Clopin studied very carefully the young people sitting merrily feasting as if their hunger knew no end. The Gypsy king pondered long and hard as the trio ate and conversed. Remembering his own rambunctious youth, and all the trouble he caused at their age, Clopin had to lay down the law. As much as he hated to boss his own people around, these youths are nonetheless new to Paris. What they got away with in Auberville and every small town in between may not go over too well with Parisians. True, the anti-Gypsy sentiment was still there albeit a bit relaxed since Judge Frollo's death. However, even with Frollo no longer here to threaten the Romany with his relentless genocidal policies, old attitudes die hard. So deeply ingrained the negative connotations and regard the gadje held towards the Romany, no law or edict passed down from the King could erase decades of animosity. Clopin had to warn the young men: Watch your back.
"This is for your own good," said the Gypsy king, "While I do want your stay in Paris to be a pleasant experience, I must caution you to conduct yourselves in a manner that will not incur the wrath of some of Paris' more close-minded citizens. Frollo may be dead, but his legacy lives on in the people's attitudes toward us. The current magistrate, Judge Ouimet, is a fair man, even encourages us to ply our trades and wishes upon us no ill will. Nevertheless, there are Parisians who are still skittish around us. Just keep yourselves out of trouble."
Andreu looked at Clopin as if thoroughly comprehending what was said, but he merely shrugged it off, replying, "Clopin, my mama said the same thing, but I don't think it's as bad as you say. We've met some wonderful people on the way here, and they didn't give us a hard time. Look at Esmeralda. She married Captain Phoebus, and not much is said about that. Even the bell ringer, Quasimodo, is one of us, as you've mentioned, and he's doing all right. So why should we–"
Clopin interrupted, "As I've said, Andreu, you and your friends need to exercise that extra caution. This is a large city, full of villains who'd think of nothing in harming one of us. Stay close to your cousin, Andreu. Esmeralda, by virtue of living here since she was a little girl, knows how to get around the ignorant set. She will teach you how to avoid trouble should you become careless. Oh yes, I know how you are via your mother. Anis is a wise woman, beloved and highly regarded amongst our people. She would be deeply upset if you, Baul, or Marco were harmed in any way."
That said, Andreu nodded in agreement although deep inside he just wanted to have fun, explore this teeming city, perhaps make a nice sum in the process.
Baul, the more practical of the trio, said, "I don't want to get into trouble, Clopin." Then, when it came to him, he asked, "What's this about a big wedding coming up? All along the way, people were talking about this nobleman getting married, and the wedding will be a major affair. What was his name? Comte de Something."
"The Comte de Vernay, a longtime friend of Judge Ouimet, and no fan of Frollo," replied Clopin. "And, we are to entertain at the nuptials at his lordship's request. The King will be in attendance as will Judge Ouimet, both men being friendly towards us."
Andreu was puzzled. Didn't Clopin just warn of Parisians' deeply ingrained indifference but at the same time say that both the King and the Minister of Justice were friendly towards Gypsies? It didn't make any sense. Andreu wanted to question Clopin's contradiction but decided not to. At any rate, he and his friends were here in Paris, a virtual gold mine. If the boys put on a great show, they would reap much money, thus helping to finance their future plans: That is, getting out of France altogether. Andreu never told his mother he wanted to leave the country; he never told Esmeralda. He only confided in his friends who swore to reveal his secret to no one.
Where would he go? Andreu entertained notions of moving to England, perhaps return to Persia where his people were better received. After all, his mother's family hailed from those Middle Eastern lands where Anis' father and grandfather plied their trades as entertainers and horse trainers. To hear his mother describe life in Persia and Arabia, Andreu decided that once he earned enough money he'd move away from Europe. It was obvious the Romany would never be fully accepted, no matter how many "Gypsy-friendly" laws and edicts the kings issued. Life was difficult enough without having to move about so frequently.
Wait a minute...Aren't I now guilty of contradiction as Clopin? Whatever...I'm here to have fun and earn some money. Plus I'll see my cousin again. I hadn't seen Esme since I was little...They say she's more beautiful than most Parisian girls, and that she married the celebrated Captain Phoebus. If she could marry that well, be accepted for the woman she is, then why can't I or my friends be free to walk about this city and not be subject to harassment or persecuted?
Andreu shook his head as if ridding his mind of all things negative. He turned his attention to what Clopin said about the Comte de Vernay's upcoming wedding.
"Say, Clopin," he asked, "would it be too much to include Baul, Marco, and myself in your little act? We put on a great routine, guaranteed to generate side-splitting laughter. We've entertained all the way from Auberville to Paris, and the people really loved us. So, what do you say? Can you work us in?"
Clopin stroked his chin whiskers, thoroughly amused with Andreu's earnest request. Why not? The boys are sincere in their desire to entertain, and to stay out of trouble. He replied, "If you promise to keep your noses clean, so to speak, and if you prove yourselves worthy of entertaining the comte, then I'll consider you part of our little troupe. Now, let us be on our way. Your cousin is expecting you."
Settling with a cup of excellent Bordeaux, the Comte de Vernay took stock in his surroundings. Yes, he'd been in the Palais de Justice before, but the last time he graced this place with his presence, Claude Frollo was firmly ensconced as Minister of Justice. The comte, whose Christian name was Clement, often consulted with Frollo on personal legal and business matters, not that Clement enjoyed being in the man's company. Although he was ever so careful not to show it, he thoroughly hated Claude Frollo. Why? Clement had valid reasons, one being Frollo's blatant self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and abject cruelty. Another reason was Frollo's incessant campaign to rid Paris of its ever-growing Gypsy population. Clement had no quarrel with the Romany; in fact he often employed these strange peoples as horse trainers, blacksmiths, and entertainers. Many a party and banquet hosted by Clement was graced by the wild antics of Gypsy comedians, the natural grace and beauty of the dancers, one being an extraordinarily beautiful woman who called herself La Esmeralda.
Oh yes, he remembered that episode six months ago, the day following the Feast of Fools. Clement had missed the festival what with him being out of town most of the winter. However, when he returned, he found Paris driven into utter chaos. He learned that Frollo had orchestrated a fanatical manhunt – make that woman-hunt – for Esmeralda. The word on the street was that she had incurred Frollo's wrath when she dared come to the bell ringer's aid. To hear citizens describe the heated words exchanged between Esmeralda and Frollo, and the mad chase through the square that ensued, Clement laughed long and hard. Good for her! Old Frollo needed to hear what most citizens had been too afraid of saying to the man's face.
However, things took a dark twist. It was said that Frollo had somehow fallen in love with the Gypsy beauty, causing Esmeralda to go into hiding, which led to Frollo's destructive rampage. Clement soon learned how Frollo burned the miller's cottage, as well as much of the city simply because he felt people were uncooperative.
His Grace called them traitors and conspirators...No one, from titled ladies and gentleman to lowly peasants were immune from Frollo's outrageousness...I found the city in flames, so many families left homeless all because Frollo's lust got the better of him...Even my Paris house had been burned...Damn Frollo! He's dead and gone to Hell where he belongs...
Daydreaming of your upcoming nuptials?"
That came from Philippe Ouimet, the new Minister of Justice and one of Clement's dearest friends. The pair had known each other since childhood, their fathers also equally close. Clement's father had conducted business with Philippe's father François Ouimet, a major spice and wine merchant. The boys were so close it was said that they were more like brothers. Indeed, when Philippe mother Bernadette passed on, it was Clement who commiserated with his friend, consoling a grief-stricken Philippe. The boy had been quite attached to his mother, and he grieved more when François brought back to France a new wife, the Florentine beauty Serena. While Philippe regarded Serena with respect, it wasn't the same; she could never replace his mother. Even so, that union produced a second son, Evrard, who soon became the apple of François' eye, leaving Philippe an embittered young man.
Clement understood his friend's resentment of the newest members of the family and asked his father for help. Well, the old comte made inquiries at the Ministry of Justice, successfully persuading Claude Frollo, the new city magistrate, to take on Philippe as lowly law clerk. Philippe Ouimet soon found favor in Frollo, although the boy really didn't like his superior yet was grateful Frollo made it possible for him to rise in the ranks. By age thirty, Philippe became Frollo's second in command, often presiding minor cases, processing released prisoners, and overseeing the general run of the Palais. No wonder Frollo wanted Philippe to be his successor, that is if Frollo ever retired or died in office. Actually, the King himself found Philippe a more worthy Minister of Justice and, after Frollo's death, His Majesty wasted no time in installing Philippe Ouimet.
"Philippe," replied Clement, "I was just recalling those awful events six months ago. You know, Frollo and his nonsensical vindictiveness against the Gypsies. The way he carried on–"
Judge Ouimet laughingly interrupted, "But he is dead, Clement. As much as I hated to say it, I'm glad he's no longer here. The whole Palais has taken on a more relaxed – not to say that law and order does not prevail – but that certain..."
"Awe and fear that Frollo inspired?," Clement rejoined with amusement. "I must say the atmosphere is a far cry from Frollo's heyday. But let's not talk of the man, or his so-called legacy. The King was right to appoint you as Minister, Philippe. What you bring to the office is so refreshingly different. I can sense it every time I walk the streets of this fair city."
Philippe tried not to blush at this compliment, instead turning the subject very deftly.
"Clement," he said, offering his friend more refreshment, "I'm sure this is not a purely social call. So, what is on your mind besides my predecessor?"
To this the Comte de Vernay replied, "Oh, the wedding plans are coming along famously. Edine is due to arrive tomorrow morning in time for the grand banquet. I just wish I could have found another purveyor of fine sweetmeats. Although Maison de Josèphine is without compare, the Roches do somehow..."
"Are you suggesting Gilles and Grazide Roche's skills have fallen off in the months following Frollo's death?"
"Oh no, it's not that...Well, it is, partially, and what I observed this morning only confirms it."
"Confirms what, Clement?"
The Comte de Vernay didn't want to rat on a trusted tradesman, a man for whom Clement had nothing but the utmost respect, but the recent laws passed concerning businesses honoring Gypsy patronage had to be obeyed. As much as it pained Clement to say this, he was a man of principle and integrity. Whatever edict the King issues it must be honored and obeyed, no questions asked. And as much as Clement patronized Gilles Roche's business, it was the wife, Grazide, that gave him pause.
"I only say this, Philippe, as one friend to another, and nothing I say to you should go beyond these walls. I can't back out of my contract with the Roches; the wedding is this weekend, and Gilles and Grazide have already prepared mounds of sweetmeats for the many celebrations. However, I think it is only fair for me to say to you that I suspect the Roches of not honoring His Majesty's orders. That is, they are reluctant to serve their Gypsy customers."
Philippe Ouimet steepled his fingers in a manner reminiscent of Claude Frollo, however he was not Frollo, far from it. He thought long and hard. Surely, such prominent tradespeople as the Roches would not endanger their livelihood by blatantly disregarding the law. To be certain, not too many Gypsies, on their meager earnings, could afford such luxuries the Roches purvey. Be as it may, he had to ask Clement for a few details.
"Philippe, I saw it with my own eyes. Earlier this morning, I called on Gilles to inspect the wares he and Grazide prepared. We chatted some when two two Gypsy women entered the shop. One I recognized immediately: La Esmeralda. Apparently the other woman's child had purchased a treat a few days earlier thus telling her mother how wonderfully kind Gilles Roche is toward their people. Anyway, Gilles and I were in the backroom, leaving Grazide to mind the shop. Through the partially opened door I could see and hear everything. Esmeralda and her friend stood there a few minutes, looking over the treats, commenting on how splendid everything was. The dancer then asked Grazide if there were any marzipan fruits left. The look on Grazide's face said it all: She had no intention of selling to these women. She lied to them, Philippe, said the marzipan fruits sold out, yet I could plainly see – and I'm sure the women saw as well – there were plenty of said sweets stacked on the shelf behind the counter."
Judge Ouimet leaned over as if to get a better listen, to confirm what the Comte de Vernay stated as fact. There was no doubting Clement's eyewitness account of Grazide Roche clearly and blatantly refusing service to Gypsies, for Clement was an honest man who never lied. Obviously Madame Roche cared little for her and Gilles' thriving business or else she would not have risked a heavy fine.
Ouimet then asked Clement, "How did Esmeralda react? And did Grazide Roche relent and sell the items to the Gypsy women?"
Clement replied, his very blue eyes as clear and true as his words, "La Esmeralda kept cool and calm, but she reminded Madame Roche of the King's edict. Madame Roche finally relented and sold the dancer a bag of sugared almonds along with the marzipan."
"Hm," said Ouimet, toying with the fur-trimmed sleeve of his fine black velvet judicial robe, "Madame Roche does not want to incur the wrath of His Majesty nor the many nobles who patronize Maison de Josèphine, yourself included. However, I suspect Gilles does not know of his wife's recent lapse of judgement. So allow me to call on the Roches, explain to them the importance of obeying the law."
"There is something else you should know, Philippe."
"What is that?"
"Grazide's brother, Othan, and his equally abhorrent companion Ashore arrived at the shop the same time I departed. I did not linger as I do not care for either man."
Philippe Ouimet nodded in agreement. How long had it been since Othan and Isore graced Paris with their presence? Not since the Christmas before the Feast of Fools, nearly seven months ago. Then both men were accused of beating a Gypsy youth for "insolence and cheek" although the boy insisted he did nothing wrong. The event was all so nonsensical yet Claude Frollo let the men walk away. Judge Frollo himself once stated that it is not a crime for "true Christian citizens" to beat or humiliate a Gypsy. What person in his right mind would disagree to that? Apparently Philippe Ouimet although he never voiced his objection to his superior's face and understandably so.
Othan and Isore, despite their education and minor merchant status, were the worst by way of their behavior and attitude. Now that these men had returned to Paris, Minister Ouimet wanted to keep a sharp eye on them. If they so much as caused the slightest trouble, they were his. And this time, there was no Claude Frollo around to let them walk away blameless.
GO TO CHAPTER 4
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