Chapter Seven

We finished off the wine, which I was not so used to as the others, and which left me feeling quite dizzy. I stacked up the plates in preparation to wash them, and then Clopin leaned forward and gracefully picked up his purse again.
"I forgot to mention madame, that any money I earn is solely my own money. I may give you some if the fancy takes me. That's the way it's done here."
Colombine laughed. "Very tricky, Fool!" she said. "You'll have to watch him, Herli."
"Indeed I shall," I said slurrily. "Or I shall be quite run around."
I moved to collect the plates and take them to our washtub, but Colombine scooped them artfully up from me.
"Here I'm your guest so I shall do that," she said quickly, silencing my protests. "I shall invite you to my tent for supper and you can clean my dishes!"
I accepted that.
"In the meantime, Trouillefou, I suggest you put your lady to bed. She's to get up early tomorrow and the wine has evidently gone to her head," with a glance at me.
"Rubbish" I said snappishly, though it certainly had.
Clopin chuckled and I fancied I heard condescension in it, which made me feel very snappy. He went to take my arm, and I shoved it away.
"I can walk by myself, with no man to help me!" I said, feeling rather like my old self. Colombine tactfully made her way to clean the dishes then, and I tottered into the tent,Clopin keeping closely at my heels. I heard him draw in a breath when he saw the way his tent looked now, but I couldn't tell if it was a breath of approval or otherwise. I didn't care right then, I was beginning to feel drowsy. He guided me to the bed and asked would I be alright to change by myself, or would I need help. I sat up then, feeling quite alert.
"You plan to take advantage of me!!" I snapped, aware all the time I was being very unpleasant, but seemingly powerless to stop it.
"Rubbish madame, it would be too easy. You have nothing to fear tonight, I sleep in a friend's tent."
"A friend named Isabelle?" I asked nastily, and his expression hardened.
"Damn Tante Marie and her big mouth to hell!" I heard him mutter. He rubbed a hand through my hair and closed with a "Good night mam'zelle. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."
Then he was gone, and I was left to myself. I went to crawl under the coverlets, but it occurred to me then that perhaps this bed should not know me until I was married. With those thoughts I curled up on one of the big cushions, and fell deeply to sleep.

The next day I awoke groggily with only one thought on my mind: Today is the day. The day I have been built up towards for the past eight years. The day I prayed would never come. And here it is.
I opened my eyes to the image of two enormous smiles in my face. I jumped in shock and rubbed my eyes, wiping away the sleep. When I took my hands away I saw the giant smiles belonged to two faces - Colombine's and Tante Marie's. They were clearly here to help me prepare.
"Rise and shine, girl!" Tante Marie said happily. "We need to get you ready for the big day!!"
I only groaned and hid under the cushions. Colombine pulled me out by my ankles, and Tante fed me coffee and hot rolls.
I sat, sulking over the delicious coffee, feeling very very sorry for myself. Tante bustled around, marvelling over the pretty things I had brought with me.
"What a beautiful trousseau you have, little one!!" she exclaimed, examining my crockery.
"It should be. My mother and I worked on it for eight years," I said crossly, and she looked reprovingly at me.
"Only smiles today, missy!" she said, more sharply than before. "The others won't be impressed to see a sulking queen."
I was in too black a mood to even smile at her, I just went on mulling over my coffee.
Colombine came over to me then, a large smile on her face, one hand behind her back.
"I heard it is also your birthday today, Herli," she said.
"Mmmmmm" I said, pouting, further depressed.
"I have something for you, that you can wear today on your wedding day, as a birthday gift from me." My eyes went wide. To think this lovely girl, who I'd only met yesterday, should be thoughtful enough to give me a present!!!! I was touched, and oddly enough, a little embarrassed, for I knew it would not have occurred to me to do the same had our roles been reversed.
"Oh Colombs!" I said. "I couldn't possibly accept it!!"
She frowned a little. "You can and you shall," she said decidedly. I knew her feelings would probably be hurt if I refused it, so I looked into her eyes and thanked her gratefully.
"Now, it's only a little thing, don't look so flattered!" she said, laughing. "It's something that I have always loved, and and I can tell from the way you deck your arms you love jewellery, so this will make a good present for you." She took her hand from behind her back, and opened it to reveal an upper arm bracelet in bronze with a triangular garnet pressed into it. My eyes lit up. It wasn't gold and it wasn't ruby, but it was beautiful, and it was jewellery. It was also a gift of friendship from someone who had no reason to offer me it. I hugged her fiercely.
"Thank you, Colombs, it's beautiful!"
"Hey now, don't be so emotional," she said, hugging me back. "It's semi-precious at the best, and second-hand!!"
"It doesn't matter. It's more than that. I only hope you don't hate me when you get to know me better."
"I'm sure we'll be fine," she laughed. I hoped so.
"Alright you two, the day gets older, and we no readier. Let's start preparing you, child. Where's your bridal gown?"
"In my trunk, Tante." I wasn't feeling very fond of Tante that day. She was being very bossy, and making me feel very cross.
"Well, hurry up and get it then, girl!!!!"
Colombine rolled her eyes at me, as I got huffily up to get my gown. In India brides are beautifully decked out in all colors of the rainbow and elaborate ornamentation. We didn't know how they did it here, so although my dress was an elaborate copy of the style worn here, it was multi-colored and lavishly embroidered.The bodice was a brilliant red with black and gold floral patterns, and the skirt was done in shining strips of different shades of blue, green, purple,orange and red. Although my mother had not been able to sew it together until six months previously, when it was pretty much official I had stopped growing, she had been planning, collecting the material, and preparing it for the last four years. Tante and Colombine gasped when I carefully wrapped it from the scarves which had protected it on its journey here.
"It's beautiful!" Colombine breathed.
"I've never seen anything like it," Tante said.
I felt very proud for my mother then. But another concern had entered my mind. "Is it too much?" I asked anxiously. I didn't at all mind having the finest gown, unless - "will they laugh at it?"
"I don't think anyone will have the stupidity to laugh at it! It's just lovely," Colombine said. 
"If they do it will only be the women, and only out of jealousy because they may never have one so fine!" Tante said firmly.
That satisfied me, and I was still conceited enough to not mind the other women being jealous, especially since none had been so nice as to even say hello.
Colombine looked down at her green dress. It was very prettily made, but very plain, and she stuck out a mournful lip.
"We will all look quite dull next to you!" she said. I looked at her and could see it wasn't jealousy that made her say this, just the normal feminine wish to look beautiful. "Oh well," she said merrily, "it's your wedding, we musn't outshine the bride!!"
I made a decision then. "Nonsense, Colombs! As you're my friend and will be with me today, you must look beautiful too!! Let's see if I haven't anything to dazzle you up!"
I grabbed her hand and we went over to my trunk.My mother had had sense enough to make me garments in colors besides red, although I had protested it, and it wasn't long before I drew out some beautiful things. Colombine was taller than me, but we were around the same in waist and breast size, and we quickly replaced her bodice in a darker green, and of a better cut and material then her own. I found a gold embroidered green scarf and we fastened it around her waist. I loaned her a pair of my gold painted slippers, and because they were open-toed and heeled, they fitted her easily. She darted quickly off to her tent and came back with her own store of brass jewellery and we had a lot of fun decking her out in it.
I got a slightly sick feeling in my stomach as we did these things. As much as I had changed in the last year, I had still never shared my personal possessions with anyone, and I wondered slightly what was coming over me.I wasn't one-hundred-percent sure I wanted to do it, but looking at Colombine's eager smile, I thought this *is* a good thing. Friends share with each other. Paris *had* changed me, it seemed, but not in the way I thought it would.
"Are you finished now??" Tante asked impatiently.
"Yes Tante Marie!!" we said wearily.
"Good. Let's get the actual bride ready now."
Together they helped me into my gown. Tante laced the bodice up very tightly and I gasped, and frowned at her, though she didn't seem to notice. I put on the good and precious jewellery my mother had given me, and slipped a unicorn talisman into a pouch which I hid amongst my skirts. I pulled out the make-up I had brought with me. They didn't wear make-up here, but I decided I would like it for today, anyway. I outlined my eyes in kohl, and my lips in red paint. I rubbed some light red powder on my eyelids and felt very pleased with my reflection in my glass. Then I did Colombine's for her, though not so elaborately.
"I don't know how you can stand to wear this paint," she said, as I rouged her lips lightly.
"It looks well enough for today, dear, it is not so noticeable against your elaborate gown, but do not make a habit of it. You'll be labelled a whore," Tante said knowingly.
My first urge was to say I didn't care what people thought of me, but I thought better of it. Tante was a real ogre today and I would not have been surprised if she had slapped me for a remark like that.
I finished putting on my jewellery, and made ready my head-dress. Tante stopped me. "You won't need that girl, you'll be presented with one when you're married."
"Oh?" I asked.
"Yes!!" Colombine said, dancing a little. "It's very lovely. A little bronze crown and the great mystery of the court - is it a real ruby or just a piece of pretty red glass? Nobody knows!!" She giggled and continued her little dance. I got up, and we held hands and danced round and round in a circle, giggling like little girls.
Tante clapped her hands together sharply. "That's enough now!" she snapped. "Stop fooling around!" We did stop obligingly, but when Tante turned around again, Colombine put her hands on her hips and did a little mime of her. I laughed and Tante looked around with a roar in her eyes. After that we sat down quietly, although all the time I was feeling very cross that Tante had taken it upon herself to act as my mother.
Tante instructed me on what I would be expected to do, and as the day grew longer I grew increasingly nervous. Despite my attempts to hide my anxiety, I began to pace restlessly, up and down.
"Don't be nervous!" Colombine laughed as she watched me.
"I'm not nervous!!" I said snappishly. "I merely grow bored with waiting!!"
"And here we all thought you didn't want to marry him!! Looks like his charm has worked despite yourself!!"
"I don't want to!" I said in frustration. I had grown so nervous my temper was short. I thought my snappish tone would surely have some negative effect, but Colombine merely laughed.
"How much longer?" I groaned. Not long at all, it turned out, for immediately after I said this a voice from the tent called out:
"Hey there! Are you ready to go?"
"Absolutely!" Tante replied, putting aside her sewing and grasping me firmly by the hand.
"Marvellous," I moaned unenthusiastically, forgetting that just a minute ago I had been champing at the bit for this moment to arrive. Colombine rasped my hand and winked at me.
"Everything will be fine," she whispered soothingly. "You'll see. It will all be fine."
 

Whoever had called out to us was not still there when we left the tent. In fact as we made away toward the center of the Court, I saw naught but myself, Colombine and Tante Marie. I realised they must all be there in the big circle, waiting for us to arrive.
"Yikes!" I said to myself, beginning to feel hot and uncomfortable. "From this day forward you will no longer be a free woman!"
"If we were above and people heard you talking to yourself like that, they'd lock you up, my dear," Colombine teased me. I could only roll my eyes and squeeze her hand tighter.
They both left my side then to move forward, leading me in. I squared my shoulders,took a deep breathe and walked sedately into the Circle.
Every Gypsy in France must've been there, and it was a daunting sight.A marvellous mixture of colors and faces and expressions, the majority positive. For several moments no faces were in focus, but then I noticed a few of the older women nearby smiling, and realised that all eyes were on me. It had been so long since I had performed for an audience I had almost forgotten the feeling of everyone looking at you. My fear slowly dissipated as I walked confidently forward, my head held proud and high. I tried to keep a pleasant expression on my face, but I couldn't force a smile.
We headed through the crowd up to the "stage" where all the "announcements" or hangings should the case be, happened. I could Clopin standing there, in a fresh tunic - one in far better shape than usual. I could see they'd decked the Court in flowers, along with the usual ornamentation of colorful fabrics and hangings, and nearby us, the wedding-cum-birthday feast was being prepared nearby. But it had been left for the moment, and all the attention was on the stage as I climbed the steps towards it. It was just Clopin and I up there, and a large pitcher filled with wine. He beamed at me as I approached him, and took my hand when I got close enough.
"You look ravishing," he whispered in my ear. I could only nod in reply, my stomach was turning up in knots. More than ever I was wishing I wasn't there. I didn't even want it to be over with, I just wanted it to not be happening at all. I gulped and could feel tears pricking my eyes.
He turned to the audience. "My friends! Today is a wonderful day in Gypsy history, for it is today that your favourite King - " they laughed at that "-that *is* me, in case there was any doubt!! Today I take a wife and a new queen!!" There was much cheering to that, and I took another deep breath, an calmed myself.
"Now, we'll get this boring bit over with quickly, so we can start the drinking and merriment!" A roar of approval, from the men mainly, though the women were certainly amused.
Flamboyance was as much a part of Clopin as his skinny legs. Addressing the audience, there'd been much thrusting of arms and expression of face. Turning towards me then, his gestures were just as expansive, and his smile was huge, though I thought a little *too* huge to be genuine. I couldn't read his eyes, and that aroused in me another quiet little panic. It made me aware he wanted to marry me about as much as I wanted to marry him. It seemed apparent we could be friends - but live together as husband and wife?
He grasped my hands tight and whispered to me, "You know what to say, love?"
I nodded.
His voice rose loud enough for the whole Court to hear.
"I, Clopin Trouillefou, King of the European Gypsies, swear in the blood of my mother and father that I marry Herlikin-Elise DuPre in good faith, and that she will hereafter be recognised by myself and all as my one wife."
I paused, collecting my nerves so that my voice should not crack and reveal any emotion to my new tribe.
"I, Herlikin-Elise Dupre, Daughter of the King of the Oriental Gypsies, swear in the blood of my mother and father that I marry Clopin Trouillefou in good faith, and that hereafter I will be recognised as his one wife, and that I shall be good and true to him until my dying day."
"And bear my sons!" Clopin said grinning, to laughter from the audience. I swallowed my tears.
Puppet appeared then, and Clopin plucked the large gold earring from his wooden ear.
"Hey, that's mine!" Puppet shrieked indignantly and there was another amused roar from the gypsy court.
"Not anymore!!" Clopin scolded, whacking Puppet away. "My wife must wear this now!"
Up until that point I had worn my two gold hoops in my right ear, as was the custom for unmarried sgzany women. Clopin leaned forward and pierced my left ear with his gold hoop, and I bit my lip at the pain. He plucked the second gold hoop from my ear and replaced the one in his left with it. Puppet got the other hoop. According to custom, Clopin should've worn mine in his left and his own in his right, but I supposed the King could make his own rules. He lifted up the pitcher of wine and took an enormous swig from it. He offered it to me and I drank from it also. Then holding it together, we threw it to the ground. As it shattered, a huge cheer went up from the watching Gypsies. We were now husband and wife.
I felt slightly numb as Clopin waved and bowed, holding my hand so that I bowed with him. I gasped then as he swept me up into his arms and carried me down into the crowd. They danced around us as we made our way over to the feast where he plonked me down on the cushions, and kneeling down besides me, kissed me hard on the lips. I was reminded briefly of Raghu when Clopin's tongue entered my mouth, for he had been the first and only man to kiss me that way before, and I blushed as Clopin's kiss grew harder and more full, cupping my face in his hands, but the crowd only shouted approval. He released me then, and laughed as he friends clasped his hands and thudded his back. Colombine ran up to me and hugged me hard.
"A married woman!!" she shouted gleefully. Don't remind me, I thought. But there was little getting away from it.
The feast raged long into the night, with a lot of excessive eating and drinking, as the men grew rowdier and more and more cheerful. I myself could barely eat anything, but I drank far more than I was used to, and briefly forgot my woes when Colombine swept me up to dance with the other women, who had drunk far too much themselves, and who were too caught up in the merriment of the moment to bear me a grudge that night.
Then it was Clopin I was obliged to dance with, as the others circled around us, and I even enjoyed it as we spun dizzyingly around the court. They made a path for us we danced down and I realised then we were at our tent, and Clopin had whirled me inside while the others clapped, and then shut our flap, before moving back to the court center to continue their party.
My brief cheerfulness vanished instantly as I realised what was now to come.
Then Clopin was kissing me again, the drink making them quite aggressive, his long arms wrapping themselves around me. Tears blurred my vision as I tried to respond and found that I couldn't. I knew that I had no rights to push him away, he was my husband now, and this was something that had to be done.
He paused briefly when he realised I wasn't exactly enjoying what was happening, and removed his hat and gloves. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, then kicked off his shoes. I could only watch in a kind of stupefied trepidation. He smiled at me gently and kindly, and I knew in his way, he understood the emotions I was going through.
Tante Marie had left incense to burn while we were out, and the tent smelt sweet. The soft orange glow of the candles made everything shimmer softly and warmly.The bed looked soft and comfortable. Had I been there under other cicumstances, I would have found it quite cosy. As it was, I stood stiffly in the center of it all, my body quite frozen.
Clopin stretched, and pulled off his tunic. Wearing only his hose now, I could see the state he was in very clearly, and it only made the butterflies in my stomach flitter all the more. He went and sat on the bed and smiled at me warmly, holding out his hand.
"Come here, little one," he said kindly.
I tried to obey and found I couldn't.
"I can't," I said hoarsely.
"Of course you can, ma cherie. It's easy, and I'll be very gentle, I promise."
"No I can't," I repeated, tears again swimming in my eyes.
"Who knows? You might even like it." I couldn't answer then, just shook my head.
I guess he understood then that I was more or less glued to the spot, for he stood up and lifted me quite easily, carrying me over to the bed. He placed me down, very gently, and stretching his long body over mine, began to kiss my face and neck again, his hands wandering, and then beginning to fiddle with the strings of my bodice. I could feel him pressing very hard against my thigh, and all of a sudden I thought of the faceless Isabelle, and I was horrified by men - how they didn't need love to sharpen their passion,and even when they loved another, how easy it was for them to be with a different woman.
My hands suddenly grasped his and made an effort to push them away. He stopped kissing me and looked at me, a frown of halted eagerness passing over his features.
"I thought you came to me with a broken heart," I whispered tearfully, "or is it her face you see where mine is?"
He stared at me for a second, pure shock on his face.It was as if I had thrown cold water all over him, for he was no longer aroused. He sat up, running a hand through his hair, and I sat up also, wiping my cheeks. He let out a deep breath, his passion cooling down completely and shook his head.
"Mam'zelle, you're obviously not ready for this."
I didn't respond,but I drew my loosened bodice tighter around me.
"Men and women work differently - " he began.
"I know." I said dully. He looked at me again, and sighed once more, wiping the sweat from his brow.
"Alright, sweet," he said, turning to me. "For now - we're just friends. I won't force this on you tonight, if you truly do not want it so much. But I *will* be sleeping in my own bed, and I won't allow you to sleep elsewhere. And if, during the night, I should put my arm around you, you'll just have to deal with it."
I felt a flood of relief wash over me. "Thank you," I said quietly, my voice still hoarse. I got up quickly and went over to my trunk to get out my nightgown. He watched me, then turned away with a sigh, shaking his head, when I looked shyly at him. I changed quickly and came back to the bed, crawling under the covers. He pulled off his hose, not in the least embarrassed (and he had no reason to be) and got into bed with me. He blew out the candle and we were in darkness then. So began my first night as a married woman.

We didn't consummate the marriage the next night, or the night after, or for many nights after. But we did settle quickly into an established pattern. Like most gypsies, I would rise early and make Clopin and myself a large breakfast. He would be working all day and I was mindful of this, so I always had supper hot and ready for him. As disgusted as I was to admit it, I was already making a good wife. I didn't visit Tante Marie for several days, still annoyed at the way she had behaved on my wedding day, though if this was legitimate irritation, or just me behaving like a spoilt brat,I was reluctant to judge.
I was far too restless to stay put though, and I wondered the court often, gradually getting to know the people I was living with. Colombine often joined me on these trips, and through her friendly talk and questioning we soon came to be very good friends. I gradually started to trust her more, and opened up about myself on many points, such as the kind of life I led back in India, how exactly Clopin and I had come to be engaged, and I even told her I'd loved once.
We visited each other's tents during the day, cooking, sewing, sharing, and I can't even begin to say how good it was to have young female companionship. She was of basically the same disposition as me (that is wicked at heart and full of fun, though my exterior didn't exactly show this at that early time) and she cut me down a peg or two as well, so that I wasn't so proud or cold with her as I was with others, and we spent much of our time together laughing, though mischief making wasn't to come until later. I was still, in a way, settling in.
As for how things were between Clopin and myself - they were moderately well. We didn't have much time alone, gypsies being very social people who often gathered together at night, but because of Colombine's old friendship with him, the three of us talked together a lot, and I started to grow quite fond of him. He was a very merry soul, at times given to deep thought and consideration, but mostly he was active and he liked nothing better than to laugh and share good conversation. He was a born performer, and would grab every opportunity to be the center of attention, something much akin to myself as I had once been, and as time went by, under the influence of these two, I would gradually grow once again into a much nicer, sociable version of that person.
I have mentioned before of the gradual transitions I had been through - in my childhood I was basically good natured, though spoilt and in constant need of attention and mischief - I had then grown very wild and cruel and unsociable. After Raghu I was much softened and made quite docile though unsociable and cold yet - but in the Court,surrounded by so many people who hadn't known me as a wicked child, who were warm-hearted and full of fun, despite their sometimes harsh conditions, the youth in me was being reawakened, the desire to laugh and fool around came quite rapidly back to me, along with the desire to perform. Eventually it came to that the three of us were quite kindred spirits, we all enjoying ourselves most when we were laughing, drinking and discussing mischief of some sort.
But I move ahead of myself. It took months for that to happen and things happened during that time which are relevant to this tale.
On the third night, Clopin and I both decided that talking to one another in the darkness of our tent was better than us both lying awake - he, frustrated - I, afraid he would make a move on me.
So it started that we would spend the night talking softly in the dark until we were both too tired to stay awake any longer. As with Colombine we immediately had an easy kinship that allowed him to gently draw information out of me, and I entertained him with stories of India, where he had never been, whilst he made me laugh with tales of his wicked childhood and the trouble he got himself into up on the streets of Paris, with regularity. So it was I gradually grew closer to the two people I liked best in the Court. The pact between myself and Clopin worked out well, and I remembered with irony what Tante had said about the two of us being very similar.

Despite myself I began to love this underground cavern, its rhythms, people and ways. It was still very "India" in it's general atmosphere, and whilst still homesick, and although their customs sometimes varied greatly from what I had been used to, I soon began to feel quite at home.
I thought often on my family - my parents and my brothers and their wives and children. I wondered what the weather was like in India, if it were day or night there, if people noticed I was no longer there. I would sometimes feel strange walking through the court calling out to those I saw as if I had lived here my whole life.
Eventually I got off my high horse and visited Tante Marie again. Her three friends and herself beamed to see me come, and asked why I had stayed away so long. I asked why had they stayed away? and when the reply came that they had their own lives to take care of, I said "So do I!" - but with no malice and only fun, so I got only a friendly slap for it.
They asked if there was any sign of a baby yet and I frowned and told them it would come, but they would have to wait and see when. They grumbled, for being mothers of grown-up children, they wanted another baby in the court. I was far too embarrassed to say Clopin and I had not known one another as yet, although I had to confess I did find him handsome and attractive enough now. But I was still not in love with him,and my limbs froze at the thought of lying with him.
Admittedly, I now found their company a little lacking. My first few days at Court it had been a joy to speak with others, but they were, after all, much older women than myself with different interests and ideas. Colombine was much more my type of companion, so my visits to Tante Marie's tent were scarce.

© Harley Quinn 1999
(harley_quinn@cheerful.com)
May not be reproduced without permission
 

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