"Jacques," began Frollo after dismissing the servants. Ever the gracious host, Claude Frollo had a light supper of bread, cheese, fruit, and wine brought up. After all, His Grace reasoned, this is not just a business discussion, but a chance to get to know young Bellot better.
Frollo studied Jacques with an almost fascinated admiration. Here was a man who had matured that much more since arriving in Paris twelve years ago. Granted, the years of imprisonment had taken their toll somewhat; Jacques Bellot was thinner than usual, his face more angular. However, that inner fire within those hazel eyes never waned. Frollo admired the man's quiet moral strength, so much better than that of his sister.
Claude Frollo had aged as well, as Jacques noticed. His Grace still had the same tall, lean build, the same austere, hardened expression that few people could stand. True, Frollo's face sported deeper etched lines, the eye bags more noticeable, the hair had turned from iron gray to white. However, Frollo still commanded that presence, the way he carried himself as if the very air around him stood at attention. Here, to Jacques' mind, was a man born to lead and command, someone who demanded immediate obedience and respect.
Twelve years is long time not to have laid eyes on each other, and Jacques Bellot held the Minister of Justice in high esteem. He had no idea of His Grace's alleged cruelty because he never witnessed such. Something within Jacques' eyes caught Claude Frollo's attention. Perhaps, His Grace surmised, Bellot will cooperate with my little plan, for he is as disgusted with his sister's long slice into iniquity as I.
Frollo wasted no time and explained again, "As I said, my spies have finally found Ameline and know where she is residing. I regret to say that she has, over this many years, resumed her fraudulent crimes."
Now Jacques was rather alarmed, and a trifle disgusted, with this news. His sister, even after that traumatic night, had not reformed one bit. What is wrong with her? Hadn't she realized that her own brother sacrificed so much for her? Didn't she know that her brother spent twelve years in Frollo's dungeons for crimes that were, in reality, committed by her and Mother? Wasn't she even a little remorseful? For her, it was apparently not on all counts.
Claude Frollo, still studying Jacques' expressions, continued, "I know
this is quite a shock for you, what with your sister bent on defrauding
so many innocent people, however I do have proof of her recent crimes."
He then produced that letter received just this morning. Frollo explained, "I received this letter today. It concerns Baron Aubert d'Urboise de Clellaux and his properties. But it also it concerns your sister, as you will see."
Frollo handed the letter to Jacques who in turn read each and every word. His mind raced as reality sunk in.
Finally Jacques Bellot spoke, "Minister Frollo, this is from a distant relation of the baron, but I thought he didn't have any living kinsmen. I thought Aubert d'Urboise was the last of his great family. And my sister was in correspondence with this man, this d'Aubec fellow?"
Frollo replied while refilling Jacques' wine cup, "Precisely. Faure d'Aubec is Aubert d'Urboise's maternal third cousin. I know of d'Aubec as our paths crossed many times during my years in service to Aubert. You see, I oversaw Aubert's legal and business affairs and continued in that capacity after I became Minister of Justice. Faure d'Aubec assisted me in administering Aubert's Parisian properties. For the past ten years, Faure remained at Aubert's family estate near Orleans. Now he is coming to Paris to take charge of the house..."
At this Jacques rejoined, "The very house where my mother and sister
resided with the baron, and they met you. And..."
He sighed dejectedly when he added, "And where they planned to take over d'Urboise's money, homes, everything. Forgive me, sir, for sounding so bitter, but it is still all too incredible to comprehend."
Claude Frollo understood, smiled slightly, grew serious again, and said, "My dear Jacques, when you admitted to those crimes and subsequently accepted your punishment, I nearly believed you. However, Faure d'Aubec and I have been in contact with each other these past few months. His letters revealed much, especially about your sister. Apparently the girl has been writing to him, claiming she is the legitimate granddaughter of Baron de Clellaux, and that she is entitled to a sizable dowry."
Jacques was shocked! "Ameline wrote to this man? And she's up to her old tricks again? I don't understand, Minister Frollo. How did she get away with such things all these years?"
"Apparently, Jacques," replied Frollo, "according to my spies, she sent inquiries to several parties, that is before she actually corresponded with Faure. Ameline would request 'support' from these people, and foolishly her correspondents have been quite generous. When Faure wrote me, he asked whether I've ever heard of a 'long lost granddaughter'. Knowing Aubert never married – his betrothed having died days short of their wedding – I simply concluded that Faure's mysterious correspondent had to be Ameline. All I needed was proof that she was indeed alive and still residing in Paris."
But where? Jacques had to know. He also wanted to contact Ameline himself,
before Frollo and his men had her arrested. He had to get many answers
from her: What drives her to such extremes? Why is she still leading a
life of deception and fraud? Was there a glimmer of hope, a chance that
she would see the error of her ways and turn away from her evil deeds?
Jacques also wanted to know more about the baron's distant cousin –– about Faure d'Aubec.
Frollo sensed this and reassured that all in good time, he would reveal Ameline's residence once his spies pinpoint a precise location. However, and unfortunately, with the Feast of Fools celebration set for tomorrow, and the arrival of his new captain, the Bellot case would have to take "back burner" status. Jacques was puzzled by this expression.
"Er, Minister Frollo? 'Back burner' status? I do not understand, sir."
Claude Frollo's mouth curved upward in that famous smile. He replied, "Just an expression I learned from a dear friend. It means, dear Jacques, that my schedule will be horrendous tomorrow. There is the –– ugh! –– festival. Then my new captain is due to arrive in the morning."
Jacques Bellot acknowledged this and asked about meeting Ameline. To this Frollo replied, "Since Faure is not due here until the end of the week, and tomorrow's activities will occupy our respective time, may I suggest this..."
Claude Frollo laid it all out for Jacques. Young Bellot was to call
on his Tante Lutisse, perhaps get some answers as to Ameline's exact whereabouts.
Then Frollo suggested that Jacques and Émile attend the festival,
"As regular Parisians. No one would be the wiser." Frollo explained that
while Lutisse would be too infirm to attend, there was an outside chance
that Ameline could be amongst the crowd.
"She could," Claude Frollo said, "mingle with the multitude, blend in with the crowd, perhaps wear a disguise."
His Honor smiled again, noticing Jacques' bewildered expression.
No, Frollo was not recruiting Jacques to become a spy, which relieved the young man. Instead, Frollo hoped that a chance meeting between siblings in a non-threatening environment could soften the heartless woman. Perhaps Jacques would be able to get through to his sister, perhaps persuade her to recant her treacherous deeds, or even turn herself over to Frollo.
With a sigh, and a bit of reluctance, Jacques agreed to help Frollo in bringing Ameline to justice. His only hope was that Ameline would be that accommodating.
For the third time, Lutisse Lemer called for her servant. It's not as if the girl can't hear her mistress' summons; Mathena was just here, in this very room not quite an hour ago. Wretched girl! Where is she?
At forty-two, Lutisse still had the bloom of youth despite the gradual
loss of her eyesight. Her dark hair was without a strand of gray, and the
bright blue eyes, though no longer focusing properly, still had that loving
twinkle. Her rather short figure was still pleasingly plump, just as she
had always been –– Lutisse Lemer was famous for her hearty appetite, a
trait her sister did not share.
She still had the famous smile, raucous laughter, and sharp wit. Lutisse's movements, which were agile and quick before her sight failed, now slowed somewhat.
A once patient and easygoing woman, Lutisse, in light of her handicap, grew impatient, edgy. The eyesight began to fade almost immediately after she learned Jacques admitted to fraudulent crimes, thus earning him twelve years in Frollo's dungeons. It weighed heavily on Lutisse as Jacques was a particular favorite; he was everything Ameline was not.
In fact, so many things seemed to happen almost too fast for her comfort ever since that horrible night when Frollo cornered Jehanne and Ameline. She warned her sister and niece that no good would come of their ill-gotten games. Of course, Lutisse was aware of her sister's seemingly lack of morals, and those awful traits passed on to the daughter, to Ameline.
Lutisse had not seen or heard from her niece in the years since, although there were rumors that the girl still resided in Paris, but there was no proof. Who cares?, thought Lutisse as she rang her little silver bell again. Perhaps Ameline died long ago, and if she still lives, the girl surely must be in hiding. No decent person one would dare show her face, not after what happened that winter night of 1470.
"Mathena!," she shouted again. Sighing with exasperation, Lutisse, grabbed her cane, rose from her chair and felt her way towards the door. Thank goodness her servant had sense to arrange the room in such a way that Lutisse could navigate with toppling over.
Following shadowy images before her, Lutisse finally reached the door, only nearly colliding with Mathena, who made up some excuse as to why she didn't come when called the first time.
"Oh, madame, I-I'm so sorry," stammered Mathena. "Here", she said as she guided her mistress back to the chair beside the fireplace, "let me help you get settled again."
Lutisse, with slight anger, said, "Mathena, where were you? I've been
calling for you several times."
The servant merely replied, "I've been out, madame, on errands. You see, there was a shortage of wine and fresh meat, so I..."
"Enough!," shouted Lutisse. "Your excursions to the markets have become quite frequent these days. Now tell me the truth."
Mathena, her face trying hard not to show its guilt, knew she was cornered. No hedging this time, she thought. She had, after all, been in Madame Lemer's employ for so many years. She was privy to many family secrets, including particulars about Jehanne and Ameline. It's not good to keep something like this from Madame Lemer; the lady has a right to know.
"I-I've been visiting her, madame. She's back in Paris; she arrived
several days ago. I only went to help her get settled and all. Please don't
be angry with me, madame, but she swore me to secrecy."
Mathena gauged her mistress' reaction, then continued, "I also heard, from Madame Poulin, Minister Frollo's housekeeper, that your nephew, Jacques Bellot, has been released from prison."
Lutisse Lemer, in light of this news, despaired over what might transpire if the Bellot children ever crossed paths. Such a meeting should never take place, not if Ameline knows what's good for her. And why, Lutisse wondered, would Ameline dare show her face in Paris after all the havoc she and her mother wrought? A sick feeling came over Lutisse; she positively knew Ameline returned to town to settle "unfinished business". That unfinished business would be Jacques Bellot and Claude Frollo.
Without hesitating, Lutisse said to Mathena, "Get out our best attire. We are going to the festival tomorrow."
"The Feast of Fools? But, madame, you've hadn't attended in so many years. Are you sure you will be strong enough...?"
Lutisse grew impatient. "Confound it, Mathena! If I know my niece, she will be there, probably setting her sights on another hapless soul."
GO TO CHAPTER 4
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