"My dear Lady Clellaux," he
began, gallantly kissing her hand, "please accept my condolences. Aubert was
a good man, and it grieves Madame Claus and myself to hear of his untimely
"Oh, Anton," said Jehanne, making sniffling sounds as if conveying endless crying, her face partially hidden by her handkerchief. "You and Lysbette have been so good to my daughter and me. Having you here is a comfort."
Anton gauged Jehanne's demeanor, trying to detect any tone of deceit in her voice, whether the body language gave away her lying tongue. She conducts herself as if she is not at fault for Aubert's disappearance. There was no robbery, no kidnapping, no near rape of this lady. For it was a sham to cover up her own illicit acts. I wouldn't doubt that she killed Aubert, buried his body so no one could find it. But what if the baron still lives? There is that possibility. But if he is indeed alive, where is he? Have to play this safe and cautiously as not to tip her hand that I and Lysbette are on to her. Just as Frollo instructed us: Play along with the woman, then tell her what she wants to know...
"Jehanne," he said, graciously seating himself next to the baroness,
"when the time comes, that is if the kidnappers have already ended Aubert's
life, there is the matter of settling his estate. I am aware that his lordship
has updated his will to reflect his recent marriage to you."
To this Jehanne looked somewhat surprised. Ah, so Aubert d'Urboise has already changed his will, but I have the fake document bequeathing all Aubert's worldy possessions to Ameline and myself. What is in this new will? I have to know.
"Anton, do you have any idea what was in that will? If it means I will have means upon which to support myself and Ameline..."
"Oh no, dear lady, do not fret about such. Aubert left strict instructions that you and your child will well provided for. It's just that there is one catch."
"And," said a now highly interested Jehanne, "what is this 'catch'? Surely the baron didn't have some illegitimate child stashed away waiting for the old man to die."
Anton shook his head. "No, Jehanne, nothing like that. But there is a cousin, a Fauré d'Aubec, who is quite close to Aubert. No doubt he may come here to contest the will."
Now Jehanne panicked. There was no mention of a cousin, not even a distant relation who could come forth to claim an inheritance. Why didn't Aubert mention this Faure? Why didn't Ameline examine that will in Frollo's office more carefully? Ooh, of all the...and to think I had this all planned out so perfectly, so meticulously...
Just as Jehanne prepared to say something in defense of her
claim to Aubert's vast estate, an anxious-looking Perrin appeared at the door.
Apparently there was some pertinent news as to Aubert's whereabouts. "M'lady,"
the servant said gravely, "Madame Claus has arrived. She says there is some
Perrin didn't have time to finish his sentence as a quite distraught Lysbette entered the room. Her face was flushed as if she'd run all the way from the Palace of Justice. Well, according to her story, she had. With panting breath, she quickly kissed her husband then settled next to him. She addressed Jehanne with, "I'm so sorry to barge in like this, my dear, but I've just come from the Palais de Justice. Jehanne! They've found Aubert – Alive!"
What is this? What is this? A million thoughts swirled through Jehanne's head as she endeavored to supress her utter panic. They found him, alive?! But how can that be! I thought I witnessed Aubert writhing in agony after he ate that tainted lamb. I watched him die! And now, he is alive?! Oh, what treachery is this Claus bitch up to?
"Lysbette," said an astonished Anton, "is this true? What happened?
Tell me, all of it!"
Jehanne sat in a stunned state, saying nothing. Whatever went wrong? How can Aubert still be alive? There has to be an explanation.
"Anton," said Lysbette, totally ignoring Jehanne but keeping an eye on the treacherous woman just to gauge reaction. "Minister Frollo informed me that the driver was found alive not far from where Jehanne says the robbers attacked her and Aubert. The driver is presently at a peasant's cottage recovering from his injuries."
She paused long enough to gauge Jehanne's reaction. Oh yes, she is
growing fidgety, anxious, the telltale beads of sweat on her brow give her away.
"But," said Anton, "of Aubert? Surely he is well and not too badly injured."
Lysbette went on to say that Aubert was found in the kidnappers' hideout, not far from Paris. He was found alone; the kidnappers had yet to be apprehended. Frollo's men, still combing the countryside for the villains, found the trio in a nearby inn, apparently attempting flight. Arresting them was so easy. Presently they are now in Frollo's dungeons awaiting interrogation and trial.
"No doubt Frollo
will hang those awful men for what they did," said Anton. "But how is Aubert?"
"Oh," replied Lysbette, "he is injured, to be sure, but not life-threatening. He had some bruises around his wrists where they tied him, but he will be fine."
Then, turning to Jehanne, Lysbette grandly said, "And Jehanne, it may please you
to know that Aubert is staying with Lutisse. Yes, your sister has recently returned to
Paris, but since those bandits were still at large, Frollo felt it best that
Aubert not return home lest the scoundrels come here to finish him off and,
perhaps, cause injury to you."
Jehanne Bellot, her stomach doing flipflops, her
heart racing, finally had to say something to save face. With Aubert indeed alive, then he could finger her as his assailant. All the lies she told about
kidnapping, robbery, murder, and attempted rape would be discovered as just that
"Uh, Lysbette? When may I see my husband?"
"Lutisse says you may come anytime. It's just that Aubert is not up to seeing visitors, but he is very anxious to see you."
"Well," said Jehanne, forcing a slight smile and trying to keep herself in check, "that is indeed good news. I...er...if you will excuse me. I need to make myself presentable for my husband."
That said, Jehanne arose from her chair, said her goodbyes then dashed upstairs to her chambers.
Ameline sat in the tavern, Le Papillion Doré, waiting for Émile. He said he had to speak to her about that business deal. All right, so the boy needed some explanation on the finer aspects of mercantilism. Originally, when she received Émile's message, she panicked in that the youth had discovered he'd been hoodwinked. But the note didn't state such. He merely explained that with the pressures of his rigourous academics, he simply had no time to meet the imminent Robert Fouinon.
So Ameline could breath easy, there was no need to panic.
Besides, she still had the boy's 250 francs all tucked away, ready to take with
her in the event she and her mother had to make a quick getaway. Ameline shifted
nervously in her seat but endeavored not to call attention. In this tavern,
extremely popular with the rich and famous, she really did not want to meet Émile
here, but she assumed the boy had his reasons.
Probably likes coming here becasue it makes him feel like a big important man. Too bad Émile will have to spend the rest of his days regretting "investing" in a dubious business venture. Stupid boy! His mind was so full of the endless money he could earn and the luxury it would buy that he never realized he had been 'had'.
Ameline smiled to herself, knowing that poor Émile Poulin will be in for the shock of his life. That "well-heeled" merchant, Robert Fouinon, was nothing more than a young lawyer who once came through Calais en route to LeHavre. He stopped at that wine shop once owned and operated by Denis Bellot and Guibert Varlet. Ameline met him only one time, and that was when she, a mere child of ten, helped her father wrap Fouinon's parcel of wine and cheese. Odd that she remembered the man's name after all these years; such a memory comes in awfully handy.
She waited for what
seemed like an eternity, and she was more than anxious to get this meering over with so she could return to the Palace of Justice. Ameline had a special surprise for Claude Frollo and relished the fact that this evening His Grace will finally pop the question.
Imagine, me, as Madame Frollo...the very name has the power to send chills up the spine of every Parisian. Once I am Frollo's wife, I shall be a force to reckon with. And all those who have so cool to me, especially that Belgian couple. If I can, I can make up a story about the Clauses, how they have been so rude to me; they even called me filthy names. Yes! Tell that to Claude, go to him in tears...Then let us see Anton and his precious Lysbette get out of THAT!
She smiled to herself again, this time dreaming of ways to do in Claude Frollo once the novelty of marriage wears off. She envisioned poisoning him, just like her mother dispatched Aubert. Ah, the stuff worked so well on that unsuspecting beggar today. I just sprinkled a few drops onto a purchased cake, then I, having compassion for the poor man, gave him that treat. Then I briskly walked away...He did not take long to die and no one was the wiser.
Yes, Claude can go that same way, only I will do it after I've made mad passionate love to him. Really that is the only thing I'd miss about Claude...His passion...
"Ameline? There you are!" Ameline looked up,
slightly annoyed that Émile was a trifle late. The youth made his apologies,
saying, "I had to stay afterwards and help one of my classmates with an
assignment. And I had to wait for this gentleman..."
Émile nodded to the tavern's entrance. Ameline, upon seeing this man, couldn't quite place him, but he did seem faintly familiar. The thirty-ish gentleman, elegantly dressed in black velvet and brocade, gracefully strolled up to the table. He greeted Émile who in turn introduced Ameline in a quite animated style.
"Mlle Ameline Bellot,
I'd like you to meet Robert Fouinon, that wonderful merchant." Then, "M. Founion
may I present Mlle. Bellot. She is, sir, the one who told me about you."
Fouinon took Ameline's hand, tenderly and gallantly kissing it, his eyes never leaving hers. A master at reading faces of the guilty, Fouinon could detect the shock although she tried her darnedest to surpress it.
"Mlle Bellot," he said as they settled at the table with Émile ordering the first round of drinks. "I did not quite remember you as you were so young at the time. You are Denis Bellot's daughter, no?"
Ameline could only nod her head in the affirmative; she was too thunderstruck to say anything.
"Ah, yes," continued Fouinon, noting the girl's sudden shift in temperament, "that was a good ten years ago when I was a young lawyer. However, as I explained to Émile, a young man can change his mind. So I got in touch with a gentleman trader, he took me under his wing, and now I am a success."
Émile laughed, his eyes twinkling as he told Ameline, "Oh, my friend, M. Fouinon was telling me that if he hadn't gone into mercantilism, he most likely might be working for Frollo. Can you imagine that?"
laughed heartily, quaffed his ale, then told Ameline more she really did not
want to hear. "My dear madamoiselle, when I met your father so long ago I was
astounded with his business skills. No doubt you inherited such expertise from
him, or else you would not have sent Émile my way."
Then, a very excited Émile told Ameline a few things that sent her heart racing, her palms sweating profusely. "Ameline, M. Fouinon says he wants to take me to Calais with him, and he wants me to meet Anton Claus, that Belgian friend of the Baron de Clellaux. M. Claus is sure to find me a place in his Paris office. Oh, that reminds me..."
He reached into the belt around his blue doublet to fetch a brown leather purse. He opened it, spilling the contents onto the table. "Look, Ameline!," said an overjoyed Émile, "have you ever seen so much money?! This is only part of the profit I made just from the first few days with M. Fouinon."
"And," Fouinon added, "young Émile kept his original investment. My dear Mlle Bellot, it was wise of you to keep this boy's money in a safe place. How clever of you to hide it in Judge Frollo's private quarters. Why, His Grace himself was telling me how impressive you and your mother have been all over Paris...."
Ameline felt her vocal chords constrict, the stomach tightening in an insoluable knot, that incredibily sick feeling come over her. How did they find out I hid that boy's money in Frollo's bedchamber? And why is this Fouinon person toying with me so....?
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