On the Edge of Time


Book Two
Part One

"Jehan Frollo's Biggest Blunder" 

The Time: Pre-dawn hours, February 2, 1850
The Place: A lonely dirt road just a few miles north of Washington D.C.
A mule-drawn wagon slowly makes its way along the muddy thoroughfare.  Its two passengers share friendly talk. The driver? An elderly farmer. His passenger? A strangely dressed fellow to whom the old farmer kindly offered a ride....
"So where did you say you were from?", asked the old man after he momentarily turned his head to expel the remains of tobacco from his mouth. His passenger remained silent during most of the trip. Odd, thought the man, he sure don't look like no one from around these parts. He must be one of those new immigrants from one of those odd little countries...He don't know how to dress good...What did he do? Lose his pants? All he has on is what looks like his longjohns...

"I'm from Nantes, sir. That's in France," was all the stranger offered. But the stranger pondered a bit, and had to explain WHY he was in this country, "As a traveling drama instructor. You see, sir, I had ended a dress rehearsal, hence the costume." He indicated the now-soiled and tattered dark blue velvet doublet and matching tights. The only protection from the cold was an oversized black cloak the old farmer had kindly lent.
The stranger from Nantes went on to say that his horse and clothes had been stolen. "I had no choice but to walk back to your...umm..."
He paused as if struggling to remember the town's name. Snapping his fingers in mock recollection he said, "Ah yes! 'Baltimore'!"

The Frenchman had hoped the old man had bought these lies. Yes, they are lies, but they are necessary...Frollo will never catch me, thanks to his addle-brained brother. Imagine that! Jehan Frollo, in his cups, telling me the most fantastical tales of time travel and a vast, powerful country called the 'New World'. That's impossible I said! This New World had been discovered only...
But when he dropped that curious little box, then told me -- No, he showed me -- how it works...A magic 'time machine'? Something that takes its owner to another time? I was never one to buy into all that superstitious witchcraft nonsense, however...
I was curious, so I took Jehan aside, plied him with drink and women, and made him tell me more. I HAD to take that evil-looking little thing! I had to!
...Couldn't risk Frollo catching me... I'll won't hang for murder!

But it's not 'murder'; it's just a little game I play...When I feel the need...That young mulatto from Nantes...Bernard LaCroix...I remember him from long ago, and I remember his mother, Isabelle...Full-blooded black -- and of native royalty at that! Then Vincent had to marry the wench and produce...Oh well, all is not lost, for I intend to use, and enjoy, this miraculous little device to the fullest...Now, to rid myself of this silly old man...He was kind enough to give me a lift just north of that 'Baltimore' -- that's where I landed...Where did he say he was going? To a 'Washington City'? What idiocy! Traveling all this way just to hear some old nobleman give a speech...?

"Yes, sir!", said the the grizzled old man as he stuffed another wad of tobacco into his mouth,  "Why I remember the first time I heard Mr. Clay speak, I believe it was almost twenty years ago, back when General Jackson was President. Of course, I had brought along my family..."
The old man went on about hearing "The great Mr. Clay" making this-and-that speech about "nearly everything important back then: The bank issue, tariffs, Indian affairs. Yep, when Harry of the West spoke, the whole Senate gallery would be as quiet as a mouse. Folks hung onto the man's every word -- and that could be a good three hours."
The farmer then went on to explain how he hadn't the pleasure to see nor hear Mr. Clay again. "That's when my wife took ill, and my daughter went West with her new husband and baby."
He took a soiled bandana from his pocket, dabbed his eye, blew his nose, then stopped the wagon along the river's edge. "Ol' Maudine and Ruth need to take a little rest 'fore we head on...Can't have my mules give out on me." The man from Nantes smiled thinly, and said nothing as the farmer descended from the driver's seat, unhitched the mules, then led them to drink.
He then called out to his passenger, "Sir, why don't you get on out, stretch your legs. There's a boarding house just up the road yonder -- about another hour's ride. We'll stop and get some breakfast, a bath, and maybe we can get you some decent clothes."
He laughed while he watched the mules drink; he stooped down to wet his hankerchief, continuing to chatter amicably. "I maybe a lowly old farmer but I've never once set foot in this nation's capital and not be properly dressed!"
The dark-haired, strangely attired gentleman jumped down from the wagon, returned the laughter; then, very deftly, very silently, slipped behind the farmer. It was the farmer's turn to speak again, but he still had his back to his guest. "Say, I didn't catch your name. Mine's Nathan Smiley, from Harrisburg. Yes sir, I own a nice little piece of property just outside of town. It's not much, but it's home."

Picking up a heavy rock, Smiley's companion calmly replied, "My name is Marcel Rougelot, and I want to personally thank you for all you have done for me."

Marcel Rougelot delivered his 'gratitude' in the form of a resounding blow to Nathan's head. Old Nathan Smiley blacked out instantly, never to rise again. The mules, spooked from the sudden movements, brayed and bellowed in terror. They would have run away, but Rougelot endeavored to calm the animals. Might as well leave them here, along with their master...No, I'll need them...
Marcel smiled as he rifled through the old man's pockets. No money...Wait! What's in that wagon...

Within seconds, Marcel Rougelot had managed to break open Smiley's strongbox, trunk, and bags. Surely enough, he found all that was needed: money, clothes (How clever that Smiley brought clothes that are nearly my size...But the style, the materials...Hardly the thing for a poor farmer...), and Marcel found something else -- Firearms -- two pistols, a small buckskin bag filled with black powder, and a box of lead balls.

What is this? I've never seen such things...Perhaps I can learn as I go...

He stuffed the items back in their respective hiding places; then managed to hitch the mules to the wagon. Dumb brutes! They're so stupid that they can't tell  that I'm not their owner!


Nearly an hour passed as Marcel guided the wagon towards the brick house which loomed in the distance.
That must be the place old Smiley talked about, and that's where I'm going...A bath, a change of clothes, some food, maybe a few lessons in how to use those...umm, what did Smiley call them? Yes, 'pistols'... And I owe my most undying gratitude to you, Jehan Frollo! Without you, I would have never found this little paradise known as 'America' -- AND where your brother -- the most noble Minister of Justice -- will never find me! Now, onto Washington City; I have to see this 'Monsieur Clay' for myself...



It is now just past dawn; and, in a modest yet stylish house on D Street, our time-traveling lovers and their friends gather around the breakfast table. There is still much preparation before Frollo and his companions embark on this highly unusual manhunt. Read on...
All of us -- Fern, Iggy, Cissy, Claude Frollo, Tony, and I -- gathered around the breakfast table in our temporary 'home': A modest three-story house on D Street. It was comfortably furnished with all the trappings of ante-bellum America: The heavy drapery and furniture, the pianoforte (I was particularly interested in that!), the old-fashioned oil lamps and candelabras, the many paintings and etchings that adorned the walls.
Yes, just as I thought -- A lithographed portrait of Andy Jackson prominently displayed. Iggy said this home belongs to one of then-President Jackson's more staunch supporters. But the man turned abolitionist about five years ago -- He actually supported Martin Van Buren in the 1848 election, thus alienating his Democratic brothers.
...No matter...We're here not to change history, nor to hobnob with Who's Who in Early American politics; we have to find Marcel Rougelot and take him back to the 15th before he does anymore damage.

And that's what we discussed over breakfast. Claude had finally told us everything surrounding his brother's biggest blunder: Rougelot's theft of Jehan's trantemporal device. We all knew that Rougelot was still in Washington, but an exact location had yet to be established. Claude assumed that the man may have "Taken rooms somewhere within the city; perhaps he is in hiding, carefully studying the habits and customs of the period. That way, he will be able to blend in with the crowd, that is, if he decides to mingle amongst the locals."
Claude Frollo then told us that's how Marcel Rougelot received the nickname, "Le Chameleon".
"He is a brilliant man with a sharp, keenly observant mind. He is able to change and adapt his appearance and mannerisms to suit whatever the environment, hence the name: 'Le Chameleon'."
Claude then went on to recount the events between the time Rougelot and Bernard left the tavern, leading up to the theft of Jehan's device. Apparently, according to Claude's spies, Bernard was last seen in Rougelot's company; they had left La Belle d'Avignon just before sunset. A couple of hours later, Marcel Rougelot ran into Jehan Frollo. According to Claude, this is what Rougelot was ultimately after: To strike up a quick acquaintance with the Minister of Justice's brother, just long enough to gain his confidence. "Perhaps he thought that he could have...What do you call it? Ah yes -- An 'inside track'."

Claude guessed that right on the money -- Marcel Rougelot had spirited Jehan Frollo to a seedy Paris brothel, plied him with women, drink, and money, then began to ask the younger Frollo questions. Jehan Frollo, under the influence of easy money and too much alcohol, accidentally dropped his trantemporal device. A curious Marcel began to ask even more questions, and that's when a very drunk Jehan Frollo foolishly told his new-found 'friend' EVERYTHING.
That stupid fool even showed Rougelot how the thing worked! Jehan didn't realize his time traveler was missing until he awoke in a prostitute's bed, and began to fumble about for his belongings. Of course by then, Marcel Rougelot had that wondrous device and was presently taking a free ride to 19th Century America.

Why 1850? It was revealed that Iggy, as a special Christmas present to Jehan, wanted to treat the younger Frollo to a time trip. Iggy later regretted this, saying to Claude, "I didn't think it would hurt; I had the thing preset and everything. Believe me, Your Honor, I had no idea something like this would go down."



It became more like a trantemporal "Mission: Impossible" as we received our final instructions -- and our 'special' roles. Since this was 1850 Washington, Tony and I had to be extra cautious. Oh, I knew perfectly well that in this growing city of 40,000, more than three fifths of the 10,000 Blacks were free. However there was always that chance that one of us could be kidnapped and sold into bondage.
It was agreed that I would play the role of personal maid to an 'ailing and aging' Fern Grigsby -- "Miz Fern" and I really got a charge out of that. "At least," opined Fern, "it will give you a chance to get out and about. Not too many Blacks had the golden opportunity to sit in the Senate galleries unless accompanied by their masters and mistresses."

I agreed, although I was still uncomfortable with having to play 'slave'. I knew all the expected mannerisms and behavior, but I was still uneasy. Claude understood this and gently reassured me that all this was necessary if we are to find Rougelot. Claude Frollo would be himself, although I jokingly reminded him that this would be "the 1850 edition". He thought it would be interesting to mingle amongst Washington society as 'The distinguished Parisian lawyer, Monsieur Claude Frollo, visiting America for the first time'.
"Well," joked Claude, "this will be my first time -- 1850!"
Iggy and Cissy posed as a well-educated, socially-minded couple from Indiana -- New Harmony at that -- who would play host to "M. Frollo". And Tony? He decided to take advantage of his 'free black' status, so he took a job with a day laborer. "That way," he reasoned, "I can keep a sharp lookout for Rougelot. I can also travel back and forth through time, and keep in touch with Jacki and the boys." Jacki opted to remain home as the boys needed their mother.  Long ago, at Claude's urging, she installed a silent tracker on Jehan's device in the event the wayward brother had the nerve to take a quick time trip. "I simply cannot have my brother freewheeling through the pages of human history.  Jacqueline, he is NOT to operate that thing unless accompanied by one of us," said Claude to Jacki several days after Jehan had lent his device to Phoebus, which resulted in Iggy's abrupt return to the 15th, which...I know what happened all right!

At last, before we set out on our Washington adventure, Claude Frollo reminded us all of the special precautions: If any of us spot Rougelot, don't attempt to apprehend him ourselves -- call Claude on the pager. Remember that we're in the 19th Century for a valid purpose; and DON'T let our guard down for one second.

"Or else," he warningly said, "it could mean the end of this nation as we know it. I cannot echo Jacqueline's warnings more strongly: One misstep, no matter how minor, may prove fatal for your companions, and for yourselves."
Claude Frollo's eyes were on me when he said those words, and they were full of pain and profound concern.


Early afternoon, a gentleman strolls through the lobby of the National Hotel. He is dressed in the fashionable clothing of the 1850's, and he is carrying a calling card. Read on...
He strolled up to the desk with the confidence and poise of a well-bred gentleman. His dark hair glowed from a light application of sweet-smelling oil; the faint mustache added a distinguishing touch to an otherwise average-looking face. The man's clothes were handsome: the stylish black trousers and frock coat may have been a tad too short but this gentleman carried it all off with such flair. A sparkling deep blue vest, matching cravat, a pearl stickpin, and a tall beaver hat completed the ensemble.
The desk clerk smiled at the man as he took the card. "Good Morning, sir! How may I help you?"
The gentleman from Nantes, his eyes taking in every detail of his surroundings, returned the smile, handed the clerk his card, and said in his loftiest voice, "Perhaps you can help, monsieur. You see, my name is Marcel Rougelot, and I have come all the way from France just to hear, and perhaps meet, the great Monsieur Clay."

Marcel Rougelot smiled again, then inquired if it were possible to meet the Gentleman from Lexington. The clerk then informed him that "Mr.Clay is not receiving too many visitors at the moment -- He has left strict instructions to that effect -- All this talk of disunion." Marcel's eyebrow's shot up quizzically.
"Disunion?," inquired the gentleman from Nantes.
Immediately, the clerk launched into a long spiel on how the South wants slavery spread to the New Mexico and California territories. "Too tell you the truth, sir," the clerk admitted, "I subscribe to Garrison's paper 'The Liberator'. Oh yes, I've been on the abolitionists' side ever since my sister got back from Seneca Falls two years ago."

Marcel Rougelot listened to, and pondered all this, then asked, "But will M. Clay do? Save the country, no?"

At that moment, a young man appeared at the desk. "Pardon, but my father requests tin of peppermint sticks..."
The clerk turned his attentions from Marcel to the young man almost instantly. "Why yes, Mr. Clay. I'll have one of the staff run around..."

Now Marcel Rougelot was more intrigued; he asked the man, "Pardon, monsieur, but did you say your name was 'Clay'? Are you the great man whose name is on nearly everyone's lips?"
The young man laughed, saying, "Oh no! My name is Thomas, Mr. Clay's son." Thomas looked at Marcel Rougelot for a few fleeting moments; there was something odd about this man.
No...I'm being excessively cautious, but...My father does have a few enemies, and the current climate is ripe for all sorts of viciousness...And it will get worst.
But this man is no secessionist! He's visiting our country and desires to meet my father...

Thomas said at last, "Sir, I understand you wish to meet my father." Rougelot nodded eagerly.

"Then maybe, just this once, I can indulge a visitor to our country. Please follow me." Thomas smiled, and put his earlier apprehensions at ease; however, as he led Marcel up the staircase, Thomas did not see the gleefully wicked glint in the visitor's eye.

Claude Frollo calls on the President....Fern and Danisha see -- and assess -- "the Cast Iron Man"...Rougelot plots his next crime...Joe and Geraldine Wood send Claude and Danisha a reassuring message.

Go To TIME 2:2

©Copyright FrolloFreak 1998.

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