Hope Strikes a Bargain with Poverty
Chapter 8: Hope Strikes a Bargain with Poverty
"I tell you, it is she!" Thenardier insisted.
"Impossible!" Shrieked Maman. "How can that beggar-girl be that lady, with her dainty hat and dress? My daughters have nothing but the clothes on their backs, and she is dressed as though for a ball!"
"What did you expect?" Papa shouted. "We've always known that monsieur to be richer than he let on. If he hadn't, we'd still be living in Montfermeil! Mon Dieu, I wouldn't be surprised if he was a baron! But mark this well; he's had that girl by his side for eight years now, making her pretty as a doll without her lifting a finger. And us? We break our breaks for a centime!"
Éponine watched her father warily. In the eight years since leaving Montfermeil, he'd never forgotten the "injustice" done to him by the mysterious man in the yellow coat who'd taken Cosette away. He'd sworn that he would meet them again, and it seemed as though the chance had come.
Thenardier began to wring his hands excitedly. "This changes everything." He whispered. "This changes everything!"
"What are you talking about?" Azelma asked nervously. "What does this change?"
"Why do you think I had that old fool agree to deliver the seventy-five francs on my terms? I've waited eight years to give him what he deserves, I'm not risking it getting messed up. Robbing him here in the tenement was a risky enough idea; it all depended on that dolt of a student boy not coming back. Clearly, he isn't going to be staying away." He glared at Éponine. "I told you to keep him out of this!"
She just rolled her eyes. "I did try." She said. "I delivered your letter like you said. I got some sympathy out of him. How should I know he would make a reply? You were the one who wrote asking for more help!"
"Watch your tone, girl." Papa said dangerously. "One more word like that, and I'll-"
"You'll what?" Éponine protested. "Starve me? Ha! My stomach doesn't get any emptier than this! Make me the next watchdog? As if that doesn't fall enough on me already. And you don't dare hurt me too badly now, since you're going to need a lookout for this job against Fauchelevent. Admit it, Papa. You can't touch me."
Thenardier sneered. "Oh, I'm sure I can't." He said. "But I'm sure others won't be so scrupulous, 'Ponine."
He let that threat hang in the air for a moment. Then, he began to pace about the room, lecturing the three of them. "I'll have to tell Patron-Minette about the change in plans. I doubt it will make any difference to them where we rob the man anyway. But this may need more backup..."His face grew thoughtful. "And I have just the pair of scoundrels in mind."
Maman grinned evilly. "Les Frères Souriant, dearest?"
Papa nodded, returning her grin. "Aye. Les Frères Souriant."
Éponine neither knew nor cared who Les Frères Souriant was. She guessed that they were Parisian criminals-Papa knew anybody in this city with a dirty reputation-but still...what kind of criminals went by the name "The Smiling Brothers"?
Her father's abrasive tone shook her out of her thoughts. "Éponine, I want you to go to the Place la Bastille and find Gavroche. If that ungrateful street urchin is anywhere in that damnable elephant, you're going to drag him out by the ears. He's going to take part in this job, whether he likes it or not."
She nodded. "Yes, Papa." And with that, she got up from the floor and headed out the door. She was going to Place la Bastille, just like her father wanted her to. She expected Gavroche to be there, with Samuel and Nathan and perhaps Navet. She'd talk with him, certainly, but she had no intention of bringing Gavroche back to the Gorbeau tenement. He'd make considerable protest along the way, for one thing.
Just as she was about to leave the tenement, a voice called "Éponine!"
She turned. It was Monsieur Marius, running towards her frantically and looking quite distressed.
"What's the matter with you?" She asked him.
He stopped, and relaxed his expression. "Nothing."
"Yes there is. I can tell."
"No, there isn't. I'm perfectly fine." He said affirmatively.
Éponine gave a small laugh. "Aye, and I'm perfectly full. Out with it, Marius, what ails you?"
He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, like a schoolboy who'd been caught misbehaving. "Do you think you could help me with something? I doubted that any of my other friends could, so I decided to ask you."
Éponine laughed again. "Who, me? What could I do that your fine student-friends can't? I shall tell you, monsieur; I can carry letters, go into houses without being seen, ask questions door to door, find out an address, and follow someone without them knowing. Now, is any of that really going to help you?"
To her surprise, he nodded delightedly. "Yes! That's precisely what would help! But first, let me ask you a question; do you know the man and his daughter who came to your garret today?"
She was sorely tempted to say 'Why yes, I do know them. The old man is a millionaire who pretends to be poor, and the girl is a street-rat who should have remained my family's servant.' What she actually said was "No. I do not."
"Do you know their address?"
'Yes. It is Number 55, Rue Plumet. I don't know what the house looks like, except that it has an iron gate, but I suppose it's very nice.' Instead, she lied again. "No."
"Could you find it for me?"
Éponine's lip curled in amusement. There was only one rule to being a Thenardier: 'If you're going to agree to something, find out what's in it for you first.' "And what will you give me?" She asked innocently.
"Why, anything!" He exclaimed. "Anything that you want."
'Well in that case, I suppose I can ask for Cosette's best dress, or a million francs, or the Palace of Versailles." She thought humorously. 'But I really should keep it simple.' She thought over all that she knew about Marius, to see what he might be able to offer her. It wasn't much. She knew he was poor, that he was a student, that he lived next door to her, and that he kept a lot of books.
Hmm...the books. She had rather liked those books he kept.
"Where did you get those books? The ones I saw in your room?" She asked him.
He seemed surprised by her question. "Actually, most of them aren't my books. I borrowed them from Enjolras, Courfeyrac, and a few of my other friends at the Cafe Musain."
"What is the Cafe Musain?"
"It is...well, it's a café, where students from the Sorbonne and other parts of the Latin Quarter go to drink, smoke, and discuss."
"What do they discuss?"
"Politics and history, mostly. Sometimes modern philosophy. Occasionally poetry too, if Prouvaire has his way. Recently, however, Enjolras has been talking about attempting reforms for the poor or some such thing, so I can assume that's what will be coming up at the next meeting."
Éponine liked the sound of this café. It wasn't the boring school she'd thought it would be, but it wasn't the bawdy tavern that she'd known in her own life either. It seemed like a pleasant mix of both. "I want you to bring me to this Cafe Musain." She told Marius.
He knit his eyebrows. "You do?"
She nodded. "If you take me to this student meeting, then I will search for your mademoiselle's address."
Marius gave her a delighted smile, revealing his very white teeth. "Thank you, Éponine, thank you! I can do this for you, easily. The Musain is on the Place St. Michel, by the way. Be there at seven o'clock this Sunday. I'm sure you'll enjoy it." He smiled at her again, then did something completely unexpected; he gave her a quick, friendly hug. "Tu merci encore, mon ami. You may have just changed my life forever." He said.
"Uh, yes." Said Éponine, dazed. "Glad I could help. Now, I really must be going. My brother..."She mumbled some lame excuse, and before she knew it she was out of the door and heading towards the Place la Bastille for the second time that week.
Even after she was gone, she still felt a strange sort of tingling in her arms, where Marius had hugged her. She tried to wrap her own arms around herself. Nothing.
"Merde." She swore softly. She quickened her pace down the road, determined not to look back at whoever was standing in the doorway of the Gorbeau tenement.