Chapter 10: Misery's Brother
A/N: In this first section, although there are no quote marks, it is all Cambriol narrating.
I come from a suburb close to Paris, the quarter called Montreuil-sur-mer. When I was seven years old, my mother died giving birth to my sister, and my father ran off with a carter's wife. I had almost nothing to live for after that, and she had no one on earth but me. A circus performer who was passing though town taught me the arts of pick-pocketing, and from there I made my living. I never really enjoyed that life, when I look back on it. The only bright spot was the knowledge that my sister was staying alive. She was an innocent young creature, with wonderful blonde hair and beautiful white teeth. We played together in the street every day, until we could scratch a few pennies out of the road or some witch chased us off.
Then, when she was ten, she decided that she wanted to leave Montreuil. I knew no life outside of my home, but I could not imagine being separated from her. So we journeyed together into the farmlands, and were both able to start honest living. Those were perhaps the happiest years of my life, and I've always hated myself for not making them last longer.
When she was fifteen and I was twenty-two, we decided to go to Paris together and "seek our fortune", you might say. I was able to give up thieving for good then, and became the friend of some decent young men in the college. One of them took an interest in my sister, and she became his mistress. I couldn't bear to lose her love to another man, so in 1817 we finally parted ways.
Let me bring this story to its moral, Éponine. About seven years afterwards, I heard a rumor that my sister had returned to Montreuil without her lover. I was so thrilled by the idea of seeing her again, I left Paris as soon as I could and arrived back home. But it was too late. She had died of a fever. A friend of her's, a penury-woman named Marguerite, told me the story:
My sister, it seemed, had had a child by her lover. The girl was being looked after by an innkeeper in some out-of-town backwater, and she had to pay him an extraordinary amount to provide for her. She worked at a factory, I was told, but was fired once the forewoman discovered she had an illegitimate child. So she had to resort to...extreme measures. She sold everything she owned and more; her hair, her teeth, and at last, her body. All this she did, never thinking of herself and only of her daughter. She died a whore who had become the mistress of the mayor. I found her grave and wrote her name on the stone. And there, at her tomb, I swore to shield the honor of any woman in her tragic situation. And that includes you, Éponine.
Cambriol grew silent once he had finished his story. The candle was almost used up by then, just a few inches of wax left. They'd each completed the cake, and the wine was almost used up.
"I still don't understand." Said Éponine. "How did you go back to thieving?"
Cambriol gave her a wan smile. "When I returned to Paris, confused and distraught, I met my cousin Marceau Chapard. He'd taken up with a crime ring in Pantin, and I was drawn back to that world like a moth to the flame. We soon became expert robbers, and everyone started calling us that absurd nickname you heard from your father."
And with that, Cambriol stood, drained the wine bottle, and brushed the cake crumbs off the desk. "It's been a pleasure, Mademoiselle Thenardier." He put on his hat, and turned to leave.
Before he could go, Éponine called out "Monsieur Cambriol!"
"For not...doing what Monsieur Chapard did."
"You are very welcome."
"But you promised my father I would be yours this evening. He'll be angry with me if you didn't do anything. He'll blame it all on me, I'm sure of it."
Cambriol considered for a moment. Then, he walked back to Éponine's side, and kissed her, almost delicately, on the cheek.
"There. That should satisfy a rascal like your father." He grinned at her. "Perhaps I was wrong when I compared you too much to my sister, Éponine. Maybe you two will not share the same fate; to die for someone you love."
She laughed. "I highly doubt that."
"So do I." Cambriol clasped her hand for a moment more, and then turned to leave again.
"What was her name?" She asked him. "Your sister's name?"
Cambriol stopped suddenly. He grasped the door-frame as though he was trying to steady himself. He looked back towards Éponine, the grief very real in his eyes.
"Fantine." He said, almost inaudibly. "Her name...was Fantine."
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