AN: Whhhaaaaattttt?! Me updating with... AN ACTUAL CHAPTER?! *GASP* Yes! I am (relatively speaking) back! I won't lie, I did start writing this chapter months ago, and I did procrastinate/revise for exams/take exams/pass exams/finish my DofE/work all summer. BUT, the real point here is that I DFINISH IT AND I'M UPLOADING IT AND I PROOF READ, BE PROUD OF ME!
If I'm honest, this isn't even that good a chapter. It's a filler that irons out some details and there's a bit of character building but not much actually happens. However, it is kind of cute and there are some fluffy bits in there so: enjoy!
The following morning, Cosette woke up content for the first time she could remember. She was curled up in a small bed to one corner of the back room, an actual bed, with a mattress and a pillow and a blanket. Éponine slept in a similar bed on the opposite wall, though the older girl was still fast asleep.
Cosette pulled herself out of the bed, only slightly reluctant, padding softly through to the living area, where Valjean was sat reading a book so old that the title had worn off the spine.
"Good morning, Cosette," he said when she lingered in the doorway, "Did you sleep well?"
Cosette slowly walked into the room, "Yes, thank you, Papa," she said happily.
"You're up very early," he commented.
"Is it early?" Cosette asked, slightly confused, "This is when I normally wake up. I sweep the floors and then I do the washing and when everyone has had breakfast, I wash up the dishes." Valjean frowned.
"Well, I shan't have that anymore," he said, closing his book, "What would you like for breakfast, ma petite?"
Cosette tilted her head slightly, "I normally have bread and water?" she offered, unsure of what else she could say.
Valjean's frown deepened, "Is that all?" he asked. Cosette nodded.
"Monsieur and Madame always said that that was all that was left because I took so long sweeping," she said quietly. Valjean felt almost pure hatred for the Thénardiers but hid it behind a smile.
"Well, I can't use that excuse, now, can I?" he said, taking her by the hand and leading her into the kitchen, "I will never ask you to sweep, Cosette, I promise you that. Now, the real question is: tartines or croissants?"
Éponine woke around half an hour later to laughing coming from the other side of the house. She had slept better through the night than she had in a while, despite the excitement they had experienced that evening.
She pulled herself out of bed, shivering slightly in her nightgown and missing the warmth of her blanket, before walking through the living area and into the kitchen. She smiled at the scene before her.
"Monsieur, I believe you have some jam on your nose." She said with a grin.
"Thank you, Éponine," Valjean said with a wry smile, Cosette still giggling in front of him, her hands also covered in jam.
"Éponine, look!" she said joyfully, "Croissants and jam! Can you remember the last time you had jam?!"
Éponine, in fact, couldn't; her parents had long since stopped purchasing luxuries such as jam, instead spending their money on alcohol or ways to keep up the ruse that their inn was a decent establishment.
She quickly sat herself down at the table, saying a quick prayer before hurrying to grab a plate and a croissant, accepting the spoon that Cosette passed her and ladling a generous spoonful of jam on top.
"What will we do today, monsieur?" she asked before biting into her breakfast and sighing contentedly.
"Yes, Papa, what shall we do?" Cosette seconded Éponine's question excitedly. Valjean picked up a napkin from the table, wiping the jam from his nose before answering.
"First, we'll finish our breakfast," he said thoughtfully, "Then, I believe a shopping trip is in order."
A solid knock sounded on the door then, and Valjean excused himself to answer it. He returned a few moments later with Fauchelevent following behind him.
"Good morning, Mademoiselles," the groundkeeper said, nodding to the two. Valjean dipped a cloth into a bucket of water by the stove, moving to clean the jam from Cosette's face. Éponine rolled her eyes at the mess her sister had got herself in.
"Good morning, monsieur," she replied politely, "Would you like some tea?"
"No, thank you, mademoiselle," Fauchelevent replied, "I just dropped in to say that Sister Marianne, the head of the convent, would be delighted to meet both of you girls this morning."
Valjean looked marginally surprised, "Well, thank you, monsieur," he said genuinely, "If there is anything I can do to repay you, please let me know."
"Actually, monsieur," the other man said, "There is something. You see, the convent gardens need constant maintenance, especially at this time of year. Now, it may be beneath someone of your status but I was wondering if you'd be able to lend a hand with the gardening. The nuns are willing to pay a salary, not much, mind you, but enough to keep you and your little ones content."
Valjean could hardly believe his ears, "Monsieur, I couldn't ask for money for something like that," he said, "For you, I shall do it for free."
"Nonsense," Fauchelevent said with a casual wave of his hand, "If you wish to support your daughters then you can't do anything for nothing! Now, Sister Marianne asks that you come to the entrance of the convent at nine thirty sharp. Perhaps without the jam, mademoiselle," he said, smiling at Cosette, who grinned back at him.
"We'll be there," Valjean promised, "Thank you, monsieur." Fauchelevent tipped his hat to them, saying that he'd show himself out so that the small family could finish their breakfast.
"Well, mes filles, it appears shopping will have to wait," Valjean said, cleaning the last of the jam from Cosette's face with a fond smile, "We must get you into the convent school." Éponine frowned.
"I despise school," she muttered, "All the rules and the strictness! And the boys always get to learn about things far more interesting than girl do!"
Valjean smiled slightly, though his tone was firm, "Alas, my dear Éponine, you must go. School is important for young ladies like you and Cosette." Éponine huffed quietly but didn't argue. Cosette simply looked at her curiously.
"What's school like, 'Ponine?" she asked, the nickname she'd heard Azelma and Gavroche use so many times before slipping from her mouth without a second thought. She'd often wished, watching the three siblings play whilst she swept the floor or washed clothes in the big barrel in the kitchen, that she could join in, fondly nicknaming the other children as they played. She would simply be Cosette, thinking for hours on end about ways she could shorten her name and finding none that she liked. 'Ponine, however, was easy; it flowed off her tongue far quicker than Éponine did, thought Cosette never dared to call Éponine by anything other than her full name lest the Thénardiers be passing by to hear her.
Cosette held her breath for a moment after asking her question, wondering if Éponine would pick up on her use of the nickname that sounded so unfamiliar in her own voice.
Her worry appeared to be for nothing, as Éponine simply huffed again, "It's ever so boring, Cosette," she said, "They make you write for hours on end, and learn how to do boring sums in ways that don't make even the slightest bit of sense! And the books they have us read are so ridiculously dull."
"I don't know how to read or write," Cosette said, frowning worriedly, "I can't do any sums either! Oh, Papa, they surely won't let me join if I can't do anything!"
Valjean frowned slightly, "Don't fret, ma petite," he said gently, "You might not know how to do these things now but you can learn."
"I'll help, Cosette!" Éponine said excitedly, "And I'll make it much more interesting than any silly old teachers!"
Valjean tried to frown at Éponine (really, he did), but the sheer enthusiasm in the girl's expression only made him smile.
"Try not to mention to your teachers that you think them 'silly' and 'old', Éponine," he said, "I'm not sure anything good can come of that." Éponine rolled her eyes.
"Of course I'm not silly enough to get caught saying it, monsieur," she said, a sly grin on her face, "I'm a Thénardier! Getting caught isn't in our nature!" she then turned back to Cosette, adopting a more serious look, "Now, the reading and writing and arithmetic is horrible and all, but don't even get me started on etiquette..."
A few hours later, Valjean, Cosette and Éponine having met with Sister Marianne (who was, in fact, not old, nor silly, which even Éponine had to admit). She had welcomed the family warmly, thanking Valjean for his promise to help Fauchelevent in the gardens quickly agreeing to let the two girls into the convent school.
"You've come at a decent time," she said as she took the three on a tour of the convent, "You've just missed the start of the year, but most topics have come to a close now; you're in a good position to join in the new year."
Éponine simply nodded in response as Cosette tugged uncomfortably on the sleeve of the dress they'd dug out of Éponine's bag; it was finer than anything she'd worn for as long as she could remember, even if it was just a Sunday outfit that had been bought for Azelma, who had promptly refused to ever wear something so restrictive. The girl was so fond of what Éponine called 'boys games' that the older girl often wondered if she had any sisters at all, or if she had been cursed to grow up with the company of four brothers instead.
"E-Excuse me, Madame?" Cosette said timidly after a moment, "I'm sorry to ask, but... I can't read, nor write, and I've never even seen a sum! Are... are you sure you're willing to let me in?" The smile Sister Marianne offered in response was as warm as her initial welcome.
"Don't worry, my child, we'll soon have you at the same point as your sister," the nun reassured her, "You'll start with a tutor and then, when you've caught up, you can join Éponine, here, with the rest of your class." The look of pure relief on Cosette's face made even Éponine smile.
"There, you see?" she said, slipping her hand into Cosette's and squeezing it lightly, "I told you there'd be nothing to worry about!" Cosette simply smiled back happily, returning the squeeze before returning her attention to Sister Marianne.
After their tour, and after Valjean sorted out the finer details of the girls' education and his employment with Sister Marianne, Valjean did take Cosette and Éponine shopping. The few provisions Éponine had managed to gather from her old home had certainly been helpful (Cosette had only one dress, no shoes and nothing to sleep in, and Éponine's bag contained solutions to all three of these issues), but it was not enough to keep both girls comfortably clothed for the foreseeable future.
However, by the end of the day, the two girls were exhausted. When the clock chimed seven, the girls having almost fallen asleep in their supper, Valjean tucked Cosette and Éponine into their respective beds, kissing them each on the forehead before blowing out the candle. Both girls were fast asleep before he had even left the room.
Ta-da! I'm kind of stuck about what comes after this now... part of me wants to skip straight to 1831/2, where I have tons of ideas and it all gets much more exciting. This isn't exactly a good place to end this chapter of young Cosette and Eponine's lives, though... Hmm. Drop me a review telling me what you think I should do; if you've got an idea for how I could skip forward in time a bit (plausibly, of course) whilst still making it exciting, I'd love to hear it! Otherwise if you liked/disliked/have some form of opinion regarding this chapter, I'd love to hear from you, too!
I shall try not to be so ridiculously slow when updating this time, though I'm going into A2 year at college so I doubt I'll have much time to write! Thanks to all of the wonderful people who have so far and I hope to post another chapter soon :)