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Chapter 21

"From an early hour in the morning,--for here (we insist upon this point) premeditation is unquestionable,--from an early hour in the morning, strange placards had been posted up at all the street-corners; we have transcribed these placards, and our readers will remember them. During sixty years that the cannon of revolution have, on certain days, boomed through Paris, and that the government, when menaced, has had recourse to desperate measures, nothing has ever been seen like these placards. They informed the inhabitants that all assemblages, no matter of what kind, would be dispersed by armed force, without previous warning. In Paris, the metropolis of civilization, people do not easily believe that a man will push his crime to the last extremity; and, therefore, these notices had been looked upon as a means of intimidation that was hideous and barbarous, but almost ridiculous.

"The public were wrong. These placards contained in germ Louis Bonaparte's whole plan. They were seriously meant.

"One word as to the spot which is about to be the theatre of the unheard-of drama, prepared and perpetrated by the man of December.

"From the Madeleine to Faubourg Poissonnière, the boulevard was unobstructed; from the Gymnase Theatre to the Theatre of the Porte Saint-Martin it was barricaded, as were Rue de Bondy, Rue Neslay, Rue de la Lune, and all the streets which bound, or debouch at, Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin. Beyond Porte Saint-Martin the boulevard was again free as far as the Bastile, with the exception of a single barricade, which had been begun opposite the Château d'Eau. Between Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin, seven or eight redoubts crossed the street at intervals. A square of four barricades shut in Porte Saint-Denis. Of these four barricades, that one which looked towards the Madeleine, and which was destined to receive the first impact of the troops, had been constructed at the culminating point of the boulevard, with its left resting on the corners of Rue de la Lune, and its right on Rue Mazagran. Four omnibuses, five furniture-moving vans, the office of the inspector of hackney coaches, which had been thrown down, the vespasian columns, which had been broken up, the public seats on the boulevards, the flag-stones of the steps on Rue de la Lune, the entire iron railing of the sidewalk, which had been wrenched from its place at a single effort by the powerful hand of the crowd--such was the composition of this fortification, which was hardly sufficient to block the boulevard, which, at this point, is very broad. There were no paving-stones, as the roadway is macadamized. The barricade did not even extend from one side of the boulevard to the other, but left a large open space on the side toward Rue Mazagran, where there was a house in course of erection. Observing this gap, a well-dressed young man got upon the scaffolding, and, quite unaided, without the least hurry, without even taking the cigar from his mouth, cut all the ropes of the scaffolding. The people at the neighbouring windows laughed and applauded him. An instant afterwards the scaffolding fell all at once, and with a loud noise; this completed the barricade.

"While this redoubt was being completed, a score or more of men entered the Gymnase Theatre by the stage-door, and came out a few seconds later with some muskets and a drum which they had found in the wardrobe, and which were a part of what, in theatrical language, are termed 'the properties,' One of the men took the drum and began beating to arms. The others, with the overturned vespasian columns, carriages thrown on their sides, blinds and shutters torn from their hinges, and old scenery, constructed, opposite the guard-house of Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, a small barricade as a sort of advanced post, or rather a lunette, which commanded Boulevards Poissonnière and Montmartre as well as Rue Hauteville. The troops had evacuated the guard-house in the morning. They took the flag belonging to it and planted it on the barricade. It was this same flag which was afterwards declared by the newspapers of the coup d'état to have been a 'red flag.'

"Some fifteen men took up their position at this advanced post. They had muskets, but no cartridges, or, at most, very few. Behind them, the large barricade, which covered Porte Saint-Denis, was held by about a hundred combatants, in the midst of whom were observed two women and an old man with white hair, supporting himself on a cane with his left hand, and, in his right, holding a musket. One of the two women wore a sabre suspended over her shoulder; while helping to tear up the railing of the sidewalk, she had cut three fingers of her right hand with the sharp edge of an iron bar. She showed the wound to the crowd, crying: 'Vive la République!' The other woman had ascended to the top of the barricade, where, leaning on the flag-staff, and escorted by two men in blouses, who were armed with muskets and presented arms, she read aloud the call to arms issued by the Representatives of the Left. The crowd clapped their hands.

"All this occurred between noon and one o'clock. On this side of the barricades an immense number of people covered the pavement on both sides of the boulevard; in some places, silent; in others, crying: 'Down with Soulouque! Down with the traitor!'

"From time to time, mournful processions traversed the multitude; they consisted of files of closed litters borne by hospital attendants and soldiers. At their head marched men holding long poles, from which hung blue placards, on which was inscribed, in huge letters: Service of the Military Hospitals. On the curtains of the litters: Wounded, Ambulance. The weather was dull and rainy.

"At this time there was a great crowd at the Bourse. On all the walls bill-stickers were posting despatches announcing the adhesion of the departments to the coup d'état. Even the stockbrokers, while trying to bull the market, laughed and shrugged their shoulders at these placards. Suddenly, a well-known speculator, who had for two days been a great admirer of the coup d'état, made his appearance, pale and breathless, like a fugitive, and exclaimed: 'They are firing on the boulevards!'

"This is what had happened:


Victor Hugo