Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 17


THE REBOUND OF THE 24TH JUNE, 1848, ON THE 2D DECEMBER, 1851

On Sunday, 26th June, 1848, that four days' combat, that gigantic combat
so formidable and so heroic on both sides, still continued, but the
insurrection had been overcome nearly everywhere, and was restricted to
the Faubourg St. Antoine. Four men who had been amongst the most
dauntless defenders of the barricades of the Rue Pont-aux-Choux, of the
Rue St. Claude, and of the Rue St. Louis in the Marais, escaped after the
barricades had been taken, and found safe refuge in a house, No. 12, Rue
St. Anastase. They were concealed in an attic. The National Guards and
the Mobile Guards were hunting for them, in order to shoot them. I was
told of this. I was one of the sixty Representatives sent by the
Constituent Assembly into the middle of the conflict, charged with the
task of everywhere preceding the attacking column, of carrying, even at
the peril of their lives, words of peace to the barricades, to prevent
the shedding of blood, and to stop the civil war. I went into the Rue St.
Anastase, and I saved the lives of those four men.

Amongst those men there was a poor workman of the Rue de Charonne, whose
wife was being confined at that very moment, and who was weeping. One
could understand, when hearing his sobs and seeing his rags, how he had
cleared with a single bound these three steps--poverty, despair,
rebellion. Their chief was a young man, pale and fair, with high cheek
bones, intelligent brow, and an earnest and resolute countenance. As soon
as I set him free, and told him my name, he also wept. He said to me,
"When I think that an hour ago I knew that you were facing us, and that I
wished that the barrel of my gun had eyes to see and kill you!" He added,
"In the times in which we live we do not know what may happen. If ever
you need me, for whatever purpose, come." His name was Auguste, and he
was a wine-seller in the Rue de la Roquette.

Since that time I had only seen him once, on the 26th August, 1819, on
the day when I held the corner of Balzac's pall. The funeral possession
was going to Père la Chaise. Auguste's shop was on the way. All the
streets through which the procession passed were crowded. Auguste was at
his door with his young wife and two or three workmen. As I passed he
greeted me.

It was this remembrance which came back to my mind as I descended the
lonely streets behind my house; in the presence of the 2d of December I
thought of him. I thought that he might give me information about the
Faubourg St. Antoine, and help us in rousing the people. This young man
had at once given me the impression of a soldier and a leader. I
remembered the words which he had spoken to me, and I considered it might
be useful to see him. I began by going to find in the Rue St. Anastase
the courageous woman who had hidden Auguste and his three companions, to
whom she had several times since rendered assistance. I begged her to
accompany me. She consented.

On the way I dined upon a cake of chocolate which Charamaule had given
me.

The aspects of the boulevards, in coming down the Italiens towards the
Marais, had impressed rue. The shops were open everywhere as usual. There
was little military display. In the wealthy quarters there was much
agitation and concentration of troops; but on advancing towards the
working-class neighborhoods solitude reigned paramount. Before the Café
Turc a regiment was drawn up. A band of young men in blouses passed
before the regiment singing the "Marseillaise." I answered them by crying
out "To Arms!" The regiment did not stir. The light shone upon the
playbills on an adjacent wall; the theatres were open. I looked at the
trees as I passed. They were playing _Hernani_ at the Theatre des
Italiens, with a new tenor named Guasco.

The Place de la Bastille was frequented, as usual, by goers and comers,
the most peaceable folk in the world. A few workmen grouped round the
July Column, and, chatting in a low voice, were scarcely noticeable.
Through the windows of a wine shop could be seen two men who were
disputing for and against the _coup d'état_. He who favored it wore a
blouse, he who attacked it wore a cloth coat. A few steps further on a
juggler had placed between four candles his X-shaped table, and was
displaying his conjuring tricks in the midst of a crowd, who were
evidently thinking only of the juggler. On looking towards the gloomy
loneliness of the Quai Mazas several harnessed artillery batteries were
dimly visible in the darkness. Some lighted torches here and there showed
up the black outline of the cannons.

I had some trouble in finding Auguste's door in the Rue de la Roquette.
Nearly all the shops were shut, thus making the street very dark. At
length, through a glass shop-front I noticed a light which gleamed on a
pewter counter. Beyond the counter, through a partition also of glass and
ornamented with white curtains, another light, and the shadows of two or
three men at table could be vaguely distinguished. This was the place.

I entered. The door on opening rang a bell. At the sound, the door of the
glazed partition which separated the shop from the parlor opened, and
Auguste appeared.

He knew me at once, and came up to me.

"Ah, Sir," said he, "it is you!"

"Do you know what is going on?" I asked him.

"Yes, sir."

This "Yes, sir," uttered with calmness, and even with a certain
embarrassment, told me all. Where I expected an indignant outcry I found
this peaceable answer. It seemed to me that I was speaking to the
Faubourg St. Antoine itself. I understood that all was at an end in this
district, and that we had nothing to expect from it. The people, this
wonderful people, had resigned themselves. Nevertheless, I made an
effort.

"Louis Bonaparte betrays the Republic," said I, without noticing that I
raised my voice.

He touched my arm, and pointing with his finger to the shadows which were
pictured on the glazed partition of the parlor, "Take care, sir; do not
talk so loudly."

"What!" I exclaimed, "you have come to this--you dare not speak, you dare
not utter the name of 'Bonaparte' aloud; you barely mumble a few words in
a whisper here, in this street, in the Faubourg St. Antoine, where, from
all the doors, from all the windows, from all the pavements, from all the
very stones, ought to be heard the cry, 'To arms.'"

Auguste demonstrated to me what I already saw too clearly, and what
Girard had shadowed forth in the morning--the moral situation of the
Faubourg--that the people were "dazed"--that it seemed to all of them
that universal suffrage was restored; that the downfall of the law of the
31st of May was a good thing.

Here I interrupted him.

"But this law of the 31st of May, it was Louis Bonaparte who instigated
it, it was Rouher who made it, it was Baroche who proposed it, and the
Bonapartists who voted it. You are dazzled by a thief who has taken your
purse, and who restores it to you!"

"Not I," said Auguste, "but the others."

And he continued, "To tell the whole truth, people did not care much for
the Constitution, they liked the Republic, but the Republic was
maintained too much by force for their taste. In all this they could only
see one thing clearly, the cannons ready to slaughter them--they
remembered June, 1848--there were some poor people who had suffered
greatly--Cavaignac had done much evil--women clung to the men's blouses
to prevent them from going to the barricades--nevertheless, with all
this, when seeing men like ourselves at their head, they would perhaps
fight, but this hindered them, they did not know for what." He concluded
by saying, "The upper part of the Faubourg is doing nothing, the lower
end will do better. Round about here they will fight. The Rue de la
Roquette is good, the Rue de Charonne is good; but on the side of Père la
Chaise they ask, 'What good will that do us?' They only recognize the
forty sous of their day's work. They will not bestir themselves; do not
reckon upon the masons." He added, with a smile, "Here we do not say
'cold as a stone,' but 'cold as a mason'"--and he resumed, "As for me, if
I am alive, it is to you that I owe my life. Dispose of me. I will lay
down my life, and will do what you wish."

While he was speaking I saw the white curtain of the glazed partition
behind him move a little. His young wife, uneasy, was peeping through at
us.

"Ah! my God," said I to him, "what we want is not the life of one man but
the efforts of all."

He was silent. I continued,--

"Listen to me, Auguste, you who are good and intelligent. So, then, the
Faubourgs of Paris--which are heroes even when they err--the Faubourgs
of Paris, for a misunderstanding, for a question of salary wrongly
construed, for a bad definition of socialism, rose in June, 1848, against
the Assembly elected by themselves, against universal suffrage, against
their own vote; and yet they will not rise in December, 1851, for Right,
for the Law, for the People, for Liberty, for the Republic. You say that
there is perplexity, and that you do not understand; but, on the
contrary, it was in June that all was obscure, and it is to-day that
everything is clear!"

While I was saying these last words the door of the parlor was softly
opened, and some one came in. It was a young man, fair as Auguste, in an
overcoat, and wearing a workman's cap. I started. Auguste turned round
and said to me, "You can trust him."

The young man took off his cap, came close up to me, carefully turning
his back on the glazed partition, and said to me in a low voice, "I know
you well. I was on the Boulevard du Temple to-day. We asked you what we
were to do; you said, 'We must take up arms.' Well, here they are!"

He thrust his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and drew out two
pistols.

Almost at the same moment the bell of the street door sounded. He
hurriedly put his pistols back into his pockets. A man in a blouse came
in, a workman of some fifty years. This man, without looking at any one,
without saying anything, threw down a piece of money on the counter.
Auguste took a small glass and filled it with brandy, the man drank it
off, put down the glass upon the counter and went away.

When the door was shut: "You see," said Auguste to me, "they drink, they
eat, they sleep, they think of nothing. Such are they all!"

The other interrupted him impetuously: "One man is not the People!"

And turning towards me,--

"Citizen Victor Hugo, they will march forward. If all do not march, some
will march. To tell the truth, it is perhaps not here that a beginning
should be made, it is on the other side of the water."

And suddenly checking himself,--"After all, you probably do not know my
name."

He took a little pocket-book from his pocket, tore out a piece of paper,
wrote on it his name, and gave it to me. I regret having forgotten that
name. He was a working engineer. In order not to compromise him, I burnt
this paper with many others on the Saturday morning, when I was on the
point of being arrested.

"It is true, sir," said Auguste, "you must not judge badly of the
Faubourg. As my friend has said, it will perhaps not be the first to
begin; but if there is a rising it will rise."

I exclaimed, "And who would you have erect if the Faubourg St. Antoine be
prostrate! Who will be alive if the people be dead!"

The engineer went to the street door, made certain that it was well shut,
then came back, and said,--

"There are many men ready and willing. It is the leaders who are wanting.
Listen, Citizen Victor Hugo, I can say this to you, and," he added,
lowering his voice, "I hope for a movement to-night."

"Where?"

"On the Faubourg St. Marceau."

"At what time?"

"At one o'clock."

"How do you know it?"

"Because I shall be there."

He continued: "Now, Citizen Victor Hugo, if a movement takes place
to-night in the Faubourg St. Marceau, will you head it? Do you consent?"

"Yes."

"Have you your scarf of office?"

I half drew it out of my pocket. His eyes glistened with joy.

"Excellent," said he. "The Citizen has his pistols, the Representative
his scarf. All are armed."

I questioned him. "Are you sure of your movement for to-night?"

He answered me, "We have prepared it, and we reckon to be there."

"In that case," said I, "as soon as the first barricade is constructed I
will be behind it. Come and fetch me."

"Where?"

"Wherever I may be."

He assured me that if the movement should take place during the night he
would know it at half-past ten that evening at the latest, and that I
should be informed of it before eleven o'clock. We settled that in
whatever place I might be at that hour I would send word to Auguste, who
undertook to let him know.

The young woman continued to peep out at us. The conversation was growing
prolonged, and might seem singular to the people in the parlor. "I am
going," said I to Auguste.

I had opened the door, he took my hand, pressed it as a woman might have
done, and said to me in a deeply-moved tone, "You are going: will you
come back?"

"I do not know."

"It is true," said he. "No one knows what is going to happen. Well, you
are perhaps going to be hunted and sought for as I have been. It will
perhaps be your turn to be shot, and mine to save you. You know the mouse
may sometimes prove useful to the lion. Monsieur Victor Hugo, if you need
a refuge, this house is yours. Come here. You will find a bed where you
can sleep, and a man who will lay down his life for you."

I thanked him by a hearty shake of the hand, and I left. Eight o'clock
struck. I hastened towards the Rue de Charonne.

Victor Hugo