Unusually warm weather for January, thought Jacques as he made his way through throngs of people preparing for a gala day. The morning sunlight illuminated otherwise gloomy Parisian streets. And why shouldn't the sun shine on such a festive day? So many Parisians are in good moods with the anticipation of a day full of fun and entertainment.
However, Jacques was in no mood for fun and games, although he loved the Feast of Fools ever since he was a child. He remembered his father packing up the family every year, making the trek from Calais to Paris to enjoy several days of merry revelry. It was always a happy time for Jacques but this time was different.
Instead of looking forward to the festival, Jacques was preoccupied with more pressing, more serious matters. True, Judge Frollo had requested that Jacques seek out Ameline, whose return to Paris was confirmed although her exact whereabouts were not. This is why Jacques decided to call on Tante Lutisse. Perhaps his good aunt would know something about his wayward sister's return. Perhaps Ameline had already contacted Lutisse. A sick feeling came over Jacques. Why would Ameline come back to Paris after all the havoc she and her mother wrought?
Of course Jacques knew, via Frollo, why Ameline returned: It was to extract a sizable fortune from Faure d'Aubec, Baron de Clellaux's cousin. Why would Ameline contact him of all people? Didn't she have inkling that d'Aubec and Frollo were on to her scheme, that she was a no more than a fraud?
Then it dawned on him that Ameline may have other, ulterior, motives for her timely return. Perhaps she intends to exact revenge on Claude Frollo and himself. She did, after that fateful night twelve years ago, swear that Jacques and Frollo would pay for ruining what was the perfect scam. The plan to bilk the old baron was going so smoothly; none would've been the wiser if certain people simply butted out.
This is why he hurried to Tante Lutisse's home on Rue des Urnis. Jacques knew the journey by foot would take longer than usual due to the ever-growing swarm of people. He wondered if Lutisse would attend the festival but nixed the idea, as his aunt's current health would not permit a day of such revelry.
Passing through la Place de Notre-Dame, Jacques knew Tante Lutisse's house wasn't far, so he stopped momentarily to look over the festival preparations. He spotted several colorful tents that would later serve as vendor stands selling everything from food to trinkets. He saw men putting the final touches on a makeshift platform that would serve as the main stage. Off to the side he saw one tent that stood out from the rest –– not as colorful or ornate as the others but stately and regally appointed. This has to be where Frollo would sit. Jacques had to stifle a laugh, as he knew the Minister of Justice hated the Feast of Fools for years. He remembered that last January he and his family came to Paris for the festival, and a much younger Claude Frollo was in attendance trying so hard to pretend to enjoy himself. Jacques recalled glancing at Frollo's commanding form only to observe the man's utter contempt for merely gracing the festival with his presence.
"...The dregs of humankind all muddled together in a shallow drunken stupor..."
Well, Jacques thought, after my visit with Tante Lutisse, I just might take in the festival; finding Ameline would have to wait. But...
Then an uneasy feeling came over Jacques. Why he didn't think of this before? With all the crowd, the sheer press of people all paying attention to the entertainment and festivities, and the fact that Frollo himself would be here, even though soldiers would be stationed all around...
"Surely she wouldn't try anything desperate at the festival?," he muttered under his breath as he passed the cathedral. It would be like Ameline to do just that: try to harm Frollo or himself with the entire populace of Paris as witnesses. Causing a public scene wasn't her style but a woman in such dire straits would try anything, even double murder.
Must warn Frollo, must warn Tante Lutisse...
Just as Jacques Bellot passed the cathedral, Judge Claude Frollo crossed the square. He was carrying a basket covered with a white cloth. Jacques knew this was the time Frollo usually visited the bellringer Quasimodo. He remembered the misshapen Quasi from long ago. His father often talked about the mysterious bellringer and wondered if the rumors were true: that Quasimodo was actually Frollo's adopted son, and that Frollo kept the boy hidden within the cathedral walls because he was ashamed of Quasi's deformities. Jacques met Quasimodo twelve years ago, when he had followed Ameline into the cathedral. Young Bellot was not put off by the bellringer's deformities; on the contrary, he was rather curious about the bright eight-year old boy who seemed to live in a world all his own. True, little Quasimodo had a strange guarded admiration for his "Master" as he called Frollo.
Odd, thought Jacques, that Quasimodo doesn't call Claude Frollo "Father" like a loving son should, but addresses the judge as a servant would address his employer. Stranger still the relationship between Frollo and Quasimodo, so odd that Jacques wondered exactly how Frollo regarded his young charge. How does Frollo regard Quasimodo this present day, now that the bellringer is a grown man?
Whatever the extent of the relationship, Jacques was sure Frollo was grateful that Quasi was in the right place and at the right time. Without little Quasimodo's bird's eye view of Paris and citizens, Claude Frollo would've never caught up with Ameline.
"Ah, Jacques, this is not a good time for us to meet, seeing the circumstances."
Thus said Claude Frollo as he prepared to enter the cathedral. The good judge glanced about the square with some disgust. Apparently, thought Jacques with some amusement, Frollo's contempt for the festival and all that it entails had not changed one bit.
Actually Frollo had good reason not to follow up on Ameline as of yet. With the festival, Quasimodo's lessons, and the arrival of the new Captain of the Guard, Claude Frollo simply had to put Ameline on, as one of Frollo's good friends put it, "On the back burner."
"Don't ask what a 'back burner' is, Jacques," said Frollo with a smile, "but it means that we will resume looking for your sister after the festival." Frollo smiled again, and Jacques returned the smile. The Minister of Justice asked, "I presume you to visit your aunt. Good! Perhaps Lutisse may know of Ameline's lodgings. The girl has to stay somewhere, and knowing her, she would not eke out a living on the streets."
Talk of Ameline alerted Jacques to tell Frollo about that hunch he had earlier, that Ameline may attend the festival and do something desperate.
"And that, sir, is of what I'm most afraid. You know her as well as I. Ameline might mean one of us harm, and the festival would be the perfect cover for such."
Frollo reassured Jacques that nothing out of the ordinary would happen. "After all, Jacques, I will have my men stationed throughout the square. And do not forget Phoebus, my new captain. I am sure he would be alert to any potential danger." Then, with another broad smile, he added, "Ameline would be foolish to be seen in public, not with the crimes she has committed. There are too many Parisians who fell victim to her and your mother's schemes. One look at her and citizens would be sure to call for her head, and I would be more than happy to oblige them."
Perhaps Frollo was right. Ameline wouldn't dare pull something stupid. But then again, Ameline could disguise herself, blend in with the crowd, then spring her trap.
This is what went through Jacques' mind as he stood in the great hall of his aunt's home. It was a well-appointed structure fashionably, if not regally, furnished. Tante Lutisse, once married to a prominent wine merchant and widowed young, led a quiet unassuming life these days. Losing her eyesight was so unfortunate for one still quite lovely and vibrant. Jacques always loved his Tante Lutisse, his mother's sister, and it pained him to notice the utter difference between the two women. Lutisse was always open, loving, compassionate, all the things a woman of her stature should be. Jehanne on the other hand was manipulative, controlling, cruel, shallow, and given to rages unimaginable. Jacques could never understand how two sisters could be the exact opposite in temperament. Perhaps, as Frollo reasoned, Jehanne Bellot was cursed from birth, a woman marked forever by evil, condemned committing the most heinous acts. That evil had now manifested itself in Ameline, whose dangerous game of revenge was about to unfold.
"Jacques! My darling nephew! Let me take a look at you."
Lutisse Lemer, her dimming eyesight trying to take in the handsome man standing before her, literally swam across the room to embrace her nephew who she hadn't seen in twelve years.
Jacques held his aunt close, not wanting to let go too quickly. She had been so good to him over the years, endeavoring to be the strong female influence his mother was not. At least, in her mind, Jacques had the good sense to stay close to his father and not fall prey to his mother's cruel nature and whims.
Releasing his aunt, he said at last, "Tante Lutisse, I understand you are going to the festival. Are you sure you can stand the crowd and all that gaiety, I mean given your health..."
Lutisse offered her nephew one of her famous bright smiles, answering, "My good young man, I am definitely going to the festival. Mathena is accompanying me, so there is nothing to worry about. My health is fine. It's just my eyes as they don't see too clearly any more." Then, upon scrutinizing Jacques, "But what the good Lord has left of my sight, I can see that all those years in Frollo's dungeons haven't done much harm. I must say, Jacques, you have certainly matured into such a handsome man. Surely you will be able to enchant one of our lovely Parisians."
To this Jacques laughed, then grew serious when he asked about Ameline.
"Frollo told me his spies have seen her, in Paris, but he is not sure of her exact whereabouts."
Lutisse wondered whether Jacques would inquire about his sister, and all she could offer was, "Mathena has been to see her but would not –– could not –– tell me where Ameline is lodging. It's not like her to keep such information from me. I want to see Ameline punished as much as Frollo, for what she and her mother put us all through."
Expertly maneuvering to the bell cord on the far side of the room, Lutisse rang for Mathena. Not several seconds passed when Abelard, the houseboy entered the room.
"What is your will, madame?," the young servant asked. Lutisse did not hesitate to inquire as to why Mathena did not respond to the summons. "Mathena is feeling rather poorly this morning, madame. She's rather queasy but fine otherwise and asks your permission not to accompany you to the festival."
Lutisse Lemer appeared somewhat agitated at this news. How can Mathena, a girl who usually enjoys fine health, suddenly become ill? Then it dawned upon her. With a huff, Lutisse said to Jacques, "She has a terrible habit of overindulging her appetite. Perhaps it was all the excitement of the upcoming festival. She most likely indulged in too many sweetmeats. Oh well..."
She then thought of something else. "Jacques, why don't you accompany me to the festival. We can catch up old times."
To this Jacques heartily agreed. He and Tante Lutisse could discuss many things on the way to the festival. Perhaps Ameline wouldn't attend after all since she knows she is still a wanted woman. Pushing the thought of his sister out of his mind, Jacques said to his aunt, "Good Tante Lutisse, I will be delighted to escort you, and if you will allow me, I can become your eyes and tell you everything that goes on."
"You are so kind, Jacques," Lutisse said with a warm smile. "And you are not worried that your sister might be among the revelers?"
"That thought had crossed my mind, but Ameline has, as Frollo says, 'a price on her head', she would be wise and stay away."
To Chapter 6
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