it, and the moment was not favorable for resistance. There were on the spot, as we have said, twenty sergents de ville and a regiment of Dragoons.

“I will follow you,” said Cournet.

A fiacre was called up.

“While I am about it,” said the police spy, “come in all three of you.”

He made Huy and Lorrain get in with Cournet, placed them on the front seat, and seated himself on the back seat by Cournet, and then shouted to the driver —

“To the Prefecture!”

The sergents de ville surrounded the fiacre. But whether by chance or through confidence, or in the haste to obtain the payment for his capture, the man who had arrested Cournet shouted to the coachman, “Look sharp, look sharp!” and the fiacre went off at a gallop.

In the meantime Cournet was well aware that on arriving he would be shot in the very courtyard of the Prefecture. He had resolved not to go there.

At a turning in the Rue St Antoine he glanced behind, and noticed that the sergents de ville only followed the fiacre at a considerable distance.

Not one of the four men which the fiacre was bearing away had as yet opened their lips.

Cournet threw a meaning look at his two companions seated in front of him, as much as to say, “We are three; let us take advantage of this to escape.” Both answered by an imperceptible movement of the eyes, which pointed out the street full of passers-by, and which said, “No.”

A few moments afterwards the fiacre emerged from the Rue St. Antoine, and entered the Rue de Fourcy. The Rue de Fourcy is usually deserted, no one was passing down it at that moment.

Cournet turned suddenly to the police spy, and asked him —

“Have you a warrant for my arrest?”

“No; but I have my card.”

And he drew his police agent’s card out of his pocket, and showed it to Cournet. Then the following dialogue ensued between these two men —

“This is not regular.”

“What does that matter to me?”

“You have no right to arrest me.”

“All the same, I arrest you.”

“Look here; is it money that you want? Do you wish for any? I have some with me; let me escape.”

“A gold nugget as big as your head would not tempt me. You are my finest capture, Citizen Cournet.”

“Where are you taking me to?”

“To the Prefecture.”

“They will shoot me there?”

“Possibly.”

“And my two comrades?”

“I do not say ‘No.’”

“I will not go.”

“You will go, nevertheless.”

“I tell you I will not go,” exclaimed Cournet.

And with a movement, unexpected as a flash of lightning, he seized the police spy by the throat.

The police agent could not utter a cry, he struggled: a hand of bronze clutched him.

His tongue protruded from his mouth, his eyes became hideous, and started from their sockets. Suddenly his head sank down, and reddish froth rose from his throat to his lips. He was dead.

Huy and Lorrain, motionless, and as though themselves thunderstruck, gazed at this gloomy deed.

They did not utter a word. They did not move a limb. The fiacre was still driving on.

“Open the door!” Cournet cried to them.

They did not stir, they seemed to have become stone.

Cournet, whose thumb was closely pressed in the neck of the wretched police spy, tried to open the door with his left hand, but he did not succeed, he felt that he could only do it with his right hand, and he was obliged to loose his hold of the man. The man fell face forwards, and sank down on his knees.

Cournet opened the door.

“Off with you!” he said to them.

Huy and Lorrain jumped into the street and fled at the top of their speed.

The coachman had noticed nothing.

Cournet let them get away, and then, pulling the check string, stopped the fiacre, got down leisurely, reclosed the door, quietly took forty sous from his purse, gave them to the coachman, who had not left his seat, and said to him, “Drive on.”

He plunged into Paris. In the Place des Victoires he met the ex-Constituent Isidore Buvignier, his friend, who about six weeks previously had come out of the Madelonnettes, where he had been confined for the matter of the Solidarité Républicaine. Buvignier was one of the noteworthy figures on the high benches of the Left; fair, close-shaven, with a stern glance, he made one think of the English Roundheads, and he had the bearing rather of a Cromwellian Puritan than of a Dantonist Man of the Mountain. Cournet told his adventure, the extremity had been terrible.

Buvignier shook his head.

“You have killed a man,” he said.

In “Marie Tudor,” I have made Fabiani answer under similar circumstances —

“No, a Jew.”

Cournet, who probably had not read “Marie Tudor,” answered —

“No, a police spy.”

Then he resumed —

“I have killed a police spy to save three men, one of whom was myself.”

Cournet was right. They were in the midst of the combat, they were taking him to be shot; the spy who had arrested him was, properly speaking, an assassin, and assuredly it was a case of legitimate defence. I add that this wretch, a democrat for the people, a spy for the police, was a twofold traitor. Moreover, the police spy was the jackal of the coup d’état, while Cournet was the combatant for the Law.

“You must conceal yourself,” said Buvignier; “come to Juvisy.”

Buvignier had a little refuge at Juvisy, which is on the road to Corbeil. He was known and loved there; Cournet and he reached there that evening.

But they had hardly arrived when some peasants said to Buvignier, “The police have already been here to arrest you, and are coming again to-night.”

It was necessary to go back.

Cournet, more in danger than ever, hunted, wandering, pursued, hid himself in Paris with considerable difficulty. He remained there till the 16th. He had no means of procuring himself a passport. At length, on the 16th, some friends of his on the Northern Railway obtained for him a special passport, worded as follows:—

“Allow M. — — an Inspector on the service of the Company, to pass.”

He decided to leave the next day, and take the day train, thinking, perhaps rightly, that the night train would be more closely watched.

On the 17th, at daybreak, favored by the dim dawn, he glided from street to street, to the Northern Railway Station. His tall stature was a special source of danger. He, however, reached the station in safety. The stokers placed him with them on the tender of the engine of the train, which was about to start. He only had the clothes which he had worn since the 2d; no clean linen, no trunk, a little money.

In December, the day breaks late and the night closes in early, which is favorable to proscribed persons.

He reached the frontier at night without hindrance. At Neuvéglise he was in Belgium; he believed himself in safety. When asked for his papers he caused himself to be taken before the Burgomaster, and said to him, “I am a political refugee.”

The Burgomaster, a Belgian but a Bonapartist — this breed is to be found — had him at once reconducted to the frontier by the gendarmes, who were ordered to hand him over to the French authorities.

Cournet gave himself up for lost.

The Belgian gendarmes took him to Armentières. If they had asked for the Mayor it would have been all at an end with Cournet, but they asked for the Inspector of Customs.

A glimmer of hope dawned upon Cournet.

He accosted the Inspector of Customs with his head erect, and shook hands with him.

The Belgian gendarmes had not yet released him.

“Now, sir,” said Cournet to the Custom House officer, “you are an Inspector of Customs, I am an Inspector of Railways. Inspectors do not eat inspectors. The deuce take it! Some worthy Belgians have taken fright and sent me to you between four gendarmes. Why, I know not. I am sent by the Northern Company to relay the ballast of a bridge somewhere about here which is not firm. I come to ask you to allow me to continue my road. Here is my pass.”

He presented the pass to the Custom House officer, the Custom House officer read it, found it according to due form, and said to Cournet —

“Mr. Inspector, you are free.”

Cournet, delivered from the Belgian gendarmes by French authority, hastened to the railway station. He had friends there.

“Quick,” he said, “it is dark, but it does not matter, it is even all the better. Find me some one who has been a smuggler, and who will help me to pass the frontier.”

They brought him a small lad of eighteen; fair-haired, ruddy, hardy, a Walloon35 and who spoke French.

“What is your name?” said Cournet.

“Henry.”

“You look like a girl.”

“Nevertheless I am a man.”

“Is it you who undertake to guide me?”

“Yes.”

“You have been a smuggler?”

“I am one still.”

“Do you know the roads?”

“No. I have nothing to do with the roads.”

“What do you know then?”

“I know the passes.”

“There are two Custom House lines.”

“I know that well.”

“Will you pass me across them?”

“Without doubt.”

“Then you are not afraid of the Custom House officers?”

“I’m afraid of the dogs.”

“In that case,” said Cournet, “we will take sticks.”

They accordingly armed themselves with big sticks. Cournet gave fifty francs to Henry, and promised him fifty more when they should have crossed the second Custom House line.

“That is to say, at four o’clock in the morning,” said Henry.

It was midnight.

They set out on their way.

What Henry called the “passes” another would have called the “hindrances.” They were a succession of pitfalls and quagmires. It had been raining, and all the holes were pools of water.

An indescribable footpath wound through an inextricable labyrinth, sometimes as thorny as a heath, sometimes as miry as a marsh.

The night was very dark.

From time to time, far away in the darkness, they could hear a dog bark. The smuggler then made bends or zigzags, turned sharply to the right or to the left, and sometimes retraced his steps.

Cournet, jumping hedges, striding over ditches, stumbling at every moment, slipping into sloughs, laying hold of briers, with his clothes in rags, his hands bleeding, dying with hunger, battered about, wearied, worn out, almost exhausted, followed his guide gaily.

At every minute he made a false step; he fell into every bog, and got up covered with mud. At length he fell into a pond. It was several feet deep. This washed him.

“Bravo!” he said. “I am very clean, but I am very cold.”

At four o’clock in the morning, as Henry had promised him, they reached Messine, a Belgian village. The two Custom House lines had been cleared. Cournet had nothing more to fear, either from the Custom House nor from the coup d’état, neither from men nor from dogs.

He gave Henry the second fifty francs, and continued his journey on foot, trusting somewhat to chance.

It was not until towards evening that he reached a railway station. He got into a train, and at nightfall he arrived at the Southern Railway Station at Brussels.

He had left Paris on the preceding morning, had not slept an hour, had been walking all night, and had eaten nothing. On searching in his pocket he missed his pocket book, but found a crust of bread. He was more delighted at the discovery of the crust than grieved at the loss of his pocket-book. He carried his money in a waistband; the pocket-book, which had probably disappeared in the pond, contained his letters, and amongst others an exceedingly useful letter of introduction from his friend M. Ernest Koechlin, to the Representatives Guilgot and Carlos Forel, who at that moment were refugees at Brussels, and lodged at the Hôtel de Brabant.

On leaving the railway station he threw himself into a cab, and said to the coachman —

“Hôtel de Brabant.”

He heard a voice repeat, “Hôtel de Brabant.” He put out his head and saw a man writing something in a notebook with a pencil by the light of a street-lamp.

It was probably some police agent.

Without a passport, without letters, without papers, he was afraid of being arrested in the night, and he was longing for a good sleep. A good bed to-night, he thought, and to-morrow the Deluge! At the Hôtel de Brabant he paid the coachman, but did not go into the hotel. Moreover, he would have asked in vain for the Representatives Forel and Guilgot; both were there under false names.

He took to wandering about the streets. It was eleven o’clock at night, and for a long time he had begun to feel utterly worn out.

At length he saw a lighted lamp with the inscription “Hôtel de la Monnaie.”

He walked in.

The landlord came up, and looked at him somewhat askance.

He then thought of looking at himself.

His unshaven beard, his disordered hair, his cap soiled with mud, his blood-stained hands, his clothes in rags, he looked horrible.

He took a double louis out of his waistband, and put it on the table of the parlor, which he had entered and said to the landlord —

“In truth, sir, I am not a thief, I am a proscript; money is now my only passport. I have just come from Paris, I wish to eat first and sleep afterwards.”

The landlord was touched, took the double louis, and gave him bed and supper.

Next day, while he was still sleeping, the landlord came into his room, woke him gently, and said to him —

“Now, sir, if I were you, I should go and see Baron Hody.”

“Who and what is Baron Hody?” asked Cournet, half asleep.

The landlord explained to him who Baron Hody was. When I had occasion to ask the same question as Cournet, I received from three inhabitants of Brussels the three answers as follows:—

“He is a dog.”

“He is a polecat.”

“He is a hyena.”

There is probably some exaggeration in these three answers.

A fourth Belgian whom I need not specify confined himself to saying to me —

“He is a beast.”

As to his public functions, Baron Hody was what they call at Brussels “The Administrator of Public Safety;” that is to say, a counterfeit of the Prefect of Police, half Carlier, half Maupas.

Thanks to Baron Hody, who has since left the place, and who, moreover, like M. de Montalembert, was a “mere Jesuit,” the Belgian police at that moment was a compound of the Russian and Austrian police. I have read strange confidential letters of this Baron Hody. In action and in style there is nothing more cynical and more repulsive than the Jesuit police, when they unveil their secret treasures. These are the contents of the unbuttoned cassock.

At the time of which we are speaking (December, 1851), the Clerical party had joined itself to all the forms of Monarchy; and this Baron Hody confused Orleanism with Legitimate right. I simply tell the tale. Nothing more.

“Baron Hody. Very well, I will go to him,” said Cournet.

He got up, dressed himself, brushed his clothes as well as he could, and asked the landlord, “Where is the Police office?”

“At the Ministry of Justice.”

In fact this is the case in Brussels; the police administration forms part of the Ministry of Justice, an arrangement which does not greatly raise the police and somewhat lowers justice.

Cournet went there, and was shown into the presence of this personage.

Baron Hody did him the honor to ask him sharply —

“Who are you?”

“A refugee,” answered Cournet; “I am one of those whom the coup d’état has driven from Paris.

“Your profession?”

“Ex-naval officer.”

“Ex-naval officer!” exclaimed Baron Hody in a much gentler tone, “did you know His Royal Highness the Prince de Joinville?”

“I have served under him.”

It was the truth. Cournet had served under M. de Joinville, and prided himself on it.

At this statement the administrator of Belgian safety completely unbent, and said to Cournet, with the most gracious smile that the police can find, “That’s all right, sir; stay here as long as you please; we close Belgium to the Men of the Mountain, but we throw it widely open to men like you.”

When Cournet told me this answer of Hody’s, I thought that my fourth Belgian was right.

A certain comic gloom was mingled at times with these tragedies. Barthelémy Terrier was a Representative of the people, and a proscript. They gave him a special passport for a compulsory route as far as Belgium for himself and his wife. Furnished with this passport he left with a woman. This woman was a man. Préveraud, a landed proprietor at Donjon, one of the most prominent men in the Department of Allier, was Terrier’s brother-in-law. When the coup d’état broke out at Donjon, Préveraud had taken up arms and fulfilled his duty, had combated the outrage and defended the law. For this he had been condemned to death. The justice of that time, as we know. Justice executed justice. For this crime of being an honest man they had guillotined Charlet, guillotined Cuisinier, guillotined Cirasse. The guillotine was an instrument of the reign. Assassination by the guillotine was one of the means of order of that time. It was necessary to save Préveraud. He was little and slim: they dressed him as a woman. He was not sufficiently pretty for them not to cover his face with a thick veil. They put the brave and sturdy hands of the combatant in a muff. Thus veiled and a little filled out with padding, Préveraud made a charming woman. He became Madame Terrier, and his brother-in-law took him away. They crossed Paris peaceably, and without any other adventure than an imprudence committed by Préveraud, who, seeing that the shaft-horse of a wagon had fallen down, threw aside his muff, lifted his veil and his petticoat, and if Terrier, in dire alarm, had not stopped him, he would have helped the carter to raise his horse. Had a sergent de ville been there, Préveraud would have been captured. Terrier hastened to thrust Préveraud into a carriage, and at nightfall they left for Brussels. They were alone in the carriage, each in a corner and face to face. All went well as far as Amiens. At Amiens station the door was opened, and a gendarme entered and seated himself by the side of Préveraud. The gendarme asked for his passport, Terrier showed it him; the little woman in her corner, veiled and silent, did not stir, and the gendarme found all in due form. He contented himself with saying, “We shall travel together, I am on duty as far as the frontier.”

The train, after the ordinary delay of a few minutes, again started. The night was dark. Terrier had fallen asleep. Suddenly Préveraud felt a knee press against his, it was the knee of the policeman. A boot placed itself softly on his foot, it was a horse-soldier’s boot. An idyll had just germinated in the gendarme’s soul. He first tenderly pressed Préveraud’s knee, and then emboldened by the darkness of the hour and by the slumbering husband, he ventured his hand as far as her dress, a circumstance foreseen by Molière, but the fair veiled one was virtuous. Préveraud, full of surprise and rage, gently pushed back the gendarme’s hand. The danger was extreme. Too much love on the part of the gendarme, one audacious step further, would bring about the unexpected, would abruptly change the eclogue into an official indictment, would reconvert the amorous satyr into a stony-hearted policeman, would transform Tircis into Vidocq; and then this strange thing would be seen, a passenger guillotined because a gendarme had committed an outrage. The danger increased every moment. Terrier was sleeping. Suddenly the train stopped. A voice cried, “Quièvrain!” and the door was opened. They were in Belgium. The gendarme, obliged to stop here, and to re-enter France, rose to get out, and at the moment when he stepped on to the ground he heard behind him these expressive words coming from beneath the lace veil, “Be off, or I’ll break your jaw!”

34 See “Les Hommes de l’Exile.”

35 The name given to a population belonging to the Romanic family, and more particularly to those of French descent, who occupy the region along the frontiers of the German-speaking territory in the South Netherlands from Dunkirk to Malmedy in Rhenish Prussia.

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