"Saint-Denis," Book Fourteen: Chapter VI
The Agony of Death After the Agony of Life
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 Mondétour 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 répète:— The gendarme repeats:— Sauvons nous! sauvons nous! Let us flee! let us flee! sauvons nous!" let us flee!
Éponine 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 Thénardiers 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. Éponine 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.