Return to the Cafe Musain
Chapter 4: Return to the Cafe Musain
Two days later, at the Cafe Musain, Marius was experiencing the rare miracle of being almost drunk.
Since his departure from the ABC Society last year, little had changed with its members; Enjolras was still passionate, Courfeyrac was still merry, Grantaire was still drunk, Combeferre was still practical, and Bossuet was still luckless. They recognized him, certainly, but because of his long absence from the café they spoke little to him and held their usual debates between the nine of them. And so, trapped in some accursed limbo of being ostracized yet still included, Marius had little else to do except to drink his fill.
Some time into his stay, Grantaire sauntered over and sat down next to Marius. He popped open another bottle, and after a few swigs he glanced at Marius curiously. "You're back here again, I see." He said, trying to sound casual.
Marius nodded. "I am."
Grantaire sighed. "Damn this small-talk. Why have you returned, Pontmercy? I doubt it's for the pleasure of our company."
Marius hesitated, reluctant to tell Grantaire the reason for his coming back. The drunkard did well to criticize everything, and Marius had no wish to have his story fall under that speculation. But once he unburdened himself, perhaps some of the others could give him the answer to resting his uneasy conscience.
When he didn't immediately answer, Grantaire refilled his cup. "There, have some wine. Now for God's sake, say what's going on!"
Marius took a drink, and started talking. "I met a gamine yesterday." He explained.
Grantaire looked bored, tossing the bottle around between his fingers. "I hope you don't expect me to believe you've returned because of a woman. I know you too well for that."
"No, no." He said quickly. "What I mean is...she was destitute. I doubt she owned anything but the clothes on her back, and those were shabby and torn all to shreds. Her only way of living was to deliver begging letters of her father-who is a true scoundrel, you should know- to charitable people who live in the area. When I first met her, she and her sister had just nearly escaped being arrested by the gendarmes for such an act."
"Have you reached the point of this story yet?" Asked Grantaire, yawning.
"She is my neighbor."
Grantaire raised an eyebrow. "OK, you've lost me now."
"She...opened my eyes, so to speak." Marius began. "After she left my room-"
"I'm sorry, 'left your room'?" Now Grantaire became intrigued. "Is there something you've not said about this gamine of yours, Pontmercy?"
"She was there to give me a letter." Marius said, exasperated. "Her father wanted to thank me for paying their rent six months ago. It was a trifling matter to me, but to them it kept them in the tenement. It wasn't nothing else, I swear it."
"Clearly it was more than nothing, Pontmercy." A new voice said. "Otherwise, you wouldn't be telling this story."
The stranger who had spoken was Jehan Prouvaire. The dreamer of Les Amis, he was more suited as a poet than a student, and enjoyed anything even remotely romantic.
Marius nodded. "You're right, Prouvaire." He conceded. "I just didn't want Grantaire to get the wrong idea."
Prouvaire grinned. "It's going to take more than one night for that to succeed, mon ami." He sat down by Marius as well, and took a gulp of wine. "Please, continue."
"My point is that even though I've been poor, I have at least retained my honor; I never been reduced to that state of wretchedness that she was in. It was as though someone had shoved me out my old world, which had been filled with light, and exposed me to a new one where there was nothing but darkness, and she was its sad occupant."
"You seem to pity this girl a lot." Grantaire observed. "And yet not a minute ago you were accusing her father of being a scoundrel."
Marius rolled his eyes. "Grantaire, there are few who fall so hard and so fast into deprivation and manage to stay respectable. This man is no exception. True, he is corrupt, vile, and likely very hateful, but is he to blame, for having to survive the best he can?"
Jean Prouvaire stroked his chin, looking thoughtful. "Fascinating." He murmured. "On one side, you have the unfortunate. On the other, there is the infamous. Yet you, Marius, draw no distinction between them. You collect them into the one group, the one name of...of..."
"Les Misérables." Enjolras suddenly called. "The miserable. The unwanted. The wretched of the earth."
"That's the name, for a hundred sous!" Said Prouvaire, smiling.
The backroom of the Cafe Musain was deadly quiet as Enjolras stood from his chair and turned to face Marius. Marius remembered all too well the way that Enjolras had shamed him before, when he'd last been to the Cafe Musain; an incident which had resulted in Marius avoiding the members of Les Amis de l'Abaisse for days. All of the students respected and admired Enjolras. Even Grantaire, who cared for nothing in this world, could be awed into silence by one word from his Apollo. Marius's status among these young men was hinging upon what Enjolras would say next.
Enjolras gazed at Marius for a long moment. Then suddenly, he smiled, and even started to laugh.
Everyone began to throw Marius and Enjolras confused looks, as though wondering whether their leader was playing some sort of trick.
Enjolras clapped Marius on the back. "It's good to see you learn, Pontmercy." He told him proudly.
Marius folded his arms. "I'd ask whether you've drunk too much, Enjolras, if I did not know that I was speaking to you."
Enjolras shook his head. "Do not fear. I am as sober as ever, only now my heart is lighter to hear that you've finally made the right course of action."
Marius looked at the golden-haired student in confusion. "What do you mean?" He asked.
Enjolras sighed. "You have lowered your sight to earth." He explained. "Last time we spoke here together, you spoke highly of Buonaparte's life and conquests. I will admit I have forgiven you for that, but it was not quickly that I did. You were so wrapped up in the splendor of your French Empire that you were blind to the constant sufferings of your fellow-man. But now, this gamine has exposed to you the world of utter poverty, the world of the Misérables. Thanks to her, you have returned. Thanks to her, I feel confident that I can trust you with this." Enjolras pointed to a large piece of paper on a nearby table; a map of Paris.
He gave Marius a wicked grin, and suddenly Apollo was transformed into an image of Lucifer. "Tell me; what do you know about plotting revolution, Marius Pontmercy?"