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01 December 2013 @ 11:11 pm
Chapter 74: All Or Nothing  

Chapter 74: All or Nothing

The Saturday morning of that same week was an odd time to be at the Barriere d'Enfer, but it was absolutely necessary for the conclusion of a matter that Eponine was anxious to resolve. 'Who knows what can happen to them between here and Toulouse?' she thought as she listened to Jean Valjean explain to Montparnasse, Babet, and the Changer the route they were to take leaving Paris. It was a circuitous escape, involving departing the city in a hired carriage and heading to Livry, where they could find the diligence for the first lengthy leg of their trip to Toulouse. It would take the better part of the week till the trio would reach Toulouse, where they were to contact Tholomyes through a system of discreet signals. 'I'll worry if he doesn't write back by the end of the month to tell us of how they are faring,' she thought as she approached her old friends.

The Changer nodded to her first. "Hopefully this will not be a case of 'no sooner spoken than broken,'" he told her wryly.

"If you mean silence, you'll have it, Citizen Isaac," Eponine replied. She laughed when she saw the Changer grin widely. "I've guessed your riddle properly again, haven't I?"

"You were always a clever girl," the Changer said.

"Not a Thenardier girl anymore," Babet remarked fondly as he smoothed out his coat. "You're no longer that skinny little thing I remember meeting when your family first came here to Paris. Your mother wanted to see you a lady, and you've done it by yourself." He poked Montparnasse's shoulder. "A silent goodbye won't do there, boy!"

Montparnasse smiled before giving her a polite bow. "I am indebted to you, Citizenness Enjolras."

Eponine's eyes widened at this new form of address. "I'm not yet married!"

"Not yet," the Changer said. He held up his hand before muttering something in Hebrew. "May peace be with you and your family for the rest of your days," he translated for her.

Eponine nodded gratefully. "And to you three too," she said, stepping aside to let them proceed to the carriage waiting a few paces away. As she watched the carriage draw further away down the Route d'Orleans, she found that she could finally let out a deep breath of relief, one that she did not even know she'd been holding. "I s'pose they'll have a good chance of it after all. No one in Toulouse knows who they are, except for Citizen Tholomyes," she said to Jean Valjean.

"As long as they can find joy in their situation, there will be no cause for worry," Jean Valjean remarked. He looked quizzically at Eponine. "Why did Montparnasse call you that?"

Eponine could not help but smile at this query. "I don't know. They're right though; I'm not yet married but I will be soon."

"My best wishes for you and Citizen Enjolras then," Jean Valjean said. "I pray you two will continue to be very happy together."

"I hope we will," Eponine said. "So what will you do now with the apartment at the Rue de L'Ouest?"

"I'm giving it to Cosette; I believe she may make use of it in her projects for gamins and finding a safe place for them," Jean Valjean replied. "It's small, but it is a good place to start."

"It's a very good idea," Eponine said as she adjusted her gloves. "I'll see Cosette and Marius later, at dinner. It's Bossuet's birthday, and there are more reasons to celebrate such as Nicholine having a good turn at her work and Combeferre's being a lecturer for the next round of classes this autumn."

Jean Valjean nodded. "A fete among friends? No wonder they've been busy with preparing for it." After a few more remarks and pleasantries, Jean Valjean took his leave and made his way back to the Rue des Filles du Calvaire, leaving Eponine to hurry to another day of work at the Rue des Macons.

This turn of events buoyed Eponine's already high spirits even further, to the point that she ended up singing snatches of old ditties even as she was at her desk. "Why, something must be agreeing with you more often as of late: is it the weather or a certain legislator?" Odette teased when she came into the front office to check on her assistant's work.

"I s'pose both!" Eponine said cheekily. 'Little do you know though!' she found herself thinking as Odette left the room. She really wished she could have even just mentioned her engagement, but there were a number of compelling reasons for her to keep the fact a secret for a little while longer. 'Especially since there is still one thing that could stop it all from happening,' she thought as she just managed to keep a spot of ink from straying onto her fingers.

She willed herself to focus on the task at hand, which was to put the final touches on two tracts, which were actually English and German translations of complied speeches and articles from various officials and journalists. Some of these speeches and articles had originally been created by various friends and associates; she recognized one of Enjolras' speeches, two articles each from Grantaire and Coutard , and even one of Feuilly' diplomatic chronicles. 'Sometimes the words don't soar as nicely in this way,' she mused after getting through one passage that she knew had been worded as a riddle or rebus.

Regardless of this occasional diversion, the hours passed swiftly and soon it was four in the afternoon. Eponine felt her gut clench as she put her shawl and her hat, and then pocketed her reticule before heading out to the Place Saint-Michel. Although the square outside the Musain was crowded with passersby and hawkers, she immediately spotted Enjolras amid this confusion. She sneaked up behind him, taking advantage of the fact that he was engrossed in reading a newspaper, and most likely completely oblivious to everything. She stood on tiptoe so she could place her hands over his eyes even as she kissed his jaw. "Did you know it's dangerous not to pay attention that way, Antoine?" she teased.

Enjolras' smile was bemused but mirthful when he turned to face her. "Only around you," he quipped as he took both her hands. "Are you ready?"

"I'm ready if you are; you'll have to deal with the worst of it," Eponine said. "So where does the Surete say my father is staying?"

"He is living under his real name, and supposedly at a lodging house, Number 13 Rue d'Aligre. That is some way from the Etoile des Champs Elysees," Enjolras replied. "Do you know that address?"

Eponine shook her head. "It is so far from our old places; I thought he'd be at the Marais or maybe even back at the Gorbeau tenement," she said as they began walking. She straightened out his cuffs as they arrived at a street corner. "We don't really have to do this. He hardly concerns himself with me or anyone else."

"Eponine, it is absolutely necessary. We can't risk a legal impediment by proceeding without his permission, and it's not feasible to wait till you're twenty-one, which is when his consent will no longer be necessary," he pointed out.

She cringed at this last possibility; three years was far too long for an engagement, even of the respectable sort. "If he says we have to wait, would you still do it?" she asked as they boarded an omnibus and managed to find adjacent seats.

"Yes. I'm certain though that such a wait will not be necessary," Enjolras said confidently as he ran his fingers over the back of her neck.

"I know, but he's still going to be so hateful about it and he'll ask us for everything we cannot give," she pointed out, leaning a little into his touch. She bit her lip as she tried to imagine how these negotiations would play out; even though she and Enjolras had thought out replies for every possible scenario they could come up with, she knew that her father's spite would definitely color any discussion. 'He used to care a little more than he does now. I don't know if he will remember that,' she thought.

Her unease only magnified when she and Enjolras arrived at the address, which turned out to be an opulently built residence with a rooftop and facade inspired by some Delphic temple. That was at least as far as could be ascertained from the street, as much of the house and the entire yard was hidden behind a tall brick wall. "Either we're mistaken, or this is a place for very opulent lodgers," Enjolras commented when he saw the place.

"Some sort of hotel maybe. We've stayed in places like those before," Eponine suggested, vaguely recalling a time when she was about twelve and the family had the audacity to install themselves in two grand rooms in the area of the Champ de Mars. 'That was the last decent roof I had over my head for some years; the next was with Cosette at the Rue de L'Homme Arme!' she realized as she and Enjolras knocked on the carriage gate of the house.

After a few moments the gate opened just a crack. "Who goes there?" a crotchety porter demanded.

"Two visitors for Citizen Thenardier," Eponine began before the gate swung open completely, revealing the agog face of a porter. "It's only his daughter Eponine and Citizen Enjolras," she added quickly.

The porter's mouth opened and shut with disbelief. "You're that old gent's daughter?"

"I know there's nothing of him in my face. I take more after my mother," Eponine remarked.

The porter shook his head. "With you so young and him so old and bent, I would have thought you were his granddaughter." He looked at Enjolras and clucked his tongue. "Forgive me for my remarks; please do not tell your father-in-law."

Eponine had to muffle a giggle, more so when she saw Enjolras trying his best to keep a straight face at this awkward request. "He's not my father-in-law," Enjolras finally said.

The porter raised an eyebrow. "I thought-"

"It's not of much concern," Eponine interrupted, unwilling to let on now about this matter. "So my father is home then? Can he receive visitors?" she asked the porter.

"It will be a pleasant surprise for him. Come on up, both of you," the porter said, letting them in. ""Most of the other lodgers are out for the day; he is the last to leave since he goes to the theater as a playwright. Says he's an old friend of Talma."

Enjolras frowned on hearing this ruse. "So he's using his real name and false details? That can prove to be dangerous," he said, leaning in close to Eponine's ear so that he would not be overheard.

"I s'pose it's part of a scheme to be respectable and obscure," Eponine explained. 'He might have been intending to do such a thing if I'd chosen to help him all those months ago, she thought as she and Enjolras followed the porter up to a wide second floor corridor. The opulence of the house extended to its interior, with rich tapestries and soft carpeting, as well as ornate candlesticks and lamp stands gracing even the lowly hall.

The porter rapped his bony fist five times against the second to the last door in this hallway. "Your daughter and a friend are here to see you," he barked.

"What daughter-"Thenardier's voice growled before the apartment door swung open. It was evident at a glance that prosperity had descended on the former innkeeper; he was dressed in a clean, albeit oversized suit of clothes, and he had on a new set of shoes. His graying hair looked as if it had been curled the day before and gotten out of shape during his sleep. His belligerent gaze hardened as he realized who was visiting him. "You two have no manners. What are you doing here?"

"We're here because we have manners," Eponine replied, standing up straight. "May we come in? There's something that Enjolras and I need to speak with you about."

Thenardier glanced from Eponine to Enjolras, and after a moment a crafty leer spread over his face. "So you two have finally decided to become respectable," he sneered.

"To be more exact, we're here to ask for your consent to our upcoming marriage," Enjolras said in a level tone.

Thenardier burst out laughing. "A marriage! After all this time! So you two are going to play at being respectable bourgeoisie while leaving this poor old man behind here?"

"I would hardly call your situation a poor one, Father. You seem to have gotten on well enough without any help from me or Azelma, or maybe even what old friends you had," Eponine said. Although she did not have a good view of her father's lodgings, she could still tell that he'd somehow taken up residence in a clean suite of rooms. 'He might even be doing better than we are,' she thought.

Thenardier looked pointedly at Enjolras. "You'll be taking away my daughter; I had hoped she would be my prop in my present infirmity. In my present circumstances, I cannot part with her for anything less than five hundred thousand francs."

Enjolras shook his head with evident disgust. "I will not discuss such things. You will not treat Eponine as if she is something to be sold," he said, stressing his fiancée's name.

"You are incorruptible indeed!" Thenardier mocked. "Surely at least you won't forget your dear father-in-law if you meet officials, even those from out of France."

"I will only warn you of the danger you will be getting into by abusing such connections," Enjolras replied. "I believe you will want to avoid a fate similar to that of the jeweller Citizen Duchamp."

The former innkeeper paled and seemed to falter for a moment before he drew himself up to his full height. "I will not consent to this marriage then. You may go on your way, good riddance to you."

Eponine grabbed the door before Thenardier could slam it shut. "Maybe we won't give money or any sort of favour. It's not something we'll do or ever agree to, marriage or not. But if you'll let me marry him, we will not ever trouble you again, and you can go your own way as you wish."

Thenardier gave her a beady stare for a moment. "What makes you think you could ask such a thing?"

"You and I have not concerned ourselves with each other for some time; it's a problem since people know you're my father and they wonder why the boys and I live as we do. It's not respectable, as you would say," Eponine said coolly, fighting hard to keep calm even though she could feel anger building in her chest. 'He left me out in the cold before, and he would do it again,' she reminded herself as she looked at her parent; she had seen this same hatred in his eyes before, one night at the Rue Plumet. She forced herself to meet his calculating look. "When I marry, you would not have to concern yourself with me again, or even with the others since I'll be caring for them. It will save you so much trouble and resolve all our difficulties."

Thenardier's face twitched. "You would do such a thing, at your age?"

"I'm the only family they've known for some time," Eponine answered. She swallowed hard, if only to banish the lump in her throat. "It's the last favour I'll ask from you and the last you could do for me."

"And you'd turn your back on your father in that way?"

"I s'pose if I've only been your daughter when you wish for me to be."

Thenardier raised his fist but at the last moment he relented and instead looked disbelievingly at Enjolras. "You, an upstanding young man, and you'd still join yourself to this slut? I do not know where she has gotten her morals; I raised my daughters to be good, and now she's become a disgrace-"

Enjolras' eyes narrowed with fury. "You have said enough."

Eponine quickly caught Enjolras' gaze and shook her head. "Never mind him," she whispered, even as she could feel her face beginning to burn at her father's words. She took a deep breath before moving to stand directly in front of Thenardier. "If that is what you really think of me, Father, then it should be easier for you to give your consent. It's all the better to have me out of your sight and out of your mind, for good perhaps."

For some moments Thenardier studied his daughter; it might have seemed then that some flicker of paternal affection softened his look, but it was replaced by a disdain that could only end in some sort of sundering. "Then you have it. Do as you wish but do not expect my blessing for it," he growled. "If you tire of this hussy or she takes up with another man, do not come complaining to me," he spat at Enjolras before jerking the door loose and finally slamming it shut such that the very wall seemed to shake.

Eponine let out a ragged sigh as she heard her father's footsteps retreating from the door; the feeling of pained relief was akin to that of a splinter finally being drawn out of an old wound. 'It was long in coming; if it wouldn't have been over this it would have been something else,' she realized as she and Enjolras silently left the house.

"It's just as well that it ended up this way," she said to him once they were back on the Rue d'Aligre.

"Why so?" Enjolras asked as he brushed her hair away from her face.

"He won't have a claim on us. I told you once that I'd never allow him near Azelma or our brothers again. I never want him to have a hold on anyone else like you or any of our friends," she explained. She felt her breath catch as she suddenly recalled the vivacious little girl she'd seen in her dream; perhaps she'd somehow saved this child too. She smiled as she finally slipped her hand around Enjolras' palm. "I s'pose we can finally tell everyone later. You can write to your parents too. They will both be so relieved, especially your mother."

Enjolras smirked at this understatement. "They'll probably want to be here in Paris this summer."

"They will be, I'm sure of it. Your mother said so the last time we spoke to each other in person," Eponine said. She very nearly laughed as she imagined what would possibly transpire when they would meet Monique and Louis again; this older couple would certainly not pass up this opportunity to fuss over a wedding. 'Since there is no one else they can do such a thing to,' she thought as she and Enjolras headed back to the Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau.

When they got there, her brothers were already dressed for dinner and doing their best to wait patiently for them outside the concierge's lodge. Neville was contentedly occupied with a book, but Gavroche was polishing off several crusts of bread while Jacques had taken to sitting on his hands. "Gavroche is ruining his dinner," Jacques said when he saw Eponine and Enjolras.

"Bread doesn't go by the same clock," Gavroche protested, dusting off his sleeves.

Eponine sighed at this evidence of her brother's markedly increased appetite, something which according to her friends was normal for a boy of Gavroche's age. "Cosette will have to tell her cook to set aside a whole course for you later," she said. "Before we all go there though, Antoine and I have something we'd like to tell you about."

Neville looked up from his book eagerly. "I told you, they're going to get married," he said to Gavroche and Jacques. "That's what they were talking about three nights ago!"

"If they were getting married, they wouldn't have been talking in the kitchen!" Jacques argued. "That's not how you do it, so they say."

"Who's 'they'?" Enjolras asked, not hiding his astonishment.

"All of the ladies, and also Prouvaire, Bahorel, and Joly," Gavroche deadpanned. "But Enjolras isn't a poet so that doesn't quite count."

Eponine nearly doubled over with laughter at this interesting flurry of reasoning. "Well you all should know; Antoine and I are getting married this summer," she finally said.

Gavroche made a face but he gave the engaged pair an approving look, while Neville cheered and put aside his book so he could hug his sister and then Enjolras. Jacques pouted for a moment before eyeing the pair seriously. "But that doesn't mean you'll be our parents?" he asked.

"That's not how it works," Enjolras replied, ruffling Jacques' hair. "You'll have to settle for my being your older brother in a way. "

Jacques scratched his nose. "You can't be an older brother. You're too big and you're nicer than Gavroche and Neville."

Eponine had to stop Gavroche from cuffing Jacques for this remark. "Anyway this means that some things are going to change, and there's going to be another wedding to attend."

"Such as?" Neville asked.

'Aside from where we might live, who sleeps where, and how I write my name...' Eponine thought before shrugging as she realized that the list of future changes was not actually that long. "You'll see," she finally said.

At that moment Citizenness Leclair came in from the kitchen, still holding a broom. "I was so sure that it was going to happen someday," she greeted cheerily. "Congratulations to you two."

"You'll finally be able to raise the rent on the second floor apartments," Enjolras remarked.

Citizenness Leclair laughed. "Only if I dislike my next set of lodgers. You'd better remember to nail the floorboards back in place before you move out, since you do not have so many secret documents to hide anymore nowadays." She smiled broadly at Eponine. "I'm so proud of you, Eponine. You're very much a lady. I'm glad it's Enjolras who's sweeping you off your feet and not that idiotic lancer friend of yours."

Eponine rolled her eyes at this reference to Theodule, more so when her brothers made disgusted, gagging noises. "Now that is one man who would have tired of me," she said wryly.

The concierge nodded knowingly. "I'm sure you will be getting a grand place of your own after the wedding. I don't know how much help you'll have for keeping up such a place, but I have a useful thing or two I can teach you to make things easier in terms of housekeeping."

"I think I'd like that very much," Eponine said before excusing herself so she could freshen up in her apartment. 'So many more things now are possible than they were this morning,' she realized as she washed her face and her hands, and changed the plain lace collar on her dress for something a little more appropriate for a dinner party. She was sure that the smile on her face would be telling enough for her friends at the Rue des Filles du Calvaire, even before she and Enjolras would be able to properly announce their engagement.

By the time Enjolras, Eponine, and the Thenardier boys all arrived at the Pontmercys' home, all their friends were there, the majority of them cooing and fussing over little Armand. Eponine immediately sought out Azelma at a quieter corner of the drawing room, who was quietly listening as Cosette, Claudine, and Musichetta debated some point of literature. "I s'pose by the end of the summer, you can now really call Enjolras your brother," she simply said to her sister in an undertone.

Azelma's eyes widened with confusion till a light of comprehension brightened her features. "I knew you two were going to be engaged! When did he ask?" she blurted out excitedly.

"Earlier this week actually," Eponine said. "We decided to wait till we got Father's consent before telling you, the boys, and everyone else."

By this time the three other women had overheard the sisters' conversation. "How clever of you and Enjolras to get engaged and have no one know about it!" Claudine laughed. "That news seems to have escaped even Combeferre!"

"How did he ask?" Musichetta, ever the romantic, inquired excitedly.

"I wouldn't say he asked me right out; we were talking about it and we agreed on the same thing," Eponine replied.

"Did this at least happen someplace other than your kitchen table?" Musichetta asked. Her jaw dropped when she saw Eponine trying her best to keep a straight face. "What kind of a proposal is that?"

"A sensible one," Cosette remarked. "The sort that does not bring about confusion."

"It's so prosaic!" Musichetta griped. "If I was in your place, Eponine, I would have slapped him for going about it in such a way."

"If he'd gone about it any differently, I might have asked if he was ill or something," Eponine pointed out. She shook her head on hearing groans and catcalls coming from the other end of the drawing room; it seemed as if Enjolras had also received a similar reaction of disbelief from the rest of their friends. "Though I s'pose it's only because I don't like being confused either."

"Enjolras, that doesn't count as a proposal!" Prouvaire's exasperated voice rose above the din. "Go ask her again!"

"It certainly does," Eponine said, walking up to this group.

Enjolras nodded to her as he took her hand. "Are you quite sure about that?"

"I said 'yes', didn't I?"

Grantaire laughed at the disbelieving looks this reply elicited from everyone else. "You would make the most infuriating pair even for Homer."

"Then it is just as well that we're not in the Iliad, Capital R. This part of the verse would definitely have been cut out," Eponine quipped just as Basque came in to announce that dinner was served.