"..the Darniers, of course; Seleton and that daughter of his; and Phillipe Marnieu's orphans, I want them safe with their aunt in England, poor mites. And," he made no pause, continuing smoothly on, trusting implicitly in our acceptance, "Mademoiselle Jeanne Lange."
It was -- naturally -- Tony who said it, although I rather believe we were all thinking it. He leaned back in his chair and spoke in a voice meant to be bantering, but with an underlying, rocklike hardness to it.
"And will we be having the *invaluable* assistance of little Armand St Just this time?"
Percy allowed the implications to fly deliberately over his fair head, looking at Tony with dimwitted surprise.
"Why, no, Tony, Armand's in England, restin' up a bit. You knew that."
Tony sighed and leaned forward.
"Blakeney, you don't really trust the jackanapes, do you?"
I tensed somewhat, but said nothing. I knew, for certain, that I was the only one that knew the full extent of Armand's treachery. I had presented my half-formed theories to Percy in the midst of another conversation, and received vague, grudging confirmation -- determined to protect another's honor as to defend his own -- of how Armand, with full knowledge, had betrayed his leader, friend and brother-in-law into the merciless hands of a murderous regime and a man who wanted nothing more than the Pimpernel's death.
Blakeney raised his eyeglass deliberately and surveyed Tony.
"Laa, man! Have I reason not to?"
He allowed Dewhurst no time to answer, moving swiftly on as if the interruption had not occurred.
"There's no prison involved, of course, but they will have to be gotten safely from the Rue St Germain -- which one can never be sure isn't watched -- to our safehouse half a mile from.."
"Really, Percy...” his voice was tight, bitter, strange for Tony. “I somehow doubt you have forgotten Paris.”
Blakeney paused, his finger still on the map of Paris, his back to us.
"Lud, sir, must we drag that up again?"
Tony, warmed to his subject, continued with mounting fury.
"It's foolhardy, Blakeney. The boy was, he is..."
"He's headstrong, Tony," Blakeney interposed in a mellow, amused tone. "Most boys are. And some men," came the pointed addition.
Glynde laughed, awkwardly, and I attempted to smile, but I knew both too well to hope it would end there. It didn't. Tony shrugged off the taunt.
"He is more than headstrong. He is a liar and a traitor.."
"A traitor, I WILL say it! He's without honor, without honesty, a cheat and a perjurer.."
"Tony," Percy's voice was still quiet, but almost dangerous now.
"He should have been horsewhipped and left at home in his room, if he wasn't hung on sight with the apron strings he's so fond of.."
Percy turned with something on his lips that he bit back -- he folded his arms and leaned casually against the wall, but Tony, hot now, met his gaze unflinchingly. He was in the right, of course, and he knew it..
"I do think, my good fellow," he was neither the fop nor the leader now, but something in between, less careless than he let on but unquestionably in earnest, "that I might be trusted to decide whom I should and should not trust, on my own.."
Tony dropped his gaze, reproached by the faint tone of query.
"Of course, Percy. But.."
"See here, Percy.."
I entered the colloquy at last, sharply.
"Tony, be still."
I didn't often speak like that -- it was half the surprise at my curtness, and half a final comprehension of the hardness in Blakeney's eyes, that finally succeeded in quieting him. There was a breath of a pause -- Blakeney, to my eyes, seemed uncertain for an instant, unsure whether his authority had been enough challenged to justify a pursuit of the discussion. Tony, however, while still righteously indignant, wore now a chastened air -- convinced he was right, he was nonetheless undisposed for further argument. Percy was our leader; that was enough for us all.
And so, after that merest breath of a pause, Blakeney continued as if it had never happened, thereby, in some subtle way, half-erasing the incident from our memories.
"So then. Tony and Glynde, you'll get them from the house in the Rue St Germain to the place a half mile from the North Gate, and I'll be waiting there -- I'll get them out myself near sundown, that's when security is lowest."
"None of us to help you?"
"I think it's best I handle it on my own. You three must find your own way out of Paris however you can -- before sundown, or very soon after, I should think, in case we are recognized and a hue and cry is out. By midnight, we all must be at the rendezvous farm outside of Paris -- if I've no sign or word from any of you, I shall assume you've been taken and act accordingly."
We all nodded.
"Jeanne Lange is the least at risk of all of them -- it is a dangerous group, and I would take them in relays if I thought we had more time, but we've used the house in the Rue St Germain for far too long."
"Due for something to go wrong?" Tony suggested, half jokingly. Percy nodded, chuckling slightly.
"I don't trust my luck that far. Any safehouse that serves us for over two months is becoming dangerous. We'll ride hard, straight from Paris to the coast, with only the briefest of stops for rest when we change mounts."
"That will be rather hard on the poor souls." Glynde looked up in concern, and Blakeney sighed wryly.
"I daresay it shall, but they know what will happen if we take it a leisurely pace..they'll not, I think, be inclined to argue." He grinned. "And some of us dandified aristo types can be of a bit stronger stock than one would think, you know."
"And some of us," Tony the mischievous put in, "cannot.."
Glynde raised an eyebrow.
"I do hope that was not a pointed glance at me, Antony Dewhurst.."
"I do hope I did not just hear you call me by *that* name, Philip Glynde.."
"And if I did?"
Tony was closer to the hearth -- he stooped, scrabbling for a piece of coal, and Percy held up a hand imperiously.
"GENTLEMEN -- and I use the term in the very, very loosest sense -- anyone who dares to throw coal in my room is going to be thrashed within an inch of his life.."
Dewhurst subsided unwillingly, muttering.
"Wait until I get you outside."
"What's outside?" Glynde queried curiously.
"You can take some coal WITH you for outside, if you want.." Percy offered consolingly. Tony appeared to be contemplating it when some distant bell chimed the hour, and Blakeney yawned elaborately.
"And that, I believe, will be our signal for disembarkment..to bed, all, and sleep well...I will endeavour to contact you in the forenoon, but if you do not hear from me proceed in any case, I will contrive to be at the safehouse in the afternoon some way or another. 'Now get thee hence, begone, away..!'" the actress' husband declaimed with sudden vigor, gesturing grandly toward the door, and Tony and Philip, chuckling, rose to leave. Tony gestured to me.
"Ffoulkes not leaving?"
"There's been a man hanging about my lodgings for the last three days," I explained quietly. "It may be just a loafer, but it's better not to chance it...I'd stake my life I wasn't followed here, so it's best I simply stay."
Percy frowned. His own lodgings were, by definition, always the most dangerous -- besides the mere fact that he ran himself far more risks than he would ever allow us to run, his rooms were often in the center of the city, near to the prison, so as to be convenient -- and he disliked to share them with any of us for fear of transferring that danger.
"I still believe you should get a room of your own.."
"I'm here now, and there's no point in arguing further. And we have but one more night in Paris..what are the odds..?"
Blakeney grinned and looked at me with mock-astonishment.
"My dear fellow, I never calculate the odds. Much too depressing."
"Are you going to fight over who gets the bed?" Tony demanded hopefully. "Can I watch?
Percy put a hand on his shoulderblade, propelling him firmly toward the door.
"Tony, go home."
He was ejected swiftly, and Glynde, chuckling, with a quick "'Night, Percy, g'night, Andrew.." followed. A sudden exclamation drifting back came a few seconds later, and Percy, with a glance at his now noticeably depleted coal bucket, began to laugh.
The laugh died swiftly, though -- he closed the door behind them, and there was a sudden change. There was no alteration in his posture, nor, I think, any in his face, although his back was to me -- but instinctively I felt the loosening of some bond in him, the sudden vanishing of a tension I had not even realized was there, and he stood a moment leaning against the door after he had shut it.
I spoke very quietly, trying plaintively to read something in the set of his back.
"Do you trust him, Blakeney?"
He sighed, turned, and strode to the window. There was nothing in his voice now, no easy mellowness or taut command, only the voice of my friend, resigned, wry and a little weary.
"I don't have much of a choice, now, do I? He is her brother."
I looked at my hands, my voice sounding very loud in my own ears.
"You never send him alone with one of us. Always, always you and him -- or if he is with us, at least you are there too."
He shrugged and replied quietly.
"Well, he is not your wife's brother, is he? I won't take.."
"You think there is a risk, then."
He sighed and rubbed one hand back and forth across the splintery windowsill.
"I have no fear of Armand, Ffoulkes. He was nearly ready to kill himself over what happened."
I spoke very softly, almost wishing he would not hear me.
"He nearly killed you."
Blakeney breathed out a short, wry breath.
"Heron and his friends did that...Armand was in love, Andrew...that is the way it is."
I would not have betrayed Percy for Suzanne -- I would have torn my heart out with my own two hands before I did that to him, as she would have wanted me to. And Blakeney had never once compromised his honor for the wife he worshipped. Hastings, Wallescourt, all had wives they loved and honored -- but they, and those wives, honored their oaths more. I said none of these things...but Percy, turning, saw it in my eyes, and smiled a little.
"Well, that is the way it is for some people." He glanced downward, toying with the small signet ring on his little finger. "But she is safe now, or will be soon...and Armand will not betray me again. He loves his sister.." Blakeney looked up at me suddenly, firm conviction in his tone. "He loves his sister, you know. And she, heaven only knows why, loves me. And so I have no fear of him now."
He turned, grinning a little. "And if I did, well, I could get out of it again, as I did before, with your assistance and the good Lord's, eh? And now..to bed."
I rose obediently.
"We're not going to fight over it?"
Percy rolled his eyes.
"You can take it. I shall sleep on the sofa."
I shot an incredulous glance at the short, narrow horsehair and looked dryly at my friend.
"Blakeney, you shan’t possibly fit..”
He raised the glass to one azure eye and pretended to glare.
"I *said*, my dear fellow, that you will take the bedroom. Was it you just talking about disobedience and insubordination, Ffoulkes?"
I shook my head at him, resignedly, and ducked under the low lintel.
"Sleep well, Ffoulkes," he called from the room behind me. "We've a hard few days before us."
I did sleep well, for I had not slept overmuch these past few days, concerned by the unknown who lurked about my lodgings, waiting at any moment to hear the tramp on the stairs and the Republican soldiers at my door, and I was weary. But I was awake long enough to see that the light from the outer room stayed burning quite a long time, and even after it was distinguished that there were no sounds of Percy sleeping, but rather quiet noises as if he were moving almost silently about the room, noises which at last resolved themselves into a steady pacing which, to judge from its frequent uneasy intrusion into my dreams, continued throughout the night.
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