The long carriage ride from Paris to Bordeaux left Éponine feeling uncomfortable and restless. She had travelled for five long days with only short stops every now and again to change horses. They would stop once per day to eat a meal and use the facilities to freshen up. The rest of the time was spent trying to sleep. This was not something Éponine was used to, eventually exhaustion would take over and her eyelids would succumb and she would manage to rest for an hour or so at a time before she would be jolted awake by the roughness of the road. She missed Enjolras terribly already but knew that she would have to find some way of establishing herself and her life on her own until they could reunite. Enjolras' cousin was a young lady named Georgette, recently married to Tristan Roux another wealthy family from French Nobility.
When she arrived at the Roux Estate she found herself feeling more nervous than anything else. She was ushered out of the carriage and escorted straight into the sitting room to make introductions with her new employers. Lady Georgette was young and beautiful, she wouldn't have been older than twenty-one with black hair and fair skin. Her dress was simple but still shimmered with elegance. Almost as though she acknowledged being wealthy but would never boast the fact. Tristan was much the same and reminded Éponine of Enjolras in the way he carried himself and the way he spoke. Tristan had long dark hair that sat above his shoulders. Together they made a very handsome couple. Georgette was the first to address Éponine.
"Welcome to our home Éponine. My cousin Adrien speaks incredibly highly of you."
She bowed. "Merci; Madame, Monsieur."
There was another woman in the room, a maid. Tristan introduced her. "This is Brigitte, she is the Housekeeper here and you will answer to her in your daily duties."
"Brigitte will show you to your room." Georgette continued. "You have had a very long journey so make sure you rest this evening. Your work shall begin tomorrow. I do hope you will be happy here with us. I will write to Adrien and inform him that you arrived safely."
Éponine bowed again and hurriedly followed Brigitte from the room who immediately began barking instructions. "I'm not sure where you've come from but in this house the rules are very simple. Do as you are asked; when you are asked to do it with no backtalk. Speak when you are spoken to and not otherwise. Your duties will be attending to the chambers. Dust, sweep, make the beds, warm the beds, light the fires, ensure the dressing rooms are prepared and clean the windows. You will do this for every chamber in the house in the morning and in the evening. If there is a problem you come and report to me and no-one else. Any questions?"
Éponine was a little flustered but tried not to show it. As far as these people were aware she was quite experienced in this line of work. "No...No Madame, no questions."
"Good. There are two other girls of your rank and you will be sharing a room with them. One of the footmen will have brought your bag up." They had walked all across the large manor until they reached the servant's quarters. Brigitte pushed open the door and introduced the other two chambermaids who had just retired from their evening duties. "This is Esmé and Fleur. Meet Éponine. I trust you two will teach her how we run things tomorrow and make sure she learns the layout of the house."
Esmé and Fleur nodded and with that Brigitte was gone, pulling the door shut behind her.
Éponine's head was spinning. She had taken in more information in the last few moments than she had in the last few days. She smiled and greeted the two girls who seemed happy enough to meet her. "Is she always like that?" She tried to joke to ease the tension.
"Pretty much. It's a very tight ship this household." Fleur was a brunette while Esmé had red hair.
"You wear no ring on your finger, no husband then?" Esmé asked quite ordinarily, as though it was normal to be so personal with somebody you have only just met.
"No...I am not married." Éponine answered carefully.
"Stay away from the footmen and the stable-hands then. They will be onto you in a second. They always are with the new girls." Esmé told her.
"I don't understand." Éponine was confused.
"Brigette doesn't approve of any hanky-panky between the staff of the house, thinks it gets in the way of our work; and the Roux's agree. Quite often she'll ask a few of the boys to try it on with the new maids, testing their work ethics. If you want to keep your job beyond the week then make it clear you are unavailable." Fleur clarified.
"But always appear available." Esmé offered.
"Esmé, shh. Just because that worked for Giséle." Fleur scolded her friend.
"Who's Giséle?" Éponine was struggling to keep up.
Esmé was quick to continue the gossip. "The girl you've replaced. One of Monsieur Tristan's friends came to visit and set his sights on Giséle. The next thing she's expecting his child and he swept her off to be married."
Éponine laughed. "And the Roux's don't mind the staff dallying with the upper-class?"
"It would appear not...what their friend's want their friend's get." Fleur shrugged her shoulders.
"There are so many unwritten rules. I'm not sure I'll ever learn them all." Éponine excused herself to wash before crawling into her bed for the night. She only hoped that she could bluff her way through this job long enough to learn it properly.
The next day passed by in a blur. She spent half the morning with Fleur and half with Esmé. Following them around and helping them in their tasks. She had to learn quickly as the next day she would be conducting these tasks on her own. All of the rooms were lovely but it was clear when they had reached Georgette and Tristan's chamber. Éponine felt so out of place amongst all of this finery and her mind briefly thought about what her life might have been like if she had married Dumont. She shook the thought from her head as quickly as she could, knowing she was happier living in a sparse apartment with Adrien.
After all of the morning tasks had been completed there were a few hours of time where they could do as they pleased. Most of the girls used this time to do their laundering, sewing or more interesting hobbies such as reading or drawing. Madame Georgette was constantly encouraging her staff to better themselves. By employing so many staff for different household tasks it left each member of the hierarchy to have ample time to themselves. Éponine was very surprised at how little was actually involved in her job. She was expecting a lot more washing and polishing of floors, she didn't even have to empty any chamber pots. Fleur was quick to remind her that their was housemaids employed for these tasks. In the afternoon Éponine was with Esmé and as they walked down one of the hallways Lady Georgette walked past them smiling to the girls. Georgette was accompanied by her lady-in-waiting, a stern unhappy looking woman with fair hair. Éponine asked Esmé who that was with Lady Georgette?
"That's Sophie. She's Georgette's lady-in-waiting. You haven't seen one of them before?"
Éponine shook her head. "No, my last household did not employ nearly this many staff."
"Sophie spends almost the whole day with Georgette. She helps her dress, does her hair, makeup, runs her errands, fetches her breakfast."
"That seems like quite a desirable job."
"That's the top of the food chain. But it takes years. Lady Georgette has to trust you with everything. You would hear all of the Roux's personal business, you hardly ever leave the master's sides."
The chambermaids would eat dinner early so that their was enough time to repeat their duties before the master's of the house were to retire for the evening.
After her first day Éponine was exhausted but glad to have the two girls for company. The next day she was required to carry out the tasks on her own and Brigette oversaw her carry them out personally. Éponine figured she must have done alright as she received little criticism. For her afternoon Éponine decided to take a walk around the grounds and quickly discovered what Fleur had warned her about. She had to kindly but firmly decline the advances of an overzealous stable-hand with greasy hair and a very healthy libido. Flustered of course Éponine wanted to return to the safety of her room but in her haste she found herself quite lost. She had entered the manor by another door and was walking down an unfamiliar hallway. She recognised Sophie sauntering past her and asked for assistance. "Excuse me, Sophie?"
Sophie turned and looked down at Éponine curiously.
"I'm sorry but I seem to be lost. Could you point me towards the maid's quarters?"
"You're new here?"
"Yes Miss. It is only my second day."
"You replaced Giséle." It was a statement more than a question.
"I find it interesting that Lady Georgette hired you without a reference, and only on the word of her Cousin. You had better step carefully around here girl."
Éponine was taken aback and very unsure of what Sophie was suggesting but instead of letting it bother her she asked again.
"The maid's quarters if you please Miss."
Sophie huffed. "Go back down the central staircase and turn left. Take that hallway all the way down until you can turn right and then take the next staircase up to the second landing." Sophie turned and continued walking in the direction she had been going before Éponine had stopped her.
After two weeks Éponine received her first letter.
Georgette wrote informing me of your safe arrival in Bordeaux. I am glad to know that you are in good hands. Strasbourg has not changed much since I was last here. There is great political unrest within the Government but I promise not to act recklessly. I hope to acquire employment with them so I may do my part in reshaping this country. I am sorry that we must be apart but I insist it will only be temporary. Pontmercy bid me farewell from Paris the day after you left for Bordeaux and was sorry that he missed seeing you off. The man is an insufferable romantic who scolded me for not yet making you my wife. If only he knew how my heart aches to wake up next to you each morning. You are good for my soul 'Ponine and despite attempts on the contrary I find I cannot go back to living the way I had before you found me. I eagerly await your response, it will be the only thing to keep me sane.
With her first month's wages Éponine walked with Fleur and Esmé to the local village. The other girls shopped for perfume and ribbons for their hair while Éponine used hers to buy a good supply of paper and writing quills; much to her companion's surprise. That evening after her rounds Éponine sat on her bed writing away to "Julien." They had both agreed he should use an alias and they were both very careful not to mention that Georgette was his cousin. She could not wait to write him and tell him of her new life at the Roux Estate.
Lady Georgette is a fine employer. All members of the household are treated with respect and dignity and I have been welcomed and made to feel at home here. I share my room with two other girls my age, Fleur and Esmé, and I am thankful for their company. For once in my life I can say that I have made friends. While it does not compare to the life I lived with you it will be a compromise I can make until such time as you come for me. I truly hope that one day Marius will be in attendance the day I become your bride. You have taught me so much about the world and I am still thankful that you saw something in me. I have been thinking about where we might go to live our lives once this is over and I have never seen the ocean. Perhaps one day you could take me there and we might live in a small cottage together, there is nothing I would like more. I have finished reading the book you gave me. If only real life was as simple and romantic as it is written in a novel.
Their letters were short but full of meaning. They had to be careful about what they wrote for if their romance was discovered between a noble and a street urchin the consequences of the scandal would be high. As far as anybody else was concerned Julien was just a boy of the same social standing. Their letters arrived and were sent almost by clockwork as the two realised how much they had come to depend on one another's company. However Éponine couldn't help but notice that the time between receiving word from Enjolras grew longer and longer as the weeks passed and soon she was lucky to hear from him every month. She tried not to get discouraged; besides, she had her own problems to be concerned with.
Thievery was afoot at the Roux Estate and being the last member of staff to be hired suspicion lay with her. Although there was no proof Éponine herself knew all about stealing, and she knew that she was being watched very closely. All of the servants of the house were on edge, any one of them could be accused and dismissed at any moment. Éponine figured that if it was her doing the thievery and she was smart, she would plant the missing items on somebody else and ensure they were caught. So she was extra vigilant with all of her belongings, ensuring she could not be implicated. She would be an easy target as she was a new employee, the blame would be easy to lay. Brigitte meanwhile was trying to calm her staff, reiterating that as long as everybody continued to mind their own business this would all resolve itself. One by one more household finery was going missing from jewellery to silverware. Monsieur Tristan then announced to all of the staff that unless the culprit came forward all wages across the Estate would be docked in order to compensate.
This behaviour continued for at least two months with Fleur and Esmé getting more and more frustrated. They even suggested to Éponine that between the three of them they should be able to catch the culprit in the act. Éponine immediately dismissed the idea, they did not want to get caught up in this. She focused instead on thinking about Enjolras, which was easy to do when she received her latest letter. Esmé giggled in delight and snatched the letter from Éponine's hands.
"Esmé, please give it back I haven't even opened it yet." She protested with a smile.
"Is it from Julien? When are we going to meet this boy?"
"Things are never that simple. He will come for me when he can." She tried to remain optimistic.
Fleur scolded the other girl. "Esmé, give it back. Poor 'Ponine hasn't heard from him in months."
Pouting; Esmé handed back the envelope.
Éponine sat cross-legged on her bed in order to read it. "Has it been that long?" She murmured to herself. Thinking carefully she suppose it had been.
I'm afraid I don't have much news to report. I am making good progress in my work which should help to remind us both that this is not wasted time.
Time is passing by so fast it is hard to keep track, but do not fear you are still in my thoughts, and you still haunt my dreams. You are still so innocent Éponine and I hope you never lose that quality.
The letter was abrupt and lacking affection. Éponine hoped she hadn't upset him somehow and she knew she would be constantly distracted wondering why his most recent letter was so different.
Fleur saw the crestfallen look flash across Éponine's features after folding the letter back up.
"Is everything alright?" She asked kindly.
Éponine forced a smile and gave a small nod in response. "It was not what I was expecting." Already her mind was rushing about. Had something changed between them? What would she write back? Should she write back?
On a Sunday afternoon Éponine was doing her laundry and she found a jewelled hairpin stowed in one of her aprons. Éponine looked around to find she was alone in the room, she tried not to panic. Whoever planted the hairpin would want to ensure it was found on her person. She quickly stowed it in her bodice and stood up. Should she go straight to Lady Georgette? She had no proof of her innocence.Éponine had been thinking about the thefts for weeks, and it didn't sit well with her the amount of items going missing. Too many to be stashed on the Estate grounds, so they must be being moved somewhere else. It just so happened that Éponine had been watching each carriage leave and enter the grounds during their daily routines, and one carriage in particular seemed to keep an irregular schedule. It takes a thief to catch one Éponine decided and hurriedly made her way down to the horse stables to investigate.