Family Values

Chapter 10

The Time & Place:
Paris, January 1470
Several days after the Bellots charm their way into Aubert d'Urboise's heart -- and into Claude Frollo's -- someone is getting mighty suspicious of the baron's 'guests'. Read on...
She sat at her usual place by the window hoping to catch a glimpse of those two. She didn't relish the way the woman, who never bothered to answer the question, "Where do you call home?," took over the baron's household as if she owned the place. True, Lysbette Claus found, at least, the daughter, Ameline, charming and sweet, but that mother!
Lysbette fumed as Jehanne Bellot monopolized Aubert's time, accompanying him to Mass, to expensive markets, exclusive taverns where the rich and famous hung out. Not once since the Bellots arrived did Aubert give Lysbette and Anton a second thought; all his time and energy was spent with Jehanne Bellot. where did I hear that name before?

Suddenly it came to Lysbette. While growing up in her native Calais, she recalled a Denis Bellot, a cute little boy who often visited her family home. Lysbette was the daughter of Jourdain Cuvier, a wealthy merchant. Her mother was Versa Debergé, a Walloon beauty famous for her piety and sharp intellect. The mother's qualities were passed on to the daughter, and Lysbette was never one to give up on a challenge. Anyway, Denis was also a merchant's son, but his father was not as well off as Lysbette's. She remembered how Denis' father would come by the house with Denis in tow, conferring with her father for hours on all things business. The kids would amuse themselves with games and books. Lysbette fondly recalled Denis as a good boy, a child full of love, laughter, and sweet kindness. It was hoped, at least for his father, that Denis and Lysbette would someday be paired as husband and wife. But that never came to be.

Instead, at her mother's urging, a young upcoming merchant, Anton Claus, one of Jourdain's protégés, was pressed into courting Lysbette. Not that she minded, in the least; she came to love the pudgy, good humored Anton but still kept a place in her heart for Denis. The pair, Anton and Lysbette, were wed shortly before Denis Bellot took over his father's business as purveyor of fish and poultry. The newly wed Clauses soon settled in Anton's home in Bruges but made annual trips to Calais in the summer. However, once Lysbette gave birth to several children, only to watch them die while they were barely toddlers, those trips became infrequent as Lysbette resigned that she would never give Anton strong healthy sons.
But the Clauses tried to maintain a steady correspondence with Lysbette's family. She remembered one letter from her mother, informing her that Denis had married. Versa never mentioned the bride's name, only that the woman was of "common" breeding and she soon proved to be an almost embarrassment to Denis. Oh, there were children: one son and a daughter, but Versa never elaborated. Just as well, thought Lysbette, whose heart ached for her dear childhood friend. Wonder who this woman is? Why is she treating Denis with such contempt and not the honor he so richly deserves. True, Denis was not a wholly wealthy man, but he did earn sufficient income to afford good schooling for his children and a comfortable, if not lavishly appointed, home for his family.

In the coming years, Lysbette never bothered to keep up corresponding with her friend. She wondered if the wife intercepted those letters, burning them before they ever crossed Denis' desk. How she came to hate the woman she never met. So, with resignation, Lysbette ceased all correspondence with Denis. She never knew the fate of her friend until "Madame Bellot" showed up, with daughter Ameline in tow, at Aubert's front door.

"That was a good ten years ago when last I wrote to Denis," she muttered to herself as she espied Aubert and Jehanne returning from Notre Dame. They're becoming quite the item, those two, and no doubt Jehanne Bellot is egging on the "romance".
With disgusted expression, Lysbette turned from the window, but not before she witnessed Aubert steal a quick kiss from Jehanne. Lysbette seethed, "How can she do this to him? The baron vowed he'd never marry, and now she's wormed her way into his heart!"

How did the Clauses and Aubert d'Urboise become such good friends? Thank a young Claude Frollo, who, as an up-and-coming lawyer on a business trip to Orlèans, met Anton Claus. Anton was in Orlèans on business as well, seeking out new wine suppliers. Frollo was there to administer Aubert's vast business deals, and one said deal was a partnership with Anton Claus. The two men lodged at the same inn; they had similar interests, one being a close working relationship with the baron de Clellaux. It was during the meeting with Frollo, a few years shy of securing the top post within His Majesty's Ministry of Justice, that Anton and Aubert hit it off right away. When Anton showed the baron and Frollo a miniature portrait of Lysbette, the former instantly invited the Clauses to Paris.

And it was that way almost every winter. Since Anton's business almost constantly kept him on the road between Bruges and Orlèans, it seemed natural that the couple would make the most of it. And since there were no children, traveling became a way of life for the Clauses. Naturally, Lysbette missed her comfortable home in Bruges, and she missed seeing her family in Calais, but she vowed long ago to remain at Anton's side wherever his business took him.

Now, back to Denis...

Lysbette assumed that Denis was Jehanne's long dead husband, and it weighed heavily on Lysbette's mind that Denis obviously suffered under his wife's cruel neediness. It was a wonder that the daughter had yet to manifest her mother's awful personality. She wondered if the son, who she never met, was a splitting image of his father, with all the good qualities Denis possessed. So, in light of this revelation, and she didn't dare yet share it with Anton, Lysbette silently mourned the man she could've married. True, she loved Anton heart and soul, but there would always be room for Denis.

Knowing that Aubert and Jehanne would expect her and Anton at dinner, Lysbette hastily wrote a letter to her Parisian friend Lutisse Lemer. She didn't know why she wrote it, but there was something not quite right about the Bellot women, especially Jehanne. Lysbette had to know, once and for all, that this woman was who she said she was, and not another confidence woman who would someday abscond with Aubert's wealth. She knew Lutisse was out of town but would return in time for the Feast of Fools. Why write to Lutisse, who obviously had not met Jehanne Bellot? Well, Lutisse, being somewhat of a busybody, made it her business to know everyone's business. Perhaps a bit of gossip filtering from Calais regarding Jehanne Bellot made its way to Lutisse's ear. Poor Lutisse, thought Lysbette, her eyesight is beginning to fade, she who is so lovely and full of jolly good time fun.
She rang the bell for Perrin, who came to her chambers at once. Giving the servant the sealed letter, she said, "Perrin, take this to Madame Lemer's residence on Rue de Urnis straight away. The house number is on the letter. Make sure you give it to Mathena, Madame Lemer's personal servant, no one else."
Perrin merely nodded in obedience and took the letter posthaste. Good!, thought Lysbette, now we might get some answers. I hate to think that such a good man as Aubert falling into a spider's trap!

Her heart ached for Denis. Oh my dear friend, if only you could come back to the living, come back to see what terrible designs your wife – if she indeed is you wife – has on Aubert d'Urboise.


Meanwhile, in Calais...
Where are they? I was so positive they'd be on that ship to Dover, but their names are not on the manifest. If they did not go to England, then where to?

A deeply worried Denis Bellot sat at his desk reading the message received from the ship's captain. No one by the name "Bellot" was on board, at least not a pair of women who matched Ameline and Jehanne's description. Then there was another stack of papers Denis discovered just days ago. Scanning the notes before him once more, Denis was in a state of denial. Of course, this was serious business, what with Jehanne's hastily scribbled notes regarding a wealthy baron in faraway Paris. Denis didn't want to believe that his wife and daughter would lie to him about their destination, take off to Paris, and plan to hoodwink an elderly nobleman. Unthinkable!

It pained Denis more that his own wife may be wanted for murder. How did he know? Another letter from the Calais magistrate detailing new evidence in an unsolved murder. The victim? One of Denis' business partners, a Guibert Varlet, another minor merchant with whom Denis Bellot joined forces in order to beef up business, stave off the competition from the more prosperous tradesmen, thus increasing their profits. The partnership worked beautifully, but it all did not set well with Jehanne, who urged her husband to buy out Varlet's interest. Denis would hear none of it, and at one time wished his wife dead. He shuddered at that thought – never in a million years would he wish such an awful fate. But Jehanne, with her never-ending neediness, outright cruelty and pettiness, drove Denis to the brink of madness.
And Ameline? It pained Denis that much more to think his beautiful daughter had inherited much of Jehanne's negative traits. She was just as shallow and self-centered as her mother. Denis had hoped that a young man would come along and marry the girl, get her away from Jehanne's increasingly awful influence. That marriage almost came to past, as Denis, in desperation, sought out one of Calais' more prosperous merchants, a Herve Cuvier, brother of Lysbette. Denis had hoped that Ameline, once paired with Herve, would turn herself around, become a model wife and mother. But the marriage never took place. Why? Because Herve's mother, Versa, as much as she admired Denis, opposed the match, explaining that Ameline is not a suitable girl, that she was too much like her obnoxious mother.

So Ameline, once again shunned by nearly every eligible suitor, drew closer to her mother than ever before. There were the little con jobs they pulled on unsuspecting people in and around Calais. Why they never got caught and arrested was a mystery even to Denis. It broke his heart that his daughter would become just like her mother – cold, cruel, calculating, totally self-absorbed.
Thank God he put his foot down where his son Jacques was concerned. He took total control over Jacques' upbringing. None of Jehanne's chicanery and grifting nonsense! To Denis, Jacques was the model son, possessing every fine quality in which a father could take pride. Jacques, not especially close to his sister, preferred to lose himself in books and learning. He was selfless, honest, a tad mischievous, good humored and sweet tempered, everything Ameline was not.

Oh what to do? What to do now?

So many painful episodes of his nearly twenty-three years of married life swirled about. There were the constant arguments over money, though Denis earned more than enough to give his wife and children a comfortable, if not overly lavish, lifestyle. They had a fine house, good clothes and food. The children were given the best education Denis could afford. Music and dance lessons, book, art supplies, even a ladies maid for Ameline and valet for Jacques. But it was never enough for Jehanne, who amused herself with pulling petty scams.
There was one incident where Jehanne, while accompanying her husband on an out-of-town business trip, approached an unsuspecting elderly couple staying at the same inn as the Bellots, claiming to have found a black velvet bag full of money. "But we have to careful as not to tip off thieves," she said to the couple. Then, "I know the city magistrate in this town. Let me confer with him as to what to do. If everything checks out, the money is ours." Jehanne left the inn for a few moments then returned, saying, "His Honor says the money is ours, but we have to show proof we can cover such a large amount. So could you chip in, say 200 francs as good faith money?"
The fools fell for the scam, giving Jehanne nearly all their money. It was a goodly amount, and Denis was shocked at how easily, how charmingly his wife wormed her way into this couple's confidence. Of course, he never said a thing, fearing that his wife would surely end up arrested and punished. He didn't want that, not even for someone as awful as Jehanne, but this was his wife, and the ensuing scandal would ruin his business.
Towards the end of the Bellots' trip, just as they prepare to leave, Jehanne met with the couple once more, time enough to hand over their "share" of the loot. Once Jehanne and Denis were on the road back to Calais, the elderly couple opened the bag only to discover its contents were nothing more than cheap iron chips. They had been hoodwinked!

And now...she has Ameline doing the same thing...That business with "losing a gift for Mother"...Jacques witnessed that...and the innocent victims never knew they gave that much money to a thief...That is what my daughter's become, at her mother's coaching...a common petty thief...

Which is why Denis, on this morning, summoned Jacques. Something had to be done and quickly. For if Ameline and Jehanne are indeed en route to Paris, they could very well be committing more crimes, causing more needless suffering. And, this latest evidence surrounding Guibert Varlet's death stirred the city magistrate into action. His Honor, it was later learned, had just sent a message via special courier to Paris, to the Minister of Justice.

Oh no! What if my wife and child fall into Frollo's hands? If the stories are true, and Bernard, my bootblack, confirms it, Ameline and Jehanne could face a far worse fate than whatever our local judge could ever dish out. What if they are, in actuality, looking up this...Baron de Clellaux? What if Jehanne, at this moment, charming the old man only to rob him of all his wealth and property? If Claude Frollo catches them...

With heavy heart, he faced his son, who came to him at his bequest. Good boy Jacques, with his handsome face, slender build, and sharp mind. All the things that would make him a good husband. There was a girl with whom Jacques had fallen in love. They were to be married this spring, with or without Ameline and Jehanne's presence. But no, the nuptials may have to be put off until summer.
I hope Jacques, and Adela, understand. I hope her parents understand. It is now or never, if I'm ever, at least, to save my daughter from a fate worse than death. Once they find themselves in Frollo's dungeons, in his torture chambers...

Denis wasted no time. Out of love and family responsibility, he made this request:
"Jacques, I want you to go to Paris posthaste. Find your mother and sister. Bring them home at once. If they give you a hard time, then you know what to do. You may want to enlist your Tante Lutisse's help."
Jacques, the good child, replied with conviction, "Father, I'll do what I can. But Adela, what will I tell her?"
"Just tell her you are traveling to Paris on business, for me. I will explain to her parents as best I can. But this Varlet murder case, and the fact that your mother and sister may be in Paris, and well within Frollo's grasp, has me more upset than anything."
Jacques said just as Denis handed over a velvet money bag filled with a large sum of francs, and a handsome dagger with mother-of-pearl handle, "I'll do my best to find them. But what about–"
Denis interrupted, "You mean if you should run into Lysbette? Tell her I am well, but anxious to have my family returned to me safe and sound."

Jacques stopped a bit, then wondered if indeed his mother and sister had already been caught by Frollo. "Then what, Father? Should I leave them locked in Frollo's dungeons, knowing the horrors that await them?"
Denis pondered this question, at last coming to the realization that perhaps such a fate would be just the thing his wife deserved. With a tinge of dejection mixed with righteous anger, Denis said, "If they've fallen into Claude Frollo's clutches...Well, they will just have to bear it out. Though it pains me to know how much he'll make them suffer..."



Copyright©2003 by PRP

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