After that accusation, Ameline lunged at her brother, trying to take his
dagger in the process. But he was quicker and once again had her in a
hammerlock. Without a second thought, he slapped her repeatedly, calling her a
heartless harlot and charlatan. He then turned the tables on her, making her
drink wine laced with powerful herbs that brought on a deep slumber. No, he
didn't want to kill her but needed her under tight security in case she decided
to take off. Now in the quiet of this cramped Parisian town house with its peeling
paint and crumbling roof that leaked whenever it rained (Jacques noticed several
puddles on the floor from the afternoon's downpour), Jacques stared into the
flames, conjuring images of long ago. Odd, that, at this same moment, in the
nearby Palais, Judge Frollo stood before his fireplace, conjuring images of a
fiery, seductive Esmeralda. Jacques wanted Ameline brought to justice; Frollo
wanted the gypsy dancer to succumb to him or burn at the stake. The timing of
these two events, and the resultant actions of both men, would be the undoing of
Ameline – and of Claude Frollo.
The ladies swept through the teeming streets, oblivious to the many comings and goings of citizens. Then again, not too many Parisians paid much mind to the ladies, but the daughter certainly commanded attention. She was very beautiful, petite, and was blessed with a porcelain complexion and abundant blonde hair. She seemed a likable girl, this Ameline, with her easy laughter and flirting eyes. Many a young man stopped momentarily to feast upon her beauty. But the Bellot women did not come to look for husbands. Jehanne, already married more than twenty years to Denis Bellot, a minor Calais merchant, came to Paris with one goal in mind: to seek out the elderly baron Aubert d'Urboise de Clellaux. This was not entirely a social call, although Jehanne took great pains to cover her true intentions, and she brought Ameline along to serve as the perfect ruse. With her daughter's conversational talents, Aubert will have no idea he was to be the target of deception and fraud.
Margot, the baron's housekeeper, eyed the pair suspiciously, but announced their arrival once Jehanne showed papers proving who she claimed to be. Although Margot was semi-literate, she could make out the words enough to believe Jehanne and Ameline were legitimate. In the baron's employ for more than thirty years, Margot was furiously protective of her master; he was getting on in years, growing more eccentric and forgetful as time went on. Not that Margot feared a possible fraudulent "heir" to Aubert's fortune, but one cannot be too careful these days. Unsavory stories filtered back to Paris not long ago, stories about a band of con men claiming to be long lost relatives hoping to inherit wealth and titles that didn't belong to them.
At any rate, Margot announced the women as she ushered them into the grand drawing room. Jehanne and Ameline took immediate survey of their new lodgings, noting the placement of certain objects. It was a large, elegantly appointed home, furnished with richly detailed tapestries, carpets on the floor ("He must be that wealthy to afford actual carpet! In our home, in Calais, we have only rushes on the floor," whispered Ameline to her mother.), fine glassworks, paintings, and rare porcelain objects d'art. Comfortable chairs surrounded the massive hearth, which blazed with a welcoming fire. A fine afternoon repast of cheese, fruit, fresh bread, spiced nutmeats, France's finest wines and brandies, and the most exquisite petit fours Ameline had ever seen. Even the tableware attested to the baron's great wealth: sterling silver trays, chalices and plates, Venetian glassware, a towering silver and glass epergne filled with fresh fruits, almonds, and fine English walnuts. To Ameline, it was the most beautiful buffet. Surely, if Mother and I play this game well, all this could soon be ours and ours alone, and to Hell with Father and my equally virtuous brother!
At last, Aubert d'Urboise, the baron de Clellaux, tried, slowly and painfully, to rise from his chair by the fireplace. An aged man of sixty-five, Aubert was still rather handsome, with his tall slender form, long silvery hair, bright blue eyes and elegant clothes. Infirm as he was, Aubert still insisted on shaving with his own hand, dressing carefully and fastidiously in the latest fashion, and rising when receiving guests. However, on this occasion, beset by a stubborn arthritic knee, Aubert simply gave up the fight and remained seated. In a still-strong tenor voice he greeted the ladies.
"Welcome to my home, Madame..."
"Madame Bellot, sir. And this," said Jehanne as she motioned to Ameline, "is my daughter, Ameline."
As greeting and pleasantries were exchanged, Ameline took notice of the other
people gathered in the room. Of course, Margot stood by awaiting orders, along
with her husband Perrin, the majordomo. Seated by the fireplace was a couple
from Belgium who were staying with Aubert for the winter. Ameline later learned
that the couple, Anton and Lysbette Claus, were longtime family friends, so
close that Aubert considered them kin. Now, thought Ameline, who is this other
gentleman rising to greet us?
He caught Ameline's attention like no other man before. Oh, many a young man
vied for her affections; she even came very close to marrying just four years
ago, but the prospective groom was scared off when he learned what Ameline did
Ameline studied this man. He had to be of noble bearing by the way he carried himself. Most likely in his early forties, he still had the vigor of youth. Like the baron, this man was tall, very slender, with neatly coifed iron gray hair and dark eyes. His face, while not, to Ameline, wholly handsome, was attractive in a stern, authoritarian way. The face was long, angular, the cheekbones high, the lips thin yet inviting, the sharp long nose jutted in a way that conveyed the man's obvious power. His hands were elegant, possibly the most beautiful Ameline had ever seen on a man. The fingers were gracefully long and adorned with fine gemstone rings. Now, the blue one is for his family, the red for the church, the green...Has to be a doctor or a man of letters. An extremely important man, he must be, thought Ameline. I wonder if he is one of the baron's kinsmen or, perhaps, a member of the Royal Court, and if he is unmarried...
"Madame Bellot, may I introduce Anton and Lysbette Claus," Aubert d'Urboise loftily began. How gallant he is, thought Jehanne with a self-satisfied smile as she graciously exchanged pleasantries with the Clauses. Aubert is not married, never was, and if I do this right, I could become Madame d'Urboise, the baroness de Clellaux. Yes, he is quite handsome, urbane, debonair, despite the episodes of forgetfulness. That is expected in a man his age. Ameline and I could live in comfort the rest of our lives, and Denis would be none the wiser. For at this moment, he believes Ameline and I are on a ship to England, perhaps never to return. Good! Let him think just that! I do pray that Jacques never sets foot in Paris, and that my sister is still presently in Lyon. Poor dear, to lose both her husband and have all these vision problems. Oh well, no matter. With them far from this city, we can at last achieve what is rightfully ours.
"Monsieur Claus, Madame Claus," said Jehanne with an air of well-bred
graciousness, "may I present my daughter, Ameline."
"Most beautiful girl, Madame!," exclaimed Anton, an short, slightly chubby dark-haired gentleman in his late fifties. His wife, Lysbette, equally praised Ameline's beauty, saying, "I'm sure, Madame, that, in Paris you will find many suitable young men for your daughter. But, from where do you call home? Obviously you traveled a great distance."
Lysbette Claus, about the same age as Jehanne, and of fine matronly beauty – tall, buxom, a wealth of chestnut hair, lambent hazel eyes, and fine peaches-and-cream complexion – was French by birth, having married Anton not long ago. She was widowed at a very young age, had no children, and was renown for her sharp mind and insatiable curiosity.
"Oh," said Jehanne Bellot, "I am so anxious to see Ameline married. It is all her dear departed father would want."
"Ah," said Aubert with sudden interest in his new houseguest, "so you are widowed. Please accept my condolences. You, dear lady, and your equally precious child, are welcome to stay as long as you desire. This is a large house, and there is plenty of room for two more. After all, I live alone, with the exception of the servants, and presently, the Clauses. I thoroughly enjoy the company of old friends. Which reminds me..."
He had nearly forgotten his other guest, who, by now, silently assessed
Ameline. Aubert wanted to laugh, knowing that his longtime friend and legal
advisor had a reputation for shunning female society. Not that the man truly
hated women, but he vowed to remain celibate in light of his high position. Have
to maintain an upright, morally rigid code of conduct lest the commoners cease
to regard him with awe and respect.
"Ladies, may I present Claude Frollo, His Majesty's Minister of Justice."
Frollo grandly greeted the ladies and proceeded to praise Jehanne's, "Proper upbringing of your daughter. She is a delight to the senses, everything a proper wife should be. Yes, I concur with Madame Claus, that you will find young gentlemen worthy of your Ameline's hand."
Jehanne, now watching Ameline helping herself to refreshments, took much
fortitude to repress her shock. How can this be? Why is the Minister of Justice
here? Have we been found out already? Has Denis gotten to Frollo? Is this a
"Your Grace," asked Jehanne, still holding a tight rein on her astonishment,
"are you a friend of Monsieur d'Urboise?"
Frollo, picking at a sparsely filled plate, graciously replied, "Why, yes, Madame. I have been the baron's legal consul for many years. I've overseen his legal and business affairs long before I became Minister of Justice. I still act in that capacity. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, just curious," she flatly said, not wanting to give herself away.
It was a pleasant afternoon of good food and even better company, and Jehanne breathed a sigh of relief once Frollo took his leave. No trap, no ambush, no soldiers on standby to arrest mother and daughter. But something gave Jehanne Bellot pause. What if Frollo eventually suspect something? So, this is where Ameline can be very useful to me. With Frollo as Aubert's advisor, then it may be just the boon she and Ameline needed. The way Frollo looked at Ameline, and how Ameline assessed the man, was not lost upon Jehanne. Now was the time to put their plan into action and Judge Claude Frollo would be the key to success.
Go to Chapter 9
Copyright©2003 by PRP