Denis Bellot was furious. After joyously reuniting with his son, he had to endure yet another painful chapter of his life.
Just when Denis was getting his life back on track, just when he married Lysbette, his childhood sweetheart, and had reunited with Jacques, here comes another tragedy. It seemed nothing that remotely concerned Jehanne and Ameline would ever absolve itself. And now, when Denis had so hoped that Ameline would, some day, turn her life around, that day came with a terrible price.
Oh, how much it pained Jacques to tell his father that Ameline was alive and well after staging that "suicide". Not only that, but she took up with Dreu Cardin, a wealthy merchant friend of Aubert d'Urboise, lived under one of her many alias, and generally seemingly forgot all about her family.
In fact, she already wiped her hands of her mother, even told Jehanne so in a scathing letter which drove Jehanne to suicide. Denis learned this time that Ameline did indeed return to Paris in time for the Festival of Fools, resided in Cardin's town house, and plotted to murder Claude Frollo and Jacques. The former she almost succeeded in killing, but a sharp-eyed Jacques spotted her as she furtively moved to Frollo's tent and sprinkled potent poison into the judge's wine cup. Thank the Blessed Virgin, thought Denis, Jacques was there to prevent a cold-blooded murder. But, if she had succeeded, indeed she'd be alive now...
But what if she was caught, then she'd most likely endure the agony of extreme torture for killing the Minister of Justice. Perhaps not, knowing the awful reputation Minister Frollo has not just among Parisians but those in faraway Calais.
How could he do such a thing? I know Ameline is – was – not the model young girl, in fact she could be downright cold and calculating, totally without remorse. That she learned from her mother, and even if I had put my foot down with Jehanne where Ameline's upbringing was concerned...
But I did admonish Jehanne on several occasions, and what good did it do? She laughed and said that I was being entirely too stuffy with the children. Well, Jacques turned out to be a fine, upstanding young man, and I have to thank my own good sense and NOT allow Jehanne near the boy. Perhaps it was all...This is one time I wish Jehanne was alive now, so she could see the fruits of her indulgence and permissiveness.
Ah, Ameline, you have done so much wrong, but you should have never suffered the fate you did. Damn Frollo! Why couldn't he just arrest the girl and not batter her the way he did? Why did he find it necessary to torch the house? Oh, that's right...He suspected Ameline of harboring Gypsies, so he made her suffer the same fate that nearly claimed the miller's family...Only there was no Captain Phoebus, or anyone, to save my child in time.
Denis Bellot, forcing himself wide awake as it was close to dawn and he had passed a fitfully sleepless night, waited outside Claude Frollo's private office. The young clerk literally shook in his shoes as Denis, in his loftiest, haughtiest voice, demanded to see Frollo at once. And that clerk scurried off in search of Frollo, knowing that the judge would, literally and figuratively, tan his hide for interferring with his busy schedule. No one ever does that, especially not today what with Frollo itching to burn Esmeralda at the stake as her friends watch. Then His Grace had special plans for Phoebus, Quasimodo, and the scores of Gypsies captured at the Court of Miracles. A mass execution, Denis overheard the clerk tell another. Does Frollo's cruelty and bloodlust know no end? Thank God Aubert slept in this morning, or else Frollo would really have his hands full. Although it is a shame Aubert isn't here; his 'resurrection' could be just the jolt His Grace needed to snap him out of whatever hubris has taken complete control of Frollo's usual good sense.
That is if the man had any to begin with...
"Whatever your business, be quick about it!"
The Minister of Justice was not one to have his schedule disrupted, and the young clerk who so carelessly alerted His Grace of a visitor requesting an immediate audience would soon find himself in much hot water – literally.
Claude Frollo breezed past the numerous clerks and attendants, eyeing the gentleman caller with contempt. How dare this man intrude on a most delicate matter, namely the execution of Esmeralda along with a host of her Gypsy friends. Then there was the former captain and the bell ringer. They too will face certain, painful deaths after they witness their beloved dancer burn to cinders.
Denis Bellot, totally undaunted by Frollo's austere presence, said, "Your Grace, I had hoped to wait until afterwards, but this is as good a time as any."
Once behind the closed doors of his office, Frollo didn't even invite the man to sit. Instead he faced his caller and demanded what was so urgent to confer with His Grace at such a ridiculous hour.
Frollo, his annoyance acutely apparent, became impatient, demanding, "Well? What is your business?"
Denis Bellot remained steadfast for he wanted to reveal to Frollo what should've been reserved for Aubert d'Urboise. But no, he thought at the last minute, tell him what I think of the way he so callously battered and burned my daughter, then let Aubert finish him off.
"Sir," Denis began in clear, strong, deliberate tones, "I am Denis Bellot, father of Jacques."
Claude Frollo's expression instantly changed from merely annoyed to clearly enraged. So this is the father of Ameline, husband of Jehanne, those two unholy, despicable excuses for womanhood. How dare he show his face here after all the havoc his kinswomen wrought all over Paris. At first, Frollo wanted to tell Denis a few truths, shame the man for rearing a dishonorable girl as Ameline, for not keeping his own wife in line. No, if Jehanne was MY wife, Frollo mused, she'd never resort to the behavior that got her into so much trouble. She'd have the devil beaten out of her, as well as that daughter.
Instead, Frollo greeted Denis with an odd mixture of graciousness and respect. "Monsieur Bellot," he said, "this is highly unexpected. Your son has been released from prison days ago, and–"
"Your Grace," interrupted Denis, "I arrived in the city just last night, and I've since reunited with my son. My wife and I are–"
Now it was Frollo's turn to interject, "Wife?"
"Yes, sir. I have since remarried, to Lysbette Claus. We were childhood friends, and since Anton had passed on, we renewed our friendship thus...well, we naturally took the next step."
Frollo smiled a bit, growing a bit agitated at the approaching hour. Come on, man, whatever else you need to say to me, do it now! You've reunited with your precious son, and...Do you know about your daughter's fate? I sense this is the real reason he came to see me...And I know exactly what to say to him in response. Oddly, Denis seemed almost too calm for Frollo's comfort and took a bit too long to say exactly what was on his mind. Small talk?
Not really, and Denis chose his next words carefully as not to rile the Minister of Justice any further. In faraway Calais, stories circulated about Claude Frollo's infamously duplicitous temperament. The least little thing seemed to set the man off, so Denis knew he was treading on eggshells. The grief of a parent whose wayward child knew no bounds. Of course, Denis had always been highly disappointed and frustrated with Ameline's slow slide into criminal dissipation. But she was his child, his flesh and blood, as much part of him as was Jacques. He couldn't love Ameline any less despite her numerous sins. How much he wanted to be there in her final agonizing moments, comfort her and listen to her heartfelt confessions. At least Jacques was there as Ameline breathed her last. And the son conveyed Ameline's last words, her earnest apologies for all wrongs, and those words Denis wished the girl uttered to him in life: "I love you, Father."
In a calm, collected tone, his grief still contained but in danger of bubbling to the surface, Denis finally said, "Your Grace, I know what happened to my daughter. Let it be known that I never condoned the atrocious acts she and her mother committed. Nor did I turn a blind eye to their ill-gotten pursuits. Lord knows I tried to get through to Ameline, but her mother had other ideas. It was my intention to send the girl away to a convent, thinking, perhaps, a life devoted to God would turn my daughter away from her mother's influence. You know Jehanne took after her father; I'm sure Lutisse has told you so much. And I'm sure you'll think that I should have raised a hand to Jehanne, made her know who was the master–"
"But you did not, M. Bellot," interrupted Frollo, feeling that Denis may somehow turn the tables and blame him for Ameline's tragic death. Claude Frollo proceeded to tell Denis of a few observations, perhaps let the man know that his inactions may have been the telling factor in his kinswomen's wrongdoings.
"If you had, as you said, put your foot down, your wife would not find need to end another man's life. She would not dare to interfere with your daughter's upbringing, which I feel, sir, was YOUR duty as a father. But you allowed Jehanne to rule over you, thus gaining control over Ameline and making the girl into her sinful image."
Denis Bellot couldn't believe what he was hearing. Was Claude Frollo blaming HIM for Ameline and Jehanne's waywardness? Naturally, over the years, Denis did blame himself for not being more firm with his wife and daughter, but now it's beside the point. What mattered now was that his daughter was dead, killed by Frollo's own hand. And the way that death was carried out...Surely Ameline, if captured, would have been put to death for her crimes, and Denis would have to suffer with that knowledge. No parent wants to live with the shame and humilation of having a child who had been executed.
But now, Denis couldn't get over the fact that Claude Frollo, with reasons of his own, burned down half of Paris in search of a Gypsy dancer. Why? Jacques told his father so much last light, and it made plausible sense, but Frollo's actions were so extreme. Jacques recalled part of his brief conversation with Esmeralda, and the dancer revealed why Frollo so mercilessly ransacked the city in his search – Because His Grace wanted Esmeralda as a mistress, a pet so to speak.
Ugh! And Frollo stands here, accusing me of being weak and ineffective as a husband and father. But here he is, moments away from burning to death an innocent woman solely because she refused his advances. He's devastated half the city, my daughter among the hapless souls who perished last night, and he, in his self-righteousness, tells ME how I should have 'mastered' my wife and daughter.
"Sir," Denis said, this time really trying not to lose his temper. Denis Bellot was an even-tempered man, not easily angered. In fact, the times when he actually became angry were extremely rare.
He began again, "Sir, as you've so aptly pointed out, there were things I could've done differently. But I vowed to Jehanne the day we married I'd never raise a hand to her. It is not in my nature to do so–"
He stopped himself, knowing he wasn't getting anywhere at this rate. Instead, he backed up and told Frollo just what he thought of last night's 'purge by fire'.
"Your Grace, what happened last night...Sir, I do not know the particulars, but Ameline did not deserve to die the way she did. You could have taken her in, imprisoned her, however–"
Claude Frollo's eyes shot fire. The mouth downturned into a menacing scowl. Enough of this old man's whining about his poor dead daughter. The conniving bitch is dead and gone back to Hell where she belongs. I swear if his babbling on and on so much as delays the execution by one minute...
"Monsieur Bellot," Frollo replied coldly, his thin pink lips visibly enunciating every syllable, "your Ameline deserved her fate! She was a cold, calculating vixen who ruined the lives of countless innocent persons. One of which is the son of my long time servant. And, of course, you know of the Baron de Clellaux. Thank your wife and daughter for his disappearance and, most likely after all these years, death."
He was grinning now, not with mirth but out of spite and ridicule. "Did you know your daughter, during interrogation, had the audacity to inform me of a baby – MY child!"
Denis was silent; he did not flinch from Frollo's words because he knew about Galien.
"Yes, M. Bellot. Ameline blurted out that she had a child nearly nine months after she faked her suicide. And she claims I am the father because she said, and I quote, 'You were the only man I'd been with'."
Those last words were spoken with such mockery, such derision, that Denis couldn't take it any more. So what if Frollo arrests him for what he was going to say?
"Your Grace, it is true, and I can prove it. His name is Galien, adopted by Huguette and Ponce Brebéuf a little over twelve years ago. How do I know? Because I met the parents and boy during my stay at Trois Filles Inn yesterday. If you recall, sir, Louve Papon, Huguette's sister, was caretaker of the baron's country estate..."
"ENOUGH OF YOUR LIES!"
Claude Frollo's booming voice nearly shook the rafters and reverberated throughout the Palace of Justice. The young clerks standing outside the office door literally quaked in their shoes. When His Grace shouted like that, it meant a bad – no, worse than bad – day for everyone who dare cross paths with the man.
Frollo was on a roll, no stopping the venom erupting from his mouth. He continued his vilification of Ameline, calling her the worse of names. This of course forced Denis' hand, an action which did not set well with the Minister of Justice.
"Your daughter's soul, M. Bellot, was as black as the moon's shadow, blocking out all that is good and holy. Why, your son is the exact opposite. Tell me, sir, why is it that you forbade your wife to influence Jacques yet Ameline was allowed to imbibe her mother's evil, her vindictiveness? If Jacques hadn't come forth, sacrificed his freedom for his mother's, Jehanne Bellot would have certainly been put to death. And I, sir, would have taken special delight in watching her die. As for your daughter, M. Bellot, she was ultimately a traitor, an enemy of the state and Church. Her relationship with the notorious Gypsy advocate, Dreu Cardin, was crime enough to justify the actions I took last night. The girl was defiant, and I can only conclude that it was this affair she carried on with Cardin that worsened her already doomed situation. The child...you say the birth was witnessed by Louve Papon, and that the boy was adopted by Madame Papon's sister. Lies, M. Bellot, all lies. If Madame Papon had indeed assisted in this child's birth, then why did she not come forth to inform me?"
"But, Your Grace, Madame Papon is in Paris now. I met her at the Trois Filles yesterday. She told us everything, about what had happened to Ameline. My daughter was going under an assumed name at the time..."
Frollo nodded, the grin becoming wider, more sarcastic. "You see? All lies. Ameline, using one of her many aliases, only proves the scheming bitch could not be trusted. She wouldn't know the truth if it stared her in the face. Her life has been nothing but falsehoods, chicanery, wickedness! SHE DESERVED TO DIE BECAUSE SHE WAS A MOST UNHOLY DEMON! I JUST DID HER A FAVOR AND SENT HER BACK TO HELL WHERE SHE BELONGS!"
Now Denis Bellot could not take anymore. Not thinking of the consequences, he lunged at Frollo, screaming, "HOW DARE YOU ASSAIL MY DAUGHTER! HOW DARE YOU CALL HER THE FILTHIEST, FOULEST...!"
In an instant Claude Frollo jumped back out of reach of Denis' clawing hands. He boomed for his guards who immediately entered the room. They brandished their spears and swords, cornering Denis as if he was a wild bear to be slain.
"Denis Bellot is under arrest for an attempt on my life! Take him to the carts with the others. He shall soon join his precious Ameline in Hell!"
In a dank, darkened dungeon cell, Dreu Cardin cursed his luck – and Claude Frollo. All he wanted was to reunite with Thomassa, the woman he loved. But that desire was dashed the moment he stepped inside the city gates. When he arrived at his house, the very house he lent to Thomassa, it had already been consumed to ashes. Not much left to salvage or rebuild. Frollo did that, the neighbors said, and the young woman trapped inside was rescued but all too late. She was so badly burned, it would be a miracle if she ever survived. But she did not last the night, as reported to him by Jacques Bellot who finally informed Dreu that "Thomassa" was Ameline, a fugitive wanted by Frollo. What did this lady do to incur Frollo's animosity?, Dreu asked. Jacques briefly recounted what happened twelve years ago: the fraud, deception, betrayal of two men, one being Frollo, the other Aubert d'Urboise, the Baron de Clellaux.
Imagine Cardin's shock upon learning the young maid's true identity with whom he absconded that winter morning back in 1471. He had no idea Thomassa Tailbot was Ameline Bellot, not that it never mattered anyway. He loved this woman; what she did in the past was of no concern to him. But now she is dead and by Claude Frollo's hand.
He sat amid scanty piles of straw, pondering his fate. But he already knew that what with being unceremoniously thrown into the cell, enduring the coarse laughter of the judge's ruthless soldiers.
Dreu's cellmate didn't fare much better, and it shocked him when he learned exactly this other man's identity. No wonder the guards so cruelly taunted and teased this man; he is the former Captain of the Guard.
Phoebus didn't say much at first when Dreu was brought in. But he was curious of what this obviously well-heeled gentleman did to deserved such treatment.
After introductions, Phoebus asked, "And what does Frollo have you in here for?"
"Helping Gypsies. Frollo's had a price on my head for so long. All I wanted was to see my ladylove, but she is dead – murdered by Frollo. So I come to town at great risk to myself, but..."
Phoebus nodded sadly, replying, "I hear you, my friend." Then with a sigh, "I'm in here for identical reasons. Really, is there no stopping what that man does? Now Esmeralda is to burned at the stake in a matter of hours. Quasimodo is chained up in Notre Dame's bell tower. Dozens of Gypsies and myself ambushed at the Court of Miracles will be the next to be put to death AFTER we're forced to watch Esmeralda burn. My God! I thought when I came home from the wars I would have the honor of working alongside the great Minister Frollo. So much for 'greatness'. You see where it got me, and you see the results of a madman's quest for one Gypsy woman."
"I've heard," said Dreu, "that His Honor only wants Esmeralda for...well, you know...a 'plaything'."
Phoebus waxed bitterly, saying, "I had a feeling that was the reason, and I had his number way back when she fled into the cathedral. I had to make her claim sanctuary, so Frollo couldn't get his hands on her. I know exactly what he'd do to her if he did. Now, well..."
At that moment, the cell door creaked open and two guards entered. "Phoebus! Cardin!," called out one as the other shackled Dreu and the former captain, "You are to be taken to the square to face execution." The other guard eyed Phoebus with such contempt, and Phoebus instantly recognized him as the one who grabbed Esmeralda that day the new captain epsied the dancer entertaining for coins.
"So," said the sergeant, "the noble Captain Phoebus finally gets his just desserts for helping Gypsies. His Grace has a special punishment ready for YOU!"
The two men said nothing as they were led outside to the prison carts where they would be locked inside. Dreu already recognized a few Gypsies he had helped over the years, including the effervescent Clopin. What a calamity, for yesterday was all for fun and revelry. This morning, however, Dreu thought, would go down as one of the worst days for the Gypsies, and a coup unprecedented for Claude Frollo. If something doesn't unexpected doesn't happen, such as some sort of divine intervention, then all was lost.
As they gathered outside to be loaded into the carts, another guard brought forth a new prisoner. "Frollo says this one goes, too."
Phoebus watched as two other guards rudely shoved the elderly gentleman into the same cart that would hold him and Cardin. The former captain tapped Dreu on the shoulder, asking, "Who is that guy? He wasn't at the Court of Miracles."
Dreu Cardin looked at this old man, then a shocked expression spread across his face. "I know him. He is Denis Bellot, father of Jacques and Ameline...I met him yesterday at the Trois Filles. M. Bellot is as kind and gentle as they come, so what has HE done to earn this most dreadful fate?"
Copyright©2003 by prp