"Lysbette," Lutisse finally said, "I believe it is time to inform Jehanne of my return. I know she may flee Paris rather than subject herself to Frollo's torturers. But she has a weak spot, and I know she may not take flight once she discovers...Now, Lysbette, here's what I want you and Anton to do..."
When Jacques finally reached the top of the bell tower steps, he wondered what business Ameline had up there. Surely she isn't concealing valuables! Then again, upon learning his sister absconded with Émile's life savings in exchange for a lucrative 'business venture', Jacques concluded that Ameline might have stashed the money in the bell tower. If he had to tear the place apart, he would find out exactly why Ameline came up here. Into the bell tower he strode, hearing a faint rustling sound coming from the upperstory room. He swore he saw a little figure scamper about the room, but no one, he thougth, lives up here...
The room itself came into full view, and Jacques was taken aback at the sight of
many crudely but enchantingly carved figures on the table. There was a mobile of
broken stained glass suspended above; a crude model of the very square below
occupied that table. He heard those footsteps again coming from the parapets
outside; then he heard
a voice. This is a child's voice, he surmised, and he is
talkign to someone. Peering out, he saw a little boy speaking to a trio of
cast-off stone gargoyles. What the boy said gave Jacques pause.
"I don't know what to do, Victor," the child said to one of the gargoyles, "Frollo asked me again if something was wrong, and I said 'No, sir'. So what can I do? I can't let those bad ladies hurt my master."
Jacques, still standing just inside, not wanting the child to discover him, wondered who were these 'bad ladies' the boy mentioned. Could they be his mother and sister, and that they intend to harm the Minister of Justice? He had to know, and gaining this boy's trust, getting him to open up may be all that was needed to bring Ameline and Jehanne Bellot to justice. The boy continued his conversation with the gargoyles, leaving Jacques to speculate if the child was 'slow'. He remembered such a boy back in Calais, a childhood friend, who was not blessed with brilliance and a ready grasp of all things intellectual. But the child was sweet, almost living in a world all his own. What he lacked in intelligence he made up for with an immense imagination and friendliness. Perhaps that is what this child exercised his youthful fantasies for lack of intellectual achievement. Whatever the case, the boy had to have seen or heard something that would surely incriminate Jehanne and Ameline.
Jacques made a small grunting sound, sort of cleared his throat to make his presence known. The boy, upon hearing this, instantly wheeled around, thinking that his 'master' had just arrived. The look on Jacques' face, at the sight of the misshapen child, caused the little to jump a bit. Was it from fright or joy? Jacques would soon learn that both were the case.
"Oh," the boy
said, "I thought you were my master, or that bad lady..."
"No," replied Jacques, "I only came up here because I've always wanted to see the bell tower."
the boy smiled sweetly, his eyes sparkled with a merriment that reminded
Jacques of that same childhood friend in Calais. Young Bellot, aware that this
boy lived here for a reason, had to remind himself to approach the child with
gentleness and kindness.
"My name is Jacques Bellot. And what is your name, little one?"
"Ah, that means...," Jacques had to stop himself because the very word 'Quasimodo' means 'half-formed'. Perhaps the child is extremely sensitive about his deformities, so I won't bring it up. "I mean," said Jacques after a brief pause, "that is a very unusual name for a little one. Tell me, Quasimodo, why do you talk to the gargoyles?"
Quasi shifted a bit, knowing that he had virtually no contact with the outside world. Only Claude Frollo came up here to visit and teach him about the world 'out there'. His master often admonished him about talking the gargoyles, after all, according to Frollo they are made of stone, and stone can't talk. "Er...Monsieur Bellot...I only talk to them when I'm alone, which is almost all the time. You see, I'm a monster, and I'm not allowed out there. My master said the world is mean and cruel, and that this is where I belong."
Jacques nodded, saying, "I see. And who
is your master?"
"Judge Frollo, sir," came the quick reply. Jacques Bellot's face turned many shades of red, partially from embarrassment, partially from surprise. I didn't know Frollo kept such a child hidden from all of Paris! Does Ameline know about this boy? I have to know.
"Quasi...may I call you Quasi?" The
little bell ringer nodded. Jacques continued, "Who else has been to visit with
Quasimodo shuddered and stammered, then said, "Uhhh...no one, sir! I swear no one has been up here. Just Frollo. If he ever finds out that bad lady was here..."
"What bad lady, Quasi? Was she here today? Please, tell me. I won't tell Frollo. I promise." The bell ringer hedged a bit, wanting not to trust this stranger. But the young man seemed so kind and understanding, not at all like that lady who was here a few minutes ago. Maybe if I tell him, that lady won't come up here threatening me anymore.
"Sir," said Quasimodo, "that lady was here before. She said if I told Frollo
what I saw that night..."
The boy, now satisfied and relieved that he could at last unburden himself, rattled non-stop. "That night after Frollo visited me. See, he brought me a basket of sweetmeats and I ate a bunch of 'em. Gave me a real bad bellyache. I couldn't sleep so I went out there." He indicated the parapets, then continued. "I went out there and saw the two ladies in the square. There was no one else out there, and I wondered why they were up so late. No one ever comes to la Place de Notre-Dame that time of night. Everyone else is asleep. Anyway, they talked about the baron, that's Aubert, my master's friend. One of the ladies said..."
Quasimodo went on to repeat, word for word, exactly the ladies' verbal
exchange, including the part where the mother told the daughter to marry Frollo
then kill him. Poor Quasi trembled when he recounted how Ameline stole up to the
bell tower and threatened him with death if he told Frollo what he witnessed.
"She had a big knife, sir," Quasi said, putting his hand to his throat. "She put it here and said she'd cut me if I said anything to Frollo."
Now Jacques was more than a trifle upset; he was downright livid. Oh, the awful things my sister and mother have done since their arrival here. My mother commits bigamy, marries a nobleman under false pretenses, perhaps has had His Lordship murdered. And my sister, swindling a poor student – a servant's son at that – out of his life savings. And now, Ameline has done the unthinkable by threatening bodily harm to this innocent boy. She, right now, is charming an unsuspecting Claude Frollo, probably plotting his demise once he puts that wedding ring on her finger. Oh, Mother of God, please help us all. They, my mother and sister, my own kinswomen, have done the most wicked, depraved things. They must be stopped!
"Quasimodo. I understand your fear because, you
see, I'm here to help stop those ladies. But I will need your help."
"Tell no one I was here, especially if that young woman should come here again. I don't want her to know I am in town."
Quasimodo nodded, then thought of something else. "But don't you want to know
about my dream?"
A very animated Quasi, feeling so relieved that his story could be told, and that he just received a new visitor – a nice young man this time – replied, "Yeah! After the Archdeacon gave me medicine for my tummy, I had a dream about that other lady and Aubert. She gave him some meat with mushrooms, only the mushrooms were the kind that can hurt you. She didn't even help him after he ate the bad mushrooms and got sick." Now Jacques was more than interested; he had to know more about Quasi's dream.
"And where," he asked, "was this place you dreamed about?"
Quasi said, "Oh, out at the baron's chateau. I've never seen it since I can't go outside anyway. But my master told me all about it, so in my dream I could recognize it."
And with that, Jacques was in a quandary. In a way he wanted to report to the
Minister of Justice regarding the bell ringer's eyewitness account and how
Ameline threatened the child. But he wanted to go out to Aubert d'Urboise's
chateau on his own, try to find some evidence that would point to his mother as
the baron's killer, if she indeed had a hand in his death.
Jacques was prepared to spend the rest of the morning with Quasimodo who offered to show him the bell tower, but a horse's whiny outside alerted the bell ringer. Quasi immediately looked outside then said with a sigh of relief, "Oh, I thought it was my master coming to see me, but it's not. So we can talk some more. I like you, Jacques, so why don't I show you around."
Jacques, all to pleased to indulge his little host, graciously followed Quasi all over the bell tower, marveling at the child's warmth and need for love. "All right," Quasi began, "here are the bells. They have names, you know. This is Big Marie, and these are the triplets..."
In the Palais de Justice, just outside Frollo's office, the two young clerks
stood, ears pinned to the door. "Hear anything, Isore?," said the first.
"Just a little, Elie. That man came all the way from Calais. Something about a murder there...a fellow named Varlet...Hello! What is this?! What is this?!"
Elie, trying to listen to what was going on the other side, said, "What is what, Isore? I can't for the life of me hear a blessed thing. Oh, wait! I hear them now...Oh great Mother of God! Is it true?"
"Seems that way, Elie," whispered Isore. "And keep your voice down. Don't want Frollo to come out all the sudden. He'll tan our hides for sure."
The clerks listened to the conversation on the other side, not fully prepared for the explosion to come next.
Marquette, I understand you have something for me."
Jules Marquette, standing at attention in Frollo's office, was in awe of his host. He had heard the many stories and rumors circulating between here and Calais, and how merciless and formidable the King's Minister of Justice truly was. Now, in His Grace's presence, Jules tried not to tremble with fright; the man spooked him in so many ways.
"Sir," Jules began as he handed over the document, "I've been dispatched here by Calais magistrate. A crime has been committed there, and His Honor is certain the prime suspects are here in Paris."
Frollo merely nodded and took the document from Marquette's hand. Ah, so the murdering scoundrels may have come here, to Paris...and if they are indeed here, I shall hunt them down with all deliberate speed. No, do not sent them back to Calais, for I, and only I, shall try and execute them here. Why risk another willful flight? His Grace opened the parchment glowing with the Calais magistrate's sprawling neat Gothic penmanship. Claude scanned the document then blanched upon reading the first few lines, and the names of the accused.
"WHAT!? WHAT?! OF ALL THE DEMONIC, UNHOLY, UNSCRUPULOUS, DECEPTIVE...I'LL TEAR HER APART! I SWEAR IT!"
trembled in his boots, fearing Claude Frollo would literally knock him about. He
had never seen a man so angry, so livid. He had heard of Frollo's legendary
temper, and how it just boils to the surface when anything doesn't go his way,
or when someone betrays him. This was one of those occasions, and now the truth
revealed hit far too close to home. The Minister of Justice, now realizing the
women who charmed their way into Paris society were wanted for murder,
immediately signed warrants for their arrest.
Finally recomposing himself, Frollo told Marquette, "I want you to go back to Calais. Tell the magistrate there I thank him for this timely news. And if you could pass along this message: The accused, Jehanne Bellot and Ameline Bellot will be arrested, tried, convicted, and executed here!"
Jules, now worried that Jacques' quest for bringing his mother and sister home may be thwarted, had to speak up. There is little time to lose as the two women most likely will be facing the gallows before the week is out.
"Your Grace," said Jules, "the brother, Jacques, arrived with me this very morning. He was sent here by request of the father, Denis Bellot–"
Frollo, his anger surfacing again, was livid! Did he hear this right? That Denis Bellot lives? He pressed Marquette for more information.
"Yes, Your Grace," replied Jules, "Monsieur Bellot still resides in Calais. He is beside himself with worry that his wife and daughter committed this crime, thus fleeing to Paris. He sent the son to look for them, perhaps reason with them, and fetch them home."
Claude Frollo, still seething that not only did Aubert d'Urboise suffer a yet unknown fate at the hands of Jehanne Bellot, but that Ameline wormed her way into Frollo's good graces. And to think that I bedded her, romanced her, fell in love with her, and now, I was on the verge of marrying her...The fraudulent slut! I'll find her and her equally deceitful mother. I'll make them suffer so painfully, so agonizingly, and I'll take pleasure in performing the torture myself!
Elie and Isore, their ears still pressed against
the door, couldn't believe all they heard. Is this true? That beautiful lady,
Ameline Bellot, involved in a murder? And the mother, just married to the Baron
de Clellaux, is in reality already married? And now, with the baron missing,
Claude Frollo has already vowed to bring the women to justice.
"This is not good, Isore," said Elie. "His Grace was ready to propose to Mlle Bellot this week, but I think–"
"What are you two doing? Eavesdropping?"
The formidable voice jolted the young clerks to attention. They turned to face the full florid face of Ide Poulin, the Palais housekeeper.
"No, Madame Poulin," said Elie, "we
"Well," said a perturbed Ide, "it certainly looks like it to me. Now, is His Grace busy? I have important news for him."
Elie said, "His Grace is with a courier who arrived from Calais. Seems those women, the Bellots, have done something and now Frollo is chomping at the bit. I've never heard him so angry."
Ide Poulin, knowing her employer more than these young men ever will, merely brushed them aside, saying, "Well, when he hears of what that lying little minx has done, he'll be even angrier. And to think that His Grace was about to propose to the hussy, the charlatan."
Within moments the clerks
heard footsteps from the other side. They hurriedly got away from the door and
appeared as if in the middle of busy work. The door flung open. Out came Jules
Marquette, his face the very picture of concern. Then came Claude Frollo, his
eyes blazing, the cheeks flushed with rage. He saw Ide Poulin standing before
him, and, remembering how Ide hated to see him in such a state, forced a
pleasant smile and said, "Ah, Madame Poulin. And what crisis within the
household has arisen?"
Ide made a quick curtsey then replied, "Oh, Your Grace 'tis nothing wrong, it's just...May I speak to you..."
She eyed Elie and Isore
with a "Don't you dare eavesdrop!" then continued, "It is very delicate as it
involves Émile and that woman. He came to me after his classes and told me what
Frollo, upon realization that "she" had to be Ameline, quickly ushered Ide into his office and closed the door. Immediately, Isore had his ear pressed up against the door, with Elie whispering, "What is she saying to him?" Isore's eyes grew wide as he strained to listen. He heard something about Émile investing all his money, then a phony 'business' deal, then Émile's shock upon learning that his money was lost to a slick con artist. Isore reported, "It's Émile...he's lost his money to that Ameline girl...Oh my! It's coming...He's ready to blow again!"
Then they heard, from the other side, the familiar booming baritone do just
that – Boom! The sound of Frollo's ballistic tirade reverberated so that it
caught the attention of every clerk, every scribe and prosecutor within a
twenty-foot range. Never before had they heard such venom drip from Frollo's
lips. Did he actually mean it? Did he promise to carry out the torture and
execution himself? Oh, thought Elie, this is not good, and to think that
Ameline, that lovely girl, may find herself in Frollo's infamous torture
chamber, enduring the worst of floggings, brandings, and whatever else Frollo
could dish out.
Elie and Isore, knowing that they were sure to catch Hell for snooping, hurried back to their respective posts, realizing that they will be quite busy writing out arrest warrants, researching cases, filing signed confessions...
Go to Chapter 18!
Copyright©2003 by prp