Disclaimer: Les Misérables and all its associated characters do not belong to me. I am also not a French literary/philosophy/history scholar, so bear with me in this chapter (you will know what I mean).
Summary: One inch was all it took for Éponine's life to be spared and it altered the fates of four people. Éponine/Enjolras. Also features one-sided Marius/Éponine and Enjolras/Grantaire (E/R), as well as Joly/Musichetta/Bahorel, which are all canon anyway.
Author's Notes: Merci beacoup for all the great reviews/follows/favorites! I especially appreciated the positive comments I got regarding the E/R relationship :-). I hope you enjoy this update.
When Combeferre came back that afternoon, Enjolras promptly asked him to write down the revised letter that he had composed for Grantaire's family.
Combeferre was delightfully impressed by the improvement, glancing at Éponine sitting idly in the living room and wondering whether the girl had something to do with his friend's breakthrough.
Whatever it was, he was relieved to see Enjolras looking somewhat uplifted for the first time since his ordeal, as if he had overcome an impasse.
As Éponine was looking bored, Combeferre asked if she would not mind running out to post Grantaire's letter.
This also gave him some time alone with Enjolras to tell him about how he and Joly went today in their attempt to make contact with the other student societies.
Many of them were indeed lying low, reported Combeferre, as they tried to re-group and re-gain their numbers. The government had been conducting widespread raids to confiscate weapons and had even arrested several people. However, the cause had definitely not died out. Like Enjolras, many of the leaders even thought that the trials would be an excellent pulpit to deliver Republican speeches and garner wider support.
This news certainly lifted Enjolras' spirits. When Éponine came back, she found him and Monsieur Combeferre engaging in an energetic discussion using words that she struggled to understand.
Later, Monsieur Combeferre told her that he had made arrangements for Gavroche's funeral to be tomorrow, if that was all right with her. Though Enjolras would not be able to attend, he had insisted on writing the eulogy, so Éponine went to join him in his room to hear what he had.
The next two days passed by rather quickly for Éponine. She went to her brother's interment with Messieurs Combeferre and Joly, as well as Musichetta. Marius was still unfit to travel and offered his apologies. Though they did not share Gavroche's burial plans with anyone else, Éponine spied her brother's fellow gamins lurking around behind some trees during the service. And afterwards, as she looked back towards the plot, she saw the street children coming out of their hiding and doing their own version of a salute over her brother's grave. She had to smile at that.
Before parting, Éponine made plans to spend the following evening with Musichetta. The gents were going to be over at Monsieur Combeferre's place to discuss the revolution or whatever it was that would get them riled up, so she thought she could use the night to enjoy the company of another woman.
Éponine ended up asking the older girl to help improve her cooking. Before, when she had only herself to feed and certainly no luxury of cooking three hot meals a day, she would not have cared how her food tasted. But now that another person was regularly eating her cuisine, she could not help but feel self-conscious about her skills. She figured Enjolras could only benefit from this lesson.
Musichetta had had to take work home that day, so after dinner, she decided to also teach Éponine how to sew. The conversation inevitably turned towards men, as they sat there with a garment in their laps and a needle in their hands. It was then that Éponine found out about Musichetta's relationships with both Messieurs Joly and Bahorel.
Éponine was astonished at how the girl could have had two men in love with her when she herself could not have even one. However, she could not be envious of Musichetta, as Monsieur Bahorel was killed at the barricade and she was clearly still broken-hearted over it. She and Monsieur Joly were going to attend the funeral tomorrow. She was particularly worried about what his family would think of her and wondered how much they knew about her and Monsieur Joly.
Éponine did not think that she had much to worry about, as Musichetta had a sweet countenance and an easy charm. Éponine wished she could also learn that skill. Men certainly turned their heads when Musichetta walked by. No one had done that for Éponine.
Musichetta then proceeded to turn the subject to Éponine's feelings for Marius. If the man was indeed beyond reach and was thoroughly in love with this Cosette, then Musichetta only had one advice for Éponine, "Life is too short to pine over someone who does not love you back, Éponine. You have been given a second chance at life by surviving the barricade. Find a new love!"
Musichetta's words were swirling in her head as she made her way back to Monsieur Combeferre's home that night.
It was easy for Musichetta to say, as she was beautiful and surrounded by love. But Éponine? There had never been anyone like Marius in her life. He was the only kind presence in her miserable life, the only one who noticed her and treated her well. There would never be anyone as kind as him in her future.
But even as she thought this, she realized that it was not strictly true.
Had she not received so much kindness from Marius' friends and Musichetta since she survived the barricade?
Had they not been as kind as Marius was?
Perhaps, there was hope for her after all.
Perhaps one day she could find herself loving another.
Meanwhile, Enjolras found the past several days to be passing at an excruciatingly slow pace. He was growing increasingly restless at being cooped up at home.
He had so far missed the funerals of Gavroche, Feuilly, and Bahorel. Lesgle's was tomorrow and he would miss that too. The families of Courfeyrac, Prouvaire, and Grantaire were coming to claim the bodies and would take them back to their hometowns, so there was no chance that he could come. He promised himself that he would visit every one of their graves once he regained his mobility.
Grantaire's family was particularly appreciative of what he wrote, so he supposed he had Éponine to thank for that. He was apprehensive that they would blame him for his death. Instead, they sent word through Combeferre that they would like to meet him one day and sit down together to discuss their son's memory.
Joly heard news that the authorities were indeed still actively looking for Enjolras, questioning his known associates — including himself and Combeferre — as to his whereabouts, so Combeferre was taking extra care to ensure that his leader remained well-hidden in his house.
Unfortunately, this was made rather more difficult by a recent peculiar incident that occurred...
It appeared that some of the people whom Combeferre and Joly had helped during the night of the barricade had recognized Combeferre in the street and proceeded to follow him home. One night, there was a knock on his door when he was not expecting any guests. Looking at Enjolras in alarm, thinking it might be the police finally catching up to him, Combeferre asked Éponine to keep Enjolras company in his room and to lock the door until he could figure out who it was. As it turned out, it was two people supporting another man who looked to be in a bad state. They were desperate, they said. Their father was ill and they could not afford medical care. Since the Monsieur had so generously helped their brother that night the barricades came down, would he be willing to please examine their father?
Combeferre did not have the heart to turn them away. So he treated the man that night in his living room, doing his best with what he had — he did not have supplies like Joly after all — and asking them to be discreet, as he was not yet a licensed physician. They agreed, thanking Combeferre profusely, especially since the man did not even charge them a sou.
Nevertheless, it seemed that word had spread in the street, as the following evening, another two groups appeared on his doorstep, this time a poor couple carrying their sick child and a young prostitute holding up her weak friend. Joly happened to be there as well, visiting with Musichetta, so he decided to assist Combeferre with the treatments. Musichetta and Éponine, who were talking in the living room when the visitors came, had to move their conversation to Enjolras' room.
They came in to see Enjolras sitting on the bed looking foiled. He had been in the middle of a fruitful discussion with Combeferre and Joly on the best way to re-form their secret society when the two were called away.
Musichetta greeted Enjolras politely, while Éponine gave him an apologetic look, realizing that the last thing he wanted was for his revolutionary companions to be replaced by two chattering girls.
The women settled at the far corner of the room, speaking in a low voice, so as to not disturb Enjolras, who was now gazing blankly at the ceiling.
He tried to tune them out, but even so, he could not help overhearing when Musichetta told Éponine that she and Joly had not made love since the events of the barricade. The older girl supposed it was too early since Bahorel's death, but she was starting to feel worried, as Joly was using his rather neurotic tendencies and supposedly shaky health to put it off. Éponine stole an embarrassed glance at Enjolras, who showed a blank face, seemingly not to have heard, his gaze still unwavering from the ceiling.
Enjolras internally groaned. This was worse than when his friends were spouting poetics and other nonsensical words about some girls with whom they happened to be enamored at the time. At least then he could have told them to simper down and turned the conversation back to the cause. He had not been acquainted with these two girls well enough to be able to do the same.
And even when his friends were in a particularly quixotic mood and refused to cease talking about women, he had at least been able to ignore them by delving into his books and scribbling down his thoughts...
He looked at his right hand in irritation. The surgeon who fixed his arm surmised that it would take approximately six weeks for the bone to heal. While he only had minor breaks in his hand, it had to be bound to the arm in the cast, so he had absolutely no way of moving it and no way of using it to write.
The bullet that hit his shoulder had missed hitting any bones, so the wound should heal quicker, meaning he would at least regain the use of his left hand and arm sooner.
As to his leg, because he had fractures in his right thigh and lower leg, he would not be walking for at least three months.
Enjolras felt depressed at the thought. He was someone who had been active his whole life, both in mind and body. If he thought that there was something that needed to be done, he would do them straight away. Any cause that needed action, he would put together a plan and realize it. It was simply who he was... He was never one to sit still and suffer through tedium.
Now though, he could not attend the funerals of his friends, could not regroup with the other revolutionaries, could not leave the house, could not even leave this room, could not feed himself...
This was such a grim reality of survival, he thought, as he closed his eyes and tried to sleep, drowning out the sound of the conversing girls.
The next day dawned and Éponine was feeling especially melancholy. Marius had still not visited. Though she had resolved to think about him less, she could not help feeling a bit downcast that he had not come calling. He was possibly too preoccupied with Cosette.
It did not help that she had nothing to do. She had finished all her tasks for the day: She had provided Enjolras with his breakfast as well as luncheon, had gone to the market for foodstuffs, had dusted Monsieur Combeferre's house until it was without a speck of dirt… What else could she do? It was too early to prepare dinner and Monsieur Combeferre had no errands for her to run while he was in school.
She went into Enjolras' room to see him looking almost as miserable as she was bored.
He did not appear like he was up for conversation, so she just walked in and sat down on a chair next to the desk. She spied a column of books, each tome haphazardly piled on top of another and gathering dust. It had been a while since she had read something, but she did not use to have the luxury of time to do so... She absently picked up a book from the top, which was written by a fellow named Rousseau, and started reading it.
Enjolras watched what she did with complete astonishment, "You can read?"
Éponine looked affronted, "Of course, I can read! It is so typical of you bourgeois boys to think that because I was on the street, I am just an illiterate peasant. I will have you know—"
"Éponine, Éponine," he interrupted her, trying to be placating. "I am terribly sorry to have offended you. I did not mean it as such. It is just… I am very surprised that you have this skill, because you did not ever read before, when we have so many books in this house."
Enjolras hoped that he was supplicating enough, as the truth was, he really did underestimate her. It did not even figure into his consideration that she was literate.
Éponine was still looking a bit cross and said in a cool tone, "It is because, Enjolras, I am not as interested in books as you are. When you are living in the streets, books are looked upon more as a source of heating than knowledge."
Enjolras thought that she had a point and was even rather witty in her delivery of such point. He could not help but smile at that, as he continued to be conciliatory, "I do apologize, Éponine. I did not wish to insult you... I am actually delighted to discover that you can read."
Éponine was taken aback, "You are?"
"Yes. It has been torturous being trapped in this room with no avenue to occupy my thoughts. I am rather hoping — if you do not object, that is — that you could perhaps then read to me?"
Éponine's feeling of wounded pride was now mixed with self-consciousness. It was one thing to be reading to herself, where she could skip over all the words she did not know; it was quite another to be reading out loud to this highly educated man and from books that are likely to have words she would find impossible to pronounce, let alone understand.
"I don't know, Enjolras. Have you not read all these books before?"
"Yes, I have, but I wish to do so again. One could always learn new things from re-reading a book. Please, Éponine? I promise I will never insult you again."
"I do not think you can promise me that... Especially once you hear my phrasing."
"I promise I will not insult your phrasing."
Éponine looked at the column of books and examined the titles. This would not be easy. But Enjolras did appear as if he was going stir-crazy. And she also needed something to occupy herself, lest she grew mad with thoughts of Marius.
"Very well… Which book would you like?"
"Could you look for one by Condorcet? It is called Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind."
He directed her to a specific section from which she could start reading. Éponine looked at the first line and almost gave up. However, Enjolras was looking at her so hopefully that she had no choice but to press on. Her brain was barely taking in the meaning of the words, as she concentrated simply on how the words perhaps should sound.
Enjolras could not help but be distracted by Éponine's articulation. It really was quite atrocious. He would not be able to concentrate on Condorcet's words if he let her continue. But how would he bring it up without hurting her feelings?
"Éponine," he started carefully.
The girl stopped reading and looked at him with a frown.
"Éponine… You are certainly a competent reader, but I wonder… Did you… understand much of what you just read?"
The frown went deeper. If Enjolras was going to insult her intelligence, then perhaps she should just leave him here with his own clever mind for company.
She looked like she wanted to stalk away in a huff, so Enjolras continued hurriedly, "Please do not think I am questioning your brightness. I am simply…" He searched his brain for an approach that would not sound condescending, "I think there is a way we both can benefit from this. That is, if you are willing?"
Éponine stared at him with a chilly expression, "What do you have in mind?" She had closed the book, but he noticed that she still marked the page with a finger.
"Well… I think that if you had a full comprehension of this book — or any of these books, really — you would find it extremely interesting and filled with illuminating ideas. And I am certain that you have enough smarts to understand it once you know what all the sentences mean. I truthfully do not look down on you if currently you are not so familiar with some of the words. Someone also had to teach them to me at one time. So it occurred to me that perhaps... I could be the one to teach them to you if you are interested?"
Éponine looked wary. She did not wish to be humiliated when Enjolras found out the amount of words that she simply did not know.
Seemingly to have read her mind, Enjolras pushed on, "My proposition to you is this: As you read out loud to me and you see a word you do not know, stop and let me know. I will not think less of you even if you have to stop several times in a sentence. I will then try to explain the word to you. You might even…" A thought struck him, "Éponine, since you are able to read, then I shall assume you can write?"
"I can," said Éponine noncommittally. Her penmanship was possibly poorer than her pronunciation.
"Then you might wish to write down the word and the meaning in some sort of a list. I've found it the most effective way to instill concepts into my brain." He looked around for a spare notebook and pointed to one that was sitting on the windowsill. "There, you can have that one. I think it is brand new."
Éponine picked up the notebook and examined its leather-bound cover. It would be the most handsome thing that she owned. It must have been quite expensive, yet Enjolras was gifting it to her without a second thought. She did not think she was one to be buoyed by pretty things and yet she was gradually feeling less apprehensive and more excited about the idea of this lesson.
Enjolras, however, suddenly noticed her bandaged right hand, "Éponine, would you be able to hold a pen with your hand though? Does it hurt still?"
"My hand?" Éponine looked at her wounded hand and then at him with a surprised smile, "Oh, but Enjolras, I am — what is the word? — 'de gauche'?"
It was Enjolras' turn to smile. She just called herself a 'left-winger', a Republican, which — he supposed — once he was done teaching her, she might indeed become one. "You mean 'gauchère'? You favor using your left hand?"
"Yes. I learned to write with my left hand. Maman told me to switch, as it is less proper and the ink would smudge all over my hand as I moved across the line, but I just could not do it with my other hand. It is lucky that I didn't! Because it would take me twice as long to do things if it was my left hand I had injured."
It seemed that the girl had ceased being cross with him, as she explained all this quite cheerfully. She did seem to bounce across moods quite rapidly, particularly not dwelling on hurt feelings for too long before returning to a more congenial disposition. He found that he quite liked that about her.
As she seemed to be distracted with flipping through the notebook and feeling the paper, Enjolras asked, "So you will do it then?"
Éponine looked up at him with a relenting smile, "Yes, I suppose I will."
"Excellent. I have a splendid set of pens on the desk there, which you can use, as I shall not be able to write anytime soon."
Éponine nodded, locating the writing instruments, "Did you want to return to this Monsieur Condorcet?" Enjolras was impressed to see that she had thought to leave a bookmark on the page they left off. She turned to it promptly.
"Yes, I think he will be a good start. Which word gave you pause?"
She scanned the page for the right passage, "What does 'sentient' mean? 'Man is a sentient being'?"
"It means being capable of feelings, of having consciousness and perceptions. You realize your existence and that you are alive. And it is what makes you human. Or rather, you are human because you are capable and aware of these sensations."
Éponine looked at him with amusement, "But it is something that I have always known, Enjolras! I realize that I am alive. I just did not know the concept had to be named and be pointed it out to me! This Monsieur Condorcet became a famous writer because he said something that is quite apparent?"
"He was a Marquis, actually. Yes, well, sometimes it is the simplest of things that are the most illuminating. How does the line continue?"
"'Man is a sentient being... capable of reasoning and of acquiring moral ideas.'" Éponine was scrunching up her face, trying to process the sentence. "Was the Marquis saying that every man — and shall I assume every woman too? — can think for themselves?"
"Yes, I believe so. Condorcet was actually a great proponent of the equality between the sexes, so yes, he meant every human being, both men and women. So what do you think of that statement, Éponine?"
"I think... that it is again quite obvious that every person can think for themselves... But I think not every person has the luxury to do so?"
Enjolras looked at Éponine in surprise, "Why do you say so?"
"Well… When you are given a choice between starving in the street by yourself or perhaps joining a criminal enterprise in exchange for food in your belly... You will choose food, despite you realizing that it is wrong to burglarize someone's home, for example."
"So you believe that practical, survival matters will always take priority over reason or morality?"
"Yes... I think that is what I am saying."
"That is very interesting, because I believe in the next part Condorcet explains that once all the hindrances have been eliminated— archaic notions that one must submit themselves to the thoughts or will of others, be it the king, the priest, or…" And he glanced at her carefully before continuing, "Or even a parent — then a person can realize that it will only be natural him or her to wish to better themselves."
"How does that relate to what I said?"
"I think you identified a hindrance that are faced by the multitude in this country: They are pushed to starvation and poverty to such an extent that they become too desperate to have a will of their own. What you said is true, Éponine, that they do not have the luxury to think that this is not their natural state, that they actually have a right to more..."
Éponine watched Enjolras, his expression brightening as he spoke of something for which he held a great passion. She thought she should perhaps start writing some of this down, but felt too captivated by his speech.
Enjolras continued, not noticing Éponine staring at him, "Unfortunately, this starvation and poverty are institutionalized by the government; by a royalist system that says that it is natural for a man to rule over all others just because he happened to have been born in a palace. Or by a religious institution that supports the first notion by decreeing that the man who was born in palace is indeed chosen by God to rule over all others, while if you are born a peasant, then God has put you there and it is your duty to serve the man in the palace, and to not seek anything better for yourself."
Éponine was rather startled when he turned to her and said very seriously, "This is why I fight against our current government, Éponine. I have nothing against Louis-Philippe the man, but I oppose a return to the monarchist system and the institutionalized injustices that it entails."
Éponine digested his words, understanding a bit more of the noble cause for which Marius' friends and her brother died. It was indeed quite remarkable… But something still bothered her, "Enjolras… I think I understand your meaning… But even if the government is changed and we have more..." She searched her brain for that word he and his friends often mentioned, "Égalité for everyone, I think you are overestimating people's ability to think. Take me, for example, I would not have understood these ideas had you not explained it all to me. I do not think the world will change immediately as soon as the King is gone."
"Yes... Revolution does not indeed happen overnight, Éponine" He gave this some thought. He was rather impressed by her capability for independent thought, using her experiences to form an opinion that does not automatically take his on faith. "But again you touched on a valid point regarding education, which I believe should be freely available to all. Yes, I had to explain the concepts initially to you, but you then took them and used them to think for yourself. Are you not yourself a true example of Condorcet's statement?"
Enjolras watched as her eyes lit up with comprehension, "That is true, isn't it?"
"Yes, and if I could teach you these ideas, now when you are — forgive me — no longer living in the streets and worrying about your next meal, then certainly all others like you can also be taught with proper education and proper living standards. Though, mind you, I do believe you are brighter than most, Éponine, and our venture here will possibly be rather facile for me."
"Thank... Thank you, Enjolras." He said that last part so matter-of-fact — as if her intelligence was quite apparent to him — that Éponine was sufficiently distracted from feeling guilty about the first part of his statement, where he alluded to the fact that she was living in Monsieur Combeferre's house and eating his food for free.
"You are quite welcome. But tell me, how do you feel about reading these books now?"
"Well... You are correct. I do find it more interesting!" She looked up at him with a bright smile, "Do you know, I once told Marius that I could have also been a student. I suppose I shall try to prove my own statement."
"I think you will be a great student, Éponine," he replied with a smile.
Something just occurred to her though. "But Enjolras, what do you get out of this? You said we both can benefit from this exercise?"
"I benefit from the ability to have these discussions with someone and knowing that you are learning because of me."
And also that light that appeared in your eyes whenever you understood something — That was the most rewarding, thought Enjolras, though he did not say it to her.
"Well, I think I shall write down some of what we said, lest I forget it all. You must bear with me though. I am not the fastest writer."
Enjolras watched her write with much interest. It really was more tedious to be a left-handed person, he observed, as she had to be more mindful of her hand rubbing off the words she just put down. It does not seem that her spelling was terribly good either, as she kept looking up at him and asking how to write certain words.
In spite of it all, he found himself enjoying his time indoors for the first time since it was imposed on him. Éponine really was the personification of all those for whom he fought. If he could not be out there, fighting for Patria, then for the moment at least he could be in here, helping this girl attempt to better herself.
Meanwhile, Éponine tried to concentrate on the words that she was carefully writing down and not wonder too much why Enjolras was staring at her with an odd smile on his face.
Author's Notes: I had to research a little bit on literary thinkers/authors who would have influenced the French Republicans in the 1830s. I had no idea who precisely Enjolras would find illuminating, so I could only guess his thoughts from what I know of his character. I had never read Condorcet, so my interpretation of his writing may not have been completely accurate, but I think it's how Enjolras would interpret him. Fun fact about Condorcet? He wrote the book I quoted while on a self-imposed house arrest, trying to evade capture by the French authorities, so I thought that was the one Enjolras would have identified with and wanted to read the most as soon as he was given the opportunity.
Autumn O'Shea Swan, I had to smile when I read your review hoping to see more of Musichetta. By that time, I had already written the bit where Éponine spent some girl time with Musichetta, so hopefully you enjoyed it!
Also, I purposely am not very descriptive with the characters' looks because I want you to imagine who you want in the roles. However, for my own, I go with Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks. And this chapter is possibly the first time I put something from the actors into the characters, namely that Aaron is right-handed while Sam is left-handed. I am also rather fascinated by left-handedness (I am right-handed and wish to be ambidextrous).
So what do you all think of this chapter? Please review :-). Or if not, follow/favorite, please! Merci xoxo.