A fanfic I’ve been working on. I’m pretty sure I can call it finished, so it’ll be on AO3 tomorrow. It features Cosette (my first time writing her!) and her father.
…But not that father. The other one.
Felix Tholomyes was in his study, his young son playing in the room next door, when the woman was shown in. He didn’t know why she was there: the message had simply been, “Madmoiselle Cosette Pontmercy wishes to see you. She says the matter is urgent.”
As soon as he saw her, he knew. She had her mother’s eyes, her mother’s nose, her mother’s bearing. She appeared to have inherited only one thing from him, though, and that was her look of disdain. He recognised it instantly.
“Euphrasie,” said Tholomyes. He closed his mouth. He had not even known her to be alive. He had hoped she was not dead, he was not a monster (or he did not believe himself to be), but the idea that she would one day enter his study – and dressed like a lady! – had been almost unthinkable. “Euphrasie?”
“So it was you who named me,” said the woman. “My mother’s name for me was Cosette. That is the name I use now.”
“You are my daughter!” Tholomyes said this loudly, but then he quietened, he didn’t want his son to hear. “Please, sit,” he added uncertainly. She did, on a chair reserved for clients in front of the desk. Her face was still disdainful, but it clearly hadn’t been made for disdain, the look didn’t suit her at all.
“Monsieur,” she said. Next door, the little boy let out a shout of laughter, and this seemed to shatter her mask a little. “I must make one thing clear. I am not here to disrupt your life the way you surely disrupted my mother’s. I am here only to ask for her story. You may exclude your part in it if you feel you ought to.” She gazed at him with piercing eyes. Tholomyes looked away. He hadn’t felt guilt over the affair for many years. Only after his first- well, second- daughter had been born, and his wife had placed her in his arms, had he spared a thought for Fantine and Euphrasie. But he hadn’t looked for them. What would have been the point? They inhabited a world entirely different from his.
“I- your mother-” He stumbled over his words and felt foolish. Then he felt annoyed that this woman had the power to make him feel foolish. “It was nothing, nothing to either of us- a game, a masquerade-” She looked at him like he was a child, a wicked one. “We- we shared a bed only once-”
“It is fortunate for me that you did,” Cosette said cooly. Then, “But less fortunate, of course, for her.”
“It was a lighthearted time of year, we had friends who did likewise, I’m not condemning her-”
“But you did.”
Tholomyes was starting to feel guilt now, mild and vague guilt but guilt nonetheless. It was not a feeling he was used to. “Tell me what became of Fantine?” he asked.
Cosette looked down, although her eyes still blazed. “She fell into poverty and despair, which was your fault. She left me with a pair of innkeepers with well-fed children of their own, but contrary to her expectations they continued to feed their own children and neglected me. Perhaps you would be interested to see this.” She suddenly rose, placed her arm on the desk that seperated them, and pulled up her sleeve. Near the elbow was a scar. “A burn with scalding water. It was an accident, as I was only four and not accustomed to such work. When I cried, they shouted at and berated me, and wouldn’t give me anything to cool it. To this day I feel the sting.” She rolled her sleeve back down. Tholomyes felt a sick feeling rise in his throat, and the squeals of the child in the room next door didn’t help. He couldn’t understand it. He thought perhaps his son was squealing because he had broken a toy: he would have to buy him a new one.
“And- and your mother?” he asked haltingly.
“Unaware of my treatment. She sent money for my upkeep, more and more as it was demanded, and eventually she could not pay. My father, my real father, he told me of the sorrow and deprivation she underwent for me. I have spoken to people who knew her and pieced her story together best I could, and I hope it hurts your heart as much as it did mine. My mother sold her hair and her teeth and finally her body. Men such as you humiliated and mocked her. Still she fought!”
Tholomyes tried to find the words. They were a confused jumble in his head. “Men such as me?” he finally tried.
“Yes,” said his daughter bitterly. “Men such as you.”
Tholomyes looked at her hands. There was a wedding ring on her finger, and he desperately needed to change the subject. “You are married?” he asked, gesturing to the ring.
“What is your husband’s profession?”
“He is a lawyer,” she answered, and before he could say anything she added, “But not, I think, of your kind.” Her rage was wearing him down, although on some level he knew he deserved it, he had simply never been on the recieving end of any before.
“How did you find me?” he asked. And then, weakly, “I am a changed man.”
Cosette smiled. It was a bitter smile which didn’t look right on her face. “I spoke to many people. A woman named Favourite directed me here.” Tholomyes remembered Favourite: he had always considered her a better match for him than Fantine, and indeed his wife reminded him of her more than anyone. “I was apprehensive at first. From what I heard of you, I pictured you a goblin or a devil…”
“I am your father!” He was offended now.
“My father!” she said angrily. “You are no more my father than the seed is father to the tree.” She stood, and he noticed the outline of her belly against her dress. She was pregnant. “My true father was a good and honourable man. Everything, in fact, that you are not.” She hovered, apparently uncertain whether to leave there and then or sit down again. Eventually she did neither.
“Monsieur, any of my mother’s things that you have in your possession, I would like them to be returned to me. I cannot imagine you have use for them.”
“I have nothing.”
“Would that that were so!” she spat. Backing away from the desk, she breathed out as if to let her anger go, and then said-
“Only one thing do I ask as your daughter. Tell me of my half-siblings. The child in the adjourning room and any others.”
Tholomyes swallowed. Suddenly it felt inexplicably wrong to be speaking of his children. “My eldest daughter- I mean, my daughter- of course, you would be the eldest- she is married. She is a pretty girl, good natured, her name is Catherine.”
“Catherine,” Cosette repeated, with a wonder that Tholomyes did not understand.
“Then there is a boy of eleven, Eugene, the best in his class at school. And the child of six is Geraud. He is spoiled perhaps, given expensive toys and allowed to misuse them, but he was born prematurely and not expected to live-” He remembered that time with a little sting of fear and pain. As terrible a creature he was, he had managed to love some people. “I care for my children, and my wife. Please do not disgrace them!”
Cosette nodded. “I would never,” she said. “I would never cause pain to an innocent; my real father raised me well.”
Annoyance once more flickered in Tholomyes’s mind. He felt he was being punished disproportionate to his crime: the woman before him had managed just fine and Fantine’s fate was hardly all his fault.
“You are unfair to me, daughter,” he said. “I would have paid for your upkeep had I been asked.”
She shook her head at him.
“I hope that I shall meet my brothers and sister in times to come,” she said. The words ‘when you are dead’ hovered in the air. “I hope that we shall sit in cafes, swing on swings and ride horses, and have all that I was denied.”
Tholomyes didn’t answer. A threat might have worked, he had made threats in courtrooms many a time, but this woman was his flesh and blood.
“Goodbye,” said Cosette. “I hope we shall not meet again.” She swept from the room. Tholomyes heard a door closing, and he sat in silence for some time before realising his son had gone quiet. He went next door to check on him, and found him asleep. He moved him to a chair, and sat next to him on the floor, one hand on the boy’s shoulder. After a few minutes he convinced himself he had been treated very badly indeed; his daughter had not been respectful. Or perhaps the girl had not even been his daughter…she was a madwoman in stolen clothes, or an actress hired by his friends for a prank, or a manifestation or something. He told himself this over and over again, sitting on the floor of the nursery, surrounded by broken toys, until he believed it completely. Then he left his son sleeping and returned to his study.