Private Antonin Thibault Chiasson was a mess. Yesterday, after the changing guard ceremony, he managed to pass his love note to Monique, an announcer. Antonin was not too slick with words, but his friend private Pasquier, a comparative literature major at the McGill University, had helped him to put a passionate letter together.
Antonin hoped Monique would at least read the note. To his surprise, Monique just looked at the ceremony master, colonel Derainville, and threw the note, without even glimpsing at it, into the garbage can. Antonin’s worst fear proved to be true: Monique was clearly in love with the colonel, that old bully. To make things even worse, she avoided looking at Antonin after getting rid of the note, making sure that the message of her indifférence was clear.
Back at the caserne, Antonin got drunk with a self-invented mixture of the cleaning alcohol and coconut water. Pasquier was on duty, so Antonin lamented to the goats.
Bayard #6 was not his favorite, on the contrary. That goat has always been a troublemaker, chewing whatever it could get into its mouth, bleating madly. Yet it was Bayard #6 that listened to Antonin all night, as if it understood the private’s drama in full.
Well, maybe it did.
All ten goats (named Bayard to avoid confusion) that Antonin was in charge of were descendants of the goat that Persian Shah had sent to Queen Victoria as a gift. A century later, Queens Elizabeth presented a Persian goat named Bayard to the regiment, and the goat became its mascot. Since then, no ceremony of changing guards was conducted without Bayard standing next to the regiment lieutenant.
Antonin, due to his rural upbringing and agricultural experience, had been assigned as a regiment goat keeper. It was not how he expected his military service to turn out, but seeing Monique every morning compensated his disappointment.
All goats were male. Perhaps, Antonin’s yearning after Monique resonated with Bayard #6’s one, as he nodded understandingly to the private’s love confessions and even, it seemed, tried to bleat something comforting.
“I appreciate your friendship, Number Six!” Antonin, drunk out of his mind, announced in the middle of the night. “But what can I do? How can I prove Monique that I’m worth her attention??”
Then he passed out.
In the morning, restless Bayard #6 woke Antonin up by chewing hair on his head.
They were late, very late. Antonin looked at his ten goats and decided to take Bayard #6 with him. He couldn’t stand a thought of seeing Monique, this treacherous siren, again, and felt he might need a real friend right next to him today, even if it happened to be a pigheaded goat.
At the Citadel, colonel Derainville fumed with anger. The tourists were corralled in the waiting area already, the trumpeter took his place on the citadel wall. The regiment orchestra lined up around the armory corner.
“Je vous remercie de votre visite, Chiasson“. The colonel noted sarcastically, making sure Monique heard him. “Je déciderai plus tard comment vous discipliner!”
Usually, Antonin let a goat to nibble on the grassy slope next to the place of arms for a minute or two, to make sure Bayard would stay full and happy during the ceremony. There was no time left for that, though. Bayard #6 bleated indignantly, dragging Antonin to the slope, but the trumpeter had twirled his instrument, sergeant Lagasse yelled at the squad on duty to start marching, and lieutenant Gonsoulin waived at Antonin and Bayard ordering them to join the ceremony.
There was a short holdback with a tourist family protesting against colonel Derainville’ s request to leave all belongings, except cameras, in the designated area near the citadel wall.
“My daughter is diabetic, she may need her medicine!” A lady in straw hat protested, pointing at the little red-haired girl with sly smirk at her freckled face.
Colonel Derainville smiled gallantly, allowing the lady and her daughter to take their bags before catching up with the rest of the tourists.
“Maybe Bayard # 6 is diabetic, too.” Antonin thought guiltily, fixing golden caps on the goat’s horns. “Maybe I made the poor goat ill!”
The secret of keeping a goat calm during half-hour ceremony was simple: sugar cubes.
Antonin slid his hand in the coat pocket and groaned: in the morning rush, he forgot to take his magic cubes with him!
Bayard #6 looked at him sinisterly.
Monique emerged from the citadel museum, wearing scarlet blouse and tight jeans, leafing through her notes in a hurry.
Antonin’s heart fell someplace into his belly for a moment, and then slowly climbed back.
Monique didn’t look at the lawn and Antonin, but smiled at colonel Derainville who started to glow jubilantly, and took her place by the microphone.
The trumpeter signaled the beginning of the ceremony.
Monique started her reading, first in French, then in English, explaining the sequence and meaning of the soldiers’ maneuvers to the tourists, in sweet sonant voice.
Lieutenant Gonsoulin yelled an order for the Pipes and Drums of the Ceremonial Guard to march in.
Hungry Bayard #6 bleated unhappily.
“Fix your damn goat, Chiasson, right now!” Sergeant Lagasse murmured.
Antonin petted Bayard #6. Normally, a sugar cube would calm the hungry beast down, but now he was out of his tricks and could only pray that the goat would stay quiet through the ceremony!
The New Guard arrived on the lawn at the slow march.
The band started to play “The Ten Provinces March”.
Bayard #6 looked at Antonin pointedly and shook its head, as if trying to say something important.
“What’s the matter, pal?” Antonin whispered. “Please, don’t embarrass me in front of Monique!”
Well, he knew that Bayard #6, deprived of its sugar cubes, was slowly and inevitably going nuts. The question was what when the inevitable would happen…
“Please, just stay put, buddy!” Antonin begged. “I’ll give you a box of sugar cubes after the ceremony is over!”
After Monique’s solemn announcement, the Old Guard, with private Pasquier closing its right flank, marched in, too, and got in position facing the New Guard.
The goat bleated in full throat and pulled Antonin back and forth violently.
The guards chuckled without moving their lips. Pasquier blinked at Antonin with sympathy, but what he could do to help Antonin?
The tourist started to murmur, pointing at the fidgety goat.
Colonel Derainville looked at Antonin and Bayard #6 angrily.
Even sergeant Lagasse and Lieutenant Gonsoulin, despite having to maintain their immobile postures, stared at the eternity in front of them eloquently enough for Antonin to realize that nothing good is waiting for him after the ceremony.
The orchestra started to play as loudly as possible in an attempt to music down Bayard #6’s crescendo bleating.
The goat pulled the leash with all its strength. There was something strange in its behavior, not explained by the hunger alone.
Monique choked during her next paragraph, and looked at the Bayard #6 in horror.
The meticulously scripted and thoroughly, countless times rehearsed and performed ceremony was turning into a circus.
The spectator didn’t seem to mind a new entertainment, pointing at the goat and smiling to each other.
Antonin squinted from under his fur hat that covered his eyes almost entirely, trying to figure out what was caused goat’s craziness.
“Oh, no!” He whispered.
Bayard #6 produced a heart-rending cry, kicked Antonin’s leg with its hind hoof, and pulled the leash with such a force that it slipped away from Antonin’s hand.
The goat issued a victorious bleat, performed a brief mad dance and ran away, towards the spectators.
The tourist gasped and leaned back. The orchestra made a false note.
Colonel Derainville jumped onto the lawn, parting his hands and positioning himself strategically between the spectators and the goat in the hope to intercept the animal.
Shocked, Antonin didn’t come up with a better idea than just marching after Bayard #6, limping but not losing his stone face and making an appearance that he was not in a rush at all, and goat’s escape was maybe not a routine, but still quite foreseen and acceptable part of the ceremony.
The tourists rushed back, down the ravine, except for the little red-haired girl, her mom and Monique, ready to defend the child from the goat.
The girl smiled invitingly to Bayard #6, holding a small plastic bag of baby carrots in her hands.
Now, Antonin knew that it was girl’s yummy, irresistible carrots that drove hungry Bayard #6 nuts.
The girl didn’t stop crunching the carrots even as Bayard #6 was approaching her in high speed.
Colonel Derainville groaned and ran in an attempt to intercept Bayard #6, but slipped and fell on the grass.
The mom tried to pull the girl away, with little success.
Bayard #6 stopped in front of the girl and looked at the carrots longingly.
Them it bleated meekly.
“Here, silly goaty!” The girl, not scared a bit and even quite happy with having a new pet friend, chuckled and extended her hand with the carrots to the grateful goat.
Antonin took hold of the goat’s leash. Bayard #6 looked back at him calmly and shook its head, as if letting Antonin know that it was extremely busy, and nothing in the world would make it go back – because everything it wanted was right in front of it.
Monique coughed, not sure what to do.
Petrified Lieutenant Gonsoulin continued staring in the empty sky, as if nothing was happening. Sergeant Lagasse just turned his head left and right, clearly enraged but not being able to take any course of action at the moment.
Colonel Derainville concentrated on cleaning his pants after the fall, apparently trying to avoid any responsibility for what would have happened next.
The orchestra, along with Old and New Guards, stood still, waiting for the orders.
At this moment of the utmost confusion and indecisions, all Antonin could think about was poor Monique. He stepped closer to her, and lurked at her notes. The next paragraph in the brochure described how sergeant inspects arms of the New Guard.
“Well, continue to read, mademoiselle Monique!” Antonin whispered.
Then he turned around, and nodded to Pasquier.
“Marche-e vers m-ooi!” He yelled.
That was quite unusual command. Yet somebody had to take control of the situation, and Antonin stepped up,
Pasquier hesitated for a moment and turned towards Bayard #6. His Old Guard comrades, after slight delay, followed his example.
The New Guards also turned, ready to march to the new location.
The orchestra started the tune of “The British Grenadiers” and formed up to march towards the runaway regiment’s mascot.
Monique sighed with relief and resumed her reading in a strong confident voice.
Bayard # 6 crunched on the carrots given one by one by the red-haired girl, and bleated jubilantly.
Lieutenant Gonsoulin and sergeant Lagasse came to life, looked at each other, and started to move in the direction of the goat. The New and Old Guards followed them in a slow march.
The ceremony continued in a slightly improvised, but still orderly fashion. Monique read her notes, glimpsing at the Bayard #6 and Antonin after each paragraph and giggling. Lieutenant Gonsoulin and Ssergeant Lagasse were solemn and serious like priests during a sermon. Colonel Derainville, visibly lost, walked behind the tourist group aimlessly.
After the final maneuver, Old and New Guards, breaching the protocol even further, lined up around Bayard #6 and saluted to Lieutenant Gonsoulin and sergeant Lagasse, but all looking at stunned Antonin.
Once the guards, followed by the orchestra, marched away from the lawn, Antonin, as usual, dragged dancing Bayard #6 to the busts of the regiment heroes, for the photo session with the guests.
While smiling tourists formed a line, and unshaken, at least on the outside, Lieutenant Gonsoulin and Ssergeant Lagasse started to march to join Antonin and Bayard #6.
All of a sudden, Monique stopped by the goat and bended, fixing its blue cover.
“Ca va bien?” She asked.
“Oui. Vous n’avez pas lu ma note! » Antonin complained.
“Mais J’ai lu votre note!” Monique whispered to him back.
“I saw you throwing my letter away!” Antonin stated, confused.
Monique and looked at him with a mysterious smile.
“My father won’t approve me reading a soldier’s love letter. So, I had to throw it away. Later, I returned and took it back from the garbage bin to read it.”
“Your.. father? Colonel… Derainville?” Antonin repeated, stunned.
“Don’t tell anybody about our little secret,” Monique warned, looking at the goat and petting its head. “Well, I guess you won’t have a day off for a long time now, after your goat ran away. But when you do, you can let me know. I hope you’ll figure out how, being as clever and resourceful young man as you just proved to be…”
Antonin, not being able to find words, only nodded.
Bayard #6 butted Monique’s hip with its horns slightly and bleated, winking at Antonin – or just simply trying to shoo away a merrily buzzing flock of tiny frolicking flies.