THE VULTURE BECOME PREY
We must insist upon one psychological fact peculiar to barricades.
Nothing which is characteristic of that surprising war of the streets
should be omitted.
Whatever may have been the singular inward tranquillity which we
have just mentioned, the barricade, for those who are inside it,
remains, none the less, a vision.
There is something of the apocalypse in civil war,
all the mists of the unknown are commingled with
fierce flashes, revolutions are sphinxes, and any
one who has passed through a barricade thinks he has traversed a dream.
The feelings to which one is subject in these places we have pointed
out in the case of Marius, and we shall see the consequences;
they are both more and less than life. On emerging from a barricade,
one no longer knows what one has seen there. One has been terrible,
but one knows it not. One has been surrounded with conflicting ideas
which had human faces; one's head has been in the light of the future.
There were corpses lying prone there, and phantoms standing erect.
The hours were colossal and seemed hours of eternity. One has lived
in death. Shadows have passed by. What were they?
One has beheld hands on which there was blood; there was a
deafening horror; there was also a frightful silence; there were open
mouths which shouted, and other open mouths which held their peace;
one was in the midst of smoke, of night, perhaps. One fancied
that one had touched the sinister ooze of unknown depths; one stares
at something red on one's finger nails. One no longer remembers anything.
Let us return to the Rue de la Chanvrerie.
All at once, between two discharges, the distant sound of a clock
striking the hour became audible.
"It is midday," said Combeferre.
The twelve strokes had not finished striking when Enjolras sprang
to his feet, and from the summit of the barricade hurled this
"Carry stones up into the houses; line the windowsills and the
roofs with them. Half the men to their guns, the other half
to the paving-stones. There is not a minute to be lost."
A squad of sappers and miners, axe on shoulder, had just made
their appearance in battle array at the end of the street.
This could only be the head of a column; and of what column?
The attacking column, evidently; the sappers charged with the demolition
of the barricade must always precede the soldiers who are to scale it.
They were, evidently, on the brink of that moment which
M. Clermont-Tonnerre, in 1822, called "the tug of war."
Enjolras' order was executed with the correct haste which is peculiar
to ships and barricades, the only two scenes of combat where escape
is impossible. In less than a minute, two thirds of the stones
which Enjolras had had piled up at the door of Corinthe had been
carried up to the first floor and the attic, and before a second
minute had elapsed, these stones, artistically set one upon the other,
walled up the sash-window on the first floor and the windows
in the roof to half their height. A few loop-holes carefully
planned by Feuilly, the principal architect, allowed of the passage
of the gun-barrels. This armament of the windows could be effected
all the more easily since the firing of grape-shot had ceased.
The two cannons were now discharging ball against the centre
of the barrier in order to make a hole there, and, if possible,
a breach for the assault.
When the stones destined to the final defence were in place,
Enjolras had the bottles which he had set under the table where
Mabeuf lay, carried to the first floor.
"Who is to drink that?" Bossuet asked him.
"They," replied Enjolras.
Then they barricaded the window below, and held in readiness the iron
cross-bars which served to secure the door of the wine-shop at night.
The fortress was complete. The barricade was the rampart,
the wine-shop was the dungeon. With the stones which remained
they stopped up the outlet.
As the defenders of a barricade are always obliged to be sparing
of their ammunition, and as the assailants know this, the assailants
combine their arrangements with a sort of irritating leisure,
expose themselves to fire prematurely, though in appearance more
than in reality, and take their ease. The preparations for attack
are always made with a certain methodical deliberation; after which,
the lightning strikes.
This deliberation permitted Enjolras to take a review of everything
and to perfect everything. He felt that, since such men were to die,
their death ought to be a masterpiece.
He said to Marius: "We are the two leaders. I will give the last
orders inside. Do you remain outside and observe."
Marius posted himself on the lookout upon the crest of the barricade.
Enjolras had the door of the kitchen, which was the ambulance,
as the reader will remember, nailed up.
"No splashing of the wounded," he said.
He issued his final orders in the tap-room in a curt, but profoundly
tranquil tone; Feuilly listened and replied in the name of all.
"On the first floor, hold your axes in readiness to cut the staircase.
Have you them?"
"Yes," said Feuilly.
"Two axes and a pole-axe."
"That is good. There are now twenty-six combatants of us on foot.
How many guns are there?"
"Eight too many. Keep those eight guns loaded like the rest and at hand.
Swords and pistols in your belts. Twenty men to the barricade.
Six ambushed in the attic windows, and at the window on the first
floor to fire on the assailants through the loop-holes in the stones.
Let not a single worker remain inactive here. Presently, when the drum
beats the assault, let the twenty below stairs rush to the barricade.
The first to arrive will have the best places."
These arrangements made, he turned to Javert and said:
"I am not forgetting you."
And, laying a pistol on the table, he added:
"The last man to leave this room will smash the skull of this spy."
"Here?" inquired a voice.
"No, let us not mix their corpses with our own. The little barricade
of the Mondetour lane can be scaled. It is only four feet high.
The man is well pinioned. He shall be taken thither and put
There was some one who was more impassive at that moment than Enjolras,
it was Javert. Here Jean Valjean made his appearance.
He had been lost among the group of insurgents. He stepped forth
and said to Enjolras:
"You are the commander?"
"You thanked me a while ago."
"In the name of the Republic. The barricade has two saviors,
Marius Pontmercy and yourself."
"Do you think that I deserve a recompense?"
"Well, I request one."
"What is it?"
"That I may blow that man's brains out."
Javert raised his head, saw Jean Valjean, made an almost
imperceptible movement, and said:
"That is just."
As for Enjolras, he had begun to re-load his rifle; he cut his eyes
And he turned to Jean Valjean:
"Take the spy."
Jean Valjean did, in fact, take possession of Javert, by seating
himself on the end of the table. He seized the pistol, and a faint
click announced that he had cocked it.
Almost at the same moment, a blast of trumpets became audible.
"Take care!" shouted Marius from the top of the barricade.
Javert began to laugh with that noiseless laugh which was peculiar
to him, and gazing intently at the insurgents, he said to them:
"You are in no better case than I am."
"All out!" shouted Enjolras.
The insurgents poured out tumultuously, and, as they went,
received in the back,--may we be permitted the expression,--
this sally of Javert's:
"We shall meet again shortly!"