Jacques Bellot, out of breath from the mad dash to the docks, tried to explain why Denis dispatched him to Paris, and that said trip coincided with Jules Marquette's delivery of a certain document. But Claude Frollo was quicker. Just before he ordered his men to shackle the woman, he explained, "Madame, perhaps, in your haste to end Guibert Varlet's life, you should have taken care not to leave your handkerchief behind. That item – with the initials "JB" embroidered thereupon – was found at the crime scene, smeared with, no doubt, Varlet's blood. And something else was found...an empty poison bottle."
Ah, now it all came back to Jehanne. It was late that night, and she was at the wine shop going over the ledger. Varlet came in, surprised that Jehanne took it upon herself to "inspect" the books. So incensed was Varlet, that he threatened to inform Denis of her meddling in business affairs of which she knew nothing. Just as he suspected, Jehanne had cooked the books, made it look as if Varlet was skimming profits, thus sending the shop on the brink of bankruptcy. Surely Denis, when going over numbers, would accuse his partner of embezzlement thus demanding Varlet sell out his share of the business.
"Ah, madame," said Varlet, 'tis a clever trick to pull on your husband. Ever crueler that you frame an innocent man just because you want Denis to have the shop to himself, with NO partners. That way all the profits would filter to you! You would see to that. Pretending to 'help' but all along stealing from your own husband!"
The argument was like this, with Varlet accusing Jehanne of the most horrid crimes, and Jehanne countering that Denis should have never taken on a partner, not the likes of Varlet. Guibert Varlet, a naturally honest man, totally above reproach, still threatened to tell Denis of this little stunt. But Jehanne could take no more. Feigning "I'm sorry", she offered Guibert a peace offering: a cup of the best wine in the shop along with profuse apologies. When Guibert drank the wine, he didn't know it was laced with a powerful poison, which brought on death immediately upon ingestion. As it would be later with Aubert d'Urboise, Jehanne Bellot stood back and watched as Guibert fell to the floor, thrashing and choking. Then, as an afterthought, she, dagger in hand, slashed the dying man's throat, causing further suffering. Coupled with the agony of being poisoned, Guibert Varlet struggled against the double assault. Death came quickly as the toxin paralysed the respiratory and nervous systems; the jugular vein was slashed so his life's blood quickly drained from his body.
In her haste to cover up her crime, Jehanne took her handkerchief, trying to mop up the blood. But she got a better idea. She dragged Varlet's lifeless body out back and, with much effort, heaved it into the rain barrel. Noticing the state of her blood-stained clothes, Jehanne merely wrapped herself in her black woolen cloak. Once home she took off those clothes, stuffed them in the trash bin just a few steps from the backdoor. She never checked to see if she still had the handkerchief which, unfortunately, was left behind at the murder scene. The poison bottle was careless left on the counter in the shop. So the 'perfect' murder wasn't all that perfect; Jehanne Bellot failed to efficiently clean up the crime scene.
"All right!," she told Frollo, "so I left the wretched thing behind..."
She could say no more, immediately collapsing in a sobbing heap, her chains jangling as she fell to her knees.
Claude Frollo, his expression mercilessly icy, gazed upon Ameline who at this time fumbled for something within the folds of her heavy cloak. A sharp-eyed guard grabbed her with a chilling, "You! What do you have there!"
She instantly wrested from his grip and rushed, with dagger drawn, toward her brother, screaming, "You! You disgusting, righteous prig! If you had stayed out of this..."
She lunged at Jacques who tried to get out of the way, saying, "Ameline! Please...You don't know what you are doing!"
Claude Frollo, rightfully angered that a simple arrest was about to spiral out of control, quickly ordered his men to apprehend the girl. "Get her! Break her arm if you have to!"
Two burly soldiers, swords and daggers drawn, immediately accosted Ameline, with her flailing away and spitting curses upon both Jacques and Frollo. One soldier, trying to bring the combative girl under control, lost patience and, with his dagger, slashed Ameline across the face. Screaming in pain and grasping her now bleeding face, Ameline was furious. Now was the time to put that alternate plan into motion.
Still holding her bleeding cheek –– wondering if she would ever again be able to show her face in public again –– broke loose and ran to the embankment. Paying no attention to the soldiers literally at her heels, she stopped just short of the water's edge then turned to face her family and accusers.
In a voice half mad with rage, she shouted, "Judge Frollo! You want the truth? Well, here it is...The REAL villain you want is not my mother but Jacques!"
Jacques Bellot couldn't believe his ears. How could Ameline accuse him of crimes he didn't commit? Has she gone that far over the edge that she would resort to even MORE trickery and deception. Just what is Ameline doing?
Frollo could take no more of this wayward girl's antics. "Ameline Bellot! Surrender yourself at once!"
"Oh shut up, Your Honor!," she replied to an outraged Claude Frollo. "As I said, it is Jacques you want...I only defrauded Émile. I had nothing to do with what Maman did to Aubert d'Urboise. He's not really alive, is he? I thought so..."
The soldiers edged closer to her, but she stood her ground. Warningly she commanded, "Call off your hounds, Claude Frollo, or I shall..."
"NO!," cried out Jehanne, "Ameline...Please...NO!"
Ameline said nothing as the soldiers closed in. With no words and a flippant expression aimed right at Claude Frollo, she immediately plunged into the icy Seine, never resurfacing.
Jehanne Bellot was outdone. "AMELINE!! AMELINE!!," she called out, trying to go to the river's edge but was held back by spear-bearing soldiers.
Even Claude Frollo, a man who is seldom fazed by the least, could not believe Ameline would do something so desperate. His eyes raining fire and brimstone, Frollo cursed himself for not having the girl shackled at once. Perhaps she had gone mad after all, deciding to take her own life in lieu of facing the gallows. Well, no matter, thought Frollo. Ameline Bellot is dead and gone back to Hell where she belongs.
In the midst of this maddening scene, feeling, in the very pit of his being, love for his sister and mother –– Yes, despite the years of fraud, abuse, and ruin Jehanne and Ameline wrought between Calais and Paris –– Jacques finally snapped. Seeing his mother collapse, sobbing uncontrollably, and that his sister, driven to her death by her own madness, he had to do something, anything, to salvage what was left of the Bellot family. To be sure, Denis would be destroyed upon learning of what his only son did in the name of love and honor. Jacques truly loved his mother, and now, witnessing her utter defeat and guilt, finally turned to face Frollo. His Grace may not understand what I am about to do; he may not oblige my request. But under the circumstances, surely a man as Claude Frollo would see fit to accept my offer...It is only right, and there is truly nothing else I can do. Adela will have to understand, find herself another young man to marry. Perhaps Minister Frollo, that is if he accepts my offer, will write my father and Adela, explain what I did...for love of my family.
"Minister Frollo," he asked tentatively, "will you see fit to a...umm...proposition?"
Claude Frollo, still seething that Ameline did not give him the satisfaction of watching her hang, was not prepared for what young Bellot was about to do, but he indulged Jacques.
"Young man," Frollo said, "I have an idea of what you are hinting, but your kinswomen have committed the worst of crimes. Now, with your sister choosing a watery grave over death by hanging, I still have your mother in custody. She has, Jacques, committed murder, and she has defrauded one of my dearest friends. Yes, Aubert d'Urboise was not just any client. He was a good decent man who did not deserve the fate your mother so callously handed him. We have yet to find out exactly what happened to the man as he has yet to be found – dead or alive. But, once your mother finds herself in my dungeons, she WILL reveal to me–"
"NO! Minister Frollo, don't imprison my mother. She may have done horrible things, but she has paid the ultimate price, that is losing her own daughter. Take me, sir, in her stead. I shall serve whatever sentence you hand down, be it life imprisonment or death. You see, sir, I cannot allow my father to suffer anymore. And, well, there is a young lady waiting for me in Calais, but I'm sure she will understand once she hears..."
Jacques could say no more. Tears ran down his face as he waited for Frollo to say or do something.
Frollo knit his dark brows, pondering Jacques noble, if bizarre, request. Not a man to make deals, Claude Frollo watched Jehanne Bellot, now fully catatonic, dazed. Yes, she is broken, beaten, defeated. While I do not wholly condone this request young Bellot has put forth, there is something about this young man...He is by far more honorable than either of his kinswomen. And Madame Bellot...as horrible her crimes are, shall not last long upon this earth. She has that obvious look about her, as if she will, at any time, take her own life as did her daughter. No matter, if young Bellot wants to...
Looking Jacques squarely in the eyes, Claude Frollo finally said, "Very well. Jacques Bellot, I have considered your offer, while it is quite unorthodox for me to allow your mother to go free..."
He paused a bit, finally ordering his sergeant, "Sgt. LeSabre, Madame Bellot is, from this time forth, under house arrest. Take her to Rue de Urnis, Madame Lemer's residence. There she shall remain for the rest of her life."
To Jehanne he said, "Madame Bellot, you are to remain in your sister's home indefinitely. You are NOT to leave the house under any circumstances. Your movements, letters home, even your spoken words shall be closely monitored. I will have guards stationed nearby and, in the event you step one foot outside, you're mine! You should be proud of your son, offering his own imprisonment in exchange for your life. For that you should, madame, express to him your undying gratitude. Jacques has committed no crime but, seeing your utter grief, is willing to do time in your stead."
He said nothing more then motioned to his guards to shackle Jacques and take him to the Palace of Justice. Jehanne Bellot, still not quite comprehending what her son did, allowed Frollo's sergeant to lead her to Lutisse's residence. She shuddered at the thought of her sister's daily admonishments, the sheer coldness and bitterness aimed directly at her. In a way, Jehanne felt that enduring Frollo's torture was far more preferable than to listen to Lutisse's stern morality lectures.
"Ponce Brébeuf," she said, "I don't know why you decided to begin this trip NOW. It's barely dawn and the weather is turning..."
"Huguette," said blond, blue-eyed, and robust husband Ponce as he led the horses to the river, "I thought we went over this...It's less than a day's ride away, and I still say we arrive in time for dinner. Your sister said she was expecting us before sundown, so this is the perfect time..."
Huguette Brébeuf merely sighed, resigning herself to indulge her husband's odd traveling ideas. Honestly, he does this all the time. Never begins a trip in the full daylight always during pre-dawn while it's still dark. He's a good husband though, odd but good nonetheless.
"It's getting cold out here, Ponce," Huguette said, pulling the hood of her brown woolen cloak over her head. "At least it's stopped snowing. Ponce, there is an inn about an hour's ride from here. Why don't we stop there for a while? We don't need to be out in the elements like this...I'm sure Louve will understand if we don't arrive at the appointed hour."
To this Ponce agreed, then re-hitched the horses to the wagon. He was about to help his wife up when he heard a voice call out. "Help me! Help me!"
"Good Mother of God!," Huguette gasped, seeing the figure approach, "it's a woman, and she's soaked adn bleeding!"
The lady approached, and the Brébeufs were taken aback at the state of her appearance. She was soaking wet; her hair and clothes began to ice over in the frigid air. The right side of her face had been cut, and it was bleeding but not profusely so.
"My goodness, girl!," Ponce said as he assisted the lady, "whatever happened to you?" She said in a halting, sobbing voice, "I-I was walking along the river, on my way...these men. Took my money...tried to outrage me..cut my face...I fought back, but...they threw me in the river...I swam all the way..."
"Goodness, Ponce," said Huguette, placing a cold wet rag on the girl's bleeding wound, "she'll catch her death." She said to the girl, "My dear, what is your name, and where are you going?"
To this the lady replied sobbingly, "My name is Thomassa Tailbot, and I was going to ride with...I forget their names. I don't know where..."
She broke down in a sobbing heap, saying no more. The Brébeufs, taking pity on her, offered to take her wherever she's going. "Oh, that is kind of you," she said, "but I don't really have a home. You see, I just lost my place as a...servant...and I was on the streets looking for another situation, and I have no money, no where to sleep..."
She began crying again. Ponce and Huguette put their heads together, finally coming up with a solution to the young woman's problems.
"Thomassa," said Ponce, "we are heading for my sister-in-law's chateau. She may be in need of another servant, so why don't you come along with us? We'll stop at the Trois Filles Inn for refreshment then be on our way..."
"For goodness sake, Ponce," said an exasperated Huguette, "she's soaked to the bone, and that wound...the longer she stays out in the cold, the more likely she'll come down with a raging fever. Come on, d5d get her in the wagon so we can go!"
Jacques passed a fitful night, recalling a twelve-year old nightmare. At present, Ameline was still upstairs, in her bedroom, still knocked out from the drug-laced wine Jacques made her drink. He had to check on her, just to make sure the girl wouldn't try to escape. Surely Ameline wouldn't have the nerve to skip town, not with her 'unfinished business', that is, getting her revenge on Frollo. But Jacques kept assuring himself that once daylight comes, he would take it upon himself to turn Ameline over to Frollo. The girl will have to face her consequences, and she never learned what HE did twelve years ago –– resigning himself to spend a good portion of his life in the Palais dungeons in exchange for his mother's freedom.
All right, so it wasn't freedom per se, what with Jehanne imprisoned in Tante Lutisse's home, enduring her sister's never-ending rants on what a shambles Jehanne made her family's life. Think of poor Denis, Lutisse raged, and how much he has suffered. He has to endure the triple shame of having a son imprisoned, a wife found guilty of murder, and a fugitive daughter still at large. No wonder Denis, after his last visit to Jacques a few years back, decided to sell off all his remaining trade to Anton Claus and spend the rest of his days in seclusion, seeing no one and never leaving his home.
A tear trickled down Jacques cheek. He wondered if he'll ever see his father again, or if anything will ever be the same for him. He learned via Denis' last visit, that Adela finally married, and to that same slow-witted yet pleasant childhood friend who reminded Jacques so much of young Quasimodo.
Oh my, speaking of Quasi...The bells announce sunrise Mass...is it dawn already?
Trying to go back to sleep, Jacques' much-needed slumber was again disturbed by an incessant pounding upon the front door. "Master Jacques! Master Jacques!"
It was Abelard, Tante Lutisse's servant, and there was trouble afoot.
To chapter 22
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