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THE ARTILLERY-MEN COMPEL PEOPLE TO TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY
Thet flocked round Gavroche. But he had no time to tell anything. Marius drew him aside with a shudder.
"What are you doing here?"
"Hullo!" said the child, "what are you doing here yourself?"
And he stared at Marius intently with his epic effrontery. His eyes grew larger with the proud light within them.
It was with an accent of severity that Marius continued:
"Who told you to come back? Did you deliver my letter at the address?"
Gavroche was not without some compunctions in the matter of that letter. In his haste to return to the barricade, he had got rid of it rather than delivered it. He was forced to acknowledge to himself that he had confided it rather lightly to that stranger whose face he had not been able to make out. It is true that the man was bareheaded, but that was not sufficient. In short, he had been administering to himself little inward remonstrances and he feared Marius' reproaches. In order to extricate himself from the predicament, he took the simplest course; he lied abominably.
"Citizen, I delivered the letter to the porter. The lady was asleep. She will have the letter when she wakes up.
Marius had had two objects in sending that letter: to bid farewell to Cosette and to save Gavroche. He was obliged to content himself with the half of his desire.
The despatch of his letter and the presence of M. Fauchelevent in the barricade, was a coincidence which occurred to him. He pointed out M. Fauchelevent to Gavroche.
"Do you know that man?"
"No," said Gavroche.
Gavroche had, in fact, as we have just mentioned, seen Jean Valjean only at night.
The troubled and unhealthy conjectures which had outlined themselves in Marius' mind were dissipated. Did he know M. Fauchelevent's opinions? Perhaps M. Fauchelevent was a republican. Hence his very natural presence in this combat.
In the meanwhile, Gavroche was shouting, at the other end of the barricade: "My gun!"
Courfeyrac had it returned to him.
Gavroche warned "his comrades" as he called them, that the barricade was blocked. He had had great difficulty in reaching it. A battalion of the line whose arms were piled in the Rue de la Petite Truanderie was on the watch on the side of the Rue du Cygne; on the opposite side, the municipal guard occupied the Rue des Precheurs. The bulk of the army was facing them in front.
This information given, Gavroche added:
"I authorize you to hit 'em a tremendous whack."
Meanwhile, Enjolras was straining his ears and watching at his embrasure.
The assailants, dissatisfied, no doubt, with their shot, had not repeated it.
A company of infantry of the line had come up and occupied the end of the street behind the piece of ordnance. The soldiers were tearing up the pavement and constructing with the stones a small, low wall, a sort of side-work not more than eighteen inches high, and facing the barricade. In the angle at the left of this epaulement, there was visible the head of the column of a battalion from the suburbs massed in the Rue Saint-Denis.
Enjolras, on the watch, thought he distinguished the peculiar sound which is produced when the shells of grape-shot are drawn from the caissons, and he saw the commander of the piece change the elevation and incline the mouth of the cannon slightly to the left. Then the cannoneers began to load the piece. The chief seized the lint-stock himself and lowered it to the vent.
"Down with your heads, hug the wall!" shouted Enjolras, "and all on your knees along the barricade!"
The insurgents who were straggling in front of the wine-shop, and who had quitted their posts of combat on Gavroche's arrival, rushed pell-mell towards the barricade; but before Enjolras' order could be executed, the discharge took place with the terrifying rattle of a round of grape-shot. This is what it was, in fact.
The charge had been aimed at the cut in the redoubt, and had there rebounded from the wall; and this terrible rebound had produced two dead and three wounded.
If this were continued, the barricade was no longer tenable. The grape-shot made its way in.
A murmur of consternation arose.
"Let us prevent the second discharge," said Enjolras.
And, lowering his rifle, he took aim at the captain of the gun, who, at that moment, was bearing down on the breach of his gun and rectifying and definitely fixing its pointing.
The captain of the piece was a handsome sergeant of artillery, very young, blond, with a very gentle face, and the intelligent air peculiar to that predestined and redoubtable weapon which, by dint of perfecting itself in horror, must end in killing war.
Combeferre, who was standing beside Enjolras, scrutinized this young man.
"What a pity!" said Combeferre. "What hideous things these butcheries are! Come, when there are no more kings, there will be no more war. Enjolras, you are taking aim at that sergeant, you are not looking at him. Fancy, he is a charming young man; he is intrepid; it is evident that he is thoughtful; those young artillery-men are very well educated; he has a father, a mother, a family; he is probably in love; he is not more than five and twenty at the most; he might be your brother."
"He is," said Enjolras.
"Yes," replied Combeferre, "he is mine too. Well, let us not kill him."
"Let me alone. It must be done."
And a tear trickled slowly down Enjolras' marble cheek.
At the same moment, he pressed the trigger of his rifle. The flame leaped forth. The artillery-man turned round twice, his arms extended in front of him, his head uplifted, as though for breath, then he fell with his side on the gun, and lay there motionless. They could see his back, from the centre of which there flowed directly a stream of blood. The ball had traversed his breast from side to side. He was dead.
He had to be carried away and replaced by another. Several minutes were thus gained, in fact.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER IX