She groped the cobblestones at her back without finding it.
“No, no—by the cart, lass…there, see? A half-pence.”
“I cannot see, monsieur, I am blind,” she sobbed.
Robert had wondered why she hadn’t seemed to notice his helmet. For a moment he stared at her. Then his posture sagged, and he ground out a bitter laugh as he picked up the coins in question.
“No, there is not, lass, forgive me,” he said.
“Were you with them, then?”
“Hardly,” said Robert, righting her cart. “In my country, men do not abuse young lasses—blind or otherwise.”
“You speak the language well enough for a foreigner,” she observed. “Where do you come from, then?”
“I am Robert Mack, of
“Ahhh,” she breathed. There was great relief in the sound.
“What are you called, lass?”
“My name is Violette Cherier, and I am in your debt, my lord. Those men…they were quite rowdy, and would, I fear, have had their way with me if you had not intervened.”
“I think they were a mite too drunk for that,” he said, amused at her drama. “If you were sighted, you would have seen it.”
“You have saved my coins. What of my flowers? Have they ruined them?”
“Some still remain,” he said, frowning toward the scant few that hadn’t been trampled. Stooping, he retrieved what was left of the blooms and placed them back into the cart somewhat clumsily. “You will have to sell them quickly,” he informed her. “All the water has been spilt…unless you tell me where to fetch more?”
“I will fetch more water, my lord. I have detained you long enough. I know of seigneur de Montaigne. He is known, and loved in the vendor’s quarter, as he is everywhere in
Robert was following her directions with his eyes, when all at once the two gendarmes who had been watching him since he left the docks, took hold of him from behind. Resisting, he cried out in protest as they shackled him in irons, groped the doublet beneath his cloak for his coin purse, and relieved him of the sword and dinner knife sheathed at his side. One of them opened the purse and probed its contents, stirring the coins inside. Juggling it in his hand, he assessed its weight, discarded the letter of introduction Aengus had given him, which floated to the ground, then tightened the thong cord again, and thrust it beneath his own belt.
When the other grabbed hold of his helmet, Robert fought back with a well-aimed foot that found the man’s genitals beneath his codpiece doubling him over, and the other reached around to remove the device himself, loosing a string of blasphemous oaths, while the first man recovered himself.
“Please!” Violette cried. “This man is a foreign noble, come seeking seigneur de Montaigne. He has done nothing wrong. He has papers. He…he saved me from rowdies who laid hands upon me and upturned my cart!”
“Keep silent, wench!” barked the gendarme who still had the power of speech. “He’s done something now. He’s attacked an officer of the French Police, papers or no, and he goes to the Bastile, your foreign noble.”
“She speaks truth.” Robert thundered. “Do not remove the helm. Do not, I say!”
But the injured gendarme was on his feet at last, and between them they yanked it off his head.
“Mon Dieu!” cried the first, reeling away from the sight. “Plague!”
The other let Robert go, meanwhile wiping his hands on his tunic, and Violette rushed forward kicking air, until she found the man’s shins at which point she gave them a healthy drubbing with the toe of her shoe.
“Jean-Claude Geneaux, you lout! I know your voice,” she accused, “and you also, Henri Flammonde. I will report you! This man has done nothing.”
The one called Henri, still soothing his genitals, pulled her off the other shoving her aside roughly, and she stumbled and fell to the cobblestone street beside her flower cart.
“Garboneaux can deal with this,” said Jean-Claude, slapping the helm back in place on Robert’s head. “Bring him, and be quick!”
“No!” Violette shrilled.
“Keep still, unless you want to join him,” Henri warned her.
“I have no plague, you fools,” Robert insisted. “I have been burned. The helm spares such as you the sight and me embarrassment for it. If you will but loose these accursed irons, I will show you my credentials.”
But they paid him no mind, nor did they head the girl’s cries as they hauled him quickly away.