Family Values

Chapter 9

The Time & Place:
The next day of their Parisian adventure, Jehanne and Ameline devise ways to usurp Aubert's wealth -- with help from Frollo! Read on...
"Of all the cursed luck! Imagine! The baron's 'gentleman caller' His Majesty's Minister of Justice!"
Ameline cursed and sputtered oaths that would make the Archdeacon blush with shame. Just when her mother reassured her that nothing would go wrong in this little caper, Judge Claude Frollo himself is now in the mix. What to do now? Surely with Frollo a frequent guest of the baron, and that the Minister of Justice still acts as business and legal advisor, the man will be literally under the Bellots' noses. True, Ameline, upon meeting Frollo, felt something stir within her, but it was hardly what she would deem as love. Yes, she did find the judge handsome and desirable in a forbidding, almost dangerous, way, but she never would dream of actually being married to him. She recalled the many stories surrounding Frollo and his brand of justice. Within the walls of Calais, despite the safe distance from Paris and Frollo's minions, the man's name was often mentioned in hushed, almost frightened whispers. Calais' local magistrate was a hard man but at least showed some mercy when dealing with the criminal element. But Claude Frollo! Tales of the man's abject austerity, repression, and outright cruelty, were recounted often throughout Calais' taverns and private homes. Some hapless souls, finally returning from months and years spent in the Palais' infamous dungeons told vivid, hair-raising stories of excruciatingly painful torture, unmerciful horrors heaped upon the "unholy lot", sometimes delivered by Judge Frollo himself. Then there were the Gypsies, a nomadic people who arrived in France by the scores. It seemed that Frollo, in addition to his cruel sadistic treatment of regular citizens, especially took it upon himself to rid Paris of what he deemed as, "The heathens' evil hold on our weaker-minded citizens."
Ameline remembered one such man in particular, a Bernard...She couldn't recall his last name, who had returned to Calais after serving several months in Frollo's dungeons. He came by the house in search of work and Denis Bellot, being a kindhearted man, hired Bernard as a bootblack.
"I saw them," a ten-year old Ameline overheard Bernard say to her father, "I saw them whilst in Paris. Frollo had them all in chains -- women, men, old people, even little children. If what happened to me in that hellhole..Well, Heaven knows what treatment he has in store for them. Poor souls. They don't hurt anyone. I met a few of them on the way home, and they always treated me with kindness, like you, Monsieur Bellot. I don't see why Frollo has to keep at them so. It's not right, you know."

Ameline shuddered just thinking what Frollo could do now, especially if he ever uncovers the truth behind the Bellot women's scheme. And that was something else that struck a bad chord with Ameline – His Grace is obviously a man who seldom misses so much as a hair out of place. Why, just think of how he stared at Margot so coldly when the meat was a tad too salty. Without a word, he simply held out his plate, and Margot quickly and efficiently replaced it with more acceptable fare. That air of extreme power and control all wrapped in an elegant package. And that man, whose seemingly pious lifestyle, a life built upon denial of all things he deemed as non-virtuous and of the flesh, could be the end of the Bellots' latest caper. Ameline voiced this to her mother who thought about it for a bit then reassured her daughter that nothing would go wrong.

"For I noticed the way he looked at you, my child," Jehanne said as she finalized her plans. "His Grace may not have...hmmm...expertise with women, as he, at such a late age, is not yet married. Such men go about their celibate lives thinking they're above feminine wiles. But this man, Frollo, is, to my thinking, no stranger to a pretty face, so..."

Ameline listened intently as Jehanne laid out their now altered plan to usurp the baron's wealth. She couldn't believe what her mother suggested. "No, Mother! Of all the ruses I have played, please don't tell me I have to cozy up to the likes of Claude Frollo! I can't do that!"
Jehanne was adamant. "Don't you see, daughter? With you, occupying His Grace's time, and being in the Palais de Justice, you could gain access to his private chambers, even his office. We need those papers, Ameline, with Frollo's signature and official seal."
Jehanne Bellot could not be swayed. "Think about it, Ameline. I, as a 'lonely widow', will romance the baron, perhaps become the baroness de Clellaux in the process. You will do the same with Claude Frollo." She gauged her daughter's disgusted reaction, laughed then said, "You don't have to marry the man, just be nice to him, let him court you as any fine suitor would. When the time comes, you can say, 'I'm so sorry, m'lord, but I cannot marry you', simple as that. Now, what can he do you if you refuse his proposal?"
Ameline shuddered at the thought. If Frollo is as cruel and cold as the people say, then he'll make sure she suffers the worst possible punishments. Frollo isn't a man who's used to hearing the word "No", and if he's as controlling in his private life as in public, he would make life Hell on Earth for Ameline.

"Oh Mother, why do I have to put up with all this nonsense? I say why not forge those documents, take the baron for all he's worth, then be on our way."
But Jehanne would hear none of it. "No, child. For this scheme to work, we need Frollo's signature. Now, this afternoon I am to accompany Aubert to Mass at Notre Dame. You, my dear, will call on His Most Excellency as a courtesy. Just a nice friendly visit, Ameline, just long enough for you to work your magic. Now, do you still have those handwriting samples?"
Ameline nodded, not really wanting this part of the game. She lived for the thrill of the chase, the resultant victory of hoodwinking an unsuspecting soul. But this, this "pretend to be interested in Claude Frollo" did not set too well. Ameline, in compliance to a mother's request, silently agreed to her role, just so she and her mother can pull off the scam of a lifetime. Perhaps pulling one on the oh-so powerful Claude Frollo might be the fun Ameline was looking for. All the sudden she felt as if her grifting talents had just peeked at the right time. Within the next few weeks, and if all goes well, she thought with an evil smile, Frollo, for once, would find himself on the receiving end of "justice".
Ameline looked at her mother with a self-satisfied smile, finally saying, "Well, what are we waiting for? Let us both pay a call on His Grace – now. Why? Because I overheard Margot say that the baron was still at the Palais, probably talking business. And, if we play this right, in time, Claude Frollo, without ever knowing, will soon hand over Aubert's estate to us."


In the Palais de Justice...
The Palais bustled with the usual activities: Legal assistants busily scurrying to court, newly arrived prisoners awaiting trial and sentencing. On this fine morning, in his private chambers, Judge Frollo took time from his busy schedule to confer with Aubert d'Urboise. Aubert sat in the ornate, hand-carved oak chair opposite of Frollo. The judge himself waved his hand at the nearby assistant who instantly brought forth newly written documents.
"Aubert," Frollo began, looking over the scribe's work with satisfaction, "I've taken the liberty to add a clause in your will, but only as a precaution."
Aubert smiled thinly, drained his wine cup, then said, "Thank you so very much, Claude. It's a weight off my mind. One cannot be too careful these days, and since I have no children or wife, I want my estate to go to deserving parties."

It was true: Aubert, throughout his long life, never bothered to marry. Oh, there was an intense romance back when he was a raw lad of twenty. Her name was Therèse, a lovely blonde blossom and daughter of a vicomte with whom Aubert fell madly in love. They were to be married on his twenty-first birthday, but tragedy struck short of the nuptials. An outbreak of measles nearly decimated the villages and town in and around the d'Urboise family home. Unfortunately, Therèse was one of many who did not survive the disease. From then on, a heartbroken Aubert vowed never to marry, for no other woman could match Therèse's beauty, gentility, and brilliance.
Throughout his life, Aubert made up for the lack of wife and children by surrounding himself with many cousins and close friends. He even was on intimate terms with his chief servants, Margot and Perrin. With them, he could confide his most innermost troubles and secrets. But, being a man of utmost honor and integrity, Aubert was above reproach. He led a quiet life free of scandal and intrigues.
He owned and maintained several homes, but chose to live in Paris during his senior years. There was, in part, the family estate near Chartres, a sprawling vineyard near Orlèans, and of course the Parisian townhouse. Being a man of great wealth, and single and childless, Aubert had to be extremely cautious. There were stories of confidence men claiming to be long lost relations or even illegitimate children. These people would charm their way into a nobleman's life, and without warning, usurp the man's entire estate. One of Aubert's many acquaintances within the aristocracy, an elderly widowed marquis, recently fell victim to a young man claiming to be a distant cousin. Said faker is now living the high life on the marquis' estate. No one was the wiser, except Aubert, who, for today, wanted to revise his will to make sure his wealth does not fall into undeserving hands.

He called on Frollo this morning, not wanting to wait until the end of the week. Naturally Frollo agreed with his client and friend that steps had to be taken lest Aubert suffer at the hands of unscrupulous people.
Scanning the document for accuracy, Claude Frollo, said, "Aubert, this is all in order. Your estate is, as specified by you, to be divided as such: The family home in Chartres and the Paris house bequeathed to Faure d'Aubec; the vineyards to Anton Claus." Pausing to gauge Aubert's silent, approving response, Frollo continued, "My good friend, while I find it necessary to keep such property within the family..." He paused, mulling over a thought that came to him a few days ago while a guest in Aubert's home.

"Aubert, may I be frank with you?"
Aubert nodded, fully aware where Frollo was going with this, saying only, "Claude, I know you think that Madame Bellot, a still vibrant woman despite her widowhood, would make an excellent wife. I say to you, Claude, no. I've lived this long without the comfort of marital bliss; it would be foolish of me, at my age, to even think of marrying."
Claude Frollo smiled brilliantly, showing off his perfectly formed white teeth. He laughed momentarily, then said, "Aubert, how long have we known each other? Nearly twenty years. You were one of my first clients when I began practicing law–" Aubert interrupted, himself in the throes of good humor, "You took me on because your superior ordered you to do so!" Then he grew serious, saying, "You don't know the depths of my gratitude. Why, just this morning, I was telling Anton that Madame's lovely daughter...what is her name? She would make a suitable wife for you."

Now Claude Frollo was taken aback. Never in his life did he ever entertain marriage. He devoted his life to abject denial – that is, anything remotely smacking of worldliness. Oh, his lifestyle and mode of dress were far from the everyday. Frollo, a wealthy man himself, thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of his God-given station. The fine clothes, luxurious surroundings, scrumptious and expertly prepared food, the finest wines and brandies. His private chambers attested to his wealth and status with its regal appointments, so spotlessly clean and neat. A newly acquired tapestry hung on the wall near the fireplace. Not a large work, but an intricately and expertly woven work of art depicting the French countryside.
No, his "denial" was in all things of the flesh, and that included dalliances with women. Not that Frollo wholly hated women, as long as they kept their place, but he, wanting to set a fine pious example for the common citizenry, chose to remain celibate. It was, after all, a vow that denoted a life devoted to prayer and holy living, and Frollo fancied himself a man of pure piety, of unsoiled virtue. But when Aubert suggested...

"Aubert, you know I am not a marrying man. I've devoted my life to righteousness and piety. While I enjoy feminine society, and that is purely within the bounds of our social obligations, I feel marriage will..."
Frollo went on, at length, explaining to Aubert that it was divinely ordained that he not marry, thus remaining in a pure and chaste. But he turned the tables on his longtime friend, suggesting that the baron at least spend time with Jehanne Bellot. "She would, Aubert, and I can feel it, make you a handsome wife. She seems to have all the good qualities of a woman of her station. Poor thing, to be widowed while still in her prime."
"I will think over your suggestion, Claude. But if it eases your mind somewhat, I am to accompany Jehanne to Notre Dame for noon Mass."
To this Claude Frollo smiled again. "Ah, Aubert, you see? This may very well turn into something wonderful."
Aubert d'Urboise returned the smile, insisting, "Well, Claude, since you are so bent on playing my matchmaker, let me return the favor. I still say that Ameline...Ah, I finally remember the girl's name...would make a charming wife. Did I tell you that Jehanne has taken it upon herself to assist me in running the household? At first it didn't set very well with the servants, but she is quite efficient. Obviously the late Monsieur Bellot was a very fortunate man to have such a wife."
Claude Frollo was about to reply when his housekeeper, Ide Poulin, entered the room. A short, fat dumpling of a woman, Ide made her apologies then an announcement.
"I'm sorry to disturb your, m'lord, but you have visitors."
"Oh yes, m'lord. A Madame Bellot and her very attractive daughter."
Claude smiled even broader, saying in his loftiest voice, "Then show them in, Madame Poulin."

He then turned to Aubert with a puzzled look and said, "Well, Aubert, I see the Bellot women have seen fit to call on me. But why? Surely you did not invite them yourself."
"On the contrary, Claude."
"Well, we'll just have to learn why they have taken it upon themselves to pay this call."



Copyright©2003 by PRP

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