Jacques Bellot, finally cleaned up and not looking a bit like the shabby man who emerged from the Palais dungeons a few hours ago, immediately launched into many questions about the fate of his family. Not that his father did not keep him abreast of every event, but there were pressing details Jacques had to know.
Now clean-shaven, and wearing fine new clothes, Jacques cut quite a handsome figure. On the thirty-third anniversary of his birth, he had matured into a fine gentleman. He was of medium height, slender bodied, dark-haired, and hazel eyes. As a young man who had hoped to take over his father's trade as textile merchant, Jacques possessed a sharp mind for business. He also had a deep love of books and music; his father had hoped Jacques would become a scholar, perhaps take up law or even go into the priesthood. However, Jacques knew he was never cut out to be a priest, preferring to follow in his father's footsteps. This greatly pleased Denis Bellot, who felt blessed to have such a devoted son. It was too bad the daughter and wife could not muster such pride.
And that's what was on Jacques' mind at this moment. Over fine Burgundy, he asked Émile Poulin about the whereabouts of his sister Ameline.
Émile, a man about the same age as Jacques, and also a fine looking gentleman - tall, slender, dark blond hair, and blue-gray eyes - could tell his friend so much. But at least both men knew the fate of the mother, Jehanne Bellot, and her sister, Tante Lutisse Lemer.
"Father told me what happened to Mother," said Jacques somewhat bittersweet. In truth he loved his mother and sister but never condoned or approved of their ill-gotten deeds. "My mother, in her despair, that is after what happened in that confrontation with Frollo, never quite recovered from the shock of what I did. She took to her bed, my father told me, and stayed there for many days before ending her life. Tante Lutisse found her lying in pool of blood; Mother had slashed her wrists."
He took a deep breath as if cleansing the awful episode from his very being. Then he turned his thoughts to Ameline and Tante Lutisse. Émile sensed this and said, "My friend, no one has seen Ameline, not since that night twelve years ago. Not that I blame her, considering..."
Jacques replied upon taking another draught of wine, "Say no more, Émile. So, is she still here, in Paris that is?"
"That I don't know. I do know your aunt still resides in the house on Rue des Urnis. She seldom goes out herself, except to Mass, and those excursions are rare. They say the vision loss has hampered her regular activities."
Jacques nodded, realizing what little remained of his family. His aged father, Denis, still lived in Calais; his mother took her own life late one spring evening in 1470. His maternal aunt was now half blind and growing feeble. And Ameline? Where was she? Not even Émile could answer that as he never saw the girl again, after that fateful night so long ago. Then there was something else gnawing at Jacques, something that made him ask, "Émile, did they ever find...?"
Émile quickly understood the unfinished question and answered, "No, never found him, not as much as a shred of clothing. Minister Frollo, according to my mother, still grieves for his friend. He was a good man, Baron de Clellaux. A bit eccentric, but a good man nonetheless."
Jacques winced as he recalled traveling to Paris in 1470, at the request of his father, to search for his mother and sister. Denis had good reason fearing for his wife and daughter, as he suspected them involved in another more serious incident, and not just the small-time con games. Jacques never thought of it, and his father never shared the particulars.
Instead, the good son thought he was going to Paris to fetch at least Ameline, perhaps get her to turn her life around. There were threats of sending her away to a convent far from home; that's what Denis Bellot said just before Jacques departed. It was hoped that a life spent in isolation and deprivation would force Ameline to acknowledge and abandon her waywardness, and devote the rest of her life in service to God.
But it never happened like that. When Jacques arrived, he was shocked at Ameline's seemingly lack of conscience, of all that was good and decent. She had sunk so low into the morass of deception and avarice that it seemed impossible to rescue her from going completely under. The coldness, the shallowness, the never-ending thirst for wealth and prestige, swallowed up anything that remotely resembled the sweet little sister Jacques came to love so long ago.
What went wrong? Why did she end up this way? There were no easy answers, but Jacques came to the conclusion that Ameline came under the strong influence of her mother, Jehanne, a woman who was, for the most part, given to abject avarice and cruelty. Jacques remembered how his father suffered under Jehanne's relentless berating, nagging, and neediness.
All this he confided in Émile, who by now remembered that mysterious letter that hastened Jacques' release. Upon pulling that letter from his doublet, Émile said, "I meant to give this to you in a less public place, when we could discuss more in depth. But I just received this from my mother who told me to pass this on to Ouimet."
Then, upon handing the letter over to Jacques, "If you need answers on why your mother and sister turned out so badly, you might get some answers from your Tante Lutisse, but I doubt she could tell you much, considering her advanced age and infirmities."
Taking the letter from his friend, Jacques' mind raced as to what that letter contained. What words written on this paper that piqued Philippe Ouimet's interest, and who could possibly be writing him anyway? Could it be information on the whereabouts of his sister?
Without saying another word, Jacques opened the letter, scanned it quickly, and nearly knocked over the wine bottle. He was that startled by the letter's contents, and its writer.
With astonished expression, he said, "It's from Claude Frollo himself. He wants to meet with me this very evening at the Palais de Justice."
Now Émile's curiosity was piqued. He wondered why his mother was so secretive about the letter and why she was adamant that it was shown to Ouimet just before Jacques' release.
Ide Poulin was Frollo's housekeeper at both his private home, then at the Palais for more than twenty years. She was quite devoted to her employer; she understood his quirks and ever-changing moods. Frollo, in return, sought her advice on many subjects and took a keen interest in Émile, who Frollo felt had such a promising future.
"Frollo wants to see you? Tonight?," said Émile after taking another sip of wine. "Perhaps he has news of your sister. Then again, perhaps he knew all along that you were totally innocent of all crimes and spent these years in prison for nothing."
Jacques Bellot couldn't quite understand why Frollo would even want to see him. It did cross his mind that the Minister of Justice had news of Ameline, but what if he doesn't? What if there are new allegations of fraud and deception? After all, Ameline and Jehanne Bellot had victimized so many persons between Calais and Paris; maybe those people finally came forward and Frollo needed answers. Whatever it was, Jacques knew he had to meet with the very man who imprisoned him for twelve years.
Draining his wine cup, Jacques said to Émile, "Claude Frollo is not a man to refuse. Whatever he has to say to me, I can face it." Then, "Émile, it has been a long morning for me. Let us retire to our lodgings; I need a nice long sleep before I meet with Frollo."
With a sigh, he added, "My friend, I have a feeling I'm reliving that entire nightmare all over again."
To this Émile replied, as he and Jacques exited the tavern, "My dear Jacques, I've a feeling Frollo's reliving it, too."
True, he was aware that the young man released from prison just today served time for a series of crimes he never committed; perhaps young Jacques Bellot had his reasons. Whatever those reasons were, Frollo knew very well he imprisoned an innocent man, perhaps as a trap for the true offenders. But the guilty ones were never brought to justice, at least in the usual way. Instead, the mother, Jehanne Bellot, took her own life not long after Frollo confronted the daughter, Ameline, which had its own tragic outcome.
How could he had been so inattentive before things went completely haywire? After all, he and the Bellot's latest victim had been close, both in their professional and personal lives. Now his friend and client had been gone for nearly twelve years, and under mysterious circumstances. Claude Frollo could've kicked himself for not being in the right place at the right time, but things happened so quickly and all at once that he could never forgive himself for the awful outcome.
That letter, neatly written on crisp parchment, alerted Frollo to some unresolved property claims. That would be the Parisian home and other properties of Baron Aubert d'Urboise de Clellaux, a man whose business and legal affairs Frollo oversaw for years. And the letter's author? A man who Frollo knew but only in passing. That information Claude Frollo kept under wraps until his meeting with Jacques Bellot.
However, this was not a good time to reopen a twelve-year-old case, not with Frollo's new Captain of the Guard due to arrive tomorrow. Then there was that blasted Feast of Fools. How Frollo hated attending these disgusting displays of vulgarity and licentiousness, or as he put it, "Thieves and cutpurses, all mixed together in a shallow, drunken stupor."
Oh, the things I have to put up with, what being a public official. Ah well, no matter. It does go with the territory.
Then there were Quasimodo's lessons in the morning, dealing with his current incompetent Captain, and the usual routing of Gypsies who have seemed to take over Paris with their heathen ways.
That was another sticking point with Frollo, for he saw the Romani as nothing more than outsiders, creatures who seemed bent on upsetting the natural order of everything normal and decent. The Gypsies indulged in unholy activities such a fortune-telling, sensual dancing, never taking up "respectable" trades like normal people. Their worldly ways had inflamed normal Parisians to the point that Frollo felt something had to be done.
This is why he sent for Phoebus, a decorated, celebrated war hero who from a practical standpoint like a fellow who'd follow orders and do right by his superiors. With a new more competent captain, Claude Frollo could at last find and destroy the famed Court of Miracles, elusive home of Paris' ever-growing Romani population.
His mind refocused on the matter at hand: Find Ameline Bellot and finally bring her to justice. How dare this unholy demon charm Frollo and an elderly nobleman only to use them for her ill-gotten gain. But Frollo knew, at this late date, he would need some help. Not that he would tell Jacques everything, but the man would prove very useful in finally nabbing a dangerous fugitive.
Word came from Judge Frollo's spies that Ameline was indeed alive and residing somewhere within the city walls. Imagine! After all these years the woman was literally under Frollo's nose, but he needed absolute proof. With Jacques' help, Frollo could at last make Ameline pay, painfully, for her crimes.
"Minister Frollo," a guard announced, "Monsieur Bellot has arrived."
Frollo smiled broadly and wickedly as he merely replied, "Show him in, and close the door. Make sure we are not disturbed."
His guest walked through the door, not knowing what or why Frollo would want.
Claude Frollo, ever the good host, spoke first. "Ah, Jacques Bellot. Do come in, sit, and share some of this fine Bordeaux."
Then, "I have some good news for you. I have found your sister, Ameline, and I've learned that she is here in Paris."
To Chapter 3
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