"I thank you, Quasimodo, for all you've told us. Now, while I won't chastise you this time, I never again want you to withhold such information from me. It is vital that you tell me of anything suspicious you see or hear."
"Yes, master," said the little bell ringer, "I understand. I won't ever let you down again. I just that I got scared when that bad lady came up here and threatened me."
"Well, dear boy," Frollo said, "once I have her arrested, she will NOT ever again threaten you."
Claude Frollo smiled then arose from the table, motioning to Jacques. Young Bellot was still worried that his mother and sister may do what Frollo feared –– that is leave Paris once they discover everyone is on to them.
Descending the north tower steps, Jacques voiced just that concern.
To which Frollo reassured, "Do not worry, young Jacques. I have my spies scattered throughout Paris. And do not forget that your aunt and the Clauses are watching Jehanne and Ameline's every move. If all goes as I have planned, your kinswomen shall find themselves in a dreadfully sticky situation."
"It's not here! It's not here!"
Jehanne Bellot, rumaging through her trunk, frantically searched for the phony document, that expertly forged will which bequeathed nearly all of Aubert's estate to her and Ameline. Upon dashing upstairs after Lysbette informed all the Aubert was indeed alive, Jehanne immediately went to that trunk, pried loose the lid's false lining, only to discover the precious item missing.
She went ballistic, knowing that it could only be one of two people who would've taken the sham will: the housekeeper Margot or Lysbette Claus. She silently seethed that those women had the audacity to snoop in her private belongings. And she surmised that if they indeed had swiped it, they most likely took the phony will straight to Frollo.
Oh! Of all the rotten luck! We had both Claude Frollo and Aubert d'Urboise right where we wanted them, but no! Those meddling pests, the Clauses and the servants, along with my sister, had to spoil it all!
Jehanne Bellot, now aware that her scheme had been blown out of the water, felt the only thing to do now was to escape. But where was Ameline? Surely the girl knows what is going on? We have to get out of Paris as soon as possible, or else face torture and imprisonment in Judge Frollo's dungeons. So what if the baron is indeed alive? I can't face Aubert! He obviously knows the truth – that I am already a marriied woman, that my husband still lives. And he probably has made arrangements to annul our 'marriage'. So there will be NO inheritance, no Ameline marrying Frollo, for HE knows all about us!
She thought she heard the front door slam, followed by quickly running footsteps up the stairs. At first Jehanne thought it may be Frollo's soldiers coming to arrest her. She dropped down on the bed, cowering in fear of arrest, perhaps meeting the business end of a soldier's dagger. What a relief when Ameline burst through the door, out of breath and crying.
Without waiting for a greeting, Ameline said, panting and sobbing, "They know, Maman! They know! I never thought it would all backfire like this!"
She went on to tell her mother of her latest scam, that is set up Émile Poulin in a sham business deal. She recounted taking the boy's money as initial 'investment', setting him up with a fake merchant, only to discover...
"Robert Fouinon is on to me, Maman, and he is NOT a merchant but works in the Ministry of Justice! I overheard them talking after our meeting. I hung back only to hear Émile and Robert congradulating each other for 'trapping' me!"
She couldn't speak anymore; she was that distraught and immediately broke down. Jehanne, finally realizing that Frollo could, at any time, crash through the front door and apprehend her and Ameline, went to her daughter.
"Ameline," she said, taking the girl by the shoulders, "pull yourself together, child! Now, listen to me. We'll need to pack quickly, just whatever we can carry easily. We have to get away from here – Tonight!"
Ameline stopped crying an composed herself long enough to listen to her mother's desperate, pleading voice. Finally calming down, she explained to her much relieved mother, "Don't worry about that, Maman. I've already taken care of it. A boatman will meet us at midnight on Notre Dame's docks. He said he can take us as far as Rouen; that's where he is going. I suppose we can lay low for a while then find a way to LeHavre so we can take a ship across the Channel. At least, once we're safely in England, Claude Frollo can't touch us."
Jehanne stared at her daughter. What is this? Only a few moments ago the girl came in tears, beaten and defeated. Now Jehanne couldn't help noticing how Ameline's self-confidence and newfound empowerment returned tenfold. But this was not the same girl who, not that many weeks ago, so vehemently refused to "seduce" Claude Frollo. To Jehanne, it was if she was looking at a stranger. Ameline, within the span of a few days, became more hardened, determined not face imprisonment and humilation.
The girl looked at her mother with darkening eyes, saying in a voice as hard and cold as the diamonds Frollo so freely bestowed on her, "Maman, once we are in England, I shall strike out on my own. If it hadn't been for YOUR crazy scheme to do away with Aubert, then none of this would be happening. Why couldn't you just ask his lordship for assistance, perhaps claim that I'm the illegitimate daughter, thus he'd had better pay up. But NO!–"
Jehanne Bellot, not wanting to believe the venom coming out of Ameline mouth, soundly slapped the girl across the face.
"Shut up! Look who's talking. If YOU hadn't pulled what YOU did with Émile then we could've been living quite comfortably off Aubert's generosity. But NO! You had to play your silly games, and with the son of Frollo's servant!"
The argument went on like this for what seemed nearly an hour. Never before had Ameline nor Jehanne spoken a cross word between them. They've always gotten along famously. So what was happening now, especially since the inevitable was about to unfold. The women, sensing that time was of the essence, called a truce, then immediately packed a few personal items. Thank God the Clauses and servants had gone to evening Mass. With no one to witness their flight, the Bellot ladies hastily prepared to exit the Baron de Clellaux' elegant townhouse for the last time.
As soon as they stepped outside, they noticed an eerie silence. With darkness rapidly approaching, Paris streets took on an empty loneliness -- after all, everyone was either at Mass or had gone home for the night. And no soldiers out and about, which was rare, knowing Frollo for maintaining constant patrols out after dark.
"No one out searching for us, Maman."
"I wonder if, especially since our plan has been discovered...Wait!"
"What is it, Maman?"
Jehanne Bellot smiled to herself, realizing that if Frollo indeed knew all about the scam, then why didn't he just come to the house? Why not just arrest them outright?
She asked Ameline that very question, to which the latter replied, "That could be just that, Maman. But you said Aubert is alive and staying with Tante Lutisse."
"That's what that Claus woman led me to think, which is far from the truth. Don't you see, Ameline? Lysbette did that out of spite, to get back at me for 'stealing' your father from her..."
The women made their way through the darkening streets, detecting no soldiers, no Judge Frollo to accost them. Walking briskly, carrying only small satchels, Jehanne and Ameline finally made it to la Place de Notre-Dame. Deciding not to cross the square lest they be seen by that ugly little bell ringer, the ladies walked the perimeter, picking their way through narrow alleyways that led to the river. It would be several hours before the boatman arrived at the appointed time. Until then, the ladies concealed themselves under the dark recesses of the bridge, waiting, waiting....
The lone boat made its way up the Seine on this chilly evening. The boatman knew where to meet his passengers, agreeing to take them as far as Rouen, his actual destination. He was worried, and with good reason. It was beginning to sleet and snow; the sharp icy pellets stung the man's face as he endeavored to guide his craft. Of all the nights to take a river voyage –– this weather is not the best in which to travel, and, with the temperatures dropping rapidly, the river could freeze over, making navigation that much more difficult. And, besides the inclement weather, he did not relish taking two females along. While the pretty one who approached him just this afternoon paid him so many francs he didn't have time to count, he became rather leery as to why she and her mother had to leave Paris in the middle of the night.
Oh well...they have their reasons. Must be getting away from a cruel husband or father...They're all like that...Women who marry but can't live with their men long enough to...
The bridge came into view, and the boatman saw the two shivering figures huddled together on the riverbank. Slowly he guided the boat toward them, keeping a sharp lookout for any soldiers, or Frollo himself.
"Maman, I see him," whispered Ameline, "Just think that in a few hours we'll be free."
Jehanne Bellot, her black woolen cloak pulled tightly around her, snuggled next to her daughter in efforts to warm herself. The unusually balmy weather Parisians enjoyed in early February quickly gave way to bone-chilling temperatures and sudden shower of snow and sleet. Just thinking of a boat ride down the Seine, and that the river may ice over before they even reach their destination was daunting enough. But it had to be done. Escaping Paris altogether, even in a raging snowstorm, was far preferable to facing Frollo's torturers. Jehanne always had a low threshold of pain, and it scared her shitless to think of herself on the business end of the lash.
"Ameline," she hissed, "what is keeping that boatman? Honestly, you pay the man good money, funds we're low on as it is..."
"Shhh!," whispered Ameline, looking about for any signs of a single soldier. "Maman, while I don't see any soldiers, Frollo just might have some stationed nearby."
The boat came closer, pulling up to the docks to allow the ladies easy boarding. The boatman didn't look all that reputable, at least not to Jehanne, who voiced that opinion before the man could get within earshot.
"Maman," whispered an exasperated Ameline, "will you shut up! It was the best I could do on short notice. After all, he's here, and we'll soon be out of this damned city, and away from Frollo."
The boatman finally moored his craft, outstretched his hand, saying, "Madame, mademoiselle...Let me assist you in. We must be on our way lest the cold freezes the water."
Ameline was first in then reached out to take her mother's hand. Jehanne hesitated, eyeing the boat with suspicion. She asked the boatman, "Is your craft safe? Doesn't look like it to me..."
Ameline could take no more. In a slightly raised voice, she said, "Damn it! Will you get in! We must take off before..."
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, an arrow sailed through the air, instantly piercing the boatman's pole. He shuddered as he saw the swell of soldiers scurrying down the embankment. Frozen in his tracks, he said nothing as soldiers from all sides swarmed the boat, leaving the Bellot women utterly speechless.
Jehanne Bellot, fully frightened as soldiers brandishing spears and crossbows surrounded the boat. There was no escape. All Jehanne could think of was, "This is a trap! We've been discovered!"
Ameline, not phased in the least, for she still had one more stunt to pull, looked in the distance to see a familiar figure approaching. The tall, lean man astride the towering, finely appointed black Percheron stallion slowly made his way towards the women. His black velvet cloak billowed all about. The red veil of his chaperon trailed behind like blood. And his face...
Not since the ambush of four Gypsies a little more than eight years ago, in this very spot, had he appeared more austere. The dark eyes rained fire and daggers, the thin lips set in a righteous scowl. No, this was no ordinary ambush this time, but one that became especially personal for the Minister of Justice.
Before him stood two women –– one who charmed her way into a dear friend's heart and home; the other worked her wiles on His Honor's. And now, because of their duplicitious, fraudulent deeds, one man was feared dead, and Frollo nearly gave up his vow of celibacy. And to think that he was to be the next victim! He, a man who prepared to shower Ameline with a lifetime of untold affections, would have been just another notch in her belt of deceit and treachery.
How many more, if they had indeed succeeded in escaping Paris, would fall victim? Already, as far as Frollo knew, one man was dead, another whose fate was still unknown, and all because of Jehanne and Ameline Bellot.
He deftly pulled in the reins; the horse, a brilliantly trained brute, stopped at once.
Judge Claude Frollo, still astride Snowball, eyed the ladies with marked hatred and contempt. Then he turned his attentions to the boatman, saying in his smooth deep, fear-inducing voice, "I thank you, Herve, for assisting in the capture of these fugitives. If you will be so kind to follow my sergeant to the Palace of Justice, a handsome reward awaits you."
What?!, thought Jehanne Bellot, this man, the boatman Ameline hired is in reality a Frollo spy! Damn that girl!
She took Ameline by the hair and slapped her daughter repeatedly, cursing the child with, "Damn it all, Ameline! Of all the stupid...Why couldn't you see that the man was a spy? We've been duped!"
Ameline tried to wrest away from her mother's grip and repeated sharp blows, but Frollo immediately stopped the mother in mid-slap. In his resonant, booming voice, he issued the one word command, "SILENCE!"
Jehanne stepped away from her daughter, never giving Frollo eye contact. She was that livid and frightened all the same. She shuddered at the thought of being arrested, incarcerated in the Palace's infamous dungeon, enduring the numerous brutal, untold tortures to come. How did Frollo know? It was all going so swimmingly, so precisely on schedule.
Inside, Jehanne seethed that the Clauses, Aubert's servants, and her own sister were behind the betrayal. How dare they intrude on the perfect plan! And now, it is all over...Frollo will have us executed at once...
"Madame Bellot," Claude Frollo sternly addressed, "you are under arrest for the murder of Guibert Varlet. I also charge you with fraud, forgery, willful flight, kidnapping..."
Jehanne had to say something. Did Frollo say she was wanted for Varlet's murder? How did he find that out?
Frollo so obliged Madame Bellot with, "Ah, madame, when you coldly ended Varlet's life, you sorely underestimated the Calais magistrate –– and your husband. His Honor's courier came to me just this morning armed with most interesting information..."
He went on to reveal what the Calais magistrate had uncovered: new evidence that pointed to Jehanne Bellot as Varlet's killer. Then there was something else –– the matter of Ameline's latest caper. He turned to Ameline, allowing the girl to witness that awful "Frollo glare" few people could stand. He wanted her to feel it all, all his fury and outrage. How dare she worm her way into his heart, allowing him to seduce her, romance her, even promise to spend the rest of his life with her at his side. No, there will be no wedding, only a noose around that beautiful white neck to which Frollo looked forward to see snap.
"Ameline Bellot, you are under arrest for defrauding the son of my loyal and longtime servant, forgery, theft..."
Ameline's mind was in a fog as Frollo rattled off the long list of charges, but cleared long enough to secretly put her 'alternative' escape into motion. And she was about to do just that when another figure came on the scene. Now who could this be?, wondered Ameline, not recognizing this person right away.
It didn't take Jehanne long to figure out exactly his identity, for as soon as he came into view, Jehanne Bellot nearly swooned away. Ameline herself felt lightheaded, but full of fury that HE had to show up, and no doubt that HE played a role in her and her mother's downfall.
Curse you, Jacques! Curse you and Father for spoiling it all. All right, let Frollo arrest us, but I promise you, brother dear, I shall have my revenge, even if it means taking you down with me...
Copyright©2003 by PRP