Halfway across the bridge
After rescuing two poorly-disguised ‘gentlemen’ from an ambush by a band of bravos – and learning that one is a woman claiming to be the duchesse de Chevreuse – friends Riordan O’Neill, a King’s Musketeer, and Charles Duran, a clerk at the Palais de Justice, find themselves contemplating the prospect of sneaking the duchess and her wounded companion into the Louvre while escorting two prisoners as well.
O’Neill, intimately familiar with protecting the king’s palace, knows that two companies guard the royal residence – the Swiss Guards protect the exterior and the King’s Musketeers the interior. Complicating matters is the practice of placing the companies on guard under officers from other companies, to reduce the prospect of treasonous collusion; this means O’Neill cannot count on the officers of the watch to provide assistance, or at least to turn a blind eye.
Soon a plan is formulated. Ferusac, another Musketeer who joined in the fight against the bravos, is dispatched to the hôtel de Tréville to obtain Musketeers’ tabards with which to disguise the duchess and her companion. Duran races back to the Black Stork, to summon another friend, an apothecary and theology student named Charles Petit. Petit brings a supply of medicines and succeeds in rousing the wounded man sufficiently to allow him to walk, though the latter remains pale and weak. After Ferusac returns with the tabards, the impatient duchess and her companion are outfitted under the skillful hand of Petit, and soon O’Neill and Ferusac are leading the pair toward the entrance to the Louvre as Duran and Petit remain with the two bravos taken prisoner during the struggle.
The conscious bravo alternately pleads and demands to be released, offering Duran and Petit money to let him go. Petit, sensing an opportunity, pulls the bravo out of earshot of the other two and convinces the rogue that he’s willing to double-cross the others in exchange for money; the bravo says that the ringleader of the gang, the scar-necked man whom he calls Le Pendu, arranged the ambush of the poorly-disguised duchess and her companion, expecting to ransom the pair, and he’s sure another score will present itself. Petit releases the bravo on condition that they will meet at Le Trou Perrecte, a tavern on Rue Perce, the following night; Duran plays along with the deception as well, and the bravo is freed from his bonds, disappearing into the frigid Parisian night.
At the entrance to the royal palace, O’Neill, Ferusac, and others are stopped by the Swiss. The officer on duty, a German guardsman named Kalmbach, studies the foursome and listens as O’Neill explains that they were summoned as relief for the Musketeers guarding the interior of the palace. Despite O’Neill throwing himself into the tale, Kalmbach is unconvinced and sends a messanger to summon one of the officers commanding the Musketeers inside the walls. Thinking quickly, O’Neill tries a different tack, whispering to Kalmbach that one of the ‘Musketeers’ is actually a woman, the mistress of someone important inside the palace, and that if they are passed through, a small reward may find its way to the German’s hand. With a knowing smirk, the ensign allows the party to pass.
From their vantage point a short distance away, Duran and Petit continue to observe; when the unconscious prisoner begins to awaken, Petit doses him with laudanum to keep him quiet.
Past the exterior guards, O’Neill and the others suddenly find themselves confronted by another officer, Robert Durward, responding to Kalmbach’s summons. Durward, a lieutenant of the Scots Guards commanding the Musketeers on duty, immediately recognizes the sergeants O’Neill and Ferusac and demands to know why they are there; O’Neill replies that a messenger arrived and summoned them to the palace and he assumed that Durward summoned them. O’Neill’s answer leaves Ferusac wincing, sure that the pair will be found out, but as luck would have it, Durward is clearly distracted; the Scots Guard neither notices that one of the Musketeers in front of him stands no taller than the shoulders of the other three nor cares about O’Neill’s story. With a brusque wave, the Musketeers are dismissed and Durward returns to whatever occupied his attention before the messenger arrived.
The foursome quickly make their way to the duchess’ apartments; a chambermaid is dispatched to find her personal surgeon, and for a few minutes the two Musketeers are forgotten, Finally the duchess turns to them and demands their names, and after getting them instructs the two soldiers that no one can ever know about the events of the evening. After receiving assurances from both men, the Musketeers are dismissed into the night.
Rejoining Petit, Duran, and the drugged bravo outside in the cold darkness, the four debate their next moves; the release of the bravo creates a problem, as he knows at least two of them are Musketeers and that the two victims of the ambush were snuck into the Louvre, potentially compromising the duchess despite her strict instructions to keep quiet about the ambush and their presence in the tavern. Ferusac notes that the scar-necked man, Le Pendu, is a regular at Le Trou Perrecte; the gruff Gascon believes that Le Pendu served in the army at some point, and suggests that it was the scar-necked gambler who fired the shot at them during the fight, as he carries a brace of pistols. Ferusac also notes that Le Pendu has a woman, a whore with mousy brown hair who frequents the tavern. O’Neill expresses the opinion that Le Pendu’s gang may be in tatters after the fight, and that the man lying on the ground in front of them is probably the bravo’s lieutenant; the Musketeer suggests that the unconscious man should be taken halfway across one of the bridges, which Petit interprets as leaving him for the archers on Pont-Neuf, then realizes that the suggestion is somewhat more sinister; the four quickly agree, and rather than risk being seen on the bridge, they carry the unconscious bravo to one of the empty quays where O’Neill slits the man’s throat and slides the body into the feezing waters of the Seine.
There is no hunting like the hunting of man
Despite the late hour, the four men decide to reconnoiter Le Trou Perrecte, on the off chance they can pick up a clue as to the whereabouts of Le Pendu or the other bravo. Using ash and charcoal to tint his hair and deepen the lines in his face, Petit disguises himself as an old man and enters the tavern; two patrons are huddled over mugs of wine as the barkeep cleans up. Petit approaches the barkeep, and claims to be searching for his son, ‘Jacques,’ but when the bartender is nonplussed. he changes his story, saying he’s actually looking for someone who owes him money. The barkeep glares at Petit, and tapping a thick finger on the bar growls, “If you’re not drinking or gambling, you’re leaving,” and Petit chooses to take his leave.
The four companions huddle in the cold outside the tavern and consider another plan: Duran and Petit are assigned to guard the front and back entrances as O’Neill and Ferusac clear the tavern and buffalo the barkeep. The tavern keeper grabs a truncheon from behind the bar, but quickly loses his nerve when confronted by the swords of the veteran Musketeers. Grilled by O’Neill, the barkeep says that Le Pendu has not been back, and that he stays with a prostitute named Isabel; the barkeep doesn’t know where she lives, but he knows it’s somewhere nearby. After searching the barkeep’s garret and the tavern’s taproom, the Musketeers prepare to leave the tavern and rendezvous with their companions; O’Neill places a livre on the bar and tells the tavern keeper, “Don’t say anything, but since I don’t trust you not to say anything, say they disturbed a hornet’s nest, that this game is way to big for them. If we don’t get them, someone else will, so if they’re smart, they’ll run.”
Satisfied that they’ve done all they can for the night, O’Neill, Duran, and Petit agree to return to the tavern the next night, to see if Le Pendu keeps the promised meeting; Ferusac will be on duty in the Louvre and regrets he will be unable to join them, encouraging the three to, “Get a piece of him for me, too.”
The next day finds a tired Charles Duran prowling through records in the Palais de Justice, on the advice of Ambroise de Moreau, a plump court secretary. Searching through the voluminous records of the ministry, Duran turns up a few facts: Le Pendu was arrested and branded as a thief, then later hanged as a deserter and thief while serving in a dragoon company in Languedoc three years earlier.
That night finds the three companions again staking out Le Trou Perrecte; Duran and O’Neill watch the street and the alley outside the gambling den while Petit, now disguised as a simple laborer, nurses a mug of win inside. An hour passes, and a woman matching the description of the prostitute, Isabel, arrives; she’s only there a short time before she is approached by a grofulous-looking rogue , and the two leave the tavern together, tailed by Petit. Isabel’s room is literally around the block from Le Trou Perrecte. The three companions, huddled in their cloaks against the chill night air, wait for the rogue to leave to leave, which he does a short time later; Isabel appears on the street soon after, apparently returning to the tavern. Thinking quickly, O’Neill contrives to bump into her. Isabel propositions the Musketeer, and the two return to her room; she demands and receives five sous from O’Neill, then hikes up her skirt and lays back on her straw mattress, open for business. The Musketeer replies that he’s looking for information, but Isabel, now wary, replies that’s not the part he paid for. O’Neill presses ahead, asking about Le Pendu; Isabel sits bolt upright, clearly terrified, and refuses to answer any questions, demanding that the Musketeer leave immediately. Unable to get more from the prostitute, O’Neill rejoins Duran and Petit, and they resume watching Isabel’s place. She appears a short time later, wrapped in a tattered cloak and glancing anxiously about, and races back to the tavern.
Staking out the tavern once again, Duran spots Isabel slipping out the back door into the alley behind Le Trou Perrecte; she passes him in the dark, paying him no attention as she sets off across the Latin Quarter. The three companions follow her at a discrete distance, watching as she reaches the garden gate of the commandery of Saint-Jospeh-des-Carmes and disappears inside. Duran and Petit watch the church and rectory as O’Neill slips inside the gate and immediately encounters a Carmelite monk with a lantern. The monk inquires about O’Neill’s business and the Musketeer replies he’s seeking a woman who entered the garden a moment ago. The monk replies that this is a house of God and all are welcome to its succor. The Musketeer asks if he can say a prayer in the church, and the monk agrees; looking about the sanctuary, O’Neill finds no trace of Isabel, and decides not to press the matter further. Meeting up with Duran and Petit, O’Neill pronounces the hunt a dead end, and the three return to the Black Stork.
On arriving at the inn, the landlady, Maîtresse Débordé, approaches O’Neill and Duran – and casts a puzzled glance at the still-disguised Petit – and says that a gentleman, well-dressed and with an accent, is waiting for them in the inn’s private room off the common room. O’Neill enters as the others keep watch and spies an elegant looking man sitting at a chair. The stranger rises with a smile and offers O’Neill a bow. He says that he wishes to extend his lord’s gratitude for the assistance rendered the previous evening, and to remind them of the importance of their absolute discretion in the matter, idicating that a failure to do so would carry consequences for them. O’Neill repeats his assurances to the stranger, whereupon the stranger places a small bag on the table, “with the gratitude of my lord, to be share among your companions.” The stranger steps toward the door, then reaches into a pocket of his doublet, producing a ring set with a glittering crimson stone. “And with the lady’s gratitude as well,” he says with another smile as he hands the ring to the Musketeer, and tipping his hat takes his leave.
O’Neill opens the bag to find twenty gold Louis’ inside.
The three companions settle down around a table to discuss the division of the spoils.
“There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” – Ernest Hemingway