Naturally, Esmeralda, a Gypsy just learning to read, courtesy of Phoebus, couldn't make out Anis' childish scrawlings. Anis herself was literate enough to write a simple letter, a rarity among her people. The former Captain, ever the gentleman and all-around nice guy, read the letter. He didn't understand why the tone of Anis' letter was so pessimistic. So Andreu is coming to visit his cousin; what's the big deal about that?
The "big deal", according to Esmeralda, was that Andreu hadn't been further than Auberville, where his clan is currently camped. Being young, brash, and possessing an "It can't happen to me" attitude, Andreu could, as Anis cautioned, find himself in trouble. No doubt in a large city as Paris, there was much temptation for a young man. Anis just wanted Andreu and his friends safe.
"So, Esme," said Phoebus, "what is Andreu like? From what his mother says, he's seems like a nice kid."
"Oh he is," said Esmeralda, "but he can be a pain sometimes. I haven't seen him since we were kids. You know I came to Paris years ago. I don't think I was more than eight. The last time I saw Andreu was ten years ago, and he was so little! I can't picture him almost grown."
Phoebus understood, saying, "Well, with the climate around here so much friendlier towards the Gypsies, I think Andreu will be fine. I mean, with Judge Ouimet in charge, the King issuing that edict that all businesses must honor Gypsy patronage, things have changed."
Esmeralda nodded but said cautiously, "Some laws may have changed, Phoebus, and maybe a few people have softened up. But the old attitudes die hard. You know what it was like when Frollo was in power. People don't change their views of us overnight, and I just want Andreu to feel safe and welcome."
"He'll be fine," said Phoebus as he helped his wife spruce up the spare room. "Hey, with you and I, Quasi, and Clopin to look out for him, what could go wrong? I think we should keep him so occupied that he can't get in trouble if he tried."
Then the captain asked something else. What exactly does Andreu do? Esmeralda answered that.
"He's an entertainer like me. Tante Anis says he's teamed up with two other boys, and they do this hilarious comedy routine. Quite popular in Auberville."
"There! You see, Esme, your cousin will be fine. I bet his routine will go over well here in Paris. With all of Frollo's idiot anti-entertainment laws lifted, Andreu might come away a few francs richer."
In the Palace of Justice, the new Minister of Justice, Philippe Ouimet, walked the length of the colonnade, taking in the many sights and sounds of the city. A rare break today what with a full court docket, many prisoners yet to be interrogated, fines to levy, sentences to hand down.
It was a more relaxed Ministry of Justice, not at all like the rigidity imposed by Ouimet's predecessor Claude Frollo.
In the twenty years of Frollo's tenure, Paris literally quaked with fear. During Ouimet's fifteen or so years working under Frollo, so much had changed and for the worse in Ouimet's opinion. Although he admired his superior's meticulous approach to detail and that unflagging, unyielding authoritarianism that made Claude Frollo one of the most feared and hated man, Philippe Ouimet held many reservations.
For one, he didn't relish Frollo's penchant for inflicting the cruelest, most inhumane punishments on those who really didn't deserve such fates. Sure, Philippe did approve the use of torture but felt it best reserved for the most heinous of crimes, for those hardened criminals who possessed no "normal" morality. Inflicting pain for the sheer pleasure of it was totally repugnant to Philippe, but as Frollo's underling, he didn't dare express he objections lest he find himself begging for mercy at the hands of Frollo's merchants of pain.
Secondly, Claude Frollo's near-genocidal campaign against the Gypsies was just as nonsensical. For Philippe, he held no such animosity, although he did feel the Romany fell outside the normal order. Nevertheless, Philippe Ouimet felt as long as the Gypsies are here for good, and as long as they stay out of trouble, what harm can they inflict?
Yes, most Parisians held negative opinions on these strange peoples who possessed ways far different from the average European. After all, the Gypsies pretty much kept to themselves, indulged in what people like Frollo called "unholy" activities such as dancing and fortune-telling. However, to Philippe, they did provide a necessary outlet for Parisians.
That beautiful dancer, the one who called herself La Esmeralda, proved to Judge Ouimet to be a woman of great intelligence and natural courage. Who else would dare stand up the formidable Claude Frollo, which nearly cost her own life in the process?
To Philippe, Esmeralda was the model Gypsy, and by marrying the celebrated Captain Phoebus, she was proof her people had as much right to all things Parisians enjoyed. That included being able to shop and conduct business as they pleased.
The King, no foe of the Gypsies and not one of Frollo's biggest fans, decided it was time to relax those anti-Romany laws Frollo drew up years ago. Since there was no Claude Frollo around to harrass and persecute Gypsies anymore, His Majesty deemed it necessary to accommodate these people. And since they're obviously here to stay, why not make life's routines that more bearable? He lifted the ban on street performances, allowed for Gypsies to freely ply their trades (This made sound economic sense.), and barred any merchant or proprietor from refusing service to Gypsy customers. That meant all those shops and taverns which previously refused to serve Gypsies had to do so. Those who did not comply faced heavy fines, something most struggling businessmen could not afford.
As Philippe Ouimet stood on the colonnade watching a particularly charming group of Romany children perform a cute song and dance, he wondered if all this change was too much for most Parisians to swallow at once. Surely, there were a few who voiced opposition to, "Letting those heathens into our establishments", but Judge Ouimet stood firm. If any merchant refused service based solely on what a paying customer looked like or the color of his or her skin, His Grace would most certainly bring the offending party to justice.
So far so good. Not too many merchants complained outright, but deeply entrenched attitudes and sentiments are not easily eradicated by simply passing a handful of laws.
Judge Ouimet sighed, turning away from the happy scene. The "breather" was over; now was the time to return to work and routine. As His Grace strolled the long corridor to his private study, a young servant approached. Ever so politely, the young man said, "Beg pardon, m'lord, but the Comte DeVernay is here to see you."
A thin smile spread across Philippe's ascetic face. Judge Ouimet, while possessing the tall, lean build and angular features as Frollo, his face suggested more than abject authortarianism. His gray eyes conveyed warmth, wisdom, intellectualism; the wide, thin mouth often stretched into a playful grin. There was nothing in Philippe's appearance that suggested narcissism, hypocrisy, haughtiness...None of those traits that screamed Claude Frollo.
The good judge answered, "Ah, Bernard. Tell his lordship I am on my way."
The servant snapped to attention then hurried off down the corridor ahead of his master.
"Say, Esmeralda. Does Andreu know the way to our place? Who's to meet him once he and his friends reach the city gates?"
Phoebus busily unloaded a wagonful of extra food and wine. If Esmeralda's fourteen-year old cousin is anything like most youngsters his age, then he most likely has an endless appetite. Thank goodness the captain was able to procure enough sustenance that would probably last a week or more, but with three teenaged boys running around...
Overseeing the storage of foodstuffs, Esmeralda replied, "He's to go to the Court of Miracles then Clopin will bring him here. The other boys will stay in the Court."
"I suppose," said Phoebus, "that Clopin will steer Andreu right. If the kid's anything like I was at that age, he'll need to keep his nose clean. It's a tough age, Esmeralda, and so easy to get into trouble even when one's not aware of it. It's the growing pains thing."
Esmeralda nodded in agreement, for she recalled her own adolescence, a tough age as Phoebus said, but more troublesome for boys than girls.
"Hmm...Maybe I can enlist Quasimodo to keep Andreu occupied. You know, show him around, let him settle in, make a few friends. Hey, perhaps we could...No, that won't do."
The dancer pondered, resting her hand on her chin as a sign of deep thought. "It just came to me now. You know the Comte DeVernay has a wedding coming up."
"Well, and I've talked it over with Clopin, why not include Andreu and his friends in the entertainment?"
"Will it be acceptable to His Lordship?," asked Phoebus tentatively. "The comte does have a soft spot for Gypsies, but..."
Esmeralda retorted, "What's there to say 'No' to? Look, we no longer have the likes of Frollo around to mess things up for us. And the comte is, as you say, one of our greatest advocates. And he has Judge Ouimet on his side. Why so apprehensive?"
Phoebus couldn't answer that right away. Of course he knew including Andreu in the Gypsies' little presentation would be welcome, but there the captain could not shake that nagging feeling That something was about to go completely wrong. It was well known that the Comte DeVernay procured the services of Maison Josčphine, the posh sweet shop that catered to Paris' elite. Also, Phoebus was partially acquainted with the shop's owners, Gilles and Grazide Roche. He knew Gilles was fine with the changes in doing business with Gypsies, but Grazide aired her objections in public, saying that she'd rather move away from Paris rather than wait on "Those filthy, thieving heathens." Could there be a chance Andreu and his pals might decide to walk into Maison Josčphine, thus incurring Grazide's wrath?
Shaking his head, as if throttling those negative thoughts from his mind, Phoebus agreed to his wife's suggestions. However, he issued this caveat: "Esmeralda, whatever you want for Andreu is fine with me. But I don't want to see the kid harmed, that is if he happens to cross paths with the wrong people."
TO BE CONTINUED...Go to Chapter 3
Copyright©2005 by PRP aka "crazedwriter". All Rights Reserved.