Chapter I: A Day at the Races
The day of the Vicomte’s Garden Party and Fencing Demonstration dawns and the morning of May the seventeenth is warm and sunny. The journey from Paris to the Chateau de Bouvard is a leisurely and uneventful two hour ride. Father Signoret and Gaston take the opportunity to test the paces of their new Comtois cavalry horses, gifts from a grateful Parfait Grellier for avenging his brother. Norbert has hired a wagon to carry the baggage and as he drives along, he thinks that he too would like a nice horse to ride…if only he can find a horse fit for his giant frame.
At the Chateau, the guests are directed to enter through the lovely ornamental gardens. The Vicomte himself greets the most important guests and everyone is invited to fill their glass from the flowing champagne fountain. They are invited to stroll about the lawn north of the chateau where a sumptuous feast has been laid out beneath pristine white tents overlooking the course for the day’s horse races.
In addition to the guests from Paris, Bouvard has invited his well-born neighbors and over fifty nobles and gentles stroll about eating, drinking, and chatting while they make wagers on the coming races.
The Vicomte hosts five races. Father Signoret competes in two of them, racing his horse in one and Gaston’s horse in another. Although the Comtois horses are built more for strength than speed, the Father gets off to a strong start and his horse runs a creditable race finishing in fourth place and ahead of the favorite in the betting. His second race has a muddy course in which Gaston’s Comtois horse excels and Signoret is able to come from behind to take first prize ahead of Fra’Phillipe, the Knight of Malta. The Vicomte, a keen racing enthusiast, notices Signoret’s strong finish and victory. After the race, Guy is able to briefly chat with Fra’Phillipe and they agree to speak further before dinner.
Norbert mingles with the servants, enjoying the free wine that is available from the partially emptied bottles and glasses that they remove. He speaks to Gilbert, the valet of Léonide de Termopillae, a King’s Musketeer who has previously challenged Gaston to a duel that they have yet to reconcile. Norbert tells the valet to inform his master that Lieutenant Gaston Thibeault is here in attendance. Gilbert seems very eager to get away from the looming Norbert so that he can go warn his master. During the races, Norbert places small wagers on Father Signoret and though he loses his money on the first race, at 3-1 odds he more than makes up for it in the second race clearing a tidy little seven livres. More money than I would have made in a week of performing back home in Picardy.
After the races, the others notice that Guy seems to have disappeared. Fabre informs them that Guy is “factus fatigatus ex itinere” and that he has retired to a room to recover. Which Father Signoret translates as Guy is tired from the trip. Fabre consults his remedy case and visits the kitchen herb garden to see what sort of restoratives he can prepare for his master.
Meanwhile, Gaston’s time has been monopolized by the beautiful and charming Madame Marie-Petronelle de Rolampont. She seems to find both Gaston and his soldier’s tales “intriguing.” Gaston finds Madame de Rolampont intriguing as well, especially the way her curled blond ringlets frame a lovely face and her dress hints at an equally lovely figure, while her conversation seems laced with even more intriguing hints and innuendoes. As the guests adjourn to the chateau for cards, drinks, and socializing Madame makes a point of saying that she wishes to see “much more” of Gaston later tonight.
Chapter II: Cards and Other Games
The Vicomte has arranged for multiple tables and card decks to be set out to facilitate the enjoyment of those guests who wish to amuse themselves with cards. A steady stream of servants keep the guests’ glasses filled or bring new libations to refresh dry throats. Between fifty and a hundred nobles and gentles are gathered to while away their time before the start of the fencing demonstration. Guy is still not in evidence. Apparently he is more than just tired as he is nowhere to be seen. Fabre appears to reassure the others that there is no cause for concern and that he is “certain that Master Guy’s needs needs are being tended to. I will go now to gather the ingredients to prepare a soothing poultice.”
Father Signoret speaks to Fra’Phillipe, in part to see if he can provide a formal introduction to their host, the Vicomte. Phillipe notices the priest’s fencing Fraternity pin and coldly comments that it is unfortunate that he has chosen to join the Fraternity Saincte-Didier as Phillipe himself is “a member of the Fratellanza di Giganti, which is of course the superior school.” Therefore he must now consider Father Signoret to be an enemy. Phillipe assures him that he will do nothing while they are both here as the Vicomte’s guests, but he warns Signoret that the next time they meet he will not be so obliging. Father Signoret stubbornly, or perhaps ironically, asks if Fra’Phillipe will introduce him to the Vicomte anyway, but the Knight of Malta curtly refuses.
As the Jesuit looks about the room for another person to ask to perform an introduction, he is approached by Madame de Rollampont. She says that she has heard that the priest will be participating in the fencing demonstration. He assures her that he will saying that, “in addition to being a master of the Spanish style, I am also an avid student of the French style of Maître Sainct-Didier.”
Madame charmingly replies, “Ah, then you must know the other participants, not so?” Signoret indicates that he does. “Then you know Lieutenant Thibeault, do you not.” He again indicates assent. “Ah, good! Then you will please do me a little favor will you not?”
“Possibly,” he replies warily.
She hands the Father a small folded piece of paper. “Please deliver this to Lieutenant Thibeault.” She pauses without releasing the paper so that their hands are forced to remain in contact for an extra moment, “Discretely.” Signoret agrees and spotting Gaston on the other side of the room, he hurriedly sets off to deliver the note while discretely choosing to leave the folded paper unopened.
Meanwhile, Norbert has made a point of finding Gaston to tell him of his conversation with Gilbert, the valet of Léonide de Termopillae. Gaston looks impassive as he thanks his cousin for the information and quietly says, “Perhaps he has found another sword and we can finally settle this matter.”
Father Signoret arrives just afterwards. He hands Gaston the note from Madame de Rolampont. But before Gaston can read it, one of the other guests, a local noble, asks for Monsieur Thibeault. Gaston and Norbert reply in unison, “Yes?”
“Thibeault the swordsman,” clarifies the noble. Gaston admits that he is a swordsman of some note. The nobleman introduces himself as Alain Sieur de Trevaux and says he is here to speak to Gaston’s second, “about a matter of honor.” Father Signoret immediately steps forward to act on Gaston’s behalf. Gaston nods assent and Signoret and Trevaux step aside so that they can talk. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Gaston discretely scans the note – it contains an invitation to an assignation in a side room after the Midnight Ball has begun; the note is signed, simply – M. – for Marie-Petronelle de Rolampont.
Trevaux identifies himself as the second for the King’s Musketeer Léonide de Termopillae and says that he is here to arrange the time and conditions for a duel between Gaston and Termopillae. Father Signoret proposes the northeast wheat field by the large oak tree at midnight as the place and time for the duel. As before, the duel will be to the second blood. Trevaux says that he will consult his principal before accepting the place and time.
As Trevaux leaves, one of the other guests, Archbishop Spada, the Papal Nuncio, makes a point of approaching Signoret. Spada comments that it is quite unusual to see God’s soldiers [a nickname for the Jesuits] literally dressed for battle. Signoret mentions that he is prepared to battle God’s enemies both of the spirit and of the flesh. Spada seems to find the Jesuit interesting and asks if he is acquainted with their host. On learning that he has not been formally introduced to the Vicomte, Spada volunteers to make an immediate introduction.
After being introduced, Signoret discusses the races with the Vicomte who is a noted equestrian and racing fan. The Vicomte is curious about Signoret’s choice of a pair of Comtois horses for the race. They both enjoy the discussion and the Vicomte invites Signoret on a personal tour of his very extensive stables. They pass nearly an hour discussing the stables and the horses. Along with their discussion of blood lines and the proper seat for racing, the Vicomte tells Signoret a piece of news related to the fencing demonstration. Signor Sapristi, the head of the Fratellenza di Giganti is a long-time rival of Maître St. Pierre. That is one of the reasons for the rivalry between the schools. Sapristi recently petitioned to be the Vicomte’s fencing master, and had volunteered to perform a demonstration to rival that of Maître St. Pierre’s. The Vicomte refused him which has caused Sapristi to lose reputation. “He was quite upset. Truly he seems a most volatile individual. He’s Italian, you know. They all lack a proper sang froid.” Both Priest and Vicomte enjoy their discussion so much that they are nearly late for the beginning of the fencing demonstration.
On his way back to the card room, Father Signoret witnesses a dispute between two local youths over a young lady. The priest interrupts the dispute by offering to escort the young lady back to the card room, an offer that she willingly accepts. As they walk, Signoret learns that the young lady is Mademoiselle Marie-Sébastienne de Jouvin; he warns her that the young men may get in a duel and one of them could be killed over this. “Over me?” she says. Rather than being concerned, Mademoiselle seems rather excited at the prospect. So Signoret attempts to persuade her that in fact it would not be exciting, romantic, and wonderful if one of the young men was killed in a duel over her but actually very sad and tragic. As they reach the drawing room Mademoiselle appears chastened.
Meanwhile, Norbert takes this as an opportunity to make some extra coins by providing an impromptu juggling performance. The crowd seems unimpressed, calling on him to “juggle something heavier.” Bowing to the demand of the crowed, he puts on an amazing display of strength and dexterity by juggling several heavy chairs at once. The crowd loves his performance showering him with coins; later several guests remark with favor on juggling to the Vicomte bringing Norbert to his notice.
Having just made more money than he would have made in months back on the farm, Norbert decides to observe the gamblers. He notices one game in particular, between a local noble, the Sieur de Rolampont, and a Paris banker, Monsieur Moulin, that reaches stakes of what seem phenomenal levels. Norbert has gained more money today than he ever thought to see at one time, yet the bettors have each put three times as that amount of money into the pot on just this latest hand of cards. There must be 300L on the table. As Norbert watches to see who will win, he notices the noble pull an extra card out from under the table and slip it into his hand. Norbert loudly proclaims “That isn’t one of your cards!” His threatening presence startles Rolampont who accidently scatters his cards across the table – all six of them! Plainly there are too many cards in his hand.
Norbert, figuring others here are likely to also have fallen victim to Rolampont’s tricks, tries to sway the crowd to force Rolampont to turn his winnings over to Moulin or to at least nullify this hand. Rolampont, tries to sway the local guests against the strangers and the crowd as a whole against the banker, always an unsympathetic figure, especially in the countryside. The crowd is undecided between being upset at a local noble who is possibly a cheater and satisfaction that a Paris banker is, for a change, the one losing his money. Since Moulin, who is unarmed, is reluctant to push the point against a sword-wearing and angry noble it looks like the crowd may side with Rolampont
However, at that moment Gaston steps forward to support his cousin. Moulin, who would like his money back, suggests that he would be “most grateful” for Gaston’s assistance in this matter. Gaston places his hand on his well-worn sword hilt and fixes a cold, unblinking stare on Rolampont as he casually introduces himself. “I saw that you were speaking to my cousin Norbert. I am Lieutenant Gaston Thibeault. Perhaps the Seigneur has heard of me in connection with the recent death of César de Mala Cassanha, a sword master of the Fratellanza di Giganti school? If not, the Seigneur could of course inquire of the Baron Villemorin, my name is not unknown to him and I know he has been mentioned in some writings now current in Paris, perhaps word of them has even reached the countryside?” Combined with his duelist’s icy stare, the knowledge that he is now facing an armed and deadly duelist persuades Rolampont to grudgingly accept Norbert’s suggestion that hand should be voided and the stakes returned to their owners. Moulin gladly agrees.
Afterwards, Moulin asks to speak to Gaston and they step aside, followed by Norbert. The Banker gives Gaston 50L [1/3 of his recovered bet] and suggests he may have work for men like Gaston and Norbert back in Paris. Moulin obtains their addresses in Paris so that he “may contact them should the need arise in the future.” Gaston splits the money half and half with Norbert. Norbert considers that a career helping bankers could be quite lucrative. But his musing is cut short as now it is time to help Gaston prepare for the fencing demonstration.
Chapter III: Entertainment by Candlelight
As the participants change into their fencing clothes, the guests engage in active odds setting and betting on the upcoming demonstration matches. The matches will be held in the great hall with light furnished by hundreds of bees wax candles. At a cost of 1 livre per candle, this is truly an impressive display of the Vicomte’s wealth and his sense of the dramatic. The matches go as expected with few exceptions. Father Signoret is grace personified in his matches combining the dance like elegance of his Spanish-style footwork with the deceptive feints and movements characteristic of the French style. Guy finally makes an appearance, but he seems not to have fully recovered. His footwork is hurried and he is unable to predict his opponents’ moves with his usual prescience and he is scored on by opponents who he easily beat during the tournament. Gaston on the other hand is relentlessly aggressive, using the strong wrist moves of the Italian style to disarm his opponents or to forcefully beat their blades aside scoring touch after touch, demolishing one opponent after another to “win” the demonstration, thereby earning the hard won, but honest praise of Maître St. Pierre. Unfortunately for Gaston, the Vicomte is distracted during much of the match by other matters and fails to notice Gaston’s success.
Between matches Father Signoret takes the opportunity to introduce Norbert to the Vicomte who gives him a purse of 50L as a reward for his amazing juggling performance. Norbert is finding the free flowing silver of these nobles appealing and begins to wish he had left his home in Picardy much sooner.
With the end of the last match, tables are set up in the great hall for dinner while the contestants refresh themselves and all the guests dress for dinner. At dinner the guests are seated at three long dining tables: one head table runs across the hall and two side tables run perpendicular to it with the three tables arranged in the shape of a horse shoe. In addition to the guests from Paris, the Vicomte’s noble and gentle neighbors are fully in attendance.
At the head table are seated the titled nobles plus a few untitled, but noble guests: Léonide de Termopillae and Father Gaétan Signoret for a total of 15 people. There is an empty place where Guy de Bourges was to have sat. Apparently his malady is much worse and he is unable to attend the dinner. The Vicomte has made a room available for Guy and Fabre is administering a steady rotation of poultices and tinctures. The fifteen diners are seated on only one side of the table so that they can see and be seen by everyone in the hall.
At the right side table are a few local nobles along with the banker, Bettremieu Moulin and his wife “Trudie” or Gertruda, Madamoiselle Fanette Lejeune, who appears to be a favorite friend of the Vicomte, Master Justin Sainte-Pierre, a large number of local gentle folk, and Lieutenant Gaston Thibeault for a total of 30 people. The left side table is limited to local nobles and gentles also 30 in number.
Over dinner Father Signoret talks generally with the others learning a number of interesting bits of information. Paris seems active this season with religious activity. Isidore Lafontaine the Sieur Le Roulle says that he has it “from those who should know that a heretical Theologian from Grenoble is to be brought to Paris for trial. It is said that his conviction is all but assured and that before the summer is done he will be burned for his heretical writings. A pity that it is only one heretic for it seems that despite the actions of last year against the Huguenot, Grenoble, nay all of Dauphiné appears still riddled with heresy.”
Madame Helene de Foix-Gras uncomfortable pokes a somewhat overcooked piece of broiled duck during Lafontaine’s story and the Marquessa de Rosny changes the subject by asking whether anyone else has heard of “the Monk of Avignon?” On learning that no one else has, she then describes the story she heard, “just yesterday.” Apparently the Monk is a Benedictine from a monastery near Avignon who has come to Paris. “The monk is said to be quite famous in Avignon for his miracles. Tis’ said he is able to heal the sick merely by the laying on of hands. The tales told sound truly miraculous.”
This seems to interest Archbishop Spada and he is heard to say quietly, “I think this should be looked into.” Father Signoret spends much of dinner speaking with Spada to strengthen his connection and to try to get Spada’s assistance to find a position on a bishop’s curia. They discuss the political and religious situation of Europe, but Spada seems less than impressed with the Jesuit’s grasp of politics and its role in the religious conflicts of the times. While the Archbishop does not offer any suggestions for a position, the door is open for Signoret to approach him again. Perhaps, Signoret thinks, a scholarly treatise on the history of the Church might demonstrate to the Archbishop my potential value as a curia member.
However, Spada does mention that he has heard something that may be of interest to Father Signoret. He’s heard a rumor “that Jean-François de Gondi, the Archbishop of Paris, is investigating three members of his Curia, supposedly for embezzling from his funds. It appears that he may soon be looking for replacements. Perhaps this is a chance to strengthen the Society of Jesus at the expense of their rivals, the Oratorians. The Gondi family, are after all, strong supporters of Monsieur Vincent and the other Oratorians.”
Léonide de Termopillae mentions a story he has heard at the Louvre. Apparently the guards at the Louver have suddenly been reinforced. "In fact my lord, I was almost unable to attend your Garden Party. At the last moment I was given an extra guard shift. Fortunately I am very popular among my fellow Musketeeers. In point of fact, I am considered one of their informal leaders. Why the Captain-Lieutenant, Monsieur de Treville, frequently asks me for my advice. So you can of course see that it was no trouble for me to find a replacement as one of my fellows was only too happy to stand guard in my stead.
“Well as I was saying, the guards have been doubled because, of the mysterious deaths of several nobleman at the Royal Court. It is said the cause of death is poison. The court has been plagued by a veritable plethora of fatal poisonings. Why one might almost think that we had one of those famous Italian poisoner noblewomen here in the court, now what was her name, it was one of those famous Italian families, closely connected with the church…Medici…no that’s not right…well no matter. It is said that the Ministry of Justice is looking into the affair. I have no doubt a woman will end up behind it in the end.”
Signoret notices that a number of people at the table look uncomfortable during Termopillae’s story including the Baron de Gras, and Lafontaine, and especially his host, the Vicomte, who turns red and fidgets constantly during Termopillae’s tale. Signoret thinks, I must remember to repeat this rumor to Guy.
The Vicomte, clearly trying to change the subject, mentions that he has heard some bad news recently. “It appears that the Bishop’s Club is about to go bankrupt. Apparently some funds have mysteriously gone missing. I hope this gets sorted out before my next visit to the city or I will need to find somewhere else to amuse myself in town.”
Just after dinner, Alain Sieur de Trevaux will speak privately to Father Signoret to tell him that the place and time are acceptable, “but as we are all guests here in the Vicomte’s home, my principal wants to keep the duel totally private. He realizes that Thibeault is here with several supporters and friends, but Monsieur de Termopillae insists that there be no onlookers at the duel. He asks that only the two combatants be present at the location of the duel that way if the Vicomte is displeased, others need not be harmed by his displeasure.”
As a superior duelist Father Signoret knows that a duel without onlookers is quite common, but a fight without the seconds being physically present is unusual since one purpose of the seconds is to act as witnesses and to ensure that the duel is conducted fairly. However, although unusual it is not totally unknown for a duel to be conducted in that fashion.
Signoret insists that the seconds must be present. Trevaux proposes a compromise that the principals only will approach the duel site, while the seconds will remain at the edge of the apple orchard and observe from a distance. “That way, any difficulty from the violation of the Vicomte’s hospitality will only fall upon the principals as the seconds can plausibly assert that we could not have prevented the combat because we were too far away.” Father Signoret accepts the compromise.
Meanwhile, at the right side table, Gaston speaks to Maître St. Pierre about the match. The Maître repeats his praise and Gaston take the opportunity to ask about the life of a fencing master and about how one might join the Académie d’Armes. St. Pierre tells him that guild is composed of the maîtres d’armes across all of France and that a swordsman must demonstrate mastery of three fencing styles before a panel of existing maîtres of the Académie to be accepted as a member. This is Gaston’s first chance to have an extended conversation with St. Pierre outside of the fencing salon and St. Pierre in turn seems happy to have an opportunity to discuss his area of expertise.
Their animated conversation about fencing draws the attention of the young men at their table. Gaston is not at all deferential, but despite his noticeable arrogance, the locals are either impressed or intimidated by his skill and reputation as a duelist and they are happy to listen and somewhat surprisingly no unpleasant incidents occur.
The discussion of dueling naturally leads to a discussion of brave deeds of arms. One of the nobles mentions that he recently was visited by his cousin who is from the province of La Marche. His cousin said that the Provincial Governor of La Marche has been plagued for the past year by a masked highwayman who calls himself ‘Le Chat Noir’ [the Black Cat]. This bandit/freedom-fighter robs Clergy and Noblemen on the roads and supposedly he gives the money to the poor like that old English bandit, Robin de Hoode. Apparently the Governor of La Marche has offered 1000 Livres to the man who can bring him the head of ‘Le Char Noir’. Several of the men suggest a trip to La Marche, but the women seem universally opposed.
The table then mentions the altercation over cards earlier in the evening. One even asks Gaston to describe it, but Gaston’s lat stare doesn’t invite further questions, so Mademoiselle Fanette Lejeune, the good friend of their host the Vicomte, offers to tell a story she heard from her seamstress.
“Who is the same seamstress that Madame de Chevreuse sometimes uses. I like to go there because her shop, it is so close to the Louvre. Well as I said, I was being fitted for a dress and it was taking oh so long and I so dread just standing there, so to pass the time I told Marie, that’s the seamstress’ name, did I mention that? Well no matter, I told Marie to tell me some luscious gossip or rumor of the court so she told me that a master gambler, who calls himself ‘the King of Diamonds’, has issued a challenge to any gambler in Paris. He says that he can beat anyone in any game of chance. So far, no one has dared to take him up on his challenge. Though it is rumored that Monsieur Le Comte1 himself may pick up the gauntlet.” There is a noticeable pause at the table as most of the women there gaze into the distance and sigh affectedly whether it was at the thought of the daring gambler or of the handsome prince no one could say.
Taking advantage of the sudden silence, Monsieur Moulin the Banker mentions that he has heard form a very reliable source in the Ministry of Finance that “Monsieur Le Faquin, an up-and-coming young Banker and investor in Paris, and the Club Treasurer of L’Epee du Grand Henri, has predicted that the coming year’s economy will be Very Strong. Ver-ry-strong! Gentlemen and ladies, now might be a good time to invest your livres in finance and foreign commerce ventures. Of course the Brothers Vitoria Bank would be only too happy to assist you in selecting admirable ventures in which you may safely invest your money.” A number of one-on-one discussions with Monsieur Moulin about investing follow as the dinner comes to an end.
Meanwhile, Norbert has no specific duties over dinner, so he takes the chance to gossip with the other servants. From one of the footmen of Monsieur Moulin the Banker, who overheard his master talking to the Chevalier du Vallier, he learns that the Chevalier has fallen upon hard times financially, and that he is offering to sell his prized Small Country Estate in Bordeaux. At first Norbert, who is feeling quite rich after accumulating 150L as his share for helping to escort that funny Musketeer around Paris for one night and then accumulating nearly the same sum from betting, performing, and foiling a card cheat today, thinks that perhaps he should look into buying some property, but when he learns that this small chateau might sell for only 9000 Livres, he decides that chateaus are still out of his price range.
Therefore he seeks out the servants of the Vicomte de Bouvard. He over hears the Vicomte’s valet mention to a chamber maid that the Bishop’s Club is nearly bankrupt, due to the mysterious disappearance of some club funds.
[This is essentially the same story that Father Signoret heard from the Vicomte himself.]
Norbert decides that if he can’t buy a chateau, perhaps he can buy a horse. He speaks to one of the Vicomte de Bouvard’s servants learning that the Vicomte’s Stable Master is named Jean-Claude. Norbert goes to the stables, looks at the horses, and meets the Stable Master. Jean-Claude takes a liking to Norbert and talks at length and in great detail about the equestrian art, bloodlines, proper feeding, the care of hooves, and the apparently all-important topic of spavins. Norbert nods a lot. Jean-Claude does tell Norbert that he should look for either a large Percheron, a breed originating in the Perche region of Normandy or a very large Friesian, a horse from Belgium and the Netherlands. “A perchie be the best probably ‘cause they be the biggest. Also Friesians they be pretty dear what with all that there fighting between the Spaniards and the Dutchmen I hear tell of. The Vicomte don’t like to sell his horses, no sir, but we might got a Perchie I could persuade him to part with for the right bit o’ silver. Not theat there be anything wrong with that perchie, but he just don’t suit, if you know what I mean.” Norbert inquires about pricing but the answers are woven in with all the other horse terminology which makes it very difficult for Norbert to follow. But as near as he can tell, a horse might go for anywhere between 100L and 1000L
Chapter IV: Swords in the Moonlight
After dinner, Signoret tells Norbert about the duel and the condition that no onlookers are to be present. Norbert worries that the other side may not be honorable and he would like to keep watch over his cousin. Father Signoret then says “if you are going to observe the duel then you had better hide very well.” Signoret knows that this is a violation of the agreed terms and, strictly speaking it is not honorable. He does not tell Gaston that he has told Norbert nor does he mention that it is likely that Norbert will observe the duel in secret. Signoret, using the skills of logical deduction and ethical argument that he learned while studying to be a Jesuit rationalizes his conduct by concluding that clearly Norbert is only there to prevent treachery by the other side and so long as he only acts to forestall treachery and not to provide an unfair advantage to his cousin, then his presence may technically be a violation in word but is not substantively a violation in spirit or intent.
Norbert immediately sets out for the dueling site to get there before midnight. The moon shines brightly on the wide fields of wheat. As he moves, Norbert uses every bit of stealth and cunning he ever learned playing hide and seek as a child. Soundlessly he approaches the abandoned stable from the back side. Over the susurration of the growing new wheat he hears the sound of a group of gentlemen, at least six of them, hiding in the stable. Obviously someone else got here before him. As Norbert listens to the group’s poor attempts to remain quiet, he considers that he has a distinct advantage in hiding alone – at least as long as I can resist talking to myself. I wish I had my club.
Norbert quietly climbs up on the roof to gain the advantage of height. As he waits, he thinks to himself. Those ruffians had better not be planning to hurt my cousin or they will regret it. I’m not afraid of them or their blades! I wish I had practiced my gymnastics more before coming to Paris. My dismount is rusty and I hope I don’t crush their breastbones with my boots. But what of it? If they intend a dishonorable attack upon my cousin, they will get what they deserve!
The principals set out separately ahead of their seconds, while Father Signoret and Trevaux walk together to the edge of the apple orchard. Once there, they can see Gaston in the moonlight about 70 or 80 feet away striding across the wheat field towards the old oak tree which is perhaps a further 70 or 80 feet distant and in the shade of the oak, a cloaked and hatted figure, presumably Termopillae, can barely be glimpsed.
As Gaston reaches the site for the duel, the cloaked figure draws his sword and as if that were a signal men with swords rush out of the seemingly abandoned stable.
Nobert alerted to their presence, has climbed up onto the roof the stable. He uses this height to his advantage, leaping down onto the five swordsmen who rush out of the east doorway and flattening them. Then using his "come one come all’ performers wrestling moves, he grabs all five in his long arms and slowly squeezes them all into unconsciousness.
Father Signoret spotting the rush of extra opponents calls out “Treachery!” and draws on Trevaux. Trevaux draws his sword while backing away, seeing the pistols in the priest’s belt, he disengages and flees zigzagging through the orchard. Signoret is torn between pursuing the treacherous Trevaux and aiding Gaston and Norbert, but quickly he decides to help his friends, racing across the field towards the old oak tree. In the interim, Trevaux uses the opportunity to escape to his nearby home.
Meanwhile Gaston moves to engage the cloaked man. With the five swordsmen who rush out the west door to engage Gaston, the cloaked man seems well supported. Surprised by the additional attackers and by his opponent’s treachery, Gaston nimbly dodges aside from the cloaked man’s attack and his riposte skewers the cloaked man’s leg. Gaston ferociously turns his blade on the other five quickly dispatching two and badly wounding a third. The violence of his attack stuns the remaining attackers and Gaston easily parries the single thrust that comes near him. Turning back to the cloaked man, Gaston binds his blade and, with a twist of the wrist, sends his opponent’s sword flying. The cloaked man limps over to retrieve his blade as Gaston parries the attack of the remaining two swordsmen and delivers a lighting riposte in reply that drops a fourth man. The last ‘gentleman’ takes to his heels as the cloaked man runs limping behind the abandoned stables. Gaston roars with laughter calling after him “Run coward, run!”
Father Signoret arrives and helps take charge of the defeated swordsmen. His cursory search reveals nothing of interest. Meanwhile Gaston tells his two friends, “My friends I have a most pressing prior engagement that will not wait any longer and so I say, adieu!” And he quickly stalks off across the wheat fields, absent mindedly slashing the heads from the stalks of wheat as he goes.
Norbert assures the Father that “those five will be sleeping for some time still” and he and Signoret decide to take the two wounded gentlemen to the chateau to get help and to explain the skirmish. They leave the two dead men as well as the five unconscious gentlemen, presuming that the latter will eventually wake up and find their own way home.
Signoret and Norbert proceed from the wheat field back to the chateau. Norbert seems not even to notice the weight of the two men he carries, one over each shoulder. As they step though one of the French doors and into the ball room, the music falters to a halt, the dancers pause frozen, everyone stares at them. The room is silent. Norbert takes a single step forward accidently brushing aside a stack of wine glasses that crash to the floor accompanied by the sound of breaking glass. Norbert says, “Sorry” and a woman suddenly screams. The scream breaks the silence of the guests and soon everyone, including the Vicomte, is demanding an explanation.
Father Signoret explains the circumstances regarding the deaths of the two gentlemen that Gaston killed and informs the Vicomte of the treacherous ambush perpetrated by Trevaux, his guest, and many others upon Gaston. A voice cries out, “He lies!” and a nobleman, one Monsieur Louis Stenay, limps forward, blood trailing down his leg. As the crowd parts to allow Stenay to come forward, Signoret and Norbert see that Termopillae is in the crowd at the ball, his clothes appear unbloodied and he is seemingly unwounded. Apparently he was not the man that Gaston wounded beneath the oak tree.
Stenay claims that he and the two wounded men went for a walk outside to “clear our heads when we were suddenly set upon by that hire-sword Thibeault accompanied by his Jesuit and his Giant.”
In turn Father Signoret accuses Stenay of lying and of being a coward and an ambusher. Stenay challenges Signoret to a duel to occur as soon as his wounds have healed, but Signoret belittles Stenay’s honor, wonders aloud how many men Stenay will bring to the duel to help him, and again accuses STenay in front of everyone of being a treacherous coward who won’t fight the priest alone. Stenay, who is swaying on his feet from blood loss, turns white with rage and draws his sword right then and there, but the Vicomte intercedes separating the two and telling Signoret that “there is no honor in fighting a man so wounded and so clearly not in command of himself. Please Father, you must leave. This can all be resolved later in a more honorable fashion.”
Signoret heads for the stable. Norbert puts down the two wounded men and pauses to ensure that someone will care for their wounds. It seems they have friends or relatives in the crowd as several women come forward to attend to them. Norbert then heads for the stables as well. He meets Father Signoret and as they discuss what to do next, they can hear the sound of Stenay up at the chateau yelling for his horse to be brought. A groom quickly saddles his horse and brings it to Stenay who rides off, presumably to return to his own home to have his wound tended.
Signoret then saddles his own horse and prepares to depart. He rides down the road a ways, but fearing another ambush he takes cover in a wooded area along the road to Paris and awaits further developments. Norbert does not want to leave without Gaston, so he remains in the stable waiting in his rented wagon for his cousin to return. Both of them miss the rest of the Midnight Ball. Gaston, who went directly to his assignation, misses all of the events at the ball including Signoret’s explanation to the Vicomte and Stenay’s challenge.
Chapter V: A Secret Assignation
Unbeknownst to Gaston, Marie-Petronelle de Rolampont has more than one thing in mind for their assignation. She hopes the meeting will fit nicely into her plans. She would like to leave the rustic countryside of the Ile de France for the lights and liveliness of Paris and the glory of the royal court. But this won’t happen because Roland, her husband, keeps them both rusticating here in the countryside while he yet again makes the rounds from one country house to the next gambling away their money faster than it can accumulate. She’s watched him play cards and he knows how to play, quite well in fact, moreover he is often lucky as well, which only makes his continual ability to lose money at the table more frustrating. At this rate, she estimates that by the end of the year they will both be bankrupt. And then she can kiss goodbye the chance for trip to the royal court or even a new dress in the current season’s fashion. The man is an utter boor. Well at last she can amuse herself with her deadly duelist. There was something about his lack of overly mannered words and gestures that was oddly appealing to her. Perhaps it was the way he stared at her like a hungry wolf eying a banquet. Mmm…And his reputation as a frequent and deadly duelist was certainly most appealing in its own way. Now if only she has played her cards right, as her husband would say, she should be rid of Roland and enjoying the delights of Paris before winter. Winter was always so dull out in the country. She hopes that her maid delivers the message to Roland at the right time. Not too early, but not too late. It wouldn’t do for her deliverer to be sound asleep and unawares when her husband burst into the room.
On his way to the stairs, Gaston grabbed a couple of bottles of wine from a passing servant, glaring the man to silence when he made to protest. Sword work is thirsty work and the wetter the blade the dryer the throat. Damn that Termopillae! I’d had hoped to finish him once and for all. I owe him for sending that mountain of a Musketeer after me.
Once again he traced the new scar on the right side of his jaw. It still ached from that blow. Who were those others? Did the man travel with his own platoon of cutthroats? Termopillae was sneaky, no doubt of it. I’ll have to speak to Guy about him later. Signoret is a fine, brave blade, but no one can outthink Guy de Bourges. Damned if he doesn’t know it too. But enough of that! Banishing his ruminations he focused on what was to come as he opened the door as instructed.
As it turned out, the maid did deliver the note too soon for both Marie and her wolf or perhaps she should blame Roland. He always was too quick where the bed was concerned.
The door opened and suddenly Roland Sieur de Rolampont was standing there, sword in hand. He looked stunned. Marie grabbed the sheet to cover her charms. Despite his surprise, Gaston, ever the practical soldier, ignored the sheets and drew his sword just in time to parry Rolampont’s clumsy attack. The man is a fool with the blade, Gaston thought. But I can’t kill him here. The Vicomte will be angry enough about those two under the oak tree, killing an angry husband under the Vicomte’s own roof even if the man was an idiot and a titled idiot at that, will win me no thanks from Bouvard. So Gaston passed on the opening. Instead he did a quick wrist twist to disarm his foe. That man has a wrist like a wet towel. He could certainly use a good sword master. Though perhaps not as much as his wife can. Gaston laughed at his thoughts as he maneuvered to stay between Rolampont and his lost blade. Then sword point before him he advanced backing the other towards the door. Unarmed and facing a naked man holding a naked blade, Rolampont’s anger turned quickly to fear. “You go back out that door and I will leave by other means,” Gaston calmly instructed as he forced his opponent out the door, closed it, then drew the bolt.
“Mmmm…magnificent!” Marie purred behind him.
“He’ll be back as soon as he gathers some friends to give him courage.” Gaston picked up Roland’s ornately filigreed blade and carefully dropped it into the shrubbery beneath the window. “And another blade.”
Hastily pulling on his breeches, Gaston tossed the rest of his belongings out the window and prepared to depart. “When will I see you again?” Marie asked.
“I’ll write you.”
This didn’t go as well as she had hoped, still it had been fun and there were still…possibilities. She hoped he would write something romantic. Perhaps a poem? Meanwhile, Gaston climbs down to the ground, grabs his belongings, and runs to the stables. Above he can hear the sound of pounding and shattering wood.
Seigneur de Rolampont quickly gathered a group of friends and neighbors who help him break down the door. Marie de Rolampont again uses the sheet to cover her charms. Roland notices the drapes blowing by the open window and looking out he sees Gaston, accompanied by a wagon, race towards the road to Paris. But Marie notices that all seven of Roland’s friends can’t take their eyes off her. She smiles to herself as she shifts slightly so that the sheet slides down another inch. Roland has to speak twice to get his friends attention. “Hurry, you fools, he’s getting away.” Somewhat reluctantly, the other follow him downstairs calling for the grooms to bring their horses so that they can give chase.
Chapter VI: Thundering Hooves
Unaware of the pursuit, Gaston and Norbert proceed back along the road to Paris. The night is quiet and it is well past midnight, but the moon still gives enough light to travel. Gaston thanks Norbert for his help at the abandoned stables. But perhaps fortunately, he doesn’t inquire how Norbert came to be there in the first place. Perhaps he is distracted thinking of some of the evening’s other events.
But eventually the cousins notice a sound, at first it sounds like distant thunder, but the sky is still clear and they soon realize that it is the sound of galloping horses, a lot of horses. They decide that whoever it is, they would prefer not to meet them alone and at night. So they speed up to stay ahead of any pursuit. The moon provides enough light for Norbert to see as he whips his horses to a gallop down winding, wooded roads to remain just ahead of their pursuers.
The pursuit passes Father Signoret’s hiding spot and he notices Norbert in the wagon being chased by a group of horsemen. The Priest mounts and chases them in turn. Riding like the wind he quickly catches up and asks why they are chasing the giant. They aren’t which leads to a rather confusing conversation. As they talk Signoret takes the opportunity to see how the horsemen are armed. He is reassured to note that only one of them has horse pistols, the rest being armed only with swords.
As Norbert and Gaston round a sharp bend in the road they see a straight away ahead with a handful of soldiers, two of whom hold crossed pikes barring the way forward. Rather than slowing, Norbert speeds up driving down the center of the road and yelling for the soldiers to get out of the way. They leap aside as the wagon thunders past. One soldier aims his matchlock musket just as the following horsemen tear round the bend, the musket discharges wildly as shouts of “Stop in the name of the King!” are heard from the officer.
After passing the soldiers, the Father again questions the riders as to why they are chasing the giant. Eventually they clarify that they are helping their friend, an angry husband, to catch someone who insulted his wife. Signoret realizes that the angry husband is most likely after Gaston rather than Norbert. He fears that it may have something to do with that note he delivered for Madame Rolampont.
Talking to the priest slows the horsemen down and Norbert and Gaston are able to get out of sight of their pursuers long enough for Norbert to drive the wagon down a side road and elude pursuit. Eventually Rolampont and his friends realize that they have lost the wagon. They stop and, discouraged in their chase, they turn back towards home. Father Signoret calmly continues on to Paris.
Separately, Gaston and Norbert return to Paris as well.
1 Louis de Bourbon, comte de Soissons is a Prince of the Blood and an heir to the throne. His byname is Monsieur Le Comte.