The History of a Crime, by Victor Hugo

Chapter xi.

The Barricade of the Rue Meslay

The first barricade of the Rue Saint Martin was erected at the junction of the Rue Meslay. A large cart was overturned, placed across the street, and the roadway was unpaved; some flag-stones of the footway were also torn up. This barricade, the advanced work of defence of the whole revolted street, could only form a temporary obstacle. No portion of the piled-up stones was higher than a man. In a good third of the barricade the stones did not reach above the knee. “It will at all events be good enough to get killed in,” said a little street Arab who was rolling numerous flag-stones to the barricade. A hundred combatants took up their position behind it. Towards nine o’clock the movements of the troops gave warning of the attack. The head of the column of the Marulaz Brigade occupied the corner of the street on the side of the boulevard. A piece of artillery, raking the whole of the street, was placed in position before the Porte Saint Martin. For some time both sides gazed on each other in that moody silence which precedes an encounter; the troops regarding the barricade bristling with guns, the barricade regarding the gaping cannon. After a while the order for a general attack was given. The firing commenced. The first shot passed above the barricade, and struck a woman who was passing some twenty paces in the rear, full in the breast. She fell, ripped open. The fire became brisk without doing much injury to the barricade. The cannon was too near; the bullets flew too high.

The combatants, who had not yet lost a man, received each bullet with a cry of “Long live the Republic!” but without firing. They possessed few cartridges, and they husbanded them. Suddenly the 49th regiment advanced in close column order.

The barricade fired.

The smoke filled the street; when it cleared away, there could be seen a dozen men on the ground, and the soldiers falling back in disorder by the side of the houses. The leader of the barricade shouted, “They are falling back. Cease firing! Let us not waste a ball.”

The street remained for some time deserted. The cannon recommenced fining. A shot came in every two minutes, but always badly aimed. A man with a fowling-piece came up to the leader of the barricade, and said to him, “Let us dismount that cannon. Let us kill the gunners.”

“Why!” said the chief, smiling, “they are doing us no harm, let us do none to them.”

Nevertheless the sound of the bugle could be distinctly heard on the other side of the block of houses which concealed the troops echelloned on the Square of Saint Martin, and it was manifest that a second attack was being prepared.

This attack would naturally be furious, desperate, and stubborn.

It was also evident that, if this barricade were carried, the entire street would be scoured. The other barricades were still weaker than the first, and more feebly defended. The “middle class” had given their guns, and had re-entered their houses. They lent their street, that was all.

It was therefore necessary to hold the advanced barricade as long as possible. But what was to be done, and how was the resistance to be maintained? They had scarcely two shots per man left.

An unexpected source of supply arrived.

A young man, I can name him, for he is dead — Pierre Tissié,19 who was a workman, and who also was a poet, had worked during a portion of the morning at the barricades, and at the moment when the firing began he went away, stating as his reason that they would not give him a gun. In the barricade they had said, “There is one who is afraid.”

Pierre Tissié was not afraid, as we shall see later on.

He left the barricade.

Pierre Tissié had only his knife with him, a Catalan knife; he opened it at all hazards, he held it in his hand, and went on straight before him.

As he came out of the Rue Saint Sauveur, he saw at the corner of a little lonely street, in which all the windows were closed, a soldier of the line standing sentry, posted there doubtlessly by the main guard at a little distance.

This soldier was at the halt with his gun to his shoulder ready to fire.

He heard the step of Pierre Tissié, and cried out —

“Who goes there?”

“Death!” answered Pierre Tissié.

The soldier fired, and missed Pierre Tissié, who sprang on him, and struck him down with a blow of his knife.

The soldier fell, and blood spurted out of his mouth.

“I did not know I should speak so truly,” muttered Pierre Tissié.

And he added, “Now for the ambulance!”

He took the soldier on his back, picked up the gun which had fallen to the ground, and came back to the barricade. “I bring you a wounded man,” said he.

“A dead man,” they exclaimed.

In truth the soldier had just expired.

“Infamous Bonaparte!” said Tissié. “Poor red breeches! All the same, I have got a gun.”

They emptied the soldier’s pouch and knapsack. They divided the cartridges. There were 150 of them. There were also two gold pieces of ten francs, two days’ pay since the 2d of December. These were thrown on the ground, no one would take them.

They distributed the cartridges with shouts of “Long live the Republic!”

Meanwhile the attacking party had placed a mortar in position by the side of the cannon.

The distribution of the cartridges was hardly ended when the infantry appeared, and charged upon the barricade with the bayonet. This second assault, as had been foreseen, was violent and desperate. It was repulsed. Twice the soldiers returned to the charge, and twice they fell back, leaving the street strewn with dead. In the interval between the assaults, a shell had pierced and dismantled the barricade, and the cannon began to fire grape-shot.

The situation was hopeless; the cartridges were exhausted. Some began to throw down their guns and go away. The only means of escape was by the Rue Saint Sauveur, and to reach the corner of the Rue Saint Sauveur it was necessary to get over the lower part of the barricade, which left nearly the whole of the fugitives unprotected. There was a perfect rain of musketry and grape-shot. Three or four were killed there, one, like Baudin, by a ball in his eye. The leader of the barricade suddenly noticed that he was alone with Pierre Tissié, and a boy of fourteen years old, the same who had rolled so many stones for the barricade. A third attack was pending, and the soldiers began to advance by the side of the houses.

“Let us go,” said the leader of the barricade.

“I shall remain,” said Pierre Tissié.

“And I also,” said the boy.

And the boy added —

“I have neither father nor mother. As well this as anything else.”

The leader fired his last shot, and retired like the others over the lower part of the barricade. A volley knocked off his hat. He stooped down and picked it up again. The soldiers were not more than twenty-five paces distant.

He shouted to the two who remained —

“Come along!”

“No,” said Pierre Tissié.

“No,” said the boy.

A few moments afterwards the soldiers scaled the barricade already half in ruins.

Pierre Tissié and the boy were killed with bayonet thrusts.

Some twenty muskets were abandoned in this barricade.

19 It must not be forgotten that this has been written in exile, and that to name a hero was to condemn him to exile.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56