The notice that would forever change their lives was not found in a local, big city newspaper; rather it was in a weekly crier called the “Michigan Voice”. That Eve saw it at all was a bit of a surprise. They rarely, if ever picked up the Voice. But for some reason fate intervened, and Jim had grabbed the paper as he left the town’s only hardware store. Now, sitting on the back porch, drinking her coffee, waiting for Jim to finish in the barn, Eve thumbed through the only reading material available. And there it was, third page, lower left: “Antique Show and Charity Auction Returns to Detroit.” Jim, more than Eve, enjoyed the show. Rarely could they afford the items for sale; this was not a “clean out the garage” kind of antique show. This show was hosted by some of the country’s finest auction houses. They didn’t attend as buyers. Jim was a collector of arcane bits of trivia and simply found the auction to be a treasure trove of “interesting stuff”.
Suddenly, the baying of a beagle could be heard behind the equipment shed, a gray ghost raced around the building and headed for the pasture. Molly had picked up the scent and was close behind the rabbit.
Jim stepped from the barn, slid the door shut and walked to the house. “Your antique auction is next week,” she said as he climbed the porch steps. Jim washed his hands at the outdoor sink then sat in a deep wicker chair next to his wife.
“Great! That thing is always so interesting. And this year I’ve got something I want to take.”
Eve started to laugh, “You really are a nerd. You know that don’t you?”
Jim just grinned.
“What do you want to sell?”
“Well, I’m not really sure. Remember that stuff my great grandfather brought back from World War One? I’m hoping someone at the show will recognize it and be able to tell me a little bit more.”
“Like if we’ve been hauling junk around the world for the past thirty years or not?” Eve asked in a gentle dig.
“Well, yeah,” he grinned. “In any case, I thought this was a good chance to have it appraised. At least someone might be able to tell me what it is. And if not, maybe the Tigers are playing.”
“I knew there was more to this than an antique auction! C’mon, call your dog and let’s go in. I’m hungry.”
3 June 1789
General Nicolas Luckner was out of bed before the man, for a man it surely was, on the other side of the door pounded a second time. In a moment he had a brace of .60 caliber holster pistols in his hands and was standing, naked, back to the wall, next to the door. The woman in the bed felt a wave of fear wash over her. The wave crested, then, human nature what it is, she admired the view.
From outside the door a young man’s voice called, “Mon General, it is urgent.” Luckner recognized the voice of his new adjutant and relaxed. The man, boy really, had been with him for only the past two weeks. This was the first time he’d been to the General’s room after their morning drill. Luckner opened the door and let the man-boy in.
The adjutant instinctively began a salute, saw the General was naked and attempted to look away. He turned his right shoulder to the General and found himself facing a young, naked, red-haired woman sitting cross-legged on the bed. His surprise evident he involuntarily took a step backward, whereupon he collided with the General. Shaken he spun around to meet the now angry glare of the man he feared more than anything in this life and, he was convinced, the next as well.
He stammered once, cleared his throat and before the General had finished inhaling in preparation for what surely would be one of history’s great tongue-lashings he managed to stammer out the news he had been sent to deliver. “Sir, ah…Col DeAubry asked that…you have…you are supposed to…” The Adjutant’s young eyes couldn’t overcome the powerful draw of the woman’s naked body. Like a bee to honey his eyes, without command, turned to her. The woman caught the glance, and vixen that she was, instantly decided to toy with the man-boy. She went into an exaggerated yawn, stretching her arms over her head, thrusting her bare breasts at the Adjutant. Then, like a cherry on top of a banana split, she smiled. The Adjutant’s slim hold on his composure cracked.
The breach only lasted a moment as a thick hand slapped him on his left ear. The General stared down a long pointed nose, suppressed a smile and waited. The young officer regained his composure, stiffened, looked directly at the General and said, “Sir, Col DeAubry has asked that I relay a message.”
“Well?” General Luckner’s expression was stern, as befit a General. He was enjoying this little game. The man-boy tried again, “The King has summoned you.” Luckner’s brain instantly went to full attention.
“For what purpose? When and where? These things should have been said already.” Luckner did not suffer fools gladly, the game was over, the humor gone. The young man was now angering the General. Had he never seen a naked woman before?
“Le château de Versailles. Immediately.”
“Tell the Colonel ‘thank you’ and I shall be with him in five minutes,” Luckner said. The Adjutant, from sheer habit, saluted; stole another glance at the naked woman and fled the room. The General closed the door behind him. “No, he probably hasn’t,” he thought. Then his mind snapped back to the summons.
It was time, he was sure of it. This was necessary. There had been enough of patience, negotiations, maneuvering, politics and talk, talk, talk. Now, he was going to be told to round up the rabble and stuff them into the Bastille like so much sausage. Or, better yet, he’d put them to the sword tonight. He began to assemble his uniform. In a few short minutes he was dressed; except for the boots. He could not find his boot hooks. His frustration grew as he looked under the bed, under the rug, behind the door…then he remembered. Reaching into the pile of woman’s clothing on the floor he found them. The woman smiled at him. In a moment his boots had been pulled on and he was out the door.
Outside the tavern Col DeAubry sat comfortably astride his horse, his attention focused on the hard piece of bread and moldy cheese which constituted his breakfast. A tall, rather lanky man, DeAubry had been born to a shoe cobbler. He had run from his apprenticeship at the first chance. At the age of twelve he’d taken a job as an assistant to a farrier and developed considerable expertise with horses. Five years later the man who had become more a father than employer was killed when a horse with an abscessed foot kicked him in the head. DeAubry found himself without means, a great deal of expertise in horses and a perfect fit for the cavalry.
The Colonel was known as a calm, sensible officer who could make things happen. He’d been with the General his entire career. Except, of course, for the three years he’d spent, at Luckner’s insistence, with Rochambeau. He had survived a fever in the West Indies and distinguished himself on more than one occasion while fighting the British in their war with the American colonialists. His study and knowledge of siege warfare had been particularly useful in the later part of that campaign.
Under Luckner’s sponsorship he’d risen to an almost unheard of rank for a man so low born. He was a trusted second to the General and the men feared and respected DeAubry as much as they feared and respected the General.
A few moments after DeAubry received the message a smartly dressed, fully alert General Nicolas Luckner exploded from the tavern’s front door and mounted the horse held by the Adjutant. DeAubry relayed what little information he had, took up his position on the General’s left and they began the short ride to the château de Versailles. It was mid-afternoon, a light rain fell from a gray sky. The rain was welcome in Luckner’s mind. It kept the rabble in their houses and it washed the sewage and animal droppings from the streets.
As they approached Le Potager du Roi the General noticed several handbills tacked to the trees outside of the royal garden’s tall fence. Before he could pull one from its posting he spotted several men running across the road into the buildings and fields to his right. Instinctively his hand went to his pistol and he surveyed the doors, windows, alleys and bushes along his route. He wished he’d taken an escort; two men and a man-child would not do. He was not afraid of these traitorous fools, but he did not wish to be delayed. He would speak to DeAubry later about this.
Not knowing what the handbills were all about but feeling they may play a part in the upcoming meeting with the King he stopped, dismounted and ripped one from the trunk of a large oak tree. The Colonel did the same. DeAubry was shocked by what he read, the author accused the Queen of being a lesbian and whore. “More attacks on the Queen’s reputation.” DeAubry muttered as he shook his head. Luckner read the paper in his hand. It railed against the King’s treasurer Monsieur de Barentin, incompetent government and the King’s intelligence. He snarled, crumpled the paper and tossed it to the ground. Other bills peppered the trees and buildings for the next several hundred yards. They walked their horses for a few moments, silently reading the posters.
DeAubry examined the fields and buildings. A boy appeared from behind a cottage. He yelled something and threw a rotten apple in their direction. The apple landed well short. What were these people about? There had been a time, not so long ago when the French military had faced down the British across the globe. People had looked at him with pride. Now? Well, now things were different weren’t they? DeAubry couldn’t put his finger on it, something was happening. He was looked at with contempt, sometimes hate. He didn’t understand it, he didn’t know what it was, but he knew change was coming. And, from all he had seen, it wasn’t change for the better.
Luckner was mounting his horse. The rain was thicker now; the sky seemed a darker shade of gray. Settling into the saddle the General pulled his collar up against the wind and the rain. He pulled his sword, indicated to the Adjutant to do the same, then leaning toward the still dismounted DeAubry he said, “Have as many men as possible, with good horses, at the palace in an hour. I suspect we’re going to be busy tonight.” Luckner then turned his horse in the direction of the château, kicked the animal with his heels and cantered away. DeAubry would do his best, but horses were becoming scarce.