‘Fire!’ the order finally came. The street was lit with a sudden flash of light and filled with the thunder of gunfire.
Then the soldiers attacked.
Marius stood up and ran along a series of alleys that led into the rue de la Chanvrerie, behind the Corinth wine shop. When he reached the stronghold, soldiers were already climbing the barricade, shooting at the rebels. Marius saw a soldier attacking Enjolras, who had fallen backwards and was calling for help. Marius took Javert’s guns from his pockets and shot the soldier dead.
Soldiers now occupied the top of the barricade, but were unable to advance any further because the defenders fought so fiercely. Marius, who had thrown away his guns and was now without a weapon, began to move towards a barrel of gunpowder he had seen near the door of the wine shop. He did not notice a soldier aiming his gun at him. Neither did he see, at the moment the soldier fired, a young boy dressed in rags jump in front of the gun and fall wounded as the bullet meant for Marius hit him in the hand.
‘Put down your weapons and surrender!’ a soldier called from the top of the barricade.
‘Fire!’ Enjolras shouted.
The soldiers and the rebels fired at each other at the same time, filling the air with thick clouds of dark smoke. When the smoke cleared, there were many dead bodies on both sides. The survivors were reloading their guns in silence, when suddenly a loud voice called, ‘Get out now, or I’ll blow up the barricade!’
All heads turned to stare in the direction of the voice. Marius was standing at the foot of the barricade, holding a flaming torch above a barrel of gunpowder.
‘If you blow up the barricade,’ a sergeant called, ‘you’ll blow up yourself as well!’
Marius smiled and lowered the torch towards the gunpowder. Within seconds, the soldiers had left the barricade, leaving their dead and wounded behind, and were running into the darkness at the far end of the street.
Enjolras threw his arms around Marius’s neck.
‘So you’ve come!’ he cried.
Marius hugged Enjolras and many other friends he recognized.
While the soldiers waited at the far end of the street for further orders, and the rebels removed dead bodies from the barricade and took care of the wounded, Marius walked around the stronghold in a kind of dream. After two months of happiness with Cosette, he was now in the middle of a war. He could not believe this was happening to him. He was so confused that he did not recognize Javert, tied to a post inside the inn throughout the battle.
As he was walking by the smaller barricade, his thoughts were interrupted by a weak voice calling his name from the shadows.
He looked about him but, seeing no one, he started to walk away, thinking that he was imagining things.
‘M. Marius!’ He heard the voice again.
Marius gazed into the shadows, but could still see nothing.
‘I’m at your feet,’ the voice said.
Looking down, Marius saw a dark shape crawling along the ground towards him. By the light of a lamp on the pavement, he could see a torn jacket, trousers with holes in them, and two bare feet. A white face was turned towards him and the voice asked, ‘Do you recognize me? It’s Eponine.’
Marius bent down quickly, and saw that it was indeed that unhappy girl, dressed in a man’s clothes.
‘What are you doing here?’ he said. Then, noticing the pool of blood on the ground behind her, cried, ‘You’re wounded! I’ll carry you to the inn. They’ll take care of you there. Is it very bad?’
She showed him the bullet hole in her hand.
‘A soldier was going to shoot you,’ she said, her voice no more than a whisper. ‘But I put my hand in front of his gun.’
‘You poor child,’ Marius said. ‘We’ll put a bandage on that wound immediately. You’ll be all right.’
‘The bullet passed through my hand,’ Eponine murmured, ‘but it came out through my back. It’s no use trying to move me, but I’ll tell you how you can treat my wound better than any doctor. Sit down on that stone, close beside me.’
Marius sat next to her. She rested her head on his knee and said without looking at him, ‘Oh, what happiness. Now I don’t feel any pain,’
For a moment she was silent. She pressed her hand to her chest, from which blood was pouring like dark wine. Then, with a great effort, she raised herself on one arm and, struggling for breath, looked into Marius’s eyes.
‘I can’t cheat you,’ she said at last. ‘I have a letter for you in my pocket. I’ve had it since yesterday. I was asked to post it, but I didn’t. I didn’t want you to get it. But now we’re both going to die, it doesn’t matter, does it? I can’t be jealous any more. Take your letter.’
She took hold of Marius’s hand with her wounded hand and, without seeming to feel the pain, guided it to her pocket, from which he took the letter.
‘Now you must promise me something for my trouble,’ she said. ‘You must kiss me on the forehead after I’m dead… I shall know.’
She let her head fall back on his knees. Her eyelids trembled, and then she was still. Just as Marius thought that her sad soul had finally left her body, she slowly opened her eyes, and said in a voice so sweet that it seemed already to come from another world, ‘You know, M. Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you.’
With those words, she closed her eyes for the last time and died.
Marius kissed her pale forehead and laid her gently on the ground. Then he returned to the wine shop, and opened the letter that she had given him. By candlelight he read,
My dearest, We are leaving this house at once. We go tonight to Number 7, rue de l’Homme-Arme, and in a week we shall be in England. Cosette, 4 June.
Marius covered Cosette’s letter with kisses. So she still loved him! He thought for a moment that now he must not die, but then he thought, ‘She’s going away.’
She was going with her father to England, and his grandfather had refused to give his permission for him to marry. Nothing had changed, and he decided that he had one last duty to perform: he must send Cosette a final message and tell her of his death. He tore a page out of the pocket notebook he always carried and wrote:
Our marriage was impossible. I went to my grandfather, and he refused to give his permission. I have no money, and neither have you. I hurried to see you, but you had gone. You remember the promise I made you. I shall keep it. I shall die. I love you. When you read this, my soul will be very near and smiling at you.
He folded the letter, wrote Cosette’s new address on the back and called over a young boy.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked the boy.
‘Well, Gavroche, will you do something for me? I want you to deliver this letter to the address written on the outside.’
The boy scratched his head, thought for a moment, and then, with a sudden movement, took the letter and ran off into the night.