Chapter 1: Convictions Questioned and Tested
*And bring your wife's friend Sir James Whitsfield.* There it was, his own name, plain as day, in that singular distorted handwriting he had studied so closely and so often over the past few weeks. But what on earth could Sir Percy want with him in Calais? . . . And why did he ask for him by name? . . .
"I know nothing about this, Lady Hastings," he slowly stammered when he regained control of his tongue. "I did not even know Sir Percy was aware of my existence."
Lady Eliza smiled a bit at Sir James' innocent ignorance. There were a lot of things he still had to learn . . .
"Sir Percy is aware of many things, Sir James, that we do not know about. But the real question is why does he refer to you as my friend? You are just as much Timothy's friend as mine . . . and even more Sir Andrew's friend than either of us. Why did he not say ‘bring Andrew's friend', but ‘bring your wife's friend'?"
She looked at him a bit suspiciously. After all, he was new to the Guild . . . could it be he had already given the secret away to his childhood friend? . . . could he truly be trusted?
James saw the look and felt his heart sink. He should have known, by the very nature of the Guild itself, that his entrance into it would not be easy. Of course he would be treated with a measure of suspicion . . . until he proved himself. But knowledge of it didn't make it any easier to take. There is nothing worse than the feeling that you are not trusted by your friends.
"Lady Hastings, I have not spoken of the Guild to anyone, I promise you," he said quietly, hoping to dispel some of her doubts about him. "This is indeed puzzling, to me as well as you. I should like to speak with Isabella about this, I think . . ." He did not know if Isabella had noticed his leaving or not. She didn't seem to have noticed, deep in conversation with a friend . . . but she could notice many things without letting anybody know. It was part of her quiet, observant nature . . . and a quality that made her so well-suited for Guild work.
Lady Eliza nodded. "Of course. But do not speak of this to anyone else, even Guild members. I think it would be best if this were kept secret. Come tomorrow at four, alone, and we will discuss how to go about following these instructions . . . if you're willing."
James understood the meaning behind those last few words, spoken so softly, yet with a curious edge. This was his test. He could choose now, whether or not he was in earnest about the Guild. And perhaps he needed to consider that . . . was he truly willing to take the necessary risks?
* * * * * * *
". . . I don't know what to do," he said when he had told Isabella the story, alone in the carriage. "It's as if Sir Percy knows . . . but I haven't said a word, I swear!"
"You don't have to explain to me, dear," she said soothingly, for James was quickly becoming excited in his frustration and confusion, and as he was driving the carriage faster and faster as his voice rose in pitch, she had no wish to die in an accident caused by frenzied driving. "I believe you. It's strange . . . could Sir Andrew have said something to Sir Percy about you?"
"He doesn't know either, if that's what you mean," James said. "What could he want with me?"
"Sir Percy does nothing without a reason. Whatever he wants you for, it's part of a plan of his."
"So you think I should go?"
Isabella was surprised. It wasn't often that husbands asked advice from their wives; in fact, she had never heard of it happening before. She chose her words carefully, and stammered a bit more than usual.
"Well . . . yes, I do. The Guild is devoted to protecting and aiding the Scarlet Pimpernel . . . and that puts us under his authority as well as Lady Eliza's. So, if he gives orders that impact us, we have no choice but to obey . . ."
"But I do have a choice," he said, a bit gloomily as he remembered Lady Hastings' look of distrust. "I can obey, and take the risks necessary to prove myself to the Guild . . . or I can refuse and leave the Guild as a disgraced member. The choice is very clear to me. I can choose to be devoted wholeheartedly or not at all."
Isabella was quiet for several minutes. "It's a choice you have to make," she said finally, nearly at a whisper. "If you truly want to be in the Guild . . ."
*And isn't that the true question?*
* * * * * * *
"I am glad you decided to come, Sir James," Lady Hastings said pleasantly as James came into the parlor, standing and holding out her hand to him. He bowed and kissed the hand of his hostess and leader.
"If I truly want to be in the Guild, I have no choice but to obey orders, Lady Hastings," he said. "I place myself in your service. What shall I do?"
She smiled. "You will of course cross the Channel with Timothy this evening, if the tide is favorable. The problem is creating a believable story--"
"Yes," Lord Hastings said as he entered the parlor. "We have to invent some pretense for you to come to Calais with me that Percy will believe I persuaded you with. A tricky thing it is, to deceive about a deception."
"Tonight?" James asked. "Immediately?"
"Yes. We have already wasted a day; it is imperative that we get to Percy as soon as we can," Lord Hastings said. James nodded, keeping his face composed with some difficulty. Though his face showed calm, his emotions were certainly not.
*Isabella . . .if only I could see her once before I leave . . .*
"Lady Hastings . . . you will tell Isabella, won't you?" he asked. She nodded, laying a hand on his.
"The first time is hard, isn't it?" Her voice was soft and gentle. "Do not worry. The Scarlet Pimpernel protects his helpers well." James smiled gratefully. He turned to Lord Hastings.
"As for a story . . . why not just say you want me to meet some friends of yours in Calais? It's not much, I admit . . . but it's something."
Lord Hastings thought a bit. "Yes, I suppose that will do. Percy may not even ask, anyway; I just want to be prepared if he does. So then, we must leave immediately, if you're ready."
James took in a deep breath. "I am indeed ready."
Chapter 2: Act Stupid and Cooperate
Calais. James could remember visiting the coastal city in his childhood and student days. But that was long ago; well, perhaps not so long as it seemed, but it might as well have been a century for what James recognized of the once bustling city of northern France. He could recognize nothing. The streets had become muddy and full of mire, the buildings dilapidated and falling apart, the people sullen and ragged. All this, in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity--liberty of the poor, equality of the downtrodden, and fraternity of the suspicious.
Lord Hastings had somehow procured for them a room or two in an old boarding house on the outskirts of town, and no doubt had paid many times its worth. But they were lucky to have it; most concierges in France these days wouldn't even look twice at such well-dressed boarders. There were no locks on the doors, and no curtains at the windows, but they didn't dare complain.
"Stay here," Lord Hastings whispered once they were in the room, "while I contact Percy and find out what he wants from you."
"Lord Hastings?" James asked as he began to leave. He turned around.
"I think we're familiar enough with each other that you can call me Timothy, James. Besides, it's not safe to be known by a title in this country."
James nodded. "You're right. Well, then, what should I do if someone starts poking around?"
"Act as innocent and stupid as possible, but let them look for whatever it is they want. Don't look suspicious, whatever you do. It's best if you don't seem dangerous."
"Right." James nodded, a bit nervously.
Lord Hastings hesitated at the door. James was new, and he didn't know much about how to handle himself among the French citizenry; was it safe to leave him alone here? Of course it was! Really, the man was not stupid. He would know better than to do something foolish. Still, Lord Hastings always had his reservations . . .
"Be careful who you let in," he finally said before leaving.
* * * * * * *
After an hour of examining the meager contents of the room, James found himself with nothing to do. Lord Hastings--no, Timothy--hadn't said how long he'd be; most likely he didn't know himself. So there might be hours of waiting left ahead of him, to spend in this same bored manner.
He glanced out the window. The sun was dipping low in the sky and beginning to take on the orange hue of sunset; considering the time of year, James guessed it to be about six o'clock in the evening. He had been waiting for a longer time than he thought. He suddenly realized an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. When was the last time he ate? It must have been . . . sometime that morning when they first arrived. But he couldn't leave now for food; Lord Hastings--there was no harm in thinking of the man by his proper title, was there?--might come back for him while he was gone, and disobedience was not something he wanted hanging over him.
Somebody knocked roughly on the door; thank goodness, it must be Lord Hastings. He would insist they get something to eat before they did anything else . . .
"Come in," he said, proud of himself for remembering to speak in French, and turning to meet Lord Timothy.
He found himself face to face with a hunched-over man in the French worker's uniform of the day; trousers, shirt, and coat, plentifully sprinkled with holes and tears which the man seemed not to care about, and a red cap over his greasy, unkempt hair. The tricolor cockade on the side was just visible.
*Remember what Lord Timothy said . . . act stupid and cooperate . . .*
"Can I help you, citizen?" he asked, struggling to stay on his feet despite the stench of the man's breath. The man turned and closed the door before speaking.
"Look ‘ere, you," he said in a sharp, commanding voice, "you're not to ask any questions, but follow directions, understand? Iffen ya do, you're gonna be just fine. Your help is needed, ya see."
"Didn't I tell ya ya weren't to ask questions? Now shut your mouth and listen good. First you're gonna take off them dandy clothes and put on normal ones like these ‘ere," he said, flinging a bundle of rags at James. "Then you're gonna take this letter to number seventeen Rue des Pichets. Don't say anything to the man ya give it to, just give him the letter and go. Understand?"
James nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Besides, underneath the mop of hair and red cap there was a pair of clear blue eyes, lids slightly drooping, and James now knew who he was speaking with. He felt the man put a packet of papers in his hands.
"Good. And if I hear you've been blabbing your mouth about me, you'll regret openin' it in the first place." And without so much as an au revoir he left. Only then did James realize that there were two separate packets of paper in his hand--one, the letter he was to deliver, and the other a small note. He opened it and read, astonished.
*Your help is appreciated, Sir James. Should trouble arise, you can find me at number twelve, Rue de Peuplier. Give the word Michel when asked. We are in your debt. Please make sure this note is thoroughly destroyed.*
The note was signed with a small wayside flower drawn in red ink.
* * * * * * *
In street rags, James felt more than uncomfortable, and threaded the streets of Calais with extra caution; every few steps he felt inside his coat for the packet he'd been given, and reassured himself that he really had seen the Scarlet Pimpernel, and received instructions from him to deliver a letter. Even now, the experience seemed very dreamlike.
Number Seventeen Rue des Pichets . . . James knew the street well, one of the alleys off the main road of the city's western end. But he seemed to be very lost at the moment . . . in fact, he wasn't sure where he was exactly. The shops, the streets, the paving-stones all looked alike now.
He didn't speak to anybody at all; he didn't trust his French. Although he was fluent in the language, his French bore the telltale signs of high upbringing and proper instruction. To speak such French in the streets was only asking for attention. As silently and nonchalantly as possible, he tried to navigate the unfamiliar streets, ever on the lookout for some sign of the Rue des Pichets--
He was suddenly seized from behind. "State your business, citizen!"
James felt panic rise in his throat. Turning around, he could plainly see three soldiers of the Republic, one firmly grasping his arm.
"My--my business? I'm just walkin' home, citizen soldier," he stammered, trying to imitate the accents he heard around him.
"I don't think you are. You talk too much like an aristo," the soldier said, "and you look too much like one. Come with me, aristo."
The other two lowered their muskets to point the bayonets at him threateningly. There was nothing else to be done but to let his hands be tied behind him and follow the soldiers.
Chapter 3: "Will the real Vicomte please stand up?"
"Has he told you anything?" the man in dark clothes asked when he came into James' cell.
"Nothing at all? Are you sure?" The man's tone was uniquely sharp, almost accusatory, while staying quiet. The young guard began to perceptively shake.
"Nothing, Citizen Chauvelin. What would he tell?"
*Chauvelin!* Panic warnings went off in James' head as he recognized the name. The Pimpernel's most astute enemy; here was a man to be careful of. Thankfully they hadn't searched him yet, and he'd been able to hide Percy's letter under a loose stone in the cell while the guards were busy.
"What would he tell?" Chauvelin asked angrily. "Has it not occurred to you, citizen soldier, that this man might be in league with the accursed Pimpernel?"
"With all due respect, citizen, no."
"And why not?" Chauvelin's anger had reached dangerous levels by this time, and the guard was shaking from head to toe. However, he was brave enough (or stupid enough, perhaps) to continue.
"Because, ci--citizen," he pressed, "this man is an escaped aristocrat, sentenced to the guillotine."
James could have laughed out loud if the situation had merited it. Him, an escaped French aristocrat? Why on earth would they think that?
Chauvelin had literally halted in his tracks. "Are you sure?" he asked for the second time.
"Positive, citizen. He fits the exact description of the *ci-devant* Vicomte de Marais. We were set on the watch for a man fitting his description who dressed in rags and tried to speak in common accents, heading for the coast. Three days ago the *ci-devant* Vicomte disappeared from La Force, and today we found him here, wandering around the coastal district. There can be no doubt that this man is Marais."
These men thought he was the Vicomte de Marais? And believed there could be no doubt? What a situation he had found himself in . . . Vicomte de Marais . . . where had he heard that name before? . . .
*I don't know what it is Percy wants you to do, but it's probably something having to do with getting the Vicomte de Marais across the Channel . . . the man's been rescued for three days, and time is running out . . .*
The Vicomte de Marais was the man the Pimpernel had rescued and was trying to get to safety at this very moment. James felt very confused. But somehow, a single thought made itself clear to him; as long as they continued to think he was the Vicomte, the real Vicomte was safe . . .
What was he thinking? Pretend to be a French aristocrat? Could he even pull such a feat off? Yet, they had mistaken him for the man when they took him in . . . surely they would continue to think he was the Vicomte for a long while . . . and Percy would have the chance to get the real Vicomte across to England without Chauvelin on his tail.
*But how are you going to get out of here?*
The thought gripped him with fear. If he did take the Vicomte's place in prison, that would mean taking his place on the guillotine platform as well, wouldn't it? He would never see Isabella again, he would never again see England. But a man who deserved freedom just as much as he would, and the League would not be jeopardized. Better for him to die, and the Scarlet Pimpernel be safe, than for him to selfishly value his life over that of twenty brave men.
The man in dark clothes had left, leaving him alone with the guard and the night. Lost in thought, he hadn't realized that the moon had come out from behind a cloud and was shining through the barred window of his cell to dimly flood it with soft silver light. It was only a half-moon tonight, a perfect semicircle of white in a field of silver prickpoints of light. Only half of the moon shone on him, and in his mind he imagined that the other half shone on Isabella--two halves forever sundered, forced apart, unable to come together.
He vaguely wondered if there would ever be another full moon.
* * * * * * *
"You gave him the letter, and directed him to de Marais' temporary residence?" Lord Tony Dewhurst asked softly as Sir Percy related to him what had gone on in the small suite of rooms only a few hours before.
"Yes. If Andrew was right, Sir James is trustworthy enough. But the poor man seemed terrified of me."
"And rightfully so, Percy. I don't suppose you've looked in a mirror lately?" Hastings said as he emerged from the adjoining room, where he had changed into more appropriate clothes--that is, rags that matched the clothes Percy and Dewhurst were wearing.
"You do look a sight," Dewhurst chuckled as he reviewed his leader's appearance.
"Lud! Do you think so? Certainly I admit to being less than presentable to His Royal Highness at this moment, but for France I thought I looked rather fancy myself," Percy joked quietly.
Their soft laughter was interrupted by an abrupt knock on the door. Immediately the room fell silent as Percy assumed character and went to the door.
"Who's there?" he asked roughly.
Percy smiled a bit and let out a little relieved sigh as he opened the door and let in the Vicomte de Marais; but his smile faded when the door was once again shut securely and he was able to look the Vicomte straight in the face.
"You! What's happened? Did you deliver that letter I told you to, eh?" he said in the rough voice he had adopted, frowning at the figure he saw.
"Happened? Why, nothing . . . you--you told me to come, kind sir," the man stammered in a frightened voice.
"Of course he did," Dewhurst said quickly, breaking into the awkward situation. "Welcome, Vicomte, to the only lodgings we can now offer you; but soon you will be safe enough."
"This is the Vicomte?" Percy asked uncertainly.
"Of course. Surely you remember . . ."
"I never was able to see his face clearly . . . it was so dark . . ." Percy's face had gone almost fully white, and he was stammering wildly in an attempt to find some reassuring fact to hold on to.
"What's wrong?" Dewhurst asked, alarmed. Percy could not answer, still stunned by the shock that only he could understand.
"What danger have I sent him into . . ."
Hastings, from the moment he saw the Vicomte, had gone as white as Percy had. In front of him he saw an exact copy of the face, build, hair, and mannerisms of Sir James Whitsfield. He recovered as quickly as he could.
"You recieved the letter, I assume?" he asked. The poor Vicomte was confused.
"What letter? I came as you instructed me to in Paris, three days ago!"
The letter had never reached him. Either James had never started out with the letter in the first place, or--
Chapter 4: A Delicate Situation
"He's--he's been arrested, Isabella. I'm--I'm terribly sorry."
Isabella seemed to be frozen in time. She couldn't move; it all seemed too unreal. If she stayed very still, perhaps she would wake up and find it was all a terrible nightmare . . . she was sure it was . . .
She shook herself out of her dream and turned to Lady Eliza pleasantly. "Yes, Lady Hastings-- you were saying? I'm afraid I dozed off for a minute . . ."
Lady Hastings took Isabella's hand in hers gently. "No, Isabella, you weren't dreaming, I'm afraid. Timothy sent me word this morning. He really has been captured, and he's being held in prison at Calais."
Isabella's hands began to shake. "It's true? It's really true?"
Lady Eliza nodded somberly. "Yes."
For a full minute there was complete stillness in the parlor. Then, very slowly, Isabella raised her trembling hands to her face and began to sob quietly.
They stayed like this for some time--no one knows how long, because they didn't care. Isabella was too grief-stricken to worry about the time, and Lady Eliza was too worried about Isabella. She did the best thing she could by sitting with her silently. But tears have to stop sometime; they do not go on forever. When Isabella stopped crying, she turned resolutely to her friend and leader.
"We must go after him."
* * * * * * *
Three days. James could barely recall the passing of the hours, but he had diligently counted the number of times the sun had risen since he had been so unceremoniously tossed in the dark hole they called a prison cell, and it had been three days. Every evening at sundown the guard left a hunk of dry black bread and a mug of dirty water at the doorway of his cell; it was up to him whether or not he wanted to drag himself across the cell to get it. It was all the food he was given, and it was getting harder and harder to find the strength needed to propel himself to his meager supper. How long were they going to keep him here like this?
Every night before he attempted to sleep, he checked the loose stone under which he had hidden the letter, to make sure it was still there, and that it had not been disturbed. If they ever found it, they would know that he was working for the Pimpernel, and not hesitate to either torture or execute him . . . not that he cared much for preserving his life in this terrible place, but time was precious. The more of their time he wasted, the more Percy had to get the Vicomte and his men to safety; and under pressure of torture, who knew how long he could last?
The days were clear and cloudless now, and every night he lay awake on the floor of the cell, staring at the barred window, until he saw the moon rise. It gave him a small measure of comfort for some reason, seeing the moon each night--and he noticed that it grew larger every evening, more complete. Slowly, the second half was returning to join its counterpart in the sky.
From somewhere far away, he heard the door of another cell slam, and in his delirious mind wondered who else had just been sentenced to the black hole.
* * * * * * *
"Lord Hastings, please, you must let me get to him! To only see him, at least!"
"Isabella, I know how anxious you are, but you must be careful," Lady Eliza cautioned. "The chances we have to save him are definite, but also delicate, you know."
"A few wrong words, Lady Whitsfield, and the plan could disintegrate before our eyes," Lord Hastings continued gently. Isabella's eyes lit up with a faint hope.
"You speak of a ‘plan.' You have one, then?" She was only able to thinly disguise the desperation in her voice, and even so it shook. Lady Eliza squeezed her hand.
"Yes. There is a plan. But it is dangerous and precarious, and it depends on our taking our chances where they come. It may take many days for everything to be in order. So you see how important it is that we do not rush into this."
Isabella tried to understand, and nodded in misery. "As you say, we have to be careful."
"Percy speaks often of grasping the goddess Fortune by her single hair when the opportunity arises," Lord Hastings said softly. "Pray that Fortune may be kind and stand by us as resolutely as she stands by him."
* * * * * * *
"How does he fare?"
"Weakly, Hastings. I saw him again today--only a glimpse through the bars of the cell window, but it was enough. He is not tortured, thank God, but his food is scanty and far from wholesome. Often he is made to crawl the entire length of the cell to reach it, an arduous task in a man with his depleted strength. But they keep him alive, as bait no doubt. The cell seems to be lightly guarded, but is triply reinforced in reality, so that when an attempt is made at a rescue, the trap snaps tightly shut around us." Percy shook his head doubtfully. "For nearly the first time, I feel helpless."
"Surely there is something to be done?" Dewhurst asked.
"Not at the moment. We can only wait. Chauvelin will not kill him as long as he sees us waiting in the wings. We have one advantage--he thinks Sir James is our Vicomte de Marais, and that gives us the chance to get the real Vicomte out of France without trouble. Dewhurst, you will cross over with him tonight; Hastings and I will stay here to see to our courier's safety."
"Percy," Hastings said slowly, "surely you know that any attempt to rescue him now will only end in your own capture and leave him exactly where he is. You don't consider trying it now, do you?"
"No, Hastings, we must be patient. But if it comes to a staring match between Chauvelin and myself, I will take what chance I may sooner than let him die in prison." Percy raised his eyes to gaze at the wall behind Hastings, and beyond it, gazing at the city itself. "He will not die in prison on my account, I promise you that."
Chapter 5: The Dream Becomes Reality
How long now? James couldn't tell; he had lost count of sunrises when the tenth had passed. He had also stopped gazing out the window at the moon at night. He was too weak to move now; even the guard who brought his food at night now put it down beside his emaciated form instead of leaving it at the doorway. For some reason they wanted him alive. James didn't have the strength to figure out why, but every night he ate what he could of the inedible fare to keep himself as strong as he could; self-inflicted starvation would do nobody any good.
But though he no longer saw the moon itself, he could still see the moonlight illuminating the cell at night, and he felt it a comforting glow.
Chauvelin was impatient. He had been waiting far too long for the Pimpernel to walk into his trap; it was obviously not going to work after all. It was time he got rid of the troublesome Vicomte once and for all.
"Take him to Paris tomorrow night," he told the officiating guard of the prison, "and entrust him to the prison of La Force. That's where he was before, and that's where he'll return. I can't stall it any longer; most likely that Pimpernel has left French soil altogether, planning on returning for this aristo at a later time."
A poor floor-sweeper, going about his business in the corner of the room where these two men conversed, looked up briefly and with surprise; but a moment later he had resumed his work.
*Our chance has come,* Lord Hastings thought as he placidly swept the floors of the Calais prison.
* * * * * * *
The moon had just risen; James knew because of the sudden flood of silver light that filled the little cell that had become a horrific home to him. He reveled in enjoyment of this one pleasant moment in his day, the time when the moon seemed to reach out and embrace him in her arms, momentarily protecting him from sorrow. Only momentarily, though, because with the light of the sun came new sorrows every day.
He was rudely startled out of his reverie by the sound of a key turning in the lock of the door. This late at night? He already had his food; what did they want from him at this hour?
Two guards came in and roughly hauled him to his feet. He could barely stand.
"Come, you," one said. "Time for you to fill your place on the platform of Madame Guillotine."
"Well, you'll be one step closer to the blade, that is. To Paris with you!"
He was going to Paris to be executed? The hope of his heart, that somehow he would be rescued and returned to Isabella some day, seemed to wither and die at the guard's rough words. The time had come, he knew, for him to do what he always knew he would have to. But so soon?
No matter. He was going to die, but others were going to live because of it. That single thought kept him from going fully insane; no matter what happened to him, the Pimpernel, his League, and the cause he served were safe and intact. Before leaving the cell, he made sure to take the letter from beneath the loose stone and secure it among his ragged, dirty clothes.
He marched between the soldiers, a bayonet in his back, through twisting halls and long, dark corridors before reaching the street outside. A carriage awaited him; it seemed to him to be a tumbril. Two other soldiers were standing in front of it, and the soldiers exchanged a series of salutes before the first set left him in the "care" of the second. Silently, he allowed himself to be ushered inside the carriage that would carry him to Paris and to his death.
No sooner had the carriage started on its way than a very strange thing happened.
The soldier sitting beside James spoke, in a soft voice that James could almost swear was more suited to a woman than a French soldier. "Now?"
The other guard nodded gently, and suddenly James felt his hands covered with scores of tender kisses and caresses.
"Please! Citizen soldier!" he protested, alarmed at this most unusual behavior. "What is--"
The soldier lifted his head to look into James' eyes, and he was suddenly and deeply plunged into the depths of two very familiar brown eyes, which were weeping large tears of joy and relief.
"Oh! God!" he exclaimed, breathless. "Is it some wonderful dream?"
"No, dearest," Isabella Whitsfield assured her husband. "It is truly I, here beside you." She reached up to tenderly and reverently kiss his hollow cheek, and finally James believed what his eyes had told him. He threw his arms nearly violently around his wife and adorned her brown hair with passionate kisses, as Lady Eliza Hastings discreetly turned her face away on the opposite seat.
"My dear, my darling Isabella!" he whispered in her ear. "I thought I would never see you again, my love!"
Isabella could say nothing; each word she tried to say was choked off by joy.
"But how did it happen? My lady, is that truly you?" he asked in wonderment.
"Yes, Sir James, it is I. We simply took the opportunity of your transfer to Paris to take the place of the guards who were to escort you, and we're borrowing the Republic's carriage for a bit. Very simple really, but we had to wait a very long time before we could manage it. Waiting for Citizen Chauvelin to get tired of waiting is sometimes a very long wait."
"How long has it been since I was arrested?"
"Well, I'm not sure when you were captured exactly--" Lady Hastings began, and was cut off by the faint voice of Lord Hastings, calling from the box.
"It's been two weeks to the day."
Two weeks! To be on bread and water, deprived of freedom and fresh air for two weeks!
"You have truly proved yourself to the Guild, Sir James," Lady Hastings said quietly, with a tone of wonder and respect in her voice. "To be willing to take the place of the Vicomte to assure the Pimpernel's safety is an act of pure devotion. I am ashamed to say I ever doubted your loyalty. It shall not happen again."
"My lady, you cannot be held responsible for being cautious," James said a bit weakly, for the full brunt of what he had just experienced had suddenly hit him. He had not known his imprisonment to be so long. "But where are we going?"
"We must leave you and Timothy with Percy, so that he may know you are safe and be reassured. You three will no doubt leave France within the hour on the *Day Dream*, and Isabella and I will leave within the hour as well. So though we travel by different boats, as soon as is possible, you will be together on the shores of England."
James smiled, catching hold of Isabella's hand in the dark carriage. As far as he was concerned, he could hold on to her forever. He glanced out the window to see, for the first time in a week, the moon shining in the sky. James smiled to see it was completely full.
He remembered the letter Percy had given him two weeks ago, which was still hidden among his clothes. He took it out, considered the seal on the back, and broke it. He read in the light of the full moon the message he had protected for two weeks.
*Do not forget the rendezvous tonight. And take care; Chauvelin is on your trail. Watch your step and make sure he's thrown off the track.*
With a sudden thrill, James realized he had done exactly what was needed. He had thrown Chauvelin off the track.
* * * * * * *
Restless, Percy paced the floor of the room, wondering what could be done for Sir James without endangering his life further. Sadly, he had begun to doubt his own abilities ever since the man's arrest--if he could so unwittingly place an innocent courier in danger, could he not do the same with his own men or with those he worked to save? A knock at the door happily pulled him away from these dark thoughts.
"Who's there?" he asked roughly.
Whose voice was that? Certainly not Hastings, it sounded younger . . . but weaker too, as if it might fade away altogether soon. He opened the door, astonished, and let in two men, both of them familiar. One of them was Hastings; the other was . . .
"Sir James! Out of prison!"
"Yes, good sir. I escaped not long ago, evading my jailers as they tried to transfer me to La Force, and Lord Hastings was happily waiting to receive me. I'm well, though rather weak from the terrible food." He smiled thinly.
"Sir James, I must beg your forgiveness for sending you into such danger--"
"No, sir. Do not beg forgiveness for what was a simple twist of Fate. So many other things could have happened; it seems I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You could have done nothing to prevent what happened, and so you have no fault in the matter. You have done so much good for others; do not let a single snub of Chance turn you from the work you do." He looked very earnestly into Percy's eyes. "Sir, you may not remember, but you saved my wife from the guillotine, and I know she has wanted many times over to thank you for it. I take this opportunity, since it might be my last, to thank you for that for both of us."
Percy took Sir James' hand with a genuine smile. "No. Thank you, sir. You have reminded me of the fickleness of Chance, and how little we can predict what will happen in the future. We may need your help again someday; would you be willing to take an oath of obedience against that day?"
"I would be more than willing to be of any help I can, sir."
"Then swear now that if ever called upon to help us in the work we do, you will obey orders without question or hesitation, and that you will never seek knowledge of my true identity unless it is offered you."
A smile played around Sir James' lips as he said, "I swear."
* * * * * * *
The wind was full in the sails of the *Day Dream* that night, and bore it quickly away from France and towards the shores of England. When James had been settled in a lower room of the schooner to rest because of his weak condition, Lord Hastings came up to join Sir Percy on the deck.
"He's a trustworthy man, is he not?" Percy asked as Hastings approached him.
"Yes, he is. And trusting as well."
"What he did for us proves him to be as devoted as any League member. He's a good man. I think he can be of great help to us, Hastings."
Hastings smiled as he nodded in assent. "In more ways than one."
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