19. Prodigal Daughter

Vezet. June 9th

Gautier Enjolras receives the mail from the maid, one fine morning. He takes it to his study to read it. Several minutes later, he rings a bell, then sends a maid in search of Régine.

Régine sighs heavily and with much show of martyred patience, and puts aside what she's doing and makes her way upstairs, entering with only the most cursory of knocks. "Yes, dear?"

Gautier has been pacing. He turns and presents the letter to her. "I thought you might be interested in this."

Régine fixes him with a hard blue stare, and takes the letter. Her face tightens slightly as she looks over it; then she glances back up at him, expectantly.

Gautier returns the gaze. "Now that your little runaway has been found, are you going to go gallivanting off to Paris to retrieve her?" He puts one hand on his forehead. "Heaven knows what the neighbors think, all of this coming and going at odd hours and in haste."

"Damn the neighbors," his wife says coolly. "I do not know about you, my love, but I do not gallivant. I travel. You may come with me, if you think it would be best, but I shall go."

Gautier had not considered actually leaving the house. It sounds like a good idea to him. "Perhaps I should accompany you. It would appear more dignified." He clears his throat. "I cannot have my wife 'traveling' all around the country on her own, after all."

Régine's eyes glint, but all she says is, "Very well."

Gautier skims the letter again. "We should probably leave the day after tomorrow, so that we shall have time to arrange affairs here, and to acquire appropriate transportation."

In three days the child could change her mind and go underground again. And her brother will still fail to know where she is. Régine looks dour. "Very well."

Gautier summons a manservant and begins the tedious process of arranging affairs so that he is able to be absent.

Several days later, in Paris:

Enjolras sits at his desk, ostensibly working on an essay, but actually wondering what Chantal is thinking, and when his mother will arrive.

Chantal is ensconced in a chair by the window, hugging her knees, and looking glum.

There is a loud, confident knock on the door, as if the knocker knows perfectly well that no door will stay shut when he knocks upon it.

Chantal jumps, and looks over at Marcelin with a touch of panic.

Enjolras shoots her a comforting look. "It's time," he says quietly, then raises his voice. "Please, come in."

The door opens. Gautier Enjolras strides in, Régine only a step behind him. "She is here," he says to Régine, thoroughly unnecessarily.

Enjolras's mouth tightens in a firm line. He shows no other sign of the shock he feels. "Bonjour."

"So I see." Régine regards her children expressionlessly.

Chantal stands up, tense. There's nothing she can do about the hair, but with Manon's help they've arranged feminine attire that even sort of fits her. "Papa. Maman." Her voice trembles, but is clear.

Gautier beckons Chantal with a finger. "Well, now we've found our runaway, shall we be going?"

Marcelin puts his pen down and stands angrily. "You're not going to say so much as hello to me, or ask me how I've been? Thank you, Papa. I've missed you as much as you've obviously missed me."

Régine raises delicate eyebrows, seeming actually amused. Whether at Gautier or Marcelin is open to question. She does not intervene. Instead she crosses the room serenely to straighten Chantal's hair.

Chantal twitches under these ministrations. She doesn't say anything either, though she smiles a small pleased smile at Marcelin's outburst. That's telling him.

Gautier is no less stubborn than anyone else in the family. He is not upset by his son's temper; he merely raises an eyebrow. "You obviously have not matured significantly since you left home, Marcelin. You've precluded any need of mine to ask how you are. Perhaps if you left behind childish debates and learned to control your emotions, I would have to ask how you were."

Régine looks more amused than ever. "Now, darling," she says ever so sweetly to Gautier.

Marcelin's chin is definitely raised at this. "Perhaps if you treated me as anything but a little boy in skirts, you would be able to see me as I am today." A pause, just enough to be rude, then, "Father."

Chantal keeps quiet. Very.

"I doubt that I would want to see that at all," Gautier says, then gestures to the door. "Let us be going."

Marcelin puts a hand on Chantal's arm. "I have not said goodbye to Chantal yet, nor more than greeted my mother. Give us a little time."

Régine remarks, as though apropos of nothing, and ostensibly to Chantal, "All men are children. Particularly when they do not get their way." She turns to favor Marcelin with a bright social smile. "I do hope you have been well, dear... and not too harrowed with worry over your sister's welfare?"

Chantal looks distinctly uncomfortable, as well she might. She takes her brother's hand, slanting a look up at him of two parts sympathy and one part envy. Poor Marcelin. At least you don't have to go home with them.

Marcelin glances warily at Régine. Lifting Chantal's hand to his lips, he kisses it formally. "I have been worried, and searching, since you visited me. It was an immeasurable relief to find her."

Gautier smirks very slightly. "And of course you had no idea where she was, these last few months."

In Régine's world, you don't have to lie convincingly, just elegantly, and so this meets with her approval. She flashes another momentary, surface smile. "Indeed."

"Of course I did not," and another too long pause, "Father, or I'd have sent you word weeks ago." Marcelin squeezes his sister's hand comfortingly.

Chantal looks mutinously at the floor. If she could think of something shocking to say, she would, but she can't.

Gautier is amused, but certainly not convinced. "Where have you been staying, Chantal?" he asks, as if he was asking something as impersonal as 'Has it rained much?'

Chantal can play this game. "With friends."

Marcelin gives her hand another little squeeze, then lets go. He keeps his mouth shut, holding back his irritation for a more opportune moment.

Régine arches a brow. "Indeed."

Gautier looks quite incredulous. "Since when do you have 'friends' in Paris? When did you acquire these 'friends?'

Chantal tilts her chin up, and says nothing.

Marcelin says as if he is making a great admission, "I gave her the addresses of some of my friends. She may have corresponded with them."

Gautier lifts his eyebrows and considers this, then looks at Chantal. "Why didn't you tell us any of this?"

Chantal sputters a bit. "Why do you think?"

Marcelin points out, nearly snidely, "If I were running away from home, I certainly wouldn't tell anyone anything about where I was going."

Régine puts an arm about her daughter's shoulders, but doesn't interrupt. Yet.

"No, you wouldn't." Gautier's voice is cold. "I have a very low expectation of your manners. I had hoped that Chantal, at least, had learned better." He shakes his head slightly in the disappointment of a patriarch whose home has proven not to be his castle at all. "It is a pity."

"I could have told you," Chantal says, deadpan, "but you never listen to me anyway."

Gautier blusters. "Of course I listen to you." He tries to recall a specific incident, but none come to mind. "I'm your father, aren't I?"

Marcelin mutters, "More's the pity."

Chantal comes perilously close to rolling her eyes. She just shakes her head.

Régine smiles a small, contained smile. "Indeed." She lets Chantal go. "I think we had better be on our way. Chantal, are you packed?"

"Yes," Chantal says resignedly.

Marcelin offers, "Shall I help you carry your bag?"

Gautier frowns slightly. "I can do that."

"That's all right," Chantal says, muted, and then louder, "It's fine." She moves to collect it from under the window, tense.

"Let me walk down with you," Marcelin says, then, still reaching for an excuse.

"But of course," Régine puts in smoothly. "We don't see enough of you, dear."

Chantal mutely surrenders the bag to Marcelin.

Marcelin takes it and extends his arms as he half-bows, ironically. "I could say the same of you, madame."

Gautier clears his throat. "We are leaving. Now. Enough theatrics, Marcelin." He strides out the door, fully expecting everyone to follow on his heels.

Régine smiles sweetly. "You must come home more often." She takes Chantal's arm and steers her toward the door.

Marcelin follows after his mother and sister. "Perhaps I shall, when I have time."

There is a fiacre waiting in the street. A young man is chatting with the driver.

Gautier ignores the driver, as he's just a servant, and the young man, because he is not particularly well dressed, and besides, he's talking to a peasant. They are both thoroughly beneath notice.

When the young man catches sight of Chantal, Régine, and Marcelin, he nods to the driver, then bows formally to the three of them. "Bonjour, Madame Enjolras. What a pleasure to see you again."

Régine's eyebrows go up again. Out of courtesy, and possibly to annoy her husband, she chimes, "Bonjour. M. Combeferre, is it not?"

Combeferre smiles widely at being recognized, and, for once, does not insist on informality. "C'est moi." He looks quizzically at Chantal, then looks quite surprised. "You've found your missing daughter?" As if it is not totally obvious. He asks in a shocked voice, "Marcelin, is this your sister?"

Marcelin looks a bit taken aback. He hadn't expected to see Combeferre, especially not acting so oblivious. "Yes, this is my sister, Chantal. Chantal, this is my dear friend, Etienne Combeferre." With a few slight waves of his hand, he introduces them.

Chantal blinks rapidly, looks first at Marcelin, then Combeferre, in bemusement. "Pleased to meet you," she manages. And drops a little curtsey.

Combeferre takes her hand and kisses it. "Likewise." He winks at Marcelin. "You didn't tell me that your sister is nearly as lovely as your mother."

Gautier clears his throat. He wasn't paying any attention until this strange boy laid a hand on his daughter. "What is the meaning of this?"

Régine chuckles indulgently. "Darling, this is a friend of Marcelin's."

That serves to drop the fellow several more notches in M. Enjolras's estimation. At this point, he wouldn't hire Combeferre to muck out the stable of his favorite horse, for fear the idiotic boy would let the steed loose. "Is he. How pleasant." It is perfectly clear from his tone that he means exactly the opposite.

Combeferre smiles his best smile at Monsieur Enjolras, and bows to him as well. "You must be Marcelin's father. I can see where he got his best traits." Stubbornness, irritability, inability to recognize the obvious, intolerance...

Chantal has to look straight at the ground to keep from snickering.

Gautier is slightly mollified by that. Perhaps the lad would work as a bootblack or something of that caliber. "Do you live here in Paris, Monsieur," a pause, he wasn't paying much attention to the name, but it's there somewhere, "Combeferre?"

Combeferre spreads his hands. "I don't know that anyone could be said to live in Paris. It's more of an experience than a home. But, yes, I reside here for the time being."

Régine smiles again. "How true," she murmurs, and glances at Chantal.

Marcelin clears his throat, wondering how he can get rid of Combeferre before his father causes a scene. "Combeferre was helping me search for Chantal, Monsieur." He's too irritated to even refer to Gautier as "Father."

Chantal appears utterly charmed by this stranger, oddly enough. She watches him with sparkling eyes from under her lashes.

"He has been most understanding," Régine agrees, without a flicker. Not that she'd know.

"Did he, now?" That question is almost too mild. "Then he must be as ineffectual as you are, Marcelin." Gautier is never a patient man, and today is no different.

"Gautier." Régine's tone is suddenly stinging. "Darling. --You must forgive my husband, monsieur. He has been most distressed." She shoots a frosty look in said husband's direction.

Chantal bites down hard on her tongue, and sends Combeferre a wry apologetic glance.

Combeferre blinks a few times. Marcelin's temperament makes more sense, now, and he feels truly awful about forcing Chantal to go home with this pompous ass. He nods deeply to Mme. Enjolras. "Of course, Madame. I understand completely. When one's child is in danger, nothing can be right." He half-smiles at M. Enjolras, though he has stopped trying as hard to be ingratiating. "Perhaps we have not been particularly effective, but Paris is a large city, and it is very difficult to search all of its districts."

Marcelin takes a deep breath. All of a sudden, he's very glad for Combeferre's presence. He sets down the suitcase. "We did our best, Papa, but both I and my friends have classes and a good deal of work to do for them."

"Quite," Régine says silkily. "And since she is here now, there is nothing more to worry about. Yes?" It's not really a question.

Gautier strides over and takes the suitcase. "I am aware of that, Marcelin. You were not the first man in our family to study in Paris." To Régine, he nods, saying, "Quite so." He turns away, effectively excluding himself from the conversation.

Combeferre slightly shakes his head, smiling ruefully at Mme. Enjolras and her children. "I'm sure you were terribly glad to find her again."

Régine casts a glance up at him. "Immensely. We do thank you for your efforts." She dips him a little curtsey. "Good afternoon. --Marcelin, I will leave you and your sister to say your goodbyes. Chantal, I shall expect to see you shortly." With that, she sweeps off to possibly soothe or possibly yell at her sulking spouse, leaving the three young folk alone.

Marcelin looks from Etienne to Chantal, then whispers, "Say goodbye, but quickly. I'll keep an eye out for you."

Combeferre needs no further encouragement to embrace her, pressing kisses to her hair and face.

Chantal watches her mother nervously out of earshot, and then nearly throws herself into Combeferre's arms.

Combeferre laughs, a little hysterically. "Why didn't you tell me how wonderful your father is? I'd never have asked you to write to him at all." He kisses her again.

Chantal returns the kiss fiercely. "I didn't want to frighten you," she says ruefully then.

Combeferre lets her go, reluctantly. "I see, now. I can't keep you too long, or they will start to worry. But," he embraces her again, "I love you. I will miss you so much."

Chantal buries her face in his shoulder a moment. "I love you. Write to me?" It's almost a plea.

"Every day, if I can." The answer is fervent enough to reassure her, if anything can.

Chantal nods a bit, subdued. She leans up to kiss his cheek once more, then lets him go.

Combeferre clears his throat. "Marcelin," he says quietly, to alert the lookout, who has been steadfastly not looking at them in order to avoid embarrassment on Chantal's part and his own.

Marcelin turns quickly. He's relieved that they haven't simply run off again. It wouldn't have surprised him unduly if they had. He takes Chantal in his arms for a quick embrace, because that's all they really have the time for before Maman and Papa come looking. "Take care of yourself, Chantoinette."

She hugs him tightly. "I will. You write to me, too."

"I always have." He lets her go, then glances at Combeferre. "We will visit, soon. Once the summer starts." Combeferre nods. "They'll be waiting," Marcelin continues. He takes Chantal's arm and begins to walk with her toward the fiacre. If they're inclined to make more of a scene, he's going to be terribly vexed.

Chantal casts one last smile back at Combeferre, and follows.

Combeferre says quietly, "Fare well, mademoiselle."

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