Those few miles. Those few, few miles, from Paris to Dover, from Dover to my London home..I had made it in only a day or so before. So few, few miles. The longest of my life.
I rode one horse nearly into the ground, fighting to get from Paris to the coast in one long, desperate sprint. Even on the passage across the Channel I had no time to think, no time to pause or collect myself...the sheer horror of it was still overwhelming me, that filthy man's filthy, toothless mouth, the broad grin as he told me, with such great enjoyment, brandishing the thumb-printed paper in my face, that the Scarlet Pimpernel was captured, really and truly captured, and ill, but ill or no, they'd drag him out to the guillotine soon enough, eh, citizen? Soon enough, tomorrow, or the day after...
God in heaven, grant that I am not TOO LATE!
I paced the deck of the ship restlessly -- Briggs offered me a cabin, once, and I must have given him a look to freeze hell, for he clapped me on the shoulder, hurried away and said naught of the sort again. My soul was not there, but darting back and forth, feverishly plotting the return to England, gather the others, tell -- tell Marguerite...and then back, back to Paris, swiftly, faster than Mercury, faster than fifty Mercuries, praying all the time that we were not, were not too late...
Father, Father, Lord, please..please..please..
I had a fresh mount at Dover, and because it was one of Jelly's horses, thought to change it for another, when the poor beast was staggering under me, halfway through the ride. But that horse, too, I rode mercilessly...this was beyond horses, beyond me, for I rode myself mercilessly too, I had not eaten or slept for two days and my body ached from the incessant pounding of the road beneath me. But I had to reach the others, and reach her, so that I might from there return to him. I would NOT be too late..
The longest miles of my life, but they came at last to an end. I thundered into my own home, into my own gate, in London, in the middle of a January morning, and stumbled numbly from the saddle, my hands half frozen to the reins, leaning on Albert's bewildered arm as he ran out from the stables, gasping out that I must see Lady Ffoulkes, and quickly.
Suzanne was waiting. She had heard the pounding hoofbeats, heard the alarmed cries of the stablemen, and she was waiting, pale and taut, clinging to the bannister lacking the courage, my sweet, to come farther and hear what terrible sort of news must attend such an entrance...the color rushed to her face and she nearly fell when she saw me, in sheer relief, for if it was I that stood before her she could not be receiving news of my death.
I stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up at her, my voice dry and cracked, and at that moment I could hardly see her as my wife, but only as another link in the chain of events that must come to pass so that I could tell HIS wife and then return to do what I could to save the life of my closest friend.
"Where is Marguerite?"
Her eyes widened, tears swiftly filling them.
"At her home, she is in Richmond..Andrew, Andrew, Percy is not...he is not.."
I shook my head, almost numbly, and suddenly felt my legs swaying under me. No. He was not. Not yet. There was time...lord and savior, give us time...time...
Suzanne caught her breath in a frightened little sob and fled down the stairs, her arms around me, and I half fell onto the stairs and leaned my head, in desperate weariness and wanting to cry, against her shoulder.
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