CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The carriage ride to the home of the judge was a long one. From what Margot could scrape together, the judge was a rather different man from his predecessor. He lived just outside of the city in a sprawling manor house that kept him from having to walk out onto the street and see the immediate effects of his decisions. Margot had heard in the market that he was the sort of old man who kept fox-hounds and only had two or three people that he liked well enough to speak to. She was intimidated.

As she watched the gorgeous spring scenery sprawl by leisurely, she lay her arms on the windowsill and propped her chin on top of them. It hadn't been an easy morning. After the blowup with her father, she had stayed out of his way, but she could tell that a dynamic in the house had changed. She hadn't snuck out. Instead she had gotten dressed in her finest calling outfit, come down to the drawing room, and stood in the doorway, presenting herself to her father. She had announced she was going with Toby for a ride out to the country – which was true, technically – and that she would be back in a couple of hours. She received no reply from the stony back of the gentleman at the window.

As the carriage went over a bump, she heard young Toby call, "Are you alright, mademoiselle?"

"Yes, Toby, I'm perfectly alright," she called back to him, and looked back out, ruminating on other things. She hadn't been very satisfied with the way she had left Clopin. Thanks to the incredibly awkward physical tension between them the night before, the morning had been enjoyable but slightly stilted. When she had woken up, everyone else had already left the room and gone down to the main square of the Court. When she had joined them, she saw Clopin walking through a crowd holding little Adolpho in his arms and carrying on what looked to be an excessively animated intellectual discussion with the Little Monster. The thought had occurred to her that he would make a marvelous father.

This, of course, had opened up a world of frenetic thoughts bouncing through the synapses in her mind. Would she make a good mother? And… would some day she and Clopin be mother and father? Would she want that? Was it possible?

Esmerelda, who could read people like a book (although Margot's large eyes and expressive eyebrows tended to make her inner monologues pretty clear), had shot her a smile and given her a hearty rub on the shoulders.

Now, in the carriage, she pictured Clopin walking again, holding up the little boy in his strong, cinnamon arms, his chin tilted down in joyful discourse, his clever brown eyes soft and kind. Again, she felt a physical yearning to stroke his cheek, to kiss his brow, to furrow her face in the crook of his neck and breathe in that wonderful, musky gypsy scent. She blushed, even alone in the carriage.

These confusions occupied her mind until her attention was taken by the stately house they had pulled up to. The judge's house. Toby helped her out of the carriage and, according to her bidding, stood warily outside. Inside was cold and stately. Margot pulled her fitted dark blue robe closer around her. Though it was Spring, the house was large and drafty and the inner rooms were windowless. She wandered down the high-ceilinged hallway cautiously. Somewhere in the estate footsteps were approaching. Suddenly, further down the hall, there appeared a stout little woman. She froze when she came into view and turned with a perplexed expression toward Margot, who froze in turn.

"Who are – you – no one's supposed to be here today!" She began shuffling toward Margot, her little footsteps echoing down the corridor. "All appointments cancelled, family emergency. Out you go, dearie, 'e'll be back in a couple of weeks." The stout little lady, gray curls bouncing daintily, began to usher Margot back out the door.

"No," Margot protested. "No, no, I haven't got an appointment. But it's very urgent, I'm here to see Judge Laudin. It's a matter of utmost importance!" She shook the woman off and turned back to face her defiantly. The woman scrutinized her, then said, with a sympathetic but cross tone, "The Judge is in Marseilles until further notice. 'is daughter took ill, 'e wont be back for a while, dear."

"Oh…" Margot's face fell. "But please, I have to speak to him as soon as I can." The woman studied her for a moment, then sighed.

"Oh, come with me."

When Margot arrived home that night, she was feeling defeated. The motherly little woman, who turned out to be the housekeeper of the manor, allowed Margot to write a letter to the judge, into which she poured her passionate plea for help against the injustice and cruelty in the city. The letter, said the housekeeper, would be given to him the second he returned, but Margot didn't know when that would be, or if she had even convinced him in the letter.

She flopped down on her bed, tired and irritated. Little did she know, her evening was about to get a lot worse.

"Daughter!" Her father's voice called up. It had a pleasant air – they had company. Warily, Margot stood up, fixed her hair, and cautiously made her way down the stairs, adjusting her clothes as she went – she had worn one of her finest gowns, a deep blue satin with gold trim, to impress the judge. Now they felt wrinkled and uncomfortable. As she descended, she heard the murmur of male voices. Immediately, she began to dread the worst, and as she arrived at the foot of the final flight, her heart dropped into her stomach – she was right.

"Captain, you remember my daughter Margot."

"Of course, Monsieur, how could I forget." The Captain stood, a head above her father and his steely eyes flashing over her. He was dressed in his usual all black and his slick ponytail and coarse beard immediately made Margot want to wince. In fact, she wanted to run back upstairs, but that wasn't about to happen. Coming all the way down and into the room, she straightened her spine and shot her lush blue eyes right into his.

"Captain," she acknowledged, coldly.

"Well, I'm needed in my study," chirped Marchelier before shooting Margot a powerful look and exiting swiftly. The tension in the room shot up immeasurably.

"What?" Margot asked, simply, after a pause. The Captain smiled, and opened his hands, questioningly.

"I mean you no harm. Why do you look to me as though I am an enemy?"
Margot was so taken aback, she let out a sharp laugh.

"Why? Why? You –" She caught herself – she didn't want to push him to get mean with her again. "Why are you here, Monsieur le Captain?"
"Just as before, I am here to see you. And to ask you…" he moved closer to her. "… to be my bride, mademoiselle." He said it almost tenderly. Margot felt as though she had woken up in a completely different world.
"Why… why on earth would I accept such a request?"
"Because, mademoiselle, we are an excellent match. I can provide for you." He began to strut slowly around the room, examining the pieces in it. "You are the daughter of a prominent businessman. I can keep you in the style you are accustomed to. Also," he returned to her and looked up at her with a smirk. "You are the most beautiful woman in all of Paris."
Margot stared. What?

"You are too kind, Captain, but my answer is no. Thank you." She turned to return up the stairs, but again she felt a harsh grip on her wrist, and her whole body was wrenched off of the stairs and onto his level. She was shocked at how incredibly strong he was. He yanked her close and wrapped a meaty hand around her waist, holding her tightly, his fingers still bruising her wrist. She looked up, frightened, and felt his hot, unpleasant breath on her face. He laughed quietly.
"Your answer is yes."

"It. Is. Not." Margot growled through gritted teeth and struggled against him, but he was too strong.

"The answer is yes, mademoiselle, or your gypsy lover is dead."

Margot's blood ran cold, and she stopped struggling.

"My… I don't…"

"I know that you are in love with the king of the gypsies, foolish woman. And I know where he hides all the rest of his vermin. You will marry me, or he is dead. They all are dead."

Margot was numb.

"If you know where they are," she whispered, not knowing what to believe. "Why wouldn't you just kill them all now?"

He laughed again.

"I know you think so little of me, mademoiselle, but I am no fool. I know how to get what I want. That is why I am the most powerful man in Paris."
"You are not!" His hand left her waist and grasped her face at the cheeks. She felt humiliated.

"You would be wise, foolish girl, to believe what I say. You will tell your filthy lover that you are mine, and you will marry me. Or they are all dead. You know I speak the truth."
With horror, she looked up into his eyes and saw no kindness. She knew he was right. With a shove, he released her and strode out powerfully. Margot collapsed on the stairs, barely able to breathe. Here it was: Marry the Captain or lose Clopin. Lose everyone. As the darkness closed in around her, she began to weep.