Esmeralda asked Victor, out of curiosity, "Have you ever met the Roches? What kind of people are they?" She thought hearing it from a third party might carry some weight if the Roches were ever exposed as violators of His Majesty's edict.
Victor Jouet stroked his plump chin and toyed with the snowy white mustache. "Well, I can't tell you much since I don't do business with them. But I do, La Esmeralda, on occasion, see them at Mass. Oh, Monsieur Roche is a wonderful man, very kind and considerate. Madame Roche, I'm afraid to say is the complete opposite. They say she is still grieving over a lost first love, that she had to marry Gilles or else face life in a convent. She doesn't say much to me, Esmeralda, although Gilles is most ready with a quick joke or nice conversation."
Esmeralda thought it over. So, Grazide is an embittered woman, trapped in a marriage not of her choosing. All these years, coupled with the usual narrow mindset concerning everything and everyone outside the "natural order". It was no secret that Grazide practically worshipped Claude Frollo, that she literally fawned over the man during his twenty-year tenure as Minister of Justice. Maybe it was being close to one as wealthy and prominent as Frollo; perhaps it was being in the presence of power and authority.
Hmm...Could Grazide Roche still be holding a torch for Frollo, although he's been dead for six months? Was he the "one that got away"?
"Victor," she asked, "who was this lost love?"
"Some say it was a titled gentleman, a friend of Frollo from what I hear. But no one has ever confirmed it."
So that's it. Grazide had hoped to unite in matrimony with a noble, thus living out her days as a powerful aristocrat, lording it over everyone who didn't measure up to her idea of perfection. But she settled for marriage with Gilles, a man who obviously suffered under his wife's unbecoming shrewishness.
"Well," said the Gypsy dancer, "it doesn't really matter now. What I'm looking forward to is the wedding. Are you invited?"
Victor Jouet's big body shook with merriment as he let loose a rip-roaring belly laugh. "My dear Esmeralda, I have to be there. I'm furnishing the wine and ale!"
"Hey Quasi, why don't you show us around this town? What's there to see and do?"
Andreu, not waiting for Esmeralda to emerge from the tavern, stood outside with Marco and Baul. He counted the many golden coins people threw into his hat during that impromptu performance.
"We earned a nice sum, so I'm itching to spend a bit on...Well, what can I buy?"
The bell ringer, although freely able to move about the outside world, hesitated answering. Surely, Quasimodo, free of Frollo's oppressiveness for nearly six months, still had a tough time getting around town. Since he was forbidden to leave the confines of the cathedral for twenty years, Quasi still had yet to experience everything Paris had to offer. However, there were a few favorite haunts.
Thinking a bit, he finally said, "Well, you've already been to the tavern. There's Jacques LaBoeuf's place. He sells all kinds of delicious grilled meats. I go there all the time. The roasted chickens are the best."
Andreu got the eye from Baul who said, "What do you say, friend? I'm hungry, and a nice plump, golden browned chicken sounds really good."
Marco, the one with the ever-present sweet tooth, asked, "What about candy, sweetmeats, something really special?"
Quasi balked, knowing well that the only place nearby to purchase sweets was Maison de Josèphine. However, that place is expensive and mostly caters to Paris' elite. Besides, the Roches are probably swamped with work, what with the comte's wedding feast coming up. This he explained to the youths who still insisted on paying the Roches' shop a visit.
"Esmeralda says the kids go in there sometimes," said Marco. "Monsieur Roche is very nice, that's what Clopin says."
"Yes," replied Quasimodo, "but Madame Roche doesn't like Gypsies. I know for a fact she refuses service to them."
"But she can't!," said Andreu vehemently, his dark eyes flashing with impatience. "The King says no one can refuse us service. If we want to buy something, they have to sell it to us."
Baul nodded, "Or else pay a lot of money to Judge Ouimet. They can't break the law or else they'll go out of business. So, what can a little visit to Maison...Whatever it's called...hurt? Come on, Quasi, let's go and get some treats then head to your chicken guy's place."
The bell ringer thought it over. Well, it was not the best time to head to the Roches' shop, but the boys did insist; besides, Quasi promised Esmeralda to keep them occupied during the day. "All right," he said, "we'll go. But we'll stay long enough to buy some candy. I know the Roches are busy."
Grazide Roche shook her head in disgust as she scanned the ledger book. Again, the shop's expenditures exceeded its income. Rising prices, a storm off the coast of Spain that delayed a much-needed shipment of sugar and spices, a declining clientele, and one huge order stretched the Roches' resources beyond the limit. At least they had enough supplies on hand to complete Clement deVernay's wedding treats.
As Gilles remained in the back workroom, surveying and finalizing the wedding treats and readying them for transport, Grazide began to think if it was all worth the effort. Surely, they were very grateful a few nobles still patronized the shop on a regular basis, but business declined sharply, especially after Frollo's death. Obviously, Grazide wondered with a grimace, it's the unchecked, unwanted presence of those people which is the culprit. No wonder so few of Paris' elite come here anymore; the Gypsies coming and going at an alarming rate, demanding service, simply scared off many of the Roches' steady customers. If Frollo was still alive, still Minister of Justice, then those people wouldn't dare step foot in this place let alone have the audacity to purchase wares meant for real Parisians. By 'real' citizens, Grazide spoke of the nobles, those in high office, the royal court, not the average man on the street and certainly not the Gypsies.
With a sigh, Grazide closed the ledger book then prepared to join her husband in the workroom. Today marked the first of several feasts celebrating the marriage of the Comte deVernay and Lady Edine Ampère. For the upcoming afternoon feast, the Roches prepared a tantalizing array of sweets ranging from marzipan fruits to tender spiced-nut tarts glazed with honey. So much work, and so much expense went into providing all this food. Grazide, while ruminating over the general decline of business, was grateful the comte paid handsomely. "Nothing but the best, Madame Roche," he said those many weeks ago while placing his order.
What ever happened to the good days when so many wealthy Parisians – and people from beyond the city for that matter – frequently patronized Maison de Josèphine, raving about the preciously delicious ware the Roches purveyed? Grazide grimaced again, thinking how Claude Frollo would simply drop hundreds of francs for mounds of specially prepared sweets. After all, the man entertained quite a bit, and only the best would do for his guests. Besides, his free-spending was testament to his great wealth and power; he wanted people to know where they stood in the grand scheme of things. What's more, Frollo helped the Roches' business prosper by not only recommending Maison de Josèphine to his many associates and friends, but by simply keeping out the riff-raff, namely the uncouth, unwashed peasants and the equally obnoxious Gypsies.
Now Frollo was gone, and, in wake of his demise, the very people the Roches strove to exclude from their roster of customers, streamed in by the scores. This was not true, of course, but Grazide conveniently blamed other people for the business' slide. Gilles reminded his wife about that, and that the true culprit was increased competition, not selling the occasional single piece of candy to a Gypsy or peasant child. Gilles was quick to point out that the new sweet shop, Maison Sucre, located not far from the Royal Palace, and owned by the transplanted Provençal Estève Dusay, offered far more by way of a wider variety of wares at a fair price. The Dusays, by virtue of their contacts in southern France, could import costly and rare sugar, spices, nutmeats, and fruits more readily. Oh, Gilles reminded Grazide, the Comte deVernay could have approached Dusay to cater his wedding feast, but he chose Maison de Josèphine out of sheer tradition.
"It is customers like him,
Grazide, who are our bread and butter. However, I do believe to say what I've wanted to say for a long time. People's taste change, good wife, so do their attitudes. I do not believe selling to Gypsies – and they don't come 'round everyday, in droves – hurts our business, but I believe, and I'm saying this for it is my duty...Grazide, you must put aside this petty animosity and find it in your heart to accommodate the occasional customer who isn't titled or monied. So what if a Gypsy child wants to buy a single marzipan? It's income, dear wife. Every little bit helps, and don't think I've noticed how our business has slumped ever since you nearly refused service to La Esmeralda. Judge Ouimet is adamant: Either honor their patronage or pay a stiff fine. We can't afford such, Grazide. It would mean the end of Maison de Josèphine, the very business I've built over the years. This is my livelihood, not yours to tear to pieces."
Being the hardheaded sort, Grazide simply tuned out her husband's wise words. She hated how he so suddenly asserted his role as head of household. He had never, not in their nearly twenty-five years together, raised his voice to her, never ordered her to keep her place. But wasn't what he said just that? To remind her that as a wife, it is her duty to obey her husband and go along with his wishes?
Gilles, growing somewhat disgusted with his wife's indifference, merely said, "Grazide, I'll be in the back, supervising the loading. We really should be on our way soon; there are only a few hours left until the wedding. The Comte deVernay's family estate is quite a ways; it will take at least an hour just to get out of the city..."
"I know that!," she snapped, putting away the books and preparing to close shop for the day. Gilles shook his head, knowing fully well that twenty-five years of wedded bliss was anything but. Perhaps he should have followed his heart and married that sweet-tempered girl back in Calais. But his father felt otherwise, insisting that Grazide would make the better wife.
After Gilles left, Grazide busily covered what sweets still lay on the counter and closed the cash box. She had just put away the last of the nut pastries made this morning, then prepared to close the shutters then lock the door. No sooner had she turned her back than the familiar jingle of the door bell alerted her to action. She turned around to see three Gypsy boys accompanied by the cathedral's bell ringer enter the shop.
Quasimodo was exceedingly polite, saying, "I'm sorry to bother you, Madame Roche, but my friends want to buy some candy. I know you're busy, what with getting ready for the comte's wedding and all, but we'll be quick so you can be on your way."
Grazide frowned. How she hated this misshapen little man. Frollo was right to keep this incredibly ugly man-child shuttered in Notre Dame's bell tower. It angered her more that he was in the company of three obviously uncouth, loud-mouthed Gypsy youths, one of which she eyed with peculiar suspicion.
However, remembering her husband's words, she feigned courtesy, saying, "It is true that we're closing shop for the day, and we don't have much as you can see. But I have some nice nut tarts, a few marzipan swans, a fruited meringue..."
She went on, reciting the available wares. Deep inside she fumed. How dare they come in here when it's clear I don't want them here, not now. We have the wedding sweets to transport the the DeVernay estate...And these ruffians come in here and...
"We'll take the marzipan and meringues," said Andreu assertively, showing Grazide his bag of coins. "We have plenty of money, madame, so what ever you charge, we can pay."
Marco, literally salivating over the myriad goodies Grazide showed, said, "We earned nice money entertaining in Victor's tavern. Oh, by the way, since you and Monsieur Roche will be at the wedding, we'll be there, too. The Comte deVernay has asked Clopin and Esmeralda to perform, and he wants us to put on our comedy routine."
Now Grazide wanted to throw out these bums, give them the most unceremonious boot. Of all people to come in here...Impertinent, impatient, insolent...
"Well," she said, still feigning kindness but carrying a wary edge in her voice, "that is nice. But my husband and I will be busy serving, so I don't think we'll have time to enjoy your...entertainment."
That said, she hastily wrapped the sweets then handed the parcels over to the young men. Andreu had just handed over his money when a middle-aged man appeared at the door. He called out, "Bell ringer! We need some assistance out here. Our wagon got stuck in the street and the horses would budge."
Quasimodo, not wanting to leave his new friends, turned to Baul, saying, "This won't take long."
Baul nodded, replying, "Why don't we help you? We're nearly done here, and Andreu is paying Madame Roche."
"All right. I guess the more hands the better." Quasimodo said to Andreu, "Finish your business here then come out to join us."
Andreu shrugged then continued to count out the coins. With his friends gone, Andreu eyed Grazide and silently admired her beauty. All right, so she's really old, perhaps fifty or so, but she is pretty. Indeed, Grazide Roche was quite pretty, if somewhat careworn, with her pale complexion, very blue eyes, and blonde hair.
Feeling somewhat emboldened, Andreu said, "Madame, I guess Monsieur Roche is a lucky man. You are good to him, what with helping him with this shop." He smiled at her, but the smile was not returned. Instead, Grazide took his money, deposited the coins into the cash box, then handed over the parcel of sweets.
"I hope you enjoy those," she said icily, not looking at the boy directly.
Andreu smiled again, saying in a mock seductive voice, "Oh, madame, I'm sure these sweets are delicious, but not as deliciously sweet as you." He reached out as she handed over the parcel, grabbing her hand, then said, "Madame, you have been so kind, and as a token of my appreciation, I shall dedicate a special song to you this afternoon." He kissed her hand, took the treats, then exited the shop.
Grazide Roche saw a full spectrum of red. Of all the boorish, undue, unwanted, blatantly forward... "How dare he assault me! I knew one of them would do that! It's in their blood...the licentiousness and immorality...That boy needs to be taught a lesson, but Gilles isn't man enough to do it. So I'll recruit Othan. At least the brother watches out for me when the husband cannot!"
TO BE CONTINUED...Go to Chapter 6
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