The boy had a full day’s start out of Paris by the time Citoyen Chauvelin caught word. A youth in the street, shabbily dressed, asking questions…From there, it took very little ingenuity to piece together the mysterious boy’s identity, and even less to determine how he might best be used.
The aristo—for it was, of course, an aristo in disguise—would be headed for the Pyrenees, as they all were these days. His guard set out at once, and intercepted the coach before it could even reach the foothills.
Rain darkened the already inky night sky, and the lamp inside the carriage shone only dimly. Yet Chauvelin had no trouble distinguishing one small face among the many aristocrats this coach yielded—it stood out from the others by the look of undisguised hatred, where theirs held only fear. The little man’s fox-like eyes narrowed on his prey. He gave a motion to the captain of the guard, at his shoulder, and the officer summarily hauled this scrawny boy out into the dark and the rain.
“Citoyenne,” Chauvelin nodded pleasantly. “Or should I say, Marquise. Won’t you take my cloak? It is a bit damp out here, you’ll agree.”
slight figure merely glared at him, hatred ablaze in the large, dark eyes.
“Come, now, Mademoiselle. There’s no reason to hate me for doing my job. After all, I am not the one who betrayed your family.”
In her frustration at being caught, she did not even attempt to hold onto the disguise she’d worn for the past weeks. “No—you did not betray them. You merely sentenced them, did you not, Citoyen,” she spat.
“Dear, dear,” Chauvelin shook his head. “I’m afraid the rumor which brought you back to France has stirred the coals of your undying ire once more. You see, I myself watched your family guillotined, but I must admit—I did not see the head of the youngest.”
Her eyes widened. He let her wait.
“No…rather, I made sure he stayed safely in prison, while letting it be known that you had all perished.”
She trembled in barely suppressed rage.
Chauvelin’s shrewd face took on a thoughtful mien. “It is a pity his darling older sister won’t be coming to rescue him. I would be quite crushed, if I were you. All those days, hoping, asking in the streets, for nothing.”
Unable to contain herself any longer, the girl stepped forward and spit squarely into the face of her tormentor.
He did not flinch, did not move at all. He merely raised a handkerchief to his face, after a moment, and wiped it impassively. “Careful, my dear.” And his tone was still light, but now the threatening hint of steel in that voice, the fanaticism, showed through clearly. “You know what happens to those who commit treason against the favored children of Le Mére France. And after all, someone must continue the family line, wouldn’t you agree?”
“What is the use?” Her voice, too, was cold and steely. “You will guillotine me anyway, now that you’ve caught me.”
“What?” Chauvelin recoiled, feigned surprise overtaking his face. “Guillotine you? My dear Marquise, I did not track you all the way from Paris merely for the pleasure of seeing your lovely head roll.”
She looked at him sharply. That glance held a world of distrust, not only of him, but of anyone who claimed to be worthy of her confidence.
“No, you are going to help me capture two prize enemies of the Republic of France.”
The girl laughed, a bitter, mocking sound. “What use could I be in your intrigues? I have been in England these last months, and know nothing of the underground which snatches refugees from the hands of your precious government. No, take me to the guillotine now, and have done with it!”
The look he fixed on her now was decidedly calculating, and frighteningly intense. “You need not gather information. You need only write what I tell you to write, and sign your pretty name at the bottom. Perhaps try and let a few tears fall on it for effect. It would cause you no trouble, and then you could return to England with your brother. After all, you do want the family legacy to continue, do you not?”
“I would die before I would help you,” she spat.
“Perhaps,” he mused. “Perhaps. But would you also let that brother die, when you came to France to save him? So young…so alone…ah, well!” he ended cheerfully.
“You monster!” She lunged at him, managing a wild swipe across his cheek before the guards dragged her, still struggling, off.
“I think we understand each other.” Citoyen Chauvelin stood there, bleeding, in the rain, and delivered to her his ultimatum. “Betray to me the family you hate, and you will have your brother back. Do not, and you both shall die.”
On her part, fuming silence.
“He is nine now, Angèle. I wish I could say he was a strong and healthy lad, but I’m afraid that prison is not conducive to either strength or health.”
She turned this over in her mind. “Who—“ Her mouth worked around the words slowly, as if unable to force them out. Slowly, she managed. “Who would you ask me to betray to you?”
The resulting smile was almost kind. “Only the two in the world who most deserve it. I want you to deliver to me Marguerite and Armand St. Just.”
Somehow, both occupants of the huge four-poster managed to sleep through the clattering of horse’s hooves on the drive. They slept through the commotion downstairs, as the late-night visitor pounded upon the door until their butler awoke and reluctantly admitted him. They even managed, through great effort, to stay mostly asleep as their caller charged up the stairs, hesitating only at the doorway to the moonlit bedroom.
“Percy—” hissed the familiar voice. “Wake up, man! We’ve need of the League!”
Lord Blakeney merely mumbled and buried himself further in his wife’s neck. “Go away, St. Just.” Marguerite felt him stiffen; the movement dragged her abruptly closer to consciousness. He questioned, incredulous, “Armand?”
Marguerite caught the words “impropriety,” “message,” and “League,” from where she’d buried herself under the pillow in a desperate attempt to go back to sleep. With a long-suffering sigh, Percy disentangled himself from her. She must have clung to him, for he kissed her forehead and mumbled “I’ll be back soon, Love,” in her ear before quitting the room with his ever-impatient brother-in-law.
Real sleep proved elusive, of course. Marguerite found herself staring blearily at the shaft of moonlight which illumined the far wall of the room in ghostly shades, trying to make sense of what had just occurred, before the slamming of a door down the hall jerked her peremptorily into full consciousness.
Armand! At Richmond! And in need of the League. The prospect of seeing her brother thrilled her, of course, but she felt a selfish stab at the thought of another mission dragging her husband away into peril once more. She’d had him to herself the past three weeks, first in Dover, and now at Richmond. They’d been together longer than any time since before their marriage; she knew it had to end soon.
Besides, Marguerite consoled herself, he wouldn’t be leaving her behind on this mission. She had taken her oath as a bounder of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel expressly to avoid being left behind, and she was thoroughly prepared to charge into France at his side.
Drawing on a wrapper of thick green velvet (and smiling at the pimpernels embroidered on the collar), Marguerite padded down the hall towards the light which emanated from under the door of the study. Their voices were raised; she could hear them quite clearly from the hallway.
“I’m not saying I won’t, my dear man, I’m merely pointing out the difficulties with this endeavor. For one thing, we’re not even sure our source can be trusted. How do I know she’s not conspiring with the enemy?”
“She is an angel, Percy,” Armand’s voice replied. “And even if she were not, she has no reason to love the Republican government.”
A short silence. “If I did…go after them, I would go after all of them. All of them. How would I even contact the lot? From what I’ve been led to believe, their code is so strict that they don’t even see the people they provide with refuge.”
voice dropped as he muttered something about disguises, but Marguerite
had heard enough already. Raising her fist, she pounded firmly upon
the door, three sharp, distinct knocks.
It was answered by her husband’s sheepish visage. “Hello, dear. Couldn’t sleep?” he asked lightly.
She strode past him, into the warm light of the study, and embraced her brother affectionately. Then she announced to the room at large, “I do not like being left out of plans.”
“Margot,” Percy said in his most rational voice, “I know what we discussed. Believe me, Love, I do!” he swore, as she began to protest. “But this is not the mission for you. Trust me.”
She shot him a wary look, which plainly pained him.
“He’s right, Little Mother,” Armand put in. “Of all missions, this one should see you at home in England.”
Marguerite threw herself into Percy’s chair in a fit of willful frustration. “Will you at least tell me about it?” she fumed.
A sigh. “Armand received a note from an old acquaintance. It seems she’s currently taking refuge from the guillotine with the Sisters of St. Scholastica, in a small abbey near Luchon. Your brother’s break with the Republican government is by now well known, and apparently she contacted him in the hopes that he could help her and her associates escape—” he glanced at the paper, “—the noose which even now tightens around their necks.”
The Pyrenees. Not his usual haunt.
“I’ve had word of this abbey from my couriers,” Percy continued. “The French government, rather than seizing their property as it has most others, has left them mostly alone. Not worth the time to reach such a remote, isolated location, I suppose. But recently, their Mother Superior offered part of the edifice as a safe haven for all fugitives. Needless to say,” he smiled ironically, “Our friend Robespierre is not happy.” His eyes took on the far-off look of the adventurer. “I’ve been expecting those people to need my help, but I did not expect Shovelin and his crew to move so quickly on what was, until recently, such a small threat.” He addressed the last part of his speech to Armand. “I have had word, corroborating your source, that annihilation threatens them within a very few weeks.”
Marguerite spoke up, “And who, pray tell, is Armand’s source? Did you not think I might know this aristocrat, too?”
“You do, dear,” Percy said. He handed her Armand’s note.
At the bottom, in flowery handwriting stained with tears, the sender had signed it “Angèle de St. Cyr.”
On to Chapter 2
Let us ride, let us ride home again with a story to tell.