posted March 23, 1997

The Tale of The Blond Gypsy

Chapter One - The Little Shadow

[Author's note: This story takes place after 'The Tale of a Dream' occurs, and way before 'The Consequences...']

Fate was kind to Clopin in that it offered a distraction from his loss by introducing a new life-long companion. Though small, this new friend completely changed ClopinĖs life.
It all started when Clopin decided to get to know everything about his new home; Jacques gave him a guided tour and introduced him to every single person they ran into. Well, Clopin didn't run into the aforementioned friend, but rather literally tripped over him. A small child, no more than two, dressed in dull orange and yellow was crawling around as Jacques and Clopin were finishing a conversation with the kind Paquette.
Clopin nodded a fare well to the woman, turned, took two steps, and then found himself lying on the ground, a giggling mass being the source of his fall. Jacques chuckled and grabbed Clopin's arm to help him up. "You must watch where you are walking, Clopin! It is rude to trip over one of Paquette's foundlings!"
Clopin gave him a look of confusion until he looked down and saw that he had, indeed, tripped over a child - but the strangest child he had ever seen amongst gypsies. He found himself staring at a blond-haired boy, who stared back at him with sparkling green eyes, an impish smile on his young face. The little one giggled again. Clopin couldnĖt help smiling at such innocence.
"What a sweet little one," Clopin cooed, and leaned over to pick up the small boy. The baby gave a grin that hinted at mischief, allowing himself to be held by this stranger. "But tell me, what is such an outsider to the gypsy world doing here? A foundling, you said? He could easily have been left on a doorstop and would have been accepted--" At that moment a small hand swiped at ClopinĖs face and grabbed the end of his nose, tugging hard. "Nneouch!" Clopin cried, and nearly dropped the boy, who began to giggle and babble playfully. Clopin touched the tender tip of his nose as Jacques, laughing, took the boy from him.
"There, you see the reason now, Clopin?" Jacques chuckled. "This child is a demon!" He laughed good-naturedly. "There is a story behind this little one, and I will tell you..." Jacques related how he had saved the baby from a fate of drowning after the child had been abandoned as a mere infant in the street by a mysterious man, and how Jacques had brought the baby to the Court of Miracles, where he was eventually adopted by Paquette.
The little boy clapped as if he had understood every word. He turned his mischievous green eyes on Clopin, who smiled. The tale had intrigued Clopin, especially how no one before Paquette had wanted the baby because the thought of a blond gypsy seemed ridiculous. The child squirmed until he fell from Jacques' hold; for a moment the boy stood upright as he landed; then he reverted to crawling on all fours, moving toward Clopin.
Clopin watched the boy, and asked, "What is his name?"
Jacques glanced at Paquette, then said, "Well, I heard the man mutter something, and I heard the name 'Jehan' so that is what we call him."
"Jehan, eh?" Clopin repeated. The boy had looked up at the sound of his name.
"Gee-hann!" the little one cried, than clapped and laughed.
Paquette beamed. "He is smart, that one," she praised. Then she cast her glance at a dark-skinned, black-haired child in brown clothes who had come tottering to her side, who now clung to her pink skirt. "Unlike some of mine..."
Jacques leaned close to Clopin and whispered, "That is Bruno, Paquette's own son. He is a little..." Jacques tried to think of the right gesture to indicate a dimwit, but he saw Clopin realized what he meant when Clopin nodded.
Clopin felt something lean against his leg. He looked down once more to see the little blond boy curled up at his feet, smiling lazily up at him. Jacques chuckled. "Something tells me that one has taken a liking to you, Clopin."
"Clo-pa! Clo-pa!" Jehan clapped and giggled.
Clopin allowed a weak smile onto his face. So, he had a child after all. But...without his Samira...

* * * * *

Soon Clopin found that he had a second shadow in the form of the light-skinned, blond-haired little boy. For some reason, as the boy grew from a crawling two-year-old to a curious five-year-old, Jehan had decided that Clopin was now his big brother, to follow around and learn from. And annoy.
Clopin accepted this, finding it a welcome distraction from his loss. In this time, he changed his look a bit, as if to change his forlorn future. He grew a beard, though kept it short and pointed. It made him look older than he was; inside, he had aged considerably. Only the sprightly little boy could remind Clopin of the joy of youth.
It was in those moments when he recalled how small children were, that Clopin thought of ways to change his act. He still wanted to perform, yet through a new medium. Storytelling came to mind; he had enough tales to tell, that was true - though it brought back painful memories of when he told fairy tales to Samira.
However, plainly sitting on a step with just his one voice was quite...well, boring. He had to think of a way to get himself into the story, and still perform. . .Puppets! The idea came to him in a flash. He had seen puppet shows before -- it never ceased to amaze him that only two actors could perform a cast of thirty -- all by changing their voices a little with each character. And, of course, no one could tell if there were two or thirty people behind the puppets. Clopin chuckled at the thought -- and wondered if he was a good enough actor to have his theatre appear the same way.
He was sure that he could make the puppets in good time. What he needed was stories. He remembered the fairy tales he had told Samira...but those were better told out in the wide open countryside. Clopin needed ones that were closer to the citizens of a city. So, when Clopin ventured out of the Court of Miracles, he used his powers of observation to pick up anything he might be able to use for a story.
He also relied on his friends in the Court, especially Jacques. To pass the cold winter nights, Jacques would gather as many of the Court's residents as possible around a fire in the center of the large chamber, and he would tell tales that would either make the cold seem colder or bring a warmth to the vagabond's flimsily-clothed bones.
One tale in particular piqued Clopin's interest, one that was always called for. Jacques began it so: "It is the tale of a man and a monster -- listen well, for you will have to decide for yourself who is really the monster."
Then he would proceed to tell of the bell ringer of Notre Dame cathedral and the Minister of Justice. From the words of who is really the monster, Clopin knew this story had an irony quite sweet. And he smirked when he heard mention of Judge Claude Frollo.
So then Clopin had a few tales that did indeed relate to the people of Paris, and he could adapt many more to suit the cityĖs residents. What he had to do next was create his medium. Always resourceful, Clopin had learned to sew a long time ago. Materials were scarce, but he managed to gather enough to make his own little world.
One fine afternoon Clopin sat in the blue-and-magenta tent that Jacques had had constructed for him in the Court. A pile of scraps of cloth was spread out on the table in front of him. He had already finished a few puppets and had fashioned some puppetesque props. Now he was working on a special puppet.
Just as he was thinking it had been a nice peaceful day, and would continue to be, out of the corner of his eye he noticed a small figure creeping toward the table. Clopin sighed and pretended he had not seen Jehan. But the little boy wanted to be noticed, and he would get his way either by being cute or highly annoying...
Jehan climbed up on the chair across from Clopin and watched quietly for a few moments. Then he leaned up on the table and asked, "What're you doing?"
Clopin raised his eyes but not his head, appearing to glare at the lad. "Sewing," he said simply.
"What're you sewing?" Jehan asked next, his eyes bright with curiosity.
Clopin uttered an annoyed sigh, then set down the two pieces he had been stitching and the needle. "Look, little one, I am trying to work. Do you think you could pester someone else?"
Jehan looked up at him with an innocent smile. "No." The little boy giggled and snatched a piece of orange cloth from the table and scampered out of ClopinĖs reach. Clopin sighed again, but was glad the child had found a new diversion, and went back to his work. Jehan promptly came back to the table and climbed up onto the chair again. Clopin tried to ignore him.
However, the little boy was no longer in the frame of mind for asking questions. Instead, he picked through the pile of scraps until he found a piece of yellow cloth. He spent several moments tangling the orange and yellow pieces together. Finally he twisted the scraps around each other and was content to tie the combination around his head.
Clopin made an annoyed face, since he had been about to try to find a piece of yellow cloth. But he said not a word, not wanting to give the curious boy a reason to start babbling again. So instead he shuffled through the pile in front of him. Clopin frowned as he realized the piece he wanted was adorning his nemesis' head. Clopin turned his gaze on the boy. Jehan smiled at him impishly.
Clopin was tired of playing babysitter. He grabbed the bandana from the boy's head and hastily untied the two pieces. Jehan pouted. "Look, you little brat," Clopin said angrily, "I am not in the mood for childish games now. I have important work to do--"
"Ha, important!" Jehan piped, another impish grin on his face. "You are making silly puppets!" Giggling wildly, Jehan snatched a finished puppet that had been lying innocently face-down on the side of the table.
"Hey!" Clopin exclaimed, diving after the boy. Jehan dodged out of reach and laughed as Clopin landed flat on his face. Jehan stuck the black-robed puppet on his hand and leaned over Clopin as the latter tried to get up.
"I am Judge Claude Frollo!" Jehan proclaimed in a feigned deep voice as he held the puppet out in front of Clopin. "Be afraid, you rotten gypsy, be afraid!"
Jehan did not expect Clopin to leap up. He certainly didnĖt expect the elder to dive toward the table, grab up a second puppet, and bounce right back to kneel in front of him. On Clopin's hand sat a miniature of himself in his festival costume, only missing the shawl-piece with the bells, the hat, and the earring. However, the puppet held a little wooden stick. "I am not afraid of you, Judge Claude Phony!" Puppet-Clopin cried in a ridiculous falsetto.
"Stupid gypsy! You will burn for such im-mpud-dence!" Jehan returned in his imitation of an angry bass.
"You can't catch me!" Puppet-Clopin proclaimed. "Especially with a broken arm!" The puppet swung the stick at the mock-Frollo, but gently so. When doing his one-man puppet show, Clopin would not restrain a good whack to certain characters, but here he did not want to do any harm to the boy.
Jehan laughed and dropped the Frollo puppet. It seemed to snarl up at him. The little boy stopped laughing and scowled. He put the tip of his shoe on the puppet's 'chest.' "You ol' meanie," he growled. "You should be the one to burn!"
ClopinĖs expression turned to one of pity. He picked up the Frollo puppet, then looked at the boy. "Jehan, little one," Clopin said softly. The hatred in the child disturbed him. "Why don't you run along now and go follow around your mama? I must finish--"
"My mama's dead," Jehan interrupted.
"What?" ClopinĖs eyes went wide. Last time he had checked, Paquette was alive and well.
Jehan broke into a familiar song, one Clopin had head young La Esmeralda singing,

"My papa's a bird
And so is my mama"

So this is what it is to be a foundling, Clopin thought sadly.
Jehan abruptly whirled around and started out of the tent. "I will go now," he said solemnly. "Sorry to 've annoyed you."
Clopin was touched by the sincerity of the apology. He put a hand on Jehan's shoulder to stop him. "No, little one, it is all right. You can stay here and watch. Just try not to cause any trouble."
Jehan smiled up at him. The naive sparkle in his eyes delighted Clopin. Was I ever that innocent? Clopin wondered as he sat at the table again. Jehan climbed back onto the chair across from him, and sat still obediently, his hands in his lap.
Clopin went back to sewing, thinking that the boy was sweeter when he was quiet. After a while, though, Jehan began to fidget, and, with one quick movement of his small hand, he snagged his piece of orange cloth from before. Clopin left him alone this time.
All was peaceful until Jehan's mischievous streak surfaced again. The boy's hand crept toward one of the finished puppets. Clopin was distracted trying to pierce his miniature's ear with a tiny earring. Jehan muttered as little children do when they are playing pretend with a toy. Clopin was doing his own grumbling.
Jehan glared at the Frollo puppet that he held. "Hurt my mama, will you?" he mumbled. He took a length of thread that had been lying on the table and wrapped it around the puppet, pinning the puppetĖs arms to its sides. "Let's see how you like beinĖ tied to a stick!"
I would like to say that it was fortunate that there were no sources of fire anywhere nearby.
Clopin, still struggling with his look-alike, muttered something, then reached for a coil of thread he expected to be waiting for him to use it. It was gone. He looked up and saw that it was now tangled around one of the puppets. Jehan grinned innocently.
Clopin slammed his fist down on the table -- coming down on the little wooden stick, which rebounded under the weight at one end and sprang up to literally give Clopin a taste of his own medicine. Clopin snatched the stick out of his mouth and turned a furious glare at Jehan. In the next instant he dove across the table to grab the brat; in the same moment the little boy leapt up. Once more Clopin landed on his face, now amidst a bunch of scraps of cloth and thread. When he looked up, his eyes went wide and his jaw dropped.
Jehan stood on top of the chair's backing, yet the chair did not fall over. The boy had his weight perfectly balanced so that neither he nor the chair toppled an inch. Clopin jumped up and pointed to the lad, almost accusingly, and blurted, "Tight-rope walker!"
Jehan slowly relaxed his pose. The chair then began to wobble. Clopin vaulted over the table and grabbed the boy before he finally fell. "Haha!" Clopin laughed. "There is hope for you yet, little one!" Jehan smiled.
Clopin set him on the table. "So, you are good at balancing, eh? I wish you had told me sooner!" Clopin ruffled the boy's hair. So he has a talent after all - one besides annoying me, Clopin thought fondly. "Jehan, tell me, would you like to be a performer? Clopin will teach you!"
Jehan nodded eagerly. Clopin grinned. Now he does remind me of myself! Clopin thought, beaming.

Coming Next: The 2nd Chapter of The Tale of The Blond Gypsy: Puppet See, Puppet Do

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(c) 1997-2004 Autumn Loweck. This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. All characters are property of Autumn Loweck (aka Shiri), unless specified otherwise, and may not be "borrowed" or mentioned in other works without notifying the author first