Music Lessons

Chapter 6

The Time & Place: 
Paris, mid-summer 1495. Dusk falls as Claude Frollo, Danisha, and Nadine share a relaxing evening at Nisha's pied a terre...

It was early evening, just after sunset, and Claude had hoped Nadine and I would accompany him to Mass. But with the rigors of time travel, and all the pleasant surprises of the day, I was simply too "pooped" to go out. Besides, Nadine was so wound up that I was anxious for any quiet activity that would calm her down. So, after Fern departed for the 21st, the three of us decided to spend a quiet evening at home and enjoy all these early 20th Century toys.

Claude Frollo, a man of the 15th Century, but a man with an inquisitive mind and a thirst for learning, marveled at the gramophone. Upon examining the turntable and the many recordings, he said, noting the disc's round shape, "I understand Monsieur Edison's earlier models used cylindrical records..." "And," added Nadine as she winded the gramophone, "all you have to do is wind this handle."
Her father smiled at his little joy as I helped her place the record on the turntable. Soon the room filled with strains of Scott Joplin. Claude Frollo smiled again and said, "Ah, if I recall a certain time trip we made..."
"Hmm....Claude, that was when we visited 1930's Chicago. Aunt Eula had an old Victrola plus oodles of old time discs. I remembered clearly that you liked 'Bethena' so much...."

So with that, he swept me into his arms and swirled me around and around. Nadine clapped her hands and laughed as her parents waltzed about the room. It was an evening to remember, but in the back of my mind I felt as if this entire summer was not to be as carefree. Something -- that sixth sense -- kept telling me that all was not right.
For one thing, Willie and Clevon were, at this moment, somewhere in Paris. They'd just arrived later that afternoon. Not that I was worried but....

"I can read your mind, Danisha," Claude said as the song ended. "If you are concerned about your friends, don't. As for Mlle LaCourbe and Monsieur Cauant, I've arranged an informal luncheon to be given at my pied a terré. You've always said you wished to meet Felise LaCourbe; after all, she is the woman who helped Phoebus' sister -- the woman who turned out to be YOUR kinswoman."

Oh yes, family obligations. I had to laugh at myself for feeling so paranoid. I mean, I'm dying to meet Felise; Jehan Frollo speaks so highly of her. I know nothing else other than she is a poet -- mostly lyrics to fit this Ramon Cauant's music. Jehan said that those two were very close long ago but he wouldn't elaborate.
The anticipation of meeting Felise and Ramon was soon met with yet another concern: Évrard Ouimet and his son Orry. Once again, Claude Frollo put me at ease. "My love, as I said before, Évrard and his son are en route to Marseilles this very evening. His brother Philippe is on extended holiday, and the streets of Paris are safe, thanks to Gervais Trigère..."
"Trigère...Claude isn't that....?"
"My love, I insisted that Philippe take on Trigère as his second in command. And yes, Nisha, Gervais is related to Adele Trigère and Phoebus -- third cousins if I'm correct."

All right, so I jumped to conclusions and let apprehensions get the best of me. I will say it again: Just spending a few moments with this man can calm me better than any tranquilizer.

As darkness fell, we noticed our little one finally drifting off to sleep. Well, looks as if her father and I will have a few hours alone after all. As we put our child to bed, and settled in ourselves, things were just beginning to unfold at certain Parisian hangout. Neither Claude nor I knew that those folks passing a good time in a tavern would start a chain of events that would lead to something even more unsettling, for me at least.
At the same time as Claude Frollo and I sang our daughter a good night tune, a couple of "New World" musicians exchanged tunes with a 15th Century musician from Provence. And Felise was there...and so was Évrard, at least that was the word that trickled back to me the following morning.

Later that day, in a tavern not far from Notre Dame, a small gathering of friends old and new. Two men in particular keep patrons enthralled of life and music in "Da Rows"...
Victor Jouet, the tavern's proprietor emeritus, let out another of his famous belly laughs; his ample body shook with merriment. What a successful day! And he owed it all to the two Black men from the New World. So many times had Victor been exceeding grateful that Claude Frollo's unusual friends from an exciting, faraway land took time to visit and chat. His patrons found these people intriguing in the extreme, and today was one of those rare days.
They sat there -- those men -- nearly all day, enthralling and entertaining the patrons with stories of the New World, the southern regions to be exact. Of course, old Victor, having known Willie's cousins, the brilliant "Antoine" and "Jacqueline", welcomed the visitors with open arms and even brought them a round of drinks on the house. But the other man, this Clevon, or "Big Lonnie" as he called himself during those daring days spent on a prison farm, intrigued Victor and the others. Rarely did Parisians see Black peoples -- most African peoples hailed from the Mediterranean. And this man's size...Mon Dieu!
Seldom had these late medieval folk seen men that vaguely match Clevon's immense size. But the man was so arrestingly charming, so gentle, that his hulking form posed no threat.

So there the men sat, along with a few other well-known personalities. Rounding out the group was the bell ringer Quasimodo and Phoebus. To everyone's delight, Raimon Cauant, accompanied by Laurent d'Anges and the LaCroixes (Vincent, Isabelle, and Laurent's new bride Sybille), joined the merry group. Soon the entire tavern was filled with the sounds of that renowned troubadour from Provence, and those of the "New World" South. It was during this session that someone else walked into La Belle d'Avignon. This gentleman was supposedly homeward bound for Marseilles, but an insatiable curiosity caused him to stay behind in Paris. What a fortunate decision on his part!

"Hm, Monsieur Posey, our countrymen sing of the same things: love, heartbreak, misery, joy. But what you and your friend did is astounding! You actually spent weeks on a prison farm, just to get a taste of that place's music?"

Raimon Cauant, a handsome dark-haired forty something man blessed with the gift of a fine voice and musical talents, quaffed his ale after performing a few songs for the crowd. He couldn't believe his luck! He had come to Paris in hopes of finding his sister. Oh yes, he found Felise, but he also discovered something even more incredible. People from the newly discovered lands across the sea! And they are so talented and cultured. What a boon for the Europeans, this Christopher Columbus' discovery!
Clevon just laughed, his bulk shaking in merriment as he recounted his days spent at Parchman Farm. Of course, as his cousin and friends warned him, Clevon couldn't admit to these good medieval people that he was from 21st Century America, and that his musical journey took him to 1932 Mississippi.

"As I said," explained Clevon, "it was all for the sake of scholarly research on Will's part. I just went along for the ride since I knew the area -- and how things operated at Parchman Farm."
Both the bell ringer and ex-soldier seemed totally fascinated by Clevon's tales of life in "da cages". Quasimodo had to ask, "Hmm...Nisha had always told me about how different things were in the southern part of her country, and how it was for people like her, like you, long ago...I mean, knowing the risks, weren't you and Willie scared?"

Clevon laughingly replied in a deep bass that resonated throughout the room, "Well, Quas, I'll let you in on a secret. All the time me and Will was down in Parchman, I kept thinking about all those men who were in there FOR REAL. I mean, we were in there on make-believe charges, but some of those guys were there for...Oooh Lord!"

Then Will Terrell, the young scholar who made the study of his people's culture and history his life's mission, turned to Raimon Cauant. "M. Cauant, you ask why I put myself in such a position. Well, I'm a lover of southern Negro music -- spirituals, work songs, blues, and prison songs."

At that moment, Évrard Ouimet entered the tavern and nearly every eye was upon him. Quasimodo let out a barely audible gasp as the man from Marseilles greeted Victor Jouet.
"Good evening, M. Jouet. May I trouble you for a bit of your best Burgundy?"
A surprised Victor tried not to look so obvious and ushered to one of his boys, "Paul-Michel! Get M. Ouimet a table, tout suite!"
But Évrard, his eyes registering curious delight, nodded towards Clevon's table, then said to the old man, "Oh, no separate table for me. That is, if this joyous company does not mind my joining them...?"

The bellringer leaned over to Willie and Clevon, saying in a hushed voice, "That's the man Nisha almost married last winter. You remember all that? Tony and Jacki explained it all..."

Isabelle LaCroix squeezed her husband's hand as Évrard Ouimet, wine cup in hand, sauntered over to the group. Stoned silence greeted him at first, but it was Laurent d'Anges who spoke first. "Oh my dear M. Ouimet, you should have been here earlier. M. Cauant sang the loveliest of songs, and M. Posey was telling us about his country's music."

Knowing the full story on Danisha's ordeal last winter as Dottie Ducharme, and the fallout it produced, Willie had to do something, anything, to lighten the mood.
"Hey, Phoebus, wanna know something? When Clevon and I were down one the prison farm, we thought about the Palais dungeons. Now, let me tell you..."

Along with everyone else, Évrard Ouimet listened with rapt attention as Clevon and Willie recounted life on the prison farm. They tried to sugarcoat their descriptions, but how can one gloss over an experience so full of terror and brutality. They told how many prisoners at Parchman lived in over-crowded cells with blood-stained floors, overflowing waste buckets, and vermin-covered walls. Convicts were forced to work long hours in scorching cotton fields and were barbarously whipped by "Black Annie," a three-foot long, six-inch wide leather strap. Escape from Parchman was always a life-and-death risk, with very few surviving to see freedom. An apprehended escapee faced an unlimited number of lashings. Prisoners were supervised by a handful of paid guards and a large number of armed prisoners called "trusty shooters" Trusty shooters had the authority to shoot escaping convicts: the first shot with a shotgun aimed at the legs, and if that didn't work, the second shot was aimed to kill.

"Sir," Clevon finally said, "if Tony, Iggy, and Frollo weren't on the other side of that fence when we made our break, then both me and Willie would've been dead men."
"But it wasn't all that bad," said Willie, "Clevon and I were able to get valuable information -- songs, stories..."

A loudly laughing Clevon broke in with, "And a sore back, calloused hands, heat exhaustion...."

The others broke up as Clevon recounted how Willie, "A pampered city boy", chopped cotton and hoed corn in "da rows." "Yeah, they had the boy doin' all the back-breaking work. And they had him singing 'Berta, Berta' and 'Go Down Hannah'." Quasimodo's eyes brightened as he remember Danisha sharing some of the old southern Black folk songs. "She told me about some of the field hand chants."
Clevon nodded, "And what they sang in the rows was the same, but sadder, more powerful if you want my opinion.' In his deep rumbling voice, Clevon began to sing....

O Lord gal oh-ah
O Lord gal well-ah...

The big man's expression became serious, weary, beaten. The jovial fellow who talked a blue streak and laughed with his new medieval Parisian friends transformed into "Big Lonnie", the dejected convict. The powerful bass voice waxed mournful as Clevon conjured visions of convicts in their "ringarounds", hoes and spades in hand, working the fields as the midday Delta sun beat down upon them mercilessly. Everything felt so real; even the balmy, pleasant 1495 Parisian summer seemed to give way to oppressive heat and humidity. Phoebus' eyes widened when he thought he saw beads of perspiration on Clevon's brow. Now Willie, he of the fine tenor, joined in:

Go 'head marry don't you wait on me oh-ah
Might not want you when I go free

The two men, their voices blending harminiously, soon had the table shaking, tankards and cups clanking. The entire room resounded with hand claps and foot stomps. Quasimodo even joined in the harmonizing; seems he remembered listening to this song long ago.

Raise them up higher, drop on down oh-ah
Don't the difference when the sun go down well-ah

When the song finished, the entire tavern erupted in laughter and applause. Raimon Cauant especially commended Clevon and Willie on a splendid performance. "I don't quite recall when I heard such moving lyrics. Even's words may touch the heart, but this song...Why, it touches the soul..."
The conversation went on like this the rest of the evening. Old Victor would have literally pitched his patrons out the door come closing time. But the proprietor emeritus needn't worry so for he made so much money that evening, and he had to thank Clevon and Willie.

On the way out, Évrard allowed Clevon and Willie's earlier explanations to sink in. He couldn't believe that these men's "New World" was the same country that the Frollos speak of so highly. 

How can this be? A country which boasts such advances in music and culture, in so many things. A country that produces such brilliant people as these fine gentlemen -- and Danisha.
Oh my dearest lady, I had no idea when you told me about...Oh, when you were Dottie, and you told me how it was for you...But what these men said...Your New World is no Paradise; it is sheer Hell... 
Why do Jehan and Claude Frollo visit so often? Why do I hear so many conflicting reports about your country? The bellringer and Phoebus tell me different stories, yet the woman I knew as "Dorothy Ducharme" recounted...

Évrard felt a light touch on his shoulder.
"M. Ouimet?," inquired Isabelle LaCroix, "is there something wrong? You are lost in thought, no?"

Évrard Ouimet smiled sheepishly, replying only, "So many conflicting stories about this New World. What the gentlemen told me is so different from that of...Er, Isabelle, when may I meet this Mlle Wood? I don't want to risk running into Frollo..." Isabelle LaCroix smiled for she knew Évrard and Nisha would some day cross paths. It was only fair that Évrard finally put the whole Dorothy Ducharme episode behind him. Closure was needed and Isabelle sensed this.

"Évrard, why don't you come to Mass in the morning. Mlle Wood never misses, and she often lingers afterwards to visit the bellringer..." 


Go To Chapter 7!

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