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
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."
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."
TO BE CONTINUED...GO TO CHAPTER 10
Copyright©2003 by PRP