Family Values

Chapter 25

The Time & Place:
Dreu Cardin's Parisian townhouse...Ameline is trapped – by Frollo himself!
"Well, to think I might have found the Gypsy Esmeralda...But you...Ameline Bellot..."

Claude Frollo, striding through the door as Ameline cursed her luck, was quite surprised to discover the fugitive who had, twelve years earlier, wormed her way into his heart and bed only to deceive and destroy all that was decent and virtuous. After all, Frollo nearly ditched his self-imposed celibacy to marry this woman, give her the best of everything, but those dreams were dashed the moment he discovered that Ameline and her mother were fugitives from justice. He silently seethed that in his mad search for Esmeralda, he had to encounter this fraudulent bitch. And to think that she resides in this house, the very domicile owned by the Gypsy-loving merchant Dreu Cardin.

Ameline said nothing, barely concealing her utter digust in the presence of the judge. She wanted to kill him on the spot, but she had other ideas. Perhaps, she thought, a little charm, a bit of reminisce of good times past. But no, he won't bite, not in the state he's in right now. I wonder just what hold this Gypsy Esmeralda has on Claude Frollo...
Ah! That's it! He's feeling it all...the abject lust that won't abate, not for a fleeting second. For Claude has that look about him, even in his austere authoritarian mode...He looked like that when I had him cornered that first night in the Palais, but he claimed he loved me. Hah! That was not love...

She remained silent, gauging what Frollo would do next. Would he have her arrested on the spot? Or would he toy with her, lull her in a false sense of security? Or, at worst, beat and violently ravish her right here, right now...She would guess the latter. He is definitely the type who would subject a woman to untold sexual perversions, just to humiliate...

"Ameline Bellot," Claude said finally as he took a few turns of the room, his black velvet finery gently caressing every contour of his tall slender frame, "you've taken on quite the risk, coming to Paris, residing in THIS home of all places. No doubt you will be placed under arrest."
He motioned to his soldiers to remain outside, "Until I call for you. Madamoiselle Bellot and I have several things to discuss – in private."
The guards silently obeyed, stepping outside as Frollo closed and locked the door. He walked up to Ameline, stroking her right cheek, tracing the hairline scar. "Even with this scar, you are still quite a lovely thing," he said, his hand traveling down to her white throat then to the cleavage. "Yes, still beautiful..."

Remembering himself, a cool, composed Claude Frollo withdrew his hand, only to clench his perfectly white teeth in rage. The dark eyes glowed hate and fire as the hand swiftly and soundly slapped Ameline's face. Again and again the hand struck the girl's face, leaving red blotches but never quite bringing Ameline to tears. She wouldn't give him that satisfaction.
Frollo was quite amazed that Ameline didn't even flinch from his repeated blows. She remained steadfastly, and oddly, silent. With raised eyebrow, he said, "What is this? Ameline Bellot, the lady with the gift for charm and deceit – just like Eden's serpent – rendered speechless."
He glowered at her, this time restraining himself from beating her more. But no, he will wait until he had her locked in his torture chamber. She will certainly need the energy to scream and whimper all she wants. Remembering why he came to this house in his search for Esmeralda, Frollo sat in a chair before the fireplace, then began to explain all to Ameline.
"My dear Ameline," he began in his deeply smooth and resonant voice, "I had no idea you were here, even though my spies had seen you out and about. Well, no matter."

He paused a bit, just to gauge her reaction. She just stood there in silence, and Frollo could tell by the look in her eyes that she was about to say or do something that would, perhaps, get her in deeper trouble. But Frollo was a patient man. He wanted answers: Why she staged that 'suicide' twelve years ago; what possessed her to write that scathing letter to her mother, causing the woman to take her own life; and if she had any idea her own brother went to prison in exchange for Jehanne Bellot's life.
Then he wanted to know what she had been up to all these years. Oh, he knew all about those bogus letters, written under the alias 'Thomassa Tassin', sent to Faure d'Aubec claiming to be Aubert d'Urboise's longlost illegitimate granddaugther. There were several more letters sent to unsuspecting souls who were more than willing to part with sizable sums.
But it was Ameline's sudden return to Paris, and her choice of lodgings, that intrigued Frollo more. Could she have a relationship of sorts with the house's owner, Dreu Cardin, a wealthy merchant with a penchant for helping Gypsies? Knowing Ameline and her endless grasping and love of pulling the most shameless scams, Claude Frollo didn't put that past her. But where was Cardin? Surely, with the man facing immediate arrest if he ever set foot in Paris would not take that risk. So Cardin merely allowed Ameline use of the house, and Frollo would bet good money that Ameline had no idea of the outstanding arrest warrant. His meticulously methodical mind working overtime, Judge Frollo concluded that he would trap Ameline that way. Let her know just what kind of man her current lover is, and why Frollo would even come to this house of all places.

"Ameline, as I said, I had no idea you would be here, but the owner of this house...Well, I had thought that the Gypsy Esmeralda would be here, seeing that Cardin still keeps up the practice of helping those heathens. So, I will ask you point blank: Has the Gypsy who calls herself La Esmeralda been here at any time today? And don't lie to me, Ameline!"
Ameline Bellot, now alarmed that Frollo knows about Dreu's aid to Gypsies, and knowing that the judge frowns upon people who do help those folks he calls 'the unholy heathens', had to say something. And it would be the truth, because she hadn't seen Esmeralda since yesterday's festival. In fact, she never quite paid attention to Esmeralda's dance or the bitter words exchanged between the Gypsy and Frollo. All she wanted to do was to kill Claude Frollo; she didn't care a hoot whether or not Frollo ever found Esmeralda. But something in her head clicked.
Hmmm...if I call this right, I may not have to kill him at all...Let this obsession with the Gypsy dancer be Claude Frollo's undoing...I can feel it, just by smelling the smoke from....How many houses did he burn today? And all because he is overcome with lust for this woman! So, let Frollo do to me what he pleases, because I shall have the last laugh!

She chose her words carefully, speaking in a firm, polite voice, "Sir, I have been here all day. Mostly asleep. You see, my brother gave me something to help me sleep, so I've not been in the best of shape to go out. And no, the Gypsy who calls herself La Esmeralda has not been here. If she was, then I'd tell you."

Frollo was silent at first, and he wanted to slap Ameline again for he knew she had to be lying. But what if the woman hadn't seen Esmeralda at all today; that is a possibility. However, there was still the matter of Ameline taking up residence in a house owned by a notorious Gypsy lover. How else could Frollo put it? No matter how wealthy or well-connected Dreu Cardin was, the man was still wanted for giving aid and comfort to the heathen lot, and Claude Frollo wanted to send the message home, so to speak.
His eyes darted about the darkened room, taking in the house's dilapidated state. Such a shame, Frollo thought, what with Cardin neglecting the normal upkeep on this house. A thin smile spread across his pale patrician face as he entertained the fate of this house – and Ameline. Why not? So many, more sturdy, better kept houses had gone up in smoke all because the owners refused to divulge the whereabouts of Esmeralda. So what if Paris is minus one more, especially this house which is in such disrepair.

Rising from the chair, Claude Frollo strode up to Ameline, still smiling, still playing the charming gentleman. Ameline could tell the man was up to something so she bided her time. Perhaps now is the time to divulge that other secret. If she is to be arrested then it's now or never. Frollo won't know what hit him the moment she informed him of a little 'incident' who now resided somewhere near Paris. But what if he denies it? That was a chance Ameline had to take.

"Sir," she began tepidly, "I told you the truth. The gypsy Esmeralda hasn't been here. I've been here all day and no one has been here other than my brother. He's still at Tante Lutisse's. Don't know what's keeping him; he's been gone since morning." She looked at him with earnest eyes, wanting so much for Claude to believe her.
Frollo, still smiling slightly, quietly informed Ameline of a few truths, and why he came here of all places.

"As I said, Ameline, the owner of this house, Dreu Cardin, is wanted for aiding and harboring Gypsies. Naturally, in my search for Esmeralda, who herself is wanted for numerous crimes, it didn't dawn on me that she might have come here. So, either you've told the truth that she hasn't been here or you are lying. Why wouldn't Esmeralda seek shelter here? After all, she knows this home is always open to her heathen kind. Therefore, horrible as it is, I place you under house arrest for treason, along with other outstanding charges. No doubt you remember those crimes committed long ago."
Ameline couldn't believe this. House arrest for treason? Idiocy! Why didn't Frollo just come out and kill her on the spot? No, he pulled this stunt all because he couldn't find his precious Esmeralda. No wonder so many houses have gone up in flames – Claude Frollo is a man thoroughly obsessed with the Gypsy beauty, and that obsession has eaten away at his normally rational mind and better judgment. It's as if Ameline was looking at a completely different man, so unlike the sagaciously austere Minister of Justice who romanced her years ago. But now, Frollo was a man who had gone over the edge. His sole mission was capturing the elusive Gypsy dancer, and for what? To have her in his bed. What other reason could it be?
Perhaps now was the time to divulge that secret. A seething Ameline, clearly angry that she would not have the final laugh on Claude Frollo, suddenly cried out, "You have a son!"

Frollo, totally taken aback by this revelation, trembled all over, his eyes darkening even more, his mouth quivering with rage.
"What did you say?," he said through clenched teeth. "Tell me, Ameline! I am ordering you! REPEAT THOSE WORDS!"

Ameline Bellot, now feeling her old power return tenfold, did as told. "I said you have a son, a fine healthy young man. I had him months after I escaped that night. I had no idea I was with child until...Well, you were the only man I'd been with so, naturally, when I counted back the months..."
Claude Frollo immediately slapped the girl repeatedly, this time more forcefully and painfully than the previous. How dare this devious slut use the tired claim that she had my child. The brazen, unholy bitch!

Without warning, Claude Frollo grabbed Ameline by the shoulders and violently shook the girl. He slapped her over and over, all the while ignoring her screams.
"It is the truth!," she screamed and sobbed as he continuously battered her, leaving ugly bruises on her porcelain face, bursting her lip causing blood to trickle from her mouth.
"I tell you! It is true!," she pleaded as she fell to the floor all the while writhing under the judge's merciless blows. "Ask his lordship's caretaker, Louve Papon! She was with me when I had the child!"
"Liar! Harlot!," Frollo bellowed as he coldly kicked and stomped a sobbing Ameline again and again. He continued to assault the girl until she was quite unconscious.

There, he thought, she will no longer pose a threat...All her fraudulent crimes, trickery, and falsehoods have finally caught up with her...Ameline Bellot, you will now feel all the pain you wrought upon me, upon Aubert d'Urboise, and upon your own father and brother.
Out of breath, a still seething Claude Frollo nonchalantly exited the house and issued the order: "Burn it!"


Jacques Bellot stood at the upperstory window from where he could see the smoke from so many fires. Whatever is going on?, he wondered. Is Paris burning? Is there some major outbreak that we do not know about? One hears of fires breaking out in the various overcrowded cities all over Europe. One house catches fire then, before that conflagration is barely under control, others go up in flames. It was always that way, almost like a raging epidemic and there was no stopping it.
Shaking his head, Jacques turned away from the window only to see Abelard standing in the doorway. It had been a grueling day what with Lutisse in total despair over Mathena's death. True, Lutisse was a tough taskmaster, often berating her servant for no reason. But Mathena was a good girl who gave her mistress so many years of loyal, faithful service. "She may have been a tad slow at times, a bit gossipy," said a tearful Lutisse, "and I had to stay at her, but she was a good girl. She didn't deserve to be murdered in cold blood."
What perturbed Lutisse and Jacques was that Minister Frollo was no where to be found. So many times during the day, Lutisse sent Abelard to the Palais de Justice, but the servant came back each time saying that Frollo had yet to return.

Stories soon filtered back on the streets that the Minister of Justice went on a mad bender in his search for La Esmeralda. There were reports of Gypsies, refusing to divulge Esme's whereabouts, taken away by the scores. Whole wagons with Gypsies locked inside were shoved into the Seine, their meager belongings tossed about like refuse. Then the capper: Frollo, in a rage, set fire to the miller's home, all because he suspected the innocent man harbored Gypsies.
Jacques couldn't quite believe what people were saying. Was it true? Captain Phoebus refused to torch the miller's home, thus facing an immediate beheading? But Phoebus escaped only to be shot off Frollo's horse. The captain plunged into the river, never to resurface.
Then the nightmare continued. Judge Frollo, in his zealous search for Esmeralda, indiscriminately torched and ransacked countless homes and businesses. The reason? Because people simply would not cooperate. But, truthfully, they had no idea where Esmeralda was, no one did. But Frollo didn't care. It's just as one man said on the streets, "Frollo's gone mad."
Just as his sister wondered about Frollo's seemingly preoccupation with finding Esmeralda, Jacques entertained the notion that Frollo wanted the Gypsy dancer for other, ulterior purposes. This is more than just capturing a woman who had words with Frollo then took the guards on a mad, highly entertaining chase through La Place de Notre-Dame. It goes much deeper than that.

So reasoned Jacques as he resigned himself to dump Ameline on the Palais doorsteps now. Frollo will simply have to find time to deal with her whether he finds Esmeralda or not. It was getting late, and Jacques feared that his sister might manage to escape. She obviously, by now, came out of her drug-induced state, perhaps picked the lock on her door thus giving her a chance to make a break for it. Jacques told Abelard just that.

"I'm heading back to where Ameline's staying," he said, "Keep an eye on Tante Lutisse. I will go with her to Notre Dame tomorrow to make arrangements for Mathena's burial." Then, "I suppose Mathena had no family."
The servant replied, "No, sir. Mathena was an orphan."
"Well, I'm off. Tell my aunt I will be here in the morning after I call on Frollo."
Jacques Bellot, after saying his goodbyes to Lutisse, left the house then made the long walk back to Ameline's lodgings. He wondered about that house; his sister said it belonged to a wealthy merchant who regularly helped the Gypsies.

"Regularly helped Gypsies..." Then it dawned on Jacques that said house just may have been Frollo's next target – and Ameline was there.


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