Lady Hastings shrank discreetly into the shadows as the menacing black carriage thundered aside, guessing---and fearing---the dark identity of the pale, hollow eyes that watched from that dark interior. Regaining the humble, unashamed bearing bequeathed by her costume, she stole a glance over her shoulder at Phillipe and the trailing Marquis... then froze as quickly, realizing suddenly she could no longer see Isabella Charboneau in de Pontmercy's shadow. Her own carriage loomed in front of her then, and she found her terrifying thought delayed by the urgency of the situation at hand. “Into the carriage, Monseiur le Marquis,” she said quietly, making an absent attempt to mask the horror in her voice as her frantic eyes sought the sideyard shadows. “My dear madame...monsieur.....” the Marquis began brokenly, with a quick glance back at Philipe to include him into the speech, “how can I ever begin....” ”By getting the carriage and doing what I ask you,” Eliza answered rather shortly, severing the joyful expression of gratitude that the poor Marquis had begun: a noble, if ill-timed, attempt in halting English. Eyes wide, the Marquis obeyed; weakened from weeks in prison, he would have stumbled had not Lady Hastings slipped a quick and pale hand under his elbow and guided him gently into the dark liberty that awaited. That done, she beckoned Philipe, now hobbling towards the carriage door, to come close. “Philipe,” she whispered, in English lest the Marquis should overhear, “have you seen Mademoiselle Charboneau since we left the prison?” He stiffened and whirled round, realizing for the first time the young woman was nowhere to be seen among the close-clustered, blue shades of early morning. “Isabella? I....she was right behind us..." he responded, feeling, as he did, his gut freeze within him, "...could she have gone another way?" Lady Hastings didn't answer. Phillipe's desperate eyes sought the guards at the Temple side door, now approaching the carriage..."surely they wouldn’t have....and then left us....?” Lady Hastings shook her head, bewildered. “No, I think not....but she may have seen something...and fallen behind....” Young Isabella...no sign of her, and with an emergency at hand...Lady Hastings noted a building fury in her throat. She knew that she couldn't desert one of her own, but her vow to the Guild couldn't allow her to expose the Marquis to further danger by loitering about...and what of Sir Percy and his men? Time was of the essence...just when they needed it most...nearing desperation, Lady Eliza Hastings wondered what Sir Percy would have done in such a situation. She did not have much in common with her husband’s leader---Sir Percy was a different sort of person altogether, prouder and more assured then the quiet, studious Lady Hastings and, as Eliza would have been the first to admit, a good deal more clever and ingenious then herself or most anyone she had ever met--but in one thing they were most alike. Both demanded a vow of unquestioning obedience and loyalty. Such a vow, if taken seriously, was a gesture of tremendous trust on the part of the taker, and both Sir Percy and Lady Eliza would have died sooner then betray that trust, but in return they naturally expected such a vow to be scrupulously kept.... Isabella had run off alone, who knew to where or with what intention, without so much as a by-your-leave to Lady Hastings, disobeying her leader and putting herself, the Guild, and possibly even the Pimpernel and the Bounders themselves in danger if she were captured...combined, the matter darkened Eliza's mood to an icy reticence that boded no good thing for Mademoiselle Charboneau when her leader found her. Eliza said something low and quiet to the driver, a thin, nervous man who seemed to have some humanity in him still...and that, coupled with a liberal desire for money, had persuaded him to assist them. The woman then reached under her habit into the pockets of the loose trousers she wore in lieu of a gown for such missions as these, and drew forth the bit of pencil and scraps of paper she carried with her always....one never knew when urgent communication was needed, and where threat of eavesdrop loomed, such was the providence of the written secret. She scribbled something on the paper, hastily, and handed it into the Marquis. Philipe caught a glimpse of it...it was not written in the neat, tidy, feminine handwriting of the note he and Isabella had received yesterday---was it really only yesterday?---but in a rapid scrawl that he could only just decipher to be written in English. Lady Hastings took a quick glance at Phillipe; now, the better half of his costume removed, he stood hunched over in the shadows, speaking softly to the Marquis' giggling sons and freeing them of their odd positions. She smiled a bit as he reached to tousle the younger boy's dark locks. “M’sieur le Marquis,” she said quietly, turning, the respectful, authoritative tone revived in her voice, “May I ask a favour of you?” ”Anything, Madame!” the man replied fervently. “You and monseiur and mademoiselle have...” ”Yes, yes, we know,” she interrupted coarsely. “The driver has orders to take you to the Rue de Compelichale. There is a boarding-house there. On the second floor of that house is room #17. Knock on the door of #17, and give that note to the young woman you will find there. She is to be trusted and obeyed as implicitly as you would trust and obey me. Do you understand?” ”Yes, madame,” he answered. As Phillipe reappeared at the Guild leader's side, he noted that, prudently, the Marquis hadn't broken into a flood of timid gratitude this time---apparently he was wiser then he had previously appeared. “Very well then,” Eliza returned. “Godspeed.” The children entered the scene then, clambering up the carriage steps to embrace their father's legs, through the weight of the nunnery robes, in glee. The Marquis touched their heads lovingly and appeared to choke back a sudden swell of sentiment. ”God bless you, madame!” he cried one last time. Lady Hastings smiled as she closed and secured the carriage door. “He does, monsieur. May He do the same to you.” "And you will surely walk in heaven for what you do!" Not anytime soon, I trust, Phillipe thought, grimacing as he tore his hair free of his cumbersome habit. And then, the carriage was gone, moving off at a brisk trot--swift enough for safety, but not so fast as to attract attention. Perfect. Eliza turned back to Phillipe. “We are going to help Isabella now, I presume?” he questioned. The easy words could not mask the deep anxiety in his tone, and Lady Hastings, touched, laid a sympathetic hand on his arm. “First, I wish to wait for the young woman who will shortly arrive....it will take no more then ten minutes, my dear Phillipe, never fear.” The young man sat down on the ground wretchedly, his eyes full of dread and his heart full of concern for the young woman he loved like a sister. Lady Hastings looked down at him, suddenly imperious, the dark blue eyes commanding. “I sent the Marquis on to her temporary home rather then Sir Percy’s lodgings because I fear something may have gone wrong. I am going now, to look at the Rue St. Anne and see if all is well. Go into the shadows, there, and DO NOT MOVE from that spot, do you understand me?” ”Of course,” Philipe muttered, a little sullenly. With the fluid grace of a deer, Lady Hastings dropped to one knee before him, her long, dark cloak coiling about her, and took his hand in both of hers. “Philipe,” she said earnestly, “I know Isabella is like family to you. I have known her for only a short time, but I too care for her. And even if I did not, I would do ANYTHING in my power to protect her. As the leader of the Violet Guild, that is my responsibility. Such a responsiblility would come even before my husband, if it came down to that. But I am sworn first and foremost to protect the Scarlet Pimpernel, and I must have the information about the Rue St. Anne, as well as the help which only this young woman can give me, to do that adequately. You swore an oath to trust me....do keep it.” She did not give him a chance to respond, but rose in silent, undeniable strength and vanished into the dark maze of the treacherous Paris streets. Philipe looked after her for only a moment, then rose and drew back into the shadows himself, to watch, pray, and worry until her return. +~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ +~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ Isabella certainly needed someone to pray for her, at the moment. The guards seized her roughly at a sharp cry from someone and held her upright facing the man from the alley. “Ah, the little spy...” he began, beckoning her forward and deeper into the plane of his falcon-sharp vision. Isabella held her head high as she strode before him and planted her feet, a brief and unthinking effort affected in reluctance to being dragged. "Still alone in the streets, my girl?" Their eyes met then...it was inavoidable. Something seemed to pass between them, something strange and irresistably foreign...it seemed to Isabella, in that small instant, that Citizen Chauvelin knew her all too well. His ghostly, placid eyes seemed to know her very heart, her soul, and her face much more than they ought to have in the span of all their brief and previous encounters...she thought she caught the faintest trappings of awe flickering in the storm of his eyes... He seemed to be staring at her in disbelief, pale eyes wide and hungry, and she saw the hand at his side clench in uncertainty. “Citoyen?” one of the men questioned. The man in black shook his head, like a dog coming out of water, and seemed to recover himself. “You may leave,” he said, eyeing his soldiers peremptorily, his voice taught with the icy tone of one who is accustomed to being obeyed. The brittle echo of it reminded Isabella eerily of one she had often used to get her own way... Noting the hesitation of his guards' step, Chauvelin swept back his long cloak to reveal a sword at his side. Isabella shivered a bit at the sight of his sarcastic little grin. “I think I can handle one lonely young girl.” ”You...you could not last night,” Isabella remarked, the distraction of his haunting eyes making the insult slightly less piercing then she had intended. “Ah, but you had a companion then, did you not, citoyenne?” he questioned in reply. “A companion who seems to be nowhere about at the moment...and even if he is, my guards received a very scathing reprimand last night after I woke up, and I fancy they shall keep a better eye on me this time.” Isabella would have expected his vioce to be harsh, sarcastic, mocking, as it had been last night...but instead, she found his words surprisingly...uncertain? "You...remember me, then?" Isabella asked experimentally. There was something about the familiarity of his gaze that deeply unnerved her. Chauvelin studied her face for a long moment, lips tight, eyes attentive. He seemed to be searching for something... He seemed to be momentarily lost. "From the alley?" Isabella hinted flippantly, hands on hips, finding that a newfound air of nonchalance made the encounter oceans less frightening. "Ah yes, of course. Naturally. And you recognize me. But," he said, drawing her closer to the empty carriage and further from curious ears, "I don't believe we've been properly introduced. I," he said, nodding his head ever so stiffly, "am Paul Chauvelin of the Committee of National Security, and you may address me as citoyen. And you are..." Isabella hesitated only a moment and shrugged lightly. "What do you want of me, citoyen?" Chauvelin smiled bitterly. "Hmmm..I do believe I asked first?" A pause. "My name is...Isabella," she murmured, tossing her dark hair over her shoulders, almost in defiance. Chauvelin's head jerked up suddenly; Isabella fell half a step back in shock. His eyes, twin pools of faint quicksilver, froze to her face, as grim as tombstones...something about her name alerted him deeply...too deeply... "Last...name?" he asked, his voice a hushed, almost frightened whisper. "Charboneau." Chauvelin relaxed only slightly, and a strange vacant expression came over his eyes, as if he was thinking deeply, thinking back... “Citoyen?” a guard questioned again, alarmed, no doubt, by his employer’s sudden tension. Chauvelin leapt slightly at the sound of another voice. “It’s alright, captain!” he called back, grabbing Isabella’s arm a little too roughly. “I’ve got her...” He turned back to Isabella. “Charboneau...sounds aristocratic..hmm?” There was a cruel little smile dancing about his mouth now, and Isabella would have liked a great deal to strike him with all of her force. But that would only result in her ventilation by musketfire before Chauvelin even hit the ground...and besides, there was SOMETHING that had caused him to lose that sardonic facade twice...at times, she felt rather like...his equal? He seemed to hold her in some sort of regard, although she hadn't the faintest idea of why... Still, she knew instinctively that he would only continue to respect her so fundamentally if she managed to keep hiding her emotions from his notice, as he seemed to do out of intuitive... "And where are the rest of your family, my girl? These...Charboneaus?" “They were murdered,” she answered shortly. “By someone of your acquaintance, citoyen.” ”Ah,” Citizen Chauvelin responded, nodding emphatically. “The great Madame Guillotine, no doubt? But...a correction...that is not murder, my dear Mademoiselle Charboneau, that is called justice.” ”Some would call it justice,” she agreed, meeting his cold gaze fearlessly. “Some would also call your precious guillotine a lady, and the Republic a thing that is not a delusion run amuck.” Chauvelin only smiled thinly, apparently impressed by her swiftness of tongue. “Will you not tell me, my dear mademoiselle, just what you were doing sneaking around the prison-yard at this early hour? Truly, wandering about and without an escort....I’ll wager you have not slept since our charming little encounter last night? I did manage a little bit of rest, thanks to your boorish companion.....that puts me in better shape then you, I think.” ”But with a splitting headache,” Isabella added. Chauvelin looked at her, then smiled faintly, this time in almost friendly amusement. “Perhaps. If you would come with me, Mademoiselle Charboneau...” And without further ado, he yanked her almost angrily along, into the dark of the beckoning prison door. In spite of herself, she gave a quick, involuntary cry of pain and alarm, drawn out by his rough handling, and he spun on her. “Oh, dear, I'm sorry!...” he said suddenly, the words blurting out of him, touching the forming bruises on her arm. Gaping, she stared at him in solid disbelief, awed by the sudden softness of his voice and the gentleness of his touch. He glanced up from her arm, met her eyes, and stiffened. It was gone the next moment, the incongruous tenderness, swallowed whole and replaced by pure, bitter stoicism...and then, swinging upright, he averted his gaze quickly. “Come along then!” he ordered, in a tone far coarser than moments ago, and oddly forced...and jerked her into the chilling gloom of the infamous Temple Prison. +.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.~+.+.~+.~+.~+.~~+.~+. Phillipe lingered quietly in the shadows, maddened, helpless thoughts racing through his mind as he waited, rigid with anxiety, for Lady Hastings to return. Isabella...he had never truly realized how much she meant to him until just now, this very moment, when it seemed his soul would explode for want of her safety. He felt akin to her in so many ways, and somehow knew, as he had known from that first sight of her, shivering, below the decks of that England-bound vessel, that he had been bound by God to protect her. Without her now, fearing the worst, his heart only felt gaping and empty, almost as if part of it had died; this was the moment when his mere months in Isabella's acqaintance culminated to the point that he realized, with fervent sincerity, that he couldn't have loved any son, daughter, or relative as much as he loved her. Wait...a brief reflection reminded him that he had already once discovered, much to his surprise, the depth of his feeling for her...for what other woman would he dress up and parade himself as a prioress of the Benedictine church? He smirked in his seclusion. Yes, Lady Hastings had urged him into the ridiculous costume, calling upon his vow of unquestioning obedience to the Violet Guild, but it was Isabella's playful pleading, as she had chased him about the room with the nunnery wardrobe in hand, and the urgency of her handsome, stormy eyes that had convinced him to don the habit at last---and, once it was done, he found that he had hardly noticed the horrible embarassment and absurdity he had feared...after all, he had done it for her... “Are you de Pontmercy?” a voice demanded suddenly. Phillipe whirled, a frightened hand on his blade. But the figure facing him did not appear menacing. Quite short and broad, the face and even the gender masked by a huge, deep blue cloak wrapped closely about, the figure stood in silence and waited. There were hints of a wide mouth pursed in suspicion and wary, glittering eyes, but otherwise all was wreathed in shadow. The whole form was tensed with the uncertain wariness that Phillipe now felt stiffening his own limbs. After a long moment, the figure repeated quietly, “Are you Phillipe de Pontmercy?” ”Who are you?” Philipe countered. There was a silence, then the figure spoke gently....Phillipe realized with a shock it was a girl’s voice. “A friend. I’ve come from the Rue de Compelichale, where I left the Marquis and his two sons. My name is Benjamina Hastings, and if you’re from the other side...” A glimmering blade suddenly appeared in her chubby, harmless looking hand, held with the easy confidence of one who knew well how to use it. “I don’t plan on going easily.” ”Mina??” Eliza glided from the shadows, her dark cloak wrapped tightly around her spare form. The girl spun in quick relief, and the two women embraced briefly, then seperated. "You did receive my note?" Eliza murmured. Mina grinned. "Aye, what one could read of it....your writing's worse than Timothy's at times, I declare." Lady Hastings stepped back and looked from the quickly-sheathed blade at the girl’s side to Phillipe’s naked sword, and shook her head with a half-smile just barely visible in the wakening light. “Really, Mina, must you start a fight first thing?” Benjamina Hastings grinned a little shamefacedly, brushing back her hood with one hand. She had a cheerful face, round without being fat, a broad mouth surrounded by laugh-lines and amiable hazel eyes. Eliza smiled at her, then at Phillipe. “Phillipe, may I introduce the rascal who gave you such a scare....Benjamina Hastings, my sister-in-law.” ”Gave HIM a scare? What about me, eh? Oh well. Hullo!” Benjamina prattled happily, the brewing conflict of a moment ago forgotten as, grinning jovially, she stuck out one round hand for Philipe to shake. She had an accent he could not quite place..certainly it was similiar to Lady Hastings’ clipped English tones and the cordial speech that had, at this point, become almost more familiar to the young Frenchman than the melodious sounds of his own language...but there seemed to be something else tinting that youthful, girlish voice as well. “Benjamina, this IS Phillipe Aramis de Pontmercy, never fear,” Lady Hastings added. “Ya don’t say,” she answered with a grin. “I sort of assumed you wouldn’t let me shake hands if this was Chauvelin.” “No," she said, laughing a little, "I'm pleased to announce that he is NOT Chauvelin." Then, grinning with a mischief not forgotten since childhood, she added, "but he HAS been mistaken for a prioress!” Phillipe only glowered at her as Mina laughed gaily. “A prioress? Ooh.” She bobbed a deep curtsey, trying to look serious and respectful without succeeding, a merry chuckle escaping her as soon as the sentence was finished. “I beg your pardon, Madame, I did not know I spoke to a holy woman...” ”Ferme la bouche,” Philipe retorted, surprised at how quickly his tension melted away under this genial young girl’s easy comaraderie. “Naughty boy, bad form to be impolite to a lady!” she chided, rising. Philipe opened his mouth to reply, but Eliza beat him to it. “My friends?" There was at once humor and affection in the words, but neither could deny an unmistakable command. “What is it, Lottie?” Benjamina asked, the silly grimace wiped clean from her face. She knew that tone of voice. “Lottie?” Phillipe asked, confused. Eliza glanced at Phillipe oncce, flabbergasted, and offered a hasty reply before rejoining her former train of thought. “Lottie...Charlotta. My middle name. But as I was saying, my friends...we’re too late.” All three of the sentences chimed with that same cool, matter-of-fact tone...so much so that it took a moment for the awful words to sink into Phillipe’s brain. He stared, blankly, disbelieving, as Benjamina cried sharply: “Too late?” Eliza nodded solemnly; her companions, as one, wondered how they could have missed the sobering lines of taught worry bitterly straining her calm features. “I've spoken to the concierge. Percy and the others have left already. They’re on their way to the prison as we speak.” A heavy beat. Phillipe felt as though he had just leapt from a crumbling precipice, eyes set on the safe ground inches away...and slipped. “Lottie....” Mina rejoined softly. “Is Timothy on this mission? With the Pimpernel, I mean?” Eliza stared at her, in sympathy, for a long moment, then quietly nodded. The young girl's jovial face paled ashen with sudden thoughts of her brother's safety...but Phillipe, ignorant, found himself wholly consumed by a different concern. “And Isabella?” Lady Hastings sighed. “Wherever she is, she must get back to us without help, at least for a while.” “But..” Philipe began rebelliously, rising to his feet. Benjamina turned on him viciously. “But what? But what?! So she got herself lost. Or captured. So WHAT?” Philipe stared at her, shocked at the sudden venom in the easy-going voice. “You think your little sweetheart is more important then the Scarlet Pimpernel? You think her life is more important then the dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds he will save if he is kept from danger? Yes, you probably do, poor love-lorn little BOY...” Phillipe found his breath heaving angrily within his breast as the last word was more spat then spoken. “Mina.” Ladt Hastings spoke quietly, almost as though she lacked the strength to voice her command with any force...but there was no mistaking the unsheathed power behind that one soft word. Benjamina subsided, unhappily, and after one restful moment, the Guild leader spoke again, dark eyes intent in the morning light, her obvious dread fading as a sudden strength seemed to swell within her. Eliza closed her eyes for a moment, as though in silent prayer. Then, ever so gently, she turned to gaze at Phillipe. “I know you are worried about Isabella. And I know you are worried about Timothy, Mina. I am worried greatly for both of them. But WE CANNOT FALL APART. They are moving into the trap right now...unless, by great chance, Isabella manages to find us or we her soon, it is only us three. In our hands rests the fate of the Scarlet Pimpernel.” There was a moment of shocked silence. Then Eliza swung around and strode up the streets, cloak billowing out behind her, with a pace deceptively unhurried, but her long legs ate up the ground beneath them so quickly that Philipe had to stride swiftly to catch up. Benjamina trotted in their wake. +~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+ >> “I don’t like it,” Ffoulkes muttered sullenly, peering out at the gradually lightening prison yard. “Oh, hark at him!” Armand jeered, nervousness adding a bit more acid to the jest then usually existed in the easy joking betwixt the Bounders. “We’re to make a rescue this morning, Chauvelin’s carriage is here, the place is swarming with guards, and he doesn’t like it. Clever you are, Ffoulkes, the chief’ll have to step down soon, you’re so sharp you shall cut yourself.” Sir Andrew glowered, but he was a gentle soul, not easily provoked. And besides, Tony, seated on the roof of the carriage in disguise, had just tossed his heavy muffler at Armand, releasing the tension and effectively silencing the boy...for all that he was not all that younger then them, three or four years, perhaps, on average, yet many of the men in the League thought of fiery, impulsive Armand St. Just simply as "the boy". “The leader’s coming,” Antony Dewhurst’s quick whisper warned them from the top, and those of them who had stiffened at the suddenly approaching footsteps relaxed. Blakeney, looking a good deal more like a drink-sodden old man then most of them would have thought humanly possible, shuffled around the carriage with a hobbling old woman close behind him. He vanished into the darkness inside, and an instant later Sir Percival Blakeney, Bart., albeit a trifle more grimy and ill-clad then usual, peered gaily out from the window. His “wife” had already seated herself on the carriage steps, brushing aside a wig of tangled once-blond curls and awkardly arranging around him the tattered skirt over rough trousers, revealing the compact, mild form of Lord Timothy Hastings. Percy looked down at him and chuckled slightly. “Oh shut up,” his friend replied amiably, not looking up. “You ought to bloody SEE what you look like.” ”I can imagine, thankyou!” Sir Percy retorted, edging his powerful form past Hastings on the steps and going to stand near Armand sitting quietly on the floor. “I say, didn’t I give this particular get-up to Tony?” Blakeney queried, plucking the muffler from his young brother-in-law’s head. Armand flushed, and Tony laughed softly. “Only way to shut the pup up, Percy.” ”I would remind you, sah, wasn’t so long ago you were a bit of a pup y’self,” his friend retorted. Then he sobered suddenly, staring at the prison yard. They sat in an old carriage drawn by a deceptively slow-looking horse, in a tiny side street that had the unique benefit of giving them a view of the prison without revealing themselves. His sharp blue eyes darted across the yard, taking in everything and anything, and almost unconsciously the Bounders tensed for an order...Tony twisted around in the hansom seat to watch, Timothy rose from the steps and stood leaning against the carriage whilst Andrew left the seat and took his place, and Armand glided to his feet with the easy, thoughtless grace reminiscent of his lovely sister. The four, three of them Blakeney’s closest friends and the fourth his brother, watched their leader survey the enemy, toying with the muffler in his hands in absent meditation. “It DOES look like a trap,” he said to himself, so softly only Armand could hear it. “Damn Chaumbertin, it DOES seem a trap.” “What do you think, sir?” Ffoulkes asked. Of all of them, he had known Percy Blakeney the longest, and he cared not at all for the expression in his friend’s eyes at the moment. With what seemed like something of an effort, Blakeney brought himself back to the present. “I think we should stay here, at least for awhile. We need more information, we must know more...." ”I’ll go!” Tony volunteered, nearly leaping from the top of the carriage in his enthusiasm. Blakeney grinned up at him and shook his head. “Nay, I’ll go back and see what else can be learned...makes the most sense.” There was no question that Blakeney was the best at disguises of them all, and that he spoke French at well as Armand or better. Besides, there was a note that crept into his voice at times, easy, gay, but filled with a perfect self-confident authority, a note the men in the League would have thought of disobeying with no more conviction then they should have thought of flapping their arms and beginning to fly, and that note was there. The Scarlet Pimpernel swiftly resumed his disguise back inside the carriage, and after a moment an obviously drunken ruffian lurched from the darkness of the cab and was off, turning back only once, to give a long look at his young brother-in-law, a look intent on communicating something. Sir Andrew was speaking low and earnest to Tony on the top of the carriage, or he would have seen that look and known what it meant. But he was not watching, and so no one knew of their chief’s plan until Timothy slipped into the carriage to don an extra cloak, for the early morning was chilly. He gave a sudden low moan, and Antony and Ffoulkes swung down from the top with a quick grace that belied both their strong, sturdy builds, and with Armand were waiting to greet him as Hastings emerged from the carriage holding out a small scrap of paper. Ffoulkes grabbed it from him and read it aloud to his friends in a low, bleak voice. “Going in alone. Do not come after me. If I am not back with them by eight o’clock, return to England and tell her I love her.” Signed with the tiny image that was now more familiar to them then their friend and leader’s true signature, for he communicated with them far more often on matters of the League then of society, the Scarlet Pimpernel. There was a dreadful, heavy silence...then meek, gentle Timothy severed every mixed emotion with a few sad words of resignation, as though finally shrugging despair and anger to the wind: Demmed idiot, God save him! +~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+ Percy strode off into the early morning quiet with an easy confidence at once unmatched and, somehow, guilty. He could admit that he was deserting the Bounders, but he knew that it was for their own good...after all, wasn't it easier to snare three or four men--- Than one?" His eyes, like pilgrims, explored his every step of the way as though the action of walking were quite foreign; but he took care, of course, to glance about ever so discreetly, so as not to look furtive. His eyes seemed to consume everything, every shadow, every flicker of movement, calculating, analyzing...his mind never seemed to grow tired of such work. It was thrilling somehow. The Bounders were far behind him by the time he reached his cart, waiting in a shaded alcove against the Temple walls. The cart, more like a wheelbarrow, actually, would serve as a wardrobe, shelter, and functional prop all in one, not to mention Percy's safe ticket in and out of the Temple Prison...provided said "trap" was loose enough to slip through. And if not, well, at least the Bounders would be free to carry on without him... Percy changed costume quickly, and in moments, he looked as grimy, crass, black-smudged and ultimately wretched as a poor coal carrier ought to be. Goodness knew he had been in worse get-ups then this, but that did not mean being filthy and ill-clad could grow on a fastidious man, and Sir Percival Blakeney could not quite resist a shudder as he smeared coal dust across his face, streaked it through his fair hair to turn it a dirty grey, and generally made himself filthy. But then it was over, and as he paused to survey his arms, legs, tattered clothing, and a lock of hair he pulled round in front of his eyes, he found his mouth wide with smug satisfaction. He deposited his former costume with care into the cart, under the blanket concealed by the deceptive heap of coal, where his hand felt a few folded sets of a French soldier's uniform (for the Marquis, in a selection of sizes), and the heaps of straw that would soon be replaced by the Marquis' two young sons, to hide there, beneath the coal, until safe. It was a solo affair, and one of his first... Hunched over in an effort to conceal his giveaway height, Sir Percy made his weaving way to the sideyard of the Temple Prison. Chauvelin or no, he was ready! +~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+ Getting into the Prison was uncomplicated; the soldiers at the sideyard door expected the coal carrier once a week. A few did, however, note that it wasn't the same grimy little coal carrier as had come before, a small, spidery man who deeply resembled a primate (as Percy had noted when he had visited the individual in question to purchase from him the privelege of delivering coal for the day); but Percy was quick to reply that the man, le Singe by name, was ill at home. The soldiers had seemed to appear a bit suspicious of this, business as usual with most of Percy's missions, but, as this newfound citizen had papers et al in perfect order, they let him pass without difficulty. The soldiers spared him barely a glance, which Sir Percy took to mean his costume was working well....although novel, the effect of this disguise was the same as aways, masking him among the throngs of miserable people of the sort that eyes slide over without properly taking them in. Percy shuffled onward to the main hall of the Prison first, although le Singe had carefully instructed him to deliver the governor's coal foremost, because he was irritable about such things; still, Percy readily admitted to himself, and dimly recalled cheerfully informing le Singe, that he didn't give a tinker's damn about the governor of the Temple Prison. He wanted the Marquis, and quickly, to smuggle him right out from under Chauvelin's tactful nose... As he rolled his clattering cart along the halls of the Prison, Percy took a brief moment to review his plan. The Marquis would don the soldier costume, and the boys would clamber into the coal cart...then, once the Marquis was dressed, Percy would spur back towards the fore of the chamber, lift his shovel to fill the Prison stove, and accidentally spill coal all over the Marquis' immaculate uniform. Infuriated, the dirtied "soldier" would sieze and drag the impertinent coal carrier from the Prison immediately, without interference...the coal smudges on the former's face would help to hide his identity...Percy only prayed that the Marquis would prove a decent actor. Usually, the Scarlet Pimpernel didn't leave as much responsibility to his quarry... Percy moved forth. The bins where the coal was stored during the week were located in the back of the main prison chamber and, as he learned by absently chatting for a moment with one of the less clever-looking soldiers, in the fortunate vicinity of the unknowing Marquis de Vauche. It was an exceedingly simple operation...we all know that Sir Percy posessed an extraodrinary knack for causing people to let drop important, perhaps even lifesaving, information without their own personal knowledge. Percy found him in no time. The man was still seemingly young, although the fading powder in his dark hair made him look older and grayer than intended by nature; only by the blackness of his beard, unshaved for what Percy would estimate as weeks, could the latter guess at the man's true age Percy moved forward very slowly and caught the man's attention with even greater discretion. He noticed with something of a shock that the two young boys he was also to rescue that morning were nowhere in sight; his deepest senses alerted themselves to the faint chime of a warning bell in the shadows of his brain... "Monsieur le Marquis?" he questioned quietly, keeping his voice low and raspy and disguised still, in case he was mistaken. "The Marquis de Vauche?" The man's head jerked up, and disconcertingly pale eyes stared at him in surprise, all that was visible in the face surrounded by a thick dark beard and shaggy hair. Sir Percy knelt next to him, seeming to have dropped a few pieces of coal and wishing to gather them. As he did so, he slipped the uniform from his coal-cart and pressed it into the Marquis' hands, slim white things just visible beneath the all-enveloping black coat. Then, all at once hesitant, as though he wanted to make absolutely sure of what he was doing, Percy didn't quite release the uniform to his quarry's eager grasp, causing him to look up, startled. "Just a moment sir..." Percy said cautiously, his voice edged by faint concern, "what of your two young sons?" The Marquis, eyeing the uniform once in an odd urgency, and hiding in the shadow of that great bale of hay, looked at Percy with an irrepressible weariness in his hauntingly pale eyes. "My sons..." he said in a raspy, very harsh and strange-sounding voice, "my sons were taken from me yesterday, sir. I have not seen them since." Sir Percy gulped; but there was no time for grief at the moment. True, this did make things a great deal easier....but the risk was the farthest thing from his mind. He had wanted to save the children. But now their father had still to be saved. The same father who gazed at his would-be rescuer with uncertain, wide eyes with only a glimmering of hope deep within their pale depths. From then the Marquis then obeyed Percy's every order without question, almost as though he somehow expected his sudden appearance. Poor, confounded French aristos, Percy thought in sad, brief amusement, I daresay they ALL expected to be rescued by the Scarlet Pimpernel. There was little time, and Blakeney spoke quickly. +~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+ "My name is Etienne de Grantaire," said the tall young man, approaching the girl where she sat flanked on all sides by Chauvelin's soldiers, "assistant to Citizen Chauvelin of the Committee of National Security." He seemed to notice her face falling in immediate disgust, and his next words were slower, pronounced almost grudgingly. "I am to keep an eye on you until Chitizen Chauvelin returns." Isabella's eyes, reddened as they were from an ongoing effort to hold back an outburst of hysteria, studied the tall young man with care. He was indeed very tall, seeming almost taller than Chauvelin himself, with handsome, smooth, pleasing features that rather reminded Isabella of the sculptures of the angels she had seen about Paris, at the Opera, and near the Seine. But she knew instictively that this man was no angel...unless it was an angel of death. He did work in association with the Committee, after all...and in likewise association with Chauvelin, which made him a hundred times more accursed. His charming appearance did little to placate the unprovoked repulse she felt for him. Still, she found his eyes quite promising, very sweet and dark, framed above by curly brown hair that came over his forehead now and then, only to be brushed nonchalantly back a second later. At a moment's examination, his appearance in the prison was incongruous and almost absurd; he looked far more like a toymaker than a murderer. Moving forward again and adjusting his immaculate black coat (bearing the sinister red, white, and blue ribbon on his lapel), he seated himself in a vacant chair opposite hers, and dismissed the guards there back a few steps. His tone was exceedingly polite...but it only clawed at Isabella's nerves. "And may I ask of you your name?" "You may not," she replied, in a brittle voice laced with hostile venom. The young man was only startled for a moment before recovering himself and his former obliging manner. "You...are no doubt very much afraid at the moment. Chauvelin only gave me a few words before running out the door, but---" "He believes that I was spying for the Scarlet Pimpernel," she responded doggedly. De Grantaire paused. "Well...were you?" Her eyes blazed as she shot him a glance as fierce as cannonfire. "Have you come here to be absurd? The Scarlet Pimpernel!" she scoffed, prepared to launch him into her sad, faux situation, "I'd scarcely heard the name since I arrived here! I'm a seventeen year-old French country girl come to visit a friend in Paris. What would I know of the Scarlet Pimpernel?!" "Still, mademoiselle, you must have been engaged in something reprehensible, to be caught so suddenly? Spying in the Temple sideyard, perhaps?" His voice lost none of its intelliegent former sweetness, even as he sat quietly, suggestively, condemning. "I shall readily admit that I was a fool to act on such a girlish whim...the men all looked so handsome in their uniforms, and I only wanted to see..." "And the carriage?" he urged, leaning forth a bit in his chair. "You wanted to see who was in the carriage?" "Well..." "Or did you know it was Citoyen Chauvelin and wanted to catch a glimpse of him?" Uncertain, Isabella smiled a little. "Why are you asking me this, citoyen?" De Grantaire looked at her for a moment; Isabella had noticed that he had been virtually unable to keep his eyes off her throughout their encounter...she couldn't help but wonder why. "Had you ever met Citoyen Chauvelin prior to this day, mademoiselle?" "Not to the best of my memory. Again, citoyen, why do you ask?" "It's just that..." de Grantaire's voice broke off, hesitant, "well...he seems to know you." Isabella froze...since that morning, since perhaps even since that night in the alley, Chauvelin had never ceased to fill her mind for a moment...he was there, dark haunting... "What...what provokes you to that assumption, monsieur?" "Why...surely, who wouldn't notice your resemblance to one another? Rather interesting, if you ask me...and I've never seen him treat other prisoners with such respect, fundamental, at least..." Resemblance, yes...there was that factor, wasn't there? Those same pale, furtive eyes, the glossy, thick dark hair...the sharp, intelligent, lean features, the powerful but relatively small stature...the impulse...the air of given authority...but the respect? Could there be a connection--- A whistle sounded without tore Isabella reluctantly from the mysterious, tempting embrace of these thoughts...she glanced once, in brief puzzlement, at the tall young man as the soldiers lifted her to her feet, the leader muttering something about a signal. Etienne de Grantaire bowed his head in a farewell gesture of respect, but his eyes never left hers...that gaze fused them for only one mysterious moment, then was gone...but Etienne's eyes, alive with intrigue, followed until the shadows swallowed her whole. ******************** "Idiot!!! Imbecile!! Foolish clumsy beast!!" The Prison guards spun in wonder at the sound of a harsh voice raised in loud, authoritative fury. A fellow soldier stood stiff with anger, gripping the arm of the stooping coal-bearer. "I am sorry, citoyen-soldier, sorry, sorry..." the man sputtered, cringing. The soldier only seemed more fierce. "Sorry! Oh you'll be sorry alright..you've just lost yourself your livelihood, you filthy old man! Come along, quickly!" One of the guards stepped forward. "What's the matter?" he questioned of his fellow-in-uniform. The soldier snarled, raising an arm as if to strike the coal-carrier, who flinched away from the impending blow....preventing Percy from seeing the quick, understanding look that passed between the other guard, the one who had spoken from the shadows, and the disguised Marquis. "What's the matter? What's the MATTER? This blaggard got coal all over my trousers...just look!" n trembling fury, he gestured to the spotless white trousers he had been wearing, now more resembling a filthy dark-grey mess. The coal-bearer had evidently struggled quite a bit, for coal now also streaked the soldier's face, hair and the front of his once-immaculate blue and red jacket in long, hand-shaped stripes. No sooner had they faded round the corner when the Marquis' rough, overbearing attitude vanished. Percy had to admit that we was deeply impressed; the Marquis' theatrical skills had surpassed his every expectation...it was almost frightening how well things were going! He smiled quietly to himself as the Marquis turned to face him. "What now?" he questioned, low and frightened, speaking in a rough, harsh whisper. Percy felt a brief pang of exasperation, but after all, he had to acknowledge that the man had not known he was going to be rescued, however much he might have hoped, and Blakeney had had only a few quick seconds to explain to the Marquis his newfound part in this enterprise. "Just keep doing what you were doing," he answered quietly, "out to the cart. You're going to march me right out into the street, you're so angry.....after that, it's a simple matter, my friend, for us to slip off into the streets, and you shall be safely on your way to England by nightfall." "Quick now!" Percy cautioned suddenly, not waiting for the Marquis to nod in response, as two soldiers, deep in conversation, came around the bend and strode toward them. The Marquis stiffened, and began again berating his rescuer anew. The hallway leading to the sideyard was dark but for the meager light of a few scattered torches in iron stanchions along the walls. The two followed the walkway and stood only about fifty feet from the sunlight, and freedom, when the Marquis de Vauche froze in his tracks and stopped to listen. The coal-bearer...as he......back yet?" The answering guard sounded quite confused: "No...takes a while...?" "Fools! You just...duped by the Scarlet Pimpernel!"Percy felt the blood chill in his veins and wash, in an icy tide, over his mind. He could only stand there, debating...a small voice sang throughout his head: it's happened, it's happened, you knew it would, you knew you couldn't do this forever...".and he was suddenly conscious of a faint sense of mingled relief...he felt rather like a man leaving the prison after twenty years, with the scaffold finally in sight. He had never truly thought he could do this and not get caught...every rescue was a gamble, a desperate game of life and death. When he won, lives were saved, but every gambler looses sooner or later, even the cleverest and most fortunate.... The Marquis, behind him, had heard the words as well; it was his tragic gasp that collared Sir Percy and dragged him back into the present. It was not merely a matter of himself, he then realized....there was this man he had sworn to save. And, after all, there was someone else waiting out there, far beyond the filthy Paris streets, who would be hurt terribly if he was captured, someone he would have died to keep from the slightest pain...he shut that thought off instantly, viciously, for he could not afford tender remininces now. "This way!" the Marquis whispered, once more in that harsh, coarse voice, drawing his savior to a doorway on the left. "I know of a passage!" Absently lost for any other immediate solution, Percy followed. The rescued man now played the savior as he led his companion back through the hall they had just crossed, and up into where a small side-passage ran off into the darkness. They ran on and on, into a long, black, deserted chamber seeming never to end. Then, at last, just as Percy caught a glimmer of daylight in a cracked-open doorway a good ways ahead, the Marquis seized his arm with a grip of iron. that strange voice came again, grating against Percy's senses with something that almost stung like...familiarity, perhaps? Odd... "Monsieur..please..rest.." He was wheezing hard, and seemed about to fall--undoubtedly he had had little enough to eat these past few days, and the mad dash combined with the almost unbearable strain of the situation and his recent grief over his poor children had weakened the man terribly. Percy nodded faintly, concerned; it was too dark to see much more of the Marquis than the twinkle of his eyes in the light of a single, flickering torch on the wall. It was a very mysterious twinkle...almost complacent... "My dear monsieur....?"he queried softly, anxiously, "are you quite.." And then there was the laugh. It was a sound that began low; Percy thought, for the first half-second, to be a product of his darker imagination...but it was there, and real, and wicked... "A valiant effort, Sir Percy," the Marquis said, sweeping back his coat to reveal a hitherto-concealed sword at his side. Percy could have damned himself for not recognizing the husky, if faintly disguised, voice he should have been able to pick out in a crowded ballroom. Chauvelin!!! "Foolish, but valiant." One pale hand seized Percy's wrist with a grip of steel, and the other swept upward, sending a ragged wig tumbling the ground, and yanking from his chin the flowing beard. The corridor was dark, heavy blackness pressing close about them, but something lent Chauvelin the power to see his nemesis' face in the shadows...he chuckled, watching the face, and for a brief instant there was a great deal there to give him pleasure, for he alone saw the Pimpernel's face fall with the weight of iron, and his eyes whisper a momentary, breathtaking resolution that would have torn the heart from a stone statue... but then it was gone, replaced by a deep, powerful determination that made the disaster look like a passing interest. That same old glimmer of flippancy, the one that Percy had used so often to drive his arch enemy into a flying rage, glimmered where should have been terror. The sleepy, inane look came over his eyes in the darkness, and he stood tall above his opponent in the crowding blackness. "Sink me," Percy said, almost cheerfully, "one moment I'm up to my face shovelin' a bit of coal, and the next, I find myself smack in the face of Shovelin' himself. Funny the way providence works, n'est pas, citoyen?" "Sometimes it takes little effort to disguise oneself and succeed, Sir Percy," Chauvelin sneered, "when the one you mean to deceive is too busy disguising himself." Not in the least did Chauvelin attempt to conceal the exuberant pride that pulsed through his every word. The day was his, at last! Percy only smirked lightheartedly back...a frail effort to hide his terror..."Odd's fish, I've no time for philosophy, friend Chaumbertin, and I shall acknowledge your fair disguise. The wig was clever, though; quite clever...although I daresay it looks like something died atop your head. And the lice! Tell me, does your head itch, my dear Shovelin'?" It just so happened that Chauvelin was certain he DID feel a slight prickling along his scalp, but damned if he was going to scratch his head in front of this idiot. Percy, too busy waiting to see what was going to happen, didn't notice, as Chauvelin did, the lines of soldiers creep free of the darkness, young Isabella held back by two of them. The dark man barely found time to smirk victoriously at Sir Percy's hapless jests before the girl's scream tore him from this thoughts in shock. "Look out, Sir Percy! RUN!!" she shrieked; anything louder would have brought the heavens down about their ears. One soldier clamped a hand over her mouth and Chauvelin could only stand, staring helplessly, at her flailing, squealing form. Somehow, the sight deeply, painfully managed to upset him...he started forward, all gloating forgotten and replaced by a sudden, urgent fury. "If you harm her, soldier, you will be begging me for something half as fast as the guillotine!" he snarled, so low that not even Percy could hear. This momentary distraction was Percy's golden chance; he seized the rapier from Chauvelin's side and backed against the wall, fervently readying himself to challenge the soldiers that had now begun to close in. Percy made eye contact with the strange girl then, in silent, frail gratitude...he had never seen her before, but he knew that she was a friend. Set on his motives all at once, Percy's eyes burned as he charged the girl's two captors; the men shrank back as they instantly released their captive and fought to reach their own weapons. For the moment, at least, Isabella was free. Chauvelin stood still, unmoving, watching not Sir Percy, but the young woman behind him, a young woman who now stood behind him with her fists clenched tightly, hesitating...a lock of dark hair tumbled in her eyes, and she shoved it behind her ear with a fierce, impatient gesture that was oddly familiar. A faint, almost unbearable hope swelled deep in Chauvelin's embittered heart...surely, surely not... "Run, my girl!" Sir Percy hissed to her, only just realizing she had not already left, frantic as his sword rent the shadows and courageously fought off the blows raining down upon him. It was his blade alone that kept the soldiers to his fore and allowed Isabella, forgotten by all but Percy and, probably, Chauvelin, to inch hesitantly towards the barely-opened rear door. "Run now!" came the Pimpernel's voice once more, far more desperate this time. He was surrounded "My men..." a gasp for air as Percy countered the enraged attack of four soldiers at once..."in the alley...to the prison fore..." he was yelling now..."tell them what's happened..." the swords clashed as Percy held them back, kept them far away from the girl who was probably his last chance..."and tell her...tell her I love her!!!" Chauvelin himself could scarcely have disobeyed that voice. Percy gasped then as an especially persistent soldier got past his guard, and a swordpoint raked a thin cut along his shoulder. Isabella felt chills jog her spine as Percy roared, almost the wild howl of a lion going down in battle, the heat of the conflict consuming him entirely now... Isabella went, the force of Percy's last command propelling her a few steps down the corridor as strongly as a physical blow. And by then her instincts had taken over and she was running, with a terrible, biting pain in her heart, thinking faintly as she did that Chauvelin, for some bizarre reason, as he had only stared there at her in the hall, watching her escape, had allowed her to go free. *~ The Temple Prison, flooded by sunight, offered no visible source of aid for Lady Hastings as she studied the grim stone tomb in silence. Just behind her, Mina rambled on about something or other, while Phillipe stood peering over her shoulder, eyes intense on the small figures that, now and then, stirred the cobblestone pavement with shadows just outside the Prison door. "There's at least ten soldiers standing guard there, in the sideyard," Phillipe noted in a low tone, ignoring the worried prattlings of Benjamina Hastings, who no doubt found talk a sufficient excercise to dispell her own building anxiety. "Surely the Bounders won't attempt to go in when they can clearly see that it's a trap!" Lady Hastings shook her head sadly. "Oh, aye, they will see it is a trap. But Chauvelin knows my husband's leader too well, and his friends....they WILL still make an attempt to rescue the Marquis and his sons, regardless of the danger, which is why it is so important that we find them before they move---my dear girl!" Three startled sets of wide eyes spun as Isabella staggered out of a dark alley mere paces to Phillipe's left. She cut a terrible sight before her three bewildered companions, her new sky-blue gown soiled from the filth of the prison and the alleys, her hair madly disheveled, wild, her complexion ashen and cold and her eyes haunted to an extent that terrified. I short, she looked as though she had died moments ago...then only to lurch back from the spirit world in horror, a shudder mingled with an odd and profound relief... She swayed dangerously on her feet as she drew near, breathless; Lady Hastings took a few swift steps forward, her cloak, no longer held close against her body, billowing out around her, as Philipe leapt to his feet with a wordless sound of concern---but Benjamina was quicker than both. With a speed and grace that put to scorn any notion that her solid build was any impediment to her phsyical fitness, she had sprung from her improvised seat, covered the distance between her and the pale young girl in a matter of a stride or two, and gently led Isabella toward the barrel. But Isabella seemed to have vaguely recovered, and waved Benjamina off with a wan smile. "I'm fine, really, I am, it was just, for a moment there..." The color had returned to her cheeks, although a terrible, despairing knowledge of something still haunted her eyes, and she stood quite rigid as she swung around to face Lady Hastings. Something about the way she stood made the elder woman bite back the words of concern that leapt to her lips; Eliza raised one thin, dark eyebrow. "Well?" Isabella spoke softly, but with undeniable certainty. "The Scarlet Pimpernel has been captured." Benjamina nodded expressionlessly, her round face blank with shock, and Phillipe sent a harsh oath spinning off into the gentle morning, but all Eliza did was stiffen, suddenly, and draw the young girl as close to her as possible, so that Mina, looking near tears, and Phillipe, pale with disbelieving terror, clustered close to hear. "Tell me." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~+. +.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Desolate, the Bounders had little to do but wait. Armand, translating too late the long, communicative look Percy had given him---the look of an adoring husband commending his dear wife back into the hands of her brother---silently blamed himself, sitting apart from the others with head in hands. Lord Tony, after an outpouring of rage(directed mostly at a convenient and unfortunate paving-stone) that just escaped being called a temper tantrum, had disappeared into the sanctum of the carriage. Andrew Ffoulkes had a little more faith in his friend (albeit a faith that couldn't dispell concern), and strode restlessly up and down the length of the narrow alley, shoulders slumped. It would have taken just short of the end of the world to make Timothy Hastings' mild face and tidy form express anything other than vague perturbation, at least in the presence of anyone other then his wife; still, his anxiety waxed apparent as he twisted his ragged costume skirt back and forth and constantly rose from his seat on the steps to pace a short, restless circle before resuming his position. Suddenly Armand's thin form shook in a sudden, violent sob, and Timothy abruptly rose and went to stand by him, speaking in a low, sympathetic voice that served to soothe Tony and Andrew as well, although they could not hear the exact words that were said. Then the whistle cut clear across the still morning, easily consuming the faint sounds of waking Paris, a distant rendition of an easy, vaguely reminiscent melody that alerted its listeners for only a moment...but had someone been watching Timothy Hastings very closely, they might have seen the brief stiffening of his shoulders. The tune played on for a moment more, then died. About five minutes later, just as the melody and the memory of it had drifted almost entirely from the other ears present, Timothy rose in silence. "Have to..um..you know," he muttered---Hastings was not one of those people comfortable discussing body functions---and shuffled off into the shadows. No sooner was he gone from sight then he broke into a run, off into the Paris alleys. She began speaking, low and quick, even before he had reached her, and although she stopped in her outpouring long enough for a brief embrace and fervent kiss, the parting of their lips set her words flowing madly once more. There was a great deal of information to be shared, instructions and plans to be exchanged, and Timothy had but minutes before his comrades noted his absence and sallied forth to make sure he hadn't gotten lost or succumbed to disaster. "And so the Pimpernel is undoubtedly imprisoned...I doubt Chauvelin will have him killed, at least not right away, but knowing the way he struggles...well, I can have more Guilders over here in a day, two at most, and there are always a few in France, but it would take longer to get any word to your other men, wouldn't it? So for now 'tis only I and my three, and you and the other Bounders..." "Your three?" Timothy interrupted, his tone suddenly demanding. "I thought you came with only de Pontmercy and Charboneau..." A brief shadow of guilt ffluttered across Lady Hastings face, and she said a little too quickly, "Oh, there was a third in Paris, I happened across her and thought it would be foolish not to incorporate her help....Timothy, what will your fellows do?" A small, playful smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Them? The boy will be all for storming the Temple single-handedly, right away...Tony will advise we wait a day to think, THEN storm the Temple single-handedly, and Ffoulkes will advise the three of us go on back to England and gather the others, plotting meanwhile to storm the Temple single-handedly by himself." His wife nodded. "So it is mostly up to us..." "No!" Timothy said fiercely, taking her arms in gentle concern. "You and the others must leave at once. Charboneau and de Pontmercy are undoubtedly marked, in any case, and may well be recognized, and you..." "And I what?" Eliza questioned. Timothy floundered, and she only smiled, shook her head and kissed him. "I'll be careful," she promised quickly, then pressed his hand. "You must be getting back.." With that, she was gone again. Timothystared after her for one long moment, then trudged dejectedly back to his own comrades, striving to come up with two things: number one, a story to explain where he had found the information, for he still remained the only fellow in the League to know of the Pimpernel's constant rearguard; and number two, a way to prevent the ever-faithful Bounders from diving into the jaws Madame la Guillotine post-haste.