Just as Mathieu de la Drôme had said, “You are under King Bomba,” Charles Gambon entered. He sank down upon a chair and muttered, “It is horrible.” Bancel followed him. “We have come from it,” said Bancel. Gambon had been able to shelter himself in the recess of a doorway. In front of Barbedienne’s alone he had counted thirty-seven corpses. What was the meaning of it all? To what purpose was this monstrous promiscuous murder? No one could understand it. The Massacre was a riddle.
We were in the Sphinx’s Grotto.
Labrousse came in. It was urgently necessary that we should leave Dupont White’s house. It was on the point of being surrounded. For some moments the Rue Monthabor, ordinarily so deserted, was becoming thronged with suspicious figures. Men seemed to be attentively watching number Eleven. Some of these men, who appeared to be acting in concert, belonged to the ex-“Club of Clubs,” which, owing to the manoeuvres of the Reactionists, exhaled a vague odor of the police. It was necessary that we should disperse. Labrousse said to us, “I have just seen Longe-pied roving about.”
We separated. We went away one by one, and each in his own direction. We did not know where we should meet again, or whether we should meet again. What was going to happen and what was about to become of us all? No one knew. We were filled with a terrible dread.
I turned up towards the Boulevards, anxious to see what was taking place.
What was taking place I have just related.
Bancel and Versigny had rejoined me.
As I left the Boulevards, mingled with the whirl of the terrified crowd, not knowing where I was going, returning towards the centre of Paris, a voice suddenly whispered in my ear, “There is something over there which you ought to see.” I recognized the voice. It was the voice of E.P.
E.P. is a dramatic author, a man of talent, for whom under Louis Philippe I had procured exemption from military service. I had not seen him for four or five years. I met him again in this tumult. He spoke to me as though we had seen each other yesterday. Such are these times of bewilderment. There is no time to greet each other “according to the rules of society.” One speaks as though all were in full flight.
“Ah! it is you!” I exclaimed. “What do you want with me?”
He answered me, “I live in a house over there.”
And he added,-
He drew me into a dark street. We could hear explosions. At the bottom of the street could be seen the ruins of a barricade. Versigny and Bancel, as I have just said, were with me. E.P. turned to them.
“These gentlemen can come,” said he.
I asked him —
“What street is this?”
“The Rue Tiquetonne.”
We followed him.
I have elsewhere told this tragical event.26
E.P. stopped before a tall and gloomy house. He pushed open a street-door which was not shut, then another door and we entered into a parlor perfectly quiet and lighted by a lamp.
This room appeared to adjoin a shop. At the end could be distinguished two beds side by side, one large and one small. Above the little bed hung a woman’s portrait, and above the portrait a branch of holy box-tree.
The lamp was placed over the fireplace, where a little fire was burning.
Near the lamp upon a chair there was an old woman leaning forward, stooping down, folded in two as though broken, over something which was in the shadow, and which she held in her arms. I drew near. That which she held in her arms was a dead child.
The poor woman was silently sobbing.
E.P., who belonged to the house, touched her on the shoulder, and said —
“Let us see it.”
The old woman raised her head, and I saw on her knees a little boy, pale, half-undressed, pretty, with two red holes in his forehead.
The old woman stared at me, but she evidently did not see me, she muttered, speaking to herself —
“And to think that he called me ‘Granny’ this morning!”
E.P. took the child’s hand, the hand fell back again.
“Seven years old,” he said to me.
A basin was on the ground. They had washed the child’s face; two tiny streams of blood trickled from the two holes.
At the end of the room, near a half-opened clothes-press, in which could be seen some linen, stood a woman of some forty years, grave, poor, clean, fairly good-looking.
“A neighbor,” E.P. said to me.
He explained to me that a doctor lived in the house, that the doctor had come down and had said, “There is nothing to be done.” The child had been hit by two balls in the head while crossing the street to “get out of the way.” They had brought him back to his grandmother, who “had no one left but him.”
The portrait of the dead mother hung above the little bed.
The child had his eyes half open, and that inexpressible gaze of the dead, where the perception of the real is replaced by the vision of the infinite. The grandmother spoke through her sobs by snatches: “God! is it possible? Who would have thought it? — What brigands!”
She cried out —
“Is this then the Government?”
“Yes,” I said to her.
We finished undressing the child. He had a top in his pocket. His head rolled from one shoulder to the other; I held him and I kissed him on the brow; Versigny and Bancel took off his stockings. The grandmother suddenly started up.
“Do not hurt him!” she cried.
She took the two little white and frozen feet in her old hands, trying to warm them.
When the poor little body was naked, they began to lay it out. They took a sheet from the clothes-press.
Then the grandmother burst into bitter lamentation.
She cried out —
“They shall give him back to me!”
She drew herself up and gazed at us, and began to pour forth incoherent utterances, in which were mingled Bonaparte, and God, and her little one, and the school to which he went, and her daughter whom she had lost, and even reproaches to us. She was livid, haggard, as though seeing a vision before her, and was more of a phantom than the dead child.
Then she again buried her face in her hands, placed her folded arms on her child, and once more began to sob.
The woman who was there came up to me, and without saying a word, wiped my mouth with a handkerchief. I had blood upon my lips.
What could be done? Alas! We went out overwhelmed.
It was quite dark. Bancel and Versigny left me.
26 “Les Châtiments.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51