Louve, not wanting to leave her longtime employer, not after twelve years of mourning His Lordship's 'demise', informed her younger sister that she would stay another night at the inn. "What His Lordship tells is so incredible," said Louve to Huguette before the latter departed for Paris. "And to think that the baron had us all fooled, what with him pretending to 'die', causing us all this grief, and for what?"
Huguette partially understood, replying, "That is for His Lordship to explain. I know he had his reasons, one being that awful Bellot woman and her daughter. But Louve, we must not let Galien know who his natural mother is. It would be too upsetting for everyone."
Once Huguette and her family departed, Louve rejoined her master and company. It had been so long ago, and even Louve didn't know all the particulars. Naturally, Aubert, completely exhausted from the long journey and sudden reunion with his beloved cousin, had retired for the night.
All Louve knew, from what Aubert explained, was that His Lordship was marked for death by Jehanne Bellot who mixed poisonous mushrooms with a midday repast. The sharp-eyed kitchen maid Marie had espied Madame Bellot doing that and, while Jehanne was occupied elsewhere, disposed of the deadly dish, replacing it with more palatable, safer fare.
Then the pair – Aubert and Jehanne – embarked on a midday excursion and picnic in the nearby wood. Aubert said that Jehanne insisted on having their meal right there in the deepest part of the forest, a place into where few people venture. Aubert wanted to know why, and Jehanne offered this explanation: "I am a nature lover at heart, Mon Amor, and I want to enjoy our time – alone."
Aubert got the picture and indulged Jehanne, and when he ate that supposedly tainted meat, Madame Bellot had the most curious expression on her face. "She looked as if," Aubert recalled, "she was a great bird of prey ready to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse. Oh, I knew right then and there the woman was trouble, so I indulged her fancy and pretended succumb to the deadly fungi."
Within the span of an hour of ingesting the 'poison', Aubert began choking, gasping for breath, then fell to the ground, twitching and convulsing in agony. He grasped his mid-section, called out to Jehanne to, "Please help me!" But Jehanne Bellot, satisfied with her handiwork, merely watched a helpless Aubert writhe in the throes of death. Then she simply walked away.
That was before she returned to the chateau, informing Louve who had just returned from the nearby village, "His Lordship had urgent business in Paris and returned at once. I shall be leaving shortly. Have Rosa pack my belongings and Herve ready the carriage."
Of course Louve, at the time, thought
nothing of it as Aubert had, earlier that morning, received an urgent message from his merchant friend Dreu Cardin. Apparently Cardin was becoming quite alarmed that he couldn't set foot in or near Paris without fear of immediate arrest courtesy of Claude Frollo. Why would Cardin inform Aubert of such? Many times, Aubert had invited his good friend to Paris as a houseguest, but those invitations were met with a polite, "Thanks but no thanks." Thinking Dreu was being unreasonably obstinate, not to mention downright discourteous, Aubert wrote Dreu one more time, this time asking, "Why do you refuse my invitations?"
Well, Dreu Cardin did just that, informed Aubert of all reasons. "I'm afraid, my dear Aubert, that your longtime friend and legal advisor has, in effect, put a price on my head. Why? Because I give much of my surplus fabrics and trinkets to the Gypsies. You know how Frollo feels about those people, but it baffles me why YOU still trust the man. I do not. If I, at any time, set foot in Paris, I am good as dead."
Dreu went on to inform Aubert that word got back that a certain Gypsy beauty wore a dress made from fabric he sent long ago. "I sent the finest purple broadcloth, only meant for the very rich as they are the only ones who can afford such. Word has it that said fabric now adorns a Gypsy dancer of incomparable beauty. Her name is La Esmeralda. I understand she lives in or near Paris, and I had hoped to see this woman in person, but with Minister Frollo calling for my immediate arrest for 'helping the heathen', I dare not venture inside the city gates."
La Esmeralda...now where did Aubert hear that name before? That's her! The same little girl who entertained at Aubert's sixty-fifth birthday party. Lysbette and Anton Claus were there, as well as the servants Margot and Perrin. Only Claude Frollo was not present because he had pressing judicial matter to attend.
At any rate, Aubert had made up his mind, once he and Jehanne were married, to return to Paris and have it out with Frollo. The nerve of the man, putting out arrest warrants for Dreu Cardin, one of the baron's closest and dearest friends, and all because Dreu helps the Gypsies. It was bad enough that Frollo seemed far too occupied ridding Paris of a people who truly didn't cause for much alarm. To Aubert the Gypsies were fun-loving, entertaining, and highly skilled craftsmen. He once commissioned a Gypsy blacksmith named Panuel to make those intricate wrought-iron sconces that graced the walls of his Parisian home. So pleased with this work that Aubert handsomely paid the same Gypsy to make all the decorative metalwork. Of course, said works received much praise from visitors, even from Frollo himself, but Aubert never let on exactly who the metallurgist was. It would be far too upsetting for the Minister of Justice to know that 'those unholy heathens' could produce such beautiful work.
But the tide turned the moment Jehanne Bellot sprung her trap. So, as Aubert related, not only was his friendship with Frollo in jeopardy, but now the woman who he thought he loved was nothing more than a fraud and murderer. So, Aubert devised an extremely complicated ruse to help trap Jehanne Bellot and to get back at Frollo.
After Jehanne left him 'to die' in the woods, Aubert immediately went back to the chateau, but remained hidden in the unoccupied west wing of the chateau until Jehanne departed for Paris. He did not want to burden Louve with such a delicate matter, although he trusted his beloved caretaker completely. No, this has to be a foolproof plan to get back at Claude Frollo and Jehanne Bellot, and having Louve involved would be too much.
He then sent for his personal attendant to whisk him away to the village, but not before he sent a quick message to Lysbette Claus. She and Anton were to leave Paris at once and meet him in the morning. From there they were to take him to Calais where Aubert had hoped to meet with Denis Bellot. He needed pertinent answers as to why Jehanne and Ameline would do such things, namely present themselves as 'longlost friends' only to swindle and plot murder.
Now Aubert had no idea what was about to go down in Paris, that Frollo had the goods on the Bellot women thus setting them up for entrapment. He would not learn of Ameline's supposed suicide, Jacques' sacrificial imprisonment to save Jehanne from the gallows. Nor would he learn of Jehanne's house detention and subsequent suicide within her own sister's home. And he would have no idea that Ameline, by faking her own demise, had escaped arrest, took on the alias 'Thomassa Tailbot', then found refuge with the Brebéufs. And he wouldn't know that Louve gave 'Thomassa' a place as housemaid, that the girl was pregnant with Claude Frollo's child, or that the child, once born, was given to Ponce and Huguette to rear as their own.
All that mattered to Aubert was that he had to remain in hiding until he received word that the Bellot women were in custody, and that Frollo had called off the outstanding arrest warrant for Dreu Cardin. Well, for now, the former happened, in a roundabout way, but the latter...
Indeed Jehanne was dead, but where was Ameline? Louve had to tell Aubert that the girl who called herself Thomassa had to be Ameline Bellot. That girl, not long after the birth of her child, took off with Dreu Cardin and apparently still took up residence on Cardin's sprawling Orlèans estate.
Well, if things haven't come full circle by now...And there is still the matter of Ameline still at large, and Frollo has no idea the girl lives...Oh well...
Denis Bellot passed the evening sitting by the fire, chatting with the inn's many visitors, and comforting himself in knowing that at least he and Lysbette were at last a couple. When Lysbette and Anton arrived in Calais twelve years ago, with the Baron de Clellaux in tow, Denis was overjoyed to see his cherished childhood friend. Too many years of a madly jealous Jehanne censoring and burning those letters from Lysbette.
When Lysbette and Anton showed up on Denis' doorstep with Aubert d'Urboise, M. Bellot wondered what had happened in Paris to cause this sudden, and very distant flight. The Clauses and Aubert explained it all: Jehanne and Ameline coming to Paris, worming their way into Aubert's good graces under false pretenses; the faked will forged with Claude Frollo's signature and seal which would almost guaranteed the Bellot women complete control of nearly all Aubert's vast estate; Ameline's swindling of young Émile Poulin; and Jehanne's foiled murder plot against Aubert. They told Denis how a very distraught Jehanne returned to Paris with a wild tale of robbery, kidnapping, and attempted rape. And there was the plot in which Ameline would marry then murder an unsuspecting Judge Claude Frollo.
Oh Mother of God!, thought Denis when he tried to fathom it all. When will it all end? Of course, when word got back to Denis about the botched ambush, Ameline's supposed suicide, and Jacques willingly giving himself in exchange for his mother's 'freedom', it was all too much for Denis to stomach. At least with the company of the Clauses and Aubert, who Denis wholeheartedly agreed to house for a few weeks until the baron was well enough to withstand the long journey to Bruges.
With his innocent son imprisoned, then Jehanne placed on permanent house detention only to take her life once Ameline resurfaced, Denis dug himself into a deep depression. He sold off what remained of his business, using what profit made from the sale to finance those twice-yearly trips to Paris to visit his son. But those visits became increasingly infrequent as Denis could not admit to himself that his wife and daughter were common thieves and cold-blooded killers. Naturally when word got out around Calais of the Bellot ladies' misdeeds, Denis never showed his face in public again. It was all too embarrassing.
So, unbeknownst to Jacques, and within a few months of his son's release from prison, Denis packed up and moved to Bruges to be near the Clauses. Alas, when he arrived, Anton had been dead for more than a year. An aging Aubert d'Urboise itched to return to Paris to set things right between him and Dreu Cardin, and finally to confront Claude Frollo for what Aubert sensed was a slap in the face of all the years of loyal, trustworthy service and friendship.
So, Denis, once in Bruges, renewed his love for Lysbette, and the childhood sweethearts married soon after. But the honeymoon didn't last for long as the new Monsieur and Madame Bellot found themselves on the road to Paris. It was an arduous, time-consuming journey, and Denis feared that an aged Aubert would succumb to the elements and rigors of long distance travel. But the old baron held up quite well, insisting that if he was to die it will be AFTER he gave Frollo a piece of his mind.
Denis had been up far later than he had anticipated. Lysbette had long retired for the night and, for some odd reason, Denis wanted to stay up a little more. The quiet time was quite soothing and he was more than anxious to reunite with his son. A message delivered just this evening from Émile Poulin confirmed that Jacques was still in Paris. There was something else in that message that gave Denis pause: Ameline is in Paris as well although in hiding. She had yet to show her face lest she be found out and arrested on sight.
But...Louve said Ameline was going by the name 'Thomassa' when the Brebéufs found her. She was with child...Could that child be Frollo's? Why would Ameline risk showing her face in Paris knowing Frollo would arrest her, perhaps have her undergo the worst of tortures...
As much as he still loved his daughter, Denis hated knowing what she had become. Perhaps all the ill-gotten games, the grifting, the endless greed for money and prestige will catch up with her...
His reverie was interrupted by numerous visitors swarming about the inn. These people had fled Paris, displaced by one crazed official's quest for one Gypsy dancer.
"His Grace has gone completely mad!," said one displaced man who, along with his family, barely got out of Paris alive. "The judge is so bent on finding the Gypsy Esmeralda, he's burned down half of the city. I had to get my wife and children out of town at once. My neighbor, Maurice LaRoche, lost his entire shop! The house across from mine was burned as well, with the poor woman still trapped inside. She was a lovely thing, too. So horrible it was, when they finally got her out. She was...Oh Mother of God, she is better off dead...the burns...I can't imagine a woman losing forever her beauty like that."
Denis listened to this man's tale of terror and fear induced by the Minister of Justice himself. He thought, what is it with Frollo? What force drives him to burn down nearly all of Paris...So that was the fires we saw when we arrived here...Frollo set them...but why? A Gypsy woman...La Esmeralda. That is the same little girl who danced for Aubert's birthday so many years ago, but now she is grown, and...
What has she done to cause Claude Frollo to go so completely over the edge? Aubert must be told of his former legal advisor's despicable behavior. Oh Jacques! My son...I surely hope you or your Tante Lutisse is caught in all this...and I, yes, even though she's done wrong, Ameline should be safe. I dearly pray to all the saints in Heaven that both my children are safe.
Copyright©2003 by prp