The Scum of the Street
February 3, 1832
Chapter 2: The Scum of the Street
A/N: Victor Hugo never gave the names of the two younger Thenardier boys, and I didn't want to steal any names another fanfic author might have created, so I had to come up with them myself. Don't hate me for it.
"Let go of me, you elephant!" Gavroche shouted at Gueulemer. "This is the last good vest I have, and it ain't spring yet!"
The Herculean flashed him an ugly smile. " All you have to do is come with me quietly, Monsieur Gavroche." He said sternly. "Or disappear more quickly next time."
Gavroche rolled his eyes. "Good thing you never need to disappear, Gueulemer." He teased. "With your brains, you'd mistake the river for a bush and try to hide in it."
Gueulemer simply ignored him. Most of Patron-Minette did. He did, however, tighten his grip on Gavroche's arms as he led him down the road to the Faubourg Saint Antoine.
For years, Gavroche had attempted to run away from the web of crimes that his father, Thenardier- known to some as Jondrette-had created in his hovel at the Gorbeau tenement. It wasn't as though he was greatly wanted there; his mother had never loved him, and though his sisters always pitied him and wanted him to stay, their compassion was no match for the iron will of Madame Thenardier, nor the greed of their father. Gavroche and his two younger brothers, whom Thenardier simply called "Premiere" and "Deuxième"-first and second, although their names were really Samuel and Nathan-were often cajoled into assisting him on various small assignments. It was rarely anything beyond lowering a rope for a getaway or saying where the best place was to pickpocket someone, but Gavroche saw what Éponine and Azelma were going through. As the years passed, the situation would get worse, and the faster that Gavroche disappeared into the streets of Paris for good, the better.
Gueulemer and Gavroche finally reached the place; it was an occasional haunt of Patron-Minette, and if it actually had an address, Gavroche didn't know it. As the huge man swung open the door, Gavroche saw that he was the last of the clan to arrive. Papa, Mamma, Éponine, Azelma were all assembled around the room, in company with Montparnasse, Babet, and Brujon. Claquesous was nowhere around, but that was nothing new. No one ever saw him unless he wanted them to. Even the two little boys were there, in tow with La Magnon, their "mother", who was nothing more than a bitter old woman who used the boys as a funding means from some old bourgeois. Gavroche had never met Magnon before, and she was beyond doubt the scariest and the ugliest woman he'd ever seen.
"Ahoy there, my little momes!" Gavroche called to his brothers. "This old bat treating you well?"
Samuel, who was the elder, glanced up at Magnon. She said nothing, and simply glowered down at him. He stuttered "Y-yes, monsieur."
"You look cold." Gavroche observed. "That's not good for when it's February. You should come stay in my elephant, if you ever get the chance."
Nathan's eyes widened. "You live in an elephant?" He asked, amazed.
Gavroche nodded. "The stone one, by the Place de la Bastille. It's a nice spot, even if there are rats."
"What are rats?"
"They're like large mice, only meaner, and blacker."
"Why don't you get a cat to eat them?"
"I had a cat once." Said Gavroche sadly. "But the rats ate her."
Nathan stepped back, mute.
Thenardier cleared his throat. "Well, now that we're all here." He began. "We should discuss what's coming up next. Montparnasse, you told me you have a suggestion?"
Montparnasse stood up. He'd been a gamin once, like Gavroche, only he'd started to like knives more than the streets. He couldn't have been more than twenty-one, but he was one of the four most feared criminals in Paris.
"I was drinking at a café yesterday." Said Montparnasse. "Down by the Rue de Babylone, when I overheard a drunken lancer speaking with his regiment. It was all the old bawdy stuff, you know, till this lancer fellow gets around to some grisette he'd seen from a window one day. She lives on Rue Plumet, he said, in a great house with a wrought iron gate."
Thenardier whistled. "She must have a fortune, this grisette, if she's living on the Rue Plumet. What was this lancer's name?"
"His friends called him Gillenormand. Theodule Gillenormand."
"Well then," said Thenardier, rising from his seat and raising a glass. "A toast! To Monsieur Gillenormand, our unwilling benefactor!"
He took a swig from the mug, and passed it around the table for his accomplices to drink. "Rue Plumet..." he muttered. "Is that important for any other reason? Any other ripe spots, or is it just a biscuit?" He asked, to no one in particular.
"It's where that philanthropist lives." Azelma chimed.
"The one of the Church Saint Jacques?"
He nodded."Met that old fellow at a Mass last week. Kind chap, but a bit dodgy; his coat was threadbare, but he was still throwing away his money to the poor." Thenardier suddenly laughed cruelly. "It's funny, don't you think? A beggar who give alms! But how the devil do you know where he lives? I doubt you followed him."
"I was trying to swipe his wallet, and I saw the address inside." Azelma explained.
Thenardier nodded approval. "Good. Did you find out his name?"
Azelma shook her head.
Thenardier's face darkened. "Did you give this philanthropist a letter, after I spoke with him?" He asked dangerously.
Azelma nodded, relieved that she had a suitable excuse.
"When will he reply?"
"He didn't he would." Zelma said. "He didn't even bother to open the letter. He just said that he would stop by Gorbeau House some time soon to give blankets and such."
Thenardier spat. "That's all these blasted men ever care to dish out. Blankets and clothes? Why can't they spare a few francs, they're wealthy enough."
Azelma almost smiled. "They certainly are, Papa. You see, that girl Parnasse is talking about is the daughter of Monsieur So-and-so. I saw her with him in the church that day. She seemed like a nice person." Azelma reflected. "Very pretty too." She knit her eyebrows. "There was something almost... familiar about her, too."
Thenardier hadn't been listening to those last comments; he just clapped his hands in satisfaction. "Perfect! Two birds with one stone! When Monsieur the philanthropist, our alms-giving beggar, visits, and sees the sorry state we're in, he'll swear to come back with more next time. And soon, if I do some good talking. We can jump him when he returns, and his lovely daughter as well, if she's foolish enough to come. If not, then I think it's best to play a game of ransom with her. What say you, gents?"
Montparnasse, Brujon, and Gueulemer nodded their consent. Only Babet shook his head. "It'll be risky, planning something like that in that rat's nest of your tenement." He warned. "Does anyone else live there who might interfere?"
"None." Said Thenardier. Then his eyes narrowed. "Wait a bit...there is one. There's some student boy who lives next door, Marcus or Cassius or something like that. He's an inquisitive little fellow, and he's meddled in my affairs before."
"He paid our rent for us, you mean." Éponine muttered.
Thenardier rounded on her. "What was that, girl?" He demanded.
"Nothing." Éponine said immediately. "Just talking to myself."
Thenardier rolled his eyes. "Well, stop talking to yourself, before I send you to a mad-house."
"Yes, Papa." Éponine replied, and looked down at the floor.
Had Éponine looked up at that moment, she might have seen Gavroche looking at her quizzically.
"So," said Brujon. "What are we going to do with your young student? It's damn useless to stage a job only to have some young Robespierre walk in on it!"
"I say we gut him." A new voice said.
Everyone jumped. Standing in the doorway, leaning against the wall, was Claquesous, as dark and menacing as ever.
Thenardier regained his composure. "You're late." He told the criminal.
Claquesous simply shrugged. "I had business in Pantin. An exceedingly well-dressed gentleman had come down there in hopes of meeting a whore." He tipped them his hat, which made of the finest black felt. "He found me instead. He won't be needing this anymore."
"Yes, well, enough of your midday murders." Thenardier scowled. "Why do you say that this Marcus needs to be taken care of so badly?"
Another shrug. "You could take the risk of robbing the gentleman when the boy isn't there." Claquesous said. "Of course, that's no guarantee he won't come back. I say we do away with him. For safety's sake, of course." He added.
Thenardier glanced at his assembled gang and family. "We'll put it to a vote." He decided. "We're all jolly good Bonapartists, aren't we? All in favor?"
Brujon, Babet, Claquesous, Gueulemer, Montparnasse, and Thenardier all raised their hands.
Thenardier glared at Éponine, Azelma, and Gavroche, who abstained. "I said, all in favor?" He said menacingly.
Instead of responding, Gavroche wriggled out of Gueulemer's grasp, and sauntered over to Samuel and Nathan. "Well, that's settled. You're coming with me, momes." And he dragged his two younger siblings out of the ruin without another word.
Only after a few seconds afterwards did Magnon process what had just happened. "That street urchin just stole my brats!" She glared at Papa and Mamma. "What do you two crooks intend to do about it?"
Maman shrugged. "Go and reclaim them afterwards if you like. They're Magnons now, not Thenardiers. They're your problem, witch. Deal with them."
"How right you are." Papa agreed. He then turned his attention to his daughters. "Now, I want a unanimous decision in this." He warned them. "And unanimous is what I'll be getting, if either of you two sluts know what's good for you."
Eyes widening, Azelma raised her hand with the others. Éponine suppressed a sorrowful sigh. Poor 'Zelma; she was never good at standing up to their father about anything. Every time she tried, it only ended with a beating on her part.
Papa turned to face his only remaining opposition. He tapped his finger on his coat in a gesture of impatience. "I'm waiting, Éponine." He said, as though he was waiting for a child to show how foolish it had been, and should start doing whatever Papa told it to.
Éponine crossed her arms resolutely. "Monsieur Marius has done nothing wrong." She said stubbornly. "He doesn't deserve to die. He even helped us once."
"Oh?' Sneered Papa. "And you have a better idea?"
She took a momentary feeling of pleasure as she saw the surprised look on his face when she smiled. "I do, in fact."
He gestured Patron-Minette. "Would you be so kind as to share it with our friends?" He said mockingly. He clearly believed that she had no alternate plan, and that she was only stalling until he could get his way; an inevitable course, he always believed.
Éponine took a deep breath. She was, in fact, improvising, but this wasn't the first time she'd had to do some fast talking. And it helped to know that what she said was saving the life of their neighbor; a penniless young man who'd done nothing wrong. She wasn't sure what she was felt when she reflected on that idea; triumph, maybe? Only it was more...satisfying, and more heart-warming as well.
She looked at the stone-hard faces of Patron-Minette. "Six months ago, Monsieur Marius paid our rent for us." She told them. "We found out about a week later, but none of us ever bothered to thank him properly." She turned to her father. "You can write him a letter saying how grateful you are, and I'll deliver it to him. Once he reads it, and sees me, he'll think the Jondrette family is so far into poverty that they can't possibly have anything to do with Patron-Minette. They're too busy trying to stay alive to involve themselves with Pantin."
Papa nodded, warming up to the idea. "Throw the dog off the scent. I like that." He immediately grabbed some pen and paper, and hastily scribbled something down on it. "You will deliver this by tonight." He told Éponine. "And if this Monsieur Marius shows up at our door any time during the next few days, you'd better pray it's not when the philanthropist is visiting."
Éponine nodded. "I understand." She told him, and she took the letter into her hand.
"Good." Said Thenardier. He looked up at Patron-Minette. "That's all for now, comrades. I'll be sure to tell you when the charitable philanthropist is returning. Let's hope that he brings a large purse."
Patron-Minette said their farewells to Thenardier, and left. Montparnasse almost casually slid his hand down Éponine's back as he exited. She grit her teeth, refusing to let out the gasp of surprise she knew he wanted. He merely scowled at her, and was gone.
La Magnon glared at Papa and Mama one last time-no doubt blaming them for the loss of Samuel and Nathan-and left in the same direction that Gavroche had. Soon enough, the four Thenardiers began the journey back to the Gorbeau tenement.
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