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Chapter 25

"Let us confine ourselves to these extracts. Let us close this mournful inquest. We have proofs enough.

"The general execration of the deed is visible. A hundred other depositions which we have before us repeat the same facts in almost the same words. It is at present certain, it is proved, it is beyond the possibility of doubt, it cannot be denied, it is evident as the sunlight, that on Thursday, the 4th of December, 1851, the unoffending citizens of Paris, the citizens who were not in any way mixed up with the fighting, were shot down without warning, and massacred merely for the sake of intimidation, and that it is not possible to attach any other meaning to Monsieur Bonaparte's mysterious command.

"This execution lasted until nightfall. For more than an hour, there was, as it were, a debauch of musketry and artillery. The cannonade and the platoon-firing crossed each other indiscriminately; at one time the soldiers were killing one another. The battery of the 6th Regiment of Artillery, which belonged to Canrobert's brigade, was dismounted; the horses, rearing in the midst of the balls, broke the axles, the wheels and the poles, and of the whole battery, in less than a minute there remained only one gun in commission. A whole squadron of the 1st Lancers was obliged to seek refuge in a shed on Rue Saint-Fiacre. Seventy bullet-holes were counted the next day in the pennons of the lances. A sort of frenzy had seized the soldiers. At the corner of Rue Rougemont, and in the midst of the smoke, one general was waving his arms as if to restrain them; a medical officer of the 27th was nearly killed by the soldiers whom he endeavoured to check. A sergeant said to an officer who took hold of his arm: 'Lieutenant, you are betraying us.' The soldiers had no consciousness of themselves; they had gone mad with the crime they were ordered to commit. There comes a moment when the very outrageousness of what you are doing makes you redouble your blows. Blood is a kind of horrible wine; men get drunk with carnage.

"It seemed as if some invisible hand were launching death from the midst of a cloud. The soldiers were no longer aught but projectiles.

"Two guns in the roadway of the boulevard were pointed at the front of a single house, that of M. Sallandrouze, and fired volley after volley at it, at close range. This house, which is an old mansion of hewn stone, remarkable for its almost monumental flight of steps, being split by bullets as if by iron wedges, opened, gaped, and cracked from top to bottom. The soldiers fired faster and faster. At every discharge, the walls cracked again. Suddenly an officer of artillery galloped up, and cried, 'Hold! hold!' The house was leaning forward; another ball, and it would have fallen on the guns and the gunners.

"The artillerymen were so drunk that many of them, not knowing what they were doing, allowed themselves to be killed by the rebound of their guns. The balls came simultaneously from Porte Saint-Denis, Boulevard Poissonnière and Boulevard Montmartre; the drivers, hearing them whizzing past their ears in every direction, lay down upon their horses, while the gunners hid underneath the caissons and behind the wagons; soldiers were seen to drop their caps and fly in dismay into Rue Notre-Dame-de-Recouvrance; troopers, losing their heads, fired their carbines in the air, while others dismounted and made a breastwork of their horses. Two or three of the latter, without riders, ran here and there, mad with terror.

"The most horrible amusements were blended with the massacre. The tirailleurs from Vincennes had established themselves at one of the barricades on the boulevard which they had carried by assault, and from thence they practised shooting at persons passing at a distance. From the neighbouring houses, such shocking dialogues as this were heard: 'I'll bet I bring that fellow down.'--'I'll bet you don't.'--'I'll bet I do.' And the shot followed. When the man fell, one could guess by the roar of laughter. Whenever a woman passed, the officers cried: 'Fire at that woman; fire at the women!'

"This was one of the watchwords; on Boulevard Montmartre, where the bayonet was greatly in requisition, a young staff-captain cried: 'Prick the women!'

"One woman, with a loaf under her arm, thought she might cross Rue Saint-Fiacre. A tirailleur shot her down.

"On Rue Jean-Jacques-Rousseau they did not go so far. A woman cried, 'Vive la République!' she was merely whipped by the soldiers. But let us return to the boulevard.

"One of the passers-by, a bailiff, was struck by a ball aimed at his head; he fell on his hands and knees, imploring mercy! He received thirteen more balls in his body. He survived: by a miraculous chance, not one of his wounds was mortal. The ball which struck his head tore the skin, and made the circuit of his skull without fracturing it.

"An old man of eighty, being found concealed somewhere or other, was brought before the steps of Le Prophète, and shot: he fell. 'He will have no bump on his head,' said a soldier; the old man had fallen upon a heap of dead bodies. Two young men from Issy, who had been married only a month, to two sisters, were crossing the boulevard on their way from business. They saw the muskets levelled at them, and threw themselves on their knees, crying, 'We married the two sisters!' They were killed. A dealer in cocoa, named Robert, living on Faubourg Poissonnière, No. 97, fled, with his can on his back, down Rue Montmartre; he was killed.[1] A boy of thirteen, a saddler's apprentice, was passing along the boulevard opposite the Café Vachette. The soldiers took aim at him. He uttered the most heart-rending cries, and, holding up a bridle that he had in his hand, waved it in the air, exclaiming, 'I am sent on an errand!' He was killed. Three balls perforated his breast. All along the boulevards were heard the shrieks and heavy falls of the wounded, whom the soldiers pierced with their bayonets, and then left, without taking the trouble to despatch them.

[1] "We may name the witness who saw this. He is one of the proscribed; it is M. Versigny, a representative of the people. He says:--

"'I can still see, opposite Rue du Croissant, an unfortunate itinerant vender of cocoa, with his tin can on his back, stagger, then gradually sink in a heap, and fall dead before a shop. Armed only with his bell, he had received all by himself the honour of being fired at by a whole platoon.'

"The same witness adds:--'The soldiers swept the streets with their guns, even where there was not a paving-stone moved from its place, not a single combatant.'"

"Some villains seized the opportunity to steal. The treasurer of a company, whose offices are on Rue de la Banque, left at two o'clock to collect a note on Rue Bergère, returned with the money, and was killed on the boulevard. When his body was removed, he had neither ring, nor watch, nor the money he was taking to his office.

"On the pretence that shots had been fired at the troops, the latter entered ten or twelve houses, at random, and despatched with their bayonets every one they found. In all the houses on the boulevard, there are metal pipes by which the dirty water runs out into the gutter. The soldiers, with no idea why it was so, conceived a feeling of mistrust or hatred for such and such a house, closed from top to bottom, mute and gloomy, and like all the houses on the boulevard, seeming uninhabited, so silent was it. They knocked at the door; the door opened, and they entered. An instant after there was seen to flow from the mouth of the metal pipes a red, smoking stream. It was blood.

"A captain, with his eyes starting from their sockets, cried to the soldiers: 'No quarter!' A major vociferated: 'Enter the houses and kill every one!'

"Sergeants were heard to say: 'Pitch into the Bedouins; hit them hard!' 'In the uncle's time,' says a witness, 'the soldiers used to call the civilians pékins. At present, we are Bedouins; the soldiers massacred the people to the cry of "Give it to the Bedouins."'

"At the Frascati Club, where many of the regular frequenters of the place were assembled, among them an old general, they heard the thunder of musketry and artillery, and could not believe that the troops were firing ball. They laughed, and said to one another: 'It's blank cartridges. What a mise-en-scène! What an actor this Bonaparte is!' They thought they were at the Circus. Suddenly the soldiers entered, mad with rage, and were about to shoot every one. They had no idea of the danger they were running. They continued to laugh. One of the eye-witnesses said to us: 'We thought that this was part of the buffoonery.' However, seeing that the soldiers continued to threaten them, they at last understood.--'Kill them all!' cried the soldiers. A lieutenant, who recognized the old general, prevented them from carrying out their threat. In spite of this, a sergeant said: 'Hold your d----d tongue, lieutenant; this isn't your affair, it's ours.'

"The troops killed for the mere sake of killing. A witness says: 'In the courtyards of the houses, they shot even the horses and dogs.'

"In the house next Frascati's, at the corner of Rue Richelieu, the soldiers were coolly going to shoot even the women and children, who were already drawn up in a mass before a platoon for that purpose when a colonel arrived. He stopped the massacre, boxed up these poor trembling creatures in the Passages des Panoramas, where he locked them in, and saved them. A celebrated writer, Monsieur Lireux, after having escaped the first balls, was led about, during an hour, from one guard-house to another, preparatory to being shot. It required a miracle to save him. The celebrated artist, Sax, who happened to be in the musical establishment of M. Brandus, was about to be shot, when a general recognized him. Everywhere else the people were killed indiscriminately.

"The first person killed in this butchery--history has in like manner preserved the name of the first person killed at the massacre of Saint Bartholomew--was one Théodore Debaecque, who lived in the house at the corner of Rue du Sentier, where the carnage began.

Victor Hugo