Philippe Ouimet listened to Clement's recount of last night's villainy. Of course, this was what Baul and Marco told him, and Clement felt bound to alert the Minister of Justice of the crime. His lordship was bound to his promise; after all, he granted the boys permission to stay the night on the estate, thus they fell under his protection. Now that protection did little good as two men stole their way onto Chateau deVernay, threatened the boys, beat them, and kidnapped Andreu. How they gained access to the property via the eight-foot stone wall and locked iron gate was still a mystery. Judge Ouimet, thoroughly disgusted that the usual suspects were literally under his nose, and perhaps long gone by now, sent forth the order.
"Search every house, farm, church, mill, tavern, and barn. Within the city walls and immediate vicinity. These men had to be on foot, so they could not have gotten far. And we will do this without resorting to violence. The days of burning out those who don't cooperate are over. Find the boy, and pray he is still alive."
Meanwhile, Judge Ouimet wanted to speak to a certain tradesman and his wife. Obviously, if the boys' recollection was right, Othan and Isore are the guilty culprits, and no doubt Grazide is chief conspirator.
"Philippe," said Clement, "what about Esmeralda? She has the right to know her kinsman is missing. Allow me to do that task."
"If you insist, Clement," said Judge Ouimet who readied himself an intense interrogation session with the Roches, "But I do not want her or Clopin to take the law into their own hands. Surely, if Othan and Isore have that boy, you can imagine what would happen to them once Clopin catches them."
Clement wondered about that, suggesting, "Well, why not ask them to help with the search? The Gypsies can get in and out of certain places; they know this city better than most long-time citizens. They have contacts and spies throughout the vicinity. Let them help, Philippe."
"Esmeralda! Come here and let me take a good look at you. Ah, just as lovely as your mother. Of course, our bloodline produces the most beautiful women and handsome men. Now, where's that son of mine? And where is your husband, the celebrated Captain Phoebus?"
Anis, Esmeralda's maternal aunt, breezed into Paris and into her niece's home, chattering non-stop about the weather, the journey from Auberville, the many people along the way parting with their coins just to hear Anis serenade them with song. A strikingly handsome woman in her early thirties, Anis was blessed with the gift of music. Often she would enthrall her audiences with songs of unrequited love and daring adventure. She was the oral historian of her clan, and would gather the children about her, telling them of their people's journey from those lands far to the east into the present-day Middle East then into Europe. Knowledge of the Romany language, culture, and history was tantamount to Anis, who reiterated that there is pride in being Romany.
She surveyed her niece's house with favor, commenting that Esmeralda must love Phoebus that much to marry the man. That, and take the risks to stand up to the likes of Frollo. It pained Anis to learn of her niece's near-death by fire, and the devastation of half of Paris at Frollo's hand. However, she was grateful Esmeralda had the family trait of "grit and spit", that certain spunk and dogged determination which enables one to go up against the Claude Frollos of the world. Such assertiveness is necessary in this slice of medieval Europe. Although Anis and her son had it fairy well in small-town Auberville, there was still the indifference, the snide remarks, the outright harassment on the streets.
"But, Tante Anis" reassured Esmeralda, "Auberville is a mere village. Seeing people like us around makes the villagers suspicious. Paris is huge, so it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. It's even easier than ever now that Frollo or his henchmen aren't around to harass us."
Anis shrugged, saying as her niece handed a cup of much-needed water, "Well, it's that way all over. There isn't a place in all of Europe where we are not wanted. But, that's not why I traveled all the way to Paris. I want to see my son. Esmeralda, where is Andreu?"
"He and his friends will be here," explained Esmeralda. "They went with us to the Comte deVernay's wedding celebration, and put on the funniest routine. His lordship and His Majesty–"
Anis was aghast, dark eyes with surprise. "His Majesty? The King was there, and my boy performed for the King?"
Esmeralda beamed, her jade green eyes glowing with pride. "He certainly did, Tante Anis. Andreu and the boys were so wonderful that the comte invited them for a private performance, to entertain his new bride. They stayed the night, so they should be home any time."
That said, Anis leaned back in her chair and let out a deep, rip-roaring belly laugh. "Well, I'll be! My son, giving a command performance for a titled gentleman and his lady. When that boy comes home, I have something for him. Here, let me show you..."
She reached into her colorful bag and drew out a small parcel. Unwrapping the pink silk handkerchief, Anis said, "I wanted to wait until Andreu returned from his holiday, but now that he's proven to be so worthy, I couldn't wait. This is why I came to Paris, to give him this."
She handed the item to Esmeralda who in turn expected this unusual piece of jewelry. It was a silver medallion suspended from a golden chain. Upon the medallion were inscribed these words: "Patia and Andreu, 1482"
"It is Andreu's wedding gift. When he returns to Auberville, he and Patia will be married."
Esmeralda didn't understand, "But, Tante Anis, I thought he already had a medallion, a gold one. Besides, Andreu mentioned nothing of a bride waiting for him."
Anis laughed again. "Oh, he wouldn't say anything unless it was all confirmed. Patia's father has already blessed the union. All we need is the groom. Oh, and about that golden medallion: That was given to me from Andreu's father long ago, while I still carried the child in my womb. I gave that to my son the day he left home. I told him never to take it off, as it is a symbol of his father's love for him."
The Gypsy dancer smiled broadly, revealing brilliant, perfectly white teeth a duchess would envy. She said, just as a knock was heard at the door, "Then there will be another wedding Phoebus and I will have to attend. And, if he can be persuaded, Clopin can put together the entertainment."
Anis smiled wryly, replying, "Do we have to include him?" With that, both ladies doubled over in hilarious laughter and shared more gossip and reminisces.
Gilles Roche tallied up the expenses for his part in yesterday's wedding feast. Just as he suspected, his expenditures far exceeded profits. With prices of supplies going up, especially the ever-precious sugar and spices, Gilles wondered if it was all worth the effort. Surely, the comte paid the Roches handsomely, but such an enormous sum did little to help the Roches break even. Gilles thought it over: He will have to sell Maison Josèphine to cover his losses. Creditor bills littered the desk – demands for past due payments with threats of repossession. Gilles could stand it no more; the business will have to liquidated. Too much competition from the new, far more efficient Maison Sucre forced Gilles Roche's hand. Grazide will simply have to understand.
So what to do once the business is sold? Gilles thought it over, coming to the conclusion that the best thing was to relocate to Calais, his birthplace, and open a smaller scale shop there. At least he and Grazide would still have a steady income, albeit much less than they were accustomed. They will need to scale down their standard of living, give up a few niceties such as Grazide's penchant for fine velvet frocks and fine wines. "She will understand," Gilles muttered as he shoved the correspondence from his sight.
On this fine summer morning, while Gilles went over the books, Grazide had spent several hours minding the shop. No word on her brother's whereabouts, not since Captain Phoebus' men escorted Othan back to town yesterday. He, and his equally unwelcome friend, Isore, hadn't bothered to come around. Oh well, they are probably sleeping in, most likely the result of a night of overindulgent drinking and carousing. Gilles just wished his brother-in-law would simply leave town and never come back. He hated Othan that much; Othan had a strange influence over his sister that Gilles found so disconcerting.
"Jaquette," he called out, "Tell Madame Roche I'm going out for a while. I shall return before noon,"
The hired girl who helped with the preparation of sweets merely nodded, replying, "Yes, sir. But Madame herself is not here, sir."
"Not here? Why, she's been out front all morning."
"Yes sir, but she left not long ago, with Monsieur Othan."
Now Gilles was alarmed. Why would Grazide simply abandon her duties and run off with Othan? He had to know where they went, so he asked Jaquette, who replied, "I do not know sir. But I did see Minister Ouimet heading this way, and Monsieur Othan rushed in and said something to Madame Roche. Then they left."
Gilles then decided that the best thing to do was to search for his wife, but before he could get out the door, a solider appeared announcing Judge Ouimet's imminent approach.
"What business does Minister Ouimet have with me?," Gilles asked. The soldier replied, "That I do not know," then stepped aside to allow Ouimet entry.
"Gilles," said Ouimet, "I'll come straight to the point. A boy is missing, and I believe Othan is involved. Where is he?"
Gilles, growing suspicious, especially after what Jaquette just told him, said, "Your Grace, I have no idea where he is, but my hired girl saw them – my wife and Othan – leave here shortly before you arrived."
Judge Ouimet looked at Jaquette with questioning eyes. Unlike Frollo whose cold stare inspired fear, Ouimet's "compassionate authoritarian" gaze searched for the truth. Also, unlike Frollo, Ouimet did not resort to brutality; instead he gently yet effectively extracted pertinent information from those he questioned. This was not, in his summation, an occasion to employ torture and fear; rather, Ouimet felt the delicacy of the situation demanded tact. Most Parisians, despite the city's relaxed atmosphere since Frollo's death, still held old attitudes. The mere mention of a Gypsy youth as victim of a kidnapping, possibly murder, would more likely elicit shrugs as if Parisians said collectively, "So? It's not my problem." So what if a Gypsy boy was missing and possibly met with foul play. It's not as if the boy was a regular Parisian – translate that to white, Christian, and high-born. Those at the bottom of the social ladder – peasants, servants, Gypsies – were not worth the time and effort.
Ouimet questioned the girl, "Did you see Madame Roche and Othan leave?"
Jaquette replied, "Oh yes, sir. Monsieur Othan came into the shop, looking a bit worried, sir. He whispered something to Madame Roche, and she left with him. I don't know what he said to her, but she looked shocked."
"Shocked?," asked Ouimet, eyebrows raised at this new revelation. He had an inkling not only Othan and Isore were involved in Andreu's disappearance but Grazide as well. He turned to Gilles who looked completely puzzled.
Ouimet finally said to Gilles, "Last night, at Chateau deVernay, two men stole their way onto the property. They terrorized and assaulted the three Gypsy boys camped out in the comte's wood. One boy was injured, the other missing. The one boy told me the men talked amongst themselves. One man foolishly gave himself and his companion away, by addressing each other by name. The boy swears he heard the names 'Othan' and 'Isore'. The larger man took his mask off after beating the boys. That is when the injured boy got a good look at him. I'm afraid, Gilles, your brother-in-law and his companion have committed a grievous crime, and that your wife is possibly part of the conspiracy. Tell me, Gilles, what happened when those boys came by the shop yesterday?"
Gilles was very much in the dark since he had no idea the shop had customers. "Your Grace," he said, "I was in the back supervising the loading of wares for the comte's wedding. Jaquette was with me most of the time. Grazide was still in the shop, closing up for the day. I had no idea customers came in. Grazide would have told me so."
"But," reiterated Ouimet, "something transpired in this very room, some words exchanged between the Gypsy boy and Madame Roche. Why else would your wife employ her brother to dispatch the boy?"
Now Gilles wished he sold the shop and chucked Grazide out into the streets long ago. Too many times he endured his wife's petty prejudices, her rages, her outright contempt for the less fortunate. Whatever Grazide did this time, Gilles would not stand beside her. She will have to endure this latest ordeal alone. He prayed for a miracle, and it came by way of a lowly servant girl.
"Monsieur Roche, Minister Ouimet," said Jaquette timidly, "If you are speaking of the three boys who came by with the bell ringer, then I think I know what happened."
Both Ouimet and Gilles were more than intrigued; the former said, "Speak, girl!"
"Sir, it was when Monsieur Roche wanted me to go inside to fetch Madame. I could see she was busy so I stayed back until she finished with a customer. He was so handsome, so funny. He flirted with Madame while she wrapped his sweets. He paid her pretty compliments, even kissed her hand. But I don't think the boy meant any harm. I've seen the boy before when he and his friends entertained in the streets, so I know he's not like other boys who flirt with intent to do harm. After the boy left, Madame was so angry. When I delivered Monsieur's message, Madame hit me about the head accusing me of eavesdropping. She swore she would have me dismissed at once for what she called insubordination. That's when Othan arrived, and she told me to begone. But I lurked in the back long enough to hear what she and Othan said to each other. She told him about what the boy did, and Othan promised he'd take care of it."
Not far from town, the old fisherman sat in his boat, waiting for that proverbial first bite. However, for some reason, the fish were not biting, so the elderly peasant rowed back to shore. In process of mooring his boat, he heard a faint rustling sound followed by what he thought were moans of pain.
Alarmed, the man looked about as to the location of the distressed voice. Sounded young...
Parting the tall grass along the river bank, the old man literally quaked when he discovered severely battered boy lying in the overgrown thicket. The boy's injuries were not as bad as feared, but obviously he needed attention and quickly.
"Here, son," said the man. "What happened to you?" He bent down to the boy, offering to help. "Can you get up? Here, lean on me."
The boy, whose left leg bled profusely and right eye bruised and swollen, managed to speak, "Those...men...beat me...almost hanged me...but I got away...Find my...cousin...Esmeralda...and Phoebus..."
Go to Chapter 9
Copyright©2005 by PRP. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright©2005 by PRP. All Rights Reserved.