Ah, so we may have to postpone departing for Paris...This is more important...
Once Galien merrily scampered off outside, the adults gathered around the cozy fireplace to converse on serious subjects. Faure d'Aubec, now wondering if Galien had to be Ameline Bellot's son, wanted answers. Here he was, en route to Paris to discuss with Claude Frollo pertinent matters concerning Aubert d'Urboise's estate. Then there was the delicate matter of Ameline's fraudulent letters. When she wrote to him the last time, Faure had an inkling that she had to be the daughter who, along with her mother, schemed their way into Aubert's good heart those many years ago. Good on his part to turn those letter over to Frollo who so desperately wanted to bring the wayward girl to justice.
And now, by chance, Faure meets the Brebéufs, and the son...
When Ponce and Huguette mentioned that Galien was adopted, and that Ponce whispered to Faure that the birth mother was "a bad lot", Faure wondered if said mother could be Ameline Bellot. If so, who is the father? No doubt when Faure studied this child, the lean lanky build, the penetrating dark eyes...No, it couldn't be! No way would Frollo be the father of this boy.
But Faure couldn't quite get the uncanny resemblance out of his mind. He also wondered, especially since the Brebéufs said they were going to Paris to meet with Frollo, if they knew the Minister of Justice was Galien's birth father. Then again, Ameline could have said anything to extract a tidy sum from Frollo, claiming the child his and demanding monetary compensation. But if Ameline did indeed have this child, then why didn't she stay with the boy? Why palm him off on the Brebéufs? Whatever the reasons, Faure d'Aubec was determined to ask Claude Frollo point blank: What exactly did happen those many years ago?
But it seemed Louve Papon had the answers as Ponce and Huguette partially uncovered the mystery surrounding Galien's parentage. They explained that they found a woman who called herself Thomassa Tailbot stumbling about just outside the city gates. She was soaking wet, her face bleeding from a recent wound. The Brebéufs then said that Thomassa claimed to have been accosted by bandits, robbed, her face slashed, nearly raped, then unceremoniously tossed into the icy Seine.
"She was shivering so," said Huguette, "and she said she was waiting for friends to give her a ride out of town."
"And," added Ponce, "she claimed she just lost her place as a servant. Since we were going to the chateau, and that Louve was short on help, we thought we'd do the girl a favor."
So, the Brebéufs, not knowing that 'Thomassa' was really Ameline Bellot, thus a fugitive from justice, brought the girl to Aubert's chateau. It was Louve who nursed the girl back to health and gave her a place as housemaid.
"But there was something not quite right about her," said Louve, who had misgivings about Thomassa. "She was quite secretive when I questioned her about her family, her last place of employment. With no references, I could not follow up on her suitability. Of course, once into the spring, I could tell..."
No doubt about it: 'Thomassa Tailbot' was with child and would not divulge the name of the father. "I assumed," Louve told Faure, "that the girl had gotten herself in trouble with her last employer. One hears of these servant girls fraternizing with their masters. So I, being ever so careful not to air a scandal, never questioned her. She simply performed her duties as long as she was able. Once she was unable to work, I packed her off to Madame Clarée, the local midwife. When Thomassa gave birth, she took absolutely no interest in the child. Since my sister and Ponce had no children, they were more than happy to adopt the boy and rear him as their own."
Faure, deeply intrigued by what Louve told him, asked, "But what happened to Thomassa? Surely she returned to work for you?"
Louve Papon, her gray eyes flashing and the fine ivory complexion turning several shades of raging red, answered, "M. d'Aubec, that girl didn't last long after she was able to resume her duties. There was a visitor, a merchant friend of his lordship's, Dreu Cardin, who came to see the Baron de Clellaux. Naturally with his lordship...umm...not present, the man stayed two days until the weather broke, that is when it was safe to travel. Thomassa was assigned to bring his meals, fresh towels, and tidy his chambers. I had no idea...Well, you know. The girl simply slipped away the very day M. Cardin departed. I assumed she left with him, and a good riddance. The girl, as Ponce so aptly said, was a bad lot."
Faure faintly remembered Dreu Cardin, a wealthy bachelor who had a penchant for a pretty face. Cardin controlled part of the vast textile trade between Paris and Orlèans. And he had, much to the dismay of the more xenophobic tradesmen and nobles, a soft spot for the Gypsies. It was no secret that Cardin regularly supplied the Gypsies with colorful, expensive cloth, some with which was made into a voluminous purple skirt and coin-trimmed scarf presently adorning La Esmeralda.
Cardin maintained a expansive estate near Orlèans, not far from Aubert d'Urboise's family home where Faure d'Aubec now resides. He also owned a townhouse in Paris but said structure hadn't been lived in for so many years. Cardin, no knowing the house had fallen in some disrepair, rented it out as temporary housing for the transient.
Well, Cardin had good reason not to take up residence in Paris as word got back to Claude Frollo who owned the house and that Cardin "squandered" good cloth on the heathen vagabonds. The Minister of Justice vowed to bring Cardin to a dear account if the man ever as much as set foot in Paris.
So Dreu Cardin divided his time between his estate and the road. As for his new mistress, no one knows what became of her. On last correspondence with Faure, Cardin informed him that Thomassa said that she was leaving for Paris to, "Look up old friends," and nothing more. Cardin, out of the goodness of his heart, lent Thomassa the use of his Parisian house.
Ponce then said, "We never heard from Thomassa again. Oh well, it all worked out for the best, what with Galien never to know of his birth mother's coldness toward him."
Young Galien, merrily playing with the Bernats' hounds, ran the length of the stone wall surrounding the property. He hopped up on the wall, hoping to catch a glimpse of faraway Notre Dame. In the early afternoon light, he could see just that.
Oh my!, he thought, it is quite a site! I can't wait till Maman and Papa take me there. I wonder if I'll see the mysterious bell ringer. He is all the people who came from Paris talked about...Imagine him being crowned King of Fools, and the crowd turned ugly and jeered him...I would never do that...He sounds like an interesting young man...
Galien, still standing on the wall, peered in the distance. First he could see the main road leading from Paris to the inn itself. He then looked in the opposite direction, seeing, traveling at great speed, a carriage rapidly approaching. Paying it no further attention, Galien then turned back to take in the looming cathedral towers. His eyes shifted a bit only to see what he could make out as smoke. Huh? Is something on fire? I can see it! Oh, I hope no one got hurt!
Scrambling down, Galien ran back to the house, then, once inside, announced to all, "There's a fire somewhere near Paris! I can see the smoke! Come see!"
If only Galien had super sight and hearing, then he would have witnessed a horrible crime committed by a man whose mission was to preserve the law, not break it. He would have heard the miller beg the Minister of Justice, "Have mercy, my lord," only to be placed under house arrest for "harboring Gypsies". Once the house was securely locked, the minister gave the order: "Burn it!"
Galien would've seen His Grace's Captain Phoebus question this order, taking no more of this madness, then silently plunge the torch into the rain barrel. The search for La Esmeralda had gone completely over the edge. Even the people, who normally knew the judge to be a hard and cruel man, agreed that this behavior – personally torching the innocent miller's cottage – was extreme even for Frollo. They aptly commented, "Frollo's gone mad."
And madness did take over when more visitors gathered at Trois Filles Inn. From their vantage point, they would witness the great conflagration, not knowing that the culprit was their own Minister of Justice driven with a destructive, consuming lust for one Gypsy dancer who called herself La Esmeralda.
Ameline finally awoke from her drug induced slumber. She was surprised that she slept that long – it was now late afternoon. Jacques had yet to return, and she wondered if he ever would. But if he wanted to turn her over to Frollo himself, why hasn't he returned home?
Then it dawned on her that perhaps Jacques had gone to see Tante Lutisse. Ah, so Mathena had to eat that poisoned cake...She's dead, and Jacques went to console Tante Lutisse. Humph! As if she'd miss the wretched girl. Why, Mathena told me Tante Lutisse hadn't said one kind word to her in all her years in service. And now, with her eyesight failing, Tante Lutisse heaped on the abuse even more so...Perhaps I was doing Mathena a favor...
Shrugging, a famished Ameline got up and, feeling her faculties returning, went to the rear of the house, to the kitchen, to fetch something from the larder. Too bad she didn't have time to hire a servant; Mathena was acting in that capacity, but...
She noted how much in disrepair the house was, not befitting of a man as wealthy as Dreu Cardin. The roof had many holes, the paint peeled, and the windows had several cracks. Even the front door, while sturdy enough, didn't quite lock securely to suit Ameline. Oh, this wasn't a bad area, quite safe for all practical purposes. But that faulty latch did give Ameline pause. Suppose someone, if they're desperate enough, would break through, and while I'm here alone...Damn Jacques for leaving me unattended...
In the larder, she found several bottles of good Burgundy, a loaf of day-old bread, and half a pound of fine white cheese. There were crocks of preserved fruits and pickled vegetables. How kind of Dreu to at least keep his larder stocked even if he doesn't live here.
She thought of her latest benefactor and whether this "getting back at Frollo" was all worth the trouble. After all, Dreu Cardin was exceedingly kind to her ever since they met at Aubert d'Urboise's chateau. Ameline, at first cursing her situation, became quite enamored with the dashing, if rakish, Cardin. And she, somehow, wished her mother could be here now, so she could gloat that, "At least I, dear Maman, came out on top while you spent your days locked up in Tante Lutisse's tower chamber."
Smirking, Ameline took her plate of goodies back to the drawing room and, stirring the embers ablaze, sat back and enjoyed her quiet repast, thinking of the look on Frollo's face when she told him that...
But what if he denies it...I know he will, sensing the kind of man he is, and I wonder if, by chance that he and his son will ever cross paths. She giggled to herself, satisfied that once she has Frollo were she wanted him, once he is soundly defeated, it was back to Orlèans, back to Dreu Cardin.
So what if Dreu only knows me as "Thomassa Tailbot", a lowly servant girl to whom he took a fancy. He promised to marry me the day I return to him, but I know he won't. Dreu is, like Frollo, not the marrying kind. But unlike Frollo, he is kind, fun to be with, and doesn't care a hoot for "shameful scandal"...
Unlike Claude Frollo, who'd rather kill me than own up to his responsibilty to my...and to think that couple who took me in, the Brebéufs, took my child and reared him as their own. I wonder how the boy is doing. No doubt he is a fine strong young man. He should be exactly twelve years old now, old enough to start his apprenticeship somewhere. I hope he becomes a rich powerful man who will soon lord it over the Claude Frollos of the world. And that would be sweet revenge in itself. Too bad I had have Frollo's child...Ugh! The thought of that man rearing the boy is disgusting enough...Ponce and Huguette are good to him, so unlike...
Ameline's thoughts were disturbed by the sounds of hoofbeats outside. Rushing to the window, peering to her left, she could see a swell of soldiers down the block. And she feared that Frollo could've found her. After all, the man does have spies scattered all around Paris, so it is possible one of them might have spotted her.
But I wore a disguise at the festival. No one knew who I was, and paid me no mind. I wonder...Jacques! It had to be him! Damn that brother of mine...No wonder he has yet to return! He's told Frollo were I live. If I ever lay eyes on Jacques again, it will be the last thing...I'll make sure HE is the one who gets that poison...
Turning away from the window, Ameline was wise to extinguish the candles. With the dying embers of the hearth the sole light, Ameline couched behind a massive chair, hoping the soldiers would simply pass the house. Breathing a sigh of relief, Ameline could see the shadows of horses canter pass. Whew! They've gone, and thank God they didn't stop here. If they're not looking for me, then who are they...
Suddenly, Ameline heard a swell of male voices coming from the rear of the house. Within seconds two soldiers armed with fiery torches entered the house from the back. How did they get in?, a panicking Ameline wondered. Did they break down the door?
Still cowering behind the chair, Ameline stayed well within the shadows, hoping the soldiers would simply go away. But no, they searched the house, going upstairs first. Ameline thought it best to escape via the front door, since no soldiers were stationed in the street.
Very quietly, she got up, threw a shawl over her head, then made her way to the front door. Deftly she lifted the creaky latch, cursing it for making so much noise. She heard the soldiers coming down the stairs. Deciding to make a mad dash outside, to where she wasn't sure, Ameline opened the door, only to come face to face with...
"Oh my God!," she gasped as she stared dead into the eyes of the Minister of Justice.
Frollo, just as shocked to see this fugitive, said in his deep voice that faintly shook with rage, "Ameline Bellot...fancy that you would be here..."
Go to chapter 24
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