|A Heart Filled With Gold
Rumors of the barricade uprisings had travelled far from Paris in a relatively short time. The apparent victories which had left many dead, wounded or missing. Yes, freedom was taking a heavy toil on honest, hard-working French citizens with a dream for a better world.
Dusk enveloped the French countryside until the couple travelling towards Paris from Toulon grew wearier by the hour. Times were urgent to these medical servants. Doctors and nurses were in short supply, and those who present were limited in various medical supplies too. So, Dr. Phillipe Rembard and myself, Libertine Fauchet felt the call of duty to aid these students of the rebellion any way we possibly could. I was free to go as I pleased; my husband Paul died in a carriage accident six months ago. I had a nice settlement from the courts and my nursing training would give my life new meaning as I yearned to help those less fortunate than myself. My soft dark hair was now falling to my shoulders; I felt head and body weary. We must find an inn soon!
We came to the town of Montfermeil and spied out an inn near the woods. It seemed run-down, but anything would do now. Dr. Rembard parked the carriage and tended the horses. Other businesses were closed for the day, so now the dark street was filled with beggars attempting to warm themselves by a small bonfire. My employer assisted me from the carriage and together we made our way through debris, empty bottles and what looked like the remains of a broken doll. We saw the sign above the door:" The Sargeant of the Waterloo Inn. Welcome monsier, madame". You would think such a dark dimly-lit place was welcoming expected royalty! We stepped over the uneven cobblestones as the Dr. opened the door.
"We must be cautious, Libertine, as we are not known here." he spoke, lowering his voice. He was a middle-aged man that now rubbed his grey beard thoughtfully.
No sooner than my hand touched the door, it came flying open with two rabblerousers tumbling out, obviously drunk.
"You dog! I won that hand fair and square, Babet! Now pay me what you owe me!" the voice growled.
"You're mad man, Gueulemer! Not one sous you're getting from ME!" You changed the rules!" While Phillipe stepped in to get the room, I ducked around the corner trying to be concealed, too frightened to make any sudden moves. Ladies on the street alone were an invitation for, well, no earthly good! Was it 5 minutes already? No sound or movement. Then the deep voice spoke.
"Boss has a job for us tonight anyway. Heck, the more the merrier! Lot of high class snobs at a party. We're to wait by the carriages."
"Right" the man called Babet replied, cursing under his breath. "Where is that d* daugher of his anyway? She'd better stay out of our way!"
"Maybe she's off after that pretty little boy again. Huh!" He snorted in disgust.
"Well, the old man may be a bit loose in the head, but his threats are real enough" I silently made my way towards the door, then it happened! I tripped on a branch, and my nurses bag fell, spilling its contents.
"Well, what 'ave we hear?" the deeply- slurred voice inquired, peering into the darkness.
"Evening, mam'selle!" Gueulemer's voice boomed. I'm sure I felt his glittering eyes on me, even in the blanket of darkness. "Are you going in there?"
I swallowed hard and tried to be calm as I could. "Yes, monsieur, I must join my, ah, partner, ah, gentleman! We are coming from Toulon."
"Toulon?" The big man called Gueulemer exclaimed. "Someone else passed by here that came from here. Took our "helping" girl away, he did! Or should I say, Old Thenardier's water girl." He leaned in closer, reeking of liquor. " You know, Madame don't abide by no hired help, account of Monsier's wandering eye! Hee Hee!" Like I really had a clue!
"Let me help you carry that." Babet came forward, arms outstretched.
"Thank you, sir", I obliged him politely.
"Enjoy your stay!" they both saluted me, laughing as I grabbed the handle and slammed the door shut behind me.
I could still hear their voices as I struggled to catch my breath.
"My, my there's a pretty 'selle. Those fine clothes and fancy hair. She'll be sight for any red-blooded Frenchman."
"His big hussy of a madame would never hear of it! They're a strange lot, these Thenardiers! Some family!"
Silence. Then laughter followed by more silence. I joined Dr. Rembard as he registered for our rooms. The patrons seemed friendly enough, although others were getting a bit loud as they placed bets on a card game they were engrossed in. Bottles of ale lay strewn about around the table.
"One whole MONTH?" A large woman repeated, mouthing the word 'month' like a tasty morsel. Phillipe Rembard nodded, as she brought a plate of rye bread and cheese along with a few bottles of ale. As she hustled about, her red hair kept falling from her bun, giving it an unkempt look. Her white bodice seemed too small for her ample bosom as she kept wiping her face and nose on it!
"The "master" is out about now, on an important errand. Sign right here! A bit cold tonight, eh?" She was all business as she made small talk with this cold surreal smile. I guessed her husband was more congenial. to keep patrons coming back!
The doctor signed and resumed eating, as she hovered over him. "Where abouts are you from?" the big woman asked.
"Madame, my nurse assistant and I are coming from the north to help the resistance effort in Paris."
"Ohhh," she replied absently, not really caring. "D*!" she muttered under her breath, clenching her teeth. "Where is that girl when I need her?"
I was getting unsettled and anxious to see my room. "Madame, may we see our rooms now?"
She looked me over a minute, her beady eyes boring into me. Something was bothering her, but my sensitive nature prevented me from asking a stranger about her troubles. This had to be the most uncomfortable place I'd ever seen! Madame was certainly not very friendly. "Well, right away, missy!" That patronizing smile reserved for paying customers, I was sure of that!
With a huff, she led us upstairs, but I felt something was wrong! Her breathing sounded a bit labored.
"Madame, are you alright?" I asked her.
She gave me the oddest look. "I'm right as rain. There's the privvies, behind the storage bin. Meals are taken in the main room. Anything you need, ANYTHING at 'tall, you need ask! G'night." As she left us there on the steps, she hummed sort of a tune; "one whole month, one whole month!"
Dr. Rembard bade me goodnight. "Libertine, we will venture into Paris tomorrow to see what the situation is at the fallen barricades. Get some sleep."
I nodded, turning my key and a huge form hovered in the corner of the door! I screamed!
"Well well, what's the matter?" Madame trumped up the stairs, agitated.
I pointed at the door, where a huge rat was attempting to be reconcealed. She laughed! " Oh, it's a big one. Glad you didn't kill it, we EAT THOSE!" Surely she was making fun! She swatted at it and put a small barrel over the open floor and yelled at it. "AND STAY THERE. OR ELSE!!" She laughed hard as she left us standing there. I couldn't stop shaking somehow.
"Eponine, over here with those cloths!" Enjolras signalled the young woman. "We're glad for your help," he spoke as she tiptoed between fallen bodies over to the student leader in this uprising. Now, after an apparent victory, there was much chaos; the dead, the wounded the fallen!
"Doctors. There are just not enough to go around!" Enjolras waved his hands in frustration. Eponine understood him, nodding. If one thing in this life she did understand was pain! She had known virtually every sort of pain imaginable to a young girl. She and her sister Azelma had grown up with dolls to call their own, with nice dresses to wear. In later years, both girls had barely enough dress rags to call their own!
What happened in the last ten years? Hunger, beating and emotional turmoil and hopelessness seemed to replace the normal family upbringing she thought she had! After all, her parents' inn was not going well. "Times were hard!" she remember her father saying one night. Did he say that to try to win sympathy from patrons, thus overcharging them in the process? Probably! M. Thenardier could exaggerate with the best of them, as well as pour on the charm when needed. All for a few more sous. Eponine was coming of age so she was beginning to understand these sort of things; the lying, the secret meetings, passing on of information, nightly "errands", Not to mention the order to "be nice" to the younger members of her father's gang friends, particularly Montparnasse, a gangly youth of twenty.
"Where is Marius? I have not seen him tonight." Eponine pulled her light shawl closer to keep warm.
"He's coming, don't worry he will come!" Enjolras assured her.
She felt a twinge of jealousy. Could he be with Cosette? That soft kindly voice that spoke words that touched her soul; did he seek to touch Cosette's as well? She wondered, as she followed the young spokesman for the elite ABC group from the cafe'. Boys' and mens' bodies were groaning in the streets, as they did what they could for them. Suddenly a young attractive man ran toward them, his curly locks blowing in the night breeze.
"Eponine, Enjolras!" he called out
"Marius!" Eponine jumped at the sound of his voice, and waved as he made his way towards her.
"Eponine! I'm happy to see you!" he embraced her
"I'd do anything to be near you," she spoke as she laid her head against his chest. "Anything to get away from home!" The chill of the air made the sick and weak cry out even louder. They made their requests known and they seemed to blend into each other:
"My leg hurts!"
"Oh, I'm bleeding again!"
"Nurse? Oh, nurse, please help me! I can't find my father!"
"Pierre? Oh, my Lord, where is my boy?"
"Eponine, go with Marius and keep checking on these people. I will make a quick inquiry at the ABC cafe' for an up to date report and then you and Marius can join me there and figure out our next strategy."
She turned to Marius and emptied out the pockets in her long coat. "Here's some bread and marmalade and cheese."
"Where did you get this? Eponine, this is great!" a grateful Marius asked, taking a bite of bread. She drank in the praise, beaming at him. "I got it from home. I don't think they will miss it. In my bag, there is enough for all twelve of us. You know, mama makes so much food, thinking all the rooms will be filled every night. Then the bread starts to get stale, the cheese is not covered the way it should be. You can guess what happens after that."
"Let's see; mice and rats maybe?" Marius chuckled.
"Yes, mama ends up throwing out a lot. We could be eating that!"
Marius grew concerned. "Will you get in trouble for bringing the food?"
"Maybe. But at least I'm doing something for someone besides myself!" Eponine gazed into his eyes, yearning for assurance, comfort, anything! Together, she and Marius would try to help whoever they could before making their way to the ABC. She would stay with him and his friends tonight and answer for it in the morning when she went home. After all, his goodness made her want to become a good person too. Cosette. That name seemed like a curse to Eponine. Who was this girl? What claim did she hold to Marius' heart? As long as she was around, Marius' large and giving heart would never belong to Eponine. Not even a little.
The sun awakened me as it streamed through my window. Smells of sausage, eggs, bread and cafe' caused me to sit up immediately. Then a loud woman's voice reminded me where I was.
"Breakfast is served!"
I made haste to pin up my hair and joined Dr. Rembard downstairs where we sat with the other patrons. "Good morning!" I smiled at Madame.
"Morning to you," she regarded me after a moment of silence. Preoccupied, I thought.
"Isn't it a grand morning, mam'selle? Sleep well? Bed comfortable?" A man I had not seen the previous night gave me a broad grin as he tipped his hat to me. I judged him to be about fifty or so; his thin dark hair lay tucked in his hat. He wore sort of a churlish look on his face like he had been up all night. An odd charm seemed to posess this kingly sort of street character. This was the innkeeper, however, and we were respectful of that in any case.
Madame Thenardier scowled at him, then curtly turned to me. "This is my husband, mam'selle, monsieur."
"Yes, I'm Thenardier, keeper of the zoo!" he laughed, then his wife joined him.
"Nice to meet you sir," Phillipe Rembard nodded to him.
"Of course, the pleasure is mine!" The innkeeper continued to smile at me before assuming a more stately expression. "Fine people like you must have great business here!"
"Actually, monsieur, we are on our way to Paris."
"My wife informs me that you will be our guests for one whole month!" M. Thenardier seemed pleased with himself.
"Yes, we need a place to come to every night, but we will inform you of any changes if they arise." He looked at my employer as if to measure his fine speech with the contents of his money purse.
"Well, if you will excuse me, I have business to attend to as well! My house is your house!" he gallantly gestured with his hand.
As I helped myself to some more cafe', I heard their strained voices outside as she was sweeping the courtyard.
"Aahh, my aching back!" she winced, rubbing her shoulder. "Where 'ave you been anyways? Out all night again? You look a sight! And what 'ave you to show for it?!" she barked.
"Aahh, I'll show you later!" He dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
"Later? I had to do everything myself! Some master you are! It got busy here and I had to sign in everyone myself!" she huffed as she swung her broom angrily at some fallen leaves.
"Now, now....our guests!" His battle-weary face indicated some sort of ongoing war that he was yet to win." He led her further out and leaned over her. "You want those nice trinkets, don't you?! For bloody sake woman, I know what I'm doing! Don't question my authority! I do men's business!" he spoke through clenched teeth.
She snorted as she put down her broom and glared at him. "That's a laugh! I don't see any "men" here! Not in front of me anyway!" Madame abruptly changed the subject.
"Where is that do-nothing girl of ours anyway?"
"Oh. Which one?" M. Thenardier asked.
"Eponine! We'll have to teach her not to miss her chores!"
"Aye we will! The whole time? She wasn't here?" his rugged face grew angry.
Then I could not hear anymore; we all finished our meal and prepared for the Paris barricades.
"Psst! Hey missy! Remember me?"
"Going already?"As we boarded our carriage in haste, I turned to my travelling companion. "Doctor, those were the men I saw last night!"
"I have told the innkeeper to be aware of any sudden changes of plans. We are people of medicine. I expect him to be a gentleman of his word and honor our request. We will see the situation firsthand and make that determination. Don't fear, Libertine, I will be your protector if need be."
As the carriage chugged away on the cobblestone streets, I lay my head on the seat cover and closed my eyes. I couldn't wait to get to work!
|Back to Fan Fiction|