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
"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
Colombine laughed. "Very tricky, Fool!" she said. "You'll have to watch
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
He grasped my hands tight and whispered to me, "You know what to say,
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
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
My brief cheerfulness vanished instantly as I realised what was now
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,
"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
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
"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
© Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission