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BOOK FOURTEENTH: The Grandeurs of Despair
It is Ten o’clock, and no response has been seen from the militia although the insurgents know that it will come. Then they hear a cheerful voice singing the melody of a folk song. Enjolras realizes it is Gavroche who has returned to warn them.
In fact, Gavroche arrives just ahead of a large body of militia. The military fire at the barricade, sending a tremendous volley that wounds a few of the insurgents and cuts down the red flag. When Enjolras calls for a volunteer to replace the flag, Father Mabeuf-who has been sitting silently inside the wine shop- takes the flag and mounts the paving stones. His cries of “vive la republique” are taken as a challenge. The militia fire again, killing Mabeuf. The effect on those inside the barricade is profound. They approach the corpse with respectful dismay and Mabeuf’s death serves as an inspiration to those remaining.
The municipal guard takes advantage of the preoccupation with Mabeuf’s body to approach and mount the barricade. Gavroche cries out a warning, but Bahorel is slain and Courfeyrac is pinned down. A guard is about to use his bayonet on Gavroche when Marius appears and fires both his pistols, thereby rescuing both Courfeyrac and Gavroche. In the confusion which ensues, he drags out a keg of gunpowder and threatens to blow up the barricade unless the guards back off. The move is successful and the barricade is temporarily saved.
A head count reveals that Jean Prouvaire is missing. Realizing that their friend has been captured, Combeferre decides to offer Javert in exchange. Then they hear a commotion and the voice of Prouvaire crying “vive la France. Vive l’avenu,” followed by a flash and an explosion. They realize that Prouvaire has been killed.
During the moments when Marius had been working with the powder keg, he had seen, through the smoke and mist, a musket pointed directly at him. Just as it fired a hand had reached up and covered the muzzle. The ball went through the hand and through the body of its owner-the mysterious young man in velvet pantaloons who had followed the insurgents throughout the day. Marius now discovers that the young “man” is Eponine and that she took the muzzle shot for him. Before she dies, she reveals that Gavroche is her brother and that she has a letter, which she originally had not intended to give to Marius. Since she was in love with him herself, her original intention was to lure Marius to the barricades where she believed they both would die.
The revelation of the identity of the children reminds Marius of his presumed obligation to Thenardier. After Eponine is dead, he reads the letter from Cosette; it tells of her father’s plans to move to a temporary location and then to England. Marius writes a return letter, telling her where he is and giving instructions for the delivery of his body after he is dead. Then, in an attempt to get Gavroche out of danger, Marius asks him to deliver the letter.
Marius does not fight in the same way as the other insurgents. He fights to protect his friends and shoots only when necessary. His threat to blow up the barricade is sincere even though it would kill himself as well. In fact, his intent is to find a way to keep his promise to Cosette and die since he has lost her.
Eponine’s identity and actions are revealed to Marius. Upon hearing her brother’s voice, she says that he must not see her, as he will scold her. We are told that she was the one who had tossed the paper saying “remove” for Valjean and had also changed clothes with a young lad who thought it a joke to dress as a girl; in this disguise she had accepted the letter from Cosette and had called to Marius, telling him that his friends were waiting for him. She takes responsibility for all, admitting that she wanted him to die, but that she wanted to die before him and had therefore thrown herself in front of the musket that had been aimed at him. She asks only one thing of him-that he kiss her on the forehead after she is dead. Marius does this and then takes the letter into the wine shop to read it. With her dying breath, Eponine confesses that she loved him, but, although Marius pities her, his thoughts are only for Cosette and his heart throbs as he looks forward to an opportunity to read the letter.
Cosette’s letter only adds to Marius’ desperation. She tells him that her father is taking her to England; since his own grandfather will not consent to marriage, nothing is changed. Marius decides to inform Cosette of his death and write her a farewell message.