Jehanne checked her appearance in the mirror, admiring how she could still turn heads. For a woman in her early forties, she was still in the prime of life. Her dark blonde hair was without a strand of gray, the blue eyes still twinkled with a devilish passion that once attracted, then repelled, Denis. The figure was still lithe and curvy, not at all like her sister's unbecoming corpulence. Her hair was devoid of any elaborate headpiece but held in place by a glittery black snood. A new diamond necklace – a love gift from Aubert – sparkled at her throat. She even stained her lips and cheeks with a special crimson rouge. Her pale skin glowed from the light dusting of crushed pearls and was scented with sweet rose and neroli. Dressed in a gown of gleaming black silk, the bodice molding to her body like a second skin exposing just enough cleavage guaranteed to drive a certain nobleman mad with desire, Jehanne smiled wickedly in anticipation of a memorable evening.
She still had one more worry on her mind. What if Ameline backs out of her part of the scam, and that is seduce Claude Frollo? The girl has to distract the judge long enough for Jehanne's plan to work perfectly. If Ameline is as conniving and meticulously devious as her mother, then she'd have Frollo so worked up, so deeply entrenched in Ameline's charms that many matters will go unchecked, such as a certain "missing person." Jehanne smiled again, knowing that all was well with her daughter. Now, she could focus all her attention on Aubert, and make tonight "the night."
"My darling Jehanne," said the baron with breathless delight, "you are an absolutely ravishing sight for these old eyes." Aubert d'Urboise, ever so handsome in his black velvet tunic, hose, and tall boots, on this night, looked far younger, more vibrant. Could it be that after years of denying himself any female companionship, love finally found its way into his heart? Aubert had vowed, ever since the tragic death of his intended bride years ago, that no woman could ever match his first real love. But Jehanne was different, so unlike most women her age. She was widowed, had a grown daughter, but she could still make the men literally salivate over her beauty and vivaciousness. The baron thought that Monsieur Bellot had to a most fortunate man to have such a lady in his possession. Aubert, being a bachelor for so long, and there were certainly no children, felt it was finally time to settle down in his declining years. He had privately promised himself that he would propose to Madame Bellot tonight, perhaps extend their country holiday until spring so they could be married right away. After all, he did speak with the parish priest the day after he and Jehanne arrived. Could the Reverend Father be so inclined to perform a wedding Mass next week? The good cleric was more than pleased to honor such a request. Aubert smiled to himself, thinking of the many years of bliss with Jehanne as his bride, no matter how much time the Lord gave him. If he were to die within the year, he insisted that the time left should be filled with contentment and joy.
Jehanne swam into the formal dining hall as Aubert, the consummate gentleman, took her hand, gallantly kissed it, and led her to her place at the table. Jehanne marveled at the fine, costly tableware: silver cups and plates, hand-cut glassware, silver eating utensils Aubert had brought from Italy years ago. The centerpiece, while not as elaborate as the crystal epergne that graced Aubert's Parisian table, consisted of an intricately wrought sterling silver bowl filled with fresh fruits and nuts. The sideboard groaned with all things delicious and tempting. Savory smoked meats, fresh bread, preserved fruits and delectable sauces, France's best wines and brandies. Aubert boasted that the wine hailed from his own Loire Valley vineyards, and the fruits from the estate's orchards.
"I certainly hope you have a healthy appetite," he said slyly, knowing that he didn't mean the food alone. Jehanne picked up on this, thinking to herself, oh yes he is definitely interested. She returned the smile as a servant quickly and efficiently served the first course: a monstrous smoked salmon spiked with dill and Spanish oranges. The dinner conversation was light at first, with Aubert carefully guiding the discussion. They talked of his life as a young man, his family, his interests which bordered on the intellectual and urbane.
"I'm not much on sport, Madame Bellot," he said during the entree. "Tried hunting a few times, but it was – is – books and music that command my attention."
Jehanne said little about her childhood or family, just a few well placed
lies about being an only child and that her parents died when she was barely
sixteen. "Then I married Denis Bellot. It was a good match at first..."
She quickly thought of a terrific tale, one big lie after another, just to pique Aubert's sympathy – and speed up his marriage proposal. "And what," asked Aubert, holding out his cup for more wine which was immediately refilled, "do you mean by 'it was good at first'?"
Jehanne, putting down her spoon and picking up the white linen napkin, gently dabbed her eyes then proceeded to tell Aubert the "truth" about her marriage. "Oh, Aubert, it is just so painful to recall it all." Aubert d'Urboise, not really wanting to press her for details, gently asked, "Did your husband mistreat you?" Jehanne Bellot, the crocodile tears now freely flowing, the voice taking on a deliberate emoting quiver, replied, "Denis was very kind to me the first year of our marriage, but he became quite overbearing, manipulative, even downright cruel." She asked for more wine to which Aubert directed the servant. She sipped her Moselle, nibbled a bit of spiced peach, then continued her story.
"Denis was a minor merchant, not at all like Anton Claus. He possessed
limited business sense, and always we had to struggle financially. When Ameline
was born, Denis flatly refused any schooling for the girl. He said it was a
waste of money, and that once she is of marriageable age, it would be best if we
packed her off to a convent. We couldn't afford the girl a decent dowry, hence
no man worth his salt would marry Ameline."
The tears came fast and furious; Jehanne did all she could from bawling outright. A natural talent, with this crying on cue, Jehanne could have been quite the actress. She buried her head in her pink silk handkerchief, still sobbing and trembling. Aubert rose from his chair, strode up to Jehanne, then placed his hands upon her shoulders. What a calamity to befall a woman so beautiful, so full of life. He knew of many women who married into the nobility, wives of a few close friends, who suffered the same fate: the cold cruel nature of their husbands. Aubert vowed, if he ever marry, he would never treat his beloved like that. No, this lady will have the best of everything, and he would regard her with respect and devotion as she so rightfully deserves. He bent down his handsome silvered head and kissed Jehanne gently upon the cheek. Her crying nearly abated to ragged, breathless whimpers. She turned in her chair to face him then placed her hand into his as he assisted her up.
"Oh, Aubert," she tearfully stammered, "I didn't mean to burden you with such sordid details of my marriage, but–"
Her tears and words were soon silenced by Aubert's tender yet deeply passionate kiss. She felt his arms enfold her body, his lips pressing down onto hers, the tongue playfully toying with that of her own. His hands were everywhere, groping over the tight silk, sensing the firm flesh within. Aubert held Jehanne tightly to him, still caressing and kissing her as if he were seventeen again. Ah, the self-denial of all joys and pleasures will at last end this very night. He thrilled at Jehanne's amorous response. She raked her hands over his body, finally cupping his rounded bottom then pulled him even closer to her. Aubert's breath was suddenly taken away as Jehanne's tongue entered his mouth, her lower body subtly grinding against his groin and its growing bulge.
Extracting himself from the oral embrace, he whispered in a voice husky with
acute arousal, "Oh, my darling lady, let me take you...to where we
Deep inside, Jehanne Bellot's desire grew tenfold. With the thrill of victory within striking distance, Jehanne felt her body, still held tightly within Aubert's arms, literally wriggling in anticipation of bedding the man (and that sensual 'dance', in that dress which did nothing to hide all that delectable feminine pulchritude, set the old baron on fire even more so). He led her up the stairs, down the corridor to his bedchamber, still kissing and caressing her with abandon.
"Oh, my dear," he whispered amorously, "I literally can't wait..."
Before they were barely inside, he was undoing her dress and she in turn
stripped him of his tunic. For a man his age, he certainly had a handsome,
slender body, the build of a wiry athlete instead of a sickly elderly gentleman.
Sickly? Hardly. For at once he threw Jehanne on the bed then himself on top of
her. He attacked her like a rake who had just possessed another hapless virgin.
What a surprise! This baron is so potent, so virile. Perhaps it was the pent-up
passion he had denied himself all these years. Had to be, for Aubert went after
Jehanne with such ferocious hunger. They, entwined together, twisted and rolled
on that bed, celebrating their passion for each other.
As he entered her, it was better than Jehanne had imagined, far better than coupling with that uptight, oh-so honorable Denis. How, thought Jehanne with wicked delight, would Denis react if he should walk in on this? And that thought aroused Jehanne more, causing her to abandon all and envelope Aubert within her sultry yet dangerous web. She especially loved his screams of ecstacy...
Oh yes, Ameline, on her many visits to the Palais, caught site of numerous people, most of them Gypsies, being led to Minister Frollo's infamous dungeons and torture chambers. She wondered what particular hatred Frollo had towards these people. To her, the Gypsies were not hurting anyone, and they seemed to possess a delightful disdain for the very order and control Frollo so often purports. Ameline remembered watching a group of Gypsy performers, mostly comedians and dancers, whose talents Ameline admired greatly. In that group, there was one little girl who charmed Ameline so, a sweet-faced, raven-haired cutie of about six or seven years. She had the most arresting jade green eyes Ameline had ever seen. And the child had a sassy spunk and defiant air that commanded respect and attention. Ameline was so impressed with this child's dance performance that she gave the girl many coins. It was said, on the streets, that Minister Frollo frowned upon the Gypsies' activities, things that he felt further broke down all that was moral and decent.
All right, thought Ameline, how could fortune-telling, palm reading, music and dancing harm Parisians in any way? And why would Frollo ever want to rid Paris of them? It never quite registered with Ameline even when she brought up the subject with Frollo, and he in turn thoughtfully and thoroughly explained those reasons. Isn't obvious, he said. The Gypsies fall outside our natural order. They represent everything evil and cruel in the world. They refuse to take on respectable trades, instead indulging in unholy pursuits. The heathens refuse to convert to Christianity, insist on moving about like nomads, and generally cause upheaval everywhere they go. It was such an onslaught of evil that Frollo said he personally took on the task of "cleansing" Paris of these parasites.
Parasites...There are a couple of parasites here, now...and they aren't Gypsies!
Here were the Bellot women, mere parasites who fed off the kindness of strangers only to ruin those unsuspecting folks. How odd still that Frollo would categorize a virtually harmless people as such when he was the "host" of a "sponge". Even the judge's good friend, the Baron de Clellaux, at this moment, fell victim to Jehanne Bellot's dark designs. What fools these men in high places be! They scorn all who they feel beneath them socially, culturally, religiously, that they fail to see that the true villains within their own sort, even within themselves.
Pushing the thoughts from her mind, Ameline once again focused on why she, on this day, followed Frollo to the cathedral. She kept a safe distance, stopping short of the bell tower steps. Why does he go up there? Why does he stay there so long? What is up there that commands his utmost attention? Does he keep a hidden mistress? If so, why in the bell tower instead of a comfortable house elsewhere? Again, Ameline had to keep herself from giggling because it was so funny. Imagine the upright, staid, very pious Claude Frollo, trysting with a doxy in a church of all places!
She heard someone quickly descending the south tower steps. Oh yes, it's Frollo; she can't mistake that resounding tread, the jingle of silver spurs. Quickly concealing herself behind the post, Ameline watched as Frollo briskly walked down the corridor towards the door. She saw the Archdeacon encounter the judge, and the two men locked eyes momentarily before Frollo exited the cathedral. Well, it wasn't a friendly exchange, in fact it was downright icy. What animosity exists between those two? What is going on up in the bell tower that piques the Archdeacon's hatred of Frollo, and likewise the judge's?
Her curiosity getting the best of her, Ameline grabbed a torch then ascended the seemingly endless steps. Her legs ached with the long climb, but she didn't care. She stopped for a while to catch her breath; her heart pounded with apprehension. What will she find? Perhaps Frollo has a secret stash of jewels. Yes! That could be only be it. With such priceless gems her possession, Ameline could finally leave Paris and live a life of luxury. No more kowtowing to the likes of Frollo, no matter how charmingly he has treated her these past weeks.
As she neared the upper story of the tower, she heard singing. Hello! This isn't a strange woman's voice, it's a child's! What is this? Why does Frollo keep a little boy up here? She stopped, peered through the planks, and saw the boy busily playing with his toys. His back was to her; he never knew she was there. Ameline wanted to talk to this child but resisted. As she turned to head back down, the boy finally turned around and said, "Master! You're back already?"
Ameline, still not fully seeing his face, answered, "No, I'm Ameline, a friend of Frollo's." She, now unafraid, climbed the last flight and entered the room. Now the boy's face and body became fully visible, and it took much courage for Ameline not to scream or retch on the spot. The boy ran up to her, introduced himself, then said, "Oh goodie! A visitor! I never get visitors!"
This was a time Ameline wished she had left well enough alone.
Copyright©2003 by PRP