I've adopted Azelma, everyone's second-favorite Thenardier girl, because she's such an interesting little charecter, and no one else has! This (like another story of mine The Lark) is part of something rather large i've been working on that i'm pretty sure sucks, however, i think i like this part. Feel free to tell me if i'm wrong!
We had never been rich in Montfermail, but we had always gotten by. But the year I was eight, things began to go downhill. We had always had trouble paying for things, but now it was getting really horrible. There had not been a guest in the Inn for months, and we all felt the effects. Éponine and I hadn't gotten new dresses or toys in the longest time. We had tried to hire another housekeeper after the Lark left, but she lasted only a month before we could not afford to pay her. Now, Mama, Eponine and I did all the cleaning. It was hard, I wasn't use to working and often times I would drop a bowl or something, and mother would get mad.
One night Ponine and I were sitting on the front steps, making little dolls out of mud, Gavroche digging holes between the paving stones. A man came up to us wearing a top hat.
" Is this the Sergeant of Waterloo Inn?" I looked at Eponine. She looked at the man.
" Yes, monsieur. Do you want a room?" He looked at Eponine with contempt. I reached my arms out for Gavroche; this man scared me.
"Hardly." He said "I am looking for Monsieur Thenardier. Where can I find him?"
"Inside, Monsieur. What do you want him for?" asked Eponine, her head tilted to one side flirtatiously.
" That is between Thenardier and my client. I am a lawyer, mam'selle. Monsieur Thenardier is being sued. " The man went into the inn behind us.
"What is sued?" I asked Eponine
" Bad. It's when you did something wrong, and you have to go to court." She began to play with the dirt at her feet
" Like a king's court, or a queen's court?"
" No, silly, like a court where you see a judge, and if he says you did something bad, then you go to jail.".
"Will father go to jail?"
" If he did something bad."
"Did he do something bad?"
"If the judge says he did, he did. Now, hush, baby, and let's listen." We pressed our ears to the door. Mother was screaming.
"What do you mean? We have not stolen a sous in our life! Not a sous, monsieur! This accusation is a fraud!"
"We will leave that to the judge to decide. You will appear in court, and if convicted you will pay." The man said. Éponine and I had our ears to the crack in the door. Now father spoke, sounding much calmer than mother.
"Monsieur, you are correct. We of course, maintain we have stolen nothing, but what if we offered to return the alleged stolen money? I am a hardworking man, fallen on hard times, and cannot afford to lose wages to time spent in court or in the galleys. I will return the amount stolen, and we can all walk away with our dignity. And there's no reason why a kind man like yourself might not be paid for his time and effort as well. " Now the suing-man spoke.
" That is highly irregular." Now father.
" Irregular, yes, but I'm sure you don't want to waste your time with my trial when there are other, more profitable ventures? I return the money, you will collect your client's fee just the same, and I will compensate you generously for your kindness." The suing man cracked some paper.
" I will give you until tomorrow. One more day, Monsieur. If the money is not paid in full, I am afraid we will go to court." We sat on the step and pretended that we had been drawing in the dirt, as the suing-man strode by us. As soon as he left, we put our ears to the door again. Mother was shouting.
"Two-hundred francs! How are we to come up with two hundred francs! And by tomorrow? What were you thinking, saying we could? Better just to have slit his throat and make our escape!"Now father's voice. It was quiet compared to mother's.
"With three brats to watch out for, and one a baby? No, my dear. We'll have the money by tomorrow, and perhaps make a bit of a profit as well." We heard draws opening and papers rustling.
"And what exactly do you intend to do with that? Write to some rich aunt I don't know about?" We heard the scratching of a pen.
"I am writing to a friend."
"Who, may I ask?"
" The rich gent who lives at the end of the block."
"You've never said two words to the man."
" Yes, but he won't refuse a few francs to a poor beggar."
"We aren't poor beggars, and he knows it."
"That's why I'm not writing." There was a silence. Mother's voice was now submissive.
"I don't understand."
"I will explain. Later. Now, my dear, I want to get some old clothes for Eponine and Azelma and dirty them up."
"Old clothes? Dirty? I am not going to dirty my daughters' dresses! It is hard enough to keep them clean! Will you please explain what you are doing?"
" No more questions. Just do as I say and it will go easier for us." Another silence. Mother got up from her chair, and Eponine and I pretended to be absorbed in our dirt-pictures. She opened the door.
" Dearies," she said to us. " Go to your rooms and get your oldest dresses." We knew not to ask why. I picked up Gavroche, who struggled, and I put him down. We climbed the stairs to our bedroom.
"What's going on?" I asked Eponine. Eponine looked at me with annoyance.
"Do you always have to ask me?"
"Who else should I ask?"
"Ask the baby," she snapped at me, "He knows more that I do." I looked at Gavroche.
"Dunno." he said quietly, taking Eponine's statement a bit too literally. I pulled on my brown-checkered dress, and Eponine buttoned it before tugging on her too-small blue one. I had problems with things like that.
Mama didn't like me to say it but in some ways I wasn't like other people. Things didn't contact with my brain as quickly. I couldn't tie knots or button buttons or do anything with my hands very well. Words don't come quickly, actions take time. It takes a while for thoughts to hit my brain. No matter how old I got, I never quite outgrew that.
" I wish you could do this yourself." She said. "it's time to grow up, baby."
I apologized to Eponine, who sniffed at me. We tiptoed down the stairs, listening but mother and father were no longer talking. Mother had just returned from outside with a pot full of mud. Father was still writing, but he looked up when he saw us.
"Those will do." He said, nodding, and returning to his writing just as quickly. " Eponine, go get the small butter knife from the draw there." Eponine dashed off to follow Father's instruction. "Now, Azelma, go get some rags and start a fire."
" Isn't….isn't wood better for fires?" I whispered. Father looked up from his writing.
"I knew you were slow, I didn't know you were stupid. A cloth fire will make ashes much quicker, and ashes is what we want." He returned to his writing. I went up to the bedroom, and went through the sewing basket Eponine and I shared. There were no rags I could afford to lose. I needed all of them to make doll clothes and mend my dresses. Then I remembered Cosette's sewing basket.
I tiptoed down the stairs to the fireplace were Cosette had kept her sewing basket. Cosette always moved as little as possible so all her things, her bowl, her cup, her sewing basket and her little sword-doll were near the fireplace. Since Cosette left, no one had bothered to move them.
In Cosette's basket were an assortment of little brown scraps of material, and balls of yarn from her knitting. As I moved the scraps around looking for good ones to make a fire, I saw little unfinished projects Cosette had been working on. There was the pair of stockings she had been working on the night she left, the needles still stuck in. There was a long scrap of material that I first dismissed as nothing, but on a second look, realized that it was a scarf that Cosette had been sewing together out of scraps of material, some of which were no bigger then my thumb. They were all different colors and textures and it looked as if she had found them all over the house. Some of them seemed to have been cut from other garments, and there was one the exact color red as one of my petticoats. That petticoat had had a hole in it near the hem for some time. The scarf looked very pitiful and wasn't very long, or warm, and Cosette must have had a hard time making it, since the scraps were so small. She must have been very cold to resort to this. I folded the scarf up carefully and returned it to the box.
I returned to dining room of the Inn. Father was done writing his letter, and was folding it and sealing it with a bit of brown sealing wax. We had good red wax, I knew so it puzzled me why father was using this second rate brown. Ponine was standing patiently next to father with the butter knife in her hand. I stood next to her, and we waited for father to notice us. It does no good to interrupt him.
Finally, Father looked up.
"Good." He then turned to us. "are those the dresses?" he asked mother. She nodded. "Well take them off, and stay in your petticoats. There's no way to get them dirty if they're on. Cut them up a bit with the knives, and don't try and be neat about it. Azelma, start the fire, and when there are enough ashes, rub them into your faces. Then the mud—not too much, we don't want to look as if you did this on purpose—just enough to look poor and destitute. Eponine, close the windows, we don't want the neighbors to hear." We immediately began to follow father's instructions.
Later, two beggar girls in ripped dirty dresses, their faces covered in ash, appeared at the doorstep of the wealthy gent who lived two streets down. They were barefoot, and shivering. Carefully, one climbed up the stairs and knocked on the door. She handed a letter written on yellowed parchment to the man who opened the door. He looked them over thoughtfully and the tall one with the ringlets smiled at him.
"From our father, monsieur" The man looked at the pretty one and then the small one. He smiled and read the letter. When he was done he folded it up.
"Are you in need, children?" he asked. The little one only nodded. The older one looked down sadly.
"We haven't eaten today, and father says we must come up with the money by the end of the week or lose our only home. Not that our home is worth much, monsieur." Now the little one looked up.
" It's cold at night, and I'm scared of the dark and so is the baby." That was her only line.
"A baby?" asked the gentleman in shock.
"Oh yes." Said the older girl. "There are seven of us, you know. Me, my sister, our two brothers and the new babe, Cosette. Mama just had her, and mama's sick. Father says she needs a doctor, or she'll die."
The man shook his head.
"Wait right there." The man said. He closed the door and when he returned he handed the girls nearly fifty francs. "This should cover it." The girls smiled.
"Thank you so much, monsieur, we're ever so grateful." Said the older one. The younger one made a little curtsey.
"It is my Christian duty." He said. "Do you want any thing else?" The small one shook her head.
"We want to go home. It's cold. Bon Soir." Said the little one.
"Bon Soir, children." The man closed the door, and the beggar girls left.
"We're back." Said Eponine. Father looked up from another letter he was writing.
"How much?" he asked. Eponine put the fifty francs on the table. Father eyed them curiously.
" Fine!" He said, "Bring this to the old lady three streets down, and remember, you've got to look respectful"
The next day Father had made enough to repay the suing-man with a few francs left over. "Profit!" he said. The man showed up again and Eponine and I pressed our ears to the door. He took the money, pocketed his own generous fee, and left. Eponine and I decided we'd have a little party, just the two of us to celebrate getting so much money. But then mother came out.
"And where have you been?" she asked, pretending to be angry with us.
"Nowhere." we replied.
"Mother," said Eponine, " can Azelma and me go have a picnic cause we got all the money for the man?" Mother jumped. She knelt down so she was looking at us both in the eyes. Well, she looked Eponine in the eyes.
"Dear, you must never tell anyone about that bad man, or how we got the money. Let it be our secret, all right?" Eponine and I looked at each other.
"Why?" I asked. I myself was shocked I had said that. Mother had told me more than once that I shouldn't question people, since it makes them mad. Whenever she said people, she would look over at father, and after a while I realized she meant that I shouldn't question father. At this point in my life I had not understood that yet.
Mother sighed and turned to me.
"Because people would not understand why we had to do that. And they might get angry with us. And that can be bad. Do you understand?" I nodded. "but if you want you can go have a picnic by the lake, as long as you don't mention the money. I'll go make you a basket."
That picnic was our last carefree day. Father quickly spent the money we acquired from the rich man, and we needed money again. At first, we held out as long as we could, and a single customer bought us enough money for a few days, but at the end of a week, there was no money, no customers, no food, and Gavroche was crying. And mama sent us out with another begging letter.
And months past, and father gave up the inn, buying a smaller restaurant, which fared no better.
And we lied and cheated and stole to survive.
And a year past.
And nothing got better, and we got hungrier and hungrier.
And I turned ten, and shortly after my tenth birthday father announced something
"We are moving to Paris."