Difference of opinion
Weeks pass and blustery April nears its end. Riordan O’Neill and Charles Petit serve as fencing instructor and tutor, respectively, in the household of the viscontessa di Praz-de-Lys. The eldest boy and heir, Francesco, studies swordsmanship with Riordan; he is an eager student and willing to put in long hours in the improvised salle d’armes in the family’s Place Royale residence. Francesco and his brother Pietro also study Latin, history, and rhetoric with Charles; both boys are good students, Francesco by dint of hard work and Pietro by natural faculty.
One day the viscontessa arrives in the salle d’armes , accompanied by an older man dressed in black silk and velvet with a Greek cross embroidered in red on his doublet, where Riordan and his assistant, Bruno Faucon, are practicing with Francesco. The viscontessa makes no introductions, coming straight to the point with Riordan: during the family’s journey from Savoy to Paris, Francesco’s horse went lame, and it is his father’s wish that the boy obtain a replacement as soons as possible. She inquires if Riordan knows anything about horses, and assured by the Musketeer that he does, asks if he can assist with purchasing an animal at his earliest convenience. Aware that the horse market is open this day, Riordan, Charles, and Bruno take Francesco to the Marché aux Chevaux that afternoon, with a bank draft from the viscontessa in hand.
With the impending campaign against the Huguenots, a number of horse merchants drove their stock to the French capital early in the season; these horses, a mix of Arabians and Andalusians pastured in the south during the cold northern winter, are still shedding their shaggy coats, giving them a slightly unkempt appearance. Two of the animals stand out immediately to Riordan’s eye, a chestnut Arabian with a star on his forehead and a pale grey Andalusian, as the best of the lot.
The two horses have attracted the attention of a number of other potential buyers as well, in particular two men arguing the merits of the respective animals. A fat nobleman claims that the Arabian is clearly the better animal, noting the strong legs and broad chest; another man, tall and lean, dressed in the black habit of the Knights of Saint John, disagrees, noting the elegant lines of the Andalusian. With surprise Riordan recognizes both men, the fat nobleman who sported the Italian actress Tomasina Nicchio on his arm at the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the hospitaller from the duel in the alley which claimed the life of the comte de Gercourt‘s son months earlier. The fat noble is accompanied by another man Riordan recognizes as well, his host at the theatre that cold February night, the seigneur de Racan; gone is Racan’s elegant evening dress, replaced with the buff coat and white sash of a soldier. Racan observes the tall, powerfully-built musketeer, recognition glimmers in his eyes, and re-introductions are made. In his gentle stutter Racan introduces the arguing nobles as the vicomte de Bouvard and the chevalier de Didonne. The knight of Saint John looks closely at Riordan, and makes sure to get his name again. Sensing trouble, both Charles and Bruno do their best to blend into the crowd of onlookers.
Bouvard and Didonne continue their arguing until Bouvard suggests a race between the two animals. Immediately the horse-trader objects, but with a dismissive wave of a plump hand in a beribboned sleeve, the vicomte agrees to pay for either or both horses should an accident happen. The chevalier indicates that his groom, a wiry little man, will ride the Andalusian, leaving the vicomte to search for a rider for the Arabian. Riordan volunteers, prompting the vicomte to look him up and down and exclaim, “Sang dieu , I have a giant riding for me!”
The horses are lead to the Porte Saint-Honoré, the west gate of Paris. Beyond the city gate lies the Cours-la-Reine, the Queen-Mother’s carriage park. The race is simple – once around the Cours-la-Reine, with the winner the first to return to the gate. A pistol is procured as the riders ready the horses behind a sash, and with a shot the race is on.
At the sound of the pistol shot, the Andalusian rears, leaving Didonne’s groom struggling to regain control as Riordan and the Arabian surge forward, taking a lead of more than three lengths over the grey. Through the iron gates to the garden the horses race, the Andalusian closing the gap to just two lengths, but negotiating the first Riordan and the Arabian seize the inside line and the musketeer’s steady hand guides the chesnut mare to a substantial lead. The Andalusian and its lighter rider close the distance on the straightaway, but approaching the far turn, Riordan shuts down the groom’s line again and the Arabian opens a lead of more than eight lengths as the riders break out on the return straightaway.
The two riders approach a carriage and faced with choosing a safe line around the outside or shooting the gap between the carriage and the line of trees, Riordan opts for the latter and immediately is brought up short in a spray of dirt as the carriage driver, noting the approaching horses, attempts to move out of the way. Narrowly avoiding a wreck, the Musketeer spurs the Arabian forward as the Andalusian suddenly closes the gap.
Racing through the gates of the garden once more, the two horses and their riders thunder toward the Porte Saint-Honoré and by slightly more than a length Riordan and the Arabian win the race to the cheers of a crowd of onlookers attracted by the sport. The vicomte claps the Musketeer on the shoulder, and learning that Riordan is there to buy a horse for the young sieur de Praz-de-Lys, immediately orders the horse-trader to sell the Arabian to the boy; the viscontessa’s draft is made out for nearly five hundred livres as the trader’s grooms water and brush the tired horse.
After settling his bet with the vicomte, the chevalier de Didonne also approachs Riordan to offer his congratulations, then nonchalantly asks, “So what happened to those two in the alley?” The King’s Musketeers replies that he has no idea what the chevalier is talking about, and with a faint smile, Didonne apologizes for the misunderstanding.
The vicomte invited Riordan to attend a party at his villa, and after a lackey obtains Riordan’s name and lodgings, the three companions lead the horse, with the beaming young nobleman on its back, home to the Place-Royale.
La donna è mobile
Arriving at the Praz-de-Lys townhouse, Francesco, in a rush of words, tells his mother about the race, the horse, and Riordan; the viscontessa receives word about the cost in silence. Riordan looks around for the viscontessa’s lady-in-waiting, but she is nowhere to be seen. One of the maids, an old crone, pulls the Musketeer aside and informs him that signorina della Gazzada is visiting the market at Les Halles.
Strolling amid the stalls and bustling crowds of the marketplace, Riordan, Charles, and Bruno spot the lovely lady-in-waiting, accompanied by her maid with a basketful of bread, one of Lautens’ Swiss guards – and another young man, dressed in a soldier’s buff coat. Susanna gives Riordan a warm smile as he approaches and makes a great show of greeting the Musketeer as the young man obviously bristles. " Have you met the sieur de Saint-Alar? " she says sweetly, introducing the glowering soldier as an officer in the Normandy Regiment. “This is Monsieur O’Neill, Francesco’s fencing instructor,” she continues.
Riordan doesn’t miss a beat. “Sergeant Riordan O’Neill, of the King’s Musketeers,” he adds, resting his hand on on the pommel of his rapier.
“Oh, a King’s Musketeer!” Susanna gushes to Saint-Alar, who continues to bristle. Charles and Bruno, once again making themselves scarce in the crowd, roll their eyes at the young woman’s ploy.
Saint-Alar steps in front of Riordan, and perfunctorily dismisses him, but the Musketeer doesn’t budge. “You need to leave now!” he orders, placing his hand on his own sword. “Perhaps we should step into one of the nearby alleys?” Riordan suggests with a wave of his hand, but Saint-Alar replies, " Not without my seconds. Tomorrow, dawn, at the Hôpital Saint-Louis! " The Musketeer accepts the challenge with a nod and wave of his hand, and the young solider excuses himself from the signorina, visibly seething. With a wicked smile on her face and her eyes glittering, Susanna also takes her leave from Riordan and bustles off with her maid and guard in tow.
The three companions quickly converge, and it’s agreed that Bruno will follow Saint-Alar. He quickly falls in behind the soldier – too quickly, as he looks up to find Saint-Alar looking straight at him, but the young man is too consumed by his thoughts to care. Through the streets of the Marais Bruno tails the soldier until they arrive on the Place-Royale – and Bruno observes the young man walk straight past a pair of crimson-cloaked guards into the hotel of Cardinal Richelieu.
Rendezvousing with Riordan and Charles, Bruno informs them of Saint-Alar’s destination, noting that the soldier was not challenged by the guards on entering the Cardinal’s residence. The three conclude that Saint-Alar has gone to the Cardinal to set a trap for Riordan, and they make their own plans accordingly – Charles is sent to find Gil de Berault, the duelist he and Riordan aided in an alley near the Place Maubert weeks earlier, to ask him to serve as Riordan’s second. Meanwhile, Riordan and Bruno will recruit help among the King’s Musketeers at the hôtel de Tréville.
Charles locates Zaton’s, the cabaret in the Marais Berault said he frequents, and sure enough the duelist is there, gambling – and losing. He doesn’t immediately recognizing the cassocked Charles as the man who pressed a dagger to the throat of one of the fops in the duel off the Place Maubert, but mention of Riordan’s names jogs his memory. Excusing himself from the table, Berault listens as Charles quickly explains the situation. A look of consternation passes over Berault’s features. “If it was anyone else,” the duelist explains sadly, “I would be there in a heartbeat.” But he cannot be involved in an affair involving the Cardinal’s Guards, he explains. “Please beg Monsieur O’Neil’s forgiveness for me, as I truly am in his debt, but I deeply regret I cannot be of assistance to him in this.”
True as a dial to the sun
As Charles searches for Zaton’s, Riordan and Bruno cross Pont-Neuf on the way to the hôtel de Tréville. Riordan is greeted by a familiar face – the beggar calling himself Le Capitaine. Pressing a few coins into his hand, Riordan nods and presses on toward Tréville’s, but Bruno stays to talk to the man. Offering to buy the beggar a meal, Bruno steals him away to a small tavern nearby and begings plying him with food and wine. Under Bruno’s patient but insistent questioning, the beggar gives his name as ‘Capitaine Lefevre,’ a loyal solider of the Picardy Regiment under the Great King Henri IV. At Bruno’s urging the beggar tells tales of serving the king during the Wars of Religion; though times and places are jumbled, what he says of his experiences fits what Bruno knows of the period, suggesting his stories contain at least some element of truth.
Asked about his current ‘duties,’ Le Captitaine says he continues to protect ‘the king’ – with further questions, Bruno realizes that the beggar refers to the statue of Henri IV which stands at the center of Pont-Neuf. The beggar woefully relates tales of rakes and fops who fail to respect the monument to the ‘Great King.’ Bruno asks Le Capitaine knows if Henri IV is dead, and with a sad voice the beggar bemoans his death at the hands of “the assassin Ravaillac.” Le Capitaine doesn’t seem to know that Henri’s son, Louis, is now the king, however – the beggar refers to him as “Le Dauphin.” Indeed, questioned on the current year, the beggar can only shrug helplessly.
Bruno agrees to help Le Captiaine ‘protect the king,’ if the beggar will help to keep him aprised of events on Pont-Neuf. The beggar agrees, though what information he can provide remains to be seen.
. . . gang aft agley
At the hôtel de Tréville, Riordan’s first instinct is to approach the Three Inseperables, but none of them can be found – Aramis and Porthos are most likely off with their respective mistresses, while no one can be sure in which tavern Athos is exploring the bottom of a bottle, or a cask. Ferusac and Courtivron are present, however, the former eager to test his latest betting strategy at dice, the latter patiently explaining why he will lose his shirt. Louvigny is also in the hall, laboriously composing his latest sonnet. Apprised by Riordan of the situation, both Ferusac and Courtivron immediately offer their swords to the adventure, and Louvigny, seeing the non-commissioned officers volunteer without hesitation, throws in as well.
After Charles and Bruno rendezvous with Riordan, the companions plot their strategy. Suspecting an ambush by the Cardinal’s guardsmen, Charles is dispatched to the Hôpital Saint-Louis, situated in the fields north of Paris, in advance of the rest, disguised as one of the beggars and vagrants who congregate on the grounds of the pest-house. Arriving in the pre-dawn darkness, he scouts the grounds, observing a score or more of rough-looking men gathered around a guttering fire. Charles settles in by an open gate, palm outstretched.
He doesn’t wait long. Saint-Alar arrives as the sky turns purple, accompanied by no less than eight mounted Cardinal’s Guards and a pair of lackeys loaded with arquebuses over their shoulders and bandoliers of pistols across their chests. A tall, lean, aristocratic guardsman snaps orders, and shortly after the vagrants on the grounds stream out of the gate, driven forth by the guardsmen. One of the crimson-cloaked guardsmen pokes Charles with a sword as well – “Move along!” he orders gruffly. Charles makes a show of moving along, but lingers long enough to see Saint-Alar and six of the guardsmen enter the pest-house, while the two remaining guardsmen take the party’s horses to an orchard along the north side of the complex.
Rendezvousing with the rest of the companions, Charles relates what he’s seen. Riordan and Ferusac recognize the description of the tall guardsman – Lieutenant de Lamoye, one of the Cardinal’s favorites and an officer of his guards. The companions’ suspicions appear confirmed – they’re being lured into an ambush. They decide to turn the tables instead.
After lengthy debate, a plan is devised to abscond with the guardsmen’s horses, then sneak into the pest-house by the north entrance. Charles, still in his elderly beggar’s guise but with his crossbox concealed beneath a ragged cloak, approaches the two guardsmen in the orchard as Bruno, the stealthiest of the group, sneaks up on them from behind; the rest remain in reserve. Surprise is of the essence.
One of the guardsmen is on foot while the other is mounted; on seeing Charles approach, the one on foot orders him away, but Charles drops to his knees and begs charity instead while simultaneously readying his crossbow. Bruno appoaches the distracted guardsmen from behind and prepares to knock out the dismounted guardsmen with the basket guard of his rapier, but at the very moment he swings the guardsman steps forward – the intended blow finds nothing but air. The guardsmen, now alerted whip around, the one of foot slashing with his rapier as the mounted guardsman produces a pistol from under his crimson tabard and aims it at Bruno.
Charles whips up his crossbow and fires at the mounted guardsman, the quarrel striking him in the back. With a cry, the mounted guardsman spins his horse and fires the pistol at Charles, narrowly missing.
Riordan, realizing the pistol shot will alert the remaining guardsmen, charges forward on his horse, rapier in hand. Bruno gives the dismounted guardsmen a cut along the flank while the mounted guardsman reloads his pistol. Riordan’s charge ends with a vicious slash at the mounted guardsman, striking his arm and forcing him to drop the pistol. The wounded rider spurs his mount at Charles, who narrowly dodges the charging horse; he spins and throws a dagger at the guardsmen, striking him in the leg behind the knee. With a gasp he slides out of the saddle, falls heavily to the ground, and moves no more.
The dismounted guardsman slashes at Bruno, cutting deeply; Bruno’s rapier falls to the ground as his arm sags uselessly to his side. Riordan aims a thrust at the guardsman, driving the point through his opponent’s arm – now it’s the guardmen’s turn to drop his sword as a handspan of the Musketeer’s steel tranfixes his bicep. Riordan points his sword at the wounded guardsmen as Ferusac, Courtivron, and Louvigny ride up; the Irishman tells the guardsman not to ambush anyone in the future as the guardsman curses him for a dog and a coward. Grabbing the leather strings of the guardsmen’s horses, the Musketeers and their companions prepare to ride away.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley
- Robert Browning