The Meeting of Paris and Helen
Chapter 7: The Meeting of Paris and Helen
Jean Valjean looked at the assembled faces in the garret; the thin, leering dramatic artist Fabantou and his huge wife; their two daughters, shivering in the cold; and the young man who was kneeling by the side of the girls and staring in wonder at Cosette, the way one might marvel at an angel.
Valjean placed his hand protectively on Cosette's shoulder. The young man reminded him unpleasantly of the student who had taken a fancy to Cosette in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and he didn't want a repeat of that. All Valjean had learned from that unpleasant experience was that Cosette was even more unprepared to start life without him than he'd thought, and he'd strengthened his resolve to keep her near him.
Nevertheless, that was no excuse to be impolite. "And who are you, monsieur? A relative of these poor folk?" Valjean asked him.
The young man smiled with an air of good nature. "No, monsieur. Simply a neighbor, offering any assistance I could." He made a short bow. "I am Marius Pontmercy. And you are?"
Valjean returned the smile. Perhaps this Marius wasn't the same fool as the other student had been. "Ultime Fauchelevent. And this is my daughter, Cosette."
Marius's grin broadened at the sound of her name. He took Cosette's hand in his own, and kissed it gently. "Enchanté." He told her.
Cosette beamed at him. "You're too kind, monsieur."
None of them, not even Valjean, noticed Éponine then, looking at Cosette with an evil eye.
Valjean shifted uncomfortably, wondering how to change this discussion to something less...informal. He steered Cosette away from Marius, and asked him "You are a friend, you say? Their neighbor?"
Marius nodded. "I did them a kindness about six months ago, and now monsieur has called on me again for whatever good my petty deeds may do."
Fabantou laughed. "Monsieur Marius is being too humble! Look here, in my hands! A five-franc piece, good as gold! He gave that to us just now, the kind boy!"
Marius blushed at the man's compliment. "It was the very least I could do, monsieur. I am sure that Monsieur Fauchelevent can do much more for you."
Valjean shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. I am a philanthropist, that is true, but a man does not need his station as an excuse to do good."
Marius bowed his head. "Wise words." He said. He looked around the garret. "Now, if I am needed no further, I will leave monsieur to speak with Monsieur Fauchelevent."
"Eh? Oh, very well." Said Fabantou. "A thousand blessings go with you, Monsieur Marius!"
"It's been a pleasure to meet you, Monsieur Fauchelevent. And you, Cosette." He tipped them his hat, and departed.
Valjean watched him go. 'How odd.' He thought to himself. 'I feel as though I would quite like to meet that charitable young man again, and yet at the same time I rather dread it.'
Fabantou shook him out of his thoughts. "I am afraid, monsieur, that I have news most tragic to tell you." He lamented.
"Very soon, on the, eh, sixteenth, my landlord intends to evict me in lieu of my unpaid rent. Myself, my spouse, and my daughters shall be turned out to the street! In the heart of winter! I owe sixty francs to that horrid man! How can I ever pay it!"
Valjean began to get an understanding of just what kind of man this Fabantou was. While he was poor and impoverished, he was also greedy and quite cunning as well. He knew better than to ask Valjean for money upfront in fear of being turned down, so he decided to test his interest by baiting him with his ultimatum. It was a style of begging that seemed almost...familiar to Valjean.
"I could give you seventy-five francs." Said Valjean. If being a factory owner in Montreuil-sur-mer had taught him anything about business, it was that people enjoyed being offered more money than they asked for.
Fabantou's eyes widened. "Seventy-five francs, monsieur! What a fortune! What a gift! If you could be so benevolent, I would deeply in your debt!"
Valjean smiled at him. Although he had some suspicions about Fabantou's character, it always gave him pleasure to provide alms for anyone in need, even if they were a bit rascally. "You owe the rent on the sixteenth of this month, you say? Would you like me to send the money to you several days before that?"
"No!" Fabantou shouted. Then he recoiled, and smiled apologetically. "Pray forgive me, monsieur. A bit of the nerves, you know. What I mean is, I suggest an alternate plan; on the sixteenth, I come to your residence-wherever that may be- you hand me your gift in person there, and I return here to appease my landlord. With the extra fifteen francs-twenty, including the five from Monsieur Marius- I can began saving for my next payment."
It was an acceptable idea, Valjean supposed. Still; why did Fabantou want him to give him the francs in person, at Rue Plumet?
He decided not to argue. This man had already been treated too harshly by the world. Why not let him have his way for once? "Very well." Valjean agreed. "I shall expect you on the sixteenth of February. Any time would do. I live at Rue Plumet, Number 55. You know where that is?"
"Until then, Monsieur Fabantou. I shall see you again in two weeks time." Valjean nodded his goodbye, and led Cosette out of the dirty little garret. Another minute later, they were in a fiacre on their way back to Rue Plumet.
Cosette smiled at him. "That was a very kind thing you did, Papa, offering to pay their rent for them."
Valjean beamed at her. He wished so dearly that she would become like him when she was older and he was gone; giving all and keeping little. What was that awful maxim of Javert's in Montreuil? "Honest work and just reward, that's the way to please the Lord." 'Well, that's all good for a man like him.' Valjean thought satisfactorily. 'But for me, it should be "eternal charity with no reward". Let Javert keep his laws, wherever he is now'.
"It was the very least I could do." Then he gave a humorous snort. "I sound just like that young man, Marius Pontmarie."
"Pontmercy, Papa. He said his name was Pontmercy. And you do." Cosette said, her tone casual. "What did you think of him, by the way?"
Valjean bit his lip. He didn't want to point out the young man anymore to Cosette today, but he could neither avoid her question. "I thought him a very dull fellow." He said airily.
Cosette's only response was:
Valjean ground his teeth in annoyance. 'Now I'm sure to have pointed him out to her.' He thought, cursing himself. 'God above; who knows where could this lead next?'