Well, and miracles happen all the time, Frollo isn't here...
Chateau deVernay, Clement's family estate not far from the city, teemed with activity as the numerous guests arrived dressed in their finest. And on that guest list was the most diverse assortment of people. Louis XI, old and ill, who considered Clement a particular favorite, shared the special box reserved for the royal court, high public officials, and the nobility. Judge Philippe Ouimet, resplendent in his black velvet judicial regalia, sat next to His Majesty, as did Lady Edine's parents and family.
The grounds, grand chateau and surrounding buildings burst with festive color. The comte's prized flower gardens, among the most celebrated in all of France, literally bulged with blooms of summer: roses, fragrant lavender, lilies. Trees heavy with fruit and lush foliage, twittering song birds, dancing butterflies with brightly hued gossamer wings, and a brilliantly clear azure sky seemed to exalt their joy.
To the cheers of hundreds of guests, Clement and Edine emerged from the chateau. The happy couple was touchingly lovely in their matching ensemble of deep blue velvet and silk. As the couple made their way to the expansive lawn – where dozens of tables groaned with wonderfully delectable foods and libations – the special entertainment was getting underway.
The Comte and Comtesse deVernay, after the obligatory shaking of hands with His Majesty and Royal court, took their places under the regally appointed, gilt braid-trimmed, open-air tent.
"Lovely ceremony, Clement," said Judge Ouimet. "My only regret is that your parents are not here to witness your nuptials."
"Thank you, sir," replied a beaming Clement, "I, too, wished for my mother and father's presence. Alas, such is not meant to be. If anything, they are watching from the next world."
Philippe Ouimet smiled, paying the new comtesse the utmost compliments. Surely, these wonderful persons are well-matched, and they will bring forth strong, healthy children.
His Majesty leaned over to Clement, asking, "When will we sample those delightful pastries the Roches prepared for the feast?"
The Comte deVernay laughed, saying, "Sire, after the entertainment, we shall feast. I've spared no expense, for what awaits us is truly food worthy of this momentous occasion, and of my most honored and treasured guests."
Indeed, thought Clement, he did spend quite a large sum putting on this lavish spread. The cost of flowers, food, and sumptuous clothing was high enough. However, in the back of his mind, Clement wondered if he had gone along with Edine's suggestion – that is, contracting the new Maison Sucre as purveyors of sweetmeats. While the Roches' work was without peer, something about them, especially Madame Roche, unsettled Edine.
While awaiting for Clopin to introduce the star attraction, the new Comtesse deVernay cast her eyes to the various servants and food handlers putting final touches on the feast. There she saw the Roches, Gilles and Grazide, busily arranging mounds of marzipan swans, candied fruits, and glazed nut tarts onto a heavily elaborate crystal and silver epernge. Who was that person, that almost uncouth man speaking with Madame Roche? It seemed the moment Gilles turned his back, the woman and man immediately and hastily whispered to each other. Edine could see the woman's expression; it turned several shades of disgust. And the man's, all dark and sinister, as if he was ready for a fight. What is going on with those two? Not that it really concerned a lady of Edine's station, but if that man was contemplating violence, the pertinent parties must be alerted.
"Clement," she said, turning to her new husband, "who is that man talking with Madame Roche? I swear every time Monsieur Roche isn't looking, those two immediately whisper to each other."
Clement gazed to where the Roches stood, so did Philippe Ouimet. The mere sight of the man in question piqued the good minister's interest. "That, my dear lady, is Othan LeBlanc, Madame Roche's brother. But he has no business here, unless Monsieur Roche requested his assistance." Judge Ouimet snapped his fingers, summoning Captain Phoebus who responded, "Problem, sir?"
"See that man talking to Madame Roche? I want you and your men to eject him from the grounds. He has no business here, and I suspect Othan LeBlanc may cause trouble. He is to return to Paris at once, and make sure he gets there without incident."
Clement didn't understand. "Philippe, surely you don't think Othan will cause trouble."
Judge Ouimet replied, "Clement, I do not want to take chances. Besides, Othan is a known hothead who will surely start a fight at a moment's notice. I do not want your and Edine's day spoiled."
Grazide Roche, once finished with setting up the sweets table, nodded to her brother. She could also see the goings-on in the deVernay tent. Oh, there they are, those people running all over the place! Why does a man of the comte's class invite such trash? In Frollo's day, this would never happen...
Then she caught a glimpse of him, that smart-mouthed, impertinent brat who earlier today insulted her. Well, to the boy it was a harmless prank, a bit of fun. Just a few sweet words coupled with an innocent kiss to the hand. To Grazide, the boy might as well have viciously raped her. How dare he take such liberties with a decent Christian woman. Frollo was right about them, for they only want one thing from pious, normal women.
"That is him, Othan," she hissed. "He's the one who insulted me."
Othan nodded, noting Captain Phoebus accompanied by several soldiers approaching. "I will take care of him, dear sister. Your husband, I believe, does not know of this young punk's outrage."
Grazide merely replied, "No, and Gilles must never know. He wouldn't do anything even if I told him. He'd just laugh it all off, saying the boy meant no harm. I tell you, Othan, Gilles is getting more pathetic each day, letting those Gypsies come in and buy up all our wares. All the expense and work that goes into our sweets, and for what? To be gobbled up by ungrateful heathens!"
Othan shushed his sister as Phoebus drew nearer. Whatever the King's Captain wanted wasn't clear. Surely Othan hadn't broken any laws, so why is Phoebus singling him out?
"Monsieur LeBlanc," said the captain in commanding tone, "I'm afraid you'll have to leave. Judge Ouimet's orders. You are to return, under escort, to Paris at once."
Grazide was infuriated. She said in couched venom, "Captain, I asked my brother's assistance. This is no simple task, setting up all this refreshment. Besides, Othan has done nothing wrong, so why does he have to return to town?"
"I'm sorry, Madame Roche, but Judge Ouimet – and His Majesty – ordered Monsieur LeBlanc off the property posthaste."
Grazide could do nothing, not go against the King's and Ouimet's wishes. If they wanted Othan out, then they'll have to show positive proof why. Also, she did have one more trump card to play, that is if her husband hadn't interfered. Gilles, overhearing the captain's orders, approached Phoebus, saying, "Sir, I do not wish to cause a scene. If my brother-in-law has to leave, so be it. Besides, I never wanted Othan here. I have all the help I need, what with the hired boys."
He turned to his wife, adding, "Grazide, we don't want any more trouble. Judge Ouimet told us if there are any more problems, we'll be forced to pay a heavy fine. Things are bad enough already; our finances are not in the best of shape. For God's sake, Grazide, for once I demand obedience or else you will find yourself out in the streets without a franc to your name! Now, let the captain escort your brother back to Paris, and you shall help me with the serving. There is much work to be done. Come along!"
Grazide blinked. She could not believe Gilles spoke to her like that; in fact, he had never raised his voice to her, not in all their years of marriage. He meant it, he fully intends to throw her out into the streets if she doesn't keep her mouth shut. Grimacing, Grazide said nothing as Phoebus escorted Othan from Chateau deVernay. Her brother looked back long enough to allow his eyes to meet hers, as if to say, "All is not lost. We shall take care of that Gypsy punk."
"Your Majesty, Minister Ouimet, distinguished guests, and of course, the happy couple – Lord and Lady deVernay," Clopin said to a cheerful crowd. "I would like to thank you, m'lord, for graciously inviting us to perform. You have been exceedingly kind to our people, so...Without further ado, I give you that most enchanting La Esmeralda!"
Thunderous applause erupted as Esmeralda, radiantly beautiful in a clinging gown of deep purple satin and golden tiara in her raven tresses, burst forth in a cloud of pink smoke. To the melodious strains of flutes and mandolins, and the rhythmic pounding of drums, Esmeralda enthralled all with her unmatched terpsichorean feats. As during the Feast of Fools, Esmeralda danced lithely about, letting the gossamer silk scarf float about her as if having a life of its own. She weaved and undulated as if there were no bone in her body; her jet black hair whirled about her lovely bronzed face. All the same, she appeared innocent and teasing.
Edine turned to her husband, saying, "She dances very well. I see Phoebus cannot take his eyes off her."
Clement laughed, replying, "It is said the captain had that same look about him at the festival, when Esmeralda teased Frollo so."
"I don't want to talk about him! He's dead and gone, and good riddance. His very presence would spoil this happy occasion, anyway." Those words came from Louis XI who joyously tapped his toes and nodded his head in time to the music.
After Esmeralda finished her dance,
several jugglers took centerstage, thrilling the audience with their stupendous feats. They were followed by poets, musicians, and, finally, Andreu and his companions.
What Andreu, Baul, and Marco performed was so funny, so screamingly hilarious. Biting satire lampooning one person who, for obvious reasons, could not be present to appreciate the compliment: The late Claude Frollo. Of course, the farce was very loosely based on what happened during the Feast of Fools, but with that personal, comedic twist that sent all present into gales of rip-roaring laughter.
With Marco playing several citizens and Baul performing as the straight man, Andreu launched into a near-perfect impression of the late judge, although the boy had never seen nor met Frollo. What Andreu learned of the man came from Quasimodo, Clopin, Phoebus, and Esmeralda's recollections. Armed with that tiny bit of information, Andreu's Frollo went from feared city magistrate to bumbling buffoon. The highly talented Gypsy youth said in a deep voice, "Oh my, is that her coming towards me? Must be strong...Do not give in to her...Is she...kissing my nose?"
That was based on Esmeralda's recount of her dance at the festival when she teased and humiliated an angry Frollo. Naturally, Andreu stamped his own brand onto Frollo's persona. "And that's a mighty long nose!," he said dreamily, eyebrows wriggling suggestively.
The entire performance lasted a little more than fifteen minutes, and the boys received accolades at the end. The King called for another encore, and Clement tossed over numerous coin-laden bags. Obviously, thought Andreu, the King and His Lordship were pleased with our performance, or else they wouldn't still be laughing their heads off. Gee, they must've really hated Frollo...It's easy to poke fun at him. Besides, he's dead and can't come back to punish me...Esmeralda said I wouldn't get away with this if he was still Minister of Justice.
After wrapping the routine, the boys received a thunderous, standing ovation. What brilliance, whispered the King to Clement and Philippe. "Those youths are remarkable, aren't they?," rejoined Clement as he summoned the boys before the royal court and the comte.
"You, young lads," said Clement, "are commended for a brilliant, biting performance. Why, I haven't laughed so hard in ages. Your take on Frollo was dead-on."
As a token of his appreciation, Clement deVernay welcomed the boys to remain on the estate for the night. "It is getting late, and you three should not have to make the journey back to Paris in the dark. So, what say you put on another, private, performance for her ladyship and myself. Afterwards, I shall prepare a camp for you in the wood. There you shall sleep the night."
Andreu could not believe his luck. He hadn't thought of anything but the honor of performing before the King and the comte. But here was Clement deVernay – a titled gentlemen and advocate for the Romany – requesting a private performance. To top that, his lordship invited the boys to stay the night, in an open-air camp in the nearby wood. He looked at his companions, Baul saying, "Well, why not? Sounds like fun. Besides, I don't mind sleeping out under the stars; we do that all the time anyway."
Esmeralda gave her consent. "I don't see the harm in that. In fact, I think it's wonderful the comte has asked you three to perform for him and his lady, and to stay the night on the estate. Don't worry. I'm going back to Paris with Phoebus. Come morning, I'll send Quasimodo and Clopin to fetch you."
TO BE CONTINUED...Go to Chapter 7
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