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Chapter 11


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 Tissiť,[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 Tissiť was not afraid, as we shall see later on.

He left the barricade.

Pierre Tissiť 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 Tissiť, and cried out,--

"Who goes there?"

"Death!" answered Pierre Tissiť.

The soldier fired, and missed Pierre Tissiť, 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 Tissiť.

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 Tissiť. "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 Tissiť, 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 Tissiť.

"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 Tissiť.

"No," said the boy.

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

Pierre Tissiť 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.

Victor Hugo