All the League taken--- ALL? Impossible that the information could be
false; unthinkable that it should be true. Captured they undoubtedly were,
however, and among them were the best beloved of many of those here gathered,
this Violet Guild.
Pale faces, a muddle of hushed questions,--- and a glum, furtive-looking
figure in the corner taking it all in. They were comforting one another.
Though burdened with sorrows of their own, they sought first for the
well-being of their friends. It was this compassion that had first attracted
the watcher to their ranks, for here indeed lay fraternite in its true sense,
one of the ideals which his own revolution-torn country had embraced--- or
purported to embrace.
"Fraternity has become fratricide", he mused sourly. "Equality--- yes,
the equality of the grave! And Liberty? A catchword merely, one to set the
mobs howling for the kill".
Yet here, the ideal lived uncorrupted. Among
these English, the veriest enemies of his country! He shut his eyes tightly,
biting his lip in consternation.
He was still lost in his thoughts when a sudden voice behind him made
him start. "M'sieur Delatour?"
Turning, he looked into a face he didn't recognize--- a face that bore a
slightly mocking expression.
"And why are you standing there in the corner?
Have you been naughty?"
Before the Frenchman could stammer a reply, the Guildmember motioned
"The Lady Hastings asks a word with you."
The leader of the Violet Guild was in earnest conversation with a
dark-haired friend, but extended a hand to Delatour as he reached her side.
He bowed over the hand, straightened, tried to meet her eyes.
sympathies, Madame," he murmured. "But pray do not despair. I shall
endeavor to secure the prisoners' release, though it cost mine own life's
He stopped, shocked by the near-smirk on the face of the mocking-eyed
one, and saw that Lady Hastings herself was trying to suppress a smile.
"What, alone? That won't be required of you. La,M'sieur, you have
much to learn, if I dare say it, about teamwork."
Delatour held his tongue. Obviously his English was faulty; he had never
been a teamster, and was puzzling about what exactly he was expected to learn
concerning such, when his hostess spoke again.
"Come, now," she continued in a gentler tone. "Your courage is not in
doubt, but those who effect this rescue must needs know at least some of the
League members by sight."
Here, the friend behind Lady Hastings whispered urgently into her ear,
but she only shook her head.
"We must trust one another at this point," she
said, "since each of us has a vital part to play. M'sieur Delatour--- I
understand that your lodgings in Paris have a private entrance, on a quiet
Marvelling at the extent of her knowledge, the Frenchman could only nod.
"Should the escape succeed, they can hardly stand about in the street
afterwards. There are eighteen of them, and not a few of us. It is possible
that some will be injured---" here, her voice caught slightly-- "and only in
groups of two and three could they be spirited from the city. There are safe
houses, some maintained by the Pimpernel himself, but not all may be
available when we require them. Might we impose upon your hospitality at
"Twould be an honor, Madame."
(He'd hoped for something that
involved more derring-do, and suspected he comprised but the outermost layer
of contingency.) In this time of calamity, however, there was far more at
stake than a young gentleman's self-importance. The wisdom of the decision
was apparent; as a newcomer, Delatour was as yet an unknown quantity in the
equasion. Readily he committed the details to memory. His hostess excused
herself, and moved to put an arm around the trembling shoulders of one who
looked to be no more than a child.
Speaking when spoken to, darting a green-eyed glance nervously here and
there, the unobtrusive presence went largely unnoticed. Already the
turbulence within him was being quelled by a quiet resolve.
So many fair faces! So many courageous hearts! And yes, some of them
were recognizable as performers he'd actually seen onstage! This one had, he
was certain, played Iphigenia at the Comedie-Francaise, and that one---
hadn't it been she who'd begged for the old man's life in "The Virtuous
Tribune"? (a wretched play, whose only saving grace was its winsome ingenue)
By the time the meeting dispersed, Olivier Delatour had learned the names of
most of his fellow Guilders, had actually held his own in a verbal exchange
with Mocking-Eyes (his mind continued to call her by that name), and his
melancholy face was lit with the shy glimmering of a smile.
It was gone soon enough, of course.
People DID still smile in Paris--- a good many, if you wanted to add in
the bloodthirsty leers, the death-grimaces, the grinning of countless
disembodied skulls. The man in the hired carriage had no wish to add them in,
had no wish to think about them. In his memory the gathering hovered yet,
and the instructions he'd received: "After sunset, the shade to be
three-quarters drawn if there be danger. Wait for a knock that sounds like
so; call 'in a moment' if all is safe." And there was something else, too---
As if in answer, an enormous dray-cart bore down on the carriage from a
side street. Delatour craned his neck to see the teamster sitting high on
the box, guiding the horses. There was something to be learned from him---
Sacre tonnere! It could scarcely be the language!
The apartment might be styled a duplex in a later time. It was a nice
place, and he'd been lucky to get it. Somehow, he'd managed to hold onto it,
too, even in the leanest of times. He hired a housekeeper when he could
afford to. At present, he couldn't.
Inside, at last! The little valise slid to the floor, the slender figure
drooped with fatigue. After sunset, the leader had said, and it was still
only afternoon. His pocket watch showed four-o'-clock. Perhaps there'd be
time to stock some foodstuffs, else his hospitality would be spare indeed.
The road had left him dusty and disreputable-looking. Needing a shave,
too, he decided, running a hand across his chin. (He had grown a beard
once--- a piratical red, it had come in. He'd looked like an idiot. His
brother had laughed---) No tears! Do not think such thoughts!
He made his way upstairs, to the washstand beside the curtained bed.
Good! There was still a little water left. Off came coat, waistcoat and
shirt, but one sleeve refused to release his hand. He shook it. Harder---
still no hand. Diable, he'd become stupid; his handkerchief was crammed into
the sleeve. He tossed it onto the washstand, the shirt onto the bed.
Splashing water on his face, his arms, he felt better. The razor looked
somewhat dull, but---well. It was dull, too, and---eh! There, he'd cut
himself. He pressed the handkerchief to his jaw until the bleeding stopped.
He was wiping off the soap when he heard the knocking. Too early! Had
"A moment!" he called down the stairs.
Vite! Snatch the shirt off the bed, throw it on. My hand is stuck in the
sleeve again! --still clutching the handkerchief--- stuff it into a breeches
pocket! Shoving his arm through the sleeve, hurtling down the stairs, and
again the knocking---
---NOT THE RIGHT KNOCK!
---His hand was already on the latch, his heart beating like a radish---
RABBIT'S--- Ah, dread, his English was leaving his brain--- but it wouldn't
be necessary, he realized.
The individual on the doorstep was known to him, after a fashion--- one
of the satellites of Hurlot, the Section chief. The stolid build, the doughy
jowls, that infernal clay pipe of his--- yes, Colbert, that was the man's
name. he'd tricked himself out in the most appalling hat! Befeathered it
was, as though all the fowl of the air had deemed his head an appropriate
place to die. Delatour stared.
Despite his pleasure at the obvious admiration in the other's regard,
Colbert was undeterred from his purpose.
"Watch out for the quiet ones, they
always have something to hide", Hurlot had told him often enough. (Would that
it might be a cache of gold!) ---and wasn't it the juiciest stroke of Fortune
that one of the lads at the tavern had seen this pup returning home? Now
Colbert intended to turn this to advantage, gaining entry with a cunning
"My pipe's gone out, Citizen. Spare a coal?"
"I've only just come in. I haven't laid a fire yet."
"Well, now! What are neighbors for, eh?"
He strode past the smaller man,
the plumed monstrosity jostling against the door frame. It was too top-heavy
for the peg, so Colbert dropped it onto an end table, displacing a small
clutter of theater programs.
Delatour would have to give the danger signal. In this, at least, luck
was with him. The blind had been down throughout his absence; raising it to
the three-quarter mark was a natural-seeming gesture. Let in a bit of light
and all. But the light would be lessening soon, and those good, brave
people--- were they even now risking their lives?
When he turned to his uninvited guest, the latter was using his theater
programs for kindling! The printed images of the great Talma! Half his
collection--- oh, no, not Marguerite St. Just! But yes, she too was
shrivelling in the flames. A gasp of dismay escaped him, unfortunately timed.
It turned into a smothered cough as Colbert's pipe, lit now, gave forth a
Its owner was delighted with his own cleverness. While Delatour was
gawping at the window, Colbert had managed a peek up the chimney, as well as
a few pokes with a stick. No gold, nothing unusual, but he wasn't done yet.
He'd try a subtle question.
"Been travelling, have you?"
A nod. (Blast him!) He'd been hoping for a denial, to catch this sneak
in a lie. He was certainly hiding something; look how pale he was, how
nervous! And he'd come to the door without even a waistcoat, shirttail
hanging to his knees, and puffing like a grampus!
With the warning in place, Delatour could afford to play his visitor's
game. The man wanted conversation? Fine, provided it was short.
give friend Hurlot my regards?"
"Hurlot--- met with a misfortune", replied the other, rolling his eyes
heavenward in lugubrious mock-piety.
"Ah-- dommage." Hurlot had been a lout and a bully; he wouldn't be
missed, but to his credit, he'd never worn such a hat. Gad, the thing was
hideous. Its presence, however, was now comprehensible. It was a caricature
of some officials' headgear. Colbert apparently meant to succeed the ward
boss, and this would be his method of creating an image for the
sans-culottes, of a man of authority. (Or of exciting their pity for his bad
The conversation limped and hobbled. Outside, the shadows lengthened.
Inside, the atmosphere thickened. Colbert was growing impatient. He'd been
here before with Hurlot and the lads, collecting Patriotic Contributions For
the Glorious Republic. A fine dwelling, this, far more suitable for a family
man like himself, a soon-to-be Section chief, than for this cat-eyed little
cockerel! Look at him twiddling about there. Thinks he's too good to offer
an honest patriot a drink, and probably an aristo sympathizer to boot! Well,
he'd had enough of subtlety. He'd loosen this fellow's tongue, or loosen his
bones, and it didn't matter which!
"Now, look here, my lad!" Colbert stood, wafting a miasma of smoke,
garlic, ancient cheese, and rotten teeth directly into his companion's face.
"Something's up with you, and I mean to know what it is!"
Struggling not to breathe, Delatour wondered if the man meant to murder
"Try it," he thought, "and I'll aim my fall toward that feathered
abomination of yours, and in crushing it, render a final service to the world
But his body's demand for air asserted itself just then, forcing him to
inhale. Then he doubled over, coughing desperately, even clutching at his
tormentor to keep from falling on the floor. With his free hand, he fumbled
into his pocket for his handkerchief, instinctively covering his mouth.
Colbert's eyes bulged. He took a step back. Then another. His slabby
face went grey, as he stared at the handkerchief, all splotched and spotted
"You should have SAID you were consumptive," he rasped. Suddenly, the
apartment was the last place he wanted to be. Something to hide indeed!
"I'm not---" choked the man on the floor, but Colbert was already
outside, hadn't even closed the door behind him.
"Wait!" Delatour rose to his feet. "You forgot your hat----"
But there was no answer.
Sunset. The room was aired out somewhat, the street checked, and the
blind discreetly shut in the preliminary sign of safety. No one would
trouble his friends if they came here. Colbert himself would warn folks away.
The air was still somewhat close. Delatour was exhausted, hoarse, and a
little dizzy, but that was all right. He reached for the object on the end
table. It was said that burnt feathers were a remedy for giddiness----
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