Family Values

Chapter 16

The Time & Place:
It is now three weeks since Jehanne Bellot returned to Paris – WITHOUT Aubert! Read on...

Oh what to do? How can so many things go wrong all at once? Claude Frollo, alone in his chambers, passed a sleepless night. Not even a half decanter of fine peach brandy could soothe his nerves; he was that beside himself. In a way, and this was not like him to do so, felt a twinge of guilt over past revelations. True, he was very much in love with the charming Ameline Bellot and wanted so much to make her Madame Frollo. The many stolen nights of passion at once sealed that love, and Frollo looked forward to many more once he got Ameline in the marriage bed. For a man who was, in his youth, used to women for the taking, Frollo surprised himself by falling for Ameline so easily. He never "loved" any of his previous mistresses, not like he loved Mlle. Bellot. She surprised him with her amazing ability to appear sweet and demure in public but wild and uninhibited in the bedroom. How Frollo's breath was taken away at Ameline's frank, candid sexuality. She was a maiden to be sure, yet she knew all those subtle ways to please a man to the bursting point. No other woman had made Claude feel this way, so he had to marry her before any of the young Parisian bucks got their two francs in.

However, too many events collided with his previous plans to announce his engagement formally. He had yet to propose to Ameline, and it was understandable now, given the present circumstances. Frollo pondered what Jehanne Bellot recounted while that lady spent a winter holiday in the country with Aubert d'Urboise. If this was a happier time, Frollo would fully bless and congratulate Aubert and Jehanne on their sudden marriage. He never quite understood why the Clauses all at once became so bitter towards the Bellot women. After all, with Jehanne now the Baronness de Clellaux, that Belgian couple could show more respect, especially with Aubert  kidnapped, possibly dead.

Claude Frollo never forgot the scene that greeted him when he called on Aubert. What a shock to learn that, just days after their wedding, Aubert and Jehanne, on their way back from the country, were accosted by highwaymen. According to Jehanne's account, the men, wearing hoods as not to be recognized, caught up with the carriage. They overtook the driver then forced the hapless couple out. Then the robbers took many valuables: Aubert's ring, Jehanne's new pearl and diamond necklace, several bags of gold coins. The men, according to Jehanne, beat the old baron, tied him up, then flung him on the back of one of their horses. And they nearly committed another, more heinous crime. Jehanne, in tears from recalling the episode, was nearly raped at knifepoint.
"They threatened Aubert, said they'd force him to watch his new bride outraged!," she said sobbingly. But the driver, trying to protect his master and lady, lunged forth to assault the robbers. But they were quicker. They instantly killed the driver – knifed him to death – then rode off with Aubert as hostage, leaving Jehanne to fend for herself. She walked many miles before a kindly family gave a ride to town. That's when Ameline, on her way back from the Palais de Justice, encountered her mother, a disheveled, shrieking mess.
 "She was crying so, Claude," said Ameline. "I couldn't understand what she was saying about 'Aubert is dead!'" 

But if Aubert d'Urboise is indeed dead, wondered Frollo, where is the body? Surely once the thieving, kidnapping villains had no more use for the baron, they'd simply dump his body in a variety of places. So Frollo ordered his men to search the countryside between Paris and the baron's chateau. Leave nothing unchecked, he ordered, search every wood, every meadow, every house...Even drag the river if you must. Deep down, Frollo had hoped that Aubert was still alive, but given the man's poor state of health and advanced age, he entertained the idea that the baron was indeed dead. What a cruel fate to befall such a good friend! Frollo thought of Aubert, happy at last that he found the love of a lifetime only to have it taken away so cruelly. He also thought of Ameline, a young woman who would've been Aubert's pride and joy. The baron would've doted on the girl, showering her with all the things she missed in her life, all the things with which the baron would spare no expense.

Then Frollo's thoughts focused on someone else: Quasimodo. As much as he hated being forced to rear the incredibly ugly, pathetically slow waif, Frollo wondered why the boy seemed so quiet these days. He asked Quasimodo repeatedly, "Is something troubling you?"
But the little bell ringer said, "No master, nothing is wrong," and left it at that. Claude Frollo was certain, given Quasi's bird's eye view of Paris, the boy would have, could have, seen something out of the ordinary the night Jehanne returned to Paris. But no, Quasi said, he saw nothing odd or suspicious. Ah well, no matter, thought Claude, it's probably the boy's way of dealing with the isolation, but he has to come clean, someday...


Finally! Paris at last. In the dead of night, on the docks of Notre Dame, Jacques Bellot and Jules Marquette disembarked. It was a long three weeks on the river, and the trip took its toll on the two passengers. Now was the time to seek shelter and sustenance. In the morning, Jacques would call on Tante Lutisse, if she had, by now, returned from Lyon. Marquette would deliver his message to Judge Claude Frollo posthaste. Not a pleasant task, Jules informed Jacques, but it was his duty to carry out the Calais magistrate's orders. For Jacques' sake, Jules said, he hoped that Jehanne and Ameline Bellot had already skipped town thus evading capture.

"But, my friend," he said, "if they are still in France, anywhere near Paris, Frollo will not rest until they're arrested and in his custody." 

Jacques Bellot swallowed that bitter pill, yet he knew if had to take imprisonment in Frollo's infamous dungeons and excruciating torture, then his mother and sister may yet learn to discontinue their ill-gotten games. He shuddered to think if his mother was found guilty of murder. Jehanne, after suffering untold tortures and humiliations at Frollo's hand, may be extradited to Calais to stand trial. Then again, Claude Frollo may not send Jehanne Bellot home, preferring to try and execute her in Paris. The Minister of Justice had a widely known reputation for handing down harsh punishments for the pettiest of offenses. If the stories filtering back to faraway Calais were true, then both Jehanne and Ameline, if Frollo ever caught them, would suffer a fate worst than death.

Jacques and Jules both checked into Le Clef Argente, an inn popular with the wayfaring set. There the gentlemen enjoyed a hot late night meal and comfortable beds. Jacques had a tough time getting any sleep despite his weariness from the long arduous boat trip down the Seine. He couldn't get it out of his mind that his mother and sister could indeed still be in Paris. That's it, he thought before finally settling into a sound slumber. Tomorrow I'm calling on Tante Lutisse, if she is home. If not, then I'll make an appointment with Frollo himself, plead my case and Father's. Perhaps, if Frollo is a fair man, capable of showing the least bit of mercy, he will understand the anguish of a father and brother...


Bright and early next morning, Jacques lingered over breakfast while Jules Marquette prepared to depart for the Palais de Justice. This was a time Jules truly hated his job, what with fostering a fondness for Jacques Bellot. Thanks to God the boy is nothing like his mother and sister, thanks still that the father Denis instilled in Jacques everything good and true. Before Jules departed, he joined Jacques for a quick breakfast. They said little to each other throughout meal, but the former had to say, "If Frollo should say something about my mother, whether she is indeed Guibert Varlet's killer, then I want to know exactly how he reacted the moment you showed him that document."
To this Jules chuckled a bit then grew serious. "Young Jacques, if I know Frollo then he will certainly be upset, angry even, if fugitives are running amok. You forget, sir, that this is HIS city, and, like it or not, he conducts the business of justice as he sees fit."
"I'm aware of that," replied Jacques, "since I've heard so many stories about life in the dungeons, in Frollo's torture chambers..."
"Well," said Jules, "for what it's worth, I truly pray your mother and sister are good and gone. She's a pretty lady, your sister, and it would be a pity if Claude Frollo gets hold of her."
Jacques became quite curious at this remark. "What do you mean? In what way would it be a pity if Ameline is arrested?"

Jules Marquette merely nodded, only answering in a hushed voice, "There are rumors that Frollo played a little fast and loose before he became Minister of Justice. Had his share of ladies, and not for marrying, if you know what I mean. To this day, folks 'round here say he still keeps a couple of ladies around..." 
When Jacques heard this, he become even more agitated, knowing that Ameline was no maiden, and that she was very much experienced in the ways of fleshly pleasure. In a way, he knew that Frollo and Ameline must had been intimate, as a ruse to keep the judge occupied and distracted while Jehanne did likewise with the baron. He signed then tried to finish the remains of breakfast.

Jules, upon noting the time, said, "Well, I'm off. If I don't make it to the Palais in time, I may have to wait all day just to see the man." He placed his hand upon Jacques' shoulder, adding, "And I truly hope your womenfolk are far out of the country. There are times when I truly hate my job."

Jacques understood this, sending up prayers himself, pleading with the Almighty for a swift end to this entire nightmare. It would be a bittersweet reunion, what with Jehanne and Ameline still fugitives from justice. He sat there for some time, enjoying the immense size of Paris. So different from Calais...Oh well, might as well get up from here and call on Tante Lutisse. I hope she's home and, at least, Mother or Ameline have yet to cross paths with her...
A young man entered the tavern, ordered breakfast for himself, then sat down at a table not far from Jacques'. He seemed a likable fellow despite his present dark mood. He glanced at Jacques as if the two youths had met before. Narrowing his eyes, he realized right away – This must be the brother! He got up, went to Jacques' table, then introduced himself.

"Pardon, monsieur, I'm Émile Poulin, son of Minister Frollo's housekeeper. I couldn't help noticing the resemblance. Are you by chance...?"
Jacques, suddenly remembering how much he looked like his mother, also introduced himself. The two men took to each other at once, with Émile detecting that goodness and sincerety that Ameline lacked. Émile wondered if Jacques was here to fetch his mother and sister, and if he knew what had went on in the past three months.

"Er, Émile, why don't you join me? I could use the company, and since you said you know Frollo..."
"Well," said Émile, "my mother has been His Grace's housekeeper for more than ten years. I grew up in Palais and now attend le Université."

The youths soon sat together, making small talk at first, but soon the conversation turned to the obvious. "I suppose," said Émile, "that you want information."
Jacques' eyes brightened, but darkened again when he asked the question: "Émile, tell me the truth. Are my mother and sister here in Paris as we speak?"
When Émile answered in the affirmative, Jacques was knocked for a loop. Now what? With Jules Marquette at the Palais de Justice, handing that document to Frollo, there was surely trouble ahead.

"Where are they lodging?"
"Madame Bellot – I mean the Baroness de Clellaux – is staying at the Baron's Parisian house as is Ameline."

When Jacques heard "Baronness de Clellaux" he had to press Émile for more information. Did he hear this right? Did his mother, a still married woman, enter another marriage with this Aubert d'Urboise?
"Émile, I need to know. For your information, my father still lives. My mother, I'm afraid, has committed bigamy. And my sister...What is all this business between Ameline and Frollo? Tell me – all of it!"

Émile Poulin had no choice but to recount every detail and event that took place, since the Bellot women's arrival, the past three months. Imagine Jacques' shock and outrage as Émile related everything: The Bellot women charming their way into Aubert d'Urboise's life and heart, how Jehanne Bellot 'fell in love' with Aubert then married the baron on a whim. He told Jacques the latest on the baron's fate – supposedly kidnapped by highwaymen whilst the newlyweds were en route to Paris.
"His lordship is still missing," said Émile, "and Frollo has his soldiers combing every inch of the countryside between here and the baron's chateau." Then, if that wasn't enough for Jacques to stomach, Émile dropped the last bombshell – well, a double shot to be exact. "Jacques, there is more. Minister Frollo and Ameline have been seeing each other nearly two months now. There are rumors of marriage, although His Grace has yet to propose to Ameline. And there is one more thing you should know..."

Jacques, his head spinning with all these revelations, steeled himself for the inevitable. But isn't it enough? My mother is a bigamist, married a nobleman under false pretenses...the baron disappears in a kidnapping...Probably Mother's doings if I know her. And my sister, set to marry the Minister of Justice himself. What else has happened? Surely nothing can be worse than what Émile has just told me.

"Jacques," said Émile, draining his cup of warm spiced wine, "I like you. I can tell you're nothing like your sister or mother. So can tell you in all confidence..."
He proceeded to tell of Ameline's latest caper, with Émile as the victim. "Imagine my surprise and embarrassment when I discovered that the 'businessman', Robert Fouinon was, in actuality, Minister Frollo's new assistant prosecutor. I gave Ameline all my money as 'investment', and Monsieur Fouinon is helping me set up a trap for her."
Émile, noticing the look of utter disgust on Jacques' face, then suggested, "I will say no more, for all this is far too much for you to digest at once. May I suggest that you don't let your mother or sister know you are in town."

Jacques nodded, replying, "That was what I had planned. Actually, I'm on my way to see my Tante Lutisse–"
Émile interrupted, "Lutisse Lemer? Oh yes, she is home now, but I've heard from Aubert d'Urboise's housekeeper that Madame Lemer left strict orders NOT to let her sister or niece to know that."
"Then, Émile, I'm off to call on her. And to where do you go this morning?"
"To class now, then back to the Palais. Monsieur Fouinon says I really should level with my mother about losing my money to a charlatan." He fell silent for a few seconds then said, "I'm sorry, Jacques, I didn't mean to call you sister–"
"But that is what she is. Ameline has been under my mother's influence ever since she could walk and talk. All of Maman's wickedness is in her. I hate to think of what Frollo would do to her once Marquette delivers that document."
"Yes, the Calais magistrate has implicated my mother in Guibert Varlet's murder. He was one of my father's business partners. Father believes Maman and Ameline left Calais to avoid arrest and prosecution."
"Oh, my!," exclaimed Émile, "so that was the man I saw leave here."

Jacques nodded. "And before the day is out, Minister Claude Frollo will know the truth about Jehanne and Ameline Bellot, but proving my suspicions based on what you just told me will be difficult."
"Then," said Émile as the pair exited the tavern, "may I suggest that you tail Ameline without her knowing it. She visits Frollo at the Palais almost every day, most nights too. So..."

Jacques Bellot and Émile Poulin, two young men pushed together by fate, mapped out a plot that would, hopefully, bring two wayward women to justice. It would not be easy, knowing the cunning Bellot women, but it was a chance the youths had to take. The only problem was getting to Ameline before Frollo, and that would be a feat in itself. Just as they rounded the corner, they spotted a familiar figure – Ameline!

"Oh no!," hissed Jacques, turning away, "I can't let her see me. Where is she going?"
"Towards Notre Dame. Frollo goes there everyday, sometimes twice a day."
"Then I'll follow her. Émile, if you should see my Tante Lutisse, please tell her I am here in Paris, but make sure no one else knows."

A departing Émile promised as Jacques, keeping a safe distance, followed his sister to the cathedral. When she went inside, so did he. He hung back a bit while witnessing Ameline ascend the bell tower stairs. Now why is she going up there? No matter...

He waited for what seemed like an eternity, oblivious to the many comings and goings of parishioners and clerics. Hiding  in a vestibule, Jacques  waited until Ameline was downstairs and out the door. Taking a deep breath, not knowing what he would find, Jacques quietly stole up the long narrow stone steps leading to the north tower.


*Notice no "a la Soap Opera Digest" sneak peeks ~ I'm letting you sweat...just this one time! :-)
Go to Chapter 17

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