"I want to take part in it."
I daresay I tensed, though with great difficulty I kept myself from drawing breath or darting the sharp glance at Blakeney that my instincts dictated. In the interminable few seconds of silence, I deliberately counted to three in my mind, and then let my pen drop and turned, as if in idle curiosity, to look on Evan Cruche, who still sat quietly on the chair he had taken when he first entered. Cruche was a few years younger than I, a soft-spoken, wry young man with rumpled chestnut hair and broad shoulders. He looked steadily at Blakeney, who leaned back, uncrossed his legs, recrossed his legs and at last raised his eyebrows.
"You're welcome to, of course, young Cruche," -- Percy never failed to address anyone who was above a month his junior in that careless, wise-older-brother manner; I believe it was done in silent revenge to Tony, as Dewhurst reminded Percy of his seniority (Tony's birthday, I believe, was in July whereas Percy's was in August) with rather merciless frequency.
"We would have invited you, you know," Blakeney went on, "save I was sure you didn't' quite care for that sort of thing -- in fact, I'd swear I've heard you say that nothing bores you so greatly as a bit of horse racing.."
Cruche did not falter in the least. How he was so sure, I have never known, for I would take any oath that he could not have had any cause for suspicion, not from us or Percy. Perhaps he was merely a most remarkable actor. Be that as it may, he, in deliberate imitation of Percy, leaned back, uncrossed and recrossed his legs, and replied steadily:
"Racing does bore me, Blakeney. Rescuing people from butchery, however, holds rather more interest."
"And what on earth would I know of -- LORD!" he exclaimed suddenly and violently, sitting abruptly upright, "Ffoulkes, heaven help me, but I think this man speaks of the Pimpernel..." He yawned.
"Cruche, my boy, you're a good lad and so I forgive you your insensitivity -- but I must tell you that I view that ridiculous irritant rather in the way in which you view, well, racing.."
Cruche stood up quietly. I dared not meet his eyes, lest my gaze tell him something that was only Blakeney's to reveal, but he seemed in any case to have forgotten my presence. His voice was low and firm, but unquestionably in earnest, his frame tense.
"I am neither a coward nor a traitor, Percy. I need to help, and you are the only way.."
Percy flicked a fold of lace back from his wrist with a careless, easy motion and ran a speculative finger along the hidden stitching.
"La, sir," he queried, with only the barest suspicion of hardness in his tone, "and whatever makes you think I should want to risk my neck to fulfill your *need* to help? There's little enough in here, I suppose," tapping the side of his head with one elegant forefinger, "but such as it is, I should like it to remain *there*, on my shoulders, rather than elsewhere."
Cruche sighed and sank back into the chair, his shoulders slumped.
"Very well then...it is not, perhaps, that I NEED to help, but that they have need of help. I am not sure what one man can do...but I had wanted to try.."
My own voice broke the silence almost before I was aware.
"The Pimpernel is one man."
Evan raised his head and stared at me -- there was a single taut moment when I could have bitten my tongue out, fearful that i had crossed some line, precipitated something my leader, my friend would not have wished -- and yet Percy and I had never disagreed, he must have seen in the boy's face what I had..
Blakeney's voice, casual and almost joking but his own, and not that of a dandified idiot, came softly, amused.
"Ah, but the Pimpernel does not work alone-- he has friends who help him, who stand beside him, friends without which he could do nothing.."
Percy rose, turning from me to Cruche, all traces of humor vanishing.
"It is not easy, you know," he stated frankly. "It's cold, and dangerous, and dirty,"
"Filthy," I amended.
"--Worse. And for every life we save, there's a damnable lot of hours spent sitting -- I don't' say sleeping, for we don't' get to do very much of that either -- on what I firmly believe to be the hardest ground in this world or any other. Nor is it a great deal of gallantly charging to he rescue of sweet-faced martyrs or pathetic children -- there's haughty cows that make our British dowagers look like angels of mercy, and dandified cads I'd like nothing so well as to have a chance to horsewhip.." his voice, which had grown a little lighter, sobered again-- he had strode slowly toward Cruche's chair, and now stood before him. "But they don't' deserve to die. Not like that."
Evan stretched out his hand, and Percy grasped it.
"I understand," he said simply; and when next we sailed for France Evan Cruche was at our side.