He waited as a guard unlocked the door; he hesitated but went in. It had to be done, and this will be the only time he wanted to see her. After this meeting, he will be on his way, away from Paris, away from his ungrateful wife. She will have to eke out a living best she can. Perhaps she has learned from her frivolity, petty animosities, and abject haughtiness.
Upon entering, the stench of the slop bucket took his breath away. But his fortitude pressed him onwards. He had to do this.
"Grazide," he said softly yet forcefully. She raised her head and looked at him; she said nothing. How different she looks in her rough sackcloth prison gown, so unlike the billowing velvets and silks she was accustomed to. Her hair was covered with a simple cap, and that cap was filthy from the grime and soot of her barren dungeon cell.
Gilles Roche almost felt a twinge of empathy for his wife, but how can he feel anything for her now. She caused this, her downfall. She wanted that boy dead, and persuaded her brother to perform the foul deed. She purposely poisoned another man, all because she felt he, in his wounded state, would become a burden in her flight from justice. She thought only of herself, of her self-righteous pride. Grazide could have played off the youth's attentions. Certainly, if she had good sense, accepted the boy's playful flirtations, thanked him for the pretty compliments. No, she took his attentions as undue liberties, as if this mere child intended to violate her. So she resorted to desperate measures, an impetuous, foolish act of vengeance for insulting her honor. There is no honor in murder.
It was obvious Grazide would not speak; she felt that ashamed, so Gilles made his visit brief.
"My wife," he said with no emotion, "I have nothing more to say to you. Minister Ouimet says your execution is at dawn tomorrow, and for that I shall not stay. I am leaving Paris as soon as I finish my visit. For too long I've put up with your moods and foul temper, your hatred of everything good, and your insistence on having your way. No more, Grazide. What you did is beyond comprehension. To order the murder of an innocent young man is reprehensible. To purposely murder another man, and for nonsensical reasons, is heinous in the extreme. I have made my apologies to the boy and his mother, to his cousin La Esmeralda. I just hope they will, in time, forgive me for not being the kind of husband who demands obedience of his wife."
"Grazide, I have sold the shop, packed my belongings, and am prepared to travel to Calais this very morning. What belongings you had have been distributed amongst the charities. I'm sure some poor, ailing woman in a hospital or asylum could use a nice, fine gown. At any rate, what pains me more is that I did not leave you long ago. I have entertained that notion many a time, yet I've honored my marriage vows to cleave only unto you, to protect and support you. Alas, for all I've done, you continuously flaunted your position, indulged in cheap gossip, disregarded all my admonishments. You, in your refusal to honor our Gypsy customers – and there were precious few, too few to make any difference in our bottom line – nearly resulted in a loss of my business. Well, the shop had fallen on hard times long ago, Grazide. Too much competition, rising costs, creditors dunning us for payments, our core patronage dying off...It's over, Grazide, and I have to go on with my life, for it is, thanks to you, impossible for me to remain in Paris. People are whispering, Grazide. They say, 'There goes Monsieur Roche. His wife will hang for murder.' I don't want to endure stares and snide comments, so I have to leave. And I will not say farewell, because I feel the consequences of your actions have yet to congeal in that little, narrow mind. At least, dear wife, you will have your brother at your side when Death comes."
Gilles turned from his wife's sight, banged on the door for the guard to let him out, then walked out without looking back.
The bells of faraway Notre Dame tolled. Even out at Chateau deVernay, Andreu could hear Quasimodo hard at work, sending forth the call for noon Mass.
Actually, Andreu hadn't slept much since his arrival at the chateau the day before. He was just too thrilled to find himself a guest of a titled gentleman; not too many of his people had it so good. He had no idea what was going on in Paris, so Esmeralda and Phoebus kept him up to date. Andreu learned the identities of his assailants, and why he and his friends were targets of one woman's ridiculous vengeance.
There was mixed emotion as he learned how Grazide Roche took offense to his playful flirtations, how she pressed her brother to teach the boy a lesson, and how the dastardly trio tried to escape capture. Then he learned how Grazide purposely poisoned Isore, her brother's friend, the very man Andreu stabbed in the shoulder that night. However, the villains did not escape as planned, rather Clopin and his spies captured them in the wood that served as their temporary hideout.
One assailant, that would be Isore, died of toxic shock. Othan and Grazide were both charged with murder, conspiracy, kidnapping, willful flight. Well, Grazide, if she hadn't resorted to do in Isore, could have gotten off with a few years imprisonment. She, along with her brother, were immediately convicted and condemned to the gallows. Both were now incarcerated in the Palais de Justice dungeons, awaiting execution, which would take place at dawn.
Phoebus explained that it was the hired girl, Jaquette, who revealed to Judge Ouimet what really transpired between Andreu and Grazide the morning of Clement deVernay's wedding.
An innocent flirtation...
"I thought I was having fun with Madame Roche, Esmeralda. I do that all the time, if the lady is pretty and kind to me. The ladies don't mind, but I guess Madame Roche didn't like it when I said she was pretty then kissed her hand."
Andreu adjusted the plush pillow under his head as his mother refilled his water cup. Never before had he slept in a more comfortable bed, let alone spend the night in a sumptuous mansion. He even had a nice servant girl wait on him, see to his every need. The Comte deVernay must love the Gypsies so or else he would not have opened his home to one. He said that to Esmeralda while noting how different people treat his people.
"As your mother said, Andreu, some gadje are open-minded enough to accommodate us, even go out of their way to act as our advocates. Nevertheless, there are too many who view us with suspicion and contempt. Tell me, how did you think Madame Roche would react once you kissed her hand?"
"But I thought she would smile and blush like most ladies do. But all she did was scowl and pull away. I had no idea she would go so far as to want me dead." His eyes expressed marked concern as he learned of Grazide Roche's fate. How awful for her to be sent to the gallows, and just because she hates Gypsies, so much that she conspired with her brother to "Teach the insolent boy a lesson."
"You tell me," he said, sipping his cool water, "Monsieur Roche is leaving. He sold his shop and is travelling to Calais this very day, never to return to Paris."
Esmeralda nodded, replying, "Yes, Andreu. I saw him yesterday as he began packing. I told him to accept my apologies for your misguided behavior..."
Andreu protested, dark eyes blazing, "What do you mean by 'misguided'?"
Esmeralda's jade green eyes shot daggers as she said, "You know what I mean! While what you did was innocent, it was misguided, thoughtless even. Andreu, I know you think the world has changed because it's minus one Claude Frollo, but there are still so many who think like him. They share his sentiments that we should be wiped off the face of the Earth. Dear cousin, you don't know the anguish your mother and I endured while everyone searched for you, fearing you were dead. Your little prank – and you may have gotten away with it in the past – was inexcusable. It nearly got you and your friends killed. Now, Monsieur Roche says there are no hard feelings toward you or us. He says it wasn't all you; it was really his wife's gross overreaction, and her brother's lust for blood and revenge. Well, she's paying the ultimate price: The loss of her life. I have no doubt she's cursing you right now, thinking that it's you who should swing tomorrow morning instead of her."
Anis, who listened intently to her niece's admonishments, put down her needlework, saying, "Now, dear Esme, the boy meant no harm, but he did disregard my warnings of how the gadje, especially the women, may respond to his gallant attentions."
These words she addressed to her son: "Andreu, as I said before, I do not blame you wholly. Let us put it all behind us. I just hope you have learned from your momentary lapse of good sense. You must rest for now, regain your strength. And you must thank his lordship for standing by you and the boys. Without Clement deVernay, you, my dear son, might have died, along with Baul and Marco. Be grateful of that handful of gadje who welcome us amid the Frollos of the world. The comte, and those like him, risk their own positions when sticking by us. Remember that, dear boy."
All the way downstairs, Baul tried not to cry as he said, "Even if we did get into trouble, we still had fun here. I just wish we didn't have to go home. Why can't we stay in Paris forever? That way we could be with Esmeralda always, and with Quasimodo. I love the bell ringer, and I love Clopin and Phoebus. Why can't Patia's family move here? You can still marry her, and..."
On and on he went, while Andreu just smiled and wished the same. Clement deVernay, catching the comtesse's eye in the grand hall, said to Baul, "My little friend, making such grand wishes is not wise for some wishes do not always come true."
An adamant Baul reiterated, "But I want to stay in Paris, so does Marco. And we want Andreu to stay, too."
Once downstairs, Anis flew to her son's side, offering many thanks to Clement for all timely assistance and intervention when all hope was lost.
"You, my lord," she said with tear-choked voice and grateful dark eyes, "have been sent by the gods as intercessor. I don't know how to repay for all your kindness."
"Don't thank me, Anis. You should be proud of your son, for his quick thinking and bravery when his life was in danger. If he hadn't fought off those men as he did, Andreu would not be with us today." To Esmeralda and Phoebus, Clement said, "I understand the boys are returning to Auberville this very morning. Too bad, because Minister Ouimet and I had talked it over last night, and my lady agrees some sort of compensation is in order for what these boys endured. Captain, did His Grace mention this to you?"
"Sir," said Phoebus in a flat voice, trying not to give himself away, "Minister Ouimet made the arrangements last night. If my calculations are correct, they should be here within the next week or two."
"What do you mean by 'they'?" asked Andreu.
Esmeralda smiled, parting her ruby lips to reveal her brilliantly white teeth. She said to him, "My dear cousin, and Clopin and I discussed it, too. We feel you and your pals are assets, and he believes your ordeal, and your courage displayed, has proven your worth. Minister Ouimet, along with his lordship and Phoebus, has arranged for Patia's family to relocate to Paris. You will remain with us, Andreu, you and your mother, for as long as you want. So will Marco and Baul."
Andreu was flabbergasted. "What? Is this true? We're staying here after all? And Patia is coming here?" He looked at his mother who confirmed, "I did not want to say much until it was certain you would heal and out of harm's way. That day, Judge Ouimet, after those people's execution, sent for me, and asked about you. I couldn't help noticing he was so unlike his predecessor, so willing to help the very people Frollo despised and persecuted. Such a man can be trusted, so I assented to allow Patia's family to be brought here. You shall be married in the Court of Miracles. Afterwards, you and Patia will be given the house next to Esmeralda's. It is owned by the comte, and he has been most kind in lending it to you. Andreu, this is a gift from the gods. Do not throw away such a treasure."
Now Andreu, himself taken aback by all this generosity, finally understood what his mother and Esmeralda kept telling him. Surely, there were people who hated Gypsies and made it their mission to eradicate them from the earth. Still, there were those as Clement deVernay who risked social ostracism because they embraced the newcomers into this slice of medieval European Christendom. Obviously showing a kindness, performing an act of generosity, proved to Andreu there are indeed good people in this world despite the many more Grazide Roches and Claude Frollos who despised Gypsies for being...well, Gypsies.
"I am grateful, sir," said Andreu, his eyes shining with tears of joy, "but why do I feel as if I didn't earn it? I came to Paris full of laughter and joy, so why do I feel as if I want to weep the rest of my life? What I did those days ago spelled the end for three people I never met. I don't blame myself, for Esmeralda told me not to beat up on myself. It was narrow vision on Madame Roche's part that caused her downfall, as well as that of her brother and friend. Monsieur Roche had to sell his shop and leave Paris, never to return. That's not my fault, I know, but somehow...It's as if this is just the beginning. Always we will be hated and hunted down like dogs, for people don't know us well enough to love us. I think that's why Madame Roche did what she did – She didn't know us...So while I am grateful, I still can't shake the feeling more tears will be shed by our people..."
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