Family Values

Chapter 15

The Time & Place:
After docking at LeHavre...Jacques Bellot is Paris-bound...

It was now early February. With luck and good weather on their side, Jacques and Jules could make Paris within two weeks, but the trip could take longer. Mon Dieu! The captain was right! That ship got us here in record time. Now, in the morning, we take a riverboat down the Seine, another two weeks or more. I simply do not have time to lose. At this moment, my mother and sister are milking this old baron and Frollo for all they're worth. O Mother of God, what if Maman and Ameline are already in Frollo's custody awaiting punishment. They could be, right now, undergoing the worst torture...

Gathering his few belongings, Jacques Bellot headed for the nearby inn. He was glad he had someone to talk to all during the voyage from Calais to LeHavre. Jules Marquette, the Calais magistrate's special courier, was also Paris bound, dispatched to deliver important documents to Judge Claude Frollo. Of course, Jacques knew the man had to do his duty, although he shuddered at the thought of his mother and sister facing certain execution for their crimes.
"Well, Jacques," said Jules Marquette as he settled before the inn's cheery fireplace, "with blessings from above, we should be in Paris by mid-month. Not that I envy my job, but you know I do have my orders."
"I understand, sir," replied Jacques, upon graciously accepting a late evening supper of cheese, fruit and bread. He sipped the wine – a special varietal from Baron de Clellaux's vineyards, so the innkeeper so proudly proclaimed.
"Aubert d'Urboise," said Jules, "is the old baron."
"Yes," said Jacques, "and my father had some minor business with him ages ago, long before Ameline and myself were born."

Now a thought came to him. What if Aubert, even in his advanced age, should remember Denis Bellot? Surely, if Jehanne is filling the old man's head with lies, Aubert would see through those falsehoods and give Madame Bellot the brush-off. Worse yet, his lordship could alert Minister Frollo that a pair of grifters are in their midst. And what exactly is Ameline's role in this if, indeed, Jehanne is trying to extract a certain fortune from the baron. A sudden sick feeling came over Jacques Bellot. What if Ameline is ordered by her mother to seduce Frollo? Given Ameline's sexual precociousness, it is a possibility. She could lull Frollo into a dangerous love affair, thus distracting His Grace long enough not to monitor what is really happening under his nose. Jacques didn't want to assume extremes, but this was his mother and sister who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. He was perfectly aware of Ameline's brief passionate trysts with Sevier, a merchant's son who never wanted to marry. That young man spent his days and nights in Calais' brothels, but found a more willing playmate in Ameline. For Sevier, making love to countless women of loose reputation was better than supporting a wife and children. The man led a life full of giddy pleasure. It will catch up to him one day, as such games will catch up with Ameline...


Later that evening, in Paris, Émile reread the letter again. He couldn't believe his good fortune. In that letter, it fully explained that Émile would take over, in part, a new, lucrative spice trade between Paris and LeHarve. All young Poulin had to do was meet Monsieur Robert Fouinon in Le Papillon Doré tomorrow afternoon, then all will be set up and Émile would be in the mercantile business. Now Émile never told his mother; in fact, he told no one as not to jinx his chance at the big time. Ah, no more studies, no more kowtowing to that awful professor who really doesn't know how the real world works.
At last, within a few months, I'll make enough money so Maman can leave her life of service. I can take care of both of us, and I'll be able to marry a good lady, father strong children, and support them in style. He had a tough time getting to sleep; he was that excited. And it took much fortitude on his part not to fall asleep during the next morning's classes.

At the appointed hour, Émile sprang out the door of Le Université and headed for that swanky tavern. My, my, this M. Fouinon must be quite wealthy or else he wouldn't have me meet him here. This place...I feel so lost among the rich merchants and noblemen...

He sat at a corner table, forever nursing a cup of excellent Burgundy, waiting for Robert Fouinon. So many hours passed, and Émile grew restless. Has the man forgotten our appointment?, he thought. He watched the many comings and goings, but no sign of his man. Dejected, Émile prepared to leave. He paid the barmaid then headed for the door, nearly bumping into another young man just entering. When Émile heard the tavern keeper, Madame Marceage, call out, "Monsieur Fouinon! I have your room ready," he backtracked, finding his way to where Fouinon sat. Émile was quite impressed by the man's natty appearance.
Fouinon was of medium height, slender but not as spare as Frollo. Chestnut-haired, hazel-eyed, Fouinon was quite a handsome man all dressed in the finest black velvet and silk. Oh my, he is rich beyond all imagination! And to think that I'll work for this man...
He approached the table where Fouinon sat and tentatively introduced himself.
"M. Fouinon, sir. I am Émile Poulin, friend of Ameline Bellot." Fouinon gave the boy a curious look, replying, "I do not know you, young man. Neither do I know this Ameline woman." He looked Émile up and down wondering what possessed this youngster to introduce himself. Ah, perhaps he has been sent here by Frollo...

"M. Poulin," he said, "I am tired, for you see, I have just arrived in Paris and am in need of rest and sustenance. Now, if you will state your business–" "Sir, I received your letter. About needing willing and ambitious young men to help oversee your new spice route."

To this Robert Fouinon laughed out loud. Obviously the young man has mistaken me for someone else. "Young man, I don't know what you are talking about. Why, I received a letter several month ago from Claude Frollo himself, confirming my appointment within the Ministry of Justice. He is expecting me."
"Sir, as I said, I arrived just this afternoon, and I presumed that you were sent by Frollo..."

Émile said nothing; his face gave away his utter disappointment – and embarrassment. With a sigh, he finally said, "M."

He produced that letter from his doublet pocket, showing it to Fouinon. "Read this for yourself. Is that not your signature?" Fouinon scanned the letter, replying, "It is not my signature nor is it even my handwriting. I believe, M. Poulin, you have fallen victim to fraud."
Émile couldn't believe this! After all the friendly gestures, the sweet talk...How can Ameline do something like this? He felt so embarrassed that he didn't even want to tell his mother what had happened. Then he suddenly remembered the money he gave to Ameline. All 250 francs handed over to a...con woman!

"Sir," Émile said dejectedly, "I invested all my money in this 'business'. It was all I had, most of it left to me by my father. The woman who said she knew a man named 'Fouinon' has my money, and I don't know what else to do. It is all so embarrassing, sir."  Robert Fouinon felt sorry for the boy and promised that he would do what he could to recoup the losses.

"We could, young man, have Minister Frollo look into the matter–"
"NO!," said Émile emphatically, "I don't want Frollo to know. He could tell my mother, and then she would berate me for being so stupid."

Fouinon smiled, beckoned young Poulin to sit, ordered more wine, then said, "Well, perhaps we could work something out. I, being new in the Ministry of Justice, can do so much. But if you want to see your life savings again, I must have your complete cooperation. Now, here is what I want you to do..."


Later that evening, while all of Paris slept, two figures met in la Place de Notre-Dame. A perfect time and place for an clandestine meeting. There was much to discuss, and the house they shared with their host had too many eyes and ears. So they agreed to meet here.

"Maman, when did you get back?"
"Just this evening. I have yet to return to Aubert's home."
"But where is Aubert? Didn't he return to Paris with you?"
"No...there accident."

Darn, all those voices out there are keeping me awake! And I don't feel so good. Who could still be up at so late?
High up in the bell tower, Quasimodo passed a fitful night. Frollo had left hours ago, but Quasi still felt the aftereffects of eating too many sweets. It was so odd, thought little Quasimodo, that Frollo brought me all these goodies. And for once he didn't yell at me! I ate so much; those sugarplums were so good, but now I have the worst bellyache...Oww!
Quasi, his stomach still hurting from overindulgence, got up and strode out to the parapets overlooking the square. He saw two ladies talking. Now why are they still up?, thought the little bell ringer. In the dead silence of night, he could hear them plainly. What he heard was not pleasant chitchat.

 "But, Maman, I did what you said. I seduced Claude Frollo! Now he's talking marriage and everything!"
"Good girl, Ameline! With you as Madame Frollo and I as the new baroness..."
"You didn't!"
"Yes, it happened just last week. Aubert insisted that we marry at once while on holiday. Now I have complete control of everything, and that snotty Madame Claus can stop looking down her nose..."
"But, Maman, what happened to the baron?" "As I said, it was an 'accident'. We were on our way back from the country...Don't you remember what I explained?"
"Ah, so you'll claim you and Aubert were overtaken by highwaymen, robbed, and Aubert..."
"Yes, poor Aubert..."

Who are they talking about? Some Aubert guy...Hey! That's Frollo's friend, the old baron! Does Frollo know he got married to this woman, and that there was an accident? But she doesn't seem like she's too sad. Most ladies cry when their husbands get hurt or die, but not her...Hey, what are they saying now?

"Maman, I'm still uneasy about all this. What if Tante Lutisse returns? She's sure to give us away."
"Don't worry your pretty head, Ameline. I'll take care of my sister when she returns. Now, as for you and Claude...When is the wedding?"
"We haven't set a date yet, and he has yet to propose, but I'm sure he wants to marry at Easter. At least that is what he intimated to me yesterday. But..."
"But what?"
"What if Jacques or Father himself happen to come here? Our plan will be ruined!"
"They had better not! For all I know, your father or brother wouldn't dare spoil their good names with scandal. So, for the time being, we remain in Paris until..."
"Until when...What...Ah! Oh I see..."
"Oh, Ameline, once Frollo puts that ring on your finger, give the man all the attention a husband expects from a good wife. Then, when the time is right, kill him! Then it's off to anywhere we'll never be found! Just you and me, and all that lovely money."

Huh? My master and this lady are getting married? He didn't tell me he was courting a lady. But why did her mother say "Kill him"? Does she plan to kill my master? No! She can't do that! I have to tell Frollo when I see him! He could be in trouble. Those ladies are bad, and they did something bad to the baron.

Quasimodo, his stomach feeling somewhat better, went back to bed, his mind made up to tell Frollo everything he heard and saw.


"Shh! Maman! Look up!"  Jehanne Bellot did as Ameline asked but wondered why. When Ameline explained the horribly deformed boy Frollo keeps up in the cathedral's bell tower, Jehanne became quite alarmed. "I saw him looking down on us, Maman. He had to hear us talking. Now, what to do? That little monstrosity will tell Claude Frollo everything first thing in the morning!"

To her daughter, Jehanne said, "Then I leave all that up to you, Ameline. You must get to that child before he blows our plans sky high!"

Quasimodo, his stomach finally settling down after the Archdeacon kindly administered an herbal remedy, settled in to sleep again. But it was still a fitful rest as the little bell ringer couldn't get what those women said out of his mind. He had to tell Frollo first thing in the morning because it was the right thing to do. Quasi wondered, once Frollo caught those bad women, if his guardian would be nicer to him, stop berating him so, and maybe let him go outside his bell tower home. No, that would never happen, but at least Frollo would be proud of me for helping catch those ladies before they did anything else bad.

Drifting off in a sound slumber, Quasi began to dream. He dreamt of a faraway place where the old baron lived. Naturally, for Quasimodo, who never set foot outside the bell tower, he never saw Aubert d'Urboise's country chateau. But, in his dreams, he could imagine what it looked like from what Frollo told him about it. In the dream he saw a lonely old man who just found love, only to discover the lady he married was a fraud and cheat. Quasi tossed and turned, trying to erase that dream, but it was of no use. The dream continued with Quasimodo watching the lady serve the old baron, "A lovely roast of lamb, dressed with wild mushrooms."
He ate the delicious dish then, moments later, doubled over in pain. The old man couldn't breath or speak. In moments he fell to the floor, thrashing about in agony, while the lady just stood there waiting for her new husband to die. And he died, just like that. The next thing Quasi saw was the lady dragging the man's body somewhere...He couldn't tell because it was so dark...

"She killed the baron!," exclaimed Quasi upon awakening. "She gave him bad mushrooms! She poisoned him!" Poor Quasimodo was in tears. If that lady did just what I saw in my dreams...Oh my, I MUST tell Frollo!
He threw the covers over his head as if to keep out the 'bad dream monsters', shivering and trembling in fear. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind. What if those ladies kill Frollo like that? Then who would take care of me? Quasi cried again, whimpering softly in case anyone could hear him. He glanced at the cast-off stone gargoyles in the corner, asking, "Laverne, Hugo, Victor...Tell me what I should do?"

He was waiting for an answer then, suddenly, heard soft footsteps. Is that Frollo coming to see me? At this hour? He never comes up here this late. Maybe it's the Archdeacon again, checking up on me...
Quasimodo got up as the figure ascended the bell tower steps. He could see a shadow in the doorway, but it didn't look like Frollo. In fact, this figure wasn't a man – it was a woman. Could it be one of the nuns sent up here to check on me? I like the one who gave me wood to carve, Sister Marie Augustine; she's so nice to me...

The woman approached Quasimodo then leapt forth and covered the boy's mouth. Her voice had an ominous, threatening edge as she said, "Not one word, you little freak!"  Quasi tried in vain to free himself from her grip. It was so dark he couldn't make out her face, but he knew the voice – It's her! It's the lady who said she'd kill Frollo!

"Listen to me," she said through clenched teeth as she tightened her grip around Quasi's mouth. "I know you know...Not one word to Frollo or anyone else! Understand?" Quasi, his mind in a fog, just nodded.
She continued her threats with, "If you say anything to Frollo about us, I shall kill you on the spot! I will kill Frollo while you watch, then no one will be around to rear such a monster as you!"
He nodded again, trying to talk against her restraining hand. "No...I won't tell...Let me go..."
"Good, we understand each other," she said with a reptilian hiss. "Quasimodo, you don't tell Frollo, and I won't tell everyone you're up here. Not one soul in this city, other that Frollo and myself, know you exist. Now, what if the good citizens find out there is a monster living in the cathedral...Good boy, Quasimodo. Now, remember, you be quiet and not say one word to Frollo, or else!"

She then produced a knife, running it against Quasimodo's pale, deformed face. "If you break your promise, I'll cut your throat!"  Then she released him and left. Now Quasimodo was so scared he couldn't go back to sleep if he tried. All he could think of was how to tell Frollo without exactly telling him. And he wondered what could happen if he didn't. So many people can get hurt, and it will be all my fault...


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