Hi! I've never written a whole story on Fantine before, and I love her character and how tragic she is. I also wanted to capture her innocence, and how it kind of led her into the mess she ended up in. Ah, how ignorance is not bliss!
Please review. :)
At seventeen, Fantine had been basically nowhere, and had nowhere to go. She was not desolate, but she was just a girl with no family and no home, aside from the tiny apartment where she slept. She had no one to care for her, and had never been paid more than a passing glance. She received attention for the beauty of her hair and her teeth, but no one had stuck around long enough to become a companion, let alone someone to love. So when she met Félix Tholomyès, she saw no reason not to smile back and bat her eyes when he openly flirted. He was fun, and she had no one to tell her off. Thus far, she'd scampered through her life, lowering her eyes and blushing when it was appropriate, always keeping her skirts brushing the ground. Though she'd always been a girl on her own, her modesty protected her.
Tholomyès waited outside for her when she came out of work- helping sew dresses. He would compliment her on her beauty, bring her a flower or a pastry, enjoy her blush and welcome her thanks, and her compliments. They began spending time together as a couple, and she met his friends and their mistresses.
When Tholomyès brought her back to his apartment- much nicer than her own- she thought little of it. His kisses had always been fleeting and affectionate. After some wine, he'd pulled her to sit very casually next to him on a settee. His lips then brushed over her cheek, her neck, then to her lips. He murmured sweet things to her, he held her close.
At first she pulled away, but he coaxed her back, telling her not to worry.
"I'll take care of you, Fantine," he whispered, sounding as though he was promising.
"Really?" she asked, her eyes wide. Her eyes were always wide, innocent and not suspicious.
"I promise," he said, giving a lazy, half-smile and pulling her closer, kissing her with more fervor. No one had ever taken care of her before.
So she gave in- what harm could it do?
Fantine was not entirely sure if what she'd done was wrong. When she woke the morning after in Tholomyès' bed, all she wanted to do was cry. For a week, she tried to ignore him and shove away the guilty, sad feeling that bogged her down. Her eyes overflowed easily, and she wanted to sit alone, hugging herself until she finally felt loved.
But time went on, and Tholomyès persisted. Again, he promised to take care of her, and gradually her qualms went away. He whispered lovely things to her, and she pushed away any ill thoughts. Never did she think that these words spoken late in the dark, so poetic and moving, had been spoken before to another young girl. She never wondered if his eyes had sought another, never wondered where he had strayed.
She loved, and it was all she could think about. She thought nothing of this affair- he loved her, didn't he? He said he did, and she loved him. This was what love felt like, wasn't it?
After a year or such of these exchanges, Fantine sat down and had a discussion with Favorite. The older, more experienced woman ended it with a satisfied, cynical laugh.
"My dear!" she said, smiling richly. "You are pregnant."
Being pregnant would have suited her, she decided. She even ventured so far as to think Tholomyès a good father- he would be, wouldn't he? And she would be the best mother there ever was. She could almost see it. She saw fantasies- when she told him, he would propose marriage. It seemed perfectly reasonable that he should. She was almost set on it- they would live in a little cottage, the three of them. Fantine, Tholomyès, and their little one.
It wasn't three weeks before this was all shattered. With a rambunctious dinner and a flimsy sheet of paper, Tholomyès was gone, taking all of Fantine's dreams with him.
Some say that hope can feed the soul- that without hope, wretched souls would have nothing to live off of. This was at once true and alarmingly false. Without the hope that she would once again see her daughter again, Fantine would have nothing to propel her forward. However, this hope propelled her to fall into a trap, which only disrupted her progress.
Her innocence, which had once been her protection, now was her undoing. She suspected no ill- though the demand on the money was always increasing, she turned her eyes away from the evidence. "She's growing," Fantine amended. "My Cosette is getting bigger, and she needs new, warm clothes. She is probably eating like a horse!"
Yet as darkness filled the sky and Fantine was still bent over the candle she shared with the woman downstairs, anxiously trying to finish the stockings she was sewing and ignoring the aches in her hands and back, her hope was what kept her from giving up. She ignored the emptiness in her belly, the weakness of her muscles, and the deep, rumbling cough that was getting worse every day. She worked, because she had to keep her daughter healthy. She had to see her dear Cosette again.
Walking late one night in her torn dress, a little cap covering her head, and her lips tightly closed to hide the hideous gaps where teeth used to be, Fantine heard a yell. She turned, looking around. She saw nothing but a seedy looking group of about four men and two women. They were heckling her, and after some debating, she turned and tried to leave.
The six caught up with her, stepping in front of her and blocking her escape. She realized how run-down she must look. It was nearly December, and she had nothing but a thin shawl over her thin shoulders. Her face was dirty, and she was haggard looking from a long time spent sewing.
"What are you doing out here alone, pretty Mademoiselle?" one of the men said, leering at her. She blushed, and stepped away.
"Just walking home," she muttered, scarcely opening her mouth, her self-consciousness overtaking her.
"She's a real ugly one," one of the women spat, her breasts protruding, her mouth in a jealous pout.
"I don't know about that," one of the men said, walking about. "True, the hair needs some work," he said, and Fantine blushed. "But the face. There's still some beauty left there."
She looked away.
"And shy," another man piped up, dressed in a lewd green coat. "I like the shy ones. Virgin?" he asked, and Fantine, appalled, gasped and took a step away. The men roared. "Almost!" he cried.
"That's alright for me," one said, taking a step closer. He wore glasses with thick frames, and when he smiled, his lips stretched out into a rather manipulative grin. "What do you say, Mademoiselle?" he said. The others laughed at his addressing her this way- clearly, she was not to be addressed with such 'respect.' "Want to take a walk with me?"
They hooted. Fantine straightened herself up with as much dignity as she could muster, and turned to walk away. She would have to walk twice as long this way, but she would leave this unpleasant company. To insinuate such a thing- her, sleep with him? And the way they leered at her! Even she had not sunk this low.
"Three francs!" he called at her back.
Something inside her dawned: money. For Cosette. Cosette.
But I can't... she thought.
"Five francs!" the man called, and she stopped walking. Taking a deep breath, she turned. He smiled, and walked towards her, taking her arm. "Let's go."
Even at the end, she clung to the vision of her child. She knew rationally that Cosette looked much differently now, but she had last seen her baby when she still had the plump cheeks of babyhood. She would close her eyes as she lay in the hospital bed, and imagine herself holding her little child again. She remembered the protective, warm feeling she felt when she would put Cosette down to sleep. She remembered the sheer connection she had had with the tiny being as she breastfed her. The proud feeling when she looked at her child's beauty, and would hear others on the street marveling at the young child's wondrous blue eyes.
As she lay with blood on her handkerchief on her forehead sweaty, this was what she thought of. She chose not to hear the nuns murmuring about how try as anyone might, she did not have long left. She was no longer naive. She time on the streets had taught her that naïveté was what had gotten her there in the first place. However, that didn't mean she had to listen to words that would only depress her further.
She passed her days telling Monsieur le maire about her Cosette, and asked him each day if he was going to get Cosette. Oh, even if she didn't have long left, just to see her one more time before she died! The sheer happiness!
Then came the day that Monsieur le maire did not come to visit. The nuns let her know that, indeed, he was off to get Cosette! For two days, Fantine sat in her bed, her palms sweating, shaking in anticipation. Her health soared- she hadn't felt better in years. The nuns were not murmuring about a miraculous recovery.
"Love saves," one said. "I always knew it."
But when Monsieur le maire returned, there was no child in his arms. But that cannot be! She must be outside the door, playing!
Yes, she was. Fantine could hear her! She was picking flowers, making a crown to put them in her hair. Her little Cosette was calling to her. It had been raining before, but now the sun was shining through the windows. Monsieur le maire had brought her little Cosette, and wanted to surprise her. Monsieur was placing her on her bed at this moment! Her little three-year-old was smiling at her, and Cosette embraced her mother. Fantine felt happiness as if the sun had gone inside of her- how her child adored her! To be adored this way! She was finally at peace, with her little Cosette.
She lay back on her bed, gave one last cough, reached for Monsieur le maire's hand, and managed these words: "Take her for me, Monsieur. Keep her safe."
And, contented, she closed her eyes again. She breathed her last breath with relief. She would suffer no longer, and could spend her days in the company of her child.