A/N: A bit set in the WAMP verse, picking up a few days after the Epilogue. In which a benevolent project turns into a challenge in social graces for a certain former gamine turned translator and activist.
I don't own any of Victor Hugo's characters who appear in this spin-off.
Part 1: A Project in a Drawing Room
The neighbourhood of the Marais was not a usual venue for political saloons; such uproarious discussions were usually carried out in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine or the Latin Quartier. The one exception was at 6 Rue des Filles du Calvaire, a house well known to the ultras of Parisian society as well as the members of the city's political parties. 'Some would say too well known,' Cosette Pontmercy could not help thinking one Saturday in November as she surveyed the crowded drawing room of her home. Unlike most other meetings of this sort, there was not a single male in attendance: Marius was still away at work, their son Georges was sleeping in the nursery, while Jean Valjean had been talked into a lengthy game of cards with old Gillenormand. It was the perfect opportunity for the young Baronne to play hostess to a few dear friends affiliated with the women's club Les Femmes Pour Egalite et Fraternite, as well as some ladies who'd been her school friends at the convent in Picpus.
"You know it's the way of the world to make repairs only at the last, or after a sudden change like widowhood. I am not surprised at Madame Fontenay's desire to bestow her material goods elsewhere and retire to a convent," one matron remarked drolly before sipping her coffee. "It's far better now, so she can still see the fruits of her benevolence."
"Living better over the years would be more noteworthy and virtuous," Leonor Torres said severely as she set down a paper she'd been discussing with another acquaintance. The snappish bookshop girl crossed her arms. "Did she say where she will bequeath her fortune?"
"To some home for orphans, or perhaps to raise a house for the homeless," the matron replied primly as she smoothed out her skirts. "Though rumor has it she may bestow it on some horrible relation of hers."
Cosette shook her head as she helped the maidservant Nicolette set down some plates of small cakes. She could not quite recall how their conversation had turned to a rather indelicate topic, which made her all the more eager to steer the talk back to something a little more sensible. "Whatever decision she makes will be all for the best,' she said calmly as she took a seat on her favourite armchair.
Leonor clucked her tongue. "You are far too kind, Cosette."
"Madame Fontenay is known to my aunt-meaning Marius' aunt," Cosette clarified. 'Though I wouldn't dare to call her an intimate friend of mine,' she thought, recalling the silver haired dowager who prided herself on keeping her narrowed eyes trained only on the highest society. It only stood to reason that this lady would tolerate the daughter of Luc-Esprit Gillenormand, and have nothing to say to a girl who'd once been a Fauchelevent. "I am sure that she has some worthy cause or project in mind,' she added.
"Such as the lessons for the girls in the faubourgs," Allyce Legendre grumbled. The fishwife cracked her knuckles and regarded the other women balefully. "We cannot progress with that project."
In a corner Claudine Combeferre sat up straight to eye the leader of their group. "Allyce, we already have a place to hold the classes in, and so many friends have volunteered to teach sewing, reading, and even cooking."
"A house that we only borrowed, and friends who can come and go. We need a more permanent arrangement, and that cannot be paid for from the society's funds alone," Allyce retorted.
"Unless we start mandatory contributions-which we should not do," Claudine pointed out.
An exasperated sigh came from the sofa where Simone Moreau was seated. The pert seamstress scowled as she nearly spilled crumbs on her puce dress. "I don't see what the problem is. There's a lady who wants to do good, we want to do good-"
"Simone-" Cosette began, knowing exactly what her friend was about to say.
"We could just ask Madame Fontenay if she's interested!" Simone continued. "I don't think it's impolite to mention it."
"Asking won't be enough. We have to make this happen," Allyce said.
"Through that way?" another young lady asked. "Allyce, it's convenient but it's asking a lot."
"Unless your brother can raise up money out of his foundry, Citizenness Duplay, I don't think we have other ideas," Allyce answered harshly.
"Something else will present itself," Cosette chimed in. 'Though what might it be what with so much to do and so little to get it from?' she wondered. Although there was much support for their group thanks to recent efforts and successes with the legislature, it did not necessarily assure the perpetual endorsement from the more well-off individuals in Paris. 'They'll get used to considering other kinds of good works besides leaving donations every Christmas,' she told herself even as she heard footsteps at the front door. She discreetly got up and slipped to the entrance hall to greet this visitor, already having some idea who this might be. "There you are, Ponine! I was wondering when you'd arrive."
"I had a little bit more to do at work today," Eponine replied a little breathlessly as she adjusted her grip on the squirming infant in her arms. "There, there Laure. We're just visiting for a bit."
"I'll hold her while you get settled," Cosette offered, reaching for her goddaughter. She smiled as Laure gave her a startled look for a moment before cooing and snuggling in the crook of her elbow. "Where are Enjolras and the boys?"
"Antoine is meeting with some legislators who came all the way from Arras. As for my brothers, they're visiting Courfeyrac. I s'pose they won't be back till after supper," Eponine said as she took off the white pelisse she wore over a green dress. She paused on hearing the chatter from the next room. "What are they talking about now?'
Before Cosette could answer, Allyce stepped into the hall. "Eponine, there is an important matter that you must see to. Personally," Allyce said briskly, motioning for Eponine and Cosette to follow her back to the drawing room.
Eponine nodded slowly even as Cosette handed Laure back to her. She greeted the other guests warmly before finding her favourite seat near the window. "Now what might that be?" she asked as she settled Laure on her lap.
"You've probably heard about Madame Fontenay and her plans to be generous," Simone replied.
"I have, so what of it?"
"We need you to tell her about our project with lessons for girls. She might want to give something there, not just once," Simone said.
"Meaning as a legacy," Leonor said. "That way our resources would be sustainable."
Claudine sighed as she got to her feet and moved to sit next to her friend. "It's only a suggestion, Eponine. Only one possible avenue."
"This cannot be just a suggestion, Claudine," Allyce said. "Madame Fontenay is choosy with company, and she will not talk to anyone less respectable."
"You're the leader of this group. I don't s'pose she'll object," Eponine pointed out.
"You're a legislator's wife. She won't have any other," the young Duplay girl said beseechingly. "She's absolutely terrible to everyone else."
"Then why are we bothering with such a person then?" Eponine asked. "I shouldn't like to have perpetual disagreements about other small things if there is something wrong at the beginning."
"That will mostly depend how you handle the negotiation, Eponine," Allyce said pointedly.
'Now she's done it,' Cosette realized, seeing how Eponine's eyes flashed with that haughty fire everyone already knew too well. It was impossible now for her friend to simply let this challenge go unanswered. "Perhaps another intimate friend of hers-"
"I will not have any problem if it is just making an acquaintance and asking. I've done that sort of thing often enough before," Eponine replied, sitting up straight and looking right at Allyce. "I'll call on her as soon as I can, tomorrow if I should."
Claudine shook her head. "You don't have to do this, Eponine."
"It's only a bit of asking. If she doesn't like it, then that's the endo f it."
"Then do it on a Monday. The Fontenays are always out of the city on a Sunday."
Cosette sighed as she regarded her childhood friend. It would take more than Eponine's infamous wilfulness and way with words to win the day. Perhaps Eponine was thinking the same thing too, since she remained rather pensive and silent even as the discussion turned to other projects and recent successes. "Eponine, can I call on you tomorrow?" Cosette asked discreetly.
The younger woman nodded. "To be honest, I don't know how I'd speak to one such as her."
"I've heard she can be quite set in her ways, and she dislikes anyone telling her so."
"You don't have to tell her that," Cosette said. "The trick would be to convince her why she'd find this appealing to her sensibilities."
"How would I do that?" Eponine asked.
"If you can talk of her Christian duty, or perhaps of how she would like to be remembered, that would be one thing." She patted Eponine's arm on seeing her friend's face twist at these ideas. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, I figure?"
Eponine smiled wryly. "I'd feel silly being young as I am and telling her of it. I s'pose we shall have to think of something."
"Then it is very well that we have the rest of the weekend to find out," Cosette said more amiably. Surely there was something that could encompass the years and ideas between them and the lady who could possibly settle their difficulties.