This first chapter is Eponine's first time, with an unnamed man. She is 16 in this story, so please don't yell at me for suggested paedophilia or anything like that. It is made clear by Hugo that 'Ponine is a prostitute and historically, girls as young as 12 were used. That aside, there is a warning on this entry that the scene is sexual, though it is NOT graphic. I'll include a translation of the French lyrics at the bottom. Constructive criticism is very much welcomed!
"Come closer, you."
Eponine looks away, determined not to hear this. Because he wouldn't, would he? She is only sixteen years old. She is a child. Worse, she is his child.
A sharp tug on her arm though, confirms that this is happening.
"'Ponine, behave yourself. Stop gawping like that." Her father bends down on the pretence of straightening the fall of her chemise. His face is huge and round, red from cold weather and too much ale. He sweats like a pig, and Eponine grimaces.
"She doesn't look pleased." The cold voice sounds indifferent. "Perhaps, I will find another." The grand man begins to turn, and Eponine allows herself a sigh of relief. Perhaps the Lord above had, for once, listened to her prayers.
Unfortunately though, her father hasn't. He is on his feet immediately, moving far too fast for a man of his size. He has Eponine by her shoulders now, nails digging in as he drives her forward.
"You will smile, 'Ponine, if you know what's good for you." There's a knee to her backside, to remind her exactly what will happen if she disobeys. She already aches from the beating yesterday. And so she smiles. Fear clutches her heart, but she smiles cheerfully, coyly, copying the prostitutes she sees on the corners. Because that is where Eponine's talent lies. Had the world been kinder, perhaps she would have found her stage. Had anyone thought to listen to her, they might have helped.
This man wants to listen to her. He asks her to sing a French ditty. She sits on the edge of the four-poster, looking around in awe and fear. She has never seen anything as grand as this before in her life, and she will not be seeing it's like very often. But this time is a special time. She is new at this, and the man appreciates this. He is a connoisseur, an expert. He will teach her, guide her. Give her a lesson she will never forget. She tries to sing but her voice wobbles and she is near tears. But she doesn't cry. She takes a deep breath, steadies herself and begins. Her pure, sweet voice soars and melancholia weaves itself around the room. She is alone, the filthy spot in the middle of the grandeur.
A la Claire fontaine, m'en allant promener, j'ai trouve l'eau si belle que je m'y suis baigne…
She is still singing as he comes behind her and removes her cap, combs out her hair with his fingers, drops his chin on her bare shoulder. She doesn't move. She keeps on singing. She sings as his arms encircle her, as he rests his hands for a moment on her heart. He is measuring her beat, her breaths. This is all. She sings as his fingers scrabble against the belt buckle, as her diaphragm expands in relief as the heavy leather is removed and her chemise flaps open. She sings as he explores.
It seems like she has been singing for ages, but it is only one song. As she finishes, he places a finger on her lips. "Shhhhhhhh, ma petite ouiseau chanson." He is the first man to touch these lips.
It is a delicate operation at first. She is cautious, and he – well, he appreciates her nervousness. He enjoys it, feeds from it. It delights him that he is the first, and he is eager to enjoy his prize. He has few requests, this one, and Eponine will learn not to expect such loving treatment. He expects nothing of her, other than she starts to sing when he tells her to, that she kisses him and she keeps her eyes open. Her thoughts are consumed by her chemise which he has ripped. Nothing to him, but it is the only clothing she owns. He slides her skirt down over her knees, and discards it on the floor.
Sur la plus haute branche, un rossignol chantait.Chante, rossignol, chante, toi, qui as le coeut gai.
The canopy is a swirl of patterns, rose pink and real gold mingling into a hypnotic haze. She follows one thread starting at the edge of the canopy until it blossoms into a carnation in the centre of the bed. He kneels at her feet, but she can only see him in the periphery. She feels though, butter-soft hands at her ankles. She had not known such skin existed. Almost everything about him is soft.
His weight surprises her and momentarily distracts her from the canopy. She glances, surprised to see his face so close to hers. He meets her eyes, and wordlessly, the weight lifts from her. He re-positions himself, knees either side of her hips, and then he picks up her hands, positioning them wordlessly.
"Chante, ma petite oiseau."
And so she does. It is the same song as before, but he doesn't mind. He doesn't seem to notice when her breath catches, and she gasps out loud. He doesn't seem to mind that she is out of tune in parts. For her, singing this is easier to think of the pain that she feels, the embarrassment, the loathing. She stops only when he kisses her, and his tongue locks the song in her mind.
Chante, rossignol, chante, toi, qui as le coeut gai.Tu as le coeur a rire, moi, je l'ai-t-a pleurer.
She sings it over and over. Sometimes aloud, sometimes in her mind. She can hardly tell which. She mimics him, and she can almost see him loving her. She sees herself as a lady, in a fine dress, living in the house. Warm and safe, she'd sleep under the golden carnation eat chocolate and drink tea. She would read books and learn to play the flute. She would –
A door creaks, and the illusion is broken.
She is bundled into a cupboard, and her tatters thrown after her. Bewildered, she crouches for eternity in the dark. She hears voices, a young lady. In another life, that would be her.
Hours later, in the dark of midnight, she is let out of the kitchen door. Her skirt, like a bride's sheet the morning after her marriage, proclaims Eponine's loss of innocence – what little there was left, anyhow. In her hand, she clutches a few sous. It is all she has left of that golden carnation now. Slowly, Eponine staggers home.
Tu as le coeur a rire, moi, je l'ai-t-a pleurer.
Translation: At a crystal fountain, when I was going for a walk, I found that the water was beautiful that I waded in...
On a high branch, a nightingale sang. Sing, nightingale, sing, you, whose heart is light.
Sing, nightingale, sing, you, whose heart is light. You have a heart that laughs, but I, I have one that weeps.
You have a heart that laughs, but I, I have one that weeps