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06 November 2013 @ 08:26 am
Chapter 70: Anniversaire  

A/N: And finally a birthday chapter! This is out a little later than I'd planned thanks to NaNoWriMo and a new semester kicking in.

The novel Les Morlacques really exists. It was written in the late 18th century by a lady of English descent, Giustiniana Wynne (also later known as the Countess Rosenberg), residing in Padua. One can read more about her in di Robilant's book "A Venetian Affair", which is a rather intriguing read in itself.

Chapter 70: Anniversaire

For years after, Eponine would consider the day she turned eighteen as a day of slightly unfortunate convergences. This happened to be on the third of April, two days after the colourful events surrounding her friends' wedding. It also happened to be on the Wednesday of Holy Week of that year.

'Another year without any sort of nice celebration,' Eponine groused silently as she straightened up her desk in the Stendhals' front office. It did not help that Odette had insisted on an early start to the day's work in order to free up the afternoon since she had some relatives visiting. Nevertheless there was now a window of time that Eponine was determined to make the best use of, if only to make the next few days easier on her.

"You're heading out already, Eponine?" Odette asked as she stepped into the front office. She was dressed in a dainty purple gown that was suitable for half-mourning as well as for receiving visitors. "Why don't you join me and Emile for lunch?"

"I wish I could but I have some visits to make," Eponine said apologetically.

Odette clucked her tongue. "You are always far too busy, my dear. I heard from Emile that it's your birthday today. I want you to use this to celebrate with your siblings and your friends," she said as she handed two five franc pieces to Eponine.

"Really?" Eponine asked incredulously.

"You've done far more than you should have, both for me and Emile," Odette insisted, curling Eponine's fingers over the coins. "I am sure if your mother could see you now she'd be very proud of you."

Eponine managed a smile despite the feeling of something pricking at her eyes. "I s'pose she'd be happy that I'm not on the streets; that's good enough," she answered wryly. "I'll stop by here on Saturday if you need me to finish some things."

"You do not have to. I'd hate to interrupt the holiday. The rest of these documents can wait till Monday, after Easter," Odette said. "Now run along before you're late to wherever it is you were going."

"Thank you Odette!" Eponine said, pocketing the coin before heading out into the street.

It was nearly noon, a perfect hour for the errand at hand since it guaranteed some semblance of safety, more so since Eponine was determined to carry out her next errand on her own, more for the safety of her sibling and her friends than anything else. 'Anyway everyone is rushing things today because it is Holy Thursday tomorrow and all work needs to be done by then,' she mused as she headed out to a street corner to look for an omnibus. Despite her best efforts she still had to alight a good way from the Rue deL'Ouest and walk the rest of the way, even when a downpour suddenly darkened this spring day.

Much to her surprise it was Montparnasse who greeted her at the gate. He had long recovered from the injuries he'd sustained during winter, and now looked the part of the young master of the house in a neat though much darned tailcoat. "You really are a sight, Eponine," he said as he let her in the house.

Eponine rolled her eyes as she tossed her wet pelisse onto a rickety seat. "Is Babet here with you?"

"Yes, and the Changer too. He arrived here this morning," Montparnasse replied, frowning at the water that Eponine had tracked in. "So who told you we were here?"

"I heard through the roundabout." There was no need to explain that she had found out about the matter through Enjolras' disclosing what had transpired at the Rue des Filles du Calvaire.

Montparnasse merely nodded. "I see you haven't brought any detective friends along with you or even Citizen Enjolras."

"You fellows wouldn't talk to any detectives or police. As for Enjolras, he is busy today," Eponine repliedas she followed Montparnasse upstairs to the third floor apartment. The room was lit only with a single candle, more for the sake of secrecy than economy. Nevertheless there was still light enough for Eponine to clearly recognize Babet seated in an armchair, with both legs swathed in bandages all the way up past his knees. The Changer was standing by the window, refilling his pipe. Both men appeared to have aged a great deal in the past few months since she'd seen them both; it was that or the dim light only made their shadowed faces seem more stark and eerie. 'They'd look so much worse under the sunlight,' she thought.

Babet moved as if attempting to get to his feet, but only bit back a groan of pain as he sagged back in his seat. "I cannot be a gentleman and get up to give you my seat, Citizenness Thenardier," he said by way of greeting as Montparnasse closed the door. .

"I'm fine with standing, Citizen Babet," Eponine said, noting this change in how he addressed her; he had called her "Mademoiselle" when they'd last spoken just before the attack outside Notre Dame. She swallowed hard as she looked at him. "I'm glad you're here so I can thank you for trying to warn me at that rally. If I'd known what you were trying to say, maybe it might have turned out differently."

Babet adjusted his right leg. "I might have been too late. It's good that you didn't forget."

Eponine nodded contritely. "What brings you here, Citizen Isaac?" she asked, noticing the Changer's free hand nervously rapping the windowsill; a mannerism she had only seen twice from him in their years of being acquainted.

"I've had a horrible visit," the Changer replied, shaking his head. "I thought that putting that assassin in prison would be the end of it, but I wasn't counting on a visit from some of those lancers."

"That was why Babet here went to the court-martial to see what to do about it. Your courts have a fine way of caring for people," Montparnasse glowered.

"A court martial is military. It's not the same as the usual," Eponine pointed out, making sure to keep her back to the wall. "That matter is being fixed; that's part of what everyone is about today. I s'pose since you're snug here, there is no need to worry."

The Changer shook his head. "I am in need of a favour, Citizenness Thenardier. I helped you and Citizen Enjolras once, now it is your turn," he said gravely as he looked at her.

"I s'pose it would depend on what you need," Eponine said. "I won't do everything."

Babet swallowed hard. "We need a way out of Paris." He smiled on seeing Eponine's querulous expression. "No, nothing to do with papers and passports, all that trouble; we know you don't maquiller such things. We only need names."

"Names?" Eponine inquired, now feeling a little wary. "Do you mean names to simply be called by someplace, or names to meet, or names to actually write down?"

"The first," Montparnasse replied. "Your father had some names he used in the past, and we know he doesn't use them twice."

Eponine laughed as it dawned on her what these men intended to do. "It would only be of use if you stay away from making trouble again. One step in the wrong place and the police will be on you, and then everything else will certainly be found out. Then nothing anyone can do or say can help you out of that hole."

"You're making it difficult for us," Montparnasse said.

"I can help you leave Paris but what will you do once you're gone?" Eponine asked.

Babet gave the two young people pointed looks. "We'll be the judge of that, and we won't trouble you any longer once we leave. Are there any names you can spare?"

"I s'pose you can't use Jondrette; that was the one we were using during that ambuscade at Gorbeau," she said. She paused to try to recall some of the aliases she'd seen her father sign his missives with. "He's used Alveras, Balizard, Fabantou, and I think there was one Genflot. He's also tried using Devereaux, and more usual ones like Beaumont and Maillard," she said at length.

"What were the stories there?" Babet asked.

"Alveras was some army officer. Fabantou was a dramatic artist-oh be careful with that one, that was also to do with the Gorbeau affair. Balizard was a woman, but I s'pose you can create a Citizen Balizard. Genflot was also a man of letters but more of a poet. Devereaux might have been a carpenter. Beaumont was some sort of scholar, but I am not so sure why Maillard was a farmer," Eponine replied.

Babet snorted. "What a terrible pack! Montparnasse, if you dress badly enough, you can be Genflot."

Montparnasse glared at him as he fiddled with the bloom in his buttonhole. "I'd sooner leap off Saint-Cloud. A name won't do it though; we need a place to disappear to," he said, eyeing Eponine again.

"Going over the borders might be difficult; the watch there is pretty strict," the Changer said. "Again all because of that assassin."

Eponine bit her lip as she tried to imagine where these three men could hide. 'They won't want to be peasants, so they'd have to go to a city. They might still need a little minding though,' she realized. Yet would there be anyone far enough from Paris who'd be up to this task? She took a deep breath as she looked at them again. "I s'pose Citizen Valjean or someone might know a good place far enough, maybe at the coast or something. I could ask around a little."

"What sorts of places might those be?" Montparnasse asked.

The Changer extinguished his pipe. "As long as it is safe and we cannot be found, I can take it." He looked at Babet and Montparnasse. "You can come with me or not."

Babet merely nodded while Montparnasse made a diffident gesture and fiddled with his buttonhole again. "I've never left Paris before," he said softly.

"It's better than the jail. You wouldn't know, you've never sat a day there," Eponine said.

Montparnasse looked at her ruefully. "Still angry that I got away that night at Gorbeau House and you didn't?"

Eponine shrugged. "That was a year ago, what can I do about it now?" She looked towards where the downpour was finally letting up. "I'll tell you if I find something. Goodbye Citizens."

"I'll see you out," Montparnasse suddenly chimed in, eliciting surprised looks from his friends. He followed Eponine downstairs to where she'd left her coat. "So I see you, Azelma and the boys are intent on remaining in Paris? I wouldn't be surprised if your old man left too one day."

"Azelma is happy here I s'pose, and I am sure that the boys hardly remember being anywhere else," Eponine replied as she shook out her still damp coat. "As for me, I like this city. You know I like to be where things are happening."

A ghost of a smile spread over Montparnasse's face. "If you remember, I liked you once."

"So did I, but that was when you and I were still silly children together," she said. "Ah but that was another time; you're a good man now and I s'pose you'll do fine wherever you go."

Montparnasse nodded as they went to the carriage gate. "Yes, if a provincial life does not bore me," he said. "You'd better watch out; you're no longer as good at hiding as you used to be."

"Maybe. I s'pose I got tired of it, especially when I've got more things I'd rather be doing."

"Smart girl. Give my regards to your siblings."

"I will. Goodbye Montparnasse." She walked away quickly down the Rue deL'Ouest, but stopped from time to time to look about and make sure she was not being followed or that no suspicious characters were making their way to the apartment. 'I'd hate to give Citizen Valjean yet another thing to worry about,' she thought as she made her way to the schoolhouse. Since it was Holy Week, the primary schools were on half-holiday, and the students were dismissed from their classes beginning around one in the afternoon.

As usual she found her brothers playing with their schoolmates in the yard, under the watchful eye of the schoolmaster, a burly gentleman who went by the name of Guyon. On seeing her, the schoolmaster immediately got up from his seat near the door and went to meet her at the schoolyard gate. "It's good that you were able to come here right away, Citizenness Thenardier. I was worried that I'd have to wait here all afternoon till you finished your work for today."

"I'm also on some sort of half holiday," Eponine replied cordially. "How have my brothers been doing?"

"Neville is excelling as always. I am sure he will not have a problem with the exams before classes let out for the summer. Gavroche could do better; he's not falling behind or anything but his attention is often elsewhere and I have to keep telling him not to drift off," Guyon said. "At least he's no longer cussing in Occitan, like how I caught him doing so last fortnight," he added more lightly.

Eponine couldn't help but laugh a little at this. "What of Jacques?"

"He has a little difficulty with numbers, but that's not much of a worry as many of the other children do," Guyon replied. "His vocabulary is astounding for a child who is barely six years old. Of course he misuses some complicated words every now and then; today I told him to look up the word 'substantiate' before using it again in his composition. On the whole though, I am impressed. I'm sure he's been picking up well from the things you've been writing."

"Jacques doesn't read my writing," Eponine said confusedly. 'I don't use those sorts of words all the time either,' she thought, glancing towards where her youngest brother had just tackled one of his playmates. "He probably learned it from one of my friends."

"It sounds like something a lawyer would say," Guyon remarked in a matter of fact tone. "All will be well, as long as they keep up their work between now and summer," he added reassuringly.

"I s'pose so. Thank you Citizen," Eponine said before going to meet her brothers. Suddenly she felt something slam into her and she looked down to see Jacques hugging her. "How are you petit?"

Jacques gave her a toothy grin. "Gavroche said it's your birthday today!"

'I can't believe he remembered,' Eponine thought as she looked to Gavroche, who smiled at her before he ran to get Neville from where he was still at play. She hadn't exactly told very many people that her birthday was coming up, and those people who knew were all busy that day. In fact she hadn't seen Enjolras ever since he'd arrived home at nearly midnight; he'd left for work long before anybody else could get up for breakfast.

After a few moments Gavroche returned with a very dusty Neville in tow. "Now you're no longer playing at being a lady," Gavroche told her cheekily.

"Hah, as if I could do something so grand?" Eponine retorted.

"He means you're older, Ponine," Neville chimed in, wiping his hands on his pants. "But not an old woman yet like Citizenness Leclair!"

"Now don't you start joking that way," Eponine warned. "You'll get to that age too."

"Yes and we'll all turn into eggs," Gavroche said, patting the top of his head, much to the laughter of their younger brothers.

After making sure her brothers had some lunch, albeit a little later than usual, Eponine set out for the Hotel de Ville to pick up the report from the committee hearing the day before. The place was relatively quiet when Eponine arrived; meetings had concluded early and only a few offices remained open in order to allow people to conclude their business. The committee report had been left with a particularly nervous looking clerk, whose jittery demeanor suddenly turned sober when he caught sight of Eponine. "I could not help but get a look, Citizenness. I wish the news was better," he said as he handed the report to her.

Despite this warning, Eponine still felt her heart sink when she saw the first page of the report covered in Bayard's handwriting spelling out the words, 'Votation deferred' followed by a lengthy list of revisions that had to be made before the legislation could be put to a vote. 'What does he want to do, bring away this petition entirely from what we originally intended?' she wondered as she stashed the report back in its envelope. She bit her lip before turning to see Allyce Legendre walking up, red in the face perhaps from having hurried straight from her own workplace.

The fishwife's eyebrows shot up almost to her hairline as she took in the sight of the report in Eponine's hand. "So it was rejected then?" Allyce demanded.

"Yes. I s'pose you should read the reasons for it," Eponine said, trying to remain calm despite the acridness in the older woman's tone.

"We might have had it approved if a different person had spoken up yesterday," Allyce snapped.

Eponine flushed at this jibe; she'd volunteered to explain a good many of the provisions during the committee hearing, but somehow the discussion degenerated into debating once again with Bayard about the question of wages. "I s'pose that if we could have found a third person to go along it would have been explained more easily," she replied more tersely.

"Yes that might have made a difference. You though were getting out of your place."

"You also said a lot of things Citizen Bayard didn't like to hear. That does make up part of the reason, I'm sure of it."

Allyce reddened further as she snatched the report out of Eponine's grip and leafed through it. "I hope that before the next hearing you've learned to control that tongue of yours," she said, shoving the papers back at Eponine. "We'll discuss this on Monday. I hope this gives you enough time to think about this seriously; our petition is the only one still lingering in the committees as almost all the others that were presented first have gone up for voting or are already passed. We'll meet after work at Saint-Merry," she admonished before turning to leave.

"I won't miss it," Eponine retorted before she went to sit on the stairs and looked over the report again. This time she felt something pricking at her eyes, more so when she pondered Allyce's words. 'There has to be something more we could do to get this right,' she thought with a despondent sigh. She knew better than to seek out Enjolras at this particular time even if she figured he'd have some interesting insight on this matter; he had far too many things to finish before the end of the day, especially in the aftermath of Louis-Philippe's ill-timed visit. 'I'll just have to tell Antoine about it later, maybe when I've thought it over a little more,' she decided as she got to her feet and headed back outside. Since it was early in the afternoon, she decided there was still enough time to drop by the Marais and discuss with Jean Valjean the best way to handle Montparnasse, Babet, and the Changer's predicament.

Much to her surprise, Jean Valjean was at work in the garden. He was on his knees as he tended to a lush looking strawberry plant. "I didn't know you knew how to do such things," Eponine blurted out by way of greeting.

Jean Valjean smiled amiably. "It's an occasional pastime. How can I help you?"

"I spoke with Babet and Montparnasse. They have another friend with them there; he's an old one we call now Citizen Isaac," Eponine began. "They want to leave Paris under other names and maybe do something elsewhere. Would that be right to do?"

The venerable man's face was grave and contemplative as he got to his feet. "It may be what they need. Have they mentioned what it is they want to do?"

"No. Babet said I don't need to concern myself with it. I was thinking they could go someplace wherein there would be someone who could watch them from time to time to make sure they do not do anything silly," Eponine explained. "Some town with a good friend or two. I could think of some places but I don't know anyone in Marseilles or Toulon, and I'm not sure it would be good to send them to Aix."

Jean Valjean's expression was both wry and mirthful. "You sound like you are looking for a keeper for children," he said.

"Sometimes Montparnasse can be a bit of a child," Eponine quipped.

At that moment a window quickly shut in the house; Cosette had been watching from the drawing room. In a few moments she was out in the garden. "Oh why are you two so serious?" she asked them lightly. She smiled at Eponine. "So how are you celebrating your birthday?"

Eponine's jaw fell. "How did you know?"

"I remembered there was something about early April when I was still living with your family. I asked Azelma and Enjolras about it, and they both mentioned it would be your birthday right about this time," Cosette replied.

"I haven't thought of anything, really."

"I have a present for you; I'll give it to you when you step inside for some tea. But what are you visiting here for?"

"Something to do with a friend," she replied. As she looked at Cosette again, she was struck by a sudden flash of inspiration. "I don't mean to be awful or anything Cosette, but would you know how I could write to Citizen Tholomyes?"

Cosette nodded confusedly. "He gave me his address in Toulouse. Why do you need it?"

"I know some people who might consider wanting to go there," Eponine said. "You don't mind if I write to him for help?"

"Not at all," Cosette said. "I'm sure he'd be more than happy to help." She patted her rounded middle a few times. "The little one is quite feisty today. Sometimes he catches me off-guard."

"How sure are you that you'll have a son?" Eponine asked.

Cosette merely smiled. "I just have a feeling. Marius wants a little girl though; I warned him that he'll be so wrapped around her little finger if that is to be so." She looked at Jean Valjean. "Don't you want to come inside? Nicolette should have the tea ready by now."

"In a little while, Cosette. I am sure you and Eponine will want to talk about a few things," Jean Valjean said kindly.

"Well don't be too long, or I'll ask Nicolette to bring the tea out for you then!" Cosette said before taking Eponine's arm to half-drag her in the house and into the drawing room. "I'm sure you'll find it useful even today," she added, noting the papers that Eponine still had with her. "How did that hearing go?"

"A disaster."

"That is terrible; they should have given it to a vote right away."

Eponine shrugged before Cosette left the room, her footsteps fading in the direction of the stairway. 'When was the last time any one of us celebrated a birthday?' she wondered, trying to work back through memories of her family. Try as she may, the most recent she could truly recall was the birthday she'd spent before they had to quit Montfermeil for good.

In the depths of her reverie, she almost did not hear the heavy step in the doorway. "I did not expect to find you here, Eponine."

She glanced over her shoulder at the lancer standing in the drawing room doorway. "Good day Citizen Gillenormand. I thought you would be back at the barracks by now."

"I must recuperate a little longer, according to the physician," Theodule replied, gesturing to the bandage on the left side of his head.

Eponine frowned at the sight of this. "You were up to some sort of mischief there. I'm sure of it; I heard there's some sort of questioning going about."

"I had to stay with my men, we were attacked, and I had to act," Theodule said crossly. "We're being taken to task for it already; it is possible that I will have to be posted elsewhere from here on. My aunt is not happy about it."

"You would have had to leave at some point, isn't that what garrisons do?" Eponine pointed out.

At that point the drawing room door swung open. "Cousin, what are you doing here? Aunt will be angry you're walking about!" Cosette scolded Theodule. "Eponine, I'm sorry I took a little long."

"I'm fine. We were only chatting a little," Eponine replied.

Theodule gave her a doubtful look. "I had hoped to speak with you seriously."

'What could he be possibly up to?' Eponine wondered warily. She crossed her arms as she looked at Theodule. "Now what about?" she asked as Cosette excused herself.

The lancer sighed deeply. "Can I ever dissuade you from what you are doing?"

Eponine rolled her eyes at this query, already knowing where this was going. After hearing of Theodule's terse discussion with Enjolras, the last thing she wanted was to revisit this topic. "I won't let you. What is it ever to you anyway?" she snapped.

"Because I adore you," he replied. "I would do anything to protect you, Eponine."

"You do not love me."

"Of course I do."

She shook her head. "You do not. I s'pose you wouldn't even remember me in a year, or when you do have to be elsewhere."

Theodule's mustaches twitched as he reached for her hand only to have her pull away. "Shouldn't you be asking yourself something similar? I was once under the impression you cared for me."

"I did, but I know now it never would have been enough," Eponine said, not hiding her irritation. She tried to push past him but he stepped directly in front of the door. "Do I have to kick you again someplace just so you'll let me pass?"

Theodule flinched slightly at this threat. "You will never have a peaceful life if you stay with him. Please consider this before it's too late to repent of this fancy."

Eponine burst out laughing. "A fancy! No, it is far, far more than just that. I'm sure of it."

"You're being a silly girl."

"That is all I will ever be to you. Not to him," she said as she finally managed to get past him and open the drawing room door. It was all she could do to keep a straight face when she found Cosette, Marius, and Aunt Gillenormand all waiting in the front room.

Marius merely gave his cousin a pointed look before stepping aside to let his aunt berate the errant lancer. "I didn't know it was your birthday, Eponine. I'm sorry he hassled you this way," he said apologetically as he led the ladies away from the drawing room.

"I s'pose he needs to hear it; if he's to leave Paris someday, I'd better set it straight," Eponine remarked. Her expression turned quizzical when she saw that Cosette was carrying a sort of rectangular bag in a thick green fabric. "What is that?"

"Something you'll find useful, I hope," Cosette said, unfolding the bag. "It's the right size to hold envelopes and papers, like the one you have now. Why don't you try it?"

Eponine grinned approvingly as she slipped the document she carried into the bag. Judging by Cosette's eager and slightly relieved smile, it was clear whose hand was behind this little innovation. "It's so elegant, and it will keep my things a little cleaner. Thank you for this."

"Especially since you're always so busy..." Marius trailed off as he saw his aunt practically ushering Theodule back upstairs. "I hate to see him in trouble, but he has to go back to the barracks by tomorrow. Some sort of discipline waiting for him there, but it's not a court martial. I think the generals are trying to avoid demoralizing the garrison by limiting the use of harsh judicial proceedings."

Cosette shuddered visibly. "It's a horrible business. I heard though that the former king, I mean Citizen Louis Philippe simply agreed to leave?"

"Yes. I s'pose he figured it was the best way to avoid trouble," Eponine replied. She did not even want to think what would have happened if the deposed king had asserted any sort of claim; there was no way Paris could stand another emeute.

Marius shook his head, clearly also caught up in disturbed musings. "I believe in a Republic nowadays, but I should never want to fight at another barricade," he said.

"Yes; you shouldn't scare me half to death like you did last year," Cosette chided. "Now we'd really better get some of that tea before it gets cold!"

Eponine decided to stay for only an hour, long enough to at least dwell on less sordid conversation, before finally heading back to the Latin Quartier. She went first to Prouvaire and Azelma's apartment, in order to see if her sister would be free to join them for dinner. Not surprisingly, the apartment was quiet and the concierge informed her that 'they went off to some celebration' just half an hour earlier. 'Probably off someplace with music,' she thought as she returned to the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. Since it was spring, the sun was only beginning to set now, bathing the city in a fantastical gold twilight. 'Almost like an old story,' Eponine noted as she raced the rest of the way home.

Citizenness Leclair met her at the door, clearly trying to hold back a fit of laughter. "Your brothers aren't here. Azelma, Prouvaire, and Combeferre came by and brought the boys with them to the Musain."

"The Musain! I had thought to bring them out to dinner someplace myself," Eponine said, a little cross at having her own plans pre-empted. "I s'pose I am to follow them?"

"What else?" the concierge replied. "Now you'd better dress up a little bit. Your sister told me to make sure you did so."

'What else can possibly be afoot?' Eponine wondered as she went to her room to set down her things and freshen up a little. She settled for washing her face and her hands and then combing out her hair, which had gotten a little tangled and dishevelled from a whole day of travel. Putting on a fresh dress or even a less stained pair of gloves was out of the question; she would not be able to send any clothes to the washerwoman till Monday. She sighed a little resignedly with this hurried toilette before grabbing her reticule and the ten francs she'd been given earlier that day. 'If I'd known a little earlier I might have thought it out more,' she thought as she headed outside.

As she walked to the Place Saint-Michel, she happened to catch sight of a familiar figure exiting a bookshop. 'He stands out even in this light,' she thought as she quickened her steps to catch up with Enjolras. She was a few paces away from him when he turned and finally caught sight of her. "I saw you even at the bookshop," she informed him by way of greeting.

"You practically caught me in the act then," he said, his expression both guilty and bemused.

"Ah, isn't it usually the other way around?" she quipped. "What have you got there?"

"Something for you; I had hoped to give it to you at home."

"That is, before I caught you with the evidence. Now what is it?"

Enjolras handed over a rather old but clearly very carefully preserved novel. "It's called 'Les Morlacques'. It was written by a Countess Rosenberg, who grew up in Venice. You might like it."

"A novel by an authoress?"

"I am surprised you sound so astonished by it."

"I s'pose not, but it cannot have been too widely read. Most of the things around are written by gentlemen," Eponine said as she gingerly flipped through the book. It seemed to be a tragic story set in Dalmatia, a place she'd only heard about in some of her friends' stories and once on a map. 'Well now I know what I might be reading from now till Monday,' she thought, all the while smiling widely. "Thank you, Antoine. I know this wasn't easy to find."

"It is your birthday," he said in a matter-of-fact tone, but the way he looked at her was enough to further signify the relief he clearly felt on seeing her happy with this present. "Were you on your way to the Musain already?"

"Ah, so you know about that!" she exclaimed.

"Combeferre, Prouvaire, and of course your sister reminded me of it on several occasions today," Enjolras explained dryly. "I fear I may have spoiled their surprise a little."

"No, that is what they will get for trying to sneak around," she quipped before looking through the book again. "Now I do not know what I shall find for your birthday."

"That is a long time from now, a little less than half a year," he reminded her.

The mention of this span of time was enough to make Eponine pause. 'And where will we be then?' she couldn't help but wonder as she looked at Enjolras. Now that she thought about it, it had been perhaps half a year, maybe a little more, since they'd become friends and neighbours. Somehow it felt like a whole lifetime had passed in that handful of months. What more could possibly await them in the months, or dare she think it, years after?

In a moment she felt his hand around hers, such that she could feel his callused fingers even through her glove. "Now what are you thinking about?' he asked curiously.

"I'm only doing a little imagining," Eponine said. 'Do you ever wonder about it, like I do?' she wanted to ask him, but the question was almost too embarrassing to ask in public. Yet it stood to reason after all; between the two of them, he always the one who more clearly envisioned the future, and more importantly, was bold enough to do something about it. 'Perhaps he does then,' she thought, feeling her spirits lift further as she and Enjolras went to find their friends at the Musain.