We walked in, and could see her almost immediately, as usual perched up
on the bar, cheerfully engaging in banter with whatever young fool tried
to take her on.
Clopin waved disinterestedly to his friends, Jehan and Co, already
drunk. They gave a joyous shout at his appearance, and tried to fight their
way through the crowd to come over, but Clopin weaved skilfully through
the throng, avoiding them and instead taking us up to the bar where Colombine
I had learned Clopin did not like these "friends". He had told me they
fancied themsleves "truants", and for the gypsy people, but in reality
they were nothing more than spoilt boys, intent on having as much fun as
they could. I had laughed and said they sounded like him, but he had only
shaken his head gravely. He told me they were very different, for any comradeship
was pure fallacy. They cared nothing for no-one, and their supposed friendship
with gypsies was just an act; they saw it as a means of access to the underworld,
easy women,and debauchery. They would not defend us if we got into trouble
and would deny any acquaintance with us, and furthermore, had no genuine
respect for any of our people. As much as they denied it, their prejudiced
upbringing was rooted within them. Clopin reminded me of how they would
not apologise for insulting my appearance that time. For these reasons
Clopin trusted nor liked no-one, and used them just as much as they used
They respected and feared him, as he represented the very pinnacle
of underworld criminality (which was not true, but they were too stupid
or drunk to see otherwise) They were pawns to whatever game he chose to
play with them, happy to provide service if it would provide them with
a swaggering tale to tell, and let them feel as though they were true protestors
of the system, but Clopin would never entrust them with any of the gypsies'
secrets. However, he had got them involved just enough so that they could
be charged and hung, should anything ever go wrong with the gypsies - by
both Frollo and Clopin.
I had noticed over the weeks that Clopin strongly disliked the Parisians.
His only concession were the children, for children are innocent, but I
knew he resented the townspeople's fear and prejudice of the gypsies. I
could see it in the curl of his lip as they would leave after a performance,
even after they had given him coins. I saw it in the coldness of his eyes
as he watched women cross the street with their children to avoid some
of our people. His indifference to them in general, to what went on in
On the whole, he disliked them all. He performed for them because he
was born to do so, but the only audience he loved were the children and
his own. I would sometimes feel disturbed as I saw him laugh, smile and
shake hands with those boys, knowing it was feigned - for I saw him use
the same smile, laughter and graciousness on the streets of Paris in his
Colombine had told me that at festivals Clopin would do anything for
the sake of fun - no matter how cruel - and because of the festivities
he was able to get away with it, and as a consequence sometimes undesirable
things happened. But it didn't disturb him, for he felt the Parisians deserved
it for all the unjust perseuction of his people.
There was a cruel streak to Clopin, a definite air of coldness, the
potential for great callousness. Perhaps what disturbed me most of all
was that I could see it reflected in myself. I knew we made quite a pair.
But what type, and what type might we become, two such similar beings leading
an entire group of people?
But in the tavern that night I didn't think of these things, just embraced
my friend and pulled myself up on the bar next to her. As usual there were
several gypsies from the Court milling around, the regular clientele. There
was little Cosette behind the bar, looking paler than usual, and extraordinarily
anxious. Madame Paquette grinned and waved at us both and we returned the
compliment, recieving our drinks from Cosette, who looked as though she
were about to speak to Clopin before biting her lip and hurrying away.
I shook my head as I watched her. "She's strange, that little one,"
I said. "She always looks frightened of something."
"She's not that little," Colombine told me. "She's seventeen, older
"You've got to be joking!" I exclaimed.
She shook her head. "No. Isn't she, Clopin?"
"She is indeed," Clopin said. "As for being frightened, I think she's
just shy. She's very quiet, but well worth speaking to."
I didn't answer that. Clopin leaned on the bar and looked around the
tavern. His eyes came to rest on something which evidently held his interest.
I followed his gaze and found a group of women at the end of it, not gypsy,
but young and pretty - and obviously easy. Truant women who spent their
days pickpocketing and their nights seducing men so as to have a bed to
sleep in. I knew men looked, and looked often, it was their way - but I
had not seen Clopin look so steadily or so long since we had been married.
But I turned away, masking my discomfort, to speak again with Colombine.
She had noticed as well, and raised her eyebrows at me, before grabbing
"This reminds me - I have something to speak of to you later on. Don't
forget!" she whispered. I nodded and we resumed conversation.
Meanwhile the group of women were beginning to break up as several
of them gradually found men to hold their arms. Two wandered over to the
bar to get another drink,and Clopin took advantage of it to move over and
speak with them. They smiled at him welcomingly, and within a minute all
three were laughing and talking like they had known each other all their
lives. Clopin had never once stopped being charming and friendly with all
the ladies he met with, and it never bothered me, but this night I felt
it was something different. I felt a hand squeeze my knee.
"Don't worry about it," Colombine whispered to me. "Nothing will happen."
"I wasn't worried!" I snapped at her. She laughed.
"You're staring absolute daggers at those girls. If you're going to
be jealous, make it less obvious."
"I am not jealous!" I hissed at her. "I just think it's extremely rude
of him to talk to them when he's with us."
She giggled. "You're right, it is. Let's drop the roof on his head."
I laughed. At that moment little Cosette again appeared near us, the
look of anxiety doubled on her face.
"Clopin!" she whispered in her meek little voice. "Clopin, I must speak
Clopin of course could not hear her, and she tried in vain to gain
his attention. Colombine and I watched her with interest, but Clopin just
continued speaking to the two ladies, unaware of her.
"Oh for goodness sake," I muttered. "CLOPIN!!!"
Both Cosette and Clopin jumped, startled, and Clopin turned around
to face me, his look questioning. I gestured with my head to Cosette and
he excused himself from the women and leaned over to her.
"What is it, cherie?" he asked, and Colombine and I leaned in
closer to hear.
"I hear this when I take their drinks over to them. They're two soldiers
in here." I saw Clopin tense. "You can't see it, because they're wearing
cloaks. I heard them, they're angry because there are gypsies in here.
I passed by them again a few minutes ago, and I heard them speak of making
arrests. I think they may do something terrible. You have to get your people
out of here."
Her eyes had filled with tears and her face was flushed red. Clopin
nodded, his expression intense, and he turned away from the bar and motioned
for me and Colombine to get down. Clopin finished his drink, keeping his
expression casual, but I saw his eyes flitting around carefully. I surveyed
the tavern too, and caught sight of a glint of silver over in one corner.
By the window two men were seated, their cloaks wrapped around them from
the cold, but one had stretched out his leg and I could see the gleam of
armor on it. Their faces were ugly with the expression of anger and hatred
on them, and I could see that they were chomping for a fight.
"There!" I said to Clopin "Over by the window."
He looked and nodded. "Alright," he muttered. "They've had a few drinks,
by the looks of them. This could get ugly. No sense in getting in a fight
in such a public place. We're going to do the smart thing."
He grabbed hold of a nearby gypsy by the name of Renault and whispered
to him. "Tell all you see there are soldiers here abouts and to leave immediately.
But make sure they DON'T go through the trapdoor in the backroom."
Renault nodded and passed the message on. Within a few minutes gypsies
were beginning to make a stealthy exit.
Clopin turned to me and Colombine. "Come on," he said. "We're leaving
now. Move towards the back exit. Look normal about it."
Colombine led the way, and I felt my heart beginning to pound. Stupidly,
a grin crossed over my face. It was possible this could be a truly dangerous
situation, but I seemed unable to find excitement in it. I began to giggle,
my shoulders shaking with the effort to contain my laughter, although it
could hardly be heard over the din of the tavern. Clopin poked me in the
back, and I swallowed and got hold of myself.
The soldiers must have noticed the rapid disappearance of their chosen
prey, however, for just as we neared the exit they leapt up and threw off
their cloaks, drawing their swords.
The women nearby gave a shriek and the men jumped up in alarm.
"Keep moving!" Clopin hissed.
One of the soldiers called out then.
"Everyone stay where you are! We're looking for gypsy jewellery thieves
who frequent the markets, and we have reason to believe they're in this
Although they probably used this as an excuse to merit the attack on
the tavern, I felt my cheeks go red. Colombine glanced behind her to me,
and I could see a flush on hers as well.
"All gypsies are to stay where they are for questioning. Anyone who
tries to escape will be considered guilty and treated accordingly!"
A couple of the gypsies ran to make a move for the door then and the
soldiers reacted. Swords drawn, they rushed forward and pandemonium ensued.
Women screamed and men shouted, drawing whatever small weapons they had,
and any gypsies who were left ran around, trying to hide amidst the confusion.
Clopin pushed me and Colombine into one of the back rooms, the exit now
entirely blocked off. A couple of the truant boys ran past screaming "the
soldiers are coming!" and Clopin grabbed hold of me and pushed me down
behind a barrel in the corner.
"Stay down!" he snapped. Then as the soldier approached, he grasped
Colombine and pulled her into an embrace, kissing her vigorously, pushing
her body down over the barrel I hid behind.
I heard a soldier pause at the doorway and give a snort of disgust
before moving on. There was silence then, the only noise coming from the
front of the tavern where the fight still raged. Clopin released Colombine
and she sat up, gasping and laughing.
"Clopin, I never knew you felt this way!" she giggled. I, on the other
hand, was not amused. Words were beyond me, feelings it seemed, were beyond
me, for I didn't even know what I felt right then except I hadn't liked
watching him kiss her.
"Shush!" he said "It's not over yet."
He again grabbed me roughly by the wrist, and led us both into the
room where the trap door was. He opened it quickly and pushed us unceremoniously
down. "Go straight back to the tents," he said. "Do not stop once, and
do not dare turn back. I have to go make sure everyone is out alright."
And with that he let the trap door drop. We were left in darkness,
and over the way I heard Colombine begin to giggle.
"Come on!" she said, groping for me and pulling me down the passage.
"But - Clopin - he went - " I stammered.
"He'll be fine" she said cheerfully. "He gets caught up in those kinds
of things often. As long as he works with his body and doesn't run off
at the mouth, he gets out fine. The problem is, he never can resist making
some kind of infuriatingly witty remark. But he'll be fine."
I pulled my hand out from hers and didn't answer. For some reason I
was still feeling edgy and disturbed. Colombine didn't appear to notice,
however, and continued:
"Most of the times I join in, but I guess since you're here, he wanted
me to get you back safely."
"I can fight!" I said angrily. "I can hold my own! I'm not afraid of
She laughed. "Don't take it like that!!! He's just watching out for
you, you should be grateful!"
But I wasn't. I felt upset and unsettled. Colombine strode on ahead,
laughing over the excitement, but I dragged behind, sulking and cranky.
"Oh yes!" she said. "I remember! I have to talk to you about your relationship
"That's the important thing you want to talk to me about?" I asked
"Yes!! And it is important!! Very important!! Come on, we'll go sit
in my tent for a change."
We arrived with her still giggling, and I still pouting. She poured
us both a drink and we settled down on the cushions.
She took several deep breaths and calmed down a little.Then she focused
her attention on me. "You still haven't had relations with him, have you?"
I blushed and shook my head. She shook hers also.
"Herli - you've been married for a month and a half. Don't you think
it's getting slightly ridiculous?"
"I don't know!" I burst out, angry at this intrusion. "Things are going
so well between us, I don't want to ruin it by forcing my body to do something.
He's - I trust him. He's my friend. But I can't make myself do it."
She sighed and raised her eyebrows.
"Besides which - he hasn't even tried anything. He doesn't attempt
to touch me like that anymore."
"I bet he doesn't!" she said dryly.
"What do you mean?"
She sighed again. "Look, Herli - surely you noticed the way he looked
at those women tonight? Well, I've been noticing that for a couple of weeks
now. Never mind him being charming and all kissy-handsy, Clopin's just
like that and he always will be. But I'm sure you noticed that tonight
it had a different feel about it. I used to watch him talk to women like
that when he had a mind to bed them. Before he was making a concentrated
effort to not flirt, to make it clear he was taken and no longer available.
But slowly, that resistance is being worn down. You know Herli, if you
only would, he'd never desire another woman again. I know the way you two
talk to each other, I've seen how close you've grown. And I know he finds
you maddeningly attractive. He told me himself he hasn't been stirred like
that by a woman - "
"You spoke to him about this?" All through her speech my temper had
been rising, but this last shocked me. She looked at me, surprised by the
savagery in my voice.
"Yes, yes I did."
"Well - a couple of days ago, it - "
"Well in his Puppet Cart of course. I went to visit him."
I took a deep breath. "You were in his cart?"
She looked more surprised still. "Yes. I often go there. We eat together."
"And you discussed this, the two of you? Discussed what goes on behind
our closed doors?"
She looked shocked. "Well, Herli, it wasn't intrusion. He wanted someone
to talk to, and I thought he needed to talk."
"Tell me everything."
She looked exasperated now. "That's what I'm trying to do, dear. If
you'll stop interrupting me, I can!"
"Alright, alright," I grumbled.
"Thank you! Anyway! He says he cares about you too much to force himself
on you, and he doesn't particularly want to fool around with other women,
but he thinks he's going to burst! That little display in the tavern wasn't
deliberate. It wasn't an attempt to make you jealous. It was just Clopin
smelling other women and being too frustrated to ignore it. I told you
his patience would wear out. It's wearing out now. Soon he will, and it
won't be you and then he won't be able to stop."
"And much joy to him too!" I snapped, feeling very sorry for myself.
"Herli, you have to understand we're talking about a man who hasn't
been without a woman longer than a week since he was fourteen. He thinks
you're divine, and I know you think he is, but all this pushing him away
is just making him more receptive to the charms of other women. The worst
of it would be if it was with one of the girls from the Court. Or more
"Look, I appreciate your concern, but to be honest I couldn't care
less," I snapped, pretending to turn my attention to the embroidery on
the pillows next to me. "I really don't care if he sleeps with all the
women of the Court, it's nothing to me."
She put her hand on mine. "It will be. Not only will it ruin any future
chance the two of you have, the women won't respect you. They know Clopin
has a staunch heart, and for you to not have held it will make you less
than a woman to them. They won't listen to you and they'll make life difficult
for you. Trust me, in this situation it's not enough to just be friends."
I wiped away the tears which had sprung into my eyes. "And what about
the kiss the two of you shared? Was that deliberate or was it just male
"Alright, I was a little surprised by that too. Maybe he wanted you
to see it, but I think more than anything it was just to dissuade the soldiers.
I've told you, he and I share no interest in each other, apart from being
I couldn't think of anything to say. The truth is, I didn't want Clopin
to sleep around either, but I also wasn't sure I could sleep with him myself.
I knew I cared about him very deeply, but I wasn't sure how.I'd changed
so much since coming to Paris my feelings were in a whirl and I needed
more time to sort them out.
Colombine squeezed my hand sympathetically. "Look, Clopin told me he's
going to give you a few weeks more, and I think that's more than fair.
I really think you should try hard, Herli. I also think you should go and
visit Abigail. You know who she is, right?"
I nodded. Abigail was the Court's resident "wise woman". Ancient and
wizened, she sat in her tent and the gypsies would go and seek her counsel
in times of trouble. I had at first thought she was a bad cliche, but apparantly
everything she predicted came true, and all the advice she gave was good.
"Take Clopin with you. You won't have to explain anything to her, she'll
know. But do it, Herli. And do it soon."
I gulped and nodded again, wiping my eyes. Colombine gave me a hug.
"There now, everything will be alright, you'll see. I wasn't sure at
first, but I am now. You two are meant to be together."
There was noise from outside the tent and we looked to see what it
was. It was Clopin, grinning and a mess. He burst into the tent and raised
his hands above his head.
"Clopin Triumphant!!!" He exclaimed, and threw himself onto the cushions
"Ahhh" he sighed, stretching his legs out. Colombine jumped up, and
giggled, pulling on the front of his tunic.
"Come on, tell me everything, Clopie!! What happened??"
He pushed her hands away. "My dear Colombs, let me tell you that your
Clopin was dazzling!! Right into the middle of it I leapt, and I kicked
and punched and fought, and it was a glorious mess!"
"What about the soldiers?"
"What about them? They were long gone by then. It was a free for all."
I looked at him in surprise. "You mean you just went in and joined
in the fight? For no reason?"
He sat up, mopping sweat from his brow.
"Yes! Well - they were there, I was there, what else could I do?"
I shrugged. "Men. They're beyond me."
Colombine, meanwhile, was still giggling. She put her hand on his upper
arm, feeling his muscle.
"Working out some of that male aggression, eh, Clopin?"
"I have a lot to work out, Madame!" he sniffed. And he flexed his muscles
for us. His eye was beginning to puff up and his mouth was swollen. His
tunic was torn in several places and I could see blood seeping through
"Look at that!" I scolded, coming closer to have a look at the wound.
"Oh yes, I seem to recall falling on something sharp," he smiled.
I made him pull off his tunic, and used it to wipe away the blood.
We looked at it carefully and decided it was only a flesh wound, but I
still wanted to get it cleaned up.
Clopin leapt to his feet, his blood still racing from the excitement
of the fight, his energy seemingly boundless. We bade goodnight to Colombine
who was still laughing over the events of the evening, and turned to go.
But at the tent flap Clopin suddenly turned around again.
"Oh by the way, my lovely ladies," he said in a tone of forboding.
"I had some time to make a few enquiries. You two frequent the markets,
don't you? You wouldn't know anything about these 'gypsy jewel thieves'
plaguing the stalls?"
I could feel my cheeks turn red and I looked at the floor. Colombine
did the same, and with Clopin standing in the doorway, a silhouetted figure
with his hands on his hips, we didn't have the nerve to even giggle.
He shook his head and groaned. "Just please don't get caught, you female
I was yanked from where I stood and with his now useless tunic wrapped
around his arm, we made our way back to the tent.
"You're an absolute mess," I told him disapprovingly. "Look at you,
all bloodied and beaten."
He laughed. "You needn't worry about me, cherie. I gave as good
as I got, I assure you! There are boys going home with a lot more than
a black eye and a cut arm!"
"Well I should hope so, otherwise you've nothing to justify ruining
a perfectly good tunic."
He picked a loose and blood-soaked flap of it up from his arm and examined
it closely. "Do you really think it's ruined? It can't be fixed?" I whacked
him and he winked at me.
"Here, let's go past the Center," he said.
"But it's right out of our way!" I exclaimed.
"Yes I know, but many will still be up, and this is a good opportunity
to show all the girls my muscles, while I have no tunic on!!"
"Oooh!" I marched him to the tent. Once there I dressed his wound with
herbs and wrapped a fresh piece of linen around it.
"We'll have to change it every day, and clean it too," I told him.
"Otherwise it will become infected, and will have to be chopped off!!"
He made a pretended face of fear.
"By the way..." I began casually as I tied the dressing. "Colombine
suggested we go and speak with Abigail tomorrow."
"Oh did she?" he asked me, just as casually. "What did you say?"
"I said I'd speak to you."
"Well you've spoken to me." I stopped what I was doing and we looked
at each other.
"So, let's go and speak with her." I made the decision.
He kept looking at me as he said, "Alright. We will."
The next day we parted in the square, agreeing we would speak with Abigail
that evening. My thoughts wandered as to what the old woman would say,
as I went into a fabric store and admired the pretty cloths there. Perhaps
she would give us both advice that would miraculously cure the situation
- and perhaps she wouldn't.
I'd like to stress that on this day I had done no stealing whatsoever.
My pockets were entirely empty, and I wandered the store with a clear conscience.
What happened next was entirely due to the prejudice of the Parisian woman.
I had stopped to admire a beautiful length of red velvet and ran my
hands over it lovingly. I would loved to have owned just one gown made
out of this fabric. It didn't even have to be a whole gown. It could be
a bodice. Or even a pair of gloves. But I wanted it. The next thing I knew
my hands were being slapped away, and a heavily powdered and scornful face
was thrusting itself into mine.
"Take your hands off that, you little thief!!" she screeched, and I
backed away in surprise. It was the storekeeper, whose eyes I had noticed
watching me sharply as I'd wandered the store.
Foolish pride came to my defence and I drew up and glared at the woman
in the eye, though she was taller than me.
"Excuse me, Madame, but I am no thief!! And what have I done to deserve
that title in any case? I came into your shop with the sole intention of
purchasing this fabric. However, due to your unnecessarily cruel treatment
of me, I have changed my mind and will now bid you good-day."
© Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission