February 2, 1832
Chapter 1: Two Gamines
A/N: All characters and their origins in this story are the creations of Victor Hugo. I do not own them, nor Les Misérables.
Éponine ran, breathless, up the boulevard with Azelma. That had been much too close, even for them.
"I don't think they're following us." She whispered to her sister. "Are they?"
Zelma turned her head for half an instant, than shook. "No, 'Ponine. We lost them." She smiled. "We got away clean."
"Did you deliver all your letters?" Éponine asked.
"I did, thank God. Now he doesn't have a reason to get angry with me."
"I envy you." Said Éponine sourly. "I still have these few left."
Azelma glanced down at the papers clutched in her hands. "What?" She demanded. "Why couldn't you finish?"
"Because I-" Éponine began, but before she could explain any further, she felt her elbow collide with some unfortunate passerby; a young man, by the looks of him, with poor clothes and unruly dark hair. The impact sent the remaining letters tumbling out of Éponine's hands. He glanced at the two of them for a moment, no doubt startled by their frightened expressions. Or perhaps he was just awed by the sad state of their clothing; dresses little better than rags, skirts tattered beyond repair, hair wild and tangled, and filthy bare feet.
Éponine resolved not to look at the man. It would only attract more attention to herself and Azelma, and unwanted attention at that. Pretending as though she'd taken little notice of the young man, she said to her sister in a low voice:
"I couldn't deliver them all because the cops came 'round. They just missed nabbing me at the half-circle."
Zelma nodded. "I saw them. I beat it out of there."
They were speaking in argot-Parisian underworld slang-in the hopes that the young man, even if he overheard them, wouldn't be able to understand them. But there was always a risk...
Trying to completely shake him off, Éponine grabbed Azelma's arm, and they plunged into the trees along the side of the boulevard, getting closer to the Gorbeau tenement, that crumbled shack they called their home.
Papa was waiting for them inside. He sat on his usual stool, smoking his pipe. 'So little food in the tenement, and yet there is still tobacco.' Éponine thought to herself. She'd give anything to make it the other way around. But what in the world did she have left to give?
Her father looked both agitated and bitter. He usually looked like that when he had to send his daughters out to work. Maman crouched in the corner, trying in vain to make the fire brighter. She didn't look up from her task, except to gaze longingly out the window, or angrily at her husband.
Thenardier sat up when the two gamines walked in. "Well?" He demanded. "Did you get it done?"
Éponine was about to explain, when she realized that the remaining begging letters, about four or five of them, were missing. She'd dropped them when she'd passed that fool of a peasant boy!
She willed her heart to beat slower. She knew better than to admit her fault to her father. The few times she had been brave enough to do that had never ended well.
"Yes. We handed all of them out. Every last one." She cringed at the sound of her own falsehood. She'd never been a good liar, even back when they lived in Montfermeil.
Thenardier nodded. "Good. Should I be hearing a reply soon?"
Azelma, the clever girl, realized what Éponine was doing, said "Yes."
"Who am I impersonating?"
"Fabantou, the dramatic artist." Éponine said, blurting out the first false name she could think of.
Her father snorted. "I suspect some eighty-year old bourgeois will arrive with a handful of flowers to praise me for my career."
"We could eat the flowers." Azelma said thoughtfully. "The flowers in the Luxembourg smell awfully nice in the summer. Do you think they would taste as good?"
Thenardier gave his daughter a withering look. "Are you always this stupid, or is it just the hunger? Pshaw, don't answer that." He waved his hand at them in a dismissive gesture. "I expect to hear a reply to Fabantou soon. If not, then we send another letter. And if that fails, then I'll have to strike some deal with Patron-Minette. Brujon too, maybe. Remind me of that tomorrow."
Éponine froze. "Why tomorrow?" She asked.
"Because we're meeting them at noon. Montparnasse, the dandy, knows of a nice place that could be worth pinching." Thenardier flicked a glance at Éponine, and sneered. "Course, his tastes are not all that refined, are they?."
Éponine balled her fists, but remained silent. Papa had said much worse to her than simply hint at what went on between her and Parnasse.
"Right then. You two go on and sleep. You've taken up enough of my time tonight." And with that, Thenardier turned around in his stool, and resumed his smoke.
Later, when Papa and Maman were asleep, Azelma whispered to Éponine, "Do you know who that boy was we met today?"
Éponine turned on her bed to face her sister. "No. Why should I?"
"Because he's our neighbor. He lives next door."
Éponine sat up, memories stirring. "The student? The one who paid our rent six months ago?"
"The very same." Azelma said.
Éponine slapped her hand to her forehead. "I wish I'd known that when I saw him. I would have liked to thank him."
"He would have thought you were mad. He's never met you, he doesn't know what you look like or even your name. All he knows is that there's a poor family named Jondrette living next door, and that they had a money problem."
"Aye, I suppose that's all there is." Éponine conceded. "But why would he use his money on us? Don't you think he needed it?"
Azelma shrugged. "Beats me. Maybe he just wanted to help."
"But why?" Éponine insisted. "He wasn't in any trouble. He didn't have to help us."
"Go back to sleep, 'Ponine." Was Azelma's only response.
But Éponine wasn't finished yet. "Do you know his name, by any chance?" She asked her sister.
"Papa once told me his name was Monsieur Marius. He didn't know the last name."
"Marius." Éponine repeated, more to herself than to her sister. "That's a nice name."