A/N: One more chapter after this! Thank you so much to everyone who has stayed with this tale!
Just A Guest: Thanks! Marius' grandfather is a bit of a problematic figure for me, but he means well.
Chapter 36: Mademoiselle No Longer
Everything was decided in the few hours after this happy visit. The doctor was sent for and he pronounced that within a month one man would be fit to wed, and the other would be able to travel. The household at the Rue del'Homme Arme lost no time in making the necessary preparations, if only to keep from mentioning the matter outright among themselves.
The silence was broken finally on the 16th of July, a fine day by the reckoning of most people. Yet for Fantine it was all she could do to keep from weeping, especially as she saw Cosette standing before the mirror in her room and adjusting her long lace veil. "You're such a lady now, darling. I almost cannot believe it," she said as she dabbed at her eyes.
"You've been saying so for the past hour, Maman!"Cosette teased gently as she smoothed out her delicate taffeta skirt. She clasped Fantine's hands tightly. "Won't you and Grandfather come and live with me and Marius? It is a big house at the Rue des Filles du Calvaire, Marius' grandfather likes you both very much, and we'd be happy together."
Fantine placed a finger on her daughter's nose. "Nothing of that. It's important for a married woman to start a home of her own. You'll be the lady of the house now, you'll have friends and concerns of your own, and all your care will be for Marius and your future children."
"But you and Grandfather-" Cosette began again.
"We'll be fine. I'll take care of him and make sure he eats well. He'll make sure we'll visit you so often you will wish us away soon enough!" Fantine laughed.
"Oh Maman, I could never do that!" Cosette said with a frown. She turned and smiled at the sound of the bedroom door opening. "Am I glad that you all could stay a little longer, Ponine, but must you leave straightaway after lunch?"
"We can't have the gendarmes turning up at your wedding reception!" Eponine quipped as she entered the room. Although she was clad in an elegantly tailored green dress, she had thrown a travelling cloak over her attire and was carrying an old valise. "You look so lovely, Cosette. I just spoke with Marius outside, and he can't wait to see you!"
"How I wish that we could all be there when you and Enjolras marry!" Cosette replied. "You know that it's going to happen someday!"
"I'd best worry about being safe in England first," Eponine said. "Don't look so sad. It's a good day, not everyone is going away, you still have Chetta and so many other people you know."
"It will still not be the same," Cosette pointed out as she wrung her hands. "Sometimes I used to wish that you and Azelma were really my sisters."
Eponine swallowed hard. "I think you somehow are."
'Whatever happened to those little girls I used to know?' Fantine wondered silently as she saw Azelma rush to join them in the room. She turned away before the young ladies could see her weep and took a few moments to dab at her eyes. 'Come now, don't make the day melancholy,' she chided herself as she headed to the front room.
Over here, Jean Valjean was listening with wry amusement to Gillenormand upbraiding both Marius and Enjolras about 'this century's modes of conduct'; to the nonagenarian's reckoning, the youth of this age were far too grave for felicity. Despite this noisy harangue, Jean Valjean immediately noted Fantine's presence. "Is everything ready?"
"We'll let the girls have a few moments to talk," Fantine replied in an undertone. She smiled on seeing that Jean Valjean had chosen his best suit and even altered the knot in his cravat specifically for this event. "Look at us, pretending to be so dignified."
"I am only a pruner from Faverolles. You are the mother of the bride," Jean Valjean answered.
Before Fantine could make a retort, she saw Marius look towards the backroom door and then fall silent. "Oh Cosette..." he breathed.
Cosette blushed behind her veil. "It's almost like a dream isn't it, Marius?"
"Better than a dream-" Marius trailed off. He extended his hand to her but stopped short at the last moment. "No, we must marry first!"
"Come on then, let's not delay!" Gillenormand chided them. He rolled his eyes on seeing Enjolras pull a dark overcoat over his formal attire. "What is this, flying from Hymen? You are far too young to turn away your face from the register and the rite!"
Enjolras did not dignify these words but he and Eponine exchanged knowing glances, particularly when he discreetly took her hand as the rest of the wedding party filed out the door of Number 7 Rue del'Homme Arme. "You should join your sisters," he said in a low but warm tone before he helped her into a carriage that was already occupied by Cosette, Fantine, and Azelma.
Eponine grinned as she let go of his hand. "For now, till she is Madame Pontmercy. Then I shall be with you shortly."
'Where have I heard that sort of teasing before?' Fantine wondered even as she made room for Jean Valjean to take the last seat in the carriage. Nevertheless she felt more heartened on seeing the sheer exuberance on Eponine's face; there was an honest affection there that had been absent in the way that Fantine's friends had once flirted with Tholomyes, Blacheville, Listolier, and Fameuil on summer days such as this. She frowned when she saw Azelma sigh wistfully. "You are hardly sixteen," she chided.
"I won't be sixteen forever, and I told Monsieur Combeferre so," Azelma replied quickly.
'Him and her, who would have thought?' Fantine thought, feeling a pang at the recollection of this young doctor's death at the barricade, as well as Victor's untimely demise. She willed herself not to dwell on these as the wedding party began the journey to the mayor's office, but instead she silently revelled in the young women's amiable chatter as well as Jean Valjean's calm but quiet presence.
It seemed like an eternity had passed till all vows were said and blessings given, but at last before noon that day Marius and Cosette were now pronounced as Monsieur and Madame Pontmercy. The sound of these words as well as the radiant smile on Cosette's face was like a balm to Fantine's mind. 'Finally she's safe!' Fantine thought as she heard the cheers that greeted the newlyweds when they exited the church and made their way to the carriage. The day was blissful; there was no sign of rain in the air and in fact it seemed as if the shadows had been banished from the streets. Fantine heard laughter in her ears, but it was rich and low. She turned and met Jean Valjean's broad smile as they took their seats in the carriage with Marius, Cosette, and Gillenormand; the Thenardier sisters had opted to take the second carriage as a matter of precedence.
"It feels like a dream, doesn't it?" Cosette said to Marius. "I almost fear as if it will be snatched away."
"After everything we've been through, we'll know how to hold this close," Marius reassured her. He smiled at Jean Valjean and Fantine. "You have given me the greatest gift today."
"My daughter is not a gift, not when she has chosen you," Fantine replied, making Cosette blush even more deeply.
The wedding party then proceeded to the Rue des Filles du Calvaire for a banquet. By this time the newlyweds' home was filled with guests, mostly family friends of the Gillenormands. Musichetta was among this crowd of well-wishers, and was among the first to greet the bride and groom. "Your name suits you better now Cosette," she said lightly to her friend. "I am so glad to finally see you both happy," she added in an undertone.
Marius nodded gratefully. "We're glad for your presence, Mademoiselle Laurain."
"You should be. What would I do in England?" Musichetta said. She paused and nodded when she saw Fantine. "You and Monsieur Fabre must be proud."
"It's not my doing," Fantine reminded her gently.
"I'm glad you know," Musichetta said. She nodded more politely to Jean Valjean. "It's good to see you Monsieur," she said before going off to speak to her other friends.
'It will take time,' Fantine reminded herself as she and Jean Valjean went to greet and mingle with the other wedding guests. While they were exchanging pleasantries with one of the Gillenormands' more distant relations, Fantine happened to notice a bright suit moving in the company. 'That spindly face is one I'd know anywhere!' she thought with unmitigated alarm as she laid a hand on Jean Valjean's arm.
By this time the newlyweds had also noticed this arrival. "You are quite free in making your appearance here, Monsieur Thenardier," Marius greeted frostily.
"I am only here to wish my benefactor and his lovely wife well," M. Thenardier said, making a sweeping bow. When he straightened up he happened to catch sight of Eponine and Azelma, and his cordial expression changed into one of contempt. "What, there you two are! Are you simply going to ignore your Papa after all this time?"
Azelma's eyes widened and she shrank behind her sister. The older Thenardier girl squeezed Azelma's arm before giving M. Thenardier a baleful look. "I would know what else to say if you had not been silent first," Eponine said.
"I'm a busy man," M. Thenardier said. "Now why don't you be a good girl and tell me what you've been up to. What's this I hear about you and a young man-"
"That is none of your concern."
"All your good luck and to leave me out in the cold?"
Fantine cleared her throat reprovingly. "Monsieur, this is not the time for arguing. It is not respectable."
"You are one to talk, Madame Fabre," M. Thenardier sneered. "If that is even your-"
"It is Mademoiselle Fabre to all of us," Eponine cut in, now taking a step forward so that she was between her father and the rest of the group. "No one asked for you to be here; it would have been good to receive you elsewhere but not at this place."
Thenardier's face twisted in a leer. "Hussy!"
"And for that, Azelma and I shan't be coming with you either," Eponine added. "We're going far away where you can have nothing to do with us."
"Just like that? Who will fend for you both?" Thenardier asked dramatically.
"They do not need 'fending for', but they will not be alone either," Enjolras said, now taking a step so that he was beside Eponine. "I should warn you that you will not find any concession to mendicancy, whether with your daughters or any of their associates."
Thenardier looked as if he would spit at Enjolras. "You've ruined her, haven't you?"
"She is no possession of yours, and there is nothing criminal or indecorous in my regard for her," the young man answered.
Marius cuffed M. Thenardier firmly. "As your supposed benefactor, I would advise you leave and do not trouble us any longer."
"But my expenses-"
"This is a wedding, not business. Go."
Thenardier donned his hat before making a low bow. "Forgive me for the interruption, my dear benefactor and benefactress. My best wishes."
Fantine shuddered as she watched M. Thenardier leave. "I do not hope he will come back," she murmured. "Not even for money."
"He will not. He's been shamed enough," Eponine remarked. She sighed as she looked at the Pontmercys. "That too is another reason we must go, and quickly too. I do wish we could stay."
Cosette nodded sadly. "You will write, will you? Tell us when you're all safe."
"You'll tire of my letters. Anyway I doubt we shall be away forever," Eponine said, giving Enjolras a conspiratorial look. She bit her lip before hugging Cosette. "Till we meet again, sister."
Cosette nodded and embraced Eponine and then Azelma. "We shall."
Enjolras shook Marius' hand. "You'll do well. I shall look forward to hearing from you."
"And with hearing of you, my friend," Marius said with a smile.
Fantine hung back to let the young people make their goodbyes, till Eponine nodded to her. "I wish you a safe journey, you three. Your mother would have been proud."
"I s'pose so," Eponine said with a grin. "Thank you. And not just for the wishes."
Fantine sighed with relief, feeling suddenly lighter even as the three travellers finished making their goodbyes before discreetly quitting the hall. 'Someday, maybe someday!' she told herself. She could trust in life being long and the road convoluted enough for them to perhaps cross paths once more.
The rest of the day was given over to revelry, toasts and speeches, and a little dancing till some more of the wedding guests took their leave. Jean Valjean nodded to Fantine. "To home now?" he asked.
"Yes, it is about time," Fantine agreed. She smiled as she went up to Cosette and Marius. "Monsieur, Madame, it has been a good day. God bless you both."
Cosette nearly burst into tears while Marius grinned broadly. "You too, Mademoiselle Fabre."
"Call me Fantine," the older woman corrected him gently. "That suits family better."
After taking their leave of the newlyweds, Jean Valjean and Fantine took a fiacre back to the Rue del'Homme Arme. They were silent up until Jean Valjean brought the house keys out of his pocket. "No more Mademoiselles, Madames...that is a change."
"I need it," Fantine replied. "What then shall I call you?"
Jean Valjean paused for a while. "Monsieur Jean will do."
Fantine nodded. "Then it is nice to finally be home, Monsieur Jean. Thank you," she said before helping him turn the key to let them both into the house.