The day was stifling. A thunderstorm was expected, the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Occasionally, a deep, resonating boom would echo throughout the city, sounding a warning to all who would dare defy it. As evening approached, the heat soared. Paris was blanketed with a dense cloak of both mugginess and uneasiness. The clouds were gathering closer; now, in addition to the thunder, lightning bolts could be spotted: a streak of light far in the distance.
But, despite the warnings the weather gave against attempting anything dangerous that day, the tumbrel clattered its way down the cobblestone road. Countless bodies were waiting at the guillotine and gave a large shout of glee when they saw the wooden carriage arrive. People were packed tightly in the crowd, jostling each other to get a better view. They hurled insults, objects even, to the aristocrats huddled together as they made their way to their utter demise. Husbands held wives. Lovers clung to each other. And, hidden in a corner, a woman of twenty-one years clung tightly to her small brother as the tumbrel lurched along.
"Jo, where are we going? You promised you would tell me later. It's later now!" The small boy exclaimed impatiently, looking curiously at the people outside the wooden cart. She held him tighter, kissing the top of his head softly.
"It's not later enough, Louis. You'll see when we get there."
However, the tumbrel had stopped. The crowds were louder here, screaming and shouting against the thundering of the sky. A guard appeared who had evidently been following them from behind. Pulling open the gate on the back of the tumbrel, he grabbed the arms of a middle-aged couple, pulling them from the cart.
"Maman!" Louis shrieked, jumping up. She grabbed his arm and pulled him down once more, her fingers covering his mouth.
"Be quiet, Louis," She whispered fiercely, hoping they hadn't heard.
Her hopes were in vain, for the couple turned at the sound, placing their children instantly. Nothing was said for there was no time. There was barely time even to send a look of love, a bittersweet goodbye, before the guard yanked them away once more. She buried her face in her brother's hair, crying, as they disappeared into the crowd.
"Jo, where are they going?" Louis asked, his mouth once more free. "Where's that man taking them?"
She looked up to take one last look at her parents, then turned herself and Louis around, facing away from the dreaded contraption.
"Jo, what is that thing back there? That all the people are standing around?"
She had protected her brother from all the horrors she could ~ must she lose it all now? Frantically, her mind kicked into gear.
"It's a magic trick, Louis. Maman and Papa are going to do a magic trick with it."
Louis looked up at her eagerly, his eyes shining. He loved magic with a passion, as most boys of six do.
"Really? I want to see!"
He jumped up again, only to be pulled hurriedly back into her arms.
"No, Louis!" She shrieked sternly. He gazed at her, confused.
"Because, Louis. Maman and Papa have to practice first. If you watch them now, you will see how the trick is done. And then it will not be as magical."
"Oh," he replied. Content with this answer, he amused himself by watching the crowd. She looked up to see that a guard was standing beside her, outside of the tumbrel. He had been watching her for sometime, and, having caught her eye, leaned in to talk.
Another guard interrupted him, however, by sauntering up. The first guard stepped away, mingling with the crowd. The newly approaching guard eyed her cruelly, as one would a disgusting insect on the wall. Grabbing her arm through the open planks of the tumbrel, he sneered at her.
"Why are you turning your back?" She remained silent, her jaw tightening in anger. The guard motioned to the guillotine with his head. "That is the future of our nation. You should look at it with more respect!"
Hopping up onto the tumbrel, he forced her to her feet, facing the guillotine.
"Perhaps you would like to watch?"
He roughly grabbed her head, aiming it towards the platform of the guillotine where her father was being laid down.
"Don't watch, Louis!" She called out quickly. "It will destroy the magic! Turn your head! Do not watch!"
She couldn't see her brother, but prayed he was following her instructions. She bit her lip as she watched the executioner grab the rope that would ultimately end her father's life. She watched her mother cry ~ it was the first time her mother had ever let anyone see her cry. She watched the crowd surge and shout, the huddled masses calling out in hatred and anger. And suddenly, the rope was released.
She squeezed her eyes shut as the blade fell. While the scene never met her eyes, the sounds filled her ears. A sound very much like a melon being cut in half echoed aloud, coinciding with a deep boom of thunder. Immediately following came a loud cheer of victory, only barely covering the screams of horror coming from her mother's lips. A piercing, God-forsaken scream of pure agony. She began to crumple from the sound of it and the guard, still sneering, threw her to the floor of the tumbrel. She opened her eyes slowly as she heard him walk away, barking orders to various others. She slowly picked herself up from the floor, dusting the splinters away. Her eyes fell upon her brother's back, still staring at the crowd. Breathing a silent prayer of thanks, she gathered him back up in her arms.
"Are they good at it?"
His soft blue eyes looked innocently up at hers.
"The magic trick. You just saw them practice it."
"Oh, of course. They are very good. But they will still need a few more practices before they can try it out on you. You being such a smart boy and all."
He grinned at the compliment, showing off his missing canine tooth. He had been so proud when he had pulled it himself, so sure he was a big, strong man. She held him tighter, taking a deep breath to brace herself before she spoke.
"Louis, they will practice a few more times, then they will come for us. We will be led up to the platform of that big thing over there and I will wait for you at the bottom of the stairs. Go with the man quietly and nicely. Do not talk to him. Do as he says. He will lie you down, then they will do the magic trick."
"Then can we go home tonight?"
A tear running down her cheek, she smiled softly.
"Yes, Louis. We will go home tonight. I promise."
He smiled at this, then sat up straight as he saw something in the crowd.
"Look, Jo! It's Noir!"
She searched where her brother was pointing and, indeed, their family's dog, named for the blackness of his fur, seemed to have joined the crowd. Louis jumped up and scrambled over the sides of the tumbrel before Jo could catch him.
"Noir! Here boy!"
"LOUIS!" She shrieked, jumping up herself and running after the boy. Should a guard catch him, he would most likely be shot and left for dead. If not, he would most certainly be lost. And the streets of Paris were not kind to six-year-old aristocratic boys. She had promised her mother she would take care of her brother when they were separated in the prison. She would die if anything happened to him now.
If the crowd had been wild before, it had become uncontrolled instantly. She could hear the guards screaming orders; she could see them running through the crowds with their muskets. Every face was one of hatred and cursing. She felt saliva strike her several times, warm and sticky as it ran down her face. Nobody tried to capture her, apparently more interested in the fun of watching the guard race about. But she had no eyes for any of this. She was searching for Louis, screaming his name every few seconds.
A strong set of hands suddenly grabbed her waist, stopping her dead in her tracks. Turning, she saw the guard who had attempted to talk to her earlier. She instantly started squirming ~ she was not going down without a fight. Especially with Louis still lost in the crowd.
"Let me go! Let me go! I must find my brother! Please!"
She pounded at his chest with her fists and kicked at his shins with her feet. The guard seemed very uneasy by her screaming, and spoke up quickly and quietly.
"Be quiet! We will find your brother! Now, hush!"
Had she been thinking, she would've wondered at the British accent that lined the edges of this man's voice. But the thought of a guard finding Louis was what she was worried about. However, she stopped squirming. The guard seemed pleased by this, and loosened his grip on her waist. She seized her chance and kicked him good and hard squarely on the knee. The guard doubled over in pain, and she ran from him with all her might.
She thought she saw a small boy and ran towards him with all her might. However, halfway there she thought she caught sight of a guard behind her. She didn't dare look back, but could feel him drawing nearer and nearer. She reached out for the boy, only to watch as he turned to stare up at her with brown eyes. A different boy. As she began to cry from the despair of the situation, she heard the guard come up behind her. She didn't turn; nothing mattered anymore. Waiting for the sensation of the bullet in her back, she was suprised to feel her head being clubbed before succumbing to the darkness that engulfed her.
She awoke with a start, drenched in a cold sweat. The ground she fallen onto had changed to a hard, stone floor. The open air clogged with angry, smelly people had changed to hard, stone walls. And the angry, forewarning clouds above had changed to, you guessed it, a hard, stone ceiling. She didn't need anyone to tell her where she was ~ she had been in a prison cell such as this one after they had been arrested. However, Louis was now nowhere in sight. Nowhere in sight, save for the images of him lost in an alleyway or, worse yet, lying on the street, dying, in pain, crying for her. She blinked back the images, trying her hardest not to cry.
The sound of the door clanking open made her jump. In walked a man dressed entirely in black, the aura of evil clinging to his smile as he regarded her shivering heap on the floor. He motioned to someone else who entered, deposited the chair he was carrying onto a spot on the floor, and left. The man in black closed the door behind him and took a seat on the chair. He watched her a moment before speaking, as though considering how best to begin.
"Tell me, what do you remember of the day your parents were killed?"
She stared blankly before speaking.
"I remember it well. But why do you speak of it in such a way?"
"You have been unconscious nearly two days. Apparently the guard who caught up with you was quite enthusiastic with the club. But tell me, what do you remember?"
"Quite a lot, unfortunately. It would help me considerably if you would tell me what you are trying to find out," she said, her voice deep and quietly furious.
"Oh, bitter are we?"
"You killed my parents before my eyes. You planned to kill my brother and me. You hit me nearly enough to kill me. And yet you expect politeness?"
"I was under the impression you were high-born. I thought you were to be polite to everyone."
"Everyone, at the time I learned that lesson, meant those who had manners enough to be polite in return."
The man in black leaned closer.
"Ah, but what good is that lesson when those who taught it and practiced it are all dead?"
"I am not dead. And when the day has come that all with manners are, I will be glad I am dead."
The man in black smiled, leaning back in his chair.
"Well, I'm glad I can be of some service in that respect, at least. I so love to grant people's wishes. But, I come on a different mission today. We have reason to believe that some men working for the Scarlet Pimpernel were at the guillotine that day, one dressed as a guard. Another guard saw him talking to you, but he can't remember what the man looked like. As you can see, you hold information I need. Therefore, I am ready to bargain."
Her mind was racing. Only two guards had spoken to her. One had gotten into the cart...
She closed her eyes. He could not have been working for the Pimpernel. But another had tried to talk. A man who talked in a British accent. As had the guard who had tried to stop her. As she thought about it, she realized they had been the same guard.
She looked up, smiling as she saw the man in black try to disguise his desire for the information she held. Defiantly, she held her tongue.
"Look, I have no time for this. If you give me this information now..."
"Why should I tell you? You'll spare my life? You expect me to betray a man who has saved hundreds of lives simply to save my own?"
The man in black thought this over a moment, then looked up triumphantly.
"Not just your own. Your brother's as well."
She turned white, but saw something in the man in black's face that made her stop.
"Show him to me."
"Before I betray anyone, I expect to see my brother. See that you are not lying to me as you have lied to so many. Bring him forth, now!"
The man in black was enraged by the thought and ran to her side, pulling her to her feet.
"You tell me what he looked like, now!"
She pursed her lips closed. He responded by striking her so hard she fell back to the ground, clutching her throbbing cheek in agony.
She shook her head violently, only to get kicked in the side.
She rose unsteadily to her feet and stood before him. She paused a moment, then spat. The man in black's hand rose immediately as though to hit her again, but froze in position. His eyes infuriated, he turned and walked to the door. Barking a command, the door was opened. He paused a moment in the doorway, sneering at her.
"I will come back in a day or two. Perhaps by then you will have thought better of my offer. If not, you will think that what I have done to you was kind."
The door slammed shut behind him, leaving her mercifully alone in the silent darkness of the cold, damp cell.
Lord Antony Dewhurst kept his jaw tight with irritation and his eyes cold. He clutched his black hat as though he would tear it to pieces if it didn't fit right. And above all, he looked down upon any guard who would dare look upon him.
"I do not see why this is taking so long, citizen."
His voice was thickly speckled with a French accent, his French exquisite. The impatience in his voice was to such a degree that it sent the man he was dealing with into an apologetic stupor.
"You must forgive me, citizen, but please do look at it from my angle. Citizen Chauvelin left here three days ago telling me, in no few words, that I could not let this girl leave this prison for anything. And now, he sends you here to bring her to him. I do not wish to make him angry."
"Then do as you're told! Citizen Chauvelin thought he could bring some men here to loosen her tongue. He found out he could not. So, he must bring her to them. What more must I say? I warn you, if I must go back to Chauvelin and make him come all the way out here, I fear your job may not be the only thing you lose, citizen."
A very high threat indeed. The man was convinced. Grabbing the large set of keys from its peg on the wall, he opened the door.
"Won't you follow me?"
The jailer led Tony down several long, deserted hallways. These dank corridors echoed richly with the sounds of four men's footsteps. Behind them trailed Tony's two guards, Lord Edward Hastings and Sir Philip Glynde, both smashingly dressed in soldier attire and looking very serious indeed. Finally, after leading these men down corridor after corridor, they arrived at a large metal door where the jailer began to carefully unlock the door. Tony swept past the man when it finally opened, casting his imposing self into the room.
He saw her in an instant. She laid crumpled on the floor, a sorry looking heap looking most desolate. After a moment, she slowly raised her head, her piercing eyes catching the light and appearing blazing red. She had obviously shed a few tears since he had seen her last. He turned back to the jailer, a sneer on his face.
"Is this it?"
The jailer looked over Tony's shoulder, then nodded.
"Josephine de Laurent, that is her."
Tony nodded to his guards, who marched into the room behind him, dragging the girl to her feet.
"Then, I will take my leave. Until we meet again, citizen."
He gave the jailer a short bow and stalked from the room, his guards trailing behind. The jailer soon caught up with him, guiding him back to the outside world.
"Where are you taking me?" Came from behind them as they walked in silence. Tony simply smirked, calling back to her without turning to look.
"Chauvelin told you he would return, did he not? I simply come in his place."
They presently heard squirming and struggling from behind them.
"Get her under control, you idiots," He called back, irritation lining his face.
They finally reached the entryway, the sunlight coming out from behind a cloud. The group of five crossed the short cul-de-sac that lined the front of the prison, no more words spoken until they had reached the door of the carriage. Once there, Sir Philip entered the carriage, Josephine and Edward close behind. Tony, however, caught Josephine's arm as she began to step up. Looking back at the jailer, he grinned.
"You know, for a traitorous creature, she's not half-bad looking."
He winked at the jailer, who grinned back.
If there was any question in his mind before that I was not on his side, it is most definitely gone now. He thought with a relieved confidence. Turning back to the girl, he smiled at her.
"How did scum such as yourself manage to get beauty? Did you steal that from a low-born as well?"
He found himself promptly spat upon. Edward shoved her into the carriage forcefully, waiting until Philip had her under control. He then made his way to the driver's seat, gathering up the reins. When Tony saw this, he gave the jailer a final infuriated bow and climbed into the carriage, noting that Josephine was glaring out the window with a spiteful stare. While he knew he really should explain who he was now, he felt readily happy to simply lean his head back against the seat and fall blissfully asleep.
He awoke slowly, aware that someone was kicking his foot. Opening his eyes, he discovered the girl to be the guilty of the charge, her eyes lit up in excitement and curiosity. A radical change from but a short while ago. She leaned forward in her seat, placing herself closer to him, and motioned with her head to the sleeping Philip she sat next to. Her voice but a soft whisper, so she leaned ever closer.
"Is he one of you as well?"
Tony wasn't quite sure what to make of this, and whispered back.
The girl seemed most annoyed by this comment. "I wait all this time for him to fall asleep and all you can say is pardon? Is he a member of the league? Of the Pimpernel, I mean?"
Tony was quite dumbfounded. "My dear lady, what are you... how did you know about that?"
"Chauvelin told me that one of the guards I talked to was a League member in disguise. You."
"You remember me?"
She blushed, and nodded softly. "Yes."
"Did you tell Chauvelin?"
She quickly took offense at this, her eyes turning frosty.
"You think I am so low I would betray a member of the League?"
"No!" He interjected quickly, leaning forward himself in an attempt to clear himself. "Pray forgive me, my lady. I did not mean it that fashion."
She smiled softly. "I did not suppose you did. And, I ask that you forgive me also. I did not want the jailer to become suspicious. I had no wish to spit on you."
He smiled back, laughing softly. "I understand completely." Thinking this over a moment, he chuckled.
"Zooks, by the time we finish begging the other's pardon, we shall have nothing more to talk about."
She looked out the window at the passing scenery. "Where are we going, monsieur?"
"A small inn on the English Channel. Some of my friends are there that we shall be traveling to England with." He studied her a moment as she looked out the window, her face softened by the early evening light. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and gentle. "Tell me, how did you know not to let on that you knew me? I never would've supposed, even from the first moment you saw me."
She smiled, her eyes still gazing out the window. "Magic, monsieur."
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of a pleasant little cottage. Smoke poured from the chimney, lights shone in the windows, and muffled, cheerful voices came from the direction of the door, giving it a cozy, gentle charm that invited all who saw it to come in. The wooden sign above the door identified the establishment as "L'eau Bleu", (The Blue Waters) a reference to the English Channel that one could overlook from the grassy bluff just beyond the inn. As the carriage rumbled to a halt, Philip woke, amazed to see their 'prisoner' in such fine spirits. His confusion was compounded further by the woman giving him a large smile, a simple "Good evening, Sir Glynde", and climbing out the carriage. He turned in amazement to Tony, who simply flashed him a large grin and climbed out after her.
The wind had picked up, both from being near the water and from the storm that was gathering over the waters, and its fresh scent of salt water instantly revitalized Josephine. She breathed it in deeply, savoring the scent as it washed over her. She reveled in the sensation for a moment, until she felt a hand take her arm. Opening her eyes, she saw Lord Dewhurst (She had learned his name during the carriage ride) trying to pull her towards the inn eagerly.
"Come, I wish you to meet my friends."
Smiling, she consented, allowing him to take her arm as they walked. The inn seemed to burst with life the closer they got to it, and by the time Tony was holding the door open for her, she felt sure it would explode at any moment. He led her down a short hallway and into a large, fire-lit room. Instantly, people were talking and smiling at her from all sides, introducing themselves, talking to Tony, overwhelming her in a most agreeable fashion. Tony kept his arm around hers the entire time, quite aware of the shock it would be.
"Quite a pleasure to meet you, I assure you!"
"Was your trip agreeable?"
She nodded yes to everything, smiling broadly at the life around her. She turned to face Tony, who smiled and pulled her in the direction of a gentleman most astoundingly dressed. He smiled at her an inane little grin, while taking her hands into a small kiss.
"My dear mademoiselle, I am most honored you could make it this evening. But, I must ask. I gave Dewhurst here most explicit directions to be a most wonderful companion. I trust he followed my instructions?"
"Most exquisitely, monsieur. He was a perfect gentleman."
Tony spoke up quickly. "This, my dear lady, is Sir Percy Blakeney. The idlest man in all of England."
"But the most charming." Came from the woman at his side, a true French beauty whose charms were heightened enormously by the love that seemed at all times present in her eyes when she was near her husband. Josephine recognized the French actress immediately.
"Sink me, quite the compliments. I fear my head may swell before the evening is done."
"I would not worry about that a moment, Sir Percy. We shall be sure to shoot you down long before that."
Another gentleman had joined the party, whom Tony quickly introduced as Sir Andrew Ffloulkes.
Josephine noticed, out of the corner of her eye, that Lady Blakeney nudged her husband, giving him a large smile. A secret conspiracy seemed to be shared between them, and Sir Percy quickly drew Josephine's attention back to himself. Marguerite left the room as he began to talk.
"And now, my dear mademoiselle, I have another question to put before you. I was wandering Paris the other day when I met a most delightful little chap. However, I have not as yet been able to find his family. Perhaps you could be of some assistance?"
The kitchen door was pulled open and out of it walked Marguerite with a small boy standing beside. Josephine began to cry instantly as he ran across the room.
She fell to her knees, reaching out and pulling the small boy into her arms, holding him tight.
"Louis!" She cried, squeezing him tight.
"Jo, I've had the most marvelous time! I couldn't find Noir, but Percy told me that you had asked him to take care of me for awhile. He does magic tricks, Jo! He made a coin disappear, and then it reappeared behind my ear! And when we were leaving Paris we got to hide in these big barrels and we had to be really quiet. It was so much fun! Percy says we may do it again some time. Some of the other people that came with us already left on a boat. But Percy said he wanted to wait for you. You had to help take down the big magic trick." The boy leaned back to look at her, suddenly confused by his sister's tears. "Jo, why are you crying? Is something wrong?"
"No, Louis." She cried, pulling him tighter and kissing his soft hair. "Nothing is wrong. I'm just so happy to see you again."
"I'm glad to see you too, Jo." He said, giving his sister a brotherly kiss on the cheek.
Marguerite could not help but cry softly as she watched the scene. A sister reunited with her only family ~ her brother ~ after fearing him dead. It was all too familiar.
She smiled as she felt Percy place his arm around her waist. He knew what she was thinking, and she leaned her head against his shoulder.
Looking up from the family reunion for a moment, however, she chanced to see Lord Tony's expression as he gazed upon the scene. She grinned.
Well, well, well. What have we here?
Louis looked over his sister's shoulder, suddenly noticing the strange man in the room.
"Who are you?" he asked most pointedly, his sister turning to see where he was looking. She smiled as she saw Tony take a few steps forward, offering his hand to the boy.
"Louis, this is Lord Dewhurst."
"Tony," He interjected, smiling at her. She seemed flustered by this, but quickly recovered.
"Tony," She managed, softly smiling at the gentleman. Turning back to her brother, she whispered loudly in his ear, "He does magic tricks, too."
"Do you really?" Louis asked, his face lighting up.
"I do," Tony said, most seriously. He wriggled his fingers in front of the boy's face mysteriously, the third time producing a small scarlet rose bud in his right fist. Louis' eyes lit up in excitement; Tony offered the rose to Josephine, who took it shyly.
They were interrupted from all this by the arrival of some supper ~ a thick, hearty smelling stew that filled the air richly with smells of meat and vegetables. The room erupted in noises of appreciation and compliments.
Tony winked at her, then grabbed Louis around the waist, hoisting him up into the air. The boy began to scream quite pleasantly, the kind a child makes when he is most happily entertained. Josephine laughed loudly, watching as Tony transferred the softly kicking child to his other arm to permit him to seat her at the table. Smiling, she watched him deposit her brother in the chair next to her own. Louis smiled up at the gentleman, hero worship in his eyes. And, as the stew was sent around the table, she watched as Tony snatched up the seat next to hers.
Supper had been most delightful, and now everyone found themselves relaxing in the large sitting room near the front of the inn. Sir Percy read the paper; Marguerite and Andrew chatted quietly about Andrew's new wife, Suzanne. And, off near the window, Tony and Louis sat facing the other with a deck of cards between them. Josephine snuck up quietly behind Louis, careful not to let him know she sat there. Tony noticed her briefly, but made no large spectacle of it.
"Now, Louis. This trick is very easy. Simply pick a card from the deck, don't let me see it, and I shall tell you what number it is."
Louis looked at him skeptically, but took a card from the deck. From her vantage point, Josephine could see it was a four. Tony looked about the room, his fingers pressed to his temples and his manner most serious.
"Well, it's rather fuzzy, this one is. I dare say, I shall not... oh, wait it's coming to me. I do believe... no, well..."
She smiled and held up four fingers. Tony gave her a quick wink, then concentrated harder on the card.
"Wait, I see it! It's... a... four."
"That's amazing!" Louis shrieked, thoroughly amazed. "Will you do it again?"
Louis grabbed another card, a seven this time. Seven fingers of Josephine's were raised.
"Oh, this one is a lot clearer. Not as hard as that four. I'm seeing... I'm seeing... is it a seven?"
Louis went completely white. "It is! One more time, please?"
"Oh, I suppose."
The card Louis picked this time was a Queen. She did her best to make a 'Q' with her fingers, much to Tony's confusion. After a moment of trying to guess, he began to laugh.
"What?" Louis asked, then looked behind him. Josephine walked up and gave her brother a quick kiss. "You were cheating!" he exclaimed quickly.
"Even magic needs a helping hand sometimes, Louis," she said.
This did not seem to satisfy him, and he began to pout. Tony saw this, and reached out to grab Josephine's wrist. His sudden touch unnerved her, and she could see a rather strange expression on his face as well. However, he seemed to put this aside, and pulled her over.
"Well then, let us do this, Louis. We shall have your sister stand behind me. Then you shall pick a card and I shall tell you what it is."
"But that's impossible!" he exclaimed. Quickly looking behind him to guarantee there were no more hidden visitors, he skeptically grabbed a card, very careful not to let Tony see it. No mumbo-jumbo was spoken this time; Tony simply met Louis' gaze and told him firmly, "The card you hold is a six, is it not?"
Louis went white. "How did you do that?"
Tony grinned. "Magic, Louis. Now, I feel like taking a walk down by the harbor. Would you like to come?"
Louis brightened. "Oh, yes please!"
They headed for the door, Marguerite quickly speaking up before they left, "Do not be too long, Tony. There's a rain squall headed this way, it should arrive soon. And after it finishes, we're leaving."
The two left, hand in hand. Josephine sat in the window seat with a book, watching them until they were out of sight. She then began to read.
It was some time later that she awakened, happily realizing that she had fallen asleep and woken again, not in a prison cell, but in a pleasantly warm parlor surrounded by very pleasant people. It had not been a dream after all. Looking up, she realized that the rain now striking the glass of the window was what had woken her. The sky had darkened slightly, and the rain was drizzling heavily. She stood from her seat, looking about her for Louis.
"Are they still out for a walk?" She asked, her voice amazed. Marguerite looked up from the book she had started herself.
"I have not heard them come back." She sighed deeply. "I should have never trusted Tony to be back soon. They're probably near drowned by now."
"I shall go fetch them," Josephine said quickly, eager to get outside and stretch her legs. As wonderful as it was to be inside and comfortable, the freedom of the outdoors called to her. Marguerite seemed to sense this, and smiled a blessing.
"Be back soon. It will be easy to catch cold in this weather."
As she opened her eyes, she found herself walking along the small trail to the harbor. And directly ahead, walking towards her, was Tony carrying a small boy on his back. They called out when they saw her; she waved a greeting.
"Beautiful day for a walk, isn't it?" He called, his voice carried along by the wind. She held out her hand to catch the raindrops, looking up at the sky as she felt the drops hit against her face. The two reached her quickly, for Tony broke into a gallop.
"Whoa!" Louis called out as they approached, pulling on Tony's hair as one would a horse's rein. He obligingly slowed his steps, tossing his head in the mannerisms of a horse. "I got a horse, Jo!" Louis exclaimed happily. "I found him down by the harbor."
She smiled, patting the "horse" on the nose gently. He whinnied in return.
"Quite a handsome horse you have found, Louis," she said, smiling shyly. The horse seemed quite amused by this comment.
"Tony said he was going to show me the bluff. You can come along if you want."
However, all three turned at the sound of Marguerite shouting from the inn door.
"Louis, come in here this instant! You will catch your death of cold!"
She herself seemed to be cold, for she rubbed her arms with her hands and ducked back inside. Tony carefully set Louis back down on the ground, who began to trudge back to the inn. He stopped short after a few steps, however, for he noticed that he was walking alone.
"Aren't you coming?"
Tony took a deep breath of the sweet smelling air, then looked about him.
"Actually, I do believe I will go see the bluff very quickly. But I shall return shortly after that." Louis had begun to pout, so he added quickly, "And when I do, I shall have to show you another magic trick I have thought of."
Louis brightened quickly, and tore off towards the inn. Josephine began to follow him, but Tony quickly grabbed her hand.
He paused, thinking, his mind seeming to trip over itself in its haste to get the words out.
"Would you... would you come with me to see the bluff? I... I would so love to have some company. And I think you would find it quite lovely... Would you?"
She debated this a moment in her mind, then finally consented. Tony seemed nearly to burst with joy.
"Wonderful." It was all he could get out as he took her arm, inwardly cursing his stuttering.
Long, softly swaying grass led the way to a rustic wooden fence. If one tried to climb over the fence and go further, he would be greeted immediately by a sharp drop to the English Channel, and a collection of large boulders that the waves crashed against. But standing before the fence gave you a clear one hundred and eighty-degree view of this massive body of water, which, at the present, was churning furiously in the storm. The rain bore down heavier on the couple as they approached the fence, blown sideways at times by an occasional wind. But the water itself was the view they had come for, and the show it provided in crashing fiercely against the shore was one of both beauty and fury.
"You know," Tony said, smiling at his companion through the thick veil of rain between them. "I don't believe I have ever seen such a beautiful day."
She smiled as she attempted to brush the hair sticking to her face out of the way.
"Nor have I. And so clear out!"
Tony laughed, his voice echoing against the rocks below them and bouncing along the shoreline in a most delightful fashion. He watched the shore as the rain beat against it, his mind racing for something, anything, to say. Josephine spoke first, her voice as cautious and soft as it could be when one had to shout to be heard.
"Tony," He interjected once more, trying his best to hold the gaze that she tried to break. She was very flustered, obviously, and nervously lowered her eyes to the fence.
"Lord Tony," she said, her voice tripping over its own hesitantness. "I was wondering..." She raised her eyes to meet his again, much to his delight. "How did you do the magic trick? Where you knew what the card was."
She seemed to be so nervous in asking that Tony could not help but laugh once more. Smiling, he leaned closer to her to allow him to whisper. Looking about him as though he was about to reveal a great secret, he whispered, "Magic, my dear lady."
She smiled at this but her smile vanished when she realized that, while he had moved closer, he wasn't moving back. His eyes had become serious, a sweetness edging them. She tried to move a step back, but found that she could not. Her legs refused to work. And all the while, Tony frantically searched for the right words.
He was growing most irritated with himself for, while he could feel what he wanted to say, the very words eluded him. He bowed his head, his eyes closed, begging for some miracle of divine intervention.
"Lord Tony, are you well?"
He opened his eyes slowly, raising them slowly to meet hers, hers that were thickly coated with worry. He took a deep breath, praying that whatever came out of his mouth would be what he felt in his heart.
"My dear lady..."
"Jo! Tony!" Came a shrill voice from the direction of the inn. They both jumped at the sound, their heads turning abruptly to take in the small form of a boy bounding across the soaking wet grass towards them. Tony, most exasperated, stepped back a bit, trying in vain to catch her gaze once more. Louis was by their side in an instant, a self-important smile on his face.
"Marguerite says you have to come in right now, before you catch cold and she gets even more mad at you."
Tony smiled at the boy, rumpling his hair.
"Well, you go back to the inn and ask Lady Blakeney if she has ever known me to follow her instructions."
"I shall ask her myself!" Josephine piped up quickly, her eyes still somewhat downcast. "The weather is most unagreeable."
She grabbed Louis' hand and began to walk with him back to the inn, Tony staring after them in amazement a moment before running to catch up.
The rain had finally passed, giving way to a beautiful, star-studded night. The waves were calmer with the rain gone, the churning and crashing giving way to a simple, rhythmic pulse as they swept up on shore. Ideal sailing weather.
As the small group began preparations for sailing, Tony was looking for Josephine. She had disappeared as soon as they had reached the inn, almost as though on purpose.
"Louis, tell me. Where is your sister?" He asked as soon as he had found the small boy again. Louis smiled wickedly.
"First show me a magic trick," he said.
Tony growled in frustration, but sat back on his heels, thinking. After a few moments, he grabbed a small coin and set it in his right palm. Closing his hands into fists, he held them before Louis.
"Which hand is the coin in?"
Louis looked at him suspiciously, but pointed to the right hand, which opened empty. Louis, startled, pointed to the left hand, which also opened empty. Tony smiled.
Louis nodded, and Tony began searching his pockets. He looked surprised to find them empty, and searched them again.
"I could have sworn it was here somewhere..."
He scratched his head in curiosity, only to smile and produce the coin. Louis gaped.
"Now, I've shown you a magic trick. Where is your sister?"
"I don't know," Louis said, shrugging his shoulders. Tony growled.
"Are you asking to be tickled, little boy?"
Louis shrieked happily at the thought and ducked quickly out of Tony's reach. Tony began to give chase, until he noticed Josephine pass by the window, obviously outside getting some fresh air. He paused, then looked over his shoulder to notice as Andrew walked obliviously into the room.
"Andrew. Be a sport and tickle that little creature to death, will you?"
Andrew had time only to look up and reply, "What?" before Tony was out the door.
Josephine had indeed snuck outside in the confusion, reveling in the beauty of the night. She at first stayed close to the inn, fearful of the outside world of France that seemed not to touch this quiet little corner, but soon grew somewhat bolder and sauntered down the road to the harbor. The road itself seemed not to earn this title ~ being but a small path where the grass had been worn down from constant travel ~ but it lent itself to the imagination quite nicely and, halfway down the path, one came across a small clearing near a corner of the bluff with a small wooden bench. It was here that Josephine stopped to completely collect her senses, and it was here that one of the dramatic events of the evening unfolded.
If you tear your eyes from Josephine for but a moment ~ I assure you, you will not miss much ~ you will see a gentleman sneaking up behind her, quite unsure of himself. You will the gentleman stare at Josephine for a few moments, his heart in his throat as he stares with unashamed eye. And you will watch as he sneaks closer, looking over her shoulder at all that laid beyond.
"It's a beautiful evening, isn't it?" Tony said, all kidding aside, his voice soft and gentle. She started at the sudden sound, and was not completely back at ease upon realizing who it was.
"Yes, quite beautiful," she replied, her voice uneasy. A slight tremor could be detected as well, if one listened close enough. However, Tony did not.
"I confess, I have found the earlier distraction of your brother to be a blessing in disguise. I fear I did need some time to think and I would never have forgiven myself if you did catch cold, standing out in the rain while I stumbled along, quite uneloquently. I still shall be uneloquent, I fear, but I must in some way confess to you..."
She turned from him, walking a few steps away to gaze back upon the ocean, her hands clutching the fence tightly.
"Don't," she said, her voice low and haggard.
He blinked in surprise, taking a moment to regain his bearings.
"Don't? But, my dear, I fear if I do not I shall absolutely burst!"
He took a few steps closer, keeping his distance. Her shoulders sagged, and he wanted more than anything to take her into his arms.
"Please," she said, her voice betraying the tears that were now running down her cheeks. "I fear if I hear it..." She stopped this train of thought, turning to her right as though the thought lay ahead of her, out on the water somewhere. "Please, I cannot."
Tony took a few more steps forward, cautiously and carefully. His voice low and even, as one would talk to a wild animal, he spoke.
"What would happen if you were to hear it?"
She didn't answer, so he took a few more slow steps forward and carefully placed his hands upon her shoulders. She shuddered, but made no move that she would run. Slowly, he turned her around to face him, the moonlight reflecting off the tears that lined her face. Her eyes were downcast, so he pulled her chin up with his right hand. When her eyes met his, he spoke softly and tenderly.
She broke her eyes away, returning them to the waters. As more tears spilled down her cheeks, she blurted out, "I fear I would fall in love with you."
Tony took a double take, his heart suddenly filling with a sweet, bubbly joy. As a smile rose involuntarily to his lips, he took her face in his hands and turned it back to him. His eyes looked upon her face with a pure, unbridled love, and he wiped the tears away with his thumbs.
"But, my love, I stand here confused. What on earth could be the downfall to such a glorious thing?"
Her eyes fell, unable to see the look of love that shone in his eyes. Her voice dripping with as many tears as her eyes, she stammered, "I am already married, Lord Tony."
Marguerite looked up when she heard a hollow knock at the door, and quickly rose to open it. She was most curious, as no one was expected that evening. Upon opening the door, her eyes were cast upon a small boy nervously pacing the doorway. He couldn't have been more than fifteen by her estimations, although the look on his face was one of such terror and importance, it belonged to man twice his age. He looked up quickly when the door was opened, giving her a quick bow.
"M'lady, I have a message of grave import for Sir Percy Blakeney."
She was taken aback. How did he know they were here?
"I am afraid, my dear boy, that there is no one here by that name. Are you quite sure you have the correct address?"
He looked up, his eyes quite serious.
"M'lady, I assure you. I have it on the best authority that Sir Blakeney is here tonight. I beg of you to bring me to him. The message I hold is of grave import and involves a man with which he has connections."
While nothing was said, everything was implied. Marguerite leaned forward and lowered her voice.
"Do you speak of the Pimpernel?"
The boy nodded. Marguerite heard a step in the hall, and turned quite abruptly. The boy instantly bowed again.
Percy looked up in astonishment to hear his name, his face instantly changing to a smile upon recognizing the boy.
"Sink me! I must confess I did not believe I would see you this evening, my boy! What a most delightful surprise! I see you have met my lovely wife?"
Percy had stepped closer, and suddenly noticed the grim expression on the boy's face. His own quickly followed suit.
"You do not seem as though you have come calling. What occupation brings you here at such late hours and with such an expression on your face?"
The boy held out a thick note of parchment, a wax seal holding the papers closed. Percy took the papers from the boy's hand, a sinking feeling deep within him.
"My master told me when I received word, I was to bring these to you immediately. A contact in Paris told me you would be here this evening."
Percy had been looking at the papers, but now looked up with concern in his eyes.
"You have ridden all the way from Paris this evening? Zounds, my boy! The Pimpernel will be amazed to hear of such dedication. Come, warm yourself by the fire. Margot, fetch the boy some tea!"
Marguerite ran to do his bidding while Percy took him by the shoulders, tenderly leading the half-frozen boy into the sitting room.
Tony had acquired some form of shock, perhaps as a way to numb his heart. Blinking in confusion, he turned to the girl that had pulled herself from his arms and found himself almost laughing from the utter strangeness of it.
"I confess, my dear, that that I am far more confused now than I was before."
Taking her arm, he led her to the small wooden bench and sat down beside her, taking her hands in his for support.
"Won't you please try to make sense of it all for me?"
She nodded softly.
"I shall try."
Percy carefully folded the letter and placed it into his coat pocket. Once he was sure it was safe, he allowed himself to sigh heavily at the weight that letter had placed upon his soul. He ran his hand over his face and through his hair, trying to clear his thoughts enough to think. He felt soft hands begin to massage his shoulders, and he grabbed Marguerite's hand with his own.
"Of what great importance did those letters speak of?" she asked, her voice a soft balm to his tired soul.
"Of great import." He said no more on the subject, worrying Marguerite tremendously. It worried her far more, however, when he spoke again.
"I fear you shall be sailing for England without me, my love. I and some of my men must stay here."
"But Percy!" she exclaimed, running around the chair to kneel before her husband, taking his hands in her own. "You have been here for ages! You said yourself it was getting dangerous for you to stay."
Percy looked down on her sadly and ran his long, feminine fingers through her hair.
"I did say that. But this mission is of the gravest importance, Margot. Nothing can go wrong."
"My parents were both born into very strict families. Their marriage was arranged and they were married to each other when they were quite young. They lived with their own families, of course, until they were much older, but that does not diminish the fact that they were married young. They were happy in this match, and decided to give their children the same blessing." She stopped, sadness greeting her as she dived deep into the past. Tony squeezed her hands reassuringly.
"I was married when I was seven. When I was seven, Tony! What child should ever be married that young?" Biting her lip, she continued. "I only saw him once, at the ceremony. It was small, it was quick, it was nothing elaborate. That would come later, when we had reached the appropriate age and would renew our vows before beginning a life together. A life that never came, thanks to the appearance of the guillotine. I never saw him after that. I never heard anything of him."
Tony spoke quietly, his voice hoarse.
"Then, you do not know how he has fared in these... eventful years?"
She looked up at him ruefully, her eyes stained red.
"You ask if he might be dead." Tony tried to deny it, but she spoke quickly. "You say you do not, but you do. I tell you truthfully, as horrible as it makes me feel, I almost wish it could be so. But I dare not hope." She laughed remorsefully. "There is really no way of knowing."
Tony jumped from the bench in excitement, holding her hands as he stood before her.
"But, my dear, there is! I'm sure Sir Percy could track the bloke down in no time at all..."
"Sir Percy?" she asked, her forehead furrowing in curiosity. "The idlest man in all of England?"
Tony was quick to recover.
"He may be idle, but he has friends in quite high places. The Prince of Wales himself considers Percy a close friend! And, even if he cannot find anything, I could always get a message to the Pimpernel, although it may take longer... my love, you're... you're crying!"
And, indeed, his observation was correct. A few more tears had spilled forth from Josephine's eyes, making them shine in the light of the full moon overhead. He sat beside her again, his tongue instantly tied in knots.
"Whatever is the matter? Are you... is there... what can I... oh, blast it all! You're not hurt, are you?"
She shook her head, laughing softly as she wiped the tears from her eyes with her fingertips.
"I cry only because I fear this is a dream I shall wake from. You have been so wonderful to me, Lord Tony. So wonderful."
He took her hands gently in his own, his eyes smiling.
"My dear lady, my only wish is that I could do more."
And, with that, he softly kissed the knuckles.
Percy looked up from the maps of France he had laid out on the table when he heard someone enter the room. The 'someone' turned out to be his dear wife and Hastings. His face grimly serious, he turned his attention to the League member.
"Hastings, go round up the League and tell them I must speak with them, now."
Marguerite spoke up quickly, holding Hastings by the arm.
"Percy, I chanced to notice that Tony is... busy at the moment. Could it not wait but a few more moments?"
Percy looked up somberly and sadly but forcefully shook his head.
"I'm afraid it cannot. We have little time as it is."
Marguerite, wrapped in a shall against the cold, ran swiftly down the trail. She hated breaking the two up, but Percy was quite serious. She shivered, not from the cold, but from the fear of the unknown that her husband was facing.
However, she noticed quickly that Tony seemed to be getting up to leave, and noticed her immediately when she came down the path.
"Lady Blakeney! What a surprise! Tell me, is Sir Percy busy?"
She was surprised to hear these words, but spoke quickly.
"Well, actually, he's asked to see you."
"Really? What about?"
Marguerite remained silent. He got the hint.
"Well, in that case, I shall simply go speak with him." Turning back to Josephine, he gave a small bow. "Shall I escort you back to the inn?"
"No, I think I shall stay out here a bit longer."
"As you wish."
He turned and made his way back to the inn where Percy and the League members were waiting in the now closed off dining room, looking most serious indeed.
Sir Percy paced the room, holding two pieces of paper in his hand. After a moment of studying them once more, he began to speak, his voice melancholy.
"I have never revealed my sources to any of you, for the sole purpose of everyone's safety. However, circumstances have arisen that require our immediate action.
"On a trip to Paris I undertook about a year ago, I met with a wonderful gentleman in the employ of Citizen Ropespierre himself. He was a personal secretary, a job putting him in contact with highly confidential, highly important information. And, for some reason, he wished to give that information to the Scarlet Pimpernel. I approached the gentleman and introduced myself as a man who worked for the Pimpernel. Since then, he has aided our quest immeasurably."
General gasps arose from all corners of the room. A personal secretary to Ropespierre?
"A dangerous position for him to be in," Sir Jeremiah said. Percy nodded.
"Unfortunately, yes. He intercepted an outgoing message instructing that he and several other men were to be executed at the given time and place. He knew there was nothing to be done short of sending me this information in the hopes that something could be done."
"Bloody right something can be done!" exclaimed Sir Richard, his words instantly cheered by his fellow men in the room. Percy gave one of the sheets to Andrew, Tony looking at it over his shoulder.
"This sheet holds the names of the men to be killed. As you can tell, the list is long and distinguished."
Andrew's shoulders sagged as he saw some of the names. Passing the list to Tony, he turned to Percy.
"The guard will be heavy with such a collection."
"Chauvelin does not know that we have this list, but he will be prepared. I plan to send the Day Dream back to England tonight. I wish to get Margot and the others out of the country, as well as make Chauvelin think I have left. Perhaps then his guard will slip somewhat..."
Percy's plan was cut short by the apparent gagging of Tony. The list had been what would be expected from a secret slaying: Russel de Champart, Samuel Chaudieu, Emmanuel Curie... the list contained nearly thirty men, all of high rank and power.
But there, at the very bottom, stood a name he had heard but a few minutes before on the lips of his beloved.
Russel de Saint Rouque.
The man his dear, sweet love was married to.
Once he had regained his speech his pale face looked up at his leader, who was standing beside him with a worried expression on his face.
"Russel de Saint Rouque, he is to be executed?"
Percy's face fell at the mention of his friend's name and he nodded, sad but determined.
"If we cannot save him first. He is the man I mentioned before, my contact."
Tony's face went paler, if such a thing was possible.
"He was your contact?"
Percy nodded, and Tony's head fell to the table with a loud thud. When it didn't rise in a few moments, Percy turned back to address the room.
"The day after tomorrow, these men will be led to the slaughter in a small town near Calais. We will be waiting."
He leaned over the map of the coast of France intently, pinpointing the location with his bony finger.
"Some of you will be guards once more, some members of a firing squad, and I want some men simply standing nearby to help hide these men from the guards' eyes when the confusion starts, ready to lead them to the boat. And we need someone in the prison, among the men, also to help them to safety when the time comes."
Tony, not knowing what he was doing, met Percy's gaze intently.
"I shall wait with the men, Percy."
The dock smelled of old, rotting timber, but the smell of the salt water washed over the small group occasionally, blown in by a breeze from the sea. The Day Dream tugged at its moorings, eager to be once more sea-bound. The soon-to-be occupants were less than enthusiastic, however.
Marguerite turned to face her husband, turning from the gangway as though once out of sight it would disappear.
"Percy, let me stay here with you. It will be horrible in England, waiting for you to return."
He smiled softly, brushing her loose auburn locks from her face.
"No, Margot. I fear I shall have enough to do without having to look after my wife!" His words sounded carefree, but something edged his voice that made Marguerite shudder.
"Then why won't you tell me what this mission is, at least? I worry that it is so dangerous."
"La, Margot! It is nothing of sort. I fail to tell you only because you would think it so trivial that you would chide me for not coming home immediately."
She knew it was a lie, but she was grateful he was trying to put her at ease.
"Now, where is that demned fellow, Dewhurst? He said he'd have your companions here in no time at all!"
"Patience, Percy. I fear his goodbye will take some time..."
He turned to his wife, most confused. She smiled.
The small group of three had reached the edge of the dock in silence. Louis was simply bursting to see the ship, so Josephine happily sent him on ahead, watching as the boy ran off down the dock. She turned slowly when she felt Tony take her hand.
"You shall be quite safe in England..."
"Then why don't you come as well?" she interjected quickly, her voice almost bitter in its sadness. The two fell silent for a moment, before she sheepishly spoke.
"Forgive me, I do not mean to snap."
"No, a part of me does wish I could return to England with you. But my duty calls, I must remain."
She turned away, biting her lip to keep from crying.
"When will you return to England?"
He sighed sadly.
"I'm not sure."
Louis appeared in shadow across the dock from them. He tried to whisper, succeeding only in shouting in a hushed tone.
"Jo, aren't you coming?"
"Yes, Louis. I'll be there in a moment."
The boy disappeared once more into the shadows, and she turned back to Tony.
"I should be going."
He took her hands once more, slowly kissing the knuckles as she watched with misty eyes. Neither wanted to move, nor felt they could.
Life called, however, and Josephine found herself walking alone down the dock. As she rounded a small corner, the Day Dream just ahead, she turned for one last look.
Tony stood alone on the shore, his eyes watching her intently. When she turned, he sent her one last loving smile, then bowed deeply. When he rose, she had disappeared from view.
Breathing deeply to try to relieve the pain in his heart, he turned his attentions to the rescue ahead. A rescue that would need his full attention, despite the wanderings his mind took. Turning from the dock, he walked slowly back to the inn.
The matter was simple. Dress Tony as a battered aristocrat and Andrew as an Imperial guard. Send them both to the unobtrusive prison holding the men to be killed the next day. Andrew explains it is Chauvelin's wish that this traitor ~ known to be in league with the Pimpernel himself ~ be put to death the following day with the others. The guards accept this readily, with no further proof required. The fact that this guard is there with a prisoner and the knowledge of the next day's proceedings is all the proof they need. Besides, what's one more head in the grand scheme of things? Five more minutes, at most.
This is how Lord Antony Dewhurst, one of the sons of the Duke of Exeter and a universal favorite in London drawing rooms found himself thrown, quite ungracefully, into a pit of human despair.
As the door clattered to a shut behind him, the key grating in the lock, he turned slowly to view the room that would hold him for the next few hours. It was a large cell, granted, and at least that was in his favor. However, this is where the favorable list stops. The cold rock on all sides kept the moisture hanging in the air, thickly tingeing it with foul smells and a frigid mist. Darkness, too, lurked in the room, clutching desperately to the corners and sending shadows across the occupants' faces. However, the shadows lying there were not all the fault of the darkness. Hope had long since eluded this place and its loss stabbed Tony directly to his heart.
As the men looked up at him, their eyes sunken and hollow, Tony took a step backwards and turned as he heard a man stand to approach him. The stranger was short and lanky, a thick crop of red hair tumbling down over his forehead as he stepped forward, offering his hand with a gentle smile.
"Bonjour, monsieur. Ou est-ce bonsoir?" (Good day, sir. Or is it good evening?)
His voice was light, and only softly accented. A soft lilt hinted at the edges, suggesting the question had been asked while the two were strolling in a garden, rather than being introduced in a prison. While Tony had no trouble understanding the gentleman, he instinctively replied in his native tongue, hoping for a reply.
"I fear I did not think to see whether it was night or day when I entered here. But I must call into question your choice of the word 'good' to describe any day in this foul place."
The stranger laughed heartily and slapped Tony on the back.
"Well put, monsieur. Very well put. But, despite your obvious lack of enthusiasm for our meeting place, I welcome you to our *very* select society."
He motioned the room with a sweep of his hand, as though it was suddenly a grand ballroom or a royal court. Tony looked from face to face at those before him. Somewhere in here was the man that was holding his greatest dream just out of reach. A very sobering thought, indeed. Taking a deep breath, he spoke loud and firm.
"Is there anyone in this cell by the name of Russel?"
A silence greeted him as his words echoed against the walls. A single voice broke that silence from somewhere deeper in the room.
"I answer to that name."
The voice was deep and husky, a sharp contrast to that of the stranger who had greeted him. Tony waited to hear the footfalls meaning he would soon meet the owner of the voice, but no such sound came. A bit annoyed, he walked forward into the room, searching for where the voice came from.
"Over here, monsieur. I am the one you seek."
Tony's eyes fell upon the speaker, to find himself looking at a tall, muscular man. A rather handsome man, he noted with some unbidden jealousy. The man glared at him, his eyes bitter and resentful.
"What is it you want of me?"
Tony was silent. No words came to him, only a soft pang of sadness. The man rose to his feet, fiery eyes blazing.
"Is it a fight you wish, monsieur? Is that it?"
This threw Tony off guard, although he had little to fear. The stranger who met him at the door now stood beside Tony once more, leading him by the shoulders back to the door and speaking over his shoulder as he went.
"Calm yourself, Russel. He is not looking for a fight anymore than the rest of us are. Save your strength for your journey to the other-world."
Arriving once more at his spot by the door, the stranger motioned for Tony to sit beside him on the floor, which he did. As Tony settled, the stranger looked him over.
"So, tell me. What is the story you hold?"
"Story? I'm not quite sure I follow you."
"Your story. Who you are, what you are, why you are."
Tony looked away, his eyes casting themselves to a corner being feasted upon by dark shadows.
"If you don't mind, I'd rather not say. I have no wish to bore you."
The stranger interjected quickly, "Oh, you would not be boring me in the least! On the contrary, stories are what fascinate me."
"Well, even so, I must refuse you again. I fear I have no desire to divulge details."
He had sworn to Percy, as well as himself, that no one in the cell save himself would know anything of the rescue to come the next day. All plans are best kept in their simplest form. The gentleman was not be easily swayed, however, and took a deep sigh before speaking.
"Well then, at least give me the honor of guessing for myself."
Thus spoken, the man took Tony's face in his hands, turning it to the small light of the bars that served as their window. Tilting it this way and that, he studied it a moment, then smiled. Releasing the face, he leaned his head back against the wall.
"You are in love, monsieur." Opening one eye, he watched with amusement at Tony's bewildered look. "Care to deny it?"
"How did you know that?"
The gentleman raised an eyebrow. "I am French, no? We know that look well, monsieur."
Tony laughed, a small smile returning to his lips. The gentleman nudged him with his elbow.
"Tell me about her."
Something about the softness of this man's voice seemed to spark memories of Josephine in his mind. She appeared before him once more, smiling, laughing, beautiful as ever. He quickly blinked away the image, breathing deeply in an attempt to gain control once more. His own voice now uncertain and faltering, he blurted out, "What good what that do, sir?"
The stranger fell silent a moment, contemplating his next words. Sighing, he placed a hand on Tony's shoulder.
"Monsieur, I will tell you something. I am not a deeply religious man. I know there is a God. I know there is a hell." He laughed ruefully. "I mean, after all, look around you."
He paused for emphasis then continued, his voice lower and more compelling.
"But, I also know there is a heaven. Why? Why do I believe in such a thing?" He leaned closer to Tony, his eyes calm and serious. "Because I have loved a woman and known her love in return. If heaven is even half so wonderful, I feel certain all the pains of this present life will have been worthwhile. Now I tell you, if it is possible to bring even a small ray of sunlight from this heaven into this pit of desolation surrounding us, I believe it would do a world of good."
Tony sat in an awed silence for a moment, considering the man's words. When he finally spoke, his words were soft and humbled.
"I will tell you then. But only if you do me this honor first."
"To tell me what manner of man you are that you are able to sit in a prison cell, aware of your own execution order come the next day, and yet still speak of the worthwhileness of life. What life have you had to be able to do this great thing?"
He smiled, collecting his thoughts about him quickly before speaking.
"At sixteen years of age, I ran away from my home. My father and I saw the world differently. Since then, I have been content to listen to people. To hear their stories. When you can see life through more than one person's eyes, you will see life in all its tainted glory." He paused, studying Tony's face before offering his hand. "My friends call me Arthur, and I would be pleased if you would do the same."
Tony smiled and shook the man's hand heartily.
"I would be honored to, provided you call me Tony."
"Agreed. Now, tell me about this woman."
Tony took a deep breath and, careful to remember not to mention a name, dived headfirst into the sea of memories that quickly engulfed him, stealing his every breath and awakening all his senses to the bliss of love.
Josephine looked up from her book. She realized that she had read the last four pages without taking in a word written on any of them. Standing up, she set the book on the table and proceeded to pace the floor, her mind not content to stay in any one place. Finally forcing herself to sit still, she sat and stared out the window.
I wonder what he is thinking of right now...
A small tear ran down her cheek.
A rat scurried across Tony's feet, forcing him quite ungracefully out of his trance. He became aware at once of the cell, of the growing darkness, and of the multitudes of tears that now lined his cheeks. Frantically running his hands over his face, he turned to Arthur, who was watching him with a small smile.
"Well, what do you think? Is she worth all the pain and heartache?"
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "I don't know. Is she?"
Tony sighed to himself, thinking it over. Smiling softly, he nodded his head.
"I do believe she is," he said simply, watching as Arthur smiled, leaning his head back against the wall. Carefully, Tony spoke. "How about you? What was the woman you loved like?"
Arthur closed his eyes, a smile of peace covering it instantly. "Perfect. Nothing more I need say. Just perfect. Should God see fit to let me into his kingdom when all this over, all he need give me is her. I would be content."
"Is she your wife?"
Tony paused before speaking again.
"Why not?" he asked cautiously. Arthur's eyes remained closed to answer.
"Time, among other things, did not consent." He seemed to think this over before continuing. "But I know she waits for me in that world I go to, come tomorrow. Perhaps that is why I do not cry or curse at my fate as the other men do. I know I go to be with her and when I see her next, we will have an eternity together. With nothing to stand in our way." His watery eyes opened, unfocused. "That, my boy, is why they call it Paradise." Turning his head a little, he gave Tony a small smile then leaned back against the wall.
Tony reflected on this a moment, before realizing that most everyone else in the cell had fallen asleep. He thought on this, and realized that he himself was tired as well. Taking Arthur's cue, he leaned his head against the damp stone wall and closed his eyes, allowing his mind to unwind itself.
One last thing disturbed him and, before he dozed off, he whispered "Arthur?"
"You said that all you do is listen to people's stories. How then did you manage to get here?"
Tony felt, rather than saw, Arthur grin.
"I heard some stories I wasn't supposed to."
"Oh... Goodnight, Arthur."
"Bonne nuit, Tony. May your dreams be pleasant."
Despite the events of the day, Tony slept soundly. If he dreamed at all, the dreams vanished into the mists of sleep when the sound of guards appeared near the doorway, followed shortly by the clattering sound of the door being unlocked. He opened his eyes, peering a sleepy eye at the shouting guards pulling the prisoners to their feet and herding them towards the door.
Without warning, he was pulled roughly to his feet as well. As soon as his feet were beneath him, the guard shoved him thoughtlessly into the wall. Tony stood there a moment, clutching the damp stone as he felt the pain course through his body. A hand touched his shoulder, and he turned slowly to see Arthur offer an arm to help him walk. Tony shook his head no and joined the ranks of the men being led down the narrow hallway.
Although a few more rain clouds still lingered on the horizon, the sun had returned to the land. Tony blinked from the sudden light when he stepped outside, breathing in the freshness that the rain had brought. Pausing his step for a moment, he raised his face, eyes closed, to the heavens and reveled in the warm touch the sun brought to his skin. The moment was fleeting, however, for he was prodded along by a guard into the small wooden cart.
He found a small corner where he could lean against a side, staring out at the countryside as the tumbrel lurched along slowly to their remote destination. Sometime along the journey, he turned to Arthur to point out a rainbow that glittered majestically just beyond a hillside but found the man deep in his own world lost somewhere in memories. Tony turned back to the road, his mind going back over the plan once more.
The cart was taking them to the outskirts of a city called Marquise. As it was early morning, the people would not be awake. However, even if some did, the majority of the city was strongly in favor of the guillotine and its governing laws. The guards would encounter no resistance from them. Because of the location, the guillotine was exchanged for a firing squad. Some of the firing squad would be men Tony knew well, seeing as many of the League could infiltrate their ranks. However, some would still be armed and dangerous.
Heaven only knows what form of confusion would erupt this time ~ geese, ghosts, natural disasters, Tony had seen his fair share. They promised they'd try to think of something fun this time.
Once the confusion began, Tony and some men disguised as village people would help get the prisoners to safety, which would come in the form of a carriage to the beaches of Cap Gris-Nez, rowboats to a waiting ship, and safe passage across the Strait of Dover back to the safety of England.
Back to the safety of England with Josephine's husband in tow.
Tony looked across the sea of men at the scowling young man, glaring at the guards about him with a pent-up fury.
Shaking his head, Tony tried to move his thoughts to something more pleasant.
He looked up with a start when he realized that the tumbrel had lumbered to a halt. The surrounding area was bleak and bare, the first few buildings of the city just down the dirt road. Around them, however, was simply a bare spot of earth, save the large stone wall guarding one side of the road. Trees were scattered here and there, boulders taking up space as well. But, for the most part, nothing truly exciting could be said about the spot.
The gate was pulled open on the back of the cart and eight men were dragged to the stone wall. Tony stayed behind with the other men, edging his way to the back of the cart to be near the soldier standing watch.
The firing squad had been waiting for the cart and now stood at attention, their muskets ready. The sky darkened as a cloud passed over the sun, or perhaps the chill in the air came as a man dressed entirely in black stepped forward, smiling wickedly.
The man in black, Citizen Armand Chauvelin, looked over the aristocrats with an evil sneer. He seemed delighted to have such a front-row seat for their execution, as well as seeming to be a little too sure of himself. He strutted about as though nothing could go wrong, giving Tony a reason to smile softly. Chauvelin, after inspecting the few soldiers standing guard, finally held his hand above his head, thus sending the firing squad into position, their muskets raised.
The muskets clicked into position.
The gunmen aimed.
However, as Chauvelin was halfway through uttering the word, a lone gunman turned and fired quite cock-eyed in his direction. Fortunately or unfortunately, (Depending on your viewpoint) Chauvelin dodged the shot quite easily. However, it provided the necessary effect ~ total chaos.
Tony leapt from the cart, jumping quite recklessly onto a soldier's back. Turning his head back to the prisoners, he screamed, "Help me, please!" Tony suddenly felt the guard he was on fall limply to the ground. Looking up, he saw Russel smile, then run off to join in the fray, pleased to be putting his impatience to good use.
The small squabble become more of a mess when chickens, geese, swallows, pigeons, and several other species of birds were released from the direction of the woods, instantly wreaking havoc as the guards tried in vain to shoot them down.
Tony made his way over to a member of the firing squad, a rather tall and gangly gentleman.
"Geese, Percy? How uncreative."
"Odds fish, my boy. You try coming up with something more entertaining with only a few hours to plan."
Their lighthearted joking quickly ceased, however, for Chauvelin was not looking upon this intrusion with too much fear. In fact, with Percy's eye most devotedly following, Chauvelin turned to the road and shouted, "Allez!"
At once, the aristocrats and their rescuers were flanked on all sides by grim looking soldiers. Tony went pale at this breach in their plan and turned to Percy in terror.
"Zounds, Chauvelin has some tricks up his sleeve, does he not?" He turned back to face Tony and winked. Smiling broadly, he took a casual jaunt in the direction of the city. From a few feet away he turned and surveyed the scene.
The soldiers were bloodthirsty and attacking the League members and aristocrats with a vengeance. While no one appeared hurt, as of yet, it was apparent they could not hold off much longer. Sighing, Percy thrust his fist into the air and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Vive la Republic!"
Needless to say, the League members were quite shocked. Percy cheering for the other side? Had the world gone mad?
It obviously had, for instantly there arrived hundreds of men and woman from the city, screaming and cheering his very same words. They carried crude weapons, if a weapon at all, but all had the look of retaliation in their eyes. And, with no time to waste, they filled the small courtyard with their innumerable bodies and began to battle heartily against the soldiers and guards.
Percy ran to Tony's side, shouting his instructions so as to be heard over the roar of the crowd.
"Dewhurst, get the word to the men. The carriages are at the other side of the town, and we leave in fifteen minutes at the latest."
He began to move off, but Tony grabbed his arm.
"Percy, what is all this?"
Percy turned back to him, a wicked smile in his eyes.
"You always must be prepared, my boy."
"But why on earth are they fighting for us?"
Percy sighed heavily, as though he had to explain something simple to a small child.
"I went into the village early this morning to tell the villagers something dastardly I had heard. It seems some guards had decided to rebel against the Republic and kidnapped Ropespierre and several other important men, intending to shoot them this morning. And, of course, we couldn't allow that, now could we, Citizen Ropespierre? La, I never would have forgiven myself if something had happened to you. Now, run along before the guards catch sight of you."
And with that, the Scarlet Pimpernel had disappeared into the mob.
Sir Andrew, in a small break between battles, threw off the firing squad costume to reveal a peasant's garb underneath. Percy had insisted each of the members of the firing squad wear it and, although Andrew had earlier resented the bulk it had forced upon him, he was now grateful it was there. While the soldiers were good fighters, the peasants were obviously the side to be on for the moment.
He reached the tumbrel and quickly shouted to the men who still remained inside.
"I work for the Pimpernel! Please, follow me. And quickly!"
Percy had told Andrew of an innkeeper he had spoken with earlier that morning. While the man was too old and his wife too overprotective for him to fight in the battle, they had offered their inn as a hiding place until the leaders of the Republic could be safely taken from the city. Warning his following of twenty-five or so to not speak a word while in the inn, he led them quickly down the road to safety.
One would expect that after this sudden and bizarre twist in events, Chauvelin would be furious and doing battle with anyone who would dare cross his path. However, while the former was extremely true, Chauvelin manged to ward off murderous instincts by clenching his jaw and repeating over and over, "It isn't over until it is over."
He knew that Blakeney was somewhere in the crowd. He could feel it. And he wouldn't waste his time cutting the throats of simple peasants when he had more important fish to fry.
Clearing his brain, he thought it out logically. Obviously there had to be carriages hidden around here somewhere. It was nearly ten miles to the shore, fifteen to the nearest port city of Calais. Calais was not Chauvelin's worry. He had raised the guard there excessively and given them leave to arrest any man who attempted to sail out of the city in the next week. However, experience with Blakeney taught him something, and he vowed to find that demon before he left this city.
He was thinking so intently that he ran squarely into one of the guards of the firing squad. In fact, he continued to think so intently that he nearly walked right past this guard. A few steps cured him of this, however, and he turned the guard around by the shoulder, staring him triumphantly in the face.
"Monsieur Chomberton! What an exquisite surprise! Fancy meeting you here!"
"Blakeney," he said, his voice low and softly excited. He reached into his coat pocket, removing it quickly to point a pistol at his foe's chest.
Blakeney's lazy blue eyes never flinched; in fact, they seemed to grow a little more bored, if such a thing were possible. He stared at the pistol a moment, before laughing heartily and speaking in his usual inane tone.
"La, I couldn't possibly agree with you more." He ran his hands down his waistcoat, pausing for a moment to inspect the hem of the guard's coat. "I haven't the foggiest notion what my butler was thinking, packing this old thing. And I assure you, I would've shot it myself had I not required something to sail to England in. Black really isn't my color and look at the shoddy workmanship on the cuffs. Quite a disgrace."
Chauvelin cocked the gun, silencing Percy for a moment.
"It will be my honor to kill you, Sir Percy."
Percy's eyes widened, though not in horror. Rather in amusement.
"Rather ill-mannered of you, I should think. Meet an old acquaintance in the streets and proceed to shoot him." He made a show of examining his fingernails. "I am quite at a loss at what to say. I assure you, it will cause me to think twice about inviting you any dinner parties I plan."
Chauvelin, in spite of himself, laughed.
"You're right, Sir Percy. It isn't really my style, is it? Meet a loathed enemy and simply shoot him? Where's the fun?" He looked over Percy's shoulder quickly, then smiled mischievously. "I do so prefer to see people suffer. Take a look over your shoulder, Sir Percy. Tell me who you see. Tell me who it is that stands there, not noticing me pointing a gun at him."
Percy, with his first foreshadowing of doom, tried his best to keep up a foppish grin as he turned slightly to look over his shoulder. His lazy blue eyes fell upon an unsuspecting Lord Antony Dewhurst who was, at the moment, chatting with someone a few feet away. He saw nothing of their conversation, he simply stood still and unguarded, a perfect shot guaranteed. And, for the first time, Chauvelin saw Percy's eyes betray an emotion ~ pure and unguarded terror.
Tony had indeed no idea of the gun that was pointed at his heart from a few feet away. He had been making his way into the city when he saw Arthur running around like a chicken with his head cut off. He called to his friend quickly, hoping he would hear him. However, while his friend did hear him, his attentions seemed to be elsewhere.
Out of nowhere, Tony saw Arthur sprinting to his side. Another gunshot echoed through the crowd, this time from somewhere much closer. And, as Tony watched in horrific slow motion, Arthur threw himself in front of Tony, his body shuddering as the bullet found a mark. His eyes widening in pain, Arthur collapsed in a heap onto the ground.
Tony instantly dropped down next to him, frantically trying to ascertain what needed to be done. Arthur still had a pulse; he remained breathing. Although he had been rendered unconscious by a bullet to the chest, he seemed to be still alive.
"Tony, get him out of here!" Percy's voice rang through the crowd even though Tony could not place it. Nodding, he hoisted Arthur into his arms and ran off in search of somewhere quiet to hide in the town.
"My dear Shufflin'," Percy said, his voice taunt and bitter, his words spoken through a clenched jaw. "As impolite as it is to say, I must confess that I find this meeting most peculiar. In England, we simply do not greet people by killing their good friends. It does so have a way of putting a damper on the relationship."
"My most humble apologies, Sir Percy," Chauvelin said, complete with a small bow. "I did not know that the custom had not reached England yet."
"I pray it never shall," he replied defiantly.
"Tsk, tsk. You must realize, Sir Percy, that the ways of the republic will soon become the ways of the world. Our power will grow. And this will happen no matter how many times you come after us with geese and... frou-frou."
Percy smiled, no longer an inane smile but one of triumph.
"But don't you see, Chomberton? You haven't won. And you never will. No matter how many of us you kill, there will always be someone ready to go into the fire. As long as there is injustice, there will be someone to fight it. And good will always triumph, Chavelen. Always."
Chauvelin raised the gun an inch higher. "Perhaps that is so. But who knows? You will not be around to see it."
His finger tightened around the trigger, and Percy closed his eyes against the inevitable. For once, he could see no way out, and he turned his attention to something far more pressing.
God, please take care of Margot for me. She is my one regret in this way of death I now face.
He squeezed his eyes closed as he heard the shot ring out. However, he opened them slowly when he realized that the shot had never reached him. Chauvelin lay unconscious on the ground. And standing above the body was a most sheepish looking Marguerite, clutching an iron fire poker.
"I... I could not let them take us to England. Not while I knew you were in so much danger. I hope you're not too angry..."
He couldn't help but laugh aloud as he raced to fill the small distance between them, gathering her up into his arms and swinging her around.
"I shall be angry later, my love. For now I most delighted to see you once more."
Ducking quickly into a small, deserted alleyway, Tony laid Arthur onto the pebble-strewn, muddy road. His hands free, he frantically pulled his own coat from his shoulders and pressed it firmly against the gaping hole in Arthur's chest that was by now oozing blood over everything. With his other arm, he carefully raised Arthur's head from the muddy ground, his hair now dripping with the filth of pool it had laid in. Seeing Arthur's closed eyes, Tony wildly began to shake the man, his voice crying out in pain and fear.
"Arthur! Arthur, wake up! Arthur, talk to me! Talk to me!"
The man's eyes opened slowly, dazed and shining, and he smiled up at Tony.
"Tony. What a pleasure to see you again. I'll have you know, I didn't think I would."
Tony sighed in relief, doing his best to swallow back the emotions rising up in his throat.
"Yes, I'm here. And you're going to be all right. The Scarlet Pimpernel is here, and we're all going to go to England and be safe. No more prisons."
"Ah, Tony. You don't know how happy I am to hear that you are safe."
"But we are both safe! I even now can hear the battle out there winding down. And you are not..." He looked over the wound once more, flinching from the sight of it. "too badly hurt. I'm sure..."
"Tony. I am safer now than I have ever been in my lifetime. Besides," he added with a laugh, "I do not even like boats. I always get sea-sick."
He flinched as his chest shuddered violently, his eyes closing against the pain. When they didn't open right away, Tony began to shake him once more.
The man's eyes opened again, far more glossy this time.
"Will you please stop shaking me! I fear I shall never get a moment's rest with you around."
"That's precisely the point! You are not to sleep as long as I am here, is that perfectly clear?" When the man only smiled, Tony continued. "Now, I want you to tell me a story. I told you one and you never told me one back. It isn't fair and I demand justice!"
Arthur's soft voice spoke back, quiet and slow. "What shall I tell?"
"What I told. Heaven on earth."
Arthur smiled, a sense of peace coming over his face.
"A good subject, to be sure. I have already told you she was perfect, no? She was more than perfect. My Adelaide was sweet and gentle and kind. I died a million deaths when I told her I could not marry her."
"You couldn't? Why not?"
"I was already married." He paused, searching Tony's face, which was, at the moment, stricken with confusion, curiosity, and something he couldn't quite place. "You are confused, no? I will explain. It will make the story longer, so you will be happy I have brought it up.
"You see, my father and mother were raised very strictly, and were the most happy result of an arranged marriage. They arranged for me to have the same blessing, and I was therefore married at a young age to a girl I barely knew. I never saw her again. I was told I would meet her again when I was older, but when sixteen, I had a large argument with my father and I left the house. I have never gone back."
Tony seemed to have finally learned to speak, and he jumped in quickly.
"You were married at a young age? How young?"
Arthur looked at him curiously, but indulged him.
"When I was seven." Tony had been struck speechless, so Arthur resumed his story. "I went around Paris, just listening to people tell me of their lives. It was most interesting for me, and everyone seemed to leave a little happier. I began to counsel people on a regular basis. My clients became more and more important. Eventually, I was a private secretary to Maximilien Ropespierre himself. This came only because he wanted it, though. Not me. I never supported this revolution at all, and when I found the right man, a worker for this Scarlet Pimpernel, I released to him important information. As much as I could."
"A very dangerous life," Tony said, his voice hoarse.
"But a fulfilling one. You are a man of sport, no? You know the thrills that come with such a game."
Tony smiled and nodded. Arthur continued.
"I met Adelaide one day on the Avenue des Champs-Èlysèes. Beautiful river. Beautiful woman."
Arthur's eyes had long since deserted Tony's, and they glazed over here. He was no longer talking to Tony; he was no longer by Tony's side. Somewhere inside him, he was with his Adelaide on that long promenade. Tony spoke up softly.
"What happened to her?"
Arthur remained perfectly still, only his eyes revealing a changing emotion. "I went with her to the theater. I walked her home that evening in the warm summer air. It was late, and I thought about asking her if I could sleep on a chair in her parlor, as I did not want to leave her. But I did not ask. The next morning, when I came back, she was gone."
"Arrested. Guillotined two days later for being a traitor to France."
Tony watched his friend's eyes as they played out the mortifying scene, moment by horrible moment. When Arthur squeezed his eyes shut in near tears, Tony spoke up quietly.
"Arthur, what's your real name?"
Arthur opened his eyes, pain still filling them.
"What do you mean?"
"The name you were born with. The name you had as Ropespierre's secretary."
Arthur turned his face from Tony.
"I told you, I never wanted to become that secretary. It was the position my father would've wanted me to have. I was the man he wanted me to be. And when I was, I kept my real name. But when I was free to be myself, when I was with Adelaide, I was Arthur. The man who dreamed of a new world, where all his people could be free and safe. I was born Russel de St. Rouque, but I will not die as Russel de St. Rouque."
Tony's mind was reeling, but only a few things were intelligible. There was another Russel in the prison cell; he had seen the two names on the list. Why did he not think of that before? He tried quickly to make sense of it all, but Arthur... well, Russel started coughing. A deep, raspy cough.
When Tony looked up, Russel removed his hand from covering his mouth, only to see it now coated with blood. A little bit of blood ran down his chin and when he spoke his teeth had been stained red. Tony's chin trembled, a bit of water gathering in the corners of his eyes. He started to speak, but Russel spoke first.
"My time is short now, Tony. But I must say this. I have not known you long, but I have seen in you in a friend. You remind me much of myself. Strong, wishing for a new world. But most of all, in love. I must ask of you a great thing, Tony. I must beg that you do it."
Tony nodded, leaning closer to hear the words that were now so very soft and weak.
"When you are safe, you must find this girl you love. You must go to her. You must tell her how much you love her. You must tell her all that you have told me about how precious she is to you. You must do everything in your power to marry this woman. And you must live forever in that love. Do you understand me?"
Tony made no move to wipe away the tears now drowning him. He simply nodded his head, his chin trembling. Russel spoke again, summoning up all his energy to speak clearly and forcefully.
"This is very important, Tony. Very important. For, you see, the French saw what this world could be. They saw the very heaven we could make it into, but they took the wrong steps to get it. They thought that they could create this world through murders and bloodshed. But it doesn't come from hate. It comes from love. I saw this heaven everytime I saw Adelaide smile at me. Everytime I felt her lips on mine. It has been my mission to bring love into this world. Now I pass it onto you. Swear that you will do this, Tony."
"I swear it, Arthur." He said, his voice dripping tears as well as his eyes. "I swear it."
The dear man smiled at Tony, his life now completely fulfilled. Breathing deeply, he seemed to see something beyond Tony's shoulder and smiled larger.
"She came. Tony, look. Isn't she beautiful?"
Tony looked behind him, but saw nothing. Turning back, he saw his friend's eyes begin to tear up.
"My love, I cannot tell you how I have longed to see you again. And here you are, looking as glorious as ever."
His eyes moved from the alleyway, as he raised them to the heavens. Closing them, he smiled as though sunlight was warming his face.
"Thank you," he whispered.
And as he breathed in the warmth and the peace that Tony could not feel, he breathed his last. A soft rain began to fall as Tony watched. He could not move. He could not think. All these actions required a mind, and his had numbed in pain. He simply sat, rain falling upon him, in that dark, filthy alley. After a moment, he felt a hand softly rest upon his shoulder. He jumped, half expecting when he turned to see a woman standing there. Instead, he found a somber Percy.
"He was a remarkable man. The world will be the lesser for his absence."
Tony said nothing, choking back tears. His mind began to work once more, and the first thing that it spoke hit him like a sledgehammer.
This is exactly what you wanted to happen.
The knowledge that he had entered the prison cell, nearly praying for St. Rouque's death, struck him in the face. He jumped to his feet, his body trembling and his mind in shambles. He didn't know what he was doing; he had no control over himself.
He raced from the alley, tripping over his own feet. He heard Percy call his name vaguely from somewhere behind him; he didn't care. He stumbled out in the ruckus that was still going full speed. The soldiers had the advantage of strength, wit, and weapons. But the commoners had the strength of passion and numbers ~ both very important advantages. He didn't know what he was doing. He had reached the center of the feud and falling to his knees, he raised his head and arms to the heavens.
"What am I to do?" He screamed, uncaring that the rain was washing down his face. "Tell me!"
When no answer came, his arms dropped, falling into the mud puddle that he sat in. His face fell, his eyes beginning to sting from all the salt water that had flowed forth. And, as they stared unseeing before him, they managed to focus on a girl standing across from him, on the other side of the fray.
She smiled at him, the smile that he had first fallen in love with.
And, as he stared, he heard a voice echo through his mind.
You must live forever in that love. Do you understand me?
But I killed you! He argued back, his head dropping into his hands in shame and sadness.
You didn't kill me, Tony. Hatred killed me. But now, you must live.
How mankind has always lived, Tony. Day by day. Now go and do what you have sworn to do.
He took a deep breath, then wiped his face as he pulled away his hands. When he looked up, the girl was gone. She seemed to have disappeared. And he suddenly realized that he was in the middle of a field of war... and he had a boat to catch.
He jumped to his feet and began to run back to the alleyway. That's when he suddenly heard a blast, and felt a surge of fire and pain race through his body from his shoulder. He screamed in pain, as it shot fire through his veins, a pain unlike he had ever felt before. Clutching the sticky, hot shoulder in agony, he collapsed onto the ground. A thick, painless darkness quickly came over him, taking away from him the pain, the scene around him, and any memories of that ghastly day.
"So, I shall take my leave. I will, of course, return in a few days to inquire after the patient. However, I am most positive that you shall find him back to his old self again in no time at all."
The kindly old doctor gathered up his various instruments from the bedside table and placed them once more in their dark carpetbag.
"I shall leave some medicine with Lady Blakeney. Give it to him with some hot tea as soon as he awakens, which, I am certain, will be very soon."
"But, doctor, you are certain that it is normal for him to have slept this long?"
He smiled at the pretty young lady who sat next to the other side of the bed. Her eyes were filled with concern, her hands protectively clutching the sleeping Lord Dewhurst's left hand.
"Quite certain, m'lady. From what I can deduce from your testimonies, he suffered a slight fever and some infection to the wound while traveling here. However, he seems to have battled this off quite nicely, and should awaken shortly."
The woman seemed somewhat relieved and turned her attentions back to the peacefully slumbering Lord Dewhurst. Percy rose from his chair to shake the doctor's hand.
"Thank for coming, sir."
"Think nothing of it, Sir Blakeney. However, I do warn you again. The next time you visit Paris, avoid the areas of the guillotine. I do not care whether your tailor lies just beyond the area, it is far too dangerous. I hope that you realize how lucky Lord Dewhurst was to escape with his life."
"Sink me, you need not tell me again! I was just so eager to see that new coat; heaven only knows what I was thinking. Thank you again for coming."
The doctor smiled softly and gave the two a quick bow, snatching up his bag as he did so.
"I can see myself out."
And with that, he left the room as quietly as he had come. Percy sighed softly as he turned back to the girl.
"M'dear, you heard what the doctor said. Dewhurst will be right as rain quite soon, whether or not you stand watch of him every moment."
Her eyes never moved, content to focus on the sleeping patient.
"I know, Sir Percy. But I cannot leave him. Not when he is like this."
Percy rolled his lazy blue eyes, pretending as though he could not possibly imagine why.
"Well then, I shall simply be forced to keep you company until you collapse from sheer exhaustion."
"A thing which I would never do. But I welcome your company."
He sat his lanky frame on a wooden chair, settling himself just opposite Josephine. Stretching and yawning, he made himself comfortable, then spoke again.
"So..." He twiddled his bony fingers, looking most bored.
"Tell me of the escape, Sir Percy," she said, her eyes lighting up in excitement. "Marguerite would not allow me to leave the inn, saying it would be too dangerous. And the men rescued would not speak of it."
"La, it was the most exciting moment of my life," he said, his sincerity drawn into question a second later when he succumbed to a great yawn. However, he continued most delightfully. "'Twas the first time I had done any of that espionage business; usually leave that to those more clever than me. However, Andrew insisted they could use me, said it was as rousing as a game of cricket. Personally, all I did was stand there in a shoddy-made coat and look most embarrassingly serious."
"Do you plan to stay with the League?"
"Zounds, no, m'lady! Much too complicated for a man like myself. I quite prefer the cricket field. There one has no fear of getting his clothes soiled or finding oneself running around in a most undignified manner."
"Well, the little as you claim to have done must have helped them."
Percy smiled, leaning back in his chair.
"Well, I do like to think that I did my share to end this bloody war."
"Besides, all the men made it safely to England. That in itself must be a comfort for your small humiliation."
Percy's eyes fell, the twinkling in them gone.
"What is the matter?"
"Not all the men made it England safely. I saw from a distance as one man was killed, saving Dewhurst's life."
She fell silent, suddenly aware of the loss of a great man.
"Who was he?"
Percy took a deep breath, trying desperately to hold onto his foppishness. He knew the girl was no traitor, but the less who even suspected, the better.
"I really did not know much about him. However, as we set forth to go rescue them, I heard one of the men talking about him. He was a great man, apparently."
"What was his name?"
"Russel de St. Rouque."
As he spoke the name, he noticed the girl go deathly pale. He sat up at once.
"Russel de St. Rouque?"
"And you say he died?"
"Yes. Most horrendously, I confess sadly."
Her eyes closed, as if in pain, and her words were forced from her lips most ungraciously.
"And you say he was a good man."
"Quite. M'lady, are you quite well? Shall I fetch you something?"
"No." She looked up at him, her eyes deathly serious. "But if you would do me a great favor?"
She gulped back a lump in her throat, turning her eyes so as to watch her beloved sleep.
"Tell me about this man. Tell me of the wonderful things he did."
The doctor descended the creaky steps in his own time, content not to hurry nor tarry along. Upon reaching the bottom and poking his head in the coffee room, he smiled at the variety of culture to be found idling away. The Fisherman's Rest was a most delightful spot and the doctor was most delighted for the few times he could find excuse to visit. As he looked about the room, he saw the handsome figure of Lady Blakeney walking towards him. He began to rummage in his bag for the medicine.
"How is he, doctor?"
"Oh, he is doing most wonderfully." Finally finding the small bottle, he handed it to the woman standing before him. "When he awakens, give him this with some tea."
"Is there nothing more we can do for him?"
The doctor smiled.
"Well, you can be sure to never let him accompany Sir Blakeney on a fashion expedition to Paris ever again."
"And there is something else I wish to implore of you."
"That girl up there. Sir Blakeney informed me that she has not left Lord Dewhurst's side since France. Get her something to eat and some rest. Or, I fear she will be my next patient."
"Of course, doctor."
Someone across the room caught his eye, and he waved a quick greeting.
"Wonderful to see you again, Mr. Jellyband! My most humble apologies I could not stay for dinner. Inform your pretty daughter Sally that I am most disappointed."
He turned back to Marguerite, giving her a small bow.
"Until we meet again, m'lady."
Percy was most confused by Josephine's tears, but continued his tale nonetheless. She seemed most appreciate to be hearing it, although he had not the foggiest notion why she should seem to have taken an interest in the man. Ah, well.
When he had finished telling all he knew about St. Rouque, as well as telling of Tony's acquaintance with the man and how he came to die, he offered Josephine a much needed handkerchief. It was then that Marguerite appeared at the door.
"Josephine de Laurent, I will not stand for this one moment more. You are to come downstairs, consume a full bowl of stew, and then go straight to bed. And I will not tolerate any protestations."
The story Percy had told had tired her further. Her brain had finally begun to recognize the importance of such things as food and sleep, and she slowly rose to her feet.
Irony has a way of grinning mischievously whenever it can and while Murphy's Law was not commonly accepted or understood in that day, it was still very much in effect.
Marguerite led the girl from the room, perfectly willing to whack Josephine on the head, much as she had Chauvelin, if that's what it required to get her to sleep. As soon as they had reached the bottom of the stairs, Tony began making the noises of one about to wake up. Percy was instantly by his side.
Considering the fashion in which he succumbed to sleep, his awakening was quite graceful. Consisting of much groaning, a left hand clutching a right shoulder painfully, and quite obviously a pounding headache, Tony opened his eyes slowly, blinking from the sudden light of the world.
"Percy, where am I?"
"Safe in England. Fisherman's Rest. You gave us all quite an alarm, Dewhurst. How are you feeling?"
"I'm alive?" He asked, quite doubtfully. Percy chuckled softly.
"Well, if you're not, I shall be quite doubtful of my own sanity."
Tony sat up slowly, cringing every now and again from the pain searing his shoulder. When he reached a sitting upright position, he turned in curiosity to a sniggering Percy.
"Whatever could be funny?"
"Mlle. de Laurent has been waiting by your side for you to wake since we boarded the boat for England. The moment she steps from the room, you finally do her bidding and awake. I find that most amusing."
Tony stared at Percy for a moment, then swung his feet off the bed.
"Where is she now?"
Percy watched as Tony climbed from the bed, wincing as he dressed more modestly.
"Dewhurst, you shouldn't be up! The doctor will have my head!"
"I must talk with her, Percy. It's vitally important."
And, before Percy could put up any more of a fight, Tony had fled the room.
"Louis, where is your sister?"
The small boy looked up from his picture book, smiling broadly as Tony strode into the room.
"First show me a magic trick."
Tony nearly said something, but caught himself, smiling.
"You don't know where she is, do you?"
"She went outside for a walk," Came from behind him, from the lips of Marguerite. "But you, sir, should be back in bed."
"I should be, shouldn't I?"
Josephine hadn't gotten very far. While England was by far safer for a young woman such as herself, she still had no desire to wander very far. She simply wanted to see the land that would hold her now, while her home country fought against itself in a battle to the death. She snuffled back her tears when she heard someone approach her from behind. Probably Marguerite. Although, Marguerite wouldn't be jogging...
As he stepped from the inn's door, he felt something nagging at him in the back of his brain. Something Percy had said. However, the rest of his brain ~ quite the larger bit ~ seemed content to simply gawk at the girl who stood but a few feet from him. When his muscles came back under his control, he began to move towards her. She turned at the last moment to face him, her face registering shock at the arrival of her patient. She smiled softly.
"Lord Tony! I... I did not expect to see you up so soon. Are... How are you?"
"Quite well, I do believe... wait a moment!"
Her face showed as much confusion as his felt.
"Percy said that you were on the boat with us back to England. But you had already left..."
She smiled, laughing softly.
"Marguerite refused to let the boat get as far as England. She feared too much for her husband's safety."
They fell into a moment of most uncomfortable silence. Josephine was the one to break it, but only after enough time had elapsed to make her quite unsure of herself.
"Sir Percy told me about the rescue. And... he told me of St. Rouque."
"He was a good man."
Josephine, tired of the silent moments, turned back to the flowers, a tremor starting in her chin.
"I was waiting at the inn for it all to be over. So sure everything would turn out fine. After all, what could go wrong? Then..." She took a deep breath, steadying herself as best she could. "Sir Percy came into the inn... carrying you..."
The memory was simply pouring salt into an open wound, and she began to cry heartily, her face buried in her hands. Tony was by her side in an instant, gathering her up in his arms. He held her tightly, not willing to let go. Not willing to step away from the woman he loved, especially not in this moment of pain for her. He could hear her sobbing, her head pressed against his chest. A tear running down his own cheek, he kissed her head softly.
"Lady Marguerite Blakeney, I do declare!"
Marguerite, flustered, looked up from the window. Her husband grinned at her from across the room as he leaned against the door frame.
"I never would have taken you for a spy, madam. However, I see my trust in you was quite amiss."
He sighed dramatically, then crossed the room. His arms around her waist, he snuggled up behind her.
"So, pray tell, what happens yonder?" He whispered in her ear. She smiled as she pulled back the curtain once more.
"Lord Tony?" She asked, her voice softly stained with tears.
"Yes?" He asked, still holding her close, reveling in the sound of her voice.
"How is it I found such a wonderful man as you?"
He grinned, kissing her forehead as he pulled her back to look deeply into her eyes.
"Magic, my dear lady." Smiling, he gently kissed her nose. "Magic."