An unexpected interview
The carriage jerked and rolled along the ‘main road’ from Versailles to Paris. They had sat in a brooding silence no one, even between the partners very inclined to be chatty, or to share the dark thoughts that had passed through their minds.
They had been on the road for about twenty minutes and were still passing through the forests surrounding the Royal palace. The lights of south-west Paris were just flickering in the distance, through the thinning trees. As was usual Bassenge was beginning to feel sick and had shuffled himself over to the window and lowered it, just enough to allow so air into the compartment. Just as he did so the carriage slowed, the Cardinal looked at him as though the lowering of the window, and the slowing and then stopping of the carriage were somehow connected. Bassenge returned his look blankly, and then slowly turned to face the door. A sudden shot snapped all of three heads round to the door.
Outside the the armed men atop the carriage were sitting with their hands in the air , on the road, a large, awkward tree branch blocked the path. In front of them, on a fine looking horse, was a masked and dark cloaked figure, putting away one pistol, still holding another on the men, even as he pulled out a third from a holster in the saddle.
“Gentlemen, that was very stupid, one of you could have been hurt. These are dangerous roads, positively filled with desperadoes and villains, what if I had been that sort of fellow?”
He walked his horse closer to the carriage and stopped again.
“Now, no more fuss. Dismount, and you, open the door so that I might speak with your passengers.”
Now, more than a little frightened, the men were happy to oblige and they lined up at the side of the carriage, where one of them puled open the door. The Cardinal was not to be intimidated.
“What is the meaning of this? Do you know who I am?”
The man on the horse looked at him carefully and then pushed his horse a little closer but shook his head.
“I can see you’re some sort of priest. I think, important enough to have paid a deal of money for you clothes, your get up doesn’t look cheap, but, no, I don't. On the other hand, I can tell you’re rich, sir.”
“I am the Grand Almoner of France sir, monies I have are for those with less than you or I, you dare not steal from the plates of the poor.”
“I wouldn’t have dream of it sir. But, I am a very poor fellow indeed, else why I would be out plying my trade on this dirty road, at this late hour, when all good men are in bed. I am pleased to hear you have my money and I shall thank you for it.”
The Cardinal didn’t move but stared up at the man. Boehmer leaned closer to the churchman and whispered,
“He does have a pistol Eminence.”
“He does Eminence.” The man too leaned forward, adding, “He also doesn’t want to get down and search your body.”
The Cardinal reached into his coat, and pulled out a small purse, which he tossed at the man. Having deftly caught the purse, in a hand already holding a pistol, he turned to the other two men.
“Now, to the main business of the evening. Gentlemen, you have with you I believe a nice necklace, it is usual I know to deny it, and make me do silly things to prove I’m serious when I say, I’m a ruffian of the worst sort, but we don’t really need all of that, do we? I know you have it, you know it, the Cardinal will swear to it, I’m sure, so, hand it over.”
The two men looked at each other and nodded. Boehmer reached down beneath his legs and pressed on the panel. Springing out, it revealed a compartment with a small pile of boxes from which he took the largest and threw it to the gentleman of the road. Sliding one of his pistols into a leather holster in his saddle the highwayman, flipped open the case and snapped it back. He was about to say something more, but stopped and listened. From up the road in the direction of Paris, the sound of horses. He waited a second until he could be sure, but then, turned and spurred his ride away across country.
The men in the road lowered their hands and stared at his disappearing figure. The Cardinal climbed out of the carriage and moved round the men, as though by chasing him, and he might somehow retrieve his purse, red-faced with fury. Boehmer and Bassenge exchanged a nod and a look. Boehmer leaned back and smiled tapping his stomach. Then, all turned to face up the road to Paris, from which direction came the sound that had caused the highwayman’s swift departure. A troop of his majesty’s cavalry rounded the corner at a gallop, and had to pull up sharply as they saw the large tree branch blocking the road. Half a dozen men and their officer, who ordered his men to clear the road, while he trotted down to the carriage.
He pulled his horse to a stop. Bassenge was the first to speak,
“de Rochefort, we meet again, why do you happen to be out here?”
“Your Eminence, Monsieur Bassenge, I have been given certain intelligence, that a villain intended to waylay a party on this road. I had been told it was planned nearer Paris, seemingly the intelligence was only partially correct. Is everyone alright?”
“We are uninjured physically, but I have lost a considerable sum and these gentlemen have lost a priceless necklace.The fellow has not long headed out across country, I think you’ll catch him, if you’re quick.” The Cardinal said, looking now as though, if he could see him, he would catch the man.
“Don’t worry Eminence, I have also been informed of where he will likely run to ground, after he leaves here. I fancy that we will get there before him, if he went that way.”
He looked back over his shoulder, checking on his men and bowed to the carriage occupants.
“Gentlemen, your road is clear. If my information is correct, I will return your goods to you forth-with. Boys!”
He wheeled his horse, and headed on up the road sweeping past that carriage in a cloud of dust, leaving the Cardinal and the two Jewellers staring after them.
The Comte de Rochefort was confident he had his man, and he was equally sure who his man was. Upon leaving the scene of the break-in a few weeks earlier, he had made strenuous efforts to find out more about this rude captain, who, he still suspected was a thief. A little money, to people who knew people and soon the answers came back that, without anyone being certain of anything in particular, yes, he was a man who clung to the shadows. A little more money, and he’d been told about this evening’s escapade. He had moved quickly to make sure he would get his man. He’d missed his first chance, but there could be no mistaking the inn he was heading for, they had passed it on the road earlier. The Queen’s Mill, not too brash, but not the dregs, of he thought it about the Captain’s level.
The troop were as swift as the angry aristocrat had hoped and the inn appeared up on their left. Sending two men round to the rear to check the stables and leaving two men out front. He dismounted and entered, again with two men at his back. A young lad came running over asking if he might help, or if they needed lodging.
“The keeper, now!” Was all Rochefort said, sending the youngster back as quickly as he could stumble. It took a few moments before the innkeeper, looking harried and hot, appeared, threading his way between the racous customers. He stopped in front of the Count with a jug in one hand and a cloth in the other and, from time to time he used one to rub the other.
“Messieurs, how can I help you?”
“I am looking for a man, he probably won’t yet have arrived, about my height, broad, vulgar in his manner, he will be armed. I understand he frequents this place, often staying the night.”
The keeper thought about that, looking solicitous he answered,
“Your description might fit a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance, sir, but not this evening. We have two parties staying tonight, both families with young children. Both families are abed, already.”
The innkeeper looked surprised and a little offended.
“I do know my own inn sir, and everyone who stays in it. I’d like to help you but unless you can be more precise...”
“The man is a captain in the Gendarmes, goes by the name ‘La Motte’.”
The innkeeper smiled broadly and gestured widely with his hand.
“Ah, the Count, yes, yes I know him, and he does come here from time to time, or the other place.”
“Count? He’s no Count.”
“Well sir, you’d know better than I, but he certainly calls himself ‘Count’, and his friends know him as such.”
“So are you expecting him?”
“I never know if he will drop by or not, sir. You don’t have to make an appointment here, to eat or drink, sir.”
“I have been told he would be here, certain.”
“If you say so sir, he doesn’t include me in his plans only in his orders, if you follow me.” and he grinned broadly again.
The count thought about that and about what he’d just heard, then slowly, he frowned.
“What is, ‘the other place’?”
“The other place? Oh, ‘the other place’, it’s... the other...” and he waved his hand in the air, “the other Mill. The Queen’s Mill, it’s on the other road to Paris, east of here.”
The Count stared at him and changed colour a little. Taking a deep breath the whirled on his men.
“Out, out, we are in the wrong hostelry. You get the men at the back, to horse, quickly now.”
The piled back out through the door leaving the innkeeper standing watching the confused exit. The door banged closed, and he waited another moment before smiling again to himself. Then his name was shouted, and he was off, on the unending work of those who feed others for a living.