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Chapter 24

"We shall not print the names of the witnesses, we have said why, but the reader will easily recognize the sincere and poignant accent of reality.

"One witness says:--

"'I had not taken three steps on the sidewalk, when the troops, who were marching past, suddenly halted, faced about towards the south, levelled their muskets, and, by an instantaneous movement, fired upon the affrighted crowd.

"'The firing continued uninterruptedly for twenty minutes, drowned from time to time by a cannon-shot.

"'At the first volley, I threw myself on the ground and crept along on the pavement like a snake to the first door I found open.

"'It was a wine-shop, No. 180, next door to the Bazaar de l'Industrie. I was the last person who went in. The firing still continued.

"'In this shop there were about fifty persons, and among them five or six women and two or three children. Three poor wretches were wounded when they came in; two of them died, after a quarter of an hour of horrible agony: the third was still alive when I left the shop at four o'clock; however, as I afterwards learned, he did not survive his wound.

"'In order to give an idea of the crowd on whom the troops fired, I cannot do better than mention some of the persons assembled in the shop.

"'There were several women, two of whom had come into the quarter to buy provisions for their dinners; a little lawyer's clerk, who had been sent on an errand by his master; two or three frequenters of the Bourse; two or three house-holders; several workmen, in wretched blouses, or in nothing. One of the unhappy beings who had taken refuge in the shop produced a deep impression on me. He was a man of about thirty, with light hair, wearing a gray paletot. He was going with his wife to dine with his family in Faubourg Montmartre, when he was stopped on the boulevard by the passage of the column of troops. At the very beginning, at the first discharge, both he and his wife fell down; he rose and was dragged into the wine-shop, but he no longer had his wife on his arm, and his despair cannot be described. In spite of all we could say, he insisted that the door should be opened so that he might run and look for his wife amid the grape-shot that was sweeping the street. It was all we could do to keep him with us for an hour. The next day, I learned that his wife had been killed, and her body found in the Cité Bergère. A fortnight afterwards I was informed that the poor wretch, having threatened to apply the lex talionis to M. Bonaparte, had been arrested and sent to Brest, on his way to Cayenne. Almost all the persons assembled in the wine-shop held monarchical opinions, and I saw only two, a compositor named Meunier, who had formerly worked on the Réforme, and a friend of his, who declared themselves to be Republicans. About four o'clock, I left the shop.'

"Another witness, one of those who fancied he heard the pistol-shot on Rue de Mazagran, adds:--

"'This shot was a signal to the soldiers for a fusillade on all the houses and their windows, the roar of which lasted at least thirty minutes. The discharge was simultaneous from Porte Saint-Denis as far as the Café du Grand Balcon. The artillery soon took part with the musketry.'

"Another witness says:--

"'At quarter past three, a singular movement took place. The soldiers who were facing Porte Saint-Denis, suddenly faced about, resting on the houses from the Gymnase, the Maison du Pont-de-Fer, and the Hôtel Saint-Phar, and immediately, a running fire was directed on the people on the opposite side of the way, from Rue Saint-Denis to Rue Richelieu. A few minutes were sufficient to cover the pavement with dead bodies; the houses were riddled with balls, and this paroxysm of fury on the part of the troops continued for three quarters of an hour.'

"Another witness says:--

"'The first cannon-shots aimed at the barricade Bonne-Nouvelle served as a signal to the rest of the troops, who fired almost simultaneously at every one within range of their muskets.'

"Another witness says:--

"'No words are powerful enough to describe such an act of barbarity. One must himself have seen in order to be bold enough to speak of it, and to attest the truth of so unspeakable a deed.'

"'The soldiers fired thousands and thousands of shots--the number is inappreciable[1]--on the unoffending crowd, and that without any sort of necessity. There was a desire to produce a deep impression. That was all.'

[1] The witness means incalculable, but we have preferred to change nothing in the original depositions.

"Another witness says:--

"'The troops of the line, followed by the cavalry and the artillery, arrived on the boulevard at a time when the general excitement was very great. A musket-shot was fired from the midst of the troops, and it was easy to see that it had been fired in the air, from the smoke which rose perpendicularly. This was the signal for firing on the people and charging them with the bayonet without warning. This is a significant fact, and proves that the military wanted the pretence of a motive for beginning the massacre which followed.'

"Another witness tells the following tale:--

"'The cannon, loaded with grape-shot, cut up all the shop-fronts from the shop Le Prophète to Rue Montmartre. From Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle they must have fired also on the Maison Billecoq, for it was struck at the corner of the wall on the Aubusson side, and the ball, having traversed the wall, penetrated the interior of the house.'

"Another witness, one of those who deny the shot, says:--

"'People have endeavoured to excuse this fusillade and these murders, by pretending that the troops had been fired on from the windows of some of the houses. Not only does General Magnan's official report seem to deny this rumour, but I assert that the discharge was instantaneous from Porte Saint-Denis to Porte Montmartre, and that there was not, previously to the general discharge, a single shot fired separately, either from the windows or by the soldiers, from Faubourg Saint-Denis to Boulevard des Italiens.'

"Another witness, who is also one of those who did not hear the shot, says:--

"'The troops were marching past the veranda of the Café Tortoni, where I had been about twenty minutes, when, before any report of fire-arms had reached us, they quickened their pace; the cavalry went off at a gallop, the infantry at double-quick. All of a sudden we saw, coming from the direction of Boulevard Poissonnière, a sheet of fire, which spread and came on rapidly. I can vouch for the fact that, before the fusillade began, there had been no report of fire-arms, and that not a single shot had been fired from any of the houses between the Café Frascati and the spot where I stood. At last we saw the soldiers before us level their muskets and threaten us. We took refuge on Rue Taitbout, under a porte-cochère. At the same moment the balls flew over our heads, and all around us. A woman was killed ten paces from me just as I ran under the porte-cochère. I can swear that, up to that time, there was neither barricade nor insurgents; there were hunters, and there was game flying from them,--that is all.'

"This image 'hunters and game' is the one which immediately suggests itself to the mind of all those who beheld this horrible proceeding. We meet with the same simile in the testimony of another witness:--

"'At the end of my street, and I know that the same thing was observed in the neighbouring ones as well, we saw the gendarmes mobiles with their muskets, and themselves in the position of hunters waiting for the game to rise, that is to say, with their muskets at their shoulders, in order that they might take aim and fire more quickly.

"'In order that those persons who had fallen wounded near the doors on Rue Montmartre might receive the first necessary attentions, we could see the doors open from time to time and an arm stretched out, which hastily drew in the corpse, or dying man, whom the balls were striving to claim as their own.'

"Another witness hits upon the same image:--

"'The soldiers stationed at the corners of the streets awaited the people as they passed, like hunters lying in wait for their game, and as soon as they saw them in the street they fired at them as at a target. A great many persons were killed in this manner on Rue du Sentier, Rue Rougemont, and on Rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière.'


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"'"Go on," said the officers to the unoffending citizens who demanded their protection. At these words they went their way quickly and with confidence; but it was merely a watchword which meant death; for they had gone only a few steps before they fell.'

"'At the moment the firing began on the boulevards,' says another witness, 'a bookseller near the carpet warehouse was hastily closing his shop, when a number of fugitives who were striving to obtain admittance were suspected by the troops of the line, or the gendarmerie mobile, I do not know which, of having fired upon them. The soldiers broke into the bookseller's house. The bookseller endeavoured to explain matters; he was taken out, alone, before his own door, and his wife and daughters had only time to throw themselves between him and the soldiers when he fell dead. His wife had her thigh traversed by a ball, while his daughter was saved by the steel of her stays. I have been informed that his wife has since gone mad.'

"Another witness says:--

"'The soldiers entered the two booksellers' shops between Le Prophète and M. Sallandrouze's. The murders committed there have been proved. The two booksellers were massacred on the pavement. The other prisoners were put to death in the shops.'

"Let us conclude with three extracts which it is impossible to transcribe without a shudder:--

"'For the first quarter of an hour of this scene of horror,' says a witness, 'the firing, which for a moment became less sharp, caused some persons who were only wounded to suppose that they might get up. Of those who were lying before Le Prophète two rose. One of them fled by Rue du Sentier, from which he was only a few yards away. He reached it amid a shower of balls which carried away his cap. The other could only succeed in raising himself on his knees, in which position, with his hands clasped, he besought the soldiers to spare his life; but he fell at once, shot dead. The next day one could see in the side of the veranda of Le Prophète a spot only a few feet in extent, which more than a hundred balls had struck.'

"'At the end of Rue Montmartre as far as the fountain, a distance of about sixty paces, there were sixty bodies of men and women, mothers, children, and young girls. All these unfortunate creatures had fallen victims of the first volley fired by the troops and the gendarmerie, who were stationed on the opposite side of the boulevard. They all fled at the first discharge, took a few steps, then fell to rise no more. One young man had taken refuge in a gateway, and tried to shelter himself behind the projection of the wall towards the boulevards. After ten minutes of badly aimed shots, he was hit, in spite of all his efforts to render himself as small as possible by drawing himself up to his full height, and he too was seen to fall, to rise no more.'

"Another:--

"'The plate glass and the windows in the Maison du Pont-de-Fer were all shattered. One man, who was in the courtyard, went mad with fright. The cellars were filled with women who had sought refuge there, but in vain. The soldiers fired into the shops and the cellar windows. From Tortoni's to the Gymnase Theatre similar things took place. This lasted more than an hour.'


Victor Hugo