iamreaching

Matrimony

Though her husband had once feared that he was depriving her of the life she deserved, Celeste had found that being a wife and especially a mother was truly all she had wanted for herself. She did not have as much time to read as she had once, but her darling little girl and her adoring husband more than made up for it. She had fashioned a kind of sling to hold her little girl that freed both her hands for making dinner or washing clothes or dishes or cleaning. Sometimes, she got a bit of a reprieve and a rest when Jean would take her to the shop with him, tucking her tiny body in his coat when he went out so that only her chubby cheeks could be seen.

Celeste had not known it was possible to love someone as much as she loved her Eleanor. Sometimes, her heart broke simply looking at her with her perfect, rosy cheeks and her silky dark hair. She was a quiet baby, and fairly good for her mother, and their lives had settled into a lovely routine. Housework was no longer much of a struggle, and she had found a certain flare for cooking, although she would never be able to cook quite as well as Jean’s mother.

One particularly rainy afternoon found Celeste sprawled out on the sitting room rug in front of a roaring fire. Her daughter lay on her belly next to her, and she was reading aloud from some ancient, impressive-looking tome that was actually just fairy stories from her own childhood.

“And then the prince—,” she was saying, but looked up when the door opened. Baby Eleanor turned over onto her back and wriggled on the rug, squealing. She knew that sound meant her father had come home, and of course she was terribly fond of him. How could she be otherwise when he doted upon her so? “Look, my sweet, ‘tis the very one!” Celeste giggled, scooping the girl up as she stood.

Move

Valjean sat close to the fire in the old armchair that had become a sort of second home. His youngest child, now nearly ten years old, sat curled at his feet with a bit of embroidery. She was growing into a pretty thing, pretty like her mother with her mother’s distinctive hair, but every inch she grew and every birthday they celebrated reminded her father how very old he was. Kathleen was now older than Cosette had been when he had taken her from her poverty. She had never known anything but happiness, he had made sure of that, yet sometimes he looked at her and dreaded her beauty, for surely someday she would leave him as Cosette had done. He did not know if he could endure it.

He kept one hand on her head; in the other, he held a letter.

The girl asked sweetly, “Is it from Sissy, Papa?”

“No, princess, from your brother,” he replied distractedly, scanning Jean’s words a second time.

Much had changed in the past six years, but Jean was not one of them; the boy never seemed to get any older, though perhaps taller; his house was just the same, though the family too had grown, and it now rather burst at the seams, but they were happy. Celeste had never endured the same kind of melancholy as after her second daughter’s birth again.

He finally called to his wife in the kitchen: “It seems that they have changed their minds about America….things appear to be uneasy there. The captain thinks there could be war. They are coming to live here, and he thought perhaps Jean could help them find a place.” He scanned the last of the letter. “Cosette will be pleased.”

As for him, he was glad to know his granddaughters and their families would be safe from the scourge of war, but he had always felt a little distant from the twins and the long years of separation had not helped matters much.

Unexpected

For all the changes the Javert family had endured in the past five years, between marriages and births and quarrels, one thing was always constant: the house in the country was the only one large enough to host gatherings such as Easter. With all the guests, including four children under the age of four, Cosette and Sophie had their hands full. Of course everyone pitched in, but Cosette preferred the experienced hands of Madeline and Sarah to her daughters, whom she made sit by the fire with Valjean and their little ones or else out in the garden.

Preparations for Gavroche’s upcoming marriage were well underway as well, although the young man stubbornly insisted they could not have a wedding until the twins returned home. For now, he and Addy seemed content to carry on their relationship as it had always been; he pushed her on the garden swing or chased her down the hill like a boy or simply leaned against her  while he flipped through a book.

Gustave, when he wasn’t helping his friend haul things back from town or chop wood for the still-chilly evenings, was very tender with his wife; they had been through a scare, and were still not sure what the outcome of it would be; all they could do was wait and hope.

Little Philippe was almost three and rambunctious, wanting to run and play outside with his uncle; he required constant attention so that he did not run off and hurt himself somehow. In contrast, little Kathleen was content to sit on her father’s lap by the fire, curled up against him like a kitten, as he stroked her hair. She played sometimes when her mother was not busy elsewhere, but she was like Valjean’s shadow.

It was two days before Easter and getting dark just before dinner. Most of the family (a reluctant Javert included, because his wife had put Jaq on his lap and told him to stay put) were in the main sitting room while the three eldest women were still preparing in the kitchen.

Gavroche sat on the floor so all the ladies and their babes would have chairs, his head resting in Addy’s lap and a book on his knee. Aimee and Celeste were sitting close together, whispering and giggling like girls, while Gus was busy admiring his niece in Jean’s arms as his eldest son dozed in his father-in-law’s. Overall, it was a peaceful scene, if a crowded one.

Pirates

Another two months had passed, and they had left Egypt far behind. Rosalie had taken that long to come to terms with her new reality. She was going to be a mother in five months, perhaps even less time than that. And still she had not told her husband. She carried on as though nothing had changed, mending and cooking—to the ship cook’s chagrin—and sometimes sitting at the keyboard, though she played less and less until finally she stopped altogether.

Everything had been peaceful and lovely, even the weather. Though she had noticed Liam looking at her strangely, as if asking the question—when would she tell the truth to his brother?—Breandon suspected nothing, was as happy as ever. She had overcome her “homesickness,” for his sake, but now it was time to tell him the truth.

It was time to unleash whatever storm she must. Breandon would be thrilled, she had no doubt of that. He would be even more pleased to know she was not truly ill. But her role on the ship and as his wife would change. And the men would not be so happy…

“Brean, love, I have something to confess,” she said at last, the words bitter on her tongue. What a wretched woman she was, and wife too. She sat on the edge of their bed, brushing her hair out before she braided it for bed. Four…five…six… Counting the strokes until she reached a hundred helped her focus and helped steel her.

Unwelcome News

For the first time, Marius Pontmercy had the pleasure of hosting Cosette and her family for Christmas at his estate just outside Paris. There was plenty of space for the entire Javert clan, even as large as it was becoming. Despite the change in location, however, everything else was ordinary.

Kathleen had resumed her post at her father’s side, though this time he had his youngest grandson to amuse him, a boy who had inherited both his father’s dark hair and cheeriness and his mother’s freckled fair skin and affectionate nature.

Gustave, likewise, kept his eldest daughter close, able to pretend for a few hours at a time that nothing had changed. Little Anne, though she had recovered, was still her immediate family’s shadow—if her grandparents, mother, or father went anywhere, she lurked close behind, looking anxious and pale. Though her health had miraculously retuned, her long illness had broken her spirit.

Everything was quiet and peaceful as it ought to have been at Christmastime; only two couples were missing: the younger Pontmercys, to no one’s great surprise, and the DeLornays.

The latter were in their upstairs suite, having a very uncharacteristic row. The young countess’ cheeks were pink and her eyes rimmed with a bit of red. Her flustered face clashed starkly with the crisp elegance of her appearance.

“I thought you would be happy!”

Together

Kathleen and Patrick had been married for just over a year. It had taken a good deal of wheedling after the disastrous Christmas, even after Madeline forgave her daughter and Breandon, his son. When Patrick had come to Paris to properly ask for her hand, Valjean had very grudgingly given his permission, though he looked all the while like he would have strangled the boy happily—but he had never truly given his blessing. It was little comfort to him that his little girl spent almost every waking moment by his side, as if trying to disprove her mother’s hurtful accusation—that she was ungrateful and cruel. He knew there was a ring on her finger, and that in May, as soon as the weather was warm and the seas calm, she would leave him forever.

She had spent time with her mother, too, shaken as she had been by Madeline’s words at Christmas. In truth, cage or not, Kathleen was sad and a little scared to be leaving the house on Rue Plumet, which had always been so safe and warm. She would miss her parents desperately.

But she was also excited. By June, after a wedding whose only truly happy attendants were the groom’s little sister and, of all people, Jaq, Patrick had his ship. It was arranged that he would take Molly to America for a year of school, and they were off.

Now, the following August, Molly was coming home with her cousins. She had not changed much physically during her year in America—she had lost some of her childhood plumpness, perhaps; grown a little taller—but she carried herself differently. The girl who had crossed the sea high-strung and insecure crossed it again more mature and soberer.

She knew, now, that she would never run away to sea, dress as a boy, live like Patrick…and she would not take up a position in America. France was perhaps not such an ill fit after all.

Her parents and her baby brother were still there, and her aunts and uncles and cousins… And someone else, whose latest letter she had tucked discreetly in the pocket of her skirt; a letter already worn from how often she had opened and re-folded it. Someone whom she owed an apology.

Labor

Celeste had not has as much difficulties with her second pregnancy as with her first, but she had not realized how much of a headache life would become in the last months. Two months before the babe was due to arrive, she found she could barely endure standing for fifteen minutes at a time; chasing around an increasingly-energetic little girl was nearly out of the question. Now that Monsieur Pontmecy’s house was almost complete, she found she was foisting little Eleanor off on her father as much as she could; she did not even have the energy to feel guilty.

Before the month was out, the doctor decided to put her on bed rest as a precaution; so late in the pregnancy, no one wanted anything to go amiss. Though her ankles and back were grateful for the reprieve, Celeste herself was antsy. She could not endure being trapped in bed all day, even if she had a stack of books beside her. She had a growing child and a house to look after, and she was good at that.

Jean perhaps did not know how often she broke the doctor’s orders whilst he was away during the day.

When he was home, most of her time was divided between mending the clothes she had first sewn for Eleanor for the new babe—she had decided they could not afford a new wardrobe, nor did they need to be so wasteful even if they could—or else writing to her mother and sister and grandmother, and of course to her father as well. Her father! In reality, he was not so terribly far away, but it felt as though he was, indeed, on the other side of the world. He would of course not come until the babe was born, perhaps not even then, and she could not go to him. Yet her parents’ letters, and Aimee’s (which mostly had to do with little Phee these days) cheered her well enough, and Jean’s sweetness never failed to bring a smile to her face.

Near nine months gone, however, and Celeste was ready to endure the agony of childbirth again if it meant freedom. She of course wanted to meet her little babe (a son, she prayed), and to feel the same rush of overwhelming love as when she had first held Eleanor in her arms…

But she also wanted to resume her duties as wife and mistress of their home, and as a mother, for that matter. She was tired of being treated like a delicate invalid. Even Celeste’s goodness and patience had its limits.

Nightmares

A few months after Madeline and Valjean welcomed their son into the world, the Javerts’ eldest celebrated her second birthday with plenty of pomp and circumstance, her parents showering her with plenty of frocks and toys she did not actually need. Though she was still very young, Cosette could hardly believe that she was already so big—two years had passed since her birth, and longer still since the tumultuous events surrounding her parents’ courtship and eventual marriage. Hard to believe.

Cosette also harbored another secret, though as usual she was planning on surprising her husband with it at some later date. He was too busy shaping up his new men and doting on his firstborn to think of another child yet. Overall, life seemed to be going smoothly and happily for them.

But it seemed impossible for them to enjoy peace for very long.

The first time it happened was a few days after Aimee’s birthday. Cosette slept fitfully, which was nothing unusual, but her dreams suddenly turned very dark indeed. None of it was very coherent, but it shook her badly and she woke in a cold sweat. It took her nearly an hour to calm herself and fall back asleep.

Things only got worse. The dreams returned every night and gradually became clearer. Eventually, perhaps a week later, there was pain and loud, angry voices; there was stinging cold and fear and she heard herself—or perhaps it was not her after all—begging, crying, shrieking from the pain.  She sat up, instantly awake, and this time, the dream came with her, because she realized she was screaming though she was awake and safe in her bed at home.

Curiosity

Another week passed before the second set of Christmas houseguests arrived; Gustave came on his new horse, bundled against the cold and leading his parents’ carriage. Little Adelaide was considerably less shy when she emerged, excited to have girls her own age to play with for a fortnight. Cosette ran at once to greet Sarah, abandoning half-finished pie crust and still wearing floury apron.

Inside, Celeste was reading by the fire as usual, her book propped gently against Jean’s back. He was whittling dolls for church children, his favorite pastime it seemed. The two had been almost completely inseparable since their quarrel a week ago; wherever Celeste went, save for her own bedroom at night, Jean followed like a loyal hound. Her grandmother found it charming; her father was not so pleased, but could say nothing to stop it.

She glanced up when she heard her mother calling Aunt Sarah’s name.

“I suppose that’ll be Gus,” she said mildly to her eldest sister.

Third

The Javert estate was once again hosting wedding festivities, barely a year after Celeste’s own marriage had taken place in Paris. The atmosphere was lively, despite the relative gloom of the bride’s father, who was nursing his wine and perhaps a little vodka. The music was high-spirited—one of the surviving crewmen could fiddle very well—and the dancing was almost rowdy.

Where the newlyweds would usually sit at a table to themselves, it was empty. Rosalie had danced all four first dances with her new husband, leaving her grinning and flushed and rather breathless. The late summer heat had just begun to fade, and but it was still pleasantly warm in the dying sun. Aside from the groom’s high-spirited crew, only some of whom spoke French, the bride’s large extended family was of course all present. Gavroche, who had weaseled out of a little time at the academy to come see his sister off, was a handsome young man now, presiding at his father’s table with a few student friends.

Gustave danced with his wife while his mother bounced little Philippe on her knee and Cosette held the new baby, who, at four months old, was just as fat and as spoiled, of course, as his brother had been.

Celeste was forbidden from dancing by her fearful husband, but she did not much mind sitting with him massaging her ankles gently, stroking the swollen bodice of her silk gown. She was quite far along now, and the babe had quickened months ago, but she periodically took Jean’s hand and pressed it to her stomach nonetheless, as though it was a novelty every time their child moved within her.

And of course, Liam was there, in high spirits—for Liam. He had filled out in the preceding five months, though he was still rather thin, and now the suit he wore for his brother’s wedding fit him well indeed. He watched with the air of an elder brother or a father, almost, rather than the “baby”—he had to watch thus, had to witness it for his mother and father. Their boy, finally married, and to a pretty little thing indeed…

Seashore

As they had for years, the whole Javert clan gathered by the sea for Christmas. There was plenty of room for them at the MacKnights’ spacious estate, and more since Jean and his girls stayed in their little house down the road. Perhaps, by the time Cosette and Javert, their children, grandchildren, and Valjean’s own family squeezed in, it was a bit crowded, but not unpleasantly so.

Not for most, at least.

Valjean kept a close eye on his youngest daughter from his chair by the fire. She had changed in the past few months. He did not know how to explain it, even to himself, and Madeline insisted that he was imagining tings, but he knew something was the matter.

For her part, Kathleen strove for normalcy. She Rosalie and Helene in the kitchen, giggled with Molly and Cici and Phee by the fire, and sat dutifully by her father in the evenings. But whenever Patrick was in the room…

Wives and Daughters

When Celeste woke on the morning of Christmas Eve, she found the sun shining and—to her surprise—her mother sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking her dark hair and smiling down at her. She frowned a little, sitting up; Aimee was still asleep and would sleep like the dead for an hour or more yet. Nothing could wake her. “Maman…?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.

“I just wanted to tell you that breakfast was ready, my sweet little one,” Cosette said in a tight voice, but she was still smiling. “And that your grandmother and I are going to make cookies soon, if you would like to help…”

She leaned forward and kissed her daughter’s forehead. Before Celeste could ask questions, she was gone, trying to blink away the tears in her eyes as she retreated from the room.

Without waking her sister, Celeste dressed in a handsome green gown; she left her hair down, only pinning the loose strands so they did not hang in her face, and finally came downstairs. It was a bustle of activity. The twins were being chased by Gus and little Gavroche. Valjean was wrapping a few boxes in brightly-colored paper. His son was nowhere to be found it seemed.

Celeste took a small piece of bread and slipped into the kitchen. Cookies—she had always loved this best about Christmas!

Turnabout Reunion

Rosalie and her sister had done their utmost to enjoy their last two years at home. Their mother and father certainly wanted them to. They were pampered and coddled as they had only dreamt of being before, as the youngest daughters in a family of five; anything they even admired, their father was wont to surprise them with later. His youngest girl ached for him, seeing how tightly he was trying to hold on—wishing she wanted to hold on as well. She adored her father and loved her mother, and she would be sad to leave them. Very sad. She smiled to watch Gavroche play and grow into a handsome young man, but felt detached, no longer a playmate. No logner much of a child, really. She was a wife.

Or she wanted to be. She told herself she was. When she lay in bed with her twin, she closed her eyes and thought of Breandon far away, tried to picture his handsome face, tried to hear his voice. Every day it became a little harder. Just how did this word sound coming from his lips in that beautiful accent? Was his face that long, or was her mind deceiving her?

By the time the twenty-fourth month of their waiting dawned, she was becoming desperate. She felt like she was losing him, her Brean, despite the many letters and little gifts she had stuffed away in semi-secret hiding places. She could not lose him. She must get him back soon. And even though she knew she would, it had been so long and so lonely without him…how strange; to go from kidnapped girl to beloved wife to practically a widow.

She knew Helene was suffering just as badly, and she also knew, despite her selfish desire to be in Breandon’s arms—and bed—once more, that her mother and father would be broken all over again when they lost their little girls, and this time, lost them for good. So she tried to be strong and brave and sweet.

But some days it was nearly impossible.

Miracles

By the time the midwife arrived, Cosette had decided that she would never allow Philippe into her bed again. Though she had hardly forgotten the pain of Aimee’s birth, nothing could prepare her for the renewed reality of that pain. The midwife at least assured her that she was making good progress—a few more hours, and everything should be over. It would be easier this time, the woman said kindly as Sophie brought in some tea for her. Aimee had been her first child; the births after that always came easier.

Cosette certainly hoped she was right.

When she had woken with the first light of dawn to find that things had started, she had sent her husband downstairs knowing he would stay there. Someone had to look after Aimee, and besides, most men considered childbirth “women’s work” and preferred not to be a part of such things.

Little Aimee had turned a year old three months ago and had gotten all sorts of things she did not actually need—new dolls, though she already had an army of them; tiny little frocks she’d probably quickly grow out of; and all manner of other toys. Her father had once said he did not have the disposition to spoil, but things had clearly changed. She now sat with one of those new dolls, gnawing on its hand, at her father’s feet.

Penelope

Celeste managed not to pine too badly for Jean while he was away, though she fretted over him often in letters to her sister—who was of course too besotted with her little son to do much to allay her sister’s fears—and sometimes to her grandmother as well. When the family returned home, she took up her books and her “wife lessons” faithfully, as though little had changed. She was still Javert’s little daughter in the window seat. The only difference was that she would sometimes lay down her book and gaze for long intervals out onto the hills beyond their house, as though she could look all the way to the sea, and across it.

Almost two months passed before Jean’s first letter came, reporting that they had reached American soil safely. To everyone’s surprise, a slightly waterlogged letter also came addressed to Rosalie in a stranger’s hand.

The little boy dutifully delivered Aimee’s letters to Cosette and Celeste—both had similar things to say, almost all of them about baby Philippe—and then his grandfather’s to Cosette as well. He looked down at the other two and his face lit up in a grin.

“Lessy, Lessy, Jean’s alive!” he called, still grinning as she hurried in from the sitting room. Her book had been knocked onto the floor, abandoned and forgotten at the mention of Jean.

When she’d snatched the letter from his fingers, he glanced down and frowned. The writing was unfamiliar. “Rose! There’s post for you!”

Rosalie emerged from the parlor, where they had set up a little piano for her. She looked anxious, uncertain—did she dare to hope…? Two months after Jean had parted from them, it seemed impossible to believe that a devilishly handsome foreigner would remember her, or that he had even existed at all. Much less that he had…intentions.

Preparation

After Christmas, time seemed to fly by; it went far too quickly for Cosette’s liking. By the time March came, she was struggling. She could not bear the thought that her eldest daughter, her precious firstborn, would belong to someone else in two and a half months. It did not matter that she was fond of Gustave, or that Aimee was happy and excited, talking endlessly of the kinds of flowers she wanted, or the items in her trousseau that still needed completing. The fact remained that her boundless energy would soon be gone.

Everyone but Aimee seemed to notice the change in Cosette’s mood. Even Gavroche cut back on his exuberance and mischief-making and was more willing to sit by his mother when he played with his toy soldiers or read up on great Naval battles. He liked Gustave very much, and looked forward to the day when he, too, would be an officer in a handsome uniform like his father, but he kept himself as solemn as he could for his mother’s sake.

But one morning as they were dressing, Celeste could not hold her tongue any longer. She felt her mother’s pain, in a way—her wedding was still more than four years away, and she found Aimee’s excitement increasingly unbearable. She wanted the lovely white gown and the flowers and the lacy nightgowns; she wanted the thrill of knowing that in June, she would be someone’s wife.

Yet even with those things, she did not think she would be as ignorant of her mother’s suffering or her father’s frowns like Aimee was. It seemed downright selfish to turn such a blind eye.

She tugged the laces of her sister’s corset a little more tightly than usual. “Do you think you could prattle a little less about the gown today? Maman barely made it through yesterday without crying,” she pointed out softly. “She will suffer without you here, Aimee. She’s already suffering thinking of it.”

Roses

The remaining three months of summer seemed to fly by. A republic indeed rose up in the place of the restored monarchy, though it was not half as radical as the one that had come before it. After a month or so in the country, Gustave returned to Paris and to his anxious parents; it took nearly a month after that before they were willing to let him return to the now-peaceful streets. He looked quite comical, the policeman in a sling, but by the end of September and of summer, he had healed completely and he was eager to get a move on with things he’d spent months thinking of.

After leaving the country, he had kept up a correspondence with Aimee. After his parents sent him back to work, he visited her regularly on days when he did not work, making the ride easily and taking her for a walk about the town or simply eating Sophie’s treats in the garden like children.

He had made up his mind—and once he had, he called upon Jean to help him. Both young men secured an afternoon off to meet. Gus waited by a jeweler’s, much bigger and finer than the one in which Jean had gotten Celeste’s ring. When he finally spotted his friend, he waved and grinned a little nervously, strumming his fingers against his belt as he waited for Jean to wade through the crowd.

“You’re making me look more like a weakling every time I see you,” Gus laughed, embracing Jean. Though a year and a half Gus’ junior, Jean was taller and his coat seemed barely able to contain his bear arms. Celeste was making quite a catch. 

Vows

The day had, at long last, arrived. Cosette stood in front of the floor-length mirror staring in wonder at her own reflection. The ceremony would be intimate and humble—as both of them preferred—with only a smattering of guests, more of them his acquaintances than hers. She had not bothered to invite poor lovelorn Monsieur Pontmercy; when he had come around the apartment of late, he had reminded her of a kicked dog, avoiding her and shutting himself up with her father when her father did not insist on spending his time with her.

Her trunks, two of them, had been packed and sent along to Philippe’s Paris house; they would not, it seemed, stay there long, but it was not as if they could spend their wedding night at Valjean’s apartment or on Rue Plumet.

Sarah, newly married herself, was there to help her. She had done up Cosette’s hair prettily (though the bride rather doubted that her lover would appreciate all the pins in a few hours’ time) and had helped make her gown as well. It was all silk and lace, simple enough for Cosette’s taste if slightly less modest and severe than her usual dresses; her veil came nearly to the floor on all sides; it softened her pretty face behind gauzy lace but did not quite hide it.

What the gown did hide masterfully was Cosette’s ever-growing middle; the waistline was so high as to be vintage, letting the fabric drape and nearly completely conceal her condition.

Ironic, since the color was chosen for purity. It almost seemed to mock her in the mirror, but she stared defiantly back as Sarah went to fetch her the bouquet of pastel autumn flowers. True she was now with child, but she and Philippe had consummated their love with the understanding that this day would come.

And it had come at last. She could hardly believe it, and could hardly resist reaching over to twist the little sapphire ring out of habit. She heard his words again in her mind: That is not a wedding band.

Today, she would receive one.

“Do you think that he shall look at me the way your Jacques did at you?” Cosette asked suddenly, recalling the Sarah’s wedding with a fond smile.

Fight

Christmas morning dawned to reveal yet another coat of fresh-fallen snow. The children were more concerned with presents and the goodies left for them by Pere Noel than with the snowfall, however. Erin burst into the room Patrick was being forced to share with Philippe and Jaq. “Patrick, wake up! Presents!” she squealed, shaking him.

Sean went to his parents instead of to Molly, flopping onto their bed and snuggling with his mother. He kissed her cheek. “Happy Christmas, Maman!”

In her room, Molly was already up and pinning her hair. Her eyes flickered between her reflection and the little box that sat on her vanity, waiting to be delivered. It was time she gave him a gift, after all those he had given her…

Kathleen woke slowly beside Sophia, but did not stir right away. She only wanted one thing for Christmas, but it might well take a miracle.

Saint Valentine

The six weeks since Christmas had passed quietly at Rue Plume—certainly compared to the holidays themselves, when the house had been lively and loud. Though Valjean missed his daughter and granddaughters now that they had returned to the country, however, he had other matters on his mind. Madeline was not yet near her time, but that did not stop him from fretting. It had become a kind of game—she trying to see how much he would let her get away with, him trying in vain to keep her from doing anything more strenuous than lifting a teacup.

This included, of course, their marital duty. Despite all her wheedling and all her allure, Madeline had not yet coerced her husband into bedding her since nearly Christmas. If he had thought her fragile before, he certainly did now, and really, a beautiful and loving wife was more than he had ever asked God for in the first place. He would not risk her—and their unborn child’s—well-being to slake his own lust.

February was a bleak month as always, one that kept everyone trapped indoors unless strictly necessary. Valjean tended to keep to his office more than ever before, perhaps knowing that his wife would find a way to make him worry, even if she was merely washing a dish, and not wanting to inflict that upon either of them.

He was composing a letter to some charitable organization or another, having just finished one to Cosette, when he heard the door open. He thought it was the maid bringing tea and did not bother looking up.