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Chapter 1



During this night of the 3d and 4th of December, while we who were
overcome with fatigue and betrothed to calamity slept an honest slumber,
not an eye was closed at the Elysée. An infamous sleeplessness reigned
there. Towards two o'clock in the morning the Comte Roguet, after Morny
the most intimate of the confidants of the Elysée, an ex-peer of France
and a lieutenant-general, came out of Louis Bonaparte's private room;
Roguet was accompanied by Saint-Arnaud. Saint-Arnaud, it may be
remembered, was at that time Minister of War.

Two colonels were waiting in the little ante-room.

Saint-Arnaud was a general who had been a supernumerary at the Ambigu
Theatre. He had made his first appearance as a comedian in the suburbs.
A tragedian later on. He may be described as follows:--tall, bony, thin,
angular, with gray moustaches, lank air, a mean countenance. He was a
cut-throat, and badly educated. Morny laughed at him for his pronunciation
of the "Sovereign People." "He pronounces the word no better than he
understands the thing," said he. The Elysée, which prides itself upon its
refinement, only half-accepted Saint-Arnaud. His bloody side had caused
his vulgar side to be condoned. Saint-Arnaud was brave, violent, and yet
timid; he had the audacity of a gold-laced veteran and the awkwardness of
a man who had formerly been "down upon his luck." We saw him one day in
the tribune, pale, stammering, but daring. He had a long bony face, and
a distrust-inspiring jaw. His theatrical name was Florivan. He was a
strolling player transformed into a trooper. He died Marshal of France.
An ill-omened figure.

The two colonels who awaited Saint-Arnaud in the anteroom were two
business-like men, both leaders of those decisive regiments which at
critical times carry the other regiments with them, according to their
instructions, into glory, as at Austerlitz, or into crime, as on the
Eighteenth Brumaire. These two officers belonged to what Morny called
"the cream of indebted and free-living colonels." We will not mention
their names here; one is dead, the other is still living; he will
recognize himself. Besides, we have caught a glimpse of them in the
first pages of this book.

One, a man of thirty-eight, was cunning, dauntless, ungrateful, three
qualifications for success. The Duc d'Aumale had saved his life in the
Aurés. He was then a young captain. A ball had pierced his body; he fell
into a thicket; the Kabyles rushed up to cut off and carry away his
head, when the Duc d'Aumale arriving with two officers, a soldier, and a
bugler, charged the Kabyles and saved this captain. Having saved him, he
loved him. One was grateful, the other was not. The one who was grateful
was the deliverer. The Duc d'Aumale was pleased with this young captain
for having given him an opportunity for a deed of gallantry. He made
him a major; in 1849 this major became lieutenant-colonel, and commanded
a storming column at the siege of Rome; he then came back to Africa,
where Fleury bought him over at the same time as Saint-Arnaud. Louis
Bonaparte made him colonel in July, 1851, and reckoned upon him. In
November this colonel of Louis Bonaparte wrote to the Duc d'Aumale,
"Nothing need be apprehended from this miserable adventurer." In
December he commanded one of the massacring regiments. Later on, in the
Dobrudscha, an ill-used horse turned upon him and bit off his cheek, so
that there was only room on his face for one slap.

The other man was growing gray, and was about forty-eight. He also was
a man of pleasure and of murder. Despicable as a citizen; brave as a
soldier. He was one of the first who had sprung into the breach at
Constantine. Plenty of bravery and plenty of baseness. No chivalry but
that of the green cloth. Louis Bonaparte had made him colonel in 1851.
His debts had been twice paid by two Princes; the first time by the Duc
d'Orléans, the second time by the Duc de Némours.

Such were these colonels.

Saint-Arnaud spoke to them for some time in a low tone.

Victor Hugo