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05 December 2013 @ 05:52 am
 

Early update this week since I'm flying out of town for a medical mission, and won't be back till Tuesday.

Chapter 75: To Life

Shortly after the celebration at the Rue des Filles du Calvaire, this missive was put into the post:

May 12, 1833

Rue J. J. R, Paris

Father,

I trust that you and mother are well and safe as you read this letter. It is good that the developments here in Paris have not had serious repercussions in Aix, apart from the belligerence of our neighbors. It would seem that the incorrigibility of the deputies here has found root and kindred even as far as the borders; the time for violence may be over but the verbal tussles may persist indefinitely in every Assembly.

Much of the ongoing discussion is about the upcoming celebration of the June Days, at least as the larger newspapers have been referring to them. I entreat you to keep any household celebration simple; this is not the time for extravagance whether funded by the State or some large entity. I would not describe the festivities here in Paris as subdued in the strictest sense of the word, but much has been removed in the way of pageantry so as not to disrupt too greatly the usual pattern of everyday life and to avoid any unnecessary expenses. There is not to be any public declaration of any new decree, and absolutely no repetition of the Feast of the Supreme Being or Reason or whatever idol; the churches will still be encouraged to hold their daily Masses. There will be a commemoration for those who gave up their lives in last year's fighting. As to the rest of the revelry, that is still up for debate, but I am firm in my contention that this celebration be an honorable memorial as opposed to a midpoint to a bacchanalia.

Those matters aside, it would please you both very greatly to know that Eponine and I have decided to marry. We have already obtained her father's consent, and the wedding is set for August 4. I would like to assure you, for your peace of mind, that the brevity of this engagement is not due to any sort of complication, but it is owing to our personal preferences and the fact that we will be very busy for the remainder of the summer in preparations for all the sessions and conventions in September. Gavroche, Neville, and Jacques will also be returning to their classes then, and that will be another matter to contend with. I hope that regardless of this short notice, that you and Mother will be present for the celebration. It would mean a great deal.

Please send my regards to my cousins and feel more than free to share the news that I have just conveyed. I hope to receive your reply soon.

Your son

Antoine

Within a few days of its reception at Aix, this reply was sent back to Paris:

May 25, 1833

My dear Antoine,

This letter is inadequate to express even half of my joy upon my reading your latest message. I am honored to finally welcome Eponine into the family, though I must say the point is rather moot since your mother has long regarded her as a daughter. She will doubtless send her effusive regards to the two of you; I fear we will run out of paper in this house thanks to the enthusiasm of her remarks.

For my part, I congratulate you for your tenacity in wooing and winning such an exceptional young woman. Among all the ladies I have ever met, she stands out; not merely because of her connection to you but because of her courage and good sense. You are not a particularly easy person to fathom, and you are dedicated to a less than comfortable situation; the fact that she is still at your side only confirms my high regard of her character.

I have already made arrangements to put enough money at your disposal so you will be able to purchase a house where you, Eponine, and her brothers can live comfortably. Please accept this wedding gift, and do not be parsimonious with your choices. I am certain your household will expand one day, and you would like to be well prepared for it.

Your mother and I will certainly be in Paris before the end of July, and will be staying till the second or third week of August. Most certainly this will be the best visit we have made yet, and hopefully the beginning of many others.

Sincerely,

Your father

This second missive arrived in Paris on the morning of the fifth of June. 'Thankfully this matter is less tedious to consider than places at this fete,' Enjolras thought as he pocketed the note after rereading it for the third time as he alighted from an omnibus on the Rue Saint Denis. He had left his home a little bit ahead of his neighbours, in order to see to some appointments before the day's festivities. It was as fine a morning as could be asked for at this point in the summer; the skies were clear and a pleasant breeze banished the otherwise oppressive heat that would have made celebrating difficult, if not nigh impossible.

He looked around the crowded street, wondering how long it would be till he would catch sight of a familiar face or two. It had been decided that a commemorative parade would start in the neighbourhood of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and proceed via a rather meandering route through Les Halles towards the Hotel de Ville, in a sense 'retracing' how the tide had turned from the barricades to the eventual surrender of Louis-Philippe's regime. The event was anything but martial; everyone was dressed gaily, various parties and factions showed up bearing ribbons and banners, and a good number of onlookers had gone so far as to break off green boughs with which to greet the procession. Yet despite this revelry, the undercurrent of daily life still continued; no shops were closed, people still sat eating and drinking in cafes, and vendors hawked their wares wherever they pleased, taking advantage of the fact the streets were crowded. 'The celebration is only a breath in the space of things,' Enjolras thought as he walked down towards the Rue de Chanvrerie.

He had not been to this bistro in a number of months, not since Mother Hucheloup removed to the outskirts of Paris and gave up the bullet-scarred premises to the elements and posterity. Yet this site was anything but forgotten; the bistro's boarded up entrance was free of debris, and there was a commemorative plaque fixed to a nearby wall. A lone visitor was there now, setting a basket of rhodonderons next to the door.

"For an old friend," Marius said somberely when he turned around and saw Enjolras. "I am not sure you remember him. His name was Father Mabeuf."

"The man who returned the flag to the top of the barricade," Enjolras said, clasping Marius' shoulder. For a moment he could almost see that old man again, with a brave but desperate light in his eyes as he rushed to replace the flag and fell upon the completion of this deathly task. "You never mentioned how you knew him?" he asked Marius.

"His brother was a church-warden. He was the one who introduced me to my father, in a way," Marius explained. He was silent for a few moments, his attitude one of reverence as he looked at the rhodonderons. "If only he had kin someplace, I would properly give them my thanks. This would have to do though," he added as he put his hat back on. "I have to get back to Cosette. Should I wait for you?" he asked Enjolras.

"Go on ahead. I'll stay here a little longer," Enjolras replied. As soon as Marius was away, he looked around the place, seeing once more the redoubt as it had stood in the hours before the first attack. He could almost imagine again where he had waited, where comrades had been loading their weapons, and where his friends had sat and listened to Prouvaire reciting an old love poem. 'We hardly knew then if we'd ever emerge from here,' he thought.

After a few moments he heard a step in the direction of the Rue Mondetour. "I thought you'd be at work, or at the parade," he said to Eponine by way of greeting as she stepped out from around the corner.

"I'm going back to work after lunch. As for the parade, I think I'll have a better view of it later. My brothers are following it though; they're with Bahorel and Bossuet," Eponine replied, picking some dirt off the hem of her red dress. Her eyes widened when she noticed the flowers that Marius had left behind. "Rhodonderons. I remember watering a garden of them once," she mused aloud.

"When was that?" Enjolras asked.

"Some time after I was let out of prison. The first time around." She ran her free hand over the nicked bricks of the wineshop, tracing the brass plaque affixed to the entrance. "How high was the barricade?"

"By the time the fighting was over, it was up to the second storey," Enjolras replied, gesturing to a gouged out area in a far wall. He looked wryly at Eponine, remembering now that this was where he'd first seen her, or at least learned of her name. "I am sure that then, you were not here to really fight."

Eponine shook her head. "It was quite wicked of me to be here. You know I hid Cosette's letter to Marius. I thought it would bring him here, and it did. I thought I'd die with him as well." She took a deep breath. "It's funny. I thought I loved him."

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't know him so well, and I s'pose that I wanted all the wrong things," she replied, smiling slightly at Enjolras. She stepped over and deftly smoothed out the lapels of his coat. "Did you ever imagine all this would happen?"

Enjolras glanced towards the Rue de Chanvrerie again, remembering how it had been to be at the summit of the barricade and facing the enemy, all the while waiting for reinforcements from the other groups in Les Halles. "I had hoped we'd win, but I didn't quite picture the details of what happened after," he said at length as he took her hands, which were still resting on his shoulders.

"Such as whether you'd be doing what you're doing now?"

"That and a few other things," Enjolras admitted. He kissed her forehead gently. "You know what I mean."

She was beaming as she pulled him close for a light kiss. "I s'pose that's why you'll have me to remind you of those details," she quipped against his lips. "Speaking of that, but in another sense, have you read all those letters from Aix yet?"

Enjolras nodded. "How long was my mother's letter to you?"

Eponine laughed mirthfully. "Eight pages! What about yours?"

"The same," he said. He pulled his father's letter out of his pocket and placed it in her palm. "The second to the last paragraph is something that will interest you."

Her eyes widened as she read through the letter. "Does your father really mean it?" she asked as she handed the missive back.

"It surprised me too," he remarked. "I do not think we can refuse."

"I do not think we should; we can't keep renting rooms forever since it does add up to a terrible expense even when there's two of us with wages," she replied.

"We would have to do it eventually," Enjolras concurred, smiling at her practical line of thought, but more so when he felt her slip her arms around him and heard her contented sigh as she rested her cheek against his coat. He could feel her lips curve into a smile against his shoulder even as he began to run his fingers through the ends of her hair. There were no words he could find to properly convey what he wanted to say, so he settled for holding her a little longer, content with the fact that she was as real as this much unlooked for summer day.

After a while he could hear music in the air as well as the shouts and cheers of the marchers passing near the Rue Saint Denis. "Shall we?" he asked.

Eponine nodded breathlessly as she smoothed down her dress. "I s'pose they'll be looking for you at least. You after all were among the leaders of that entire battle."

"As long as we make it to the memorial ceremony, that shouldn't cause too much of a stir," he said, taking her hand as they left the Rue de Chanvrerie together.

The streets were so crowded such that Enjolras and Eponine were only able to find their friends in the neighbourhood of the Marche Saint Jean, a little bit away from the Hotel de Ville. Bahorel and Therese were closest to the curb, chatting with Therese's cousin and some other friends from the Prefecture. A few paces away at a small cafe, Feuilly, Prouvaire, and Azelma were standing on chairs.

Gavroche, Neville, and Navet, who had climbed up onto a stack of crates, whistled and waved to the newcomers. "Struck off the roll for tardiness!" Gavroche hollered to them.

Eponine made a face at him. "You're in the wrong seat!" she retorted before looking to where Allyce and Leonor were signalling to her. "Later then?" she whispered to Enjolras.

"At lunch," he said, patting her hand before they parted ways. He had to keep a straight face at the thought of attending a grand luncheon hosted by Florentin Ouvrard. He, Eponine, and a number of other friends had received invitations owing to their respective work or positions in the government or various groups, but he was also just as aware that invitations had also been extended to a number of personages he was not looking forward to dealing with on this day. 'This is not the time to draw more lines,' he reminded himself.

"Enjolras! There's to be dinner at the Musain later," Bahorel called to his friend. "It would be good to go drinking for once without any danger of gunfire."

Enjolras nodded at this slightly nostalgic remark. "What time then?"

"Six in the evening. I think Courfeyrac wants to bring Armand along, and you know a little one can't be out too late, The Pontmercys are coming too," Therese chimed in.

Bahorel sighed resignedly at this. "This is what we get for surviving to be responsible."

"Damien, don't tell me you regret it!" Therese scolded.

At that moment Enjolras felt a tug on his coattails, and he looked down to see Jacques grinning up at him. "Do I have to take off my shoes first?" Jacques asked.

"No, not this time," Enjolras replied as he picked Jacques up in order to let the boy climb onto his shoulders. He could hear his friends laughing as he did this, but Enjolras decided that just this once wouldn't be particularly detrimental. He glanced around and saw Eponine grinning at this sight; it was clear from the light in her eyes that she was on the verge of laughing out loud with approval at what she saw.

"Come on! We have to go see the wreath-laying!" Neville crowed from his precarious perch. He managed to climb down to the ground carefully. "See you there!" he shouted before hobbling ahead of Gavroche and Navet, who caught up to him in a few seconds and nearly tackled him but instead they threw their arms around his shoulders as they continued to follow the parade.

"It's good to see Neville being a child for once," Combeferre remarked as he walked up to Enjolras and Jacques. "He's not like some of us; he's meant to stay young a little longer."

"Is his leg ever going to get better when he gets bigger?" Jacques asked the physician.

"It's not coming back but he'll have less trouble with it," Combeferre replied.

Jacques nodded quizzically before looking around again. "Can we go to the front of the parade?" he asked Enjolras.

"As near as we can manage," Enjolras replied. It was a little awkward for him to walk about with Jacques perched on his shoulders, but somehow he was able to accomplish this without much mishap. Along the way he also spotted the rest of their friends in the crowd; Courfeyrac was with Bossuet, Marthe, Joly, and Musichetta; Courfeyrac had little Armand with him and was pointing out things to the child. Grantaire was gleefully touring some guests from outside Paris, his ebullience only being checked now and then by Nicholine's more staid explanations. He also found Marius, Cosette, and Claudine as they met up with Combeferre. Many other friends and acquaintances were in this crowd, and their passage was occasionally halted by a cheerful greeting or brief conversation.

The memorial was brief; Lafayette gave only a short address before some children came forward to lay a large wreath at the steps of the Hotel de Ville, in honor of the fallen. The sight of this was somehow sobering to Enjolras, despite his markedly lifted spirits. 'A high price, and one which hopefully no one will have to pay again,' he thought.

Jacques looked down at him quizzically. "Who is that for?"

"People you will learn about when you get older," Enjolras said.

The boy nodded seriously. "Ponine, Gavroche, Combeferre, and everyone else said that you were leading all that fighting last year."

"What about it?"

"Were you scared?"

Enjolras paused, wondering how to best word his answer. "It was not in the usual way, petit," he finally said. For his part, he could not have said it was genuine fear that possessed him at some moments, but rather a keen sense of driven desperation, something a little bit more than the mere instinct for survival. 'But on the whole, it was for this sort of light,' he decided as he looked around the crowd, which had now begun to sing the familiar lines, 'Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!' There was a new spirit and majesty in the lyrics, mingled with a great and terrible joy that seemed to prevail even as the crowd applauded the end of the proceedings and then dispersed to return to work or to proceed to more private revelries.

It took a few minutes for Enjolras and Jacques to reach the side of the square, where Gavroche, Neville, and Navet were now with Eponine, Feuilly, and Combeferre. "We survived the barricade only to choke on today's luncheon. What an irony this will be," Feuilly muttered a little ruefully.

"We can afford to stay only long enough to be polite. Citizen Ouvrard will understand that we all have work to return to," Enjolras said.

Eponine looked at her brothers. "You boys behave at Picpus, and don't give Claudine and Combeferre a difficult time. I'll come by for you at around four," she said.

"There's no need to worry about that; I have a part of an experiment that I think they would be interested in. You too, Navet," Combeferre said gamely. "It will be even more fun than your school lessons," he said, eliciting a more enthusiastic grin from Gavroche.

"I hope that the house will still be left standing after," Enjolras joked, knowing all too well the occasionally messy results of his friend's scientific work. After a few more minutes, the boys and Combeferre went to find an omnibus, leaving the other three to head to Ouvrard's home on the Rue Corbeau in the Marais.

The fair weather allowed for the luncheon to be held outdoors; the yard of Ouvrard's house was a maze of tables set up under trees and in between lines of bushes. Everyone could see and be seen in this garden; this became clear to Enjolras even as he, Eponine, and Feuilly stepped into the yard; even people at the far end of the garden stopped to look their way and a buzz of conversation started up at some tables, more so when Ouvrard was seen to break away from a discussion with some of his party-mates in order to greet the newcomers.

"I'm glad that you three could take the time to attend," the elderly man greeted. "It's good to see that varying party affiliations haven't gotten in the way of celebrating this happy occasion; I had never thought we'd see it."

Enjolras nodded, already noticing his colleagues Bamatabois and Mathieu in this crowd as well as some friends from the Radicaux party. Also there were Feuilly's associates from the diplomatic corps, as well as Allyce, Simone, and some of Eponine's other friends from the Societe des Femmes pour Egalite et Fraternite. "It's not a day for any one person or group to claim solely for their own," he said amiably.

Ouvrard smiled approvingly. "If only some of the other guests could have just as much good cheer," he said; somehow he was seen to glance momentarily towards where a few of his own friends such as the Lafontaines were seated. "But rest assured that will pass after a little wine; though I am aware that you in particular do not imbibe?" he added, much to Eponine's and Feuilly's laughter.

"His habits are becoming a little infamous," Eponine said, giving Enjolras a teasing, good-humored smile.

"You know I've never had the taste for it," Enjolras reminded her.

"You are the contagious one here, Citizenness. I have never been in the company of so many political women," Ouvrard said to Eponine. He nodded to Feuilly. "There are a number of writers here who'd like to hear more from you regarding your observations from your assignment to England. Shall I make the necessary introductions?"

Feuilly just managed a smile. "If it is necessary."

Enjolras discreetly clapped his friend on the back by way of encouragement. "They will have much to learn from you," he said before Feuilly and Ouvrard went off to another table. He went to speak to some of his colleagues, while Eponine quickly sought out Simone, who was apparently trying to deal with Bamatabois' detractors. 'This may be short but eventful,' he noted.

He was in the middle of a lively discussion with Mathieu when he heard an indignant yell from a group from the Montmartre district. "What is it your business if you saw someone posting their wedding banns?" Rossi scolded a friend of his. "It's not as if you have any particular objection to bring up to that match!"

"Yes, but how could such a pair get engaged without anyone knowing about it?" a matron groused, glancing from Eponine and then to Enjolras. "Unless of course there is a reason for them to keep the matter concealed."

'Of all times for someone to mention an engagement,' Enjolras thought, already readying to disabuse this group of their notions. He caught Eponine's eye just as she was stepping towards the group; clearly she was up to the same thing and she fully intended to enjoy it, if the look on her face was any sort of indicator.

Eponine tapped Rossi on the shoulder. "By any chance, was this in the church at St. Sulpice?" she asked candidly.

"Yes…" Rossi trailed off as he realized that Eponine was speaking in utmost seriousness. "So those banns were not a prank?"

"Why would anyone joke about such a serious thing?" Eponine said. "Not even Bahorel and Grantaire would, and you know what pranksters they can be."

"I don't know, because there has been a lot of speculation on it…" Rossi said uneasily as he looked away from her and glanced at Enjolras. "She's joking, isn't she?" he asked.

"Certainly not. We thought that the required wedding banns would suffice as a formal enough announcement," Enjolras deadpanned. He heard the Lafontaines gasp in outrage, even as other friends stopped in mid-conversation or ambled over to hear what was going on. "I doubt that anyone here can raise a legitimate objection to the fact," he added.

Rossi gaped at Enjolras and Eponine before laughing out loud. "I should have known; if I'd seen it in the papers, I would have known it to be a joke." He raised his mostly full glass of wine. "Allow me to be the first to wish you two well. May you have anything but a quiet life together; that idyll doesn't suit you."