The snow fell hard and fast in Strasbourg just in time for Christmas. Marius and Cosette arrived from Paris on December twenty-third. Éponine was heavily pregnant now with one and a half months until she was expected to give birth.
Marius was happy to see his friends again. As much as he loved Cosette and his life in Paris, he longed for his friends to be nearby. When he saw Éponine it didn't take him long to deduce the deception that was in play at the Enjolras estate.
" 'Ponine..." He hugged her. "What mischief have you gotten yourself into?"
"It's not what you are thinking...I will speak with you later." She whispered into his ear.
"You are having a child?"
"It would appear so." Éponine's hand rested happily on her bump and she was glowing. "There is not much longer to wait, which I am happy for. It is so good to see you Marius."
Enjolras, Éponine, Cosette, Marius and Éloise all sat together in the library with the fireplace roaring. The snow was not letting up.
Cosette and Éponine sat happily in the corner talking with one another while Marius spoke with Enjolras. Éloise sulked in the other corner on her own reading a book.
"The rumors concerning civil unrest in Paris have not escaped me here in Strasbourg my friend, tell me, is it as bad as it seems?" Enjolras tried to glean any information he could from Marius, and Éponine's ears did not fail to eavesdrop on the conversation.
"There are whispers of an uprising, I would not be surprised if the smallest spark ignite's a disturbance." Marius admitted.
"Another revolution?" Éponine interrupted.
"There is a chance. Cosette and I will leave the city temporarily should it come to that."
Cosette joined in the conversation. "It is such a pointless loss of life."
"Pointless?!" Enjolras thumped his fist down onto the arm of his chair in frustration. This caused the ladies in the room to jump and Éponine could not keep her tongue from slipping.
"Adrien!" She scolded. She immediately realised her mistake as Enjolras cleared his throat. A woman of Éponine's position would never address the male of the house so informally. Éloise was staring at her. 'Ponine blushed and quickly tried to cover up the faux pass. "Excuse me Monsieur Enjolras. You startled us."
Enjolras tried to brush over her words and turn the attention back to the conversation. "Madame Pontmercy it is pointless to sit by and watch as your fellow countrymen starve to death in the streets. At least they are fighting for change."
Cosette debated with him. "But you would not be so foolish as to endanger your own life again Monsieur? Not now that you have a family to take care of?"
Both Adrien and Marius' eyes flickered over to Éponine for a brief moment and Cosette quickly realised how her comment had sounded. She knew of Éponine's history of courting Enjolras. To cut the awkward silence in the room, she quickly added "...with Madame Éloise of course. I understand the two of you are trying to start a family."
He stiffened in his chair. "Yes well, we have learnt that whatever will be, will be. There is little point in trying to force these things."
Éloise excused herself from the room, but after leaving, she pressed herself against the library doors intending to eavesdrop; convinced the group may begin to talk openly with her not around.
"Did I say something out of place?" Cosette asked. She hadn't missed the looks exchanged between Enjolras and Éponine.
"No not at all." Adrien assured her. The smile on his face and Éponine's hands resting protectively on her middle said everything that needed to be said.
Cosette smiled showing that she understood. "When the time comes I hope you might ask Marius and I to be godparents."
Éponine simply nodded while Enjolras vocally answered "Of course".
Éloise was convinced now, beyond any reasonable doubt that the child Éponine was carrying was Adrien's. She would catch them out if it killed her. If she was going to be cast aside by her husband, she would not be doing so without a fight. She was on the verge of losing her inheritance. With every passing day it was becoming more obvious that she was simply not with child.
Dinner that night was very dangerous territory. Éponine sat quietly as she did every night, only speaking when appropriate. She never forgot her place when in company of the Enjolras' family. She was only here because Georgette and Tristan gave her a reason to be. Adèle and Christophe barely acknowledged her and Adrien had to be very careful when addressing her. The slightest slip of the tongue, a glance that lingered for a moment too long, and everything would be over. Tonight things were different.
Adèle sat at the head of the dining table with Christophe to one side and Adrien to the other. Next to Enjolras sat Éloise, and then Marius and Cosette. On the opposite side next to Christophe, was Georgette and Tristan and Éponine.
With Marius and Cosette present they spoke to Éponine as their dearest friend trying to include her in the conversation.
Enjolras' parents were very interested in their son's friends and asked after their life in Paris.
Cosette was in training to become a school teacher and she spoke of the joy of making a difference in the children's lives. Marius let slip a small anecdote of when Enjolras had taught Éponine to read, and he couldn't help but notice Enjolras' posture stiffened more than a few inches. The mood around the table changed and Adèle suddenly became very interested in their unexpected houseguest. "Éponine, I was unaware that you knew my son previously." Her tone was sweet, un-accusatory, however it was laced with something else.
"Yes Madame." Éponine's mind was racing and she couldn't look to Enjolras for help.
Christophe stepped in, "Yes dear, had I neglected to mention? When I travelled to Paris to speak with our son, young Éponine answered the door." That statement came with all sorts of implications. Marius and Cosette glanced at one another trying to think of a way to help her.
However Éponine had found her voice. "I was your son's housemaid Madame."
"And Adrien tutored you?" Adèle continued.
Enjolras made to open his mouth but Éponine was too quick.
"Monsieur Enjolras was wounded during the night of the revolution. He was mortally wounded. He needed medical aid urgently. I found him staggering the streets and helped him get home." A white lie was hardly going to hurt at this point. "He would have bled out. In return your son was very kind to me. During those long hours of washing and dressing the wounds he would teach me to read and to write. I was very fortunate, it has afforded me opportunity in this life I would not have had otherwise. An education is invaluable. I will always be grateful, and you should be proud of his actions."
Adrien cleared his throat very loudly, indicating she had crossed some sort of line.
"I apologise, I hope that wasn't inappropriate." She cast her eyes down at her plate, fearful to look at Madame Enjolras' expression.
Before Adèle could continue her line of enquiry Éloise wanted to speak.
"So this opportunity...that you might not otherwise have had...please indulge me if you would, how did you make your living Éponine? Before you met my husband?"
"Éloise..." Enjolras warned.
She ignored him. "You couldn't read, you couldn't write...this eliminates so many avenues of work."
"Éloise; don't." His voice was firm.
"I assure you Madame, there are ways for resourceful women to scrape by in this life without opening their legs." Éponine had had enough.
The clatter of silverware echoed around the dining hall as Adèle dropped her utensils in shock.
Marius was quick to steer the conversation away. "Éponine worked for me. Running errands, doing sewing, going to the market."
"Éloise, without Éponine I would not be alive today. Perhaps you might show her more respect. It is Christmas time and it wouldn't hurt to find things we should be thankful for."
Éloise wasn't finished; not by any stretch of the imagination.
"Adrien, darling, you are quite right. Very soon there will be an addition to the family. When Éponine gives birth you will have a second cousin. Isn't that lovely. Georgette and Tristan must be so excited."
"There is no greater joy in this world than a new child." Georgette agreed.
"Éponine, what will you do? The thought of giving up your child must be unbearable." Éloise smirked.
Adrien was quick to put a stop to this now before it gets out of hand. "Éloise that's enough. I was unaware that I had married a woman so cruel."
"Madame I am a widow. Monsieur Tristan and Madame Georgette are doing something so incredibly selfless by adopting my child. They are in a position to provide a life I cannot. I am very fortunate." Éponine looked to Enjolras' parents next. "And to you aswell Madame and Monsieur, for taking me into your home." Éponine handled the comment gracefully before standing up. "If you would all please excuse me, I am feeling a little faint I need to go and lie down." She couldn't leave the room fast enough and Marius excused himself also, to make sure she made it there safely.
Marius walked Éponine up to her room.
"I cannot believe you are having a married man's child." He shook his head, he wasn't scolding her, he was merely surprised.
"Marius; you know it is more complicated than that. We love each other. We are supposed to be together."
"Society will never accept this. Have you thought about what his parents will say? It is only a matter of time until they find out."
"He is going to take me to Paris once the child is born. He has already told Éloise that he is leaving her."
"And that explains her dinner conversation."
"She suspects it, but she has not been the first. I am trying to stay clear of her."
"That is a wise idea. But Éponine, if Enjolras is taking you back to Paris, you will need to keep a close watch on him. I believe all of his good intentions for you will come second should the sparks of revolution re-ignite in the city."
After dinner Adèle asked her son to stay behind to speak in private.
"Adrien, there is has been talk in this house that I simply will not stand for. There are whispers and until now I wouldn't believe there was any truth to them."
"Mother, it just idle gossip."
"It is not. Adrien; I was unaware you knew the girl for some time. I want the truth."
"Speak plainly Mother. If you wish to accuse me of something then go ahead."
"You had relations with her?"
"We were intimate, yes. In Paris, before I came home and before I was forced into a marriage that I did not want."
"Out of wedlock...my god. How long did this go on for?"
"A few days...weeks?" She pressed.
"...months." He admitted.
"You loved her?"
"I have learnt that my feelings are entirely irrelevant." He didn't want to lie anymore.
Adèle took his comment as a 'yes'. "And the child...?"
This coaxed a sigh from Enjolras' lips. "Mother...Éponine lives on the other side of France. Think about what you are suggesting."
"Stranger things have happened. I will only ask you once Adrien and I expect an honest answer. Are you the father of this child?"
Enjolras steeled his facial expression. "...No."
There was a moments silence as his mother processed his answer. "I am relieved to hear that. Scandal of this enormity would tear this family apart. It is bad enough that she has come from squalor."
Enjolras' blood boiled. "And she is twice the woman that Éloise is. Éponine proved herself this evening. Perhaps if you and father treated her as such instead of something you scraped off of the bottom of your shoe."
Adèle stiffened. She was taken aback by his sudden outburst. "Adrien; you are married, and I suggest you begin acting like it. You will forget about this girl. Once the child is born she will be returning to Bordeaux and you are not to see her again."
On Christmas Eve Enjolras stole Éponine away into his room briefly while the rest of the household was busy preparing for the next day. Enjolras was not religious by any means of the word, however his mother insisted the family attend church.
"Enjolras I can't be in here, what if someone sees."
"Hush." He caressed her cheek before leaning in and taking her lips in his own. "I wanted to give you something." Enjolras produced the most stunning ring Éponine had ever laid eyes on. The gold band had one large diamond set into the top. It had been cut into a square and surrounding the perimeter were a number of smaller diamonds. It hung from a simple chain to be worn around the neck.
'Ponine gasped. "Adrien..."
"This was my grandmother's ring. I may not have a relationship with my parents, but I cared about my grandmother very much, She understood me. She told me to give this to the woman I cared the most about in the world. I hope you will wear it in Paris as my wife."
"I don't know what to say." She stammered.
"For now keep it hidden. Just a little longer 'Ponine, and our lives will change forever." He fastened the chain around her neck and the ring was tucked inside her bodice. He took her into his arms and continued to kiss her long and deep.
Éloise stood in the doorway for a moment before hiding herself against the hallway wall. The two lovers had not noticed her, and that was a good thing. She was furious, but not surprised.
Enjolras broke their kiss before stepping away. Éponine's cheeks were flushed.
"I will see you when we return from church."
"Please stay. I miss you."
"I wish I could. My mother will simply not take no for an answer. The entire household will be there. I suggest you take some much needed rest. I will be home before you know it."
As the Estate was assembling to leave for church Éloise claimed she was suddenly feeling quite ill. She decided to stay behind at the house. As far as Éponine knew, she was alone at the Estate and was trying to sleep. She was thirty weeks pregnant and began suffering painful cramping. Struggling to her feet 'Ponine decided to try and walk them off. She walked slowly from her bedroom to the top of the staircase when she almost doubled over in pain.
Éponine didn't even hear the footsteps come up behind her. Éloise had not planned to push Éponine down the grand staircase, but when the opportunity presented itself she took it without hesitation.
Éponine remembered the pure feeling of panic as she tumbled down the stairs. Her hands were desperately trying to shield her mid-drift but by the time she reached the bottom she couldn't tell which way was up. The pain had tripled ten-fold and glancing up she remembers seeing Éloise standing at the top of the staircase. The other woman took her time descending the stairs and when she reached Éponine she made no effort to help her.
Éponine whispered to her. "Why did you do this?"
"I don't know what you mean." Éloise's voice was laced with pure innocence. "You looked faint. You fell."
"What is wrong with you...fetch the doctor. Please." Éponine pleaded with this woman for aid.
"The doctor is not here, he is celebrating Christmas with the Enjolras family. It's just you and me." She moved closer. "But don't worry. I'll take very good care of you."In that moment it dawned on Éponine that she was all alone in the Estate with a woman scorned, looking for vengeance.