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12 October 2013 @ 11:58 pm
Chapter 64: Right at a Snail's Pace  

Chapter 64: Right at a Snail's Pace

March 3, 1833

Aix-en-Provence

My friend,

I must apologize for not having written sooner. In fact this letter may appear hastily written; my penmanship is not as fine today as I wish it to be. I hope you understand, since you are as busy a woman as I am. However I will not bore you with details of life in Aix; Louis will relate more of them in his letter to Antoine.

I congratulate you on you and your friends' filing that initiative at the Hotel de Ville. I certainly expected such a great thing of you, as well as Citizenness Andreas, and as it turns out Citizenness Torres; how is it that I did not know of her connection to the Courgourde? As for your fellow author Citizenness Legendre, I have heard little of her but I understand that she is a key figure with the organizations at Les Halles. I believe that you could learn a great deal from her experience. Inasmuch as there are so many new things in Paris, it seems important for some radicals to still cling on to traditions and certain figureheads. I hope you have not found this out the difficult way.

It would also be worth considering in this legislation the provision of special leaves for women when they are recovering from being in childbed, or up to when the child can be safely provided for. Not all employers may agree with it, but I believe it is necessary so that a woman may at least make arrangements for her child and regain her strength. It is an agony for a mother to have to simply give up the care of her child; a choice between that or losing her daily bread. How unfair a situation!

You can guess that a lot of people have asked me about you-mostly with respect to your work. Now and then though there are those who ask about you and Antoine. It cannot be helped, especially since Antoine has never paid attention to any girl in this town. If any gossip reaches you there in Paris, do not heed it. There are too many idle minds in this town, ears I'd like to pinch, and lips that I am sorely tempted to stitch shut on your behalves.

I am sending along a small item you may find useful. It would save you the trouble of trying to fit everything in the pockets of your coats.

Please write back as soon as you can, and remind Antoine to do so as well. There is much being talked about here that only you two can clarify. It would hearten me much and ease my worries a little.

Sincerely,

Monique Enjolras

This letter accompanied a simple red reticule. 'At least it is big enough to hold a small pencil and some coins,' Eponine thought as she tugged on the purse's fine drawstring as she exited a small stationery shop adjacent to the Pont Neuf. She wrapped the drawstring around her wrist, all the while keeping her taking care not to drop the large folder tucked under her arm. It was Monday, the 11th of March, the very day slated for the second round of hearings regarding all the petitions and legislation.

As she made her way down the street, she suddenly felt a hand grab her shoulder. As she wheeled around with surprise, she found herself confronted with a familiar though nervous looking face. "Azelma!"

"What are you doing here, Ponine?" Azelma asked in an undertone. "The Lafontaines are nearby, they might see you here."

"It's no business of theirs what I do," Eponine replied. Even so, she looked over her sister concernedly; although Azelma was dressed nicely with her hair curled and piled high in a knot, there was something furtive about her countenance. "So why are they in Les Halles?"

"Meeting friends they don't care for," Azelma replied. "They're nice enough to me, Ponine, but they aren't happy about my voting for you yesterday."

Eponine rolled her eyes at this bit of news. She glanced around, hoping no one would overhear. "I don't see why it's any business of theirs; they could have nominated someone else if they really wanted to. What are you looking for here?"

Azelma shrugged. "Cerise wanted me to get a new pen, or at least start looking for one." She looked down for a moment and took a deep breath. "How is Jehan?"

"He is well."

"Does he ask about me?"

"You should talk to him."

"I don't know how to begin," Azelma said, her voice turning desperate as she wrung her hands. "I don't know why he'd want to have anything to do with me. I'm sure that if he gets called to say something in this upcoming case about Citizen Duchamp, he will mention my part in that."

"If I know him even a little, I can guess he won't really want to say a thing," Eponine remarked.

"Why?"

'Don't you know?' Eponine wondered as she gave her sister an incredulous look. "If he really wanted to give you trouble, he would have done it long ago. Haven't you ever thought of it?"

"He's not the sort..."Azelma trailed off. "But how can I talk to him, after everything?"

"I s'pose you have to find a way to, maybe after this entire mess with the trial is over. I can try to find you a time and place for it, but the rest should be all your doing," Eponine suggested. She bit her lip as the bells from Saint-Merry chimed noon. "I have to be at the Hotel de Ville in a little bit. Maybe you'd like to come?"

Azelma shook her head. "I think Cerise might be looking for me soon enough. Are there pens in that place you just stepped out from?"

"A few," Eponine said.

Azelma nodded before hurriedly murmuring her goodbye and ducking into the shop. 'Why is she so skittish?' Eponine wondered, moving to follow her. However the sight of the Lafontaines' carriage at the end of the road made her rethink this course of action, and so she headed back towards the direction of the Hotel de Ville.

She found Allyce Legendre and Claudine in a heated discussion on the far side of the Place de Hotel de Ville. Claudine gave Eponine a long suffering look. "Are you up to taking charge of presenting our work, or would you rather that Allyce do it?" she asked her friend.

"I already said I could manage it-" Allyce argued.

"I'm only giving her the option for it!" Claudine retorted. She looked squarely at Eponine. "So what do you wish to do?"

"I'll speak up if I'm asked. You both wrote a lot of it too," Eponine said, holding out the petition.

Allyce brusquely took the papers. "The hearing is on the second floor isn't it?"

"I think so," Eponine said as they began crossing the square. She caught sight of Claudine's pensive expression as she trailed a few paces behind them. "Is something wrong?" she asked, stopping to let her friend catch up.

Claudine sighed deeply. "I hope Allyce can control her temper. We had quite a bad time a little while ago when we went here to have the society registered."

Eponine cringed as she smoothed out the sleeve of her maroon dress. "Rude fonctionnaires?"

"That was only half of the problem," Claudine remarked in an undertone. "They're only afraid. That's what my father said before I left this morning. We—meaning him, me, and Francois, were discussing things. Of course Francois was worried again. I don't think that's ever really going to change."

"What did you say to him this time?" Eponine asked, remembering how months ago her friends had a falling out on this same issue.

"I had to remind him that I'd tended to him before when he was in trouble, and I wasn't too cross or sharp with him then, so I expect the same understanding from him," Claudine said triumphantly. "It was a good thing that my father was on my side."

Eponine laughed, imagining how that conversation might have transpired. "I hope Combeferre wasn't too angry about it."

"He understood the point I was making, but I think it will take him some time till he's fully settled with the fact. He can't help being too gallant and equating this situation with being at a barricade," Claudine pointed out. "In a way though, this is more treacherous."

Before Eponine could say anything, she and her companions were already in the lobby of the Hotel de Ville. It was a scene even more chaotic than she'd expected; journalists scurried here and there asking about news, a few deputies and visitors were engaged in lively conversation, while various bystanders heckled and commented loudly from the room's periphery. Some of these booed and rained down catcalls on seeing the women. "These bitches are going to bring a pox on the legislature!" one of the clerks sneered, giving Eponine a lewd look.

"And where do you s'pose a lady gets the pox from?" Eponine asked, not hiding her irritation. It was all she could do not to laugh at the clerk's astounded expression; clearly he had not been expecting any sort of reply

"A pox! I'm a respectable woman, I'll show you that!" Allyce hissed at the clerk.

"That as well as your Republique?" another man snickered, making an obscene gesture.

"Haven't you got work to do?" Eponine snapped. She could see that a crowd was gathering, eager perhaps to watch a conflagration or worse, a brawl. 'I won't give them that,' she resolved, remembering now all of Cosette's advice with regard to dealing with such tense situations.

"Back off, all of you!" a familiar voice shouted. A stooped man stepped out from the crowd and made a slightly mocking bow to Eponine. "How have you been, my darling daughter?"

"What are you doing here?" Eponine blurted out. Had it not been for the light, she might have dismissed this as a trick of her mind. However there was no mistaking the spectacles, the ill-fitting coat, and the twisted smile from behind a gray beard.

Thenardier stood up straight as he regarded his child. "Why, can't I go about with respectable folk, like you like to do? Are you that ashamed of your father?"

Eponine bit her lip even as she could hear whispers starting about the group. She could not think of any good reason for Thenardier to be at the Hotel de Ville; the sight of him only worried her. "It's not my concern who you want to go about with, as long as you don't cause some sort of ruckus," she said.

"Is that all you have to say to me? Now that you have nothing to worry about, now that you go about to parties and are kept in a nice home by your wealthy lover, you think you can treat me like the dust on your shoes?" Thenardier asked.

"You did not do much better," Eponine retorted, even as memories of her family's time in the Gorbeau tenement flashed before her eyes. She felt cold again despite the fact she was dressed warmly, and it was all she could do not to rub her arms. She could see more familiar faces in the crowd, among them Bamatabois, Simone, and Mathieu; she could not bring herself to look at them. "Whatever brings you here, I want nothing to do with it. I have business of my own, it's urgent as you can see."

"You wicked girl, always thinking I'm up to no good!" Thenardier said in a dramatic voice. "I only meant to ask for some introductions; there is a good gent or two I must speak to, someone who can help me with a venture I have in mind."

"Which is?" Eponine asked. "Come now, aren't you going to say what it is? It cannot be anything so particularly troublesome," she goaded on seeing Thenardier hesitate.

Thenardier's eyes narrowed at her. "You're a hussy to demand it."

"I'm not a silly." She saw Thenardier raise his arm and she grabbed his elbow before he could strike. "Even if I don't have to say anything, there are others here who can," she said slowly.

"You wouldn't dare."

"I'll do it if I have to. I'm not afraid of it."

Thenardier shook himself free of Eponine's grip before spitting at her face and then stalking off. Eponine felt her stomach turn as the smell of tobacco and putrid saliva assailed her nostrils; she had to hold her breath as she fumbled for a handkerchief to wipe her face with. "I wish he'd just had some brandy instead!" she muttered.

Allyce looked from Thenardier's retreating back and then at Eponine. "Is he really your father?"

"It's not your concern," Eponine said, wishing at that moment that she could disappear. 'He was always that way; he only calls you his daughter if he needs something from you,' she thought, feeling suddenly stung at this realization. The one consolation was that her father had not mentioned her siblings; she knew she could not trust herself to be civil if the conversation had taken that turn.

"Eponine, never mind him. You did the right thing," Claudine said, grabbing her friend's shoulder.

"I do hope so," Eponine replied more bravely. "I still look presentable, don't I?"

"You do. Now don't you start fretting; we all need you to hold it together at the hearing," Claudine admonished. "You've spent the most time with it, so you should be the one to face the committee."

"And get the members angry again, no doubt," Eponine quipped dryly, wiping her face again.

Claudine rolled her eyes. "They would only be angry if either you offend them, or you say something to worry them. I think in our case it would be the latter."

In a few minutes the committee convened, its members chatting boisterously among themselves while Citizen Bayard quietly reviewed the revised copy of the petition. The doctor's brow furrowed for a few moments before setting down the sheaf of papers. "How much of this petition did Citizen Enjolras write?" he asked Eponine.

"Not a word of it," Eponine replied. "He was busy with his own work, how could he have time for it?"

"Well then, how much of this did our paralegals write?"

"None."

Bayard nodded slowly. "An impressive comeback." He looked through the pages of the petition again. "Now I trust that you took the rest of the report into consideration when making your revisions."

"Those were only recommendations; there are some items we cannot concede or water down," Allyce cut in hotly.

"Naturally. This is why we have these sessions, Citizenness, so that some compromise can be made for the good of all," Bayard replied. "Now I see one of those questions you are so recalcitrant about is that about wages. Care to explain that, Citizennesses?"

"Would you prefer the practical standpoint, or that of principles, Citizens?" Claudine chimed in.

Bayard raised his eyebrows at her. "Go on then, Citizenness-"

"Andreas."

"Ah yes, Citizen Combeferre's...co-author, I presume?"

"Yes," Claudine said. "From a practical standpoint, businesses should provide just compensation for women, or it will fall to other institutions to help provide for their care and that of their families. The government is hardly in any position to provide for the welfare of so many families currently living in deplorable conditions owing to the discrepancies between wages and actual expenses. You can see the cost of this: the numbers of the ill and hungry, fewer children than there should be in our schools, and the crime that still persists in some quartiers. Unless the government is willing to impose higher taxes-a move which I doubt will be favoured by many-it has to fall to our business owners to do their part in the care of our workforce and help prevent the evils caused by this enforced state of mendicancy."

"And what of the philosophical point of view, Citizenness Andreas?" another man asked.

"The principle of equality," Claudine said. "For years men have organized to grant themselves just working conditions, and they were duly heeded. Why should women also be denied the same?"

Eponine could not help but grin at the astounded looks that the committee gave Claudine. 'They can't throw Rousseau at her this time,' she thought, a notion which was duly confirmed by Bayard's moving on to discuss other provisions of the proposed legislation.

After an hour and a half of questioning, Bayard rubbed his temples and set the petition down on the table. "The report for this will be available by Friday. I trust you will be more...open- minded when it comes to your next revisions. We will convene again before the end of the month."

Eponine gritted her teeth at this. 'That is far too long!" she thought, exchanging looks with her friends. "If we finish revising sooner, can there be a chance for an earlier meeting?" she asked.

"Unfortunately we cannot accommodate that request; there are other important matters to see to," Bayard said coolly as he got up from his seat. "This session is adjourned."

'At least it seems as if they'll actually read the work this time,' Eponine thought ruefully as she and her friends left the room. "They were worse last time," she informed Claudine as soon as they were out of earshot of the committee.

Claudine shuddered. "I dread to think about it. Musichetta told me every detail; no wonder she was extremely upset."

"If they force us to follow their recommendations though, they have another thing coming," Allyce said with a scowl.

"I s'pose it depends who'll be more stubborn; us or them," Eponine remarked. "What time is it?"

"Not quite three in the afternoon. You should get a watch," Claudine replied.

"Maybe if this becomes a law, I'll have enough to save for it!" Eponine said. 'I don't s'pose the other hearings have let out yet; there is no one else here,' she realized, looking up and down the corridor. Just then she caught sight of a dignified, elderly gentleman hobbling in their direction. 'Why does he seem so familiar?' she wondered, especially when this man held up a hand by way of greeting.

"I see you don't recognize me, Citizenness Thenardier," this man said as he neared them. "Citizen Florentin Ouvrard, at your service."

'The head of the Constitutionalists party!' Eponine realized. "Is there something I can help you with, Citizen?" she asked.

Ouvrard smiled graciously. "Nothing. I only came to wish you well with your hearing. I also have it on good authority that Citizen Enjolras' hearing also went excellently. One of my colleagues is on the committee, and he was more than impressed with the proposed legislation."

"I would have thought that you Constitutionalists would be against it," Allyce chimed in.

"Why would we if it is in the interest of preventing unnecessary executions and sentences?" Ouvrard asked. "In such cases, the color of one's politics does not necessarily matter."

"Well, did you have to come all the way here to tell us that?" Allyce asked irately.

"I thought she would want to know," Ouvrard said, gesturing to Eponine. "I owe that young man a debt I can never fully repay; he saved my life when no one else would," he told her in an undertone. He nodded cordially to the other two women. "Good day to you ladies. I am sorry that I cannot extend this conversation since I am needed elsewhere."

"Good day to you, Citizen," Claudine said. She nudged Eponine's elbow. "I take that you will be heading up to the offices then?"

"I s'pose, if only to see," Eponine replied. "I'm sure he'd want to hear how we fared, there's nothing wrong with that," she added, seeing Allyce's disapproving look.

"As long as he doesn't interfere," Allyce muttered. "We'll meet again on Friday evening."

"Understood," Eponine said. After a while she headed upstairs, to where she knew that the legislators kept up their personal offices. She felt a slight thrill as she went down towards the last door in the corridor; she'd heard Enjolras mention once in passing that his office was the furthest from the stairs. She stopped outside this door and smiled to herself on hearing the telltale rustle of someone leafing through various sheets of paper. She knocked twice and laughed when the door opened to reveal Enjolras practically gaping at her with astonishment. "Antoine, don't you want to see me?"

"I was expecting we'd meet a little later in the day," Enjolras replied candidly as he let her into the room. "How did you know I'd be here?"

"Citizen Ouvrard told me about your hearing going well, so I guessed the rest," Eponine said. She grinned as she looked around the room's simple but neat furnishings; everything here was as straightforward and elegant as Enjolras' apartment. Even if she knew that none of the furniture was new; in fact she'd helped him bargain for his bookshelves, she was still awed by how these things suddenly seemed less shabby in such a location. "Do you often receive visitors here?"

"No. I prefer to meet them someplace more conducive," Enjolras said. "How did the registration go?"

"I didn't see to that; Claudine and Allyce did. I think they managed it."

"What about the hearing?'

"Better than before. I s'pose it was partly because Claudine was there and she's difficult to argue with, but it helped that we wrote things in the way they asked us to," she replied. "Thank you for helping me with that," she added, reaching up to kiss his cheek.

"You're welcome, Eponine. On the other hand, I owe you a great deal; your critique of my work and asking me to simplify it proved to be more than useful," he informed her. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly. "It was a vast improvement."

"I'm happy to hear it," she whispered, running her fingers over his jaw and up into his hair. She smiled when she saw him relax into her touch; it never ceased to amaze her that she could make him feel this way. "Maybe after the third reading, that petition of yours will be up for a vote."

"That isn't a guarantee, but so far the prospects are good. At the voting stage, it is still possible for representatives from elsewhere to raise their objections to the motion."

"They won't if they have even a little bit of sense," Eponine replied. She glanced towards the stack of papers on Enjolras' desk. "I should leave you to work; I still have my brothers to meet."

"If you can wait a few more minutes, I will accompany you," Enjolras said, touching her cheek. "I also have a meeting after this, at the Invalides."

"Ah, then it was good I came up here, since I might not have seen you again till breakfast tomorrow!"

"That, or later tonight, even if you have no reason to stay up too late again," he deadpanned.

"I simply want to see you especially I know you like seeing me," she teased, swatting his shoulder lightly before stepping away from him. She went to the bookshelf to peruse the titles there, all the while casting occasional glances at Enjolras as he continued to work. "I should let you know that my father was here at the Hotel de Ville. Now everyone knows I'm his daughter," she said after a while.

He looked up abruptly. "What was his business here?"

"He wanted an introduction to so-and-so. Of course I wasn't going to give it to him; I know he wouldn't do much good with it. People might ask you about that."

"Only busybodies will. The last time I had any official business with your father was when I was reviewing Citizen Valjean's case, and even then our encounter was hardly consequential."

"I don't want it to be a bad sort of surprise for you if anyone asks," Eponine said. She bit her lip at the recollection of the morning's vitriolic encounter. "He thinks I'm your mistress."

Enjolras looked her in the face. "You aren't. You deserve far better than that, as I've told you before."

'What could that be?' Eponine wondered, suddenly feeling gripped by trepidation. An answer leapt into her mind but she shook her head; it was not possible for a man in Enjolras' position to seriously consider a woman like her as a sweetheart or anything more. Yet when had Enjolras been anything but serious wherever she was concerned? She buried her face in her hands to hide the blush that was rising to her face, even though she knew he couldn't see her since he was busy reading through a document he was about to sign.

However after a few moments she realized he was watching her with a look of concern. "Eponine, are you alright?"

She nodded quickly. "I was only thinking of what you said. It's awfully sweet of you to say it."

"I mean it," he said earnestly. "Maybe this isn't the usual...situation, but I believe that you're far more than simply an ally or a muse..." he began awkwardly.

Eponine smiled as she got up from her seat and went up to him, placing a finger on his lips. "I just wanted to know," she said, not hiding her bemused grin. Still, it heartened her to be a little more certain that there was far more than simple affection in the way he regarded her.

It was at that moment that a knock sounded on the door. Eponine stepped away and returned to her seat even as Enjolras got up to see who it was. "Hello Bossuet," Enjolras greeted.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything..." Bossuet said, turning slightly red as he caught sight of Eponine. The bald paralegal was clutching a sheaf of envelopes in one hand. "It's just as well that Eponine is here; this is one less stop for me to make."

"What is going on, Bossuet?" Eponine asked.

"Summons for the trial. One for you; that's for the trial of Citizen Duchamp this Friday. Two for Enjolras: one for the Duchamp trial, and one for the Magnon trial," Bossuet said, holding out three letters. "There are summons also for Prouvaire, Grantaire, and a whole lot of other people. It's going to be quite tedious, unfortunately."

"The trial for Magnon is when?" Enjolras inquired.

"Wednesday."

"That's two days from now!" Eponine exclaimed.

"Yes, but the case has dragged on far too long outside the court; we might be risking acquitting him based on technicality if we do not proceed with the due process straightaway," Bossuet explained, scratching the back of his head.

"Point taken," Enjolras said, quickly pocketing the twp letters that Bossuet handed to him. "It's unavoidable, as you said," he told Eponine.

"I know, but have you still got the time for it?" Eponine asked worriedly. "One testimony is a great deal to make, but you have two!"

"It has to be done, Eponine," Enjolras said. His eyes were bright with determination mingled with quiet fury. "Olivier Magnon has been a threat for far too long to remain unanswered."