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Chapter 23

"The soldiers had been firing, and the defenders of the barricade returning their fire, for about a quarter of an hour, without any one being wounded on either side, when suddenly, as if by an electric shock, an extraordinary and threatening movement took place, first in the infantry, then in the cavalry. The troops suddenly faced about.

"The historiographers of the coup d'état have asserted that a shot, directed against the soldiers, was fired from the window which had remained open at the corner of Rue du Sentier. Others say that it was fired from the roof of the house at the corner of Rue Notre-Dame-de-Recouvrance and Rue Poissonnière. According to others, it was a pistol shot and was fired from the roof of the tall house at the corner of Rue Mazagran. The shot is contested, but what cannot be contested is that, for having fired this problematical shot, which was perhaps nothing more than the slamming of a door, a dentist, who lived in the next house, was shot. The question resolves itself into this: Did any one hear a pistol or musket shot fired from one of the houses on the boulevard? Is this the fact, or is it not? a host of witnesses deny it.

"If the shot was really fired, there still remains a question: Was it a cause, or was it a signal?

"However this may be, all of a sudden, as we have said before, cavalry, infantry, and artillery faced towards the dense crowd upon the sidewalks, and, no one being able to guess why, unexpectedly, without motive, 'without parley,' as the infamous proclamations of the morning had announced, the butchery began, from the Gymnase Theatre to the Bains Chinois, that is to say, along the whole length of the richest, the most frequented, and the most joyous boulevard of Paris.

"The army began shooting down the people at close range.

"It was a horrible and indescribable moment: the cries, the arms raised towards heaven, the surprise, the terror, the crowd flying in all directions, a shower of balls falling on the pavement and bounding to the roofs of the houses, corpses strewn along the street in a moment, young men falling with their cigars still in their mouths, women in velvet gowns shot down by the long rifles, two booksellers killed on their own thresholds without knowing what offence they had committed, shots fired down the cellar-holes and killing any one, no matter who, the Bazaar riddled with shells and bullets, the Hôtel Sallandrouze bombarded, the Maison d'Or raked with grape-shot, Tortoni's carried by assault, hundreds of corpses stretched upon the boulevard, and a torrent of blood on Rue de Richelieu.

"The narrator must here again crave permission to suspend his narrative.

"In the presence of these nameless deeds, I who write these lines declare that I am the recording officer. I record the crime, I appeal the cause. My functions extend no further. I cite Louis Bonaparte, I cite Saint-Arnaud, Maupas, Moray, Magnan, Carrelet, Canrobert, and Reybell, his accomplices; I cite the executioners, the murderers, the witnesses, the victims, the red-hot cannon, the smoking sabres, the drunken soldiers, the mourning families, the dying, the dead, the horror, the blood, and the tears,--I cite them all to appear at the bar of the civilized world.

"The mere narrator, whoever he might be, would never be believed. Let the living facts, the bleeding facts, therefore, speak for themselves. Let us hear the witnesses.

Victor Hugo