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Cet Hereux Temps


by: Christina

 “Depuis plus de quatre mille ans
Nous le promettaient les prophètes;
Depuis plus de quatre mille ans
Nous attendions cet hereux temps.”



 
    Sir Percy Blakeney rubbed his eyes with cold fingers, and stared at the map again.  The route for tomorrow’s prison break took them dangerously close to the Palace of Justice, but any other route proved too direct.  He traced his finger over the map, looking for a course he’d missed, the way a child traces a maze before working it—don’t cross any of the walls, don’t fall into the traps.  No—the dangerous route was best.  ‘Twas not worth the risk of leading any gendarmes who might try to follow here, to the League, to—
 
    “Percy, come to bed,” the voice was so soft that at first he thought he’d imagined it.  A quiet sigh punctuated the request a moment later.
 
    “I will, m’dear.  I merely need to be sure of some last-minute details for tomorrow’s rescue.”
 
    Marguerite left the doorway of their room to see what he was poring over, white nightgown an unearthly veil floating about her, providing an ascetic contrast to the crimson hues the lamp brought out in her hair.  When she reached him, she deposited the flannel-wrapped brick she held in his lap.  “At least try not to freeze to death.”  She stood behind him, massaging his shoulders with strong hands.  “That map again?  You know every street near St. Lazare from memory.”
 
    “No, look.  This is the route we plan to take—” he traced the penciled line for her with a finger.  “—and this is the Palace of Justice.  Too close?”
 
    She leaned over his shoulder for a better view, studying the diagram intently.  Her lips moved as she converted distances in her head.  “No, not too close.  Not if you have a reason for it.  If the gendarmes at St. Lazare give chase, you’re probably far enough to avoid attracting guards from the Palais.”
 
    “Do you really think that,” he teased, “or do you merely want me to come to bed?”
 
    That earned him a frown.  “I would never endanger your life with a careless comment.”  She studied his face in the lamplight.  “You’ve worked yourself too hard, amour.  And tomorrow is Christmas.  Come to bed, and leave the rescue for another day.”
 
    “No; no, they’re scheduled for execution tomorrow.  And Glynde and Hastings are spending their Christmas Eve keeping watch to make sure nobody’s transferred in the dead of night.  The least I can do is plot a safe course of departure.”
 
    “Then sleep now, and leave the rescue for tomorrow.  Papa Noël won’t come if you wait up for him, you know,” Marguerite teased.
 
    “Very well, since you’ve helped with my conundrum.”  Decision made, Percy set the brick on the table, gave his wife a predator’s smile, and pulled her into his lap.  Marguerite let out a small shriek at such treatment, which he cut off by clapping his hand over her mouth until her giggles quieted.  “I liked your singing today,” he told her, granting a quick kiss.
 
    She smiled, and began softly, “Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle.  Un flambeau, courons au berceau.”  A pout.  “But you wouldn’t let me sing the English ones.”
 
    “A bit conspicuous in a poor neighborhood in Paris, don’t you think?”
 
    “Perhaps.  But I wanted to sing you the one that ends, “Sing oh, my love, my love.  This have I done for my true love.”
 
    He pulled her hands to his chest, to warm them, and smiled.  “You sang it for me now.  Are you satisfied?”
 
    But Marguerite would not be coddled out of her mood.  “Noël dans Paris!  It doesn’t seem like Christmas with people skulking about so, and cutting off carols whenever anyone walks by on the street, for fear of being reported.”  She put a hand to his face in apology.  “I’ll think of something happier.  Do you want your present now, or later?”
 
    “Both,” he answered, stealing a kiss.  “Can we put a bow in your hair and put you in my stocking?”
 
    She made a face at him, and waved her feet.  “I’m already wearing your stockings.”
 
    “La!  Father Christmas does visit France!  I must’ve been a very good boy this year.”
 
    Marguerite restrained herself admirably from responding to that comment, instead leaning her head on his shoulder entreatingly.  “Percy, unless you take me to bed soon, I will fall asleep here, and then we’ll both be cold.”
 
    “She commands, and her servant obeys!”
 
    Marguerite gave a long-suffering sigh.  “Oh, yes, you’ve been sweetness and light itself this year.”
 
    “Hush, m’dear, before you wake the whole house.”
 
    “I wasn’t loud.  You say that every time you know I’m right and you’re wrong.”
 
    “Shh!”

~*

    Percy liked to think afterwards that he woke because he missed her presence, even in his sleep, but more likely the soft rustlings of a woman drawing on her clothes eased him towards consciousness.  When he woke fully, Marguerite was gone, but the covers next to him still held her warmth.  He all but threw himself into his clothes, a peasant disguise, and was just pulling on his boots when the click of the door latch in the outer room signaled someone leaving.  He grabbed his coat, and ran out the door just in time to see her—wrapped in a large shawl—walk briskly down the street and round the corner.
 
    Following her did not pose any real difficulty.  She knew better than almost anyone in Paris how to elude a tail, but he’d taught her those skills himself.  Her heels clicked briskly on the cobbles of the midnight street.  She held the revolver he’d given her last month across her chest, mostly hidden in the folds of her shawl.  Percy grinned.  He’d best not let her catch him, unless he wanted to be shot full of holes before he could explain.
 
    Marguerite moved into a familiar neighborhood.  He glanced at the street signs as they passed, and by the time she opened the creaking gate at the old church of St. Roch, he had pursed his mouth into a thin line at the unnecessary risk she took.
 
    Midnight mass.  Christmas Eve.  Certainly, ‘twas an old and revered tradition, but she was more likely, in that candle-lit church, to encounter revolutionary guards waiting for traitors to the Republic than a priest and congregation.
 
    He heard the click as she cocked the revolver.  When no shot rang out after a few minutes, he followed.
 
    They’d been married in this church.  Most cathedrals in Paris were huge, Gothic affairs, but St. Roch had been built medieval days, stone columns supporting a simple, Romanesque shape.  Percy stopped at the porch to examine a design in the foremost pillar, something etched recently, and not yet eroded by weather—the outline of a fish.  The symbol, he recalled from school, that marked early Christian meeting places.  Intriguing.
 
    The pews were nearly filled with citizens hoping some brave priest would arrive to say mass, and Percy remembered in a rush that he genuinely liked the people of Paris.  He hoped they wouldn’t be too disappointed.  Marguerite sat dead center in the church, as he had expected, shawl draped over her shoulders.  When he entered the pew, stepping awkwardly over the other parishoners, she looked up, startled, and met his eyes with a touch of defiance.  He knelt beside her, covered her hand on the back of the bench in front of them with his own, mouthed “Joyoux Noël.”  She rewarded him with a radiant smile, and that was all it took, was all it had ever taken, for him to cast his lot in with these people, and sit back expecting Christmas instead of an arrest.
 
    Somewhere just outside the church, a boy’s soprano voice began a hymn.  “Veni, veni, Emmanuel…” The congregation took up the hymn, rising, and Percy turned to find not one, but three priests processing solemnly down the aisle.
 
    He followed most of the Latin mass, noting wryly that Marguerite responded as automatically as one of Pavlov’s dogs.  Years of training at a convent school would do that to one, he supposed.
 
    Then they sang every verse of “Adeste Fideles,” and Percy, watching his wife, noted the tears she blinked back as the music swelled.  No.  That impulse was not ingrained.  Caution had made him cynical, and cynicism limited the aspect of his vision that brought joy.  He kicked himself mentally.
 
    “Venite adoremus, Dominum,” Percy’s warm baritone joined the others.  Marguerite glanced up at him, startled, then flashed him a loving, sideways smile.  He smiled back, then let his eyes roam the faces around him.
 
    Those men—he knew those men!  He tensed abruptly, whispered “Marguerite!”
 
    She glanced at him in annoyance.  “Quoi?”
 
    “Those men—three rows in front of us, in the dark coats.  They’re gendarmes employed at the Conciergerie.”
 
    “What of it?”  The whispering drew irritated glances from those around them.  She was short with him.  “They’re Parisians.  It’s Christmas.  Hush.”
 
    “But—”
 
    “Shh!”

~*

    Nobody talked after the final blessing.  They left as they’d come, silent, alone or in pairs, boot heels clicking down the streets towards home like staccato drums in the night, unaccompanied by other music.  When they approached their temporary home, Percy slipped his arm around Marguerite, depositing a bag of something in the sewn fold of her shawl.
 
    “What—?”  She stopped, and fished out the present.  “Almonds?”
 
    “How did those get there?” he asked in exaggerated shock.  “Father Christmas must be magic, indeed!”
 
    “Percy, how on earth did you get these?  They’re nowhere in the markets.  I love almonds!”
 
    “I know.”  He managed not to look too pleased with himself.
 
    She chuckled indulgently, and patted his coat pocket.  “You might have an early present, as well.”

    Curious, Percy fished out a bag filled with dark chunks of something. “What…? When did you…?”  He shook his head, and recovered some of his composure.  “Candy?  I thought you did not approve of my sweet tooth.”
 
    “It’s called chocolate.  It’s from America, and you will taste nothing else like it, anywhere.”
 
    She did not exaggerate, and, sharing their Christmas presents, they managed to make a considerable dent in the supply by the time they reached the small, whitewashed house.
 
    Percy sighed.  “Home, for what it’s worth.  At this time of night, ‘twill be just as cold in there as out here.”
 
    He opened the door, to be greeted by a blast of warmth and the buzz of conversation.  “What on earth…?”
 
    “Who is it?” Marguerite peered around his shoulder.
 
    Inside, people in the elegant but ragged clothing of aristocrats filled the room, drinking cocoa, warming themselves by the fire, chatting happily with each other… A few children darted around the table with the most makeshift of Christmas presents, having turned their new treasures into items in some kind of obstacle course.
 
    “Percy!”  Hastings strode towards him, and clapped him soundly on the shoulder.  “Get in here, before you freeze us all solid!”
 
    “Edward…what…?  Tomorrow’s rescue…you went against my orders?”
 
    “Never, man.  We didn’t rescue them at all.  They escaped.”
 
    “Don’t be ridiculous!  We both know that’s impossible.”
 
    “It’s not impossible when the gendarmes unlock the cells and all the doors in the passages, leaving behind a scrap of paper with an inked red flower.”
 
    “Hastings, you can’t be serious.  What…why…?” Percy spluttered.
 
    “I am quite serious, unless you think Papa Noël delivered them here.”
 
    “Papa Noël!” Marguerite moved past him into the room, set upon making sure that all of the children received something for Christmas.

    “We did wonder where the two of you had gone,” Hastings commented.

    “Christmas service, of course!” Percy told him, eyes fixed on his wife’s beaming face.  “Peace on earth, goodwill towards men, right?”
 
    Margot caught his eyes and smiled in gratitude and love.


Fin

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