The three of them regarded the note as though it might shortly spring to
life, in a silence that continued for several heartbeats longer than was
Olivier Delatour spread his hands in a gesture of incomprehension,
looking from one face to the other for an enlightenment that did not come.
The words on the paper were plain enough, but the why of it--- there lay the
mystery. The enigmatic figure known as the Scarlet Pimpernel was a stranger
to him, though Delatour had sheltered three of that gentleman's comrades in
his own home. What their leader might have learned of him through those
three, Delatour knew not. Dropping his gaze, he held his peace, not
realizing that he'd assumed the look of a guilty schoolboy.
Lord Hastings had few outward qualms about the Frenchman who was to
accompany him. The man was at hand. Doubtless Sir Percy had known that; he
had ways of knowing what needed knowing, just as he had ways of doing what
needed doing. No, it was the presence of the message itself that troubled
him. Something hadn't gone as it should have.
Lady Hastings would have glimpsed this in her husband's expression, even
had there been no note, but there was something else to consider. Several
members of her own Violet Guild were in Calais, and there had been no word
from them of late. The little coastal city had certainly become more
dangerous.. More soldiers were stationed at France's closest point to
England, since the two countries were, in fact, at war. Nonetheless, up to
now, there had been a kind of chivalrous tolerance; necessity on both sides
had demanded it. Up to now.
Astonishing how little preparation was required. Lord Hastings had had
to be ready for abrupt departures; everything was handled with admirable
efficiency. Still, it must have been a bitter parting for the couple; they'd
hoped to have more time together. Thus it was in Delatour's mind to enter
the carriage first, with eyes averted, in order to allow his host and hostess
a measure of privacy for their farewells. Might not this leavetaking be the
last they'd know in this world? With all France becoming an abattoir, might
it not be so with anyone who now clasped a dear one to his heart?
Loath as he was to profane their moment, honor compelled him to be
mindful of a vow he had himself sworn--- to the Violet Guild. He turned to
face the pair, thinking to ask Lady Hastings for instructions. Her great
eyes were upon him with a still, terrible courage, searching--- for what?
"Be faithful," she said. "Only that."
And they were away.
Delatour fidgeted with his watch-chain, caught himself doing it,
realized it might be annoying, and tucked the chain away. It became a cycle
he repeated at intervals, as the carriage rattled along.
Hastings stole a careful glance in the other's direction. He knew his
travelling-companion to be a nervous, twitchy sort, but what had the man to
fear? That feigned illness of his, together with newly-discovered
discrepancies in his story, seemed to mark him as a skilled dissembler, if
not a liar outright.
Concerning this "illness", Delatour had endured much good-natured
chaffing, despite his efforts to explain. It had been a misunderstanding
merely, a rumor spread by a neighborhood gossip, and the "patient" had, after
a time, tired of denying it. The rumor had served him, buying precious
solitude. It had even supplied a pretext for slipping away from Paris, to
the seacoast--- after all, the city was such an unhealthful place in summer.
Clink. Finding the watch-chain in his hands again, Delatour shot his
erstwhile host a look of apology. It occurred to Hastings that the Frenchman
might be seeking to open a conversation. Indeed, he ought to draw him out,
mayhap to learn something useful.
The imprisoned family of dead brother Roland, for instance. Similar
situations had been exploited by Chauvelin and his minions, to suborn
faithful friends into soul-killing betrayals. Concern for his wife as well
as the League to which he belonged had moved Lord Hastings himself to peruse
the arrest records in Paris, with a view to a possible future rescue. He'd
found no Roland Delatour, living or dead. (There had been a Citoyenne
Jeanette Delatour, thief, age fortysome, common law husband, five children.)
Of course it wasn't uncommon for aristocrats to change their names after the
revolution. Olivier Delatour might have said something if they'd done so, but
he'd kept silent.
As kindly as he could, Hastings questioned his companion about this.
The eyes that turned toward were sorrowful, the words carefully formed.
"My brother was not Delatour. He was Roland Geoffroy, Comte de la Tour de
Vaudreys. When my father was Comte, he--- forbid, is it?--- would not allow
me to use the name."
He went on to explain how he'd stolen a snippet of the
ancestral title, twisting it into a commoner's name for himself. His little
revenge, the act of an angry boy. Olivier Delatour, as it turned out, had no
aversion to talking about his family. Certain sad memories would bring him
to tears, though, and he'd supposed that English people were made
uncomfortable by displays of emotion.
Hastings was made uncomfortable more than once during the discourse that
followed. He'd heard many such stories: a good man, blameless, beloved,
dragged like a criminal to the scaffold and brutally, uselessly slain. It
was against just such cruelties that Sir Percy's lieutenant had pledged
himself to fight. Then there was Jeanette, the distraught widow, losing both
husband and unborn child in a day. Locked away now, under guard, she refused
inexplicably to even hear of escape. Fear? Madness? Impossible to say.
The uncomprehending toddler, the mother, they would never leave without her.
Even the Scarlet Pimpernel didn't carry people off against their will.
They sat wordless for the rest of the journey. In counterpoint to the
clatter of the horses and the grumbling wheels came the tiny, steely sound of
The shipmasters of Dover were uniformly reluctant to go near Calais.
Several claimed they'd been shot at. There were rumors of frigates in the
Channel, of naval encounters actual and impending. The accounts were
nebulous enough to doubt--- (the French navy was practically a laughingstock)
---but they were numerous enough to suggest some ugly reality beneath the
Ominously, the Day Dream was nowhere in evidence, nor could any of the
sailors guess at the schooner's whereabouts. This presented an unforeseen
difficulty in following the leader's instructions. An unwonted frown crossed
Lord Hastings' face as he regarded his companion. Closemouthed the man
might be, but there was no excuse for withholding crucial information.
you were in Calais," he began sternly, "You must have seen some indication of
what was happening there."
"I was not in Calais very recently, Monsieur."
Hastings' eyebrows went up. "How came you to be in England, then?"
"When one lacks the right papers"---here Delatour bit his lip--- "There
are smugglers near Boulogne who may transport one, if the destination lies on
He'd made their acquaintance during his fruitless quest to save
his brother from the guillotine. These were poor men, glad of a chance for
extra gain. Once they knew he was neither government plant nor talebearer,
he'd been able to enlist their aid on several occasions.
Lord Hastings nodded appreciatively. English gentlemen entrusted
themselves to just such smugglers when affairs of honor required their
presence on French soil (duelling being forbidden in England.) By suggesting
a change of course, and the outlay of an outrageous amount of money, the
would-be passengers were able to secure transportation. Doubtless Sir Percy
had made this connection with Delatour's presence in despite of whatever was
interfering with sea-traffic.
It was a blockade. Crude, jury-rigged, devoid of military strategy, it
was the brainchild of Auguste Merceuil, latest man-on-the-rise to be sent by
the Committee of General Security. Merceuil had been appalled at the
self-centeredness of the locals, who seemed to prefer their own pursuits to
demonstrating their patriotism. Small wonder that Calais was becoming a
hotbed of foreign spies and agitators, but he'd put a stop to that. He'd
enlisted the owners of the fishing boats, on pain of having said boats
destroyed, to form an armed patrol. He had the authority, and a small
garrison to back him up.
There had been resistance--- Naturally! --- These simpletons had no
concept of the sacrifices required of a true patriot. (A bonfire or two
would shortly convey this concept.) Nonetheless. Merceuil had tasted success
early-- the ragtag sea patrol had caused a number of vessels to withdraw from
France's sacred shoreline. A glowing report was already making its way to
Paris, to be followed, no doubt, by others equally self-congratulatory.
"Open." The constable entered the office, his features carefully devoid
of emotion. "What is it?"
"Citizen Merceuil, another one of the boats has swamped."
"And this concerns me in what way?"
"These are fishing boats, Citizen. They were never designed to carry
such guns. Before long, someone will shoot back. We've been lucky so far,
"If they're unwilling to risk their precious hides for their country,
they're all traitors as far as I'm concerned." The desk shook under the blow
of a fist.
"I respectfully disagree. These are honest men. Good patriots, but
they're not military. They want to fish. It's their livelihood."
"They want to wallow in English gold. They want to see France an
English province. What they don't want is to learn where their duty lies,
but I intend to instruct them."
"Hear me, Citizen. If you could go among them, listen to their
"Hear me, Citizen. I've given my orders. They stand."
The constable was relieved to get away. No use to argue with Merceuil
when he was like this. It only made matters worse. Still, he didn't relish
facing the sullen fishermen, much as he sympathized with them. He hadn't
liked Chauvelin much either, he recalled, but where Chauvelin had been a
rapier, this man was a bludgeon. There was more to patriotism than kissing
the flag and spouting off about glorious martyrdom. Those idiots in Paris
were always sending out agents with no inkling of the local ways, and where
did it get them? Open revolt in Lyons, the Vendee ready to boil over. The
people of Calais didn't care about politics, they cared about catching fish.
This fool was going to bring about the very thing he sought to prevent.
Tempers were getting nasty. A lot of muttering in tavern corners, fights
over nothing, defiant, angry faces wherever you looked. There was going to
be a reckoning.
In other circumstances, the sea voyage might have been a pleasant one.
A strong, clean wind lifted the sails. Delatour paced up and down on the
deck, exercising his watch chain. His hair whipped about his face with a
fretful energy of its own. Lord Hastings slid a wry glance in the
Frenchman's direction. "At least he doesn't bite his fingernails", he
observed. Nonetheless, he was forced to admit that anxieties had been sawing
away at his own nerves. The roundabout route took longer than the Day
Dream's accustomed one, and Hastings begrudged every minute he remained in
Following an extension of the smugglers' highway, the ship glided to a
spot reasonably close to the League's accustomed rendezvous point. Nothing
untoward was in view. Two crewmen rowed the passengers to shore. Hastings
vaulted out of the boat, well ahead of his companion.
"The road lies up
there," he gestured. "If you could keep watch for a bit, it would help, but
should you see someone---" he hesitated, reluctant to divulge signals privy
to the League.
"I shall call a loud greeting to them, which you will overhear." With a
wave, the Guildmember turned and legged it up the path.
Hastings watched him go. He asked the crewmen to wait by the boat,
promising them something extra for their trouble. Then he rounded an
abutment of rocks, toward the fishing hut sometimes used by the League. From
concealment he gave the agreed-upon signal, and his heart leaped as he heard
the correct response.
A familiar figure came striding down the beach. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes,
it was. He looked a little haggard, but there was a smile on his face as he
greeted his friend. "Glad you made it, old man. The Chief knew you would,
but the wait's been devilish hard on the poor souls inside."
"Where is Percy, then?"
"He's in town. Well enough, last I saw."
Hastings' relief was obvious. "Thank Heaven. I imagined he'd said
"Sink me" once too often, and Fate took him at his word."
The Day Dream had simply gone to Northampton where dwelt relatives of
her latest passengers. The swift schooner was never truly at risk. Sir
Percy's thought had been more for the poor flotilla of scows and dinghies,
that dwindled as more were disabled by the requirements forced upon them.
Sir Andrew was amazed that a pathetic impossibility had occasioned such
wagging tongues in Dover, but promised to see matters straightened out on his
arrival. He would also assure Lady Hastings of her husband's well-being.
Inside the hut waited the family the League was conveying to safety.
Their gratitude was pitiable to see. Though hiding in such confinement had
been an ordeal, it was far preferable to the rigors of prison--- and to what
inevitably followed. All had to be done quickly-- there on the beach they
were exposed to sight should anyone chance by. Into the boat, to the
astonishment of the oarsmen. Last instructions, the exchange of a small
package, farewells. With the embarkation, there was nothing further for
Hastings to do there. He made his way back to the hut, and disappeared for a
Delatour was cooling his heels by the roadside. He occupied himself at
first by thinking of plausible reasons for being out in the middle of
nowhere, should someone come upon him. The road remained quite bare of
travellers. He'd been unable, doubtless by Hastings' design, to see anything
happening down on the beach, and was growing restive. The watch-chain was
allowed a sabbatical, as he fell to twisting the buttons on his waistcoat.
He had just twisted one of them off, and was searching for it in the
grass, when a shadow fell across his line of view. He'd let himself be taken
by surprise! Straightening, he faced a stranger in a grubby peasant smock.
"GOOD-DAY, CITIZEN!!" he shouted, remembering his duty. "A FINE WEATHER, IS
IT NOT? WHAT BRINGS A LONE TRAVELLER TO THESE PARTS?"
"You'll have to speak up a little," came the ironical reply--- in
Speechless with admiration, the Frenchman circled the miraculously
transformed figure. Hastings smiled. He was now Jumeau the farmer, he
explained, and was going into town to meet a buyer for some pastureland.
Jumeau was an identity he'd established months before, and many of the
citizens of Calais knew him well. Most of the League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel had longstanding alter egos in Calais: he and Sir Percy had several.
It was as good as the theater, Delatour decided. And was he to be
disguised as well?
The negative reply brought a crestfallen look to the young man's face.
Hastings/Jumeau was sympathetic, but he had orders he was sworn to obey.
His guess regarding the note had been correct: Sir Percy had written it
before ever leaving Dover. Alerted by the first rumors, but aware that
Delatour had recently arrived at the Hastings residence, he'd given the note
to his private courier. Should he not return to retrieve it by a specified
time, the note was to be delivered.
Since his arrival in Calais, so much new information had come to light
that Sir Percy had deliberately stayed, allowing his original instruction to
stand. Hastings/Jumeau, in a gesture of trust, allowed Delatour to see the
second note, handed him by the departing Sir Andrew.
With spy-fever all over the city, a stranger would be in more peril than
the genuine Englishmen, with their familiar (if false) identities, and plenty
of citizens to vouch for them.
They were to ride into town on a wagon maintained by the Scarlet
Pimpernel, to be found at a nearby farm. Delatour was to be escorted
straight to the posting-inn, as inconspicuously as possible. He might stay
the night--- it would be paid for--- but he should remain indoors. A
carriage would leave for Paris the next morning. He was being told to get on
the next stagecoach out of town!
This was unsettling. Delatour understood full well that Sir Percy was
trying to see to his protection, but as a Guildmember, he wanted to do some
protecting. It was no more than his duty, and he said so.
The kindly eyes of Hastings shone earnestly at him through Jumeau's
forest of hair and eyebrows.
"Duty is a bother sometimes, but think it
through. Sir Percy's right. This Merceuil has the citizens in such a froth,
they'd be willing to throw him anyone, to get him off their necks. And
you're perfect. You--- forgive me, but you look guilty.
Delatour's chin came up. "Even if they arrest me, Monsieur, I can
easily prove I am no Englishman."
"And if they investigate your background, they find--- not a spy, but an
There was no reply to that. On the road to Calais, Olivier Delatour
lost two more waistcoat buttons, and somehow his watch-chain broke in half.
It wasn't Sir Percy's custom to meddle in politics, but the temptation
must have been strong. The city was desperately important to his operations.
Without its proximity to England, its contacts, the carefully cultivated
incarnations for himself and his followers, the toll in horror and suffering
might be incalculable.
Some of the suffering, he could alleviate. Distressed fishermen found
themselves suddenly lucky at cards; packages of food had taken to
mysteriously appearing at the doors of the hungry. (Several Violet Guilders,
unobserved, took up the cue as well.) Through it all, the rescues would
continue. The famous luck of the Scarlet Pimpernel still held good, but he
was merely buying time. The price was getting steep.
Eventually, the Committee might have seen Merceuil for a deluded
incompetent and recalled him. Right now, they had more pressing concerns.
Besides, second-guessing might be seen as vacillation--- an unforgivable
breach in the unity of purpose, so necessary to display before the world.
The constable of Calais had already perhaps jeopardized his position as
chief of the local gendarmerie; his frantic letter detailing the agent's
abuses could certainly be interpreted as questioning the Committee's good
judgement--- but the letter lay unread in the office of some sub-functionary.
There was murder in the air. The so-called patrol had been a disaster,
but even now Merceuil refused to admit he could have been wrong. A sorry row
of confiscated vessels lay pulled up on shore, French vessels all, fuelling
the resentment of the townspeople. Shortly they'd be fuel indeed, for
Merceuil had determined they should be burnt this very evening, for the
edification of the populace.
When the word went out, the people were ready to assassinate the agent
on the spot, but sweet reason somehow prevailed one last time. No one knew
where the idea came from--- a tall citizen, some said--- later the constable
got credit for it. It was decided to draw up and present a petition of
grievances to Merceuil before killing him. A few hard-faced bravoes,
unconvinced, had already determined that when the boats went up in flames, so
should Merceuil's house, with him in it.
It was at this point that Hastings/Jumeau and his nondescript passenger
came rolling into town. Inconspicuous, the leader had said. It was not to
Jumeau was always welcome in Calais. You might have thought that an
empty farm wagon coming into the city at eventide was unusual, but Jumeau was
a special case. If his buyer appeared, Jumeau could be counted on to make
many a purchase with his profit, and he was sure to give you a good price.
He'd stay a few days, make a holiday of it, and never failed to buy drinks
for his friends. When he left, his wagon was always heavily laden, and the
citizens, many livres to the good.
Now his friends swarmed around him. Good old Jumeau, you must have all
the news, and who's the picklefaced fellow with you, not a spy is he, looks
like a schoolmaster, you must sign the petition, yes isn't it dreadful,
wouldn't volunteer to present it would you, not me, the man's an ogre, eat
you alive, let the stranger do it, no loss, besides, an educated man, right
words to say, yes it must be the schoolmaster and no other.
Without quite knowing how, Olivier Delatour found himself, paper in
hand, in the vestibule of Citizen Merceuil's office.
Hastings was nearly beside himself. He stared at the closed door of the
administrative building, his face white beneath Jumeau's semblance. The
crowd had borne away Delatour from the very seat beside him, and they hadn't
troubled to be gentle about it. Shouting hadn't helped; now the horses were
becoming nervous in the uproar. He needed to get the wagon out of there
before someone was injured.
Nothing out of the ordinary in that. The crowd let him through easily
enough, and the streets were emptier in the vicinity of the posting-inn.
There seemed to be little point in going now, but Sir Percy had mentioned it
in his note, and might well expect his lieutenant there for other reasons.
This was indeed the case. The hostler who came to take charge of the
horses was none other than Sir Percy himself. In the loft of the stable
huddled the four unfortunates who would shortly be carried to refuge in
Jumeau's wagon--- its false bottom had been constructed for that very purpose.
His leader listened to Hastings' account, then suggested food and rest.
Need to keep your strength up. As to Delatour, the poor chap might get a bad
scare, but there was every chance that he'd come out all right even if he
were arrested. The constable had been covertly letting his own friends out
of gaol--- (fishermen who'd resisted Merceuil's dictates)--- mayhap he could
be cozened into freeing one more. In any case, Sir Percy would think of
It took Delatour some moments to collect himself. The crowd hadn't hurt
him, but he was dishevelled from their rough handling. Really, now. They'd
called him Pickleface, and then expected him to do them a favor. He'd like
to give them Pickleface! ---Then he saw the soldiers.
They crowded the vestibule. Merceuil had mustered them to carry out his
shameful mission of destruction. They didn't look happy about it. Unnerving
to be surrounded like this. The visitor strove to compose his features into
what he hoped was a purposeful calm. It didn't quite come off, but it was he
best he could do.
"I am here on behalf of the people of Calais. Please to
Auguste Merceuil was a balding, unimpressive-looking man but for his
eyes--- glittering and intense, the eyes of a fanatic.
"You needn't close
This to the soldier standing guard. To the intruder: "Who are
"Olivier Delatour. I was to give you this." He held out the paper.
"You're a delegation, are you? By what authority?"
"The people--- made their wishes known to me."
"Indeed." First the constable, now this nonentity. Was there no
surcease? He scanned the petition, stood.
"Demands. Always demands. Never
co-operation. Never 'How may we serve the Republic?' Eager enough to
express their wants. Now, France has wants as well, and makes them known
Swollen with his own righteousness, the agent continued his fulminations.
Delatour had seen the results of just such contemptible bombast: hatred,
suspicion, lives ruined and cut short. His revulsion showed on his face.
Merceuil sensed rather than saw the change in the young man's
expression. He shifted uneasily.
"What do you think your looking at?"
"Don't you know? I'll tell you."
"You are looking", Merceuil declaimed in a voice pulsing with emotion,
"At a man who loves his country." With this, he reached for the flag placed
so conspicuously nearby. He raised one corner, bent to it fervently, and
straightened, glancing around as though to judge the effect of his gesture.
"I have given everything I have to the Republic. I ask no more of any
citizen, and I ask no less."
Delatour's eyes narrowed. He'd undertaken a long and strenuous travel,
willingly. He'd been manhandled and called Pickleface. Unpleasant, but
bearable. This, though--- to be subjected to this hypocritical display by a
self-inflated, petty tyrant, it was beyond enduring.
"You have desecrated the flag of France." His voice was as pale as his
face, but in the silent room, it carried. "You blow your nose on the
Tricolor, and that, to you, is giving everything you have. Pray do not ask
others to do the same."
He turned on his heel and stalked out, muttering "By your leave", in an
anticlimactic concession to manners. If he'd stayed, he would have struck
He didn't see the effect of his words.
Merceuil's characteristic gesture looked exactly as Delatour described.
The Guildmember had been speaking figuratively, but the soldiers in the
vestibule had no ear for metaphor. Agitated, they exchanged glances. They'd
been eyewitnesses to an act of treason. There could be no disregarding what
they'd seen; their own heads might answer for it. Their officer made the
arrest, and the dumfounded prisoner was confined in his own office, to be
transported to Paris as soon as might be.
When their delegate reappeared, the frantic petitioners might have
pulled him quite asunder, except that the officer's announcement came so
promptly. It exploded the crowd into hoarse cheers and screams of glee.
Olivier Delatour slipped unnoticed through the rejoicing throng. Asking
directions as he went, he found the posting-inn without much trouble, went
inside as he'd been instructed, and was shown to his room. Later, Sir Percy
and a much-relieved Lord Hastings found him there, collapsed in a profound
The celebrations continued throughout the night. Officially there was a
curfew, but the constable and his gendarmes somehow forgot to enforce it.
The confiscated fishing boats disappeared from the strand, to find their way
back into the hands of their owners and into their proper use.
Merceuil was never seen in Calais again. The broken office window and
an empty stall were noticed the next day. A report was duly filed, but the
ordinary citizens, preoccupied with picking up their lives, asked few
questions. They were just happy to have him gone.
That same next morning, a young guest at the posting-inn nearly missed
the carriage for Paris, so ravenous was he. Jumeau had hustled him bodily
out of the dining area, but there seemed no ill-will between them.
Jumeau's visit to town was a bit shorter than usual, but his wagon
trundled off satisfyingly piled with merchandise.
In Paris, the authorities abandoned the search for the four servants who
had so treasonably refused to disclose the whereabouts of their late master's
children. The investigation's resources were needed elsewhere.
There was the matter of the renegade agent to consider. Morbleu! The
dog's crime was so egregious, he must be made an example of, once caught.
Among the Committee members, if oaths were bullets, if glares of accusation
were guillotines, there wouldn't be an atom of him left. As to how such a
one came to be in so important a post, such questions were better left
A drizzly night. A filthy inn on the road to the Belgian border. A
haggard, hunted man scribbling a desperate plea for aid. In the morning it
would be on its way, and he'd be on the run again. Not for long, though.
Traitors and conspirators had brought about his downfall, but he still had
one friend--- one who would listen, who would realize that the accusations
against him were unjust--- who would help him. He'd rise again. It was his
A plump white hand, beringed and well-manicured, tossed away the letter
in disgust. It had cost a fortune to install Merceuil in that office, not to
mention the favors called in, The fool! What demon had possessed him to
desecrate the flag, before witnesses?
The plan had seemed flawless. If that parody of a blockade had become
sufficiently annoying, well and good. England might have been goaded into
moving. Had the citizens of Calais murdered him, well and good again.
Another Lyons. Had he continued in office, well and good yet once more, for
the city would descend into chaos.
That would have kept those Jacobin flacks busy--- paving the way for the
next step--- eventually to encompass the collapse of this idiotic Revolution,
whereupon the monarchy would return. The rotund figure rose and languidly
stretched. A setback, but a temporary one. The Baron de Batz could bear
misfortunes well, especially the misfortunes of others.
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