A peculiarity of this species of war is, that the attack of the barricades is almost always made from the front, and that the assailants generally abstain from turning the position, either because they fear ambushes, or because they are afraid of getting entangled in the tortuous streets. The insurgents' whole attention had been directed, therefore, to the grand barricade, which was, evidently, the spot always menaced, and there the struggle would infallibly recommence. But Marius thought of the little barricade, and went thither. It was deserted and guarded only by the fire-pot which trembled between the paving-stones. Moreover, the Mondetour alley, and the branches of the Rue de la Petite Truanderie and the Rue du Cygne were profoundly calm.
As Marius was withdrawing, after concluding his inspection, he heard his name pronounced feebly in the darkness.
He started, for he recognized the voice which had called to him two hours before through the gate in the Rue Plumet.
Only, the voice now seemed to be nothing more than a breath.
He looked about him, but saw no one.
Marius thought he had been mistaken, that it was an illusion added by his mind to the extraordinary realities which were clashing around him. He advanced a step, in order to quit the distant recess where the barricade lay.
"Monsieur Marius!" repeated the voice.
This time he could not doubt that he had heard it distinctly; he looked and saw nothing.
"At your feet," said the voice.
He bent down, and saw in the darkness a form which was dragging itself towards him.
It was crawling along the pavement. It was this that had spoken to him.
The fire-pot allowed him to distinguish a blouse, torn trousers of coarse velvet, bare feet, and something which resembled a pool of blood. Marius indistinctly made out a pale head which was lifted towards him and which was saying to him:—
"You do not recognize me?"
Marius bent hastily down. It was, in fact, that unhappy child. She was dressed in men's clothes.
"How come you here? What are you doing here?"
"I am dying," said she.
There are words and incidents which arouse dejected beings. Marius cried out with a start:—
"You are wounded! Wait, I will carry you into the room! They will attend to you there. Is it serious? How must I take hold of you in order not to hurt you? Where do you suffer? Help! My God! But why did you come hither?"
And he tried to pass his arm under her, in order to raise her.
She uttered a feeble cry.
"Have I hurt you?" asked Marius.
"But I only touched your hand."
She raised her hand to Marius, and in the middle of that hand Marius saw a black hole.
"What is the matter with your hand?" said he.
"It is pierced."
"Did you see a gun aimed at you?"
"Yes, and a hand stopping it."
"It was mine."
Marius was seized with a shudder.
"What madness! Poor child! But so much the better, if that is all, it is nothing, let me carry you to a bed. They will dress your wound; one does not die of a pierced hand."
"The bullet traversed my hand, but it came out through my back. It is useless to remove me from this spot. I will tell you how you can care for me better than any surgeon. Sit down near me on this stone."
He obeyed; she laid her head on Marius' knees, and, without looking at him, she said:—
"Oh! How good this is! How comfortable this is! There; I no longer suffer."
She remained silent for a moment, then she turned her face with an effort, and looked at Marius.
"Do you know what, Monsieur Marius? It puzzled me because you entered that garden; it was stupid, because it was I who showed you that house; and then, I ought to have said to myself that a young man like you—"
She paused, and overstepping the sombre transitions that undoubtedly existed in her mind, she resumed with a heartrending smile:—
"You thought me ugly, didn't you?"
"You see, you are lost! Now, no one can get out of the barricade. It was I who led you here, by the way! You are going to die, I count upon that. And yet, when I saw them taking aim at you, I put my hand on the muzzle of the gun. How queer it is! But it was because I wanted to die before you. When I received that bullet, I dragged myself here, no one saw me, no one picked me up, I was waiting for you, I said: 'So he is not coming!' Oh, if you only knew. I bit my blouse, I suffered so! Now I am well. Do you remember the day I entered your chamber and when I looked at myself in your mirror, and the day when I came to you on the boulevard near the washerwomen? How the birds sang! That was a long time ago. You gave me a hundred sous, and I said to you: 'I don't want your money.' I hope you picked up your coin? You are not rich. I did not think to tell you to pick it up. The sun was shining bright, and it was not cold. Do you remember, Monsieur Marius? Oh! How happy I am! Every one is going to die."
She had a mad, grave, and heart-breaking air. Her torn blouse disclosed her bare throat.
As she talked, she pressed her pierced hand to her breast, where there was another hole, and whence there spurted from moment to moment a stream of blood, like a jet of wine from an open bung-hole.
Marius gazed at this unfortunate creature with profound compassion.
"Oh!" she resumed, "it is coming again, I am stifling!"
She caught up her blouse and bit it, and her limbs stiffened on the pavement.
At that moment the young cock's crow executed by little Gavroche resounded through the barricade.
The child had mounted a table to load his gun, and was singing gayly the song then so popular:—
"En voyant Lafayette, "On beholding Lafayette,
Le gendarme r�p�te:— The gendarme repeats:—
Sauvons nous! sauvons nous! Let us flee! let us flee!
sauvons nous!" let us flee!
Eponine raised herself and listened; then she murmured:—
"It is he."
And turning to Marius:—
"My brother is here. He must not see me. He would scold me."
"Your brother?" inquired Marius, who was meditating in the most bitter and sorrowful depths of his heart on the duties to the Thenardiers which his father had bequeathed to him; "who is your brother?"
"That little fellow."
"The one who is singing?"
Marius made a movement.
"Oh! don't go away," said she, "it will not be long now."
She was sitting almost upright, but her voice was very low and broken by hiccoughs.
At intervals, the death rattle interrupted her. She put her face as near that of Marius as possible. She added with a strange expression:—
"Listen, I do not wish to play you a trick. I have a letter in my pocket for you. I was told to put it in the post. I kept it. I did not want to have it reach you. But perhaps you will be angry with me for it when we meet again presently? Take your letter."
She grasped Marius' hand convulsively with her pierced hand, but she no longer seemed to feel her sufferings. She put Marius' hand in the pocket of her blouse. There, in fact, Marius felt a paper.
"Take it," said she.
Marius took the letter.
She made a sign of satisfaction and contentment.
"Now, for my trouble, promise me—"
And she stopped.
"What?" asked Marius.
"Promise to give me a kiss on my brow when I am dead.—I shall feel it."
She dropped her head again on Marius' knees, and her eyelids closed. He thought the poor soul had departed. Eponine remained motionless. All at once, at the very moment when Marius fancied her asleep forever, she slowly opened her eyes in which appeared the sombre profundity of death, and said to him in a tone whose sweetness seemed already to proceed from another world:—
"And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you."
She tried to smile once more and expired.
Marius kept his promise. He dropped a kiss on that livid brow, where the icy perspiration stood in beads.
This was no infidelity to Cosette; it was a gentle and pensive farewell to an unhappy soul.
It was not without a tremor that he had taken the letter which Eponine had given him. He had immediately felt that it was an event of weight. He was impatient to read it. The heart of man is so constituted that the unhappy child had hardly closed her eyes when Marius began to think of unfolding this paper.
He laid her gently on the ground, and went away. Something told him that he could not peruse that letter in the presence of that body.
He drew near to a candle in the tap-room. It was a small note, folded and sealed with a woman's elegant care. The address was in a woman's hand and ran:—
"To Monsieur, Monsieur Marius Pontmercy, at M. Courfeyrac's, Rue de la Verrerie, No. 16."
He broke the seal and read:—
"My dearest, alas! my father insists on our setting out immediately.
We shall be this evening in the Rue de l'Homme Arme, No. 7.
In a week we shall be in England. COSETTE. June 4th."
Such was the innocence of their love that Marius was not even acquainted with Cosette's handwriting.
What had taken place may be related in a few words. Eponine had been the cause of everything. After the evening of the 3d of June she had cherished a double idea, to defeat the projects of her father and the ruffians on the house of the Rue Plumet, and to separate Marius and Cosette. She had exchanged rags with the first young scamp she came across who had thought it amusing to dress like a woman, while Eponine disguised herself like a man. It was she who had conveyed to Jean Valjean in the Champ de Mars the expressive warning: "Leave your house." Jean Valjean had, in fact, returned home, and had said to Cosette: "We set out this evening and we go to the Rue de l'Homme Arme with Toussaint. Next week, we shall be in London." Cosette, utterly overwhelmed by this unexpected blow, had hastily penned a couple of lines to Marius. But how was she to get the letter to the post? She never went out alone, and Toussaint, surprised at such a commission, would certainly show the letter to M. Fauchelevent. In this dilemma, Cosette had caught sight through the fence of Eponine in man's clothes, who now prowled incessantly around the garden. Cosette had called to "this young workman" and had handed him five francs and the letter, saying: "Carry this letter immediately to its address." Eponine had put the letter in her pocket. The next day, on the 5th of June, she went to Courfeyrac's quarters to inquire for Marius, not for the purpose of delivering the letter, but,—a thing which every jealous and loving soul will comprehend,—"to see." There she had waited for Marius, or at least for Courfeyrac, still for the purpose of seeing. When Courfeyrac had told her: "We are going to the barricades," an idea flashed through her mind, to fling herself into that death, as she would have done into any other, and to thrust Marius into it also. She had followed Courfeyrac, had made sure of the locality where the barricade was in process of construction; and, quite certain, since Marius had received no warning, and since she had intercepted the letter, that he would go at dusk to his trysting place for every evening, she had betaken herself to the Rue Plumet, had there awaited Marius, and had sent him, in the name of his friends, the appeal which would, she thought, lead him to the barricade. She reckoned on Marius' despair when he should fail to find Cosette; she was not mistaken. She had returned to the Rue de la Chanvrerie herself. What she did there the reader has just seen. She died with the tragic joy of jealous hearts who drag the beloved being into their own death, and who say: "No one shall have him!"
Marius covered Cosette's letter with kisses. So she loved him! For one moment the idea occurred to him that he ought not to die now. Then he said to himself: "She is going away. Her father is taking her to England, and my grandfather refuses his consent to the marriage. Nothing is changed in our fates." Dreamers like Marius are subject to supreme attacks of dejection, and desperate resolves are the result. The fatigue of living is insupportable; death is sooner over with. Then he reflected that he had still two duties to fulfil: to inform Cosette of his death and send her a final farewell, and to save from the impending catastrophe which was in preparation, that poor child, Eponine's brother and Thenardier's son.
He had a pocket-book about him; the same one which had contained the note-book in which he had inscribed so many thoughts of love for Cosette. He tore out a leaf and wrote on it a few lines in pencil:—
"Our marriage was impossible. I asked my grandfather, he refused; I have no fortune, neither hast thou. I hastened to thee, thou wert no longer there. Thou knowest the promise that I gave thee, I shall keep it. I die. I love thee. When thou readest this, my soul will be near thee, and thou wilt smile."
Having nothing wherewith to seal this letter, he contented himself with folding the paper in four, and added the address:—
"To Mademoiselle Cosette Fauchelevent, at M. Fauchelevent's, Rue de l'Homme Arme, No. 7."
Having folded the letter, he stood in thought for a moment, drew out his pocket-book again, opened it, and wrote, with the same pencil, these four lines on the first page:—
"My name is Marius Pontmercy. Carry my body to my grandfather, M. Gillenormand, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire, No. 6, in the Marais."
He put his pocketbook back in his pocket, then he called Gavroche.
The gamin, at the sound of Marius' voice, ran up to him with his merry and devoted air.
"Will you do something for me?"
"Anything," said Gavroche. "Good God! if it had not been for you, I should have been done for."
"Do you see this letter?"
"Take it. Leave the barricade instantly" (Gavroche began to scratch his ear uneasily) "and to-morrow morning, you will deliver it at its address to Mademoiselle Cosette, at M. Fauchelevent's, Rue de l'Homme Arme, No. 7."
The heroic child replied
"Well, but! in the meanwhile the barricade will be taken, and I shall not be there."
"The barricade will not be attacked until daybreak, according to all appearances, and will not be taken before to-morrow noon."
The fresh respite which the assailants were granting to the barricade had, in fact, been prolonged. It was one of those intermissions which frequently occur in nocturnal combats, which are always followed by an increase of rage.
"Well," said Gavroche, "what if I were to go and carry your letter to-morrow?"
"It will be too late. The barricade will probably be blockaded, all the streets will be guarded, and you will not be able to get out. Go at once."
Gavroche could think of no reply to this, and stood there in indecision, scratching his ear sadly.
All at once, he took the letter with one of those birdlike movements which were common with him.
"All right," said he.
And he started off at a run through Mondetour lane.
An idea had occurred to Gavroche which had brought him to a decision, but he had not mentioned it for fear that Marius might offer some objection to it.
This was the idea:—
"It is barely midnight, the Rue de l'Homme Arme is not far off; I will go and deliver the letter at once, and I shall get back in time."