Chapter 6 – A Second Chance
Eponine knocked on the door, her stomach knotted with apprehension.
"Come in," came the young woman's gentle voice.
Eponine pushed the door open and saw Marianne sitting by the fire, reading a book, her dark brown hair loose and spilling forward, hiding her features. She looked up as Eponine entered silently, and for a moment her face registered surprise, but then it became calm and smooth again.
"You came back," Marianne said calmly, stating the obvious.
"Yes," Eponine nodded, unable to find more words or explanations.
"I had to bring you back this," Eponine said stiffly, holding out Marianne's dress with the coins pooled in the center of the folded cloth. She had changed into her old dress again in a deserted alleyway.
"I only spent one franc for food," Eponine explained quickly, "the rest is all still there. You can count it out if you like."
Marianne accepted the dress and money and got up to pour the coins back into the money jar without counting it.
When the silence became unbearable, Eponine asked abruptly, "Are you going to call the gendarmes?"
"No. I have no love for the gendarmes," said Marianne with a wry smile.
"It was brave and honorable of you to come back and return the money. I am very glad you did," she said, turning back to Eponine. She held out the dress again.
"Here, change back into this."
"Wh-what do you mean?" Eponine stammered out, completely confused and bewildered.
Marianne looked at her squarely in the eyes, her own amber brown eyes intent and honest.
"I'm giving you a second chance, Eponine," she said quietly. "Be my friend, and we will start over again. We will act as if this never happened between us."
Marianne held out her hand, her eyes and demeanor open and inviting. Eponine hesitantly clasped it, still not completely believing what had happened, but trusting Marianne's honesty this time, as she had been unable to do previously. Marianne's face broke into a smile and she pulled Eponine gently into an embrace. Eponine tensed at first, but then relaxed against her, feeling strangely comforted. They stood like that for a moment, and then Marianne released her and gently shoved the dress at her again.
"Go on now, change. Honestly, that dress is not fit for anything but cleaning rags right now," she said with a laugh.
"I've still got some dinner saved for you," Marianne said later, pushing some bread, cheese and a mutton chop towards Eponine.
"Oh, mam'selle, I don't deserve it, I really don't," Eponine cried out, touched, her chest constricting again with guilt as she remembered spending Marianne's stolen money and greedily buying a mutton chop for herself and thoroughly squashing her conscience.
Marianne shushed her impatiently and pushed the food back towards her.
"I said we would let bygones be bygones," she chided. "And call me Marianne, not 'mademoiselle'."
Marianne watched Eponine eat silently, feeling glad and relieved that she had returned and approving of her bravery in doing so.
"Where did you go?" she asked after a while, curious.
"After eating, I tried looking for lodging," Eponine said, finishing off the meat. "I tried nearly half a dozen houses and was rejected each time."
"Why, if you had the money?" asked Marianne, surprised.
Eponine gave a hard laugh. "Apparently I looked so ugly and disreputable, they thought I was a fille publique, or something like that. I suppose I should not have expected them to accept me just because of the money, but I thought money could buy anything. It usually seemed to." She shrugged. "They're not far from the truth about me though," she added looking away.
Marianne shook her head. "You're not ugly, you just need to be fattened up a little and engage in healthy habits," she said with a smile.
"As for the rest," she added more seriously and intently, "what happened in the past is not your fault. It is your father and those who mistreat and scorn you who should be ashamed, not you."
Eponine listened carefully, absorbing her words.
"But not finding lodgings was not the reason you came back," Marianne continued. "You might not have been able to lodge at the better houses or streets, but you could certainly have found rooms of lesser quality elsewhere."
"I know," Eponine admitted slowly. "I came back because I realized your honesty and kindness were genuine, and I had to return your money to you." She shook her head, "I didn't expect at all that you would take me back in, but I just couldn't wrong you anymore. Not when you were so good to me." She swallowed and looked away again.
"Good people do exist, and so does goodness, Eponine," Marianne said quietly. She took Eponine's hand and the girl turned back to her and looked in her eyes. "You have goodness and integrity in you, or you would not have had the inclination, let alone the courage, to come back for such a selfless reason. Embrace it in yourself from now on and you will find purpose and contentment, and your life and the lives of the people around you will be the better for it."
Eponine pondered this as she and Marianne prepared for bed and before she fell asleep that night.
And so ends my loose parallel with the Bishop/Valjean story. I hope people noticed it before reading this. :) Of course, there are many differences. Marianne, unlike the Bishop, is no saint (and not particularly spiritual or religious), and I hope she doesn't sound like one. She is just generous, kind, and mature, but she has many faults as well. And of course, Eponine comes back of her own accord. It was difficult to write, but I just really wanted to make this parallel between two female characters to see what it would be like.
More updates will come soon. Happy reading!