Judge Philippe Ouimet, his usually mild expression darkening into a austere frown, laid down the law – no pun intended – to Gilles and Grazide Roche. His Honor's dear friend, the Comte de Vernay, only yesterday relayed a not so flattering eyewitness account of the Grazide Roche's refusal to sell to Gypsies. And of all the Romany women to discriminate against, Grazide unwisely offended the dancer La Esmeralda, wife of the celebrated Captain Phoebus.
Gilles responded, "Sir, I wish not to violate the King's laws, and I can scarcely afford a costly fine. I have always honored all patrons, the Gypsies included."
Then, glancing about to see if his wife was within earshot, he leaned in closer to Ouimet, saying in a hushed voice, "It is my wife, sir. Grazide has it in her mind the Gyspies will steal us blind, perhaps cause some other trouble. I don't have anything against these people. If they want to purchase a sweet, I glady let them. But Grazide..."
"Say no more, Gilles," said Philippe with a smile, "But, for the sake of your business, please keep a closer eye on your wife. Grazide is obviously not used to dealing with the Gypsies, or anyone else not of the Comte de Vernay's caliber."
Philippe also mentioned the presence of certain men whose activities had to be closely monitored. "Gilles, just out of curiosity, has Grazide received any visitors? Her brother Othan, perhaps?"
Gilles was rather taken aback by His Honor's question, but replied, "Well, now that you mentioned it, yes. Othan and his partner Isore came by the shop this morning. Grazide was to meet with them at La Clef Argente. I will tell you this much, sir. I do not relish seeing my brother-in-law nor his repulsive companion. You do remember what happened the last time they came to Paris, that foul business with Othan beating a Gypsy boy, and Frollo let them get away with it."
Judge Ouimet said in a matter of fact tone, "Gilles, may I remind you Frollo is dead. I am the Minister of Justice now, and I will keep a sharp eye on those two. I also want you to report any suspicious activity. While I don't like citizens spying on each other, the law must be upheld. I suspect Othan and Isore are up to no good."
"As you wish, Your Grace. But Grazide will not like the idea of her husband snooping in her brother's private affairs."
"You must, Gilles! That is an order from the Minister of Justice: Watch those two, and keep your wife in line. You are the head of the household, not Grazide, and she needs to be reminded of that."
The modest house on Rue de Greneta crackled with energy and laughter. Yes, laughter. For the occupants frequently erupted in rollicking mirth as the three young men kept telling the most outrageous tales and jokes.
In that circle of friends and family were La Esmeralda and her husband Phoebus, the bell ringer Quasimodo, Clopin, and a trio of energetic youths, one being Esmeralda's cousin, Andreu.
Baul, not wanting the momentum to stop, said to Andreu, "Tell them about the old woman who begged us to perform our routine a third time. She really loved it that we made her laugh."
Turning to Phoebus, Baul grew a bit serious when he added, "Her husband said she hadn't laughed since her oldest daughter died. So I guess we did her a big favor. The husband was grateful; he gave us a huge bag of food and so much money we didn't even bother to count it."
Marco rejoined, "Our journey from Auberville to Paris was so long, what having to travel on foot most of the time. But we did manage to hitch rides with so many kind people. I wasn't expecting much, you know, how some people go out their way to be mean to us. But that wasn't like that at all."
"Yes," said Andreu, "and Mama warned me of how people here treat Gypsies. But we didn't see anyone who would harm us. I mean, Esmeralda, you're married to Phoebus. You and Quasimodo stood up to Frollo and gave him what for. Things, from what I've seen, have changed for the better. I imagine, with no Frollo to push us around, everyone will accept, not shun, us."
Such astute opinions coming from someone so young, thought Esmeralda, but people don't change that much overnight. There was – and she was a victim of discrimination just yesterday – still that pesky prejudice and bigotry against the Romany.
Esmeralda, wanting her cousin's safety, explained, "Andreu, while you and your friends ran into precious little indifference during your journey, this is Paris, a big city full of people who still cling to their narrow views. Even with Frollo gone, some people's attitudes have yet to change. However, there are many who do accept us for what we are."
"Like that Comte de Vernay," said Quasimodo. He turned to Andreu, saying, "His Lordship is getting married, really big wedding feast and all. He wants the Gypsies to perform at his wedding, so..."
Phoebus, listening to this conversation, interjected, "The comte and Judge Ouimet are old friends. I've heard just today that His Lordship paid Ouimet a call, told His Honor about Esme's run-in with Grazide Roche."
Now Andreu was puzzled. Didn't his mother tell him all about Esmeralda, and how fearless his cousin was? His beautiful kinswoman, no slouch in telling someone off, stood up to the formidable Claude Frollo, even risked her life to evade the man's mad pursuit. She married Phoebus, captain of the Royal Guard, became a much-loved and respected citizen and loyal friend to the bell ringer. Yet Esmeralda faced, just a day ago, indifference.
"Esme, what happened?," he asked.
"I was with friends," she replied, not ashamed of recounting the unpleasant encounter with Grazide Roche. "We decided to stop in Maison de Josèphine, to buy some sweets for the children. Monsieur Roche was very nice to us, always had been. But his wife was another story. I asked for some marzipan, but she claimed they sold out. I knew she was lying because I saw a platter full of the stuff on the shelf. The Comte de Vernay was there and saw the whole thing."
Andreu was intrigued. "Then what happened?"
"I told Madame Roche of His Majesty's edict: Merchants have to sell to us or face a stiff fine. I guess she didn't want to cause a scene, so she sold the candy to me, took my money, but I don't think she liked it so well. Honestly, if she didn't know who wasn't I was, or that His Lordship saw everything, she'd show me the door."
Esmeralda, her lovely burnished face skewed in a righteous frown, grimaced at the memory, and what could have transpired if Clement de Vernay wasn't there.
"No doubt," said Phoebus, "Minister Ouimet gave the Roches a warning. If I know Gilles Roche, he wouldn't risk a heavy fine. His business is good, but I'm afraid his wife's attitude will be his ruin."
"...And yours," said Esmeralda point-blank to Andreu. "While I want your stay here to be as pleasant as possible, I have to warn you: Stay out of the way of those who still harbor negative attitudes towards our people. It is for your own good, Andreu. I promised Anis I'd look out for you."
Andreu, a trifle annoyed at yet another adult telling him what to do, rolled his eyes in exasperation, saying, "I know, I know...Keep my nose clean, stay out of trouble, don't get fresh–"
"Listen to Esmeralda, Andreu," said Clopin who remained uncharacteristicly silent for much of the visit. "She speaks a wealth of good sense. It is true there are a handful of Parisians who don't give us a hard time, there are so many who would not hesitate to...How can I put this...Put you in your place. Now, while you're here, you and your friends can put your talents to good use. The wedding is coming up, of which you will be part of the entertainment. But, for now, why not ply your trade on the streets, under Esmeralda's and my supervision, mind you."
Andreu looked at Baul who echoed Clopin's warnings. "Yeah, Andreu. I know I don't want to get into trouble. So why not head out and give 'em a taste of the ol' laugh-till-your-sides-hurt routine. Should be fun, but I'm sure, and Marco agrees, that the last thing we want is to break Esmeralda's promise to your mother."
"I can't believe the nerve of Judge Ouimet. Ordering my husband to serve Gypsies or pay a heavy fine. When Frollo was Minister of Justice, we didn't have to worry, but now, with the King's misguided whims, we're overwhelmed by the presence of those heathens."
Grazide Roche sat grimacing in her wine cup, her bright blue eyes darkening and usually lovely mouth downturned into an ugly scowl. Seated at a remote table in the popular upper-class tavern Le Clef Argente, Grazide voiced her displeasure to her brother Othan and his business partner Isore. No friends or advocates of the Romany themselves, Othan and Isore understood Grazide's plight, yet could not bring themselves to suggest how to deal with the Gypsy "problem". Such talk could get them into serious trouble, what with His Majesty's and Judge Ouimet's spies lurking about all over Paris, even in this hangout for the rich and famous.
"It's not like the old days," said Othan quaffing his ale. A large, middle-aged, dark-haired man whose own eyes were as blue as his sister's, Othan was minor merchant who dabbled in various pursuits – wine, textiles, handicrafts. While not as prosperous as his more successful colleagues, Othan earned enough income for a comfortable lifestyle.
His partner, Isore, was not much to look at. A bit homely, with lank brown hair and lackluster gray eyes that suggested an overindulgence in dissipation. To be sure, Isore's reputation for gambling, heavy drinking, and consorting with prostitutes, while annoying to Othan, was excused. Despite his moral corruption, Isore was an astute businessman; he was responsible for keeping the books in order although his attention to the ledgers was not that thorough. Too many times the men's coffers came up short on cash, however there was always dear sister Grazide off whom Othan could sponge.
This meeting, however, was not solely for a handout. Grazide had written her brother several weeks ago, briefly detailing the Roches' recent "troubles" as to the King's edict. Right now, she informed her brother of yesterday's encounter with Esmeralda, something that didn't set to well with Othan.
"Sister," he said before waving to the barmaid for more ale, "you know I don't deal with Gypsies. If one would approach me, ask if I had any suitable fabric for their raiment or third-rate wine, I'd simply refuse. What could Minister Ouimet or His Majesty do to me? I always got away with it before. What makes it so different now? Sure, the King makes a few 'adjustments' to appease the Gypsies' and their advocates. I say to Hell with them! Grazide, tell me. Have these people done anything to you, personally?"
Grazide hedged a bit, knowing full well where her brother was going. "Well, not anything out of line, mind you. They have been rather vocal about their newly granted 'rights', but no one has insulted or threatened me. Gilles sells to those people because he is afraid of Ouimet. He's weak, Othan. Too weak to stand up to them and say 'No'."
Othan glanced at Isore who remained strangely silent during the entire conversation – that is up until this point.
"Madame Roche," Isore said at last, "It seems you are need of protection. Obviously your husband will not – cannot – look out for your well being. May I suggest we come by your shop as to be eyewitnesses to whatever crime these Gypsies commit. If they do become belligerent, on the verge of doing violence to you, then what can Judge Ouimet say? Simply tell His Grace you were attacked. We will be standing by offering our account, the offending parties will be punished. Surely Ouimet will not be so stupid as to allowing the criminal element run the streets."
Grazide thought about this a few seconds, saying at last, "Whatever will work to keep those people out. Gilles and I have the Comte de Vernay's wedding coming up, and I simply don't want any more distractions."
"Be careful with His Lordship, dear sister," said Othan, draining the last of his second tankard of ale. "Clement de Vernay is a notorious 'friend' of the Gypsies. He is also very close to Ouimet, and if he should counter any charge you make against a Gypsy, Ouimet may do nothing. I say we take matters into our own hands. Discreetly and thoroughly, of course."
Grazide nodded, not thinking of the consequences of "taking matters into our own hands." Rising to leave, she said, "Do what you must. I just want them to stay out!"
TO BE CONTINUED...Go to Chapter 5
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