Galien politely and obediently replied, "Yes, Maman," then scampered off outside to help Ponce load the wagon.
Huguette, feeling somewhat guilty over Faure's learning about Galien's birth mother and her particular circumstances, asked the man, "M. d'Aubec, if you wish, you may ride along with us. Galien would love that so much, especially since you and he are getting along so famously."
She smiled at Faure, to who that gentleman replied, "Madame Brebéuf, I would be delighted to travel in your company. Your son is quite a gifted young man. Did you know he wants to go into trade like his father?"
Huguette laughed, knowing Ponce's original goals for Galien. "Oh, M. d'Aubec, Ponce had hoped so much, but he really wants the boy to go into law or, perhaps, the priesthood." To this, Faure thought to himself, "Yes, just like his father – his real father..."
Louve Papon had presently said her goodbyes to the Bernats, thanking them for their kind hospitality. She then went outside to supervise Galien. That was a given, as Louve felt partially responsible – and somewhat guilty – for the boy's birth mother. And to think that I agreed to give the girl a place, only later to learn that Thomassa had to be that daughter of Madame Bellot, the one who so cruelly...
So deep in thought and occupied with giving Galien pointers in the fine art of packing a wagon, Louve didn't notice right away the carriage coming up the long driveway to the inn's main entrance. She, being the somewhat nosey sort, glanced long enough to see a servant get out first, then a middle-aged woman followed by two elderly gentlemen. Louve didn't recognize the lady and first man, but when the second gentleman momentarily turned his eyes to meet Louve's, her heart nearly leapt to her throat.
Making up an excuse – she told Ponce she wanted to see what was keeping Huguette – Louve hurried back inside the inn. Curiosity ate are her like acid on steel. Once inside, all her questions were soon answered. In fact, more of a twelve year old mystery began unfolding once that trio, by chance, ran into Faure d'Aubec.
"I had no idea...Aubert, is it really you?"
Faure d'Aubec did a doubletake as the trio settled before the fireplace. He didn't noticed them before as he busily prepared for travel. But one look at the elderly man's face gave Faure pause.
He and Aubert hadn't seen each other for a little more than twelve years. That was during Faure's lenghty summer into fall visit to Paris, and Faure hadn't forgotten what his cousin looked like. They were close as children, often indulging in games and reading, and they seemed so alike. Both Faure and Aubert shared a love of books and music; they eschewed all sport as neither man was any good at hunting or other 'manly' outdoor pursuits.
Now, in this inn, Faure gazed upon the man he feared gone to his grave. In a way, when word got back to Faure that Aubert met with foul play at the hands of Jehanne Bellot, he entertained the notion that Aubert might not have died. Perhaps the baron remained in hiding all these years until the guilty party was broguht to justice. But it had been so long ago, and Faure, along with everyone else, inclined to believe Aubert d'Urboise dead.
So this is why they couldn't find the body...Aubert HAS been in hiding. But why? Why keep to himself all these years without ever contacting me, or Minister Frollo for that matter...
Then it dawned on Faure: Aubert had to go into hiding, never notifying anyone of his whereabouts as long as Ameline Bellot remained a fugitive from justice. Faure hoped his hunch was right as he approached his cousin.
The old man – Well, he was quite aged, seventy-seven years to be precise – raised his ancient blue eyes to Faure's commanding figure and immediately lit up. He didn't say anything at first and remained seated as the ravages of old age and rigors of long distance travel had taken their toll.
Aubert d'Urboise, still ever the urbane man, tried to rise to greet Faure, but the gnarly arthritic knee simply wouldn't let him. At last he reached out his hand and spoke, "Faure, it has been too long."
Were there tears in his eyes when he spoke? Certainly, for it had been twelve long years since he'd seen any of his beloved family or friends. Well, not quite that long, but Aubert would explain in time. Right now, all Aubert wanted to do was rest his weary body and partake of much needed sustanence. But not before he introduced his traveling companions.
For Faure, the woman needed no introduction, but the other gentleman was unknown. This lady hadn't changed much since the last time he saw her, and that was in Paris back in 1470. She and her husband had just arrived in the late fall when Faure was preparing to depart for Orlèans. Her famous peaches and cream complexion was, even after all these years, unlined. The abundant chestnut hair, without a strand of gray, was neatly pulled back and protected by an ivory lace snood. The woman's figure had grown a bit more stout, but she was still the epitome of feminine loveliness.
Now, the other gentleman, not as aged as Aubert, was of medium height, dark-blond haired, blue eyed, and carried himself with a quiet dignity. Faure could tell that the man had a careworn expression about him despite his seemingly present cheeriness.
Aubert d'Urboise, the Baron de Clellaux, grasped his cousin's hand, not wanting to let go right away, as he made the introductions.
"Faure, you know Lysbette Claus. Well, it is Madame Bellot now. And her husband, Denis Bellot. Monsieur Bellot, may I present my cousin, Faure d'Aubec."
Denis Lysbette greeted Faure warmly, and Faure did likewise, but didn't Aubert say 'Bellot'? As in Ameline...
Denis, noticing Faure's utter shock, admitted, "Yes, M. d'Aubec. Ameline, I'm sad to say, is my daughter, and Jehanne was my first wife. But as you can see, I have gotten on with my life, married Lysbette nearly a year ago..."
He fell silent, feeling that Faure was owed many long overdue explanations. How fortunate when Louve Papon, standing back watching the interaction between her beloved master and family, finally approached.
"M'Lord," she said, bowing low, "I thought it was your lordship, but I had to be sure."
Aubert looked at his longtime servant, saying, "Louve, it is true. I am alive and well for an old man." Then addressing all, "I believe it is time to reveal to you what transpired twelve years ago. So much happened all too quickly, and I was foolish enough to be caught up in Jehanne Bellot's sinister machinations."
"Galien," said Huguette as she and Ponce hoisted the last of the trunks into the wagon, "go fetch Tante Louve. Your father is anxious to get going."
Galien obeyed but, on his way back to the inn, perched upon the wall again, looking towards distant Paris. Yes, he could still see Notre Dame's towers in the distance, but this time there was more smoke, more fire. Alarmed but remembering his task of fetching his aunt, Galien ran inside the house. He was gone for some time and his parents became quite perturbed that the boy did not return.
"All I wanted was to get on the road as soon as possible," said a now fuming Ponce. "Drat that boy! Send him to do a simple task..."
"Now, Ponce," admonished Huguette, "there's no need to scold him. Perhaps Louve got caught up in conversation. You know how she is. And besides, it is not like our son to interrupt his elders...Hello! What?"
She turned to glance in the direction of distant Paris only to see the sky over that city take on an eerie reddish glow. To be sure, Galien did see what looked like a fire earlier, but it didn't cause much alarm as it was assumed it was perhaps a distant farm fire. But this, that weird orangeish glow illuminating the clouds, and the numerous plumes of smoke, was cause for concern.
"Ponce," Huguette said, "do you see that?" She pointed to what looked like a major conflagration. Both she and Ponce knew Paris was a little more than an hour's drive away, but what if the city did indeed suffer a major fire?
Ponce, his concern rising, said, "It certainly looks as if the whole of Paris is in flames. Huguette, I really want to get on the road, fire or no fire. But what if..."
"If," replied Huguette, "we arrive and find no Paris at all. Ponce, we have to make a decision: Either leave now or postpone our trip until tomorrow. I know Louve wanted so much to meet with Minister Frollo, but if Paris is on fire, then..."
"Maman! Papa!," shouted Galien from the inn's entrance, "Come quick! Tante Louve's found the baron! He's alive! Come on!"
"When I brought Jehanne Bellot to the chateau those many years ago, I had every intention of marrying the woman. But, if I had known the woman was a fraud from the beginning, then naturally both she and her daughter would've found themselves in Frollo's dungeons."
Aubert d'Urboise, the baron de Clellaux, began to explain why he 'disappeared', led those near and dear to him believe he was dead, and why he had to remain in hiding even after the Bellot women had met their respective fates.
Of course, as Aubert explained to Louve, he had no idea Jehanne Bellot was already married or that she was wanted for murder. And he had no inkling that the daughter, Ameline, had her own dark designs on the Minister of Justice. He chalked it all up to his own inattentiveness.
"After all," he said, "I was a lonely bachelor, happy in my life. Why, I was quite taken with Madame Bellot's charms."
"Just as," said Denis, "she charmed me into one of the biggest mistakes I've made..."
He was almost near tears as Lysbette silently comforted him. "The sole joy of my married life with Jehanne was having my son. Jacques is a fine young man."
Denis turned to Louve, saying, "Did you know he sacrificed twelve years of his life so his mother would not face the gallows? Jacques spent twelve years imprisoned in Frollo's dungeons for a crime he did not commit."
Louve Papon was aghast as Aubert, Lysbette, and Denis recounted a fantastic story of a scheming and deceptive woman, a highly observant servant, and an intricate plot that whisked the baron away to safety. But why would Aubert go to such lengths? Why not inform Frollo that he was alive and well? Aubert had his reasons, and one of those reasons was a merchant with whom the old baron did much business.
When word concerning that gentleman merchant got back to Aubert d'Urboise during those few days spent with Jehanne Bellot, the baron took matters into his own hands. He just didn't imagine that it took a foiled murder plot to set his plan into motion albeit highly altered.
So Aubert d'Urboise began to explain an extremely complicated plot only hastened by Jehanne Bellot's deceitful machinations.
He took a deep raspy breath, obviously laboring under much physical strain. But he had to tell Louve and Faure what really happened.
"We – Madame Bellot and I – hadn't been at the chateau long. Of course, I, finding myself extremely attracted the woman, gave into my worldly instincts."
He looked at Denis, saying, "I know I've explained it all to you, sir. No doubt when you discovered that I had bedded your wife, I was afraid you'd call me out. I had no idea Jehanne was an already married woman."
Denis Bellot, a mild-mannered man, merely replied, "But she had you fooled, your lordship. She had everyone fooled, including Monsieur Varlet, my son, and myself."
Aubert nodded then continued. "At any rate, that morning after we...well, you know..I was to have taken Jehanne to the village church to be married. Jehanne had other ideas, such as treating me to an outdoor luncheon. Naturally I, being out of my head with love for the woman, indulged her request. But things happened."
"Such as what, cousin?," asked a rapt Faure. To which Aubert replied, "I had just received a message from Dreu Cardin concerning his Paris house. Seems Minister Frollo put out a warrant for M. Cardin's immediate arrest if the man ever set foot in Paris. It was no secret to me that Cardin regularly helped the Gypsies, giving them expensive fabrics for their clothing. I had no qualms about such activities. The Gypsies, to my mind, weren't hurting anyone, in fact, several Gypsies came 'round to the house to entertain."
He turned to Lysbette saying, "You remember that sweet little girl with the trained goat who came by my sixty-fifth birthday. She performed a charming dance."
Lybsette nodded, replying, "She called herself La Esmeralda."
"Yes, lovely little sprite, she was," said a smiling Aubert. "Anyway, that child wore a dress of the most stunning purple and green, made from cloth given to her mother by Dreu Cardin."
Ponce and Huguette Brebéuf, listening to the baron's recollection, suddenly recalled the inn's guests describing a Gypsy dancer who performed at yesterday's Feast of Fools. Wasn't her name La Esmeralda? Is this the same woman who triggered such chaos in la Place de Notre-Dame? The same who enraged Minister Frollo all because she helped the bell ringer?
Their questions would be answered in due time, but for now, the Brebéufs listened with rapt attention as the Baron de Clellaux continued his tale.
"Well," said Aubert, "getting back to Jehanne...We were in the wood. She brought along a delightful repast, but..."
He stopped himself as if trying to recall pertinent events. At his advanced age, he was afraid some details might have escaped him. After all, it had been a good many years since. Gathering his thoughts, he backtracked, remembering an important piece to the puzzle.
"No, it was Marie, the kitchen maid, who alerted me of some shenanigans Jehanne pulled...She somehow got hold of some death cap mushrooms and, thinking no one would notice, cut them up and mixed them with slices of cold roast lamb. Marie, keen little girl, saw what Madame Bellot did, so she quickly discarded the tainted meal and replaced it with safer, edible fungi. Jehanne was none the wiser."
Denis Bellot, although he had already heard of his wife's murderous scheme, became quite sickened as Aubert recounted those moments before feigning death. How could someone be so wicked, thought Denis with much chagrin. What evil, unholy demon took possession of Jehanne Bellot that the woman would stoop to cold-blooded murder – twice! – to get what she wanted?
Denis, even though Jehanne had been dead for more than a decade, never could quite fathom why his first wife turned out so badly. Only Ameline turned out worse, and Denis silently prayed that his daughter would, at least, give herself up before she inflicted any more damage. He had no idea that, at this moment, Ameline was in Paris. Her plans for revenge against Frollo and Jacques had, now, taken a backseat. Something much more pressing came up, and this time there was no escape.
To chapter 25
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