"likeness of mine"
Genre: Drama, Romance
Time Frame: Novel-verse
Characters: Fantine, Valjean, Cosette
Summary: She thinks that she feels beautiful once more, reflected as she was in his eyes. It was a kindness no other reflection could grant her now.
Notes: This is the fourth of my five Paris fics that are being uploaded today. This one is near and dear to me – I finally bought an unabridged copy of Les Misérables while in Paris (as pretty as my previous copy was, it was only 500 pages; and not exactly the reading experience Hugo had envisioned), and by the end of the nine hour flight home to the states, I had already made it to the Battle of Waterloo. My eyes were ready to fall out, and my mind was boggling, but it was worth it. Sooo, very much worth it. This novel is officially in my top ten favorites of all time!
From book to play to film, Fantine has always been a favorite of mine – especially how her character plays off of and reflects Valjean's to a certain extent. Here, I tried to explore her character a little bit. I hope you enjoy my humble offerings in the face of Hugo's masterpiece.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine but for the words.
"likeness of mine"
There was a time when she had loved, and saw little of it as a sin.
She had been young at the time, and she loved as only her youth could. For her, love was in innocence, and devotion in simple, sunny things. This allowed herself to believe, and believe absolutely, when she was told that she was loved in return.
Félix Tholomyès was the name she had carved into her heartstrings and wore as a smile on her lips . . . A man of wit and lax ambition - a rich man's son more interested in seeking pleasure than seeking his studies while in Paris. He had been an oddity to her, a man who wore silks with soft hands was so different from the rough cotton and steady eyes of the men she had known. His hands were hands that had never worked a day in his life, and so very different from her own. She herself bore needle pricks on her fingers, and wore the short nails of a working woman – a grisette - if not the peasant laborer that she would have been if it were not for her finding an attachment in him.
As a girl with a name given to her by the first passerby who saw fit to do so, and her only riches in her beauty, (with a true treasure deeper still for those who cared to look), she had been honored by his attention, at first. Her being flattered had turned into fond attachment, and later, she knew not how much so, she considered herself in love.
And now, she held within herself a product of that love.
Curiously, she leaned forward to look at herself in her vanity. She touched her features not out of any vain pride, but out of simple wonderment. Would her daughter have her eyes or her nose? If she had a son, would his hair shine as gold as hers, or would he have her easy grin?
She herself, having neither parents or relation – and never knowing of any, either – wondered on a simple level if her own gaze was her mother's or fathers. She wondered which of whom she shared her smile with, and which of whom had hair like hers. It was a fanciable thought, one made inconsequential by life's twists and turns, but it was something that fascinated her mind as she thought about the child of her own that she would bear in just a few month's time.
She wondered whose looks her daughter would favor. Hers, or . . .
"Félix!" she exclaimed when she saw his reflection in her mirror behind her. Her grin was wide and innocent as she stepped up from her vanity; as alive as Persephone was as she welcomed the spring and sun after so long a winter away. "I have such news for you!"
His humor and easy going manner matched well with hers, and at her smile his own grew. She rushed up to him, and placed her hands in his, content to look on his beloved features as she contemplated their life together; contemplated how it would change.
"Something has had you high spirits," he remarked after kissing her in greeting. "Tell me what has caused your joy."
She blushed, dipping her chin and lifting her eyes up to watch him through long lashes – like soot over ivory. "Félix . . . I'm with child. Our child." She breathed the words like a prayer, something cherished and holy.
Silence met her softly spoken announcement, but she did not notice it as she continued on happily: "Imagine, we are going to start a family together. I have never had a family, but you have, so you must help guide me as to what to do. Oh, Félix – imagine what a little boy would look like. With rosy cheeks, and your dark hair and eyes . . ." She twirled a little with her imaginings, running wild with them in an earnest wistfulness. "Or, maybe we shall have a girl first. I know you shall need a son, eventually. But, a daughter - maybe she will look like me. I would love to have a little girl with big blue eyes."
Félix watched her as she danced about with her daydreams, something oddly solemn and . . . pale about him as he listened to her. Finally, he caught her arms to hold her still. "Fantine," he admonished her.
She peered at him, searching his face for a reflection of her own feelings. "Félix . . . why do you not have joy in your eyes? I have so much joy in my veins right now, I feel as if I may burst with it. How do you not feel so?"
"I am perfectly content," he countered, smiling a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Very happy, even, ma belle."
She frowned, saying quickly, "I know I carry this child in sin - but we shall be married soon, now. Won't we? A proper wedding, and a little family of our own. I promise I will not be a disgrace for you."
"Of course not," he said hollowly. And when he bent over to kiss her forehead she leaned into his kiss like a child would. "How could you be an embarrassment?"
She beamed up at him
"Now, come," Félix said to her. "The others are waiting for us." He kissed her quickly, and she watched him turn away from her with a smile that made her whole form glow with an inner light. She held her hands over her stomach, already enraptured by the small form within her. A child made from her love and by her love . . .
"Little one," she whispered aloud. "I already grow so incredibly fond of you."
And though it was too early, she imagined she felt her womb quiver, a reflection of her thoughts and feelings from a form that could not yet understand how to feel so.
When, only days later, it became apparent that her beauty was all that tethered such a man to her in an empty attachment, she found a first crack in her porcelain form. A crack that would grow and shatter everything she had been into the woman whom fate would mold her to be.
She tried to write letters; tried to find him after her and the three others were left as a cruel joke. A cowardly 'surprise', indeed.
Eventually, she stops waiting for a reply.
Her Euphrasie – her Cosette, has her eyes.
Often she would crouch down on the side of the road, and let her baby girl's head peak out from her traveling cloak, just to see her cerulean eyes. She would touch one finger, just starting to bloom with calluses, under the wide and expressive eyes, and see herself looking back.
Fantine didn't need a mirror to know that she now looked years past her age. Maturity had invaded her gaze, and life's harsh lessons had made her world wise and tired. If it wasn't for the weight of the little girl in her arms . . .
"You will see, Cosette," she mumbled to the child. "I will find work, and build a life for us. My beautiful little girl." She kissed her daughter's forehead, and delighted at the smile she felt against her skin.
There was a yard in front of an inn down by where the road forked. In front of which, two girls laughed and played merrily. Cosette watched them with eyes a solemn shade that bellied her age, and yet Fantine saw the yearning there.
In the child's laughter, sweet as a ray of light through clouds, she saw a reflection of the kind of life her daughter could have. When she continued on the road alone, her child in good hands, she tried to remember that image . . . that sound. It was a memory she would cherish . . . a memory that would move her on when there was nothing more she wanted than to stop completely and crumble like the rain into the ground.
The first time she gives herself for a mere three sou, she made her way down to the frozen bank of the river afterward, and retched, emptying her stomach and wiping her hands on her dress to make the ache she felt inside go away.
Her dress was a deep color of crimson and wine, with cheap lace lining her sleeves and plunging neckline. She looked down at her hands to see if the color had leeched off to stain her skin. She felt as such . . . Her fingers were trembling from the cold of the snow, and her dress was growing sodden from where she had knelt down in the mire. Part of her mind whispered that she should get up, that she was ruining the only dress she owned; but she couldn't move . . .
Her stomach had no more to give, but still she tried emptily, dry heaving until her tired and abused body was sore with the effort. She wiped the back of her mouth, tasting bile and tears intermingled in a wretched taste. Her lips were swollen, and her hips were bruised, and if she thought about that for too long, she would surely be sick again . . .
Cosette, her mind whispered at her. Cosette, Cosette, Cosette . . .
You do this for her, girl. Straighten up, and snap out of it.
Out of habit, her fingers went for the crucifix that she kept around her neck. But she had removed that, along with her locket. It had seemed wrong to carry God with her as she operated so far outside of his laws – his laws of morality and love. For even when she had broken one, she had never broken it without the context of the other. Even still, she fought the urge to pray. She had prayed for so long . . . had done everything she could to keep herself off of the street and food in her daughter's belly and clothes on her back.
She had sold everything . . . furniture and plain gray gowns, and her hair and even her teeth . . . She had begged, she had looked for any kind of employment . . .
She was going to be sick again, she knew it. She curled her hands over her stomach, and let her gaze fall to her reflection in the black waters of the river before her. It was blurry with tears, and unrecognizable with grief, but it was her. Under the white and scarlet face paint that a lady of the night wore, she was there with her short hair held back with a plain pin, and her blood red lips held firmly closed over a broken smile. Once, she had worn gold above her head and pearls within her mouth – she had long been told that that was her true wealth. She had always been more Psyche than Venus; but now she bore resemblance to the hags that desired to be them.
She looked like a harlot.
In anger, she slashed her hand like a claw through the reflection of herself. The ripples distorted the view, cutting it into tiny pieces before destroying it under the weight of the black winter's night.
Viciously, she was satisfied by the image.
She picked up the sou coins that she had left in the snow, and brushed them off with trembling fingers. Head held high, she walked past the docks and the whispers of the night's ladies who emerged from the shadows in clouds of perfume and smoke. She ignored the stares of the men; and ignored the vestiges of the girl she once was, cowering and whimpering in a forgotten corner of her mind.
Her eyes were dry now. She was cold, and the chill of tears would do nothing but worsen her situation even further.
While in the care of the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, Fantine saw her reflection in the mirror for the first time in full year.
She had avoided it until then – a mirror being a luxury she could ill afford anyhow, when even wood and bread were rare commodities during the winter months. Now, though, after three weeks of constant attention, and medicine and a friend found in Monsieur Madeleine, she found herself curious as she picked up the small polished looking glass that Sister Simplice had left for her to tidy herself in front of.
Gingerly, with a sort of pained curiosity she touched the white folds of her face, noting with dismay how the once ivory color was now sickly and gray – a shade that Hades himself must have painted upon her skin. There were violet bags under her eyes, and her irises – once the color of a cloudless sky in the high of morning – were shot with red and shadowed. She looked to be years older than she truly was. Atop her head, her messily chopped hair was growing back in shades of ashen gray and tired wheat, like the remnants of golden fields under the first breath of winder's frost. She had given up vanity a long time ago; along with care for the course of her life. She had lived for her daughter, and in doing so she learned to treasure little about herself. And yet, in the looking glass, the truth of who she was compared to who she had been was a pointed and pained comparison.
She didn't dare lift her lips, and see the broken smile and missing teeth where once she had beamed with joy.
Her limbs trembled as she moved to place the glass down on her bedside stand. In her throat a cough lurked that sprang up on her from the very core of her. As always, she winced upon hearing it, wishing that her body would cooperate in allowing her to see her daughter once more. Her Cosette . . .
It was almost three, and Monsieur Madeleine would be by to sit with her. Knowing so, she let Sister Simplice help her change into a clean white shift, and tie a cap over the sad remnants of her hair. She tried her best to keep her cough from sneaking up on her and pinched her cheeks to restore their color. She was still trying in vain to straighten herself when Monsieur le Maire arrived. The mirror was held before her once more as she tried to arrange herself properly.
"You are looking better today," he informed her as he entered.
She let her eyes flicker up to meet his. "Monsieur le Maire is very kind," she returned, a hint of sardonic humor coloring her tone. Even the task of dressing and arranging herself made her weary enough to want to return to her rest again. It showed in her voice.
"I speak where I find truths," he countered gently.
Fantine raised a brow slightly, but said nothing more. The motion turned her reflection in the mirror, making her wince as she turned her full attention upon it.
"I used to be lovely," she said, her voice far off and full of air. "I used to be something worthy to behold."
She felt his hands, callused and strong, over hers until she placed the looking glass down. The touch was warm, and so different from the way she knew the touch of a man – either the greedy and faceless names from the streets or the soft and pampered hands of Fèlix who said to had loved her . . .
His touch was safe, soothing . . . as if upon feeling it she knew that she'd never have to worry again . . . It left goosebumps in its wake, and a flush of pink over her cheeks. No matter what she had suffered, it seemed to fade when he was with her . . .
"In God's eyes," he said next, meeting her gaze in a way that no honest man had in years, "you are beautiful."
She smiled brokenly as his hand left hers, squeezing once as his touch departed. "In God's eyes . . ." she repeated softly.
"And . . ." here the man visibly faltered, as if urging his tongue to form the words he wished to say. For all of his strength, he held the innocence and softness of a child, at times. In matters such of this . . . It was the only time when she saw uncertainty in the tired depths of his eyes.
He had suffered as much as her . . . In them, maybe God did see and find her lovely, to reward her with the friendship and charity of one such as him . . .
"And?" she prompted, her smile growing until she forgot to be selfconscious about it.
"I find you beautiful," he murmured.
Her grin reached her eyes as she gazed at him, touched. Her trembling was not only from the demon that held her body in its thrall, but from the simple sort of giddy joy that threatened to bubble up inside of her.
"Monsieur le Maire is very kind," she whispered softly. "I know that falsehoods don't normally become you."
"Perhaps," he returned, something almost soft, almost playful about his gaze.
Her eyes fell from his, as her thoughts continued from her. "I would wager that my daughter will not even recognize me; even if I did look as if I did then . . . Imagine, she will be eight years old now. A little lady."
"Lovely as well," he agreed with her.
She let herself become carried away as he helped her arrange her pillows again. Even the smallest conversations seemed to leave her tired and weary in the end. "She will have a full head of blonde curls now, and eyes that could rival the very sky. She had the most beautiful eyes, even as a baby . . . Her soul lived in her eyes."
"I can imagine," he said simply, indulging her as she spoke.
She laid back down upon the pillows, feeling so very tiered again. "I dream about her . . . about her recognizing me, even as sick as I am . . . Of her running up to me and calling me mama as if the years never were. I will get well again, and she will live and thrive . . ."
"I will make sure of it," he said.
She could feel her eyes go heavy. "She living here . . . and me . . . and you . . . Perhaps, God will see me from the corner of his eye and grant me this one wish . . ."
He didn't answer her, so much as he merely smiled sadly. He drew her blankets over her, and let his hand rest on her shoulder for a moment in a comforting gesture. She leaned into the warmth of the touch, greedy for the easy sort of strength it brought her.
"A family - imagine," she finished on a sort of sigh, sort of prayer – hoping that God would hear it, and answer it as such.
Her eyes felt so heavy as she blinked them slowly against the blackness that encroached upon the edges of her vision. Still, she fought against it.
"Sleep Fantine," he bid her gently, and she opened her eyes fully at the sound of his voice.
Mustering her energy, she turned turned her head until she found herself looking for her reflection in the kind pools of his eyes. For a moment, as fleeting as a cloud passing before the moon, she felt lovely in the sight she found there.
Weeks later, a traveling man would stop at an inn outside of Montfermeil.
There would be a weariness about his step, and a determination to his gaze that was offset by the lines of grief carved out from his skin. His eyes flickered back and forth as if searching, passing from the two smiling little girls, whom he instinctively knew were not the one he was looking for, to rest on the girl carrying buckets of water in from the cold . . . The little girl with soot in her hair – which could have been golden if washed, and dirt on her hands was a pitiful sight to behold. She was small and bony with wooden shoes that clucked against the ice, and fraying tendrils of a dress that may have been black at one point – it was a tired shade of gray that even the dreary winter sky above exceeded in radiance of color.
And yet, when the little girl turned her eyes upon him, he knew he had found the child he was looking for. Her eyes were blue, bright like gems and startling in intensity. They reminded him of a summer day without clouds . . . the ocean from the haze view of a galley window . . . He would always know those eyes.
Those eyes with their likeness of her, reflecting a pain he felt as his own . . .
He felt a pang as he saw Fantine's eyes stare at him from so miserable a face. The pang was fierce and aching, and he closed his eyes against it; when he did so he clung to the image of a dying woman's smile as she asked for him to care for what was most dear to her. Dear to him, now . . .
His vow reverberated through the corridors of his mind; echoing in the stare of the little girl who curiously looked at him, wonderment and curiosity in her gaze. It was a gaze he could not forget . . . a gaze of which whose memory he did not wish to depart from; and now . . . would follow him still.