Gestas and Dismas, Both in Hell
Chapter 9: Gestas and Dismas, Both in Hell
A/N: I own two O/Cs here, Chapard and Cambriol.
P.S. This is one of those chapters where the story deserves the "T" rating, by the way.
Éponine returned to find 50-52, Gorbeau House, hosting two unexpected guests that evening.
She'd just returned from Gavroche's elephant. He'd been doing well in the few days that they'd last seen each other. Their two youngest siblings, Nathan and Samuel, were quickly learning the arts of the gamin, and Gavroche was luckily able to feed all three of them, thanks to a twenty-franc coin a gentleman had tossed to him. "Poor fellow." He'd told Éponine. "After I'd bowed and showed my thanks, I swiped another five out of his pocket." She'd laughed when he'd said that, and ruffled his dirty blonde hair like she had when they were children.
The two men talking with her father did not seem as entertaining as Gavroche, though. They were both dressed with dark hats and overcoats, and their features were similar enough to make Éponine wonder whether they were related. One wore a blue cravat, while the other wore a red one. One was them was tall and thin, the other large and stocky. She immediately disliked the pair of them.
Thenardier greeted her as she entered the garret. "Ah, Éponine," He said, much too politely. "Allow me to introduce our visitors. This is Monsieur Chapard,"He indicated the stocky man. "And this is Monsieur Cambriol." He pointed towards the tall man.
"Who are they?" She asked bluntly.
"They are," Said Thenardier, sweetening his tone. "A pair of gentlemen who have kindly offered to aid me and Patron-Minette in our operation against Monsieur Fauchelevent."
"They're burglars, you mean." Éponine stated.
"We prefer the term "purloiners", mam'selle." Chapard said. He was a very seedy-looking fellow, and he wasn't nearly as well-dressed as Monsieur Cambriol. His hat was more weathered, his trousers were dirtier and the elbows of his coat were shinier. There was an oily tone in his voice that made Éponine mistrust even more than the other.
"I see." She said to the burglar. "I take it that you and your friend here are Les Frères Souriant? The Smiling Brothers?"
Cambriol nodded. "We've been given that name, yes."
"How did you get it?"
Cambriol gave a slightly embarrassed smile. "It's something of a pun; Marceau walks up to a passerby and smiles warmly at him, and I hold him from behind while he checks the pockets."
"How amusing." Éponine said sarcastically. "And tell me, Monsieur Cambriol; how did my father convince you and your partner to take part in this risky venture?"
"He convinced us with twenty-five thousand francs." Said Chapard, his eyes shining with greed. "He plans on stealing two hundred thousand total, with an equal share for each man. That's himself, me, Cambriol, Brujon, and Patron-Minette."
Éponine bit back her scornful laughter. Her father really was the greatest con-man in France! He'd told his family that he planned on stealing 200,000 francs, yes; but he'd also mentioned on how he was going to distribute only 500 francs to each man, and take the remaining 196,500 for himself. Of course, he couldn't tell his gang about that, could he?
"That's quite a fortune, monsieur."
"It certainly is, fille. In fact, your father has been generous enough to add some insurance to our pledge; just to make sure we keep our word in the long run."
"Insurance?" Éponine echoed. "What insurance?"
She looked to her parents for an answer, and found it in the triumphant expression on her father's face.
"I'm sure I can't hurt you." He'd told her earlier. "But I'm sure others won't be so scrupulous, 'Ponine."
And there was nothing more unscrupulous than a thief.
She'd been such a fool to tempt her father's rage. Where did it ever get her, anyway? Another brawl in the house and another mark on her cheek. But he'd never taken revenge this way before.
Thenardier had sold her body to Chapard and Cambriol.
"A very effective kind of insurance, 'Ponine." Papa said, satisfaction dripping in every word he said. "I am, as I have always said, a man of good business; a perfectly honest tradesman. And my trade is living."
'No. Your trade is dehumanizing. Others as well as yourself'. Éponine thought bitterly. She looked at her mother, but she was staring directly at the broken chair as though it was suddenly quite interesting. She looked towards 'Zelma, but she simply shook her head and clutched her wounded hand, not making a sound.
"I see." She said, not sure whether she was speaking to her father or to herself. "Well, gentlemen, you might as well make yourselves comfortable. The sun is going down fast, and I don't pay for transportation."
"How nice to see everything get settled." Thenardier said pleasantly. "And now, if you'll pardon me, Éponine, I'm off to tell Patron-Minette of our new compatriots. My dear, Azelma; you're coming with me."
Maman walked by Éponine without giving her a single glance. Azelma clutched her arm and tried to say something, but the words stuck in her throat, and she departed with their mother.
To Éponine's surprise, Cambriol began to leave as well.
"Where are you off to, Alexandre?" Chapard asked. "Aren't you going to stay and entertain our lovely guest?"
"You may "entertain" her first, Marceau." Said Cambriol in a bored tone. "I'm not entirely in the mood for it, and I have the mind to go out and get some dinner. There is a lovely restaurant in the Marais that I know of; one with the most excellent wine. I shall see you again tomorrow." The thief raised his hat to them, and was gone.
Chapard and Éponine were the only two people left in the garret, and the silence was growing eerily tense.
"Well?" Chapard demanded. "Aren't you going to do something?"
Instead of answering, Éponine took her boy's cap off her head and set it down on the floor. She took off her wooden shoes next. After that, she brushed her long mane of dark black hair behind her shoulders, and began to fiddle with her chemise.
Chapard's breath grew heavier as he watched her. He lumbered up to her and pushed her to the ground. "Faster." He said, the lust growing in his voice.
Éponine ignored him. She may be this man's slave tonight, but he was a lummox all the same, and she would not be bullied.
Growling like an animal, Chapard struck her across the face. "Faster!" He bellowed.
Her heart racing now, Éponine tore off her chemise as quickly as she could. There was faint ripping sound, and she was suddenly bare-chested in front of the burglar.
Chapard got down on his knees in front of her, and began to stroke her legs with his horrible hairy hands. "By God." He said, frustrated after a few minutes of doing it. "At least react to me, wench. It's like feeling up a corpse."
'That's because you are.' Éponine thought. 'Funny; I really am more dead than alive, aren't I? My heart rarely feels, my skin doesn't register the blows Papa delivers, my mind is slow and my speech minimal. That's what happens to a girl in Pantin. There is no thriving. You only waste away. So go on ahead, Monsieur Chapard. Make love to your corpse.'
Cambriol returned to the garret about thirty minutes after Chapard had left her. He had a small box tucked under one arm and was carrying a bottle of wine in his other hand.
He either didn't see Éponine as he walked in, or he simply ignored her. He sat down at Papa's usual chair and table in the darkness, and opened the box. A sickeningly sweet smell filled the foul garret, like the treats Éponine had eaten when she was a little girl.
He started to sing as he munched on his dessert:
Nous marchions le long ensembleEt goûté beaucoup de larmesTant nous étions assis en regardant vers le rivage azurage.Nous savions que nous regardions retour sur le passage de annéesQue des temps difficiles reviendraient pas plus.
Nous avons écouté les chansons de celui qui est fatigué et mal-aiméPriant pour la Mort pour fermer sa porte.Espérant l'amour et la beauté règnerait pour tout leur joursEspérant que des temps difficiles reviendraient pas plus.
Nous travaillions à construire un monde de la musique, la lumière et gaieSachant bientôt il aurait no plus pauvres.Ills avaient élèvent la voix forte, nous aurions entendre chanter et dire"Oh, temps difficiles reviendront pas plus."
Vous étiez une vierge brisée, vivant tous vos jours en enfer,Mais toujours vous regardé vers la lumière.Vous avez eu le coeur d'un ange et le corps de putainPourtant tu chantais "Temps difficiles reviendront pas plus."Ensemble nous avons chanté "Temps difficiles, temps difficiles, reviendront pas plus."*
The mournful song ended. Cambriol brought a match out of his pocket, and lit the taper that was placed on the table. By its light, he saw Éponine at last, sitting hunched up in the corner. She must have looked like a phantom, and a disgraced phantom at that; her hair was wilder than ever, her chemise was torn, and her skirt had been pushed up all the way to her waist.
"Oh. It's you." He said casually. "Good to see you again, mademoiselle. You're most likely hungry. Cake?"
Éponine would have given her life for a taste of that delicious treat. But she shook her head, refusing.
He smiled sadly at her. "Ah, quite right. You've learned not to trust the man who offers you food. Very wise, my girl." He took a bite of his cake, and between mouthfuls said "That's why I became a thief, you know. I knew better than to trust someone with my meals. I learned to rely only on myself for getting fed. And my cousin too, I suppose."
"Your cousin?" Éponine asked weakly. "But I thought Chapard was-"
"My brother?" Cambriol finished for her. "No, mademoiselle. He is the son of my father's brother, thus making him my cousin. Don't worry, everyone thinks the way you do. "The Smiling Cousins", after all, doesn't have the same ring to it as "The Smiling Brothers"." He took a swig of his wine. "Ah." He said happily. "Bordeaux, 1780. Excellent vintage. One drop of this turns paupers into princes, and jackals into lions." He glanced over at her again. "Please, eat. I insist."
Slowly, Éponine rose from her spot and walked, as though in a dream, to Cambriol's table. She took a hesitant bite of the cake, and her mouth instantly burst with flavor. The taste of it was so sweet that she almost gagged while trying to devour her piece. She had a bit of the wine to wash it down, but that only made her tongue feel tangier.
Cambriol nodded, and allowed her another drink and slice. "One would think you'd been living off rocks." He commented.
"Black bread, though there's not much difference." She admitted. Before she knew it, she'd gobbled down half of the cake and at least a quarter of the wine.
She burped. "Sorry, monsieur." She apologized.
"Don't worry. Marceau belches like a behemoth when he has the mind for it. I regret to say that you have learned how uncivilized he is."
She gave a small, careful nod. "Monsieur? Why are you doing this?"
"Doing what, precisely?"
"Giving me cake and wine, and not...enjoying me?"
Cambriol tugged at his bottom lip, hesitating. He took another long sip of wine, and then he said "I once had a sister very much like you, Éponine. Another tragic young girl." He stared at the burning candle. "You do not share her face, but your fates are the same. Allow me to explain."
*Here's my best translation of Cambriol's song:
We walked along togetherAnd tasted many tearsAs we sat looking towards the brightening shore.We knew as we looked back on the passing of the yearsThat hard times would come again no more.
We listened to the songs of the weary and unlovedPraying for Death to close His door.Hoping love and beauty would reign for all their daysHoping that hard times would come again no more.
We worked to build a world of music, light and gayKnowing soon there would be no more poor.They'd raise their voices loud, we would hear them sing and say"Oh, hard times come again no more."
You were a broken maiden, living all your days in hell,But always you looked towards the light.You had the heart of an angel and the body of a whoreStill you sang "Hard times come again no more."Together we sang "Hard times, hard times, come again no more."