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CHAP, streets, and warning them that they would be liable ■—«-^-> to be dispersed by the troops without being summoned; but of course those who had chanced to see this announcement naturally imagined that it was a menace addressed to riotous crowds which might be pressing upon the troops in a hostile way. Not one man could have read it as a sentence of sudden death against peaceful spectators.
At three o'clock one of the field-pieces ranged in front of the column was fired at the little barricade near the Gymnase. The shot went high over the mark. The troops at the head of the column sent a few musket-shots in the direction of the barricade, and there was a slight attempt at reply, but no one on either side was wounded; and the engagement, if so it could be called, was so languid and harmless that even the gazers who stood on the foot-pavement, between the troops and the barricade, were not deterred from remaining where they were; and with regard to the spectators further west, there was nothing that tended to cause them alarm, for they could see no one who was in antagonism with the troops. So along the whole Boulevard, from the Madeleine to near the Eue du Sentier, the foot-pavements, the windows, and the balconies still remained crowded with men and women and children, and from near the Rue du Sentier to the little barricade at the Gymnase, spectators still lined the foot-pavement; but in that last part of the Boulevard the windows were closed.*
* What I say as to the state of the Boulevard at this time is taken from many concurrent authorities, but Captain Jesse's statement (see post) is the most clear and satisfactory so far as concerns what he saw.
According to some, a shot was fired from a window CHAP. or a house-top near the Eue du Sentier. This is de- •—^-^ nied by others, and one witness declares that the ^e^f" first shot came from a soldier near the centre of one y^80"1"' of the battalions, who fired straight up into the air; but what followed was this: the troops at the head of the column faced about to the south and opened fire. Some of the soldiery fired point-blank into the mass of spectators who stood gazing upon them from the foot-pavement, and the rest of the troops fired up at the gay crowded windows and balconies." The officers in general did not order the firing, but seemingly they were agitated in the same way as the men of the rank and file, for such of them as could be seen from a balcony at the corner of the Eue Montmartre appeared to acquiesce in all that the soldiery did. t
The impulse which had thus come upon the soldiery near the head of the column was a motive akin to panic, for it was carried by swift contagion from man to man till it ran westward from the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle into the Boulevard Poissoniere, and gained the Boulevard Montmartre, and ran swiftly through its whole length, and entered the Boulevard des Italiens. Thus by a movement in the nature of that which tacticians describe as 'conversion,' a column of some sixteen thousand men facing eastward
* Captain Jesse, ubi post.
CHAP. towards St Denis was suddenly formed, as it were, XIV.
into an order of battle fronting southward, and busily firing into the crowd which lined the foot-pavement, and upon the men, women, and children who stood at the balconies and windows on that side of the Boulevard.* What made the fire at the houses the more deadly was that, even after it had begun at the eastern part of the Boulevard Montmartre, people standing at the balconies and windows farther west could not see or believe that the troops were really firing in at the windows with ball-cartridge, and they remained in the front rooms, and even continued standing at the windows, until a volley came crashing in. At one of the windows there stood a young Russian noble with his sister at bis side. Suddenly they received the fire of the soldiery, and both of them were wounded with musket-shots. An English surgeon, who had been gazing from another window in the same house, had the fortune to stand unscathed; and when he began to give his care to the wounded brother and sister, he was so touched, he says, by their forgetfulness of self, and the love they seemed to bear the one for the other, that more than ever before in all his life he prized his power of warding off death.
Of the people on the foot-pavement who were not struck down at first, some rushed and strove to find a shelter, or even a half-shelter, at any spot within reach. Others tried to crawl away on their hands and knees; for they hoped that perhaps the balls
* Captain Jesse, ubi post.
might fly over them. The impulse to shoot people CHAP, had been sudden, but was not momentary. The >—*-'—• soldiers loaded and reloaded with a strange industry, and made haste to kill and kill, as though their lives depended upon the quantity of the slaughter they could get through in some given period of time.
When there was no longer a crowd to fire into, the soldiers would aim carefully at any single fugitive who was trying to effect his escape; and if a man tried to save himself by coming close up to the troops and asking for mercy, the soldiers would force or persuade the suppliant to keep off and hasten away, and then, if they could, they killed him running. This slaughter of unarmed men and women was continued for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. It chanced that amongst the persons standing at the balconies near the corner of the Eue Montmartre there was an English officer; and because of the position in which he stood, the professional knowledge which guided his observation, the composure with which he was able to see and to describe, and the more than common responsibility which attaches upon a military narrator, it is probable that his testimony will be always appealed to by historians who shall seek to give a truthful account of the founding of the Second French Empire.
At the moment when the firing began, this officer was looking upon the military display with his wife at his side, and was so placed that if he looked eastward he would carry his eye along the Boulevard for a distance of about 800 yards, ajid >*n as far as the head of the column; and if he looked
• toward he could see to the point where the Boulevard Montmartre runs into the Boulevard des Italians. This is what he writes: 'I went to the balcony
• at which my wife was standing, and remained there 'watching the troops. The whole Boulevard, as far "as the eye could reach, was crowded with them, '—principally infantry in subdivisions at quarter
• distance, with here and there a batch of twelve'pounders and howitzers, some of which occupied 'the rising ground of the Boulevard Poissoniere. 'The officers were smoking their cigars. The win'dows were crowded with people, principally women, 'tradesmen, servants, and children, or, like ourselves, 'the occupants of apartments. Suddenly, as I was 'intently looking with my glass at the troops in 'the distance eastward, a few musket-shots were 'fired at the head of the column, which consisted 'of about 3000 men. In a few moments it spread; 'and, after hanging a little, came down the Boulevard 'in a waving sheet of flame. So regular, however, 'was the fire that at first I thought it was a feu de 'joie for some barricade taken in advance, or to signal 'their position to some other division; and it was 'not till it came within fifty yards of me that I re'cognised the sharp ringing report of ball-cartridge; 'but even then I could scarcely believe the evidence 'of my ears, for, as to my eyes, I could not discover 'any enemy to fire at; and I continued looking at 'the men until the company below me were actually 'raising their firelocks, and one vagabond sharper