Angèle had fallen into an exhausted sleep some hours before. Marguerite had let her stay where she was, and slipped out of the closet to find her husband—to find anyone that she could warn.
She made her way down, towards the noise of the furnaces, having gleaned that much information from Mlle. de St. Cyr. The next room would surely yield the entrance she sought.
At that juncture, so near her destination, she was discovered.
The hand clamped down on her arm in an attempt to whirl her around, and the other clamped down on her mouth a bare moment later, cutting her off in mid-shriek. Marguerite found herself dragged quickly into the sweltering shadows of the furnaces, before a voice whispered, in English, “Lady Blakeney! I am going to let you go now. Do not scream.”
She nodded her understanding, and both offending hands were removed from her person. “Sir Andrew!” she hissed, nearly crumpling in relief.
“I apologize for my treatment of you,” he replied with a small, hurried bow, “but I had little time for formalities. Chauvelin has his guards combing the whole abbey.”
She nodded, the fright he’d given her already forgotten. “You escaped! What is our predicament? Where is Percy?”
“We all escaped,” he told her. “Percy assigned me the task he likes to call ‘damage control.’ I think Suzanne told him to do so; it’s a terribly dull job. I lurk in shadows, and take care of any unforeseen circumstances. And I was to find you. Sir Percy regrets that he was not able to come himself just now, but bids me to give you his fondest regards.”
She took hold of his arm, questioning him with a fervent intensity. “Sir Andrew, why can Percy not come himself? Has something happened to him? You must tell me!”
Her friend held up his hands in a pacifying gesture. “I cannot tell you, Lady Blakeney! Not yet. Please trust me that your husband is safe and well for the time being.”
She did not like these half-answers, but Sir Andrew would never disobey his leader by revealing his plans. And safe and well—that was something at least. If he managed to stay that way until the danger passed, Marguerite planned on making him slightly less safe and slightly less well in return for leaving her out of his plans like this.
She thought of something else. “Sir Andrew?”
“Yes, my lady?”
“If you are not terribly busy at the moment, I know of an unforeseen circumstance.”
Four soldiers marched quickly down stairs, past rooms, through corridors, intent on bringing Blakeney to Chauvelin, and his death.
They would undoubtedly have done so—only they found him much too busy taking a nap at the moment. This suited them quite well, as they felt the sudden desire to lie down on the stairs and take naps as well.
One by one, the guards patrolling the hallways in search of escapees gave in to cases of overpowering yawns. They were soon draped on tables, staircases, floors, like so many dead beetles.
In the dining room, too, French soldiers battled sudden attacks of sleepiness. And although they fought ferociously, not a one so much as noticed his companions’ distress before falling face-down in his stew.
Their erstwhile prisoners simply stared in amazement.
Silence did not reign for long, however, for the cooks soon emerged from the kitchens, chuckling boisterously and calling each other “duckie,” and “sweetheart,” in terrible accents. More staring ensued. As the haggard old women efficiently tied up the sleepers, however, the Abbess began to chuckle softly, shaking her head. Soon, her chuckling became full-blown laughter; she was joined by a little old nun called Sister Anne and a rather burly aristocrat by the name of de Pizan.
Finishing their work, the crones dusted their hands theatrically. “Well done, Dewhurst, old chap,” said one, shaking the hand of another.
“Why thank you, Hastings, old boy!” the other replied. “You were quite smashing yourself.”
“It was,” put in a third, “more splendid than a game of hazzard. Especially after Lady Blakeney herself bet that we could not disguise ourselves convincingly. How much do you think she lost for the SP?”
“I only wonder,” said Dewhurst, “what curses dear Chambertin will invent when he wakes to discover he’s been captured by a handful of old women!”
So saying, they all chuckled, quite disgustingly pleased with themselves.
After retrieving Angèle’s lantern from the furnace room, Marguerite led Sir Andrew into the dark passages of the grottos. Two steps later, she asked his advice as to the location of a dungeon, and, hoisting the light high, followed as he led her down into the maze.
It helped that they worked their way towards a source of light which was fairly near. In very little time (Marguerite had expected it to take hours) the two found themselves peeking carefully into a well-lit cavern, lantern kept out of sight.
Before the feeble-looking bars of the jail cell, two guards sat opposite each other. “This is typical,” said the first. “They always forget we exist down here.”
“How many times did this happen last week?” asked the other. “Three?”
“Just two, I think. It shouldn’t happen at all. We’re hard-working officers, like the others. We should get our dinner on time, like they do!”
Marguerite’s own stomach reminded her that she had not eaten in more than a day, and she bid it be silent.
“This is just typical,” the first guard repeated glumly.
Sir Andrew and Lady Blakeney retreated a few paces into the dark passageway. “Normally,” he told her in hushed tones. “I would rush them. My luck is fairly good; it comes of being around your husband so much.” He took a breath. “But if I fail, they are sure to search the passage. I cannot risk leaving you alone.” He threw up his hands helplessly.
“Would evening the odds a bit help?” she asked him. “Would it help if you had some kind of advantage?”
He gave her an apprehensive look. “You’re not suggesting that you—” he began.
“I am simply suggesting,” she cut him off, not unkindly, “that you listen to my suggestion.”
He nodded. “Very well.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Lord Tony Dewhurst stood oh-so-respectfully upon a table, “and ladies,” he nodded in the direction of the sisters, “allow us to introduce ourselves. Again.” Pulling off his wig and habit, he made a grandiose bow. “I am Lord Tony Dewhurst, and for those who do not already know, my friends and I are members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. We are here to effect your rescue.”
Instantly, the nuns burst into a buzz of animated conversation.
“We always seem to have that effect on people, don’t we?” muttered Hastings.
“It could be the ridiculously dramatic ways in which our spokespeople choose to introduce us,” Glynde suggested.
“Lord Dewhurst,” the Abbess rose, making her voice heard above the din. Respectfully, the room quieted—somewhat. “It seems that I owe one of your members an apology. I told a young lady last evening that we would not accompany you away from our home. We would not let it be violated without a protest.” She took a deep breath. “I was wrong. Our protests meant nothing, and I will not risk these women again.”
Tony nodded. “They will send more soldiers. And more, and more, until your walls crumble. I am sorry for putting your predicament into such blunt terms,” he told her. “Do I understand that we will have the pleasure of your company on the journey to Spain?”
“Yes,” the stately woman replied. “We will go with you.” Her gaze passed over her companions. “In fact, we will prepare for the journey now.”
As the women
moved to do so, another bout of hand-shaking went round between the members
of the League. Lord Tony dismounted his table, and they began to
address the concerns of their aristocratic charges. “I must know one thing,
though,” remarked Lord Hastings to the other bounders. “However does
Percy plan to fit this whole lot on the Day Dream?”
On to Chapter 8
"She gazed out beyond the river, beyond the sunset, toward an unseen bourne of peace and happiness..."