"Jean Valjean," Book One: Chapter XV
Courfeyrac suddenly caught sight of some one at the base of the barricade, outside in the street, amid the bullets.
Gavroche had taken a bottle basket from the wine-shop, had made his way out through the cut, and was quietly engaged in emptying the full cartridge-boxes of the National Guardsmen who had been killed on the slope of the redoubt, into his basket.
"What are you doing there?" asked Courfeyrac.
Gavroche raised his face:—
"I'm filling my basket, citizen."
"Don't you see the grape-shot?"
"Well, it is raining. What then?"
Courfeyrac shouted:—"Come in!"
"Instanter," said Gavroche.
And with a single bound he plunged into the street.
It will be remembered that Fannicot's company had left behind it a trail of bodies. Twenty corpses lay scattered here and there on the pavement, through the whole length of the street. Twenty cartouches for Gavroche meant a provision of cartridges for the barricade.
The smoke in the street was like a fog. Whoever has beheld a cloud which has fallen into a mountain gorge between two peaked escarpments can imagine this smoke rendered denser and thicker by two gloomy rows of lofty houses. It rose gradually and was incessantly renewed; hence a twilight which made even the broad daylight turn pale. The combatants could hardly see each other from one end of the street to the other, short as it was.
This obscurity, which had probably been desired and calculated on by the commanders who were to direct the assault on the barricade, was useful to Gavroche.
Beneath the folds of this veil of smoke, and thanks to his small size, he could advance tolerably far into the street without being seen. He rifled the first seven or eight cartridge-boxes without much danger.
He crawled flat on his belly, galloped on all fours, took his basket in his teeth, twisted, glided, undulated, wound from one dead body to another, and emptied the cartridge-box or cartouche as a monkey opens a nut.
They did not dare to shout to him to return from the barricade, which was quite near, for fear of attracting attention to him.
On one body, that of a corporal, he found a powder-flask.
"For thirst," said he, putting it in his pocket.
By dint of advancing, he reached a point where the fog of the fusillade became transparent. So that the sharpshooters of the line ranged on the outlook behind their paving-stone dike and the sharpshooters of the banlieue massed at the corner of the street suddenly pointed out to each other something moving through the smoke.
At the moment when Gavroche was relieving a sergeant, who was lying near a stone door-post, of his cartridges, a bullet struck the body.
"Fichtre!" ejaculated Gavroche. "They are killing my dead men for me."
A second bullet struck a spark from the pavement beside him.—A third overturned his basket.
Gavroche looked and saw that this came from the men of the banlieue.
He sprang to his feet, stood erect, with his hair flying in the wind, his hands on his hips, his eyes fixed on the National Guardsmen who were firing, and sang:
"On est laid à Nanterre, "Men are ugly at Nanterre, C'est la faute à Voltaire; 'Tis the fault of Voltaire; Et bête à Palaiseau, And dull at Palaiseau, C'est la faute à Rousseau." 'Tis the fault of Rousseau."
Then he picked up his basket, replaced the cartridges which had fallen from it, without missing a single one, and, advancing towards the fusillade, set about plundering another cartridge-box. There a fourth bullet missed him, again. Gavroche sang:
"Je ne suis pas notaire, "I am not a notary, C'est la faute à Voltaire; 'Tis the fault of Voltaire; Je suis un petit oiseau, I'm a little bird, C'est la faute à Rousseau." 'Tis the fault of Rousseau."
A fifth bullet only succeeded in drawing from him a third couplet.
"Joie est mon caractère, "Joy is my character, C'est la faute à Voltaire; 'Tis the fault of Voltaire; Misère est mon trousseau, Misery is my trousseau, C'est la faute à Rousseau." 'Tis the fault of Rousseau."
Thus it went on for some time.
It was a charming and terrible sight. Gavroche, though shot at, was teasing the fusillade. He had the air of being greatly diverted. It was the sparrow pecking at the sportsmen. To each discharge he retorted with a couplet. They aimed at him constantly, and always missed him. The National Guardsmen and the soldiers laughed as they took aim at him. He lay down, sprang to his feet, hid in the corner of a doorway, then made a bound, disappeared, reappeared, scampered away, returned, replied to the grape-shot with his thumb at his nose, and, all the while, went on pillaging the cartouches, emptying the cartridge-boxes, and filling his basket. The insurgents, panting with anxiety, followed him with their eyes. The barricade trembled; he sang. He was not a child, he was not a man; he was a strange gamin-fairy. He might have been called the invulnerable dwarf of the fray. The bullets flew after him, he was more nimble than they. He played a fearful game of hide and seek with death; every time that the flat-nosed face of the spectre approached, the urchin administered to it a fillip.
One bullet, however, better aimed or more treacherous than the rest, finally struck the will-o'-the-wisp of a child. Gavroche was seen to stagger, then he sank to the earth. The whole barricade gave vent to a cry; but there was something of Antæus in that pygmy; for the gamin to touch the pavement is the same as for the giant to touch the earth; Gavroche had fallen only to rise again; he remained in a sitting posture, a long thread of blood streaked his face, he raised both arms in the air, glanced in the direction whence the shot had come, and began to sing:
"Je suis tombé par terre, "I have fallen to the earth, C'est la faute à Voltaire; 'Tis the fault of Voltaire; Le nez dans le ruisseau, With my nose in the gutter, C'est la faute à . . . " 'Tis the fault of . . . "
He did not finish. A second bullet from the same marksman stopped him short. This time he fell face downward on the pavement, and moved no more. This grand little soul had taken its flight.