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28 January 2014 @ 06:59 pm
Epilogue: Thine is the Future  

Epilogue: Thine is the Future (PART 1)

The eventful months of 1833 soon gave way to 1834, a remarkable year particularly for those occupied with social and political questions. 'At least now there are fewer people who say we are simply out to unpave hell,' Eponine mused silently one November morning as she finished recopying a folio of speeches and commentaries translated into English. It was a volume she was particularly proud of, since she had been working on her English vocabulary so as to be able to translate some of the simpler passages. As small as this additional assistance was, it was much appreciated if not enjoyed by both Emile and Odette, who could now devote a little more attention and effort to the numerous other texts continually coming into their workplace.

As Eponine began collating some of the dry pages of text she heard a restless gurgle from a large wicker basket set up next to her desk. "You're through with your nap already, Laure?" she whispered lightly as she scooped up her baby daughter. The infant's dark brown eyes widened as she recognized her mother's voice before she cooed more contentedly and snuggled in closer.

The young woman smiled as she smoothed down Laure's hair, which already showed signs of growing out into an unruly riot of golden curls. She giggled on seeing her daughter's rosy face scrunch in what could only be a quizzical expression before one of her tiny palms wrapped around one of Eponine's fingers. "You caught me there again!" she crooned, eliciting a laugh from the baby. "Doesn't anything ever get past you?"

A light knock sounded on the office door, and Eponine looked up just in time to see Odette carry in an armful of finished manuscripts. "Are you still working on that compilation?" the older woman asked amiably as she set down the booklets on a table to begin wrapping them up.

"I'm only letting the latest pages dry before I stack them up properly but otherwise that volume is as good as finished," Eponine said as she carefully settled Laure back into the makeshift cradle, taking care to tuck the blankets tightly around her for warmth. "It's only for a few minutes, I won't be far away," she reassured the baby before going over to help Odette.

Odette smiled approvingly as she grabbed some brown paper to cover the folios with and then rolled up the sleeves of her lavender dress. "She's such a little dear, isn't she? She'll be quite the dazzling belle by the time she's sixteen."

Eponine smiled as she began to wrap the folios. "Don't say that around my husband or my brothers! They already fuss enough about her as it is and I can only imagine what they'd do to the first young man who dares to cross her."

"Assuming she doesn't already handle the situation herself. She's your daughter after all. That day will come before you or Enjolras will know it, mark my words," Odette pointed out. She sighed as she cut some thread. "Now if only a son of mine would consider the fact that I am in need of grandchildren-"

"Mother, really now!" Emile protested as he emerged from the back office with a notebook in hand. "With all the work we get, it's impossible for me to really spend time with anyone!"

"Excuses!" Odette muttered. "That boy is just afraid to go courting. I don't see why he's so afraid to considering how many of his friends are already engaged or even married! He looked absolutely panicked at Prouvaire's wedding to your sister."

Eponine shook out her left hand to stave away a cramp in her twisted fingers before deftly tying up the packages. "He'll get to it in time, maybe before he turns thirty."

Odette made a huffing sound as she dusted off her hands. "By the way, what is this news I hear about that friend of yours, Simone, and that legislator from the Marais?"

"Simone hasn't told me anything, Bamatabois hasn't told anyone," Eponine deadpanned.

"Some people say they are already married in secret."

"Why would they be?"

"For some people it works better that way; it adds a touch of the romance to it," Odette said. "I think your other friend Allyce would beg to disagree."

"She always has a thing or two to say to or about Simone and Bamatabois. I s'pose she sometimes forgets how helpful they are especially with the things we're doing now," Eponine pointed out.

"It's a good thing it's you and Claudine speaking with the deputies regarding those projects for educating girls," Odette remarked. "I heard that Allyce no longer has patience for that."

"It's why she prefers to leave that part to us while she talks with the other ladies and her neighbours," Eponine explained. 'And that's why I have to go to the deliberations tomorrow, instead of her,' she thought. She looked to where Emile was hurrying to the door to receive some mail. "More things to translate?" she asked him.

"Only if your friend from Toulouse writes in Occitan," Emile said, handing a missive to Eponine.

Eponine nearly started on recognizing the Changer's handwriting on the envelope. 'Normally it's Montparnasse who writes,' she thought as she tore the packet open. She bit her lip as she read through the letter that detailed both the Changer's upturn in his circumstances thanks to Tholomyes' unsolicited help, Montparnasse's latest escape from the law, and one of Babet's minor illnesses. 'At least it was not for lack of trying,' she thought, taking consolation in the fact that this was not the worst possible outcome of the venture to give these men a chance at seeking their fortunes away from Paris.

"Is something the matter, Eponine?" Odette asked her concernedly. "Bad news?"

Eponine sighed as she pocketed the missive, already silently resolving to write back if only to inquire about the matter even if it was not likely that she would or could extend any further assistance. "I s'pose it could be worse. It's only a slight mishap some old friends have gotten into, nothing for anyone to be concerned about."

"Do let us know if we can be of any help," Odette offered. "You are already handling far too much nowadays, my dear."

"Only on some days; it's good that my hands are used to it," Eponine quipped. As she dusted off her hands and went to pick up Laure again, she happened to glance towards the window in time to catch sight of Feuilly and Leonor walking up to the front door. "You're here at the best time! We were just wrapping up the pamphlets for those American, English and Prussian diplomats," Eponine greeted as she let them into the house.

"I was just asking Gilles why they can't just read l the texts in French. I'm aware that they know the language since that is part of their education," Leonor groused as she set aside her shawl. She smiled momentarily when she noticed that Laure was watching them intently. "If you ask me, there is too much lost in translation."

"Those pamphlets aren't for them; they may very well end up in wider circulation in England," Feuilly explained. He looked gratefully at Eponine and the Stendhals. "Thank you for doing this even on short notice. Next time I will make sure that the diplomatic corps office is more prompt about these requests for translations."

"Only if they involve speeches," Emile said a little balefully.

Feuilly winced. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Fortunately we are in contact with most of the original authors; otherwise we might have inadvertently perpetuated some misunderstandings," Eponine assured him blithely.

"It would be much easier if some of them were better with other languages," Odette chimed in.

"I told Antoine that as soon as he's got a little time for it, he ought to also try learning some other language too. It would be easier for him to deal with visitors from outside of France," Eponine remarked.

Feuilly's eyebrows shot upwards with curiosity. "What did he decide on?"

"He said he'd probably be best off learning Spanish since he says it is close enough to French and Occitan, and apparently to Latin as well," Eponine said, rolling her eyes with fond exasperation at her partner's stubbornness. "But having time to see to it is still the biggest problem though."

"He needs to learn the sort of Spanish they speak in Madrid and not what they use in the Basque regions," Leonor pointed out.

"There is a difference?" Eponine asked.

"A little like French and Occitan," Leonor replied. I'll show you some books the next time you're over at Saint-Merry, or if you're still attending the deliberations tomorrow."

Eponine smiled as she adjusted her grip on Laure, who was beginning to squirm restlessly. "I'll be there, even for a little while," she said. "So will Claudine since she's really intent on speaking with some of the schoolmasters who'll attend."

"If she won't miss it, nor will I."

Feuilly surreptitiously checked his watch. "Leonor, I know we should stay and chat but I have to be at the Cafe du Foy in an hour or Courfeyrac will be upset that we missed what he's been helping us arrange," he said, clasping his mistress' arm. "There are some Polish students who are in Paris," he explained to Eponine and the Stendhals. "I'm eager to hear what they have to say."

"And of course you're also eager to share a thing or two with them," Eponine said approvingly. As soon as her friends took their leave a few minutes later, Emile and Odette went to confer in the back office, while Eponine sat back at her desk and carefully tucked Laure back into the basket. She searched her desk for an old, blunted quill and handed this to Laure, who squealed with delight before immediately beginning to examine this strange object. Now that she was sure that her daughter would be sufficiently occupied for at least the next few minutes, Eponine finally set about to finishing her work, humming softly as she sorted through the pages and collated them.

At length she heard the telltale rattle of a carriage approaching the house. 'What could bring Cosette visiting here?' she thought as she got a good look at the vehicle, recognizing it to be the Pontmercys' carriage. She glanced at her watch, which now showed the time to be five minutes past noon, before getting up to open the front door. "Oh what are you doing here Cosette? And with everyone too!"

"Papa and I came from the Rue de'lOuest, Marius has business here in the Latin Quartier, so we all decided to go together," Cosette replied, gesturing to her companions with one hand; the other was clasping that of little Georges, who was trying to hide behind his mother's skirt. Cosette smiled as she coaxed her son forward. "Georges, say hello to your aunt Ponine," she said. The little boy looked up at her with wide eyes before toddling forward to kiss Eponine's cheek."

Eponine smiled as she ruffled Georges' hair. "He is such the little gentleman!"

"Marius is teaching him well. How is Laure doing?" Cosette asked.

"Very well," Eponine said as she showed them into the front office "I brought her with me today, as I always do."

"Is Stendhal busy at the moment?" Marius chimed in. "I need to speak with him about some volumes I found for a case I'm working on."

Eponine pointed to a door. "He's in the back office."

As Marius went to speak to Emile, Cosette went over to take a look at Laure, who cooed and gurgled by way of greeting. "She's already three months old today, isn't she?" she asked Eponine.

Eponine nodded. "So how are things at the Rue de l'Ouest?" she inquired as she watched Cosette cuddle her goddaughter.

"Yes. The kitchen there was finally repaired, thank heavens," Cosette replied with a smile of relief. Over the past year Cosette had turned the old apartment into a refuge of a different sort, one where gamins and gamines could find a warm bed or a good meal, if only for a few days or till some more permanent arrangement could be made for them. "There are seven children staying there now, and still more who drop in at some point or another. I don't want to turn them away especially considering how the weather has been lately."

Jean Valjean cleared his throat as he swung Georges onto his shoulders. "Have you also received a letter from Toulouse?" he asked, keeping a strong grip on the boy's hands so he wouldn't fall off as he bounced happily.

Eponine nodded. "Someone wrote to you too?"

"It was a letter for me, actually. The gist of it is that Citizen Tholomyes is quite happy both with his health and his new business," Cosette said amiably.

"I never imagined him to be in a writing mood," Eponine remarked. Nevertheless this news corroborated the Changer's missive, somewhat making her feel a little better about some parts of the entire story.

Cosette laughed and shook her head before handing Laure back to Eponine. "He was quite proud of his voluminous prose, actually."

"Are you planning to write back?" Jean Valjean asked the young women. "I hope the contents of the letter did not upset you, Eponine."

"Only a short note," Cosette said pleasantly. "Just so he can be assured that I'm well."

"As for me I ought to at least ask and see if there's something to do about it," Eponine replied with a shrug. "How goes it with you and the glassworks business?" she asked Valjean.

"Doing well enough," Jean Valjean answered amiably.

"It's not just doing well enough. Father has been able to help so many of his workers even though there was a bit of a sickness in the factory last summer," Cosette remarked.

"It is only what should be done," Valjean said.

"Father, most workers have learned not to expect such niceness, or even such good sense coming from Bossuet. It's remarkable, it's new, and it should be talked about as much as all the happenings in the news," Cosette said.

A moment later, Marius strode back into the front office. "Father, there is something that Stendhal and I need your help with; it's about a matter of business," he said hurriedly. He nodded to Eponine. "I forgot to tell you earlier that my cousin wrote to my aunt. He is asking how you are."

Eponine snorted. "If he must know, I am doing well."

Marius chuckled. "He should be content to hear that. Perhaps I should write to him about the glass business too. He might come across people in Calais who would be interested in buying. Bossuet has found us some buyers in Meaux but having more would not hurt."

"You have to convince Theodule to discuss something else besides the garrison," Cosette pointed out.

Eponine rolled her eyes at the memory of Theodule's mode of conversation. 'I s'pose some things won't change as easily then,' she thought as Emile sought them out in the office to discuss the translations. After half an hour the Pontmercys and Jean Valjean took their leave, allowing the Stendhals and Eponine to get back to work.

The hours flew by till at last it was four in the afternoon. After straightening up her desk and going over with Odette a list of errands to be done for the next day, Eponine bundled up Laure and set out for the Rue Guisarde. It was one of the busiest hours now in the Latin Quartier; many people would be finishing up at their workplaces or leaving their classes, while the more nocturnal denizens of the quartier were only beginning their usual routines. This merry state of affairs was best exemplified in the neighbourhood of the Place de l'Odeon, which was a riot of color and music even in the middle of autumn. Many playwrights, thespians, and other performers had congregated to discuss work, gossip, or to meet and wheedle with their patrons, while bystanders and vendors were taking advantage of the pleasant late afternoon.

Almost immediately Eponine caught sight of Grantaire and Nicholine poring over a newspaper. Nicholine looked up first and waved to her. "You're headed home already?" she called.

Eponine nodded. "I didn't know you had half-holiday on Thursdays."

"I'm on a full holiday; I've been since yesterday," Nicholine said. "I've left behind being a governess."

"Oh and what for?"

"I'm thinking of starting a small shop of my own. I'd prefer that over having to be at the beck and call of someone else."

Grantaire grinned mirthfully at her. "I thought it was because you were tired of playing Mentor to an unwilling Telemachus, Nicholine."

Nicholine gaped at him. "Did you actually use my given name?"

"Shall I switch back then to an ancient nomenclature?" Grantaire quipped only to laugh when Nicholine gave him a firm pinch on the arm. "My dear, that is a poor way to you repay your worshippers!"

Eponine giggled at this pair's banter before going to the theater steps, where she had espied her sister. Azelma was seated on a step, explaining a series of sketches to Musichetta and Therese. "What is this all about?" Eponine asked curiously.

"Asking for some ideas on clothes," Azelma replied, grinning at her sister. "I want to turn these sketches into actual dresses in the Spanish style, but not make them look like something straight out of an Andalusian dance."

Eponine leaned over to see what Azelma had in hand and was treated to drawings of various costumes, including a spectacular sort of ball gown with layer upon layer of flounces all over the skirt. "On the wrong person, that would look like a cake turned into a dress," she pronounced.

"That is why I think we should do away with some of the flounces and use a different sort of lace," Therese said. "It would also turn out to be less expensive."

"But not eye-catching enough for an audience, especially here at the Odeon. We have to make the best of the lights," Musichetta said as she picked up a pencil.

"Is this for some new opera?" Eponine asked as she set Laure down on her lap in order to relieve the slight ache in her arms.

Azelma nodded giddily before reaching over to give her niece an awkward pat. "A new form of it. It's actually several skits that make a sort of story."

"It is a new form indeed: half the drama will be on stage, the other half will be enacted by the audience," Therese quipped. "Just like when Hernani was staged."

"Jehan's work isn't going to cause that sort of chaos. He's better with handling these things now," Azelma pointed out. "At least his part won't; I'm not sure what some of the other writers like Dumas might be up to."

Musichetta chuckled before looking up and shaking her head as she caught sight of Joly and Bossuet walking up to them, the latter looking despondent. "Has the evil genius struck again?" she called.

Bossuet shook his head as he sat down heavily. "No it's only me and Marthe."

"Another quarrel?" Therese asked worriedly. "Do you need help to talk to her?"

"I think time would be a better remedy," Bossuet said wryly as he wiped his forehead.

Eponine gave him a sympathetic look. "I heard that you and Pontmercy and Citizen Valjean are doing well with that glassworks factory," she finally said, eager to change the subject in order to cheer their friend up.

"Yes, that is one good thing," Bossuet replied more cheerily as he glanced at Joly. "He has more news about the human condition.

"On the whole, it is persevering as always," Joly replied gaily as he rubbed the top of his cane. He wiped his spectacles before looking at the rest of the group intently. "The rumors are true; Bayard has quit the Necker and has officially accepted the post as the Minister for the Committee on Health."

"What does he know of such things? He can't even cure his own choler," Therese said.

"He is at least knowledgeable about policies," Joly said sanguinely as he went to sit next to Musichetta.

"What if he undoes what you've been trying to do at the Bourbe?" Musichetta asked as she inched over to make more room for him.

"I don't think he can argue with the fact that fewer patients have died in the past three months compared to how it stood a year ago," Joly replied, resting his head against her shoulder even as he placed one hand on her midsection.

"Who would have thought such good could come from a simple thing like boiling some of the instruments?" Therese laughed. "Any word as to who was appointed to be the minister for the committee on education?"

"No one is saying anything to any legislator or any group," Eponine said. Still she couldn't help but feel apprehensive; this person would be in a position to divert, prevent, or permit any of the initiatives concerning improvements in the educational system. 'Hopefully it will be a person we can actually have some good discussions with,' she thought.

Azelma looked keenly at her sister. "You always said that sometimes what people need is a little talking to. Maybe that's what can be done for someone difficult."

"Talking to is one thing, but that person doing something about it is still another," Eponine pointed out. "We'll know by tonight, I s'pose, since we need that sort of person for tomorrow's deliberations."

A chorus of laughter and a hubbub of voices came from where a bellicose man had been conversing with Prouvaire and some other playwrights while Bahorel, Grantaire, Nicholine, and a whole group of eager spectators stood by, almost as if they expected this exchange to come to blows. "Your depictions of society are unnatural! Have you no concern for the moral formation of the public or do you deliberately delight in the grotesque?" the bellicose man sputtered.

"It is not grotesque if it is pathos," Prouvaire replied. "I refuse to depict a massacre as a glorious fight if it was something to be pitied more than lauded."

"A travesty all the same!"

Eponine raised an eyebrow, noting this stranger's English accent. "Journalist or diplomat?" she asked her friends.

"A critic and a son of some lord stuffed shirt," Azelma laughed melodiously. She looked sharply towards this commotion and turned crimson on hearing an unmistakably coarse epithet. "I'm not letting anyone talk to Jehan that way!" she hissed before jumping to her feet and racing over to the argument.

"She's even more protective of him now than before they were married!" Therese remarked as she picked up the sketches that Azelma had inadvertently dropped. "And it is so sweet he dotes on her."

"He's good for her," Eponine said. 'Maybe because she is so much braver and less willing to sit down whenever Prouvaire is around,' she thought as she handed Laure to Musichetta and then went to discreetly follow Azelma. By this time her sister was already standing behind Prouvaire and gripping his arm behind his back, even as he was making an indignant reply to the critic's accusations. Bahorel nodded to Eponine and made a punching gesture before motioning to the journalist. Eponine rolled her eyes and had to hold back a rather unladylike snort as she neared her sister and her brother-in-law.

By this time the critic was nearly blue in the face from yelling, such that even Joly had gotten to his feet, ready to intervene should this man be taken with apoplexy. "I should have expected this filth out of you rakes and libertines! The works you create, the tobacco you smoke, even the women you are with! Where can I talk to someone respectable?" the Englishman roared.

Prouvaire only reached behind him to clasp Azelma's hand. "You are talking to one. If that will not do, then I should say that most of us in this square are courteous and civil," he replied.

"You Parisians are nothing but rabble-rousers, who know nothing of actual politics," the critic sneered.

"Jehan knows a lot about politics, how else can he write or make a play about it?" Azelma shot back.

The critic gave her a contemptuous look before training his gaze on Eponine. "I daresay you look more sensible than the rest of this lot, Miss. Could you tell me where I can deliver this letter of introduction?" he said, making an obsequious bow to her. "The address is Number 9 Rue Guisarde, the house of the legislator named Enjolras."

Eponine burst out laughing, as did many of the bystanders. "You can give the letter to me; I will definitely make sure he will receive it as soon as he arrives home. I s'pose you can just as well send it to the Hotel de Ville; it's more official that way."

The journalist gaped at her in shock and astonishment. "Are you that wife of his?"

"You should call me Citizenness Enjolras. You've already met my sister and my brother-in-law, Azelma and Jean Prouvaire," Eponine said, clenching her fist for a moment at this slight. "Your name would be?"

"Goldberg will do," the critic said, curling his lip as he looked Eponine over from head to toe. "So it is true what they say; you are very forward for your age and station."

"I s'pose I wouldn't call it forward if one's already been in the conversation for quite some time," Eponine replied, looking him in the eye.

"I would have expected someone in your position: a wife to a politician, and a young mother as well, to be more occupied with her household than affairs of state."

"Should there be a difference between them, especially in my position?"

Goldberg sneered imperiously at her. "How perfectly Parisian of you; those antics will not do in London."

"I s'pose you should now know that letters of introduction are not what we do in Paris anymore; we prefer to show our faces when we make calls," Eponine retorted.

The critic gaped at her before straightening up stiffly and thrusting the note at her. "Then let Citizen Enjolras that I will call on him at the Hotel de Ville tomorrow," he said more gruffly. "A pleasant afternoon to you, Citizenness."

Eponine kept a straight face as she pocketed the missive, which reeked strongly of absinthe and cheap cigars. "Now that is someone who does not need a ticket to your next opening night," she said more candidly to Prouvaire as soon as Goldberg was out of earshot.

Prouvaire chuckled wryly. "He is paid to have an opinion, but not to have his sensibilities shocked."

"It's a waste of money then," Bahorel chimed in. "I could smell the miasma around him, which makes him a very unhealthy character."

Amid the guffaws that rippled through the crowd at this remark, Eponine thought she heard a distinctly childish chuckle in the throng. She stood on tiptoe and finally caught sight of her brothers and Navet running into the square. All four of these boys were covered with sugar and their collars were smeared with some sort of custard. Also with them was Courfeyrac, who had also brought little Armand with him.

"Ponine, we had some long puffs today!" Jacques chirped excitedly as he ran up to his sister. "Courfeyrac let us have some on the way here."

"They're called éclairs," Neville corrected him.

"They taste the same as puffs do," Jacques argued.

"Because they're made of the same soft stuff, only that one is a gentleman and the other is a lady," Gavroche chimed in.

Eponine snorted at this pointed analogy. "I s'pose the bakers sometimes like to be fancy with these things. You boys need to set your things aside with the rest of the laundry; it won't do to wear those collars again to school tomorrow."

"Neville's pockets are also dirty," Jacques remarked gleefully.

"I only have rocks," Neville said, bringing out a small gray stone that had been split in half to reveal the multicoloured layers within it. "I thought I'd find an insect buried in it."

"Maybe you can ask Combeferre later where it's best to look for those things," Eponine said. She looked to Courfeyrac, who was watching this scene mirthfully, all the while keeping one hand around Armand's arm as the child toddled around. "How was the Cafe du Foy today?" Eponine asked him.

"You mean that lunch with Feuilly, Leonor, and the Polish students? We never had a merrier time of it, or a more productive one," Courfeyrac replied. "It was a very welcome break from the Palais de Justice."

Gavroche sidestepped to avoid accidentally tripping on Armand, who'd begun to reach for his bootlace. "Can you keep the tadpole in one place?" he asked Courfeyrac.

Courfeyrac laughed at this epithet. "If he is a tadpole, then what would you rate yourself at that age?"

Gavroche merely stuck out his tongue at this query. "Something that was learning to fly."

'He'd call himself an eagle if he could,' Eponine thought. "Come on, let's go home. Joly and Musichetta are waiting for you on the steps, Navet," she told the boys.

Navet colored slightly as the Thenardier boys howled with laughter. "It's Bernard, Citizenness," Navet said in an undertone.

"Bernard?"

"That's the sobriquet of his at school," Gavroche said. "It's not very well published, and therefore not in common usage."

"It would be if more people like you used it," Navet grumbled.

The two boys kept up this vein of banter while Courfeyrac picked up Armand and went to speak to Bahorel, Prouvaire, and Grantaire. In the meantime Eponine hurried to fetch Laure, who by this time was starting to get restless despite all of Musichetta and Therese's attempts to calm her down. "I'm sorry that took longer than I thought," she said apologetically to her friends as she scooped up the whimpering child.

"Don't worry about it. I think though that she's a little hungry," Therese said.

"Yes, I s'pose now would be the time for it," Eponine sighed as she gently bounced the infant in order to soothe her. "Hush now. We'll go home in a little bit, petite," she whispered, desperately hoping that Laure would not start screeching with hunger or plain indignation.

"Maybe we can all visit the Rue Guisarde tomorrow night after everything," Azelma chimed in, walking up behind her sister. "Would you like that, Ponine?"

"Very much. After dinner would be nice," Eponine said. 'I think we do get on much better now that we're a little grown-up,' she thought as she hurriedly bid goodbye to the rest of the group and hurried back to where her brothers were waiting. Sometimes she still felt a little rueful on recalling the years during which she and her siblings had been estranged, but the gloom was always quickly dispelled by the fact that they now had the opportunities to make up for the distance.