Ameline, all dressed in her finest and preparing to go out, examined
the forged papers with satisfaction.
"Maman, it looks good, better than good."
"Yes, daughter, and now it is time to hide these papers lest that nosy housekeeper discovers them."
Opening her trunk, Jehanne carefully removed a false board in the lid. Within this hiding place, she stashed those precious papers then closed and locked the trunk. Nodding and smiling like a spoiled child who has just gotten away with serious mischief, Jehanne turned to Ameline and said, "Dear child, there is one more thing to do, and that is getting the baron to agree to sign everything over to me. He has asked me to accompany him on a little outing next week, following the Feast of Fools, and I suspect we will be gone many days. What I want you to do, Ameline is to keep Frollo entertained while we're gone." Ameline blanched. Just what did her mother mean by 'entertain' Claude Frollo? It didn't take her long to figure it out, and as usual, Ameline protested. "But, Maman, I can't do that! I know it's all for us, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and to give up my maidenhood to that man...!"
Jehanne laughed hard, answering, "No, Ameline, I don't mean that. Just
entertain the judge with god conversation, perhaps ask him for a tour of
the Palais, even to Notre Dame. Keep him so busy that he will not once
suspect a thing."
Ameline then realized another thing. What does Mother plan to do with the baron? Have him go the way of Guibert Varlet? Oh yes, Ameline knew all about her mother's murder of Varlet; Jehanne told her so much. This is why they had to leave Calais and fake a trip to England.
"Don't you see, daughter? I had to take those steps because the Calais magistrate's suspicious were growing stronger everyday. Your father even said he'd practically disown both of us if I was ever tried and executed for murder. But Guibert deserved his fate, just as Aubert deserves his. The man was a major thorn in my side ever since your father took him on as partner. Ha! Guibert and Denis' ideas of 'progress' and 'teamwork'. Guibert owned nearly half the business; your father deserved so much more, but he's a coward. Too honorable and virtuous to ask Guibert to sell his interest, so I had to find ways to have Guibert's share turned over to Denis."
Ameline's eyes widened, not in terror or shock because she knew what
her mother did. Jehanne further explained it was she who forged documents
stating that all of Varlet's share of the partnership would revert to Denis.
But, as Jehanne later discovered, Denis found the bogus will among his
wife's private papers. Now Denis, being a man of integrity, but also a
man who didn't want his wife charged with murder and fraud, claimed he
simply burned the paper. However, unbeknownst to Jehanne, that paper was
en route to Paris via special courier along with other damning evidence
proving that Jehanne killed Guibert Varlet out of sheer greed and spite.
"And that's what I'll do with the baron," said Jehanne. "At the right time, he'll 'disappear', I'll return to Paris all distraught, telling everyone we were overtaken by highwaymen. Aubert, given his poor health, could not fight back. I was nearly outraged and barely escaped grievous injury. When Frollo questions me, I'll tell His Grace that everything happened so fast. Those villains grabbed Aubert and took off with him, leaving me to fend for myself. Then, if all goes to my plan, Aubert d'Urboise's estate shall be all ours, Ameline."
The two ladies, Lysbette Claus and Lutisse Lemer, embraced each other and briefly caught up on old times before the former finally told the latter her suspicions concerning the baron de Clellaux's 'guests'. Lysbette related the sudden appearance of the two ladies – a mother and daughter – who seemed not quite right. The mother claimed to have met Aubert long ago, when she was just a little girl. The old baron, his faculties failing, could not directly recall meeting this woman, but she came off so charming, so convincing, that Aubert at once began spending more and more time with her.
"When she said she was widowed, and when I suddenly recalled the surname,
I fairly pieced it together. Is Jehanne Bellot the widow of the Denis Bellot
of Calais. I have to know, Lutisse, as I highly suspect she is up to no
After Lysbette told Lutisse of the many secret meetings between Ameline and Jehanne, how the baron seemed so suddenly smitten with the 'widowed' Madame Bellot, and how Jehanne has Ameline 'playing up to Frollo'.
"Both of them are not right, Lutisse; I can feel it. But I have yet to tell Anton of my suspicions. That's why I sent the letter, to get some answers."
Upon hearing all this, Lutisse's face turned various shades of red with embarrassment, disgust, and outright rage. How dare she! How dare Jehanne, after all these years, show up in Paris of all places? And she's brought her daughter with her, no doubt the girl has followed in her mother's footsteps. Ooh! And I thought once I moved to Paris I could put all that awful, painful past behind me. But no! Jehanne is still up to her old tricks, defrauding every innocent person who comes within ten feet of her. And Ameline is doing the same thing! Lutisse finally laid it all out for her friend.
"Lysbette, my dear, it's time for the truth. Denis Bellot is alive and well. How do I know? I received a letter from him last month. Apparently there was – well, still is – trouble surrounding a business partnership. Denis is pleased that the deal is working out so well, but to Jehanne it was not a good move. You see, Jehanne has always..."
Noting Lysbette's astonished expression, Lutisse felt it wise to back
up to the beginning, to her childhood in a tiny waterfront village not
far from Calais. There are facts Lysbette has yet to hear, and Lutisse
believed it was time to clear the air. "My dear, I'm sorry to say that
Jehanne Bellot is my sister."
Lysbette Claus reeled in her chair. How can this be? I always thought Lutisse was an only child by virtue that all her siblings died during childhood. Lutisse continued her story. "I thought you'd react like that, Lysbette, but it is the truth. I came to Paris with my mother who was fed up with my father's increasing bad influence on Jehanne. Sad to say that Father was a very dishonorable man who'd sell out his own mother if given the chance. Jehanne, at last I heard since I tried to keep a regular correspondence with her, eventually married Denis Bellot. My father thought, at least that is what my mother believed, that the marriage would be a boon for his illicit dealings. You are aware that so many good tradesmen and merchants are swindled out of their livelihood by those who come across charming and sincere. Thank God that Denis never fell victim to a deceiver."
Lysbette sat and stared in awe. What an awful fate for Lutisse! Her
own mother abandoning her husband and other daughter all because of the
man's deceitful ways. And he passed on those terrible traits Jehanne. Now,
if Madame Bellot is lying about her widowhood, then what could she possibly
want from Aubert? Surely not!
"Yes, Lysbette!," said Lutisse who read her friend's mind. "I suspect Jehanne is here to extract a tidy fortune from the baron. If he is as smitten with her as you stated, then I'm afraid Jehanne is setting him up for a very nasty fall. And Ameline, what is all this about cozying up to Claude Frollo? Why would a man such as Frollo take up with the likes of a young woman whose heart is as dark as her mother's?"
Lysbette, now fully worried that Jehanne Bellot could resort to violence,
and that Ameline may do the same to Frollo, finally made up her mind. She
would have to tell Anton and Frollo the truth about Madame Bellot and Ameline.
She then remembered that Aubert told Anton that he was taking Jehanne to
the country for an extended stay.
"He has a chateau not far from Paris. I suppose that's where they will go. The journey there alone will take a goodly part of the morning, and I don't think they will return to town for several days afterwards. I'm scared, Lutisse, very scared."
To this Lutisse agreed that of all persons to alert, it should be Frollo himself. After all, she reasoned, if Ameline is getting cozy with Judge Frollo – and Lysbette recalled Ameline wearing a rather expensive amethyst brooch and proudly proclaimed, "Claude Frollo gave it to me." – the Minister of Justice could be in danger.
"Not that I would put it past her," said Lutisse. "And I wouldn't doubt
that her mother is egging on this 'romance' between Frollo and Ameline.
Tell me, Lysbette, any word on whether there are wedding bells in the future?"
"Do you mean if Frollo will propose to Ameline? I'm not sure, but when a man gives costly gems to a young woman there can possibly be a sole outcome: marriage."
Lutisse shuddered that Ameline could hoodwink the judge once she's pronounced
"Madame Frollo". Why, no telling what damage she can cause, with her living
in the Palais de Justice, within striking distance of all legal documents
free for the taking. Then it came to her. She asked, "Lysbette, has Ameline
visited Frollo at the Palais?"
"Yes, she goes there very often these days. I don't like this, Lutisse, not one bit."
Rising from her chair, Lutisse Lemer walked to her writing desk and
took something from its drawer. It was a miniature painting of a very handsome
youth. She showed that painting to Lysbette who exclaimed, "He's exquisite!
But why are you showing me this?"
Lutisse replied, "The only good Bellot child, a son named Jacques. Last time I heard from him was not that long ago. He says he is engaged to a nice girl, Adela; they are to be married this spring." Then, "Jacques corresponded with me several times. You see, even though I lived a goodly part of my life in Paris, my marriage was like yours. My husband, Ernaut, God rest his soul, traveled much on business, and I usually accompanied him. When we arrived in Calais, I made it my point to visit Denis and the children. But as usual Ameline and Jehanne were out and about committing the worst kinds of swindles."
A curious Lysbette asked about the other Bellot child. Is he anything
like his father? And what was – is – the state of the relationship between
Jacques and his parent and sister. "Lysbette, from the time Jacques was
a little tot, Denis put his foot down and insisted on rearing the boy himself.
Jacques has all his father's wonderful qualities. His letters say, and
it is so sad, that he loves his mother and sister but can't abide by their
"I wonder," mused Lysbette, "if Denis is coming to Paris, to fetch Jehanne and Ameline. I feel for him, Lutisse, I really do. You know Denis and I grew up together and would've been married if my father hadn't arranged for me to be paired with Anton."
"I know, Lysbette," said Lutisse, who wondered herself if indeed Denis would travel all that distance, but there could be an outside chance that he would have Jacques make that trip.
"My dear, I know you still have a soft spot for Denis, and it pains
you as much me to see his life utterly destroyed by Jehanne's evil
Then the topic returned to the chief, most pressing matter: how to trap
Jehanne Bellot before she tries to harm the baron, if that indeed is what
"Before alerting Frollo, we need absolute proof. Lysbette, keep a sharp eye on my sister and niece. But don't tell them I've returned home as I do not want to alarm them. Once cornered, Jehanne may very well resort to violence. As for Ameline, I still think she is setting Frollo up for a very bad fall. It makes me shudder to think what His Grace would do to that girl once he discovers he is, in any way, the target of a scam."
Émile Poulin sat across from Ameline, herself radiant in her dark purple velvet dress and tall hennin of matching fabric. The headpiece's veil was of the finest pink moiré silk. At her throat was that amethyst brooch, a gift from her current suitor. All the tavern was a-buzz when these two entered. Now what is Frollo's latest fling doing here with a young scholar? It was no secret that the Minister of Justice had seemingly, of late, tossed aside his vow of celibacy and began courting the lovely blonde girl who arrived in town just a few fleeting weeks ago. This girl must be that wealthy and of exceptional breeding to capture the hard heart of Frollo. No one knew Émile's circumstances but what did it matter? What most patrons could gather from the pair's conversations was something about investing in a lucrative trade. Ah, so this young lady is a merchant's daughter, extremely astute in the subject of business and commerce. So few women know the ins and outs of mercantilism, but this Ameline Bellot seems to know her stuff.
"Now, Émile," she said, once she and her guest found a table
in a far corner, "I've found a gentleman who says there is a new spice
route opening between here and LeHavre, and that he is looking for young
men like yourself to go into business with him."
Émile's eyes lit up brilliantly. Ameline has certainly been busy lining up just what he was looking for – a chance to make his mark on the world of mercantilism. At school he had overheard a few of his classmates discuss the traditional occupations, and they may very well eschew those for more more lucrative careers in commercial trade. So many merchants of late have became independently wealthy and achieved high status, and some are actually friends of Judge Frollo. So, to Émile, what Ameline says has to be true or else she wouldn't have gone out of her way to help a friend.
He said after sipping his ale, "Really, Ameline? So, how do I contact this man, and how much should I invest? I don't have too much but I think I can spare a bit."
Ameline thought it over, sipped oh-so ladylike her cup of fine vintage Burgundy, then asked, "How much do you have saved?" "Er...nearly 250 francs. Most of the money is my father's, who left it with Maman upon his death. She kept it safely hidden away until I became of age. It is, of course, still securely stashed away in Maman's quarters at the Palais de Justice."
Ameline eyed Émile with almost amorous intent. Too bad she didn't see him first instead of Frollo, or else she could find ways to have fun with him. In a way, Émile reminded Ameline of a young man back in Calais with whom she 'fooled around with' on occasion. That was nearly a month to the day she and her mother had to 'disappear' right after Guibert Varlet's murder. Naturally, she never told her parents about her stolen moments with Sevier, and she knew no young man would dare marry her.
All right, so I lied to Mother about still being a maiden, but...Yes! Even though I hate Frollo with a passion, I think I can keep the man 'occupied' while Mother entertains Aubert...Ah, a little feminine wiles...Minister Frollo, despite his seemingly tight rein on all things of the flesh, is obviously no stranger to a woman's charms. If I play this right, I could wheedle my way into the good judge's bed...Oh, Ameline, just think of the juicy fallout once word gets out to all of Paris that the esteemed Minister of Justice 'seduced' an innocent, virtuous, untouched maiden...
"Ameline?," said Émile, catching his companion in an unusual pensive mood. "I thought over what you said about investing in this new venture. I believe it's just the career I've been looking for. And I'm ready to put all that money to good use."
She smiled at him, secretly rejoicing that she was within seconds of clinching the perfect scam. Problem! What if Émile decides to tell his mother, or Frollo himself. No! He wouldn't dare do that, for I have all of it covered. I could claim that I was given false information. Yes! That could work and throw suspicion off of me.
"Well, Émile," she replied, "give me all 250 francs, and I in turn will hand it over to Monsieur Fouinon. He will forward instructions to you in writing. Just wait for his letter then meet him at the prescribed time and location."
"Oh, thank you, Ameline! You have been a godsend!"
And thank you, Émile, for being the perfect 'fool'. Ha ha! That's
rather good! The Feast of Fools...the perfect fool...
Go to Chapter 13!
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