Monday, September 14, 2015

The duc de Bellegarde's Ball: Chaper I

Chapter I: Arrival at the Ball

The characters decided to seek the permission of the Provincial Governor of Burgundy, Roger de Saint-Lary de Termes, Duc de Bellegarde, to conduct their investigation inside his province. To this end, they enlisted the help of the Duc’s Chamberlain and Gaston’s friend, Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan. Racan, used his control of the guest list to add them to the guest list for the ball, which was scheduled for the night of Saturday February 18, 1623 for the six hours from 9PM until 3AM. Realizing they must quickly prepare, the friends hastened to obtain suitable attire. Guy, aided by his trusted valet Fabré, leisurely bathed then dressed in one of his impeccably fashionable suits. Meanwhile the others hurriedly pulled together something to wear: Signoret contented himself with the somber garb of a Jesuit Priest, his only accent, the rapier at his side; while Gaston was fortunate to still have the fashionable brown suit given to him by Marshal Bassompierre. 

As the three friends arrived at the Hôtel Bellegarde, they entered a courtyard lit by giant torchiers. In the courtyard, they were greeted by house servants, one of whom inquired as to their names and titles so that a herald could announce each guest. Within the mansion, were side rooms with buffet tables heaped with mounds of food and flowing with rivers of wine and a series of salons, side doors open, where guests could eat, drink, or even find a quiet corner for conversation. Beyond, on one side was an ornately decorated ballroom lit by several large chandeliers and hundreds of genuine wax candles. One wall of the ballroom was adorned with mirrors that reflected the gorgeously attired dancers, while the other had a series of French doors that gave access to the garden. The companions separated to look for the Duc de Bellegarde.

As Guy was heading towards the ballroom, he was intercepted by Lady Malfleur who tricked him into revealing that he is friends with Chancie and Gaston, and that they too were in attendance. Guy excused himself to speak to his acquaintance and occasional patron, Jean de la Tour Chevalier de Vezelay, the Provost of Paris. Guy prevailed upon the Provost, as a favor, to agree to provide an introduction this evening to the Duc de Bellegarde. Guy then continued on towards the dance music. 

Father Signoret made his way to the rooms with the food, where he observed a number of diplomats were congregating. He also noticed, a nobleman, who he later learned was the Baron de Foix-Gras, by the food tables. The Baron was engaged in a valiant effort to demolish the mounds of food singlehanded. Not far away, his pretty wife stood and gazed longingly towards the dance floor with an occasional backward glance towards her husband.

Signoret saw a thin man who moved with the gait of an accomplished swordsman. Seeing he also wore the cloak of a Knight of Malta, the Jesuit went up and introduced himself. He learned that the other man was indeed a Knight of Malta, named Phillipe de Saint-Cassien, Chevalier de Didonne. Brother Phillipe, as he suggested the Jesuit call him, told Signoret that he had recently returned to Paris after finishing a tour of duty, during which he had served under the command of the Spanish Capitan-General, Pietro di Leyva, in destroying a Turkish fleet near Alexandria. The Jesuit complemented Brother Phillipe on his crusading zeal and invited him to dinner the next evening, which Brother Phillipe conditionally accepted, “God willing.” 

The Jesuit excused himself and moved on, pausing briefly as he overheard a number of guests talking about a dangerous prisoner who had escaped from the Bastille without a trace. The escaped prisoner was rumored to be an assassin who was under sentence of death for the murder of the Marquis D’Angoumois. Good thing I have my sword, Signoret thought as he placed his hand on his hilt. 

Gaston listened to the diplomats discuss events. The Swiss Grisson envoy relayed the rumor that many regiments were being called up for this year’s campaign season and that there will be two fronts for the campaigns and the King himself will lead one the main forces. But it quickly became clear that this was more speculation than substance. So Gaston exited towards the ball room, but in the antechamber next to the ball room he paused to allow a soft-handed gentleman with a plate of food to pass by, only to see the same gentleman bump into a thin and sinister looking young man who wore the cloak of a Knight of Malta and an elegant rapier. In the collision, the gentleman spilled his food on himself provoking a string of curses which he directed at the Knight.

“Gods Bones! Damme sir if you cannot watch where you are going. This room is far too crowded. S’Blood! This suit is new today and now it is ruined.”

The knight responded calmly, “You blaspheme sir! Moreover, the fault was yours. If you find this room too crowded for your tastes, you may find that the garden is less crowded and there is still a bit of a moon to see by so that I may instruct you on how a Christian gentleman should properly conduct himself.”

Fortunately for the soft-handed gentleman’s safety, before events could proceed to a sharper debate, several of the gentleman’s friends intervened and persuaded him to tender an apology, which the knight haughtily accepted. 

In the antechamber to the ballroom, Guy spoke briefly to a sad looking Baronne de Foix-Gras then continued in to the ballroom where he saw, standing alone on the sidelines, his childhood friend, the widowed Madame de Combalet. To cheer her up, Guy invited her to dance, congratulated her on her uncle’s elevation to Cardinal, and asked her about the latest gossip, which she provided then ended with a warning. 

“Now that you are back in Paris, my friend, you must beware of Perè Joseph, who still seems to bear a grudge for that matter of which you never speak.” 

To change the subject, Guy gently squeezed Marie de Combalet’s hand and said, “My dear friend, let me introduce you to my dear cousin, Father Gaétan Signoret.”

Madame de Combalet eagerly began a discussion with the Jesuit on some theological matters as well as the rumor that a theologian from Grenoble was to be brought to Paris to be burned for his heretical writings. Madame de Combalet then pointed out their host, the Duc de Bellegarde, and his wife, Anne de Bueil-Fontaine, Duchess de Bellegarde. Signoret noticed that the Duc was dancing exclusively with the beautiful Contessa di Montefusco and Guy noticed that Bellegarde’s wife, the Duchess was watching as well, and with mounting annoyance, as her husband continued to dance with the much younger women. Having finally located Bellegarde, Guy excused himself to look for the Provost and his promised introduction. 

Eventually, Bellegarde and the Contessa stopped dancing. The Contessa returned to where her dwarf, L’Omino waited. She handed her familiar something. The dwarf left, taking a circuitous route to reach the Duc de Bellegarde then passed him a note, which Bellegarde glanced at, then put in his pocket before he rapidly left the ballroom. Father Signoret hurried after the Duc, not even pausing to bid Madame Combalet adieu. He caught up with the Duc, who he saw loitering in the courtyard. The Jesuit quickly returned to the ballroom, found Guy, and suggested they follow the Contessa di Montefuscu who was just then leaving with her dwarf.

They noticed the Duke was no longer in the courtyard, so they followed the Contessa and her dwarf up the main stair and saw the two go down a corridor where the Contessa entered a private bedroom. They saw that although L’Omino remained outside, presumably on guard, he peaked through the keyhole and listened at the door. Guy noticed the Duchess was ascending the main stair, so he asked if his cousin Gaétan would warn the dwarf. The Jesuit refused, but agreed to observe from the servants’ stair. While Guy moved to distract the Duchess, Signoret quickly descended the main stair, darted down a narrow passage and up a servant’s stair. 

Exerting all his charm, courtly flattery, and etiquette, Guy complimented the Duchess and asked her for the honor of a dance. They danced and after they went out the French doors to the garden terrace. There the Chevalier de Branville came up to the two and accused guy of being a scoundrel. Guy barely managed to maintain his composure. He deflected Branville’s attack by retorting that he is discrete while Branville is not. The Duchess unamused by Branville, dismissed him. Once he left, she suggested they go somewhere for “a more private, or shall we say discrete” discussion. To which, Guy raised his eyebrow.


Meanwhile, back in the ballroom, Lady Malfleur, her face veiled by a mask to conceal her identity flirted with Gaston. She led him out onto the dance floor and began trying to draw him into a quarrel with someone else at the ball. Despite her efforts, no quarrel arose nor seemed as if it would, until Gaston spotted the two brothers Villmorin.

Father Signoret walked towards the dwarf, whether his aim was to chastise him for his eavesdropping or replace him at the spot never became clear. As soon as L’Omino saw Signoret, the dwarf became oddly enraged at the priest, or “Black Crow” as he called him. He angrily blamed the Jesuit for his brother’s terrible fate. This accusation only confused Signoret. Next L’Omino threatened the Priest at knife point to keep him away from the door where his mistress, “was resting.” When Signoret attempted to reason with him, the dwarf tried to stab the Jesuit, who disarmed the dwarf threatening him at swords point. The dwarf then began loudly crying for help and blubbering that his life was threatened. This brought the rapid reappearance of his mistress, who was in some disarray. L’Omino said that he had been attacked and beaten most cruelly by the Jesuit. The Contessa scolded the Signoret at length for frightening her “poor, dear, little L’Omino,” while behind her back, the dwarf made faces at the Jesuit.

EDIT: Some significant corrections from one of the players. Apparently my mental recollection of a nearly three year old adventure is not perfect. Quelle surprise!

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