Family Values

Chapter 11

The Time & Place:
Palais de Justice. Many weeks go by, and Ameline, who once cursed her mother's "be nice to Frollo", now relishes her role as it opens many doors – literally. Read on...

What a boon for me! At first I wanted nothing to do with Maman's suggestion that I cozy up to His Grace, but now...Well! With an unsuspecting Judge Frollo as "patsy", Maman and I at last can pull off this job and no one would be the wiser.

Ameline Bellot, bored with sitting at home all morning, decided to take a carriage to the Palais de Justice. An impromptu social call on Judge Frollo, and His Grace wouldn't object, that is, if an unannounced visit doesn't gum up his usually busy schedule. As usual, once Ameline arrived, Frollo's housekeeper, Madame Poulin, welcomed the girl wholeheartedly. However, on this morning, Madame Polin said, "I am sorry, mademoiselle, but His Grace has gone to the cathedral. I don't expect him to return before noon."
"Then," Ameline said so sweetly and earnestly, "may I wait for him in his study? That is, if is acceptable to you." Ide Poulin paused for a few seconds, knowing full well that Frollo never allowed anyone in his private chambers without him present. Why, an unscrupulous person could snoop around, perhaps abscond with valuables or important legal documents. But, to Ide, this lovely young lady, one so well mannered and bred, is no common thief. The child asked so nicely and she's such a likeable girl, too.
"Well," Ide said, ushering Ameline to follow, "I suppose His Grace will not mind. Now, please follow me."

On the way through the bustling Palais, Ide Poulin cautioned, "Once inside, I'll have Jeanette bring you some refreshment and a few books to keep you amused. Do not touch a thing on Frollo's desk. He keeps everything in spit-spot order. Why, he becomes highly upset if so much as a pen is out of place." Ameline told Ide she'd be careful and not touch a thing, not even a piece of paper. But it is paper I'm looking for...important paper...

Once Ide left, Ameline immediately began casing the room, noting the exact placement of certain items. On Frollo's meticulously organized desk lay several documents bearing his signature and official seal. Ameline wandered to the desk, careful not to touch a thing. She merely looked at the documents, noting Frollo's sprawling signature, his scribe's flawlessly neat penmanship, the exact color of wax used for the seal. At once, she took from her bag a curious item. It was a little pewter box  her mother had given to her for, "Being to talented and skillful." (Skillful? At what?) Inside, the box was filled with a soft wax, the type upon which impressions of keys are made. She carefully placed the wax over Frollo's seal, pressing down firmly enough to get a good likeness. Then she saw it! That's exactly what I was looking for!

The document on top of the stack – Oh thank you, Claude Frollo! – was an exact copy of Aubert's updated will. Ameline, still not touching a thing, hovered over the desk, quickly scanned the will, then, without hesitation, deftly sifted through the stack. What wonders and joys! More documents pertaining to Baron de Clellaux's vast estate. Let's see...a cousin, Faure d'Aubec...that fat little Belgian, Anton Claus...they get the bulk of the old man's fortune...and...What's this? A letter from one of Aubert's many business partners in Orlèans dated less than a month ago. Apparently there is a pending lucrative venture that would bring forth even more wealth.

Oh, too good to pass this up, thought Ameline who took out a fresh sheet of paper, then, with her own pen, neatly and exactly copied Frollo's signature and a few samples of the scribe's handwriting. Faking another's penmanship was a gift in which Ameline took much pride. No practicing until she got it right; just studying the loops and slants, the quirky personal touch of one's handwriting, was all Ameline needed. She merely copied what she saw.

Yea! Footsteps! Voices!

In a panic, Ameline quickly and carefully replaced all the papers back in their original order. She double-checked the placement of items, making sure nothing was out of order. There, just as Frollo left it. Now, put these items away – quickly! Recomposing herself, her precious cargo tucked neatly in the bag, Ameline languidly sat in an ornate chair before the fireplace, awaiting Frollo's return. A knock on the door, followed by a decidedly male voice saying, "Mlle. Bellot, I have your refreshment."
"You may enter."

The heavy door creaked open, revealing an attractive young man. He was of medium height, dark haired, slender build. He looked too good to be the average servant, but Ameline paid him no mind. The youth set the tray before Ameline, saying in a gracious and polite manner, "Maman said you were here, waiting for Minister Frollo. I brought up a nice refreshment."
"Thank you," was all Ameline offered, other than, "You may go now."

She immediately helped herself to bread, wine, cheese, and preserved fruits. But something inside made her recall the young man just before he exited the room. She called out, "Here, why don't you join me. I'm getting rather bored up here alone, and I could use the company." He turned around to face her, then replied, "I'm sorry, mademoiselle, but Minister Frollo has strict rules about servants fraternizing with his guests. I should return to my quarters lest Maman misses me."
A highly interested Ameline pretended she didn't hear the "Frollo's strict rules" part then asked, "What is your name?"
"Émile Poulin, mademoiselle."
"Madame Poulin is your mother?"
"Oh, yes! She's been Frollo's housekeeper ever since he became Minister of Justice. Before, she was chief chambermaid at Frollo's private chateau." "And you are a servant as well?"
"No, mademoiselle. I am a student, but I help Maman out whenever I can. You see, one of the footmen has left Frollo's employ and the staff is rather shorthanded..."

Ameline smiled at this handsome young scholar, deep down wishing it was he who would be her suitor than that annoying Frollo. True, she did find Claude Frollo attractive in a dark forbidding sense, but it was what was on the inside of the man that rubbed her the wrong way. In the past few weeks since she and Jehanne arrived on the baron's doorstep, Frollo treated Ameline the utmost kindness and charm. He gave her an expensive, flawless amethyst brooch as "a token of my love." Love? Hah! What does Frollo know about love? He's a beast, like most men of his station. But the inevitable happened: Claude Frollo found himself strangely attracted to this girl, and confessed his love despite his vow of celibacy and abstaining from "all temptations of the feminine sex." How odd, that, right now, her own mother is at Notre Dame this very minute attending Mass with Aubert. Those two have been spending so much time together, and it seemed as if Jehanne was within days of Aubert's proposal. Now all Ameline could do was to wish her father dead, and the same fate for her brother. She wished Tante Lutisse would extend her holiday in Lyon, skipping, for this year, the upcoming Feast of Fools. No way will she and Maman ever be found out.

She beckoned Émile Poulin to sit, offering a bit of cheese and preserved pears. She poured a little of the fine Bordeaux into a spare cup – how clever of this nice boy to bring two cups – then began to ask a few important questions. "Émile, why does Frollo spend so much time at the cathedral? He doesn't seem to be the type of man who attends every Mass and vespers." Emile replied upon gratefully accepting the treat, "I don't know, Mlle Bellot. He goes there every morning, sometimes at night, too. Maman doesn't know why he goes. I would think that a man in Frollo's position, what with his horrendous schedule, would find time to attend so many services."
Ameline smiled again. She liked this young man, and though it didn't come to her until later, she felt as if she should exercise her roguish talents. Yes, he is a scholar, but he is young, the son of a servant, and apparently not keen on how the real world operates. I wonder if his mother warned him against dealing with the "criminal element".

"Émile? You are a student, so I have a proposition for you." In mid-bite, he asked, "What kind of proposition, Mlle Bellot?"
"Oh, please call me Ameline. I feel like an old maid when you address me so formally."
Émile laughed and said, "All right, Ameline, but only in private. I shall not address you by your Christian name when in Frollo's presence, or the presence of others."  She smiled again, offering more refreshments. She felt more empowered this time, what with the precious items secure in her bag, and a perfect "pigeon" upon which to play a cruel prank. "As I said, Émile, you are a student, and soon you will be going out in the real world. Err, what are you studying?"
Émile answered, "Just the basics for now. You know, geography, rhetoric, law, literature, theology, medicine. My mother hopes I can become a merchant. She says I have good business sense like my father."
"And who is your father?"
"Georges Poulin. He died long ago, when I was just a baby."
"How sad."
"Yes, and Maman still misses him. T'was our good fortune that she found work in Minister Frollo's household. He has been very good to Maman and me. He takes interest in my education."

Ameline paused at this last statement. Hmm...Frollo doesn't seem like a man who'd be interested in anyone's life, except his own. He's too wrapped up in his own little world with his constant drive to rid Paris of all "unholy influences". Drat! And I still have to play the sweet submissive female just to get on his good side. Ooh! Once Mother and I have Aubert's fortune in our hands, we will leave Paris for good, never to lay eyes on the likes of Frollo ever again.
Émile caught Ameline in a pensive mood. Noting the time, and really not wanting to leave her good company, he said, "I really should be going, Ameline. It was nice chatting with you." He looked at the remains of his snack, saying, "I'll remove these items and bring fresh food and clean cups. Minister Frollo should be back from the cathedral any time." Then, just as he carried the tray to the door, he turned and asked, "Ameline, you said you had a proposition..."
Ameline, suddenly remembering, said, "Oh yes! My father was a merchant, a very good one, too. I've learned much from him just from watching. With what I know, I can give you a headstart on your business. Why wait until you've finished your studies? You should be making a tidy fortune now." Wide-eyed and eager to hear more, Émile said, "Oh thank you, Ameline! Thank you!" She then said, just before Émile exited the room, "Why not meet me at Le Papillion Doré tomorrow. We can discuss plans for your new business. Just tell me what you'd like to specialize in."
"Yes. Goods such as wine, spirits, cloth, spices, olives. Father dealt in fish and poultry, but food, unless it's preserved, is risky. Short season and all. Let me think of something, then we can discuss tomorrow. Hmm, do you have any money?"
To this question Émile could only reply, "Err, not much. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, it's just that, according to Father, you must invest some money before your business takes off. If you're successful, you'll see your initial investment grow almost tenfold."

Tenfold! Émile nearly dropped the tray in his disbelieving shock. Just calculating what he had saved already, times ten, maybe more...Mon Dieu! With a sum like that I can live as comfortably as the Madame deMarceage, who owns that very exclusive tavern Ameline talks about. And if I follow her advice carefully, I could help Maman in her old age; she can retire to the country without being at someone else's beck and call. We can live in luxury and comfort the rest of our lives!
"Ameline, I have a nice tidy sum saved, for my schooling, but I think I can manage to invest a little."  Then he left the room, noting Frollo's booming baritone in the distance. The judge had just returned from Notre Dame, and Émile didn't want to risk getting caught chatting with Ameline. "I really should get back to work. And thank you, Ameline, for all your help."

After he left, Ameline smiled, a nice semi-wicked grin that gave her such a charge. At last! Something to do on my own, without Mother's help. At least I can occupy my time doing something fun instead of hanging out with Frollo! Ugh! The very name makes me nauseated.


Meanwhile, not far from la Place de Notre-Dame...
"Madame! I wasn't expecting you until next week!"
"Shut up, Mathena and fetch some refreshment. Mon Dieu! What a jostling, upsetting journey all the way from that equally disgusting inn. Took better part of the day just navigating. I really should've put my foot down with Hugues. Ugh! Him and his 'short cuts'."

Lutisse Lemer, in an unusually agitated state – it was unlike her to snap at the servants so – breezed through the hall and entered her comfortably appointed sitting room. Just as lovely as ever with her pleasingly corpulent figure, Lutisse settled at her desk and sifted through much correspondence. Oh! Leave Paris for several months only to come home to stacks of unanswered letters. Hello! What is this?

She said to her personal maid as she scanned the letter, "Mathena, did this arrive recently?" The maid answered, "Oui, madame, only a few days ago."
"Lysbette Claus. Why I haven't seen her ever since, well, it has been a long time. Now, what does she say?"  Quickly skimming the letter, her face paled at once from shock; she reeled from the words.

"Something wrong, madame?"
Lutisse was getting a little more than perturbed with her servant. "Hush up, and go fetch that food! I am famished!" Mathena made a quick curtsey then quickly left to do as ordered.

Mon Dieu! Is it true? Jehanne, my sister, is in Paris, and she's brought Ameline with her? And they are staying with a baron, an Aubert d'Urboise. Now, why does that name sound so familiar. Yes! He's the one with whom Denis partnered with so long ago. Only Jehanne never knew this. Drat, my sister is here, in Paris, and with dark, vile designs on Baron de Clellaux. Why else would she claim that her husband died long ago? Denis is alive and well! O what wickedness there is in this world!
Lutisse hastily penned a letter to her friend. As soon as Mathena returned with a hearty repast, Madame Lemer told her maid to have Abelard take the letter to Aubert d'Urboise's home posthaste. Make sure Lysbette Claus receives it personally. "I don't want Jehanne to intercept that, not like she did with Lysbette's letters to Denis. He told me that himself. And, Mathena, please, NO gossip about this! I trust Abelard will exercise complete discretion, but you have an unsettling habit of blabbing to anyone and everyone." The maid merely made faces behind her mistress' back, then went on about her duties. Oh, what a pain Madame has become! Ever since she's gotten these blurry spells, she's becoming more and more impossible to live with. Oh well, might as well keep my mouth shut lest Madame chucks me out in the street without references, and I have little prospects of finding suitable employment.

As soon as Mathena left, Lutisse helped herself to heaps of cheese, bread, spiced fruits, all washed down with plenty of wine. Deep down, despite her now soothed temper thanks to the food, she seethed that her own sister may be targeting yet another victim. Only this time, the outcome will be far greater than just "a few francs here and there."

If I know Jehanne, and just from knowing the lies she's told, I wouldn't put it past her to do in the old baron and take him for everything he's got!


At this moment, in Calais a ship, bound for LeHarve, prepares to leave...
Now, let me see...we dock in LeHavre where from there I take another boat on the Seine, travel southward to Paris. Mon Dieu! This trip may take more than a month! If I don't arrive in time, Mother and my sister may be long gone. Oh why, oh why did I ever let Father talk me into this? I should be home, preparing for my marriage to Adela. Damn this business with my mother and sister.

Jacques Bellot stood on the stern of the ship, a new vessel boasting to be the fastest on sea. Well, it had better get me to LeHarve and fast. Then again, I have another journey via the river. All the while I will have to think of Father and my promise to him. He sighed, wondering what devilment Mother and Ameline have gotten themselves into. They could be hoodwinking so many innocent citizens. They could have already absconded with the baron de Clellaux's fortune. Perhaps they did travel to England, but under assumed names. Oh yes, Jacques knew of their many aliases, and he had the good sense to jot down those phony names, just in case he ran into Judge Claude Frollo. He shuddered to think what Frollo would do to his mother and sister, but he thought of what his father said: "If they get caught, it just may be the very consequence they richly deserve."
No, Jacques never wanted to see the Bellot women tortured and brutalized in Frollo's infamous dungeons. He remembered Bernard, the bootblack, relate many a horrid, spine-chilling tale of life in the Palais dungeons and torture chambers. "And Frollo would torture persons who committed the least, the pettiest of offenses. He didn't care, as if he enjoyed inflicting such excruciating pain upon others."

"Excruciating pain"....No, I don't want Maman or Ameline to suffer like that...

Then there was the matter of an unsolved murder. Guibert Varlet's body was found, not long after Jehanne and Ameline "disappeared", stuffed in an old barrel behind the very wine shop Guibert and Denis owned and operated. The man had obviously been poisoned as there were no marks on the body, save one garish slash across the throat. O, to imagine my mother committing this crime. This was no accident, according to Calais' magistrate.

Now, unknown to Jacques, another passenger was on that ship, also bound for Paris. Who was this man? A special courier ordered to deliver an important letter to Minister Claude Frollo. In that letter? Damning evidence that Jehanne Bellot is wanted for the murder of Varlet. After all, the old man who found the body told the Calais judge that he saw Jehanne leave the wine shop by the rear door. She washed her hands in the rain barrel then walked the rest of the way home – She never bothered to send for her carriage. All this occurred late at night, when ladies of Jehanne's station are to be at home and not roaming the streets like a common strumpet. The courier walked up to Jacques just as the ship pulled out of the harbor. He eyed the young man with curiosity, then said, "You're Denis Bellot's son, aren't you?"
Jacques turned to face this man, merely replying, "Why yes, I am. Why do you ask?"

The courier just smiled then grew serious, saying, "I feel for you, son. You are a good boy, and your father is obviously very proud of you."
"Err. thank you, Monsieur..."
"Marquette, Monsieur Bellot. Jules Marquette, His Honor's special courier. I must say to you that I'm just doing my duty, although I hate to think of what will happen once Frollo gets this letter. I'm to deliver it to him personally."

It didn't take Jacques long to figure out just what that letter contain. They know, and soon Frollo will know, that Maman murdered Guibert Varlet, just as she may be planning another....O Mother of God, I think I'm going to be sick!

"I will pray, M. Marquette, that this ship is as fast as they say. I – we – really need to arrive in Paris in time, in case..."



Head for Chapter 12!

Copyright©2003 by PRP

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