It didn't make sense, that is, until recently. A direct communique from Judge Ouimet instructed Phoebus to assign several soldiers to look for Grazide Roche and her brother Othan. No doubt Othan's friend Isore is with them. For now, the trio is wanted for kidnapping, quite possibly murder if Andreu was not found alive.
What did Andreu do to earn such a fate? He was just being his glib, naturally effervescent self, paying Grazide Roche pretty compliments and kissing her hand. Obviously the woman took the innocent gesture as insult, therefore spurring her brother to "teach this Gypsy upstart a lesson."
Of all the asinine junk! We thought all that hatred and animosity towards the Gypsies was behind us. Frollo is dead, and with him went all the hard-nosed attitudes that Gypsies fell outside the 'normal' order thus deserving contemptuous treatment.
How Phoebus wanted to tear himself away, to be with Esmeralda. No, he couldn't. Duty called. Besides, the Comte deVernay is there consoling both cousin and mother. Something has got to give or everything we worked for so hard – getting the Gypsies some modicum of respect and honor – will be for naught. Out in this remote farming community not far from the city, Phoebus ordered his men to search the nearby woods. If those villains needed a more perfect cover for their illicit acts, a dense forest would be it. Then there was the task of searching for Grazide and company, and if Andreu was still alive, he was in grave danger. No time to spare...Please, Blessed Maria...Help us find him alive...Let us find the guilty parities and bring them to justice.
The resounding thud of hoofbeats alerted Phoebus from his reverie. "Captain!," said Sergeant LeSabre, galloping up, "Captain! We've found the boy! He's alive!"
"He is resting. I managed to stop the leg from bleeding – nasty cut he got. And his eye is not as bad as feared. My husband found him by the river then brought him here. Poor boy. Who would do such a horrible thing?"
Marthe, a peasant farm wife, stayed by the bedside, applying soothing herbs to the boy's bruised face. The leg had been bandaged in a crude but serviceable fashion.
"Did you see anyone else in the vicinity?," Phoebus asked Jorges, the old man who managed the farm.
"This boy, along with his friends, was attacked last night by two men. It happened at Chateau deVernay, so I'm assuming the guilty parties may still be nearby."
Phoebus had his men secure the perimeter of the farm out of fear that Othan and Isore were still at large. Apparently their plan to kill Andreu went awry, so it stood to reason that those men would return to the scene of the crime to finish any loose ends.
"I saw only the boy," said Jorges, "He was lying in the grass by the river. He managed to talk some. Said something about two men wanting to hang him, but he got away." Then the old man grew apprehensive. "Captain, what if those men decide to come here? My wife and I are quite old and do not have the means to defend ourselves."
"Do not worry, good man," said Phoebus with a reassuring smile. "My men have your place secure. No one can step one foot on your property without risk of arrest."
"I just thought," said Jorges, "when the boy said he wanted La Esmeralda...Seeing he is Gypsy himself..."
"Andreu is Esmeralda's cousin, and his mother is in town. I've sent for both to come here, and alerted Judge Ouimet that the boy is alive and safe."
In the deepest part of the wood, outside the southern perimeter of Chateau deVernay, Othan cursed his bad fortune. He also cursed his sister who insisted the job be done. But things went haywire last night. He and Isore had that Gypsy brat right where they wanted him.
Cursed heathen upstart! Trying to fight back when Isore hit him square in the face, blackening the eye...Then the boy had to grab my knife, cutting my arm in the process...Then we beat him more, quite unconscious he went...All we had to do was string him up...But no! He came to and fought us again, this time stabbing Isore in the shoulder...Isore got him in the leg...A mighty bad wound...That boy didn't get far on that leg...He's still out there, and this time I'll have him!
"Othan," said an exhausted Grazide, "I bandaged Isore's shoulder, but the wound is beginning to fester. He's grown feverish, Othan. Isore will die unless we get him some help."
Othan slapped his sister in the face. "Shut up! I only brought you out here so we could hide out. Ouimet is on to us, I can feel it. We can't risk being seen, Grazide. I say we stay the night here. No way Ouimet's men will find us here. Then, come first light tomorrow, we head out. There is a boat going out of Paris in the morning. It will dock in the village tonight. If we are fortunate, we can stow away and be long gone."
"But what about Isore? He is weak and will slow us down. I say let me return to Paris. Ouimet does not know my role in all this, neither does my husband. I can get you food and money. If anything, Othan, save yourself!"
"I don't think that is a good idea. Already, your abrupt absence most likely has cast suspicion on us. I would bet that nosy little servant of yours saw us then told your husband. And, if I know Gilles, he has told Minister Ouimet. No, sister, we do not return to Paris. We must be on that boat come morning."
Isore, propped against a tree trunk, his infected shoulder wound crudely bandaged, feebly spoke, "Othan, take Grazide and leave me. Save yourselves and don't worry about me. I will only slow you down."
Othan was incredulous. "I will not leave you here to die, Isore. Here, get some sleep. We'll be safe here. No one will come looking for us here."
Or so he thought...
At a safe distance, carefully concealed in the brush, two Gypsies – Clopin's best spies – watched the trio. The first, Michel, whispered, "We can take them, you know. The rats! Snatching Esmeralda's kinsman like that, beating him, and leaving him to die!"
The second, Yurko, hissed back, "Shh! Don't let them get wise to us. Here, Michel, I'll stand watch while you fetch the others. I suspect these people won't be going anywhere. What did the big one say? Something about stowing away on a boat come morning? They'll stay the night in the wood then leave come the dawn."
"Only," rejoined Michel, "they will not be on that boat...They will not even spend the night here. I'll be back shortly, with Clopin. Just don't give yourself away." Michel, before departing, looked on as Grazide and Othan tended a wounded Isore.
"That one is badly hurt. Good thing young Andreu fought them off. He must've given that one what for." Grinning, he bid his companion farewell then headed back to the Court of Miracles.
Alone, still concealed within the brush, Yurko watched the trio, cursing them all the while. How dare they threaten and harass three innocent boys. At least, this time, the Minister of Justice and a titled gentlemen were on the Gypsies' side. There will be no more "letting it slide" as in Frollo's day. If something like this happened during Frollo's tenure, His Grace would've simply brushed the matter aside, saying that one missing Gypsy is one less Gypsy to worry about.
"Well, we now have justice on our side. Ooh, if we didn't have to turn those three over to Judge Ouimet, when we have our own brand of justice. Yes, in the old days, Clopin would hang those people in a heartbeat. At least – before all of Paris – we will see these villains pay with their lives."
"Where is he? Where is my son?"
Anis, accompanied by Esmeralda and Quasimodo, entered the cramped peasant cottage full of rage and apprehension. Rage because her worse fears had been realized: Her son fell victim to a gadje's insensitive, nonsensical bigotry. Apprehension because of the supposed 'justice' Minister Ouimet promised. Although her niece reassured her Ouimet was in no way like Frollo, Anis knew the ways of the wider society. Even though things had relaxed somewhat in wake of Frollo's death, old perceptions do not die overnight. People still held generations-old prejudices against the Romany. The Rom's activities and movements were still monitored, they still were not welcome in most establishments despite the King's recent edict that tradespeople honor Gypsy patronage. These merchants would rather risk paying a fine instead of serving Gypsies.
Anis also feared the culprits would never be caught; at last report, Madame Roche and Othan, along with a wounded Isore, had abruptly left town. Perhaps they have fled Paris and immediate vicinity altogether. Wherever they are now, Andreu and his friends were still in danger. Othan may decide to seek out the boy, thus completing his murderous deed. For that reason, Baul and Marco were presently safe within Notre Dame's bell tower. Andreu, once he is strong enough to travel, would go to Chateau deVernay, and remain there in the north tower room under heavy guard.
"You see, Tante Anis," said Esmeralda gently, her arm supportively draped around her aunt's shoulders, "there are kind people here. Not everyone hates us, and they are willing to accept us for what we are. This elderly couple opened their home to Andreu, gave him refuge and took care of him. The Comte deVernay offered his home for Andreu's recovery, to keep him safe. Now that's a rarity for titled men to open their hearts to us. Even Judge Ouimet has allowed us a freedom unknown during Frollo's tenure. We still run into indifference, and I'm not pretending everything will be fine for us, for it will not. At least, be thankful Andreu had the courage to stand up to his assailants. If it is any comfort, one of those men is badly wounded, thanks to Andreu's fast thinking and preservation instinct. And Clopin has spread out his spies to help look for those three. They will be caught, Anis, and they will pay for their crimes."
Anis, near tears as Marthe ushered to Andreu's bedside, said, "Well, perhaps I should be grateful so many have come to love my son. Although I warned him that his free-wheeling ways might get him into trouble – and it nearly did – he is young and impetuous. Perhaps this unfortunate incident will make him that much wiser."
She walked up to a prostrate Andreu and openly wept as she gazed upon his bruised face. No, just as old Marthe said, the injuries were not as severe as first thought. Indeed, the right eye was black and blue, swollen shut. The leg wound, thank the gods , was not deep, therefore the boy was not in danger of losing the limb. He will heal in time, the swelling would go down, the gash will close up. Andreu would return to his handsome, exuberant self. That much Anis hoped.
"Andreu," she whispered in the language of the Romany, "it's Mamá."
He stirred himself awake, gazed into his mother's eyes, and whispered back in Romany, "Mamá...I forgot your warning...I paid pretty compliments to the wrong woman...She sent her brother..."
"I know all about it, my son, and I am not angry with you. I'm just grateful you are alive."
"Mamá...How are Baul and Marco? Where are they?"
"They are safe. It is you who needs rest and recovery. I hear the comte is letting you stay at his chateau. I also heard about your performance at his lordship's wedding. I am so proud of you, making friends with a titled gentleman and his lady. Such alliances are important..."
"Mamá...I am sorry I did not listen to you."
"No, no, son. You are young and still do not know all the ways of the world. When you are strong enough, when those gadje are arrested, I shall take you home to Auberville. Patia asked about you everyday, and she is anxious to become your wife."
When he heard that, Andreu managed a smile, a wide toothy grin that belied his apparent discomfort. Already he knew Clopin and company were looking for Madame Roche's brother, and that Phoebus would accompany him to Chateau deVernay. So much to occur in one day...Andreu said, "But I know my friends are safe, and that I have your love – and Patia's."
"Grazide! What have you done? How could you be so stupid?," Othan said angrily, his eyes blazing and nostrils flaring. He rushed to a now lethargic Isore who had ingested some questionable berries Grazide handed him. Isore's breathing shallowed, his pulse dangerously weakened as he immediately went into anaphylactic shock.
Grazide feigned ignorance mixed with concerned. Truth be told, she wanted her brother to believe it was all an innocent accident, but in reality she wanted the wounded Isore out of the way. The man's shoulder wound became increasingly infected; Isore, delirious from the pain, went in and out of consciousness. She knew those berries were toxic, and given Isore's weakened constitution, he would die anyway. The poisonous snack only speeded things along. Why should they, she reasoned, be saddled with a sickly man while they made their getaway. Isore would only slow them down, making it easier for Ouimet's men to find and arrest them.
"He said he was hungry, Othan," she said in a fake worried tone. "I found those berries, but I had no idea they would make him sick. Othan, please be reasonable. Isore was in a bad way, his wound obviously will not heal. He would become a burden to us..."
"Shut up!," cried Othan, his voice reverberating throughout the forest. "My only concern is getting out of here, but not without Isore! He is obviously poisoned, and he may die!"
Grazide was about to strike her brother when a voice deep within the thicket called out, "And too bad for Judge Ouimet – and us! We wanted to see the three of you hang for attempted murder! So now, we'll just have to settle for the pair of you."
Grazide and Othan looked around as to whence the voice came. A faint rustling of leaves and shrubbery followed by the appearance of several burly men confirmed their deepest fears and suspicions – They had been spied upon.
Soon they were surrounded by Gypsies, Clopin's best spies, and their leader was last to approach. "Well, well," said the Gypsy king, "What do we have here? A trio of fugitives from the law. You must be Madame Roche. And you, Othan. And this poor fellow must be your partner Isore."
Clopin immediately sized up the situation, pronouncing, "It seems, Othan, your sister is not only guilty of conspiracy but of murder as well. We saw her gather those tainted berries and give them to Isore. She wanted him dead so he, in his already weakened state what with his wound so badly infected, would not become a burden to her – or to you. Othan, she was only thinking of herself, a peculiar pattern of hers. No doubt is was her selfishness and sense of wounded pride that lured you and Isore into her so called vengeance against an innocent boy. I will tell you now: The boy lives; he and his companions have told us – and Judge Ouimet – everything. Also, the Comte deVernay wants to press charges of trespassing. Not only have you insulted our people, you have also incurred the wrath of the nobility, and of His Majesty! I have a feeling Ouimet has something painful in store for the pair of you. Sad to say Isore may not live long enough to endure what you two will. At least, long last, and there is no Frollo around to let you slide by with this crime, we will have justice. May your God have mercy on your rotten souls!"
Go to the Final Chapter
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