"And yet I do," James said quietly. "I not only think, I know. I know what I heard and what I saw. Two men in close conversation right outside this very house. I only caught a few sentences, but they were thus: ‘This is the place?' ‘Yes, they met last night and our contact came straight to us with the information. No word yet on where the Pimpernel and his men will next strike, but rest assured that these people will know first, and then us. Citizen Chauvelin will be pleased at this.' ‘I never guessed at a second organization behind that accursed Englishman.' ‘Our contact says the Englishman knows no more about it than anyone else. It's that secret.' ‘That's hard to believe. Still, it's better that way; if the Pimpernel doesn't know about them, he can't protect them when we . . .'" James sighed. "They stopped talking then and looked all around. I had no choice but to continue on my way; I made sure they were gone before I came to you, my lady. I'm afraid we've been betrayed, and we don't know by whom."
Lady Hastings sighed sadly. "It's true, then. Whoever this traitor is, they were at last night's meeting and directly afterwards went to the Republican Government with some sort of information, most likely about the Pimpernel's movements and our own plans. And who knows? It may not have been the first time they have given such information. Thank goodness Timothy didn't know about this next escape until after that meeting . . . if the Pimpernel had told him but hours earlier, he would have told me and I would have, unknowingly . . ." She shook her head quickly to clear it. "This is serious. The escape is set for four days from now; we have four days to ferret out this informant from among our ranks and bring the treachery to naught, and there are very few we can trust to help us. Nearly everybody is under suspicion now."
"What do we need to do?" Isabella asked immediately, all thoughts of sleep forgotten, and vaguely wondering about Lady Eliza's phrase "nearly everybody". They didn't know anything of the traitor's identity, it could be anyone; didn't that mean that everybody was under suspicion?
"We must waste no time in gathering a group of counter-spies to discover what information we can about how much they know. Isabella, you are good at spy work; you and I will decide exactly who we can best trust for that. And then, we need someone on the inside, someone who can effectually nose around the higher officials--Citizen Chauvelin himself, if need be--to find out who the traitor is."
"That would be my job," James guessed quickly, unwilling to allow either of the ladies to risk themselves in such a dangerous position. But Lady Hastings shook her head vigorously at his suggestion.
"No. You alone know what those two men look like; I need you to follow and watch them closely from now on. Note every movement they make and everyone they speak to, and if anything new comes up, come straight to me. Our success depends on our knowing everything they know now, and if possible, more. The one we need on the inside is Lucy."
"Madame de Guinterre?" Isabella asked uncertainly, unsure of the name. She knew the woman no less uncertainly. "You're sure, Eliza?" She did not ask what she meant--you're sure she can be trusted?--but Lady Hastings understood just the same. Neither Isabella nor James knew very much about Lucille de Guinterre; indeed, not many people in the Guild did. She was somewhat of a mystery to most, truly close only to Lady Eliza. She was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes' younger sister, that much was widely known, but not much else. Had she not been a close relative of so dedicated a member of the League, she might have fallen under greater distrust from the others than she did; as it was, most were wary of her.
Lady Hastings nodded vigorously. "Yes. I'm certain of this. We need Lucy's help." She sighed sorrowfully, thinking of what she was about to do to her friend. "If she will give it. I will send for her immediately; James, with luck you can find those two men again within an hour, and begin to shadow them--if not, stay alert and find out what you can; Isabella, you must stay here and guard our meager lodgings. On no account should you let anybody near the table; the papers there are of utmost importance to us all. I cannot tell you any more than that.
"I'm sorry to deprive you both of your night's sleep, but I'm sure you realize how desperate our situation is, and the shortness of the time. If I don't return by daybreak, assume the worst and act accordingly; otherwise, I shall see you shortly. Act as usual around the rest; try not to raise any doubts in the informant's mind that their treachery has been discovered, and stay completely silent about all you have seen tonight," Lady Eliza finished, considering how completely unnecessary the last warning had been. Both Isabella and James were intelligent and dedicated Guild members; they knew that silence more often than not was the safest plan, and under these circumstances, they could be trusted not to let on that things were not normal. But while Lady Hastings had never ruled out the possibility of treachery, she had always pushed the thought into the far corners of her mind; the fact that it truly had happened shocked her, and her usual quiet resourcefulness was terribly shaken.
And if Lucy knew what her next task for the Guild would be, Eliza thought, she might defect to the Republicans herself.
Lucy was at Richmond when the courier arrived. The poor, bedraggled man was led into the solarium, where tea was being served to the close gathering of friends.
Marguerite's blue eyes looked haunted as she rose to meet the man. Percy had been in Paris for over a week, this time, and she felt the sudden terror--the clenched stomach, the inability to breathe--that came with the same fear she had known so many times.
"For--Madame de Guinterre." the young man said breathlessly.
"Me?" Lucy rose and hurried to accept the message. Marguerite thanked the man, offering him a coin for his troubles, but he shook her off and disappeared.
You are needed in France. Come immediately.
"Is something wrong, Lucy?" Suzanne asked in her sweet, dulcet tones.
Lucy folded the note into several tiny squares, tucking it up beneath the form-fitting sleeve of her gown,"It is--Gio. My mentor . . ."
"Monsieur de Guinterre is ill?"
"Yes. Very much so," Lucy lied blithely. "He wishes to see me. I must hurry to France."
"Oh, Lucy, you must be careful," Marguerite said pleadingly. "I wish Percy were able to escort you . . ."
Lucy smiled reassuringly,"I'll be fine, I assure you." she laughed teasingly. "Trust me?"
Marguerite's eyes darkened. "Why did you have to say that . . ."
When Lucy arrived in Paris, she went directly to the safehouse where members of the Guild often stayed during their missions. Laying her valise inside the door, she hurried to the small study.
"Liza?" she called. "Eliza?"
Pushing open the door, she found Eliza sitting on a divan, Isabella de Roche at her side. Isabella Whitsfield, Lucy corrected herself. She didn't know Isabella all that well--the other woman was quiet. She had always appeared so refined, so elegant that Lucy found striking up a conversation was difficult.
"I do hope I'm not interrupting . . ." she said. "I hurried here as quickly as possible."
"Please sit, Lucy. Tea?" Eliza rose, moving to a cherrywood banquet table laid out with a china tea service. Strange but Lucy had remembered the service holding ten cups. Even with the ones Eliza and Isabella had in front of them, there was one missing.
Eliza waited until Lucy had taken a calming sip of her tea before she began speaking. Both women seemed uncharacteristically on edge, making Lucy feel more uncomfortable than ever. What on earth was going on here?
"I'm not sure how to say this, Lucy," Eliza began,"But there's--a traitor within the Guild."
The tea cup Lucy had been holding fell, crashing into the small table with a shattering noise. Unable to meet Eliza's or Isabella's eyes, Lucy glanced down, as if noticing the stain that had already darkened into the carpet for the first time . . .
"You think it's me?"
"No, no," Lady Hastings said quickly, laying a hand on Lucy's trembling arm. "We know it isn't you. Even if you had been with us in France, I would never have suspected you . . ." Lucy's expression changed from shock to utter confusion in a matter of seconds.
"Madame de Guinterre," Isabella began, in an attempt to explain matters.
"Please, call me Lucy. There are far too many syllables in ‘Madame de Guinterre.'"
Isabella smiled softly. "Lucy, then. My husband, Sir James, overheard a conversation between two men outside this house a few nights ago. They were speaking of a contact who had told them of a second organization behind the Pimpernel, and who we assume had been at our meeting the night before. So you see, we know that you are not the traitor. Lady Eliza sent for you because-- " She paused, unsure of how to continue with such a delicate issue. "We need your help, Lucy," she finally said.
"My help? If you don't mind my asking, why me? Besides the fact that I happened to have stayed in England this time?" she asked, curious and a bit suspicious . . . after all, there were several who had not come to France on this particular mission . . . older members of the Guild, more trusted than she . . . heaven knew they were more trusted than she . . .
"I'm sorry, Lucy, to have to do this to you," Lady Eliza said. Lucy sighed, understanding at least a little of what was going on.
"Why do I have a feeling I know what's coming next?"
"Lucy, I hope you don't mind, but Lady Hastings has told me of your . . . your relationship with . . . with . . ." Isabella was suddenly very embarrassed, and could not say any more.
"With the enemy, you mean," Lucy said, in a blunt tone. What if she had been in France this time? No doubt she would have been the very first under suspicion. It would only have been natural to suspect her first. And Lucy thought she sensed a little suspicion in Isabella still.
"You are very brave to stay in the Guild, Lucy. I do not know how you are able to love a man and still have the strength of mind to work against the principles he stands for. I could not do it. We need you to . . ." Isabella trailed off, faltering. "That is, would you be willing to . . ." She stopped again. Finally, she let out a deep breath. "I can't do it. I can't ask you to do this. Eliza, you're going to have to do this, I'm afraid."
Lady Hastings nodded, swallowing hard and gathering her courage. The words came out fast and hard. "Lucy, we need you to spy around Chauvelin for us. Listen in on his conversations, look at any official papers he might have lying around, do what you need to do in order to find out who this traitor is." She took a breath, finally. "Could you do it?"
Lucy was quiet for a very long time. Nobody dared to speak at all; it was as if a great decision was hanging in the air over them all. Lady Hastings looked concernedly into Lucy's face; Isabella looked down at the ground, an occasional tear falling to the stained rug; Lucy stared straight ahead, barely moving.
"So this is why you called me to France," she finally said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
"I'm sorry, Lucy," Lady Eliza repeated.
"Oh," she said with a wistful smile, "don't be sorry! I knew I'd have to do this sooner or later . . . it's not as if you could stop it!" She tried to be cheerful, but it was so obviously forced that it brought yet more tears to Isabella's eyes. "You need someone who can be close enough to him to find these things out . . . all I have to do is make sure he doesn't know I'm doing it. He'll never harm me, I know . . . he cares too much for that . . . but if he finds out, he can't help but obey his principles and he'll . . ." Her self-control failed, and she broke down in painful tears.
"If he does," Isabella said, laying a hand on Lucy's shoulder, "we'll find a way to get you out. Don't worry."
"Oh, I'm not worried!" she said through her sobs. "I'm scared for him . . . it'll break him in two to have to arrest me . . . for his sake, for our sake, for everybody's sake . . . I must succeed." She straightened and set her jaw in determination. "I will succeed."
"Someone is watching us."
A terribly thick silence filled the small room as Percy looked round at four shocked--and, frankly, scared--faces.
"You're sure of this?"
"Quite sure. I'd noticed it before, but never really believed it . . . until the last rescue. I saw two of them, mixing well with the crowds, but paying marked attention to all of us. I don't know what they mean to do, but the situation is serious. We have to do something about it." His usual light, bantering tone was gone from his voice, replaced by a serious, low whisper. He really is concerned, Hastings realized, looking across the room at Ffoulkes and Dewhurst and trying to slow his heartbeat to a reasonable pace. Eliza, the Guild's been too careless of late . . . he's noticed you now, and if he finds out . . . I don't know what's going to happen.
"What should we do?" he asked quietly, trying to sound calm.
"We have to keep this quiet." Percy answered. "Don't say a word of it to anyone, not even other members of the League. The fewer people who know about this, the better . . . meanwhile, I'll find out who these people are. I've already started one plan, in fact . . . utilizing the talents of our old friend, Chauvelin."
"Chauvelin?" three voices asked in unison, thoroughly puzzled. Percy nodded, the faintest hint of a grin playing around the corners of his mouth.
"Yes. I went to him in disguise and told him of a group I knew were ‘close to the accursed Pimpernel's plans . . .' He took the bait. While he and his spies keep these people busy for the next few days, I can find out who they are and what they want . . . and why they are so interested in the league."
Hastings closed his eyes in dismay. And I can't even warn Eliza . . .
"It's been two days now, James--you're sure?"
He sighed heavily. "Yes. Those two do nothing but watch the house and talk about the first contact they received. I don't know if our traitor has gone to them again or not. They certainly don't show it."
"It's almost as if we know more about this than they do," Isabella said quietly. "From what I've gathered, they don't even know who the traitor is themselves. Whoever it was came to Chauvelin disguised as an old, bedraggled man. He said that he knew of a group of people that followed the Pimpernel and his league and knew about every mission they set out upon. The informer said that invariably, this group knew as much about the rescues as the Pimpernel himself. That's all we know, and apparently, that's all they know too."
"It doesn't make sense," Lady Hastings murmured. "The meeting last night was crucial--I was sure that the spies would know of the plans by now."
"They could be bluffing, I guess," Isabella said uncertainly. James shook his head.
"What reason would they have to hide what they know? There's no possible way they could know I was following them--they aren't the best of Chauvelin's spies, I don't think. I've watched them and listened to their conversations for two days straight, and not once have they made a sign or the slightest motion that they think they might be watched. No, I don't think they're bluffing. But Chauvelin may be keeping the information he knows to himself."
"James is right. Whatever Chauvelin knows, he's keeping quiet--he's had too many experiences with the Pimpernel gone awry to be careless with such information, even among his own spies. We'll have to trust Lucy to find out about it." She sighed. "I hope she can."
She had been in Paris for almost a week, yet Lucy had barely seen Chauvelin, save each evening for the evening meal.
It took a great deal of mental struggle to remind herself that she was there for the Guild, and not to repair what damage her last mission had taken upon her relationship with Armand. Yet, she could not help the dull aching in her heart as she waited each evening in the sitting room for Armand to return home.
Each evening was the same--Armand would return for a quiet meal, the only conversation relating to the meal or the wine. He would kiss her cheek softly, with cool and stiff lips, before locking himself in his library. The library had always been Armand's sanctuary--the one room Lucy had refused to enter, out of respect for his privacy.
This evening, however, he hadn't even bothered touching the meal Madame had prepared for them; leaving Lucy alone in the quiet dining room. She hadn't eaten a bite, much to Madame's dismay, excusing herself to her chamber to prepare for bed.
Lucy had begun to ascend the stairs when a loud knocking sounded at the door.
Her hand on the doorknob, she slowly pulled it open. The man--if he could be called that, she couldn't tell what stood before her, beneath the mounds of dirty, smelly rags--pushed the heavy wood back without haste, catching Lucy in the nose.
"Ohhhhh," she groaned, her fingers clutching her nose as warm blood dripped. Percy had broken her nose almost fifteen years ago in small argument when they were children, and the man's clumsy shove had sent the same bone cracking and dark blood spilling out upon her lace fichu.
When Chauvelin entered the foyer, he found a confused spy and an irate Englishwoman standing, glaring at one another.
"What happened here?" he demanded, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to Lucy.
The strange man shrugged, Lucy stalked past both men into Chauvelin's library. Resolutely, she sat down in one of the highbacked chairs, holding her head back as she waited for the blood to stop.
"Lucy, why don't I have Madame lead you to your quarters . . ." Chauvelin began to say, as they stepped into the library.
One hand still pinching her nose with the handkerchief, Lucy waved the other hand airily about in a blatant, "Why don't you make me move?" motion.
Chauvelin grumbled to himself.
"Don't you theeenk the woman should leaaaave, Citizen?"
At last, the odd one had spoken. Lucy removed the handkerchief from her nose, staring eye to eye with the disheveled stranger.
"No, m'sieur, I don't believe the woman shall leave. Or does my presence offend your . . . delicate sensibilities?" Her quick grey eyes took in each aspect of the man's appearance as he stood before her, regarding him with the haughty affectation of the noblewoman she despised playing.
"Ah, so zee woman eees Eeenglish . . ."
Lucy's eyes flashed again with unmitigated disgust at the man's tone of voice.
"As a matter of fact, I do come from England. Your accent, however, is quite unknown to me, m'sieur. You are not a Citizen of the Republic, it 'twould seem . . ."
"Grappin is the government ambassador from Belgium," Chauvelin said quickly--and a bit too sharply for her liking. What on earth were they hiding?
"Government ambassador from Belgium?" It was pointless to even attempt to meet Chauvelin's eyes--the man disguised his emotions and thoughts with the ease of an actor. He had so many identities that Lucy never quite knew which one to trust in. . . .
"I had no idea France had Belgian spies working for her, Chauvelin," Lucy said easily, her eyes directed on this Grappin, even as she directed her words to the quiet Frenchman.
"I had no idea France had English spies working for her, mam'zelle." Grappin countered, an almost dangerous tone underlying his oddly accented words.
"I assure you, Monsieur, I am no spy--for France, or England."
"Haamph," the man said. "Mam'zelle, I fear that you are either a spy . . . or a liar. Which is it?"
"That is ENOUGH, Grappin," Chauvelin snapped finally. "Leave her be. Lucy, off to bed with you. Have Madame look after your . . . injury, if you will."
Lucy's voice was frighteningly quiet and even as she raised her eyes to meet Chauvelin's. "I am no child, Armand. Do not speak to me as though I were one." She gathered her heavy skirts in hand, rising to leave the library. She faced Grappin one final time. "Nor am I a liar. Or a spy. Good evening, gentlemen."
Neither lover paid any mind to the Belgium spy as Lucy flounced out of the room, so only the walls of the small library saw the wicked humourous glint that shone in a pair of blue eyes . . .
Lucy was still annoyed with herself for allowing the Belgian to bait her into the argument the previous evening, as she entered the Theatre Nationale. She had no idea what today's performance was--she had very little plan of viewing it, in truth. The single ticket had arrived early that morning, without note nor name, but the message had been clear enough to her.
Eliza and Isabella knew well enough the fear that Lucy refused to face--Chauvelin was having her followed. Her mind knew that it was a wise decision for him to have made, yet her heart still refused to believe it. And so, the women had mutually agreed that any necessary meeting between the three would have to be held in public. What better place to 'hide', than in public, after all? Lucy had always been a popular patron at the theatre--it would hardly be an oddity for her to make an appearance during a matinee.
As she entered the small private box, she saw Isabella already seated, her gaze fixed upon the bare stage.
"Lucy, you've come."
She seated herself in the chair beside Isabella's, pulling it closer, so they could speak quietly without any chance of being overheard by those who may have lurked outside the box.
"And a devil of a time coming, I had," Lucy sniffed, her voice still slightly muffled from that lug Grappin's assault on her nose. "Carriages in Paris are rather difficult to come by."
Isabella nodded wisely. "Have you been able to discover anything of our traitor yet, Lucy?"
"Not a thing," Lucy confided. "Arm--Chauvelin," she corrected herself quickly, "barely speaks a word to me. I daresay I would have better chances of walking straight into Temple Prison and executing a rescue mission, than enter his library."
Isabella said nothing, her compassionate nature immediately recognizing the hardening of Lucy's jaw, and the slight trembling her voice had taken.
"Perhaps this wasn't the wisest plan--sending you in, Lucy . . ." Isabella immediately said, gently touching Lucy's hand. "You can leave at any time, you know . . ."
Isabella truly did look as if she feared for Lucy's well-being, a fact that surprised Lucy a great deal. Her position within the Guild had always been a precarious one. Much of London's society gossiped of Lady Ffoulkes' 'carryings on' with a Frenchman, though few knew much about the Frenchman in question. Isabella was one of the few who did, and yet here she was, worrying as much for Lucy's safety as any of her childhood friends.
Lucy shook her head, smiling,"No, it really is too late to run away. As terrifying as it is to comprehend, I do believe I have a plan, Isabella . . ."
"Should I even ask?"
Lucy's mind wandered, ever so briefly, back to the hideous Belgian. The poor fellow really had no idea what he had gotten himself into when he entered Chauvelin's home . . .
Isabella sighed, shaking her head,"I shan't ask."
Lord Hastings opened the door to the tiny room only a crack--only far enough for him to see his wife, her hair in disarray, her face wild with exhaustion, but still beautiful to his eyes. He wanted to go in so very much. To go in and tell her all he knew, to let her know what was really going on--but the voice in his head would stop him every time.
Don't say a word of it to anyone . . . Those were Percy's orders.
Now I understand what it means to be caught between the mythical Charybdis and Scylla--a mortal danger on either side. My oath of obedience to Percy commands that I keep what I know silent and leave Eliza to her own resources . . . my poor Eliza! Will she ever forgive me for this transgression! And I can't relieve Percy's mind on the subject either; what I know about the Guild was commanded to secrecy when this began, and I gave Eliza my word . . .
And so I have three choices. On the one hand I can break my oath to my leader and face the shame of it forever. On the other, I can betray my own wife's trust, and consequently lose her love. I can do neither. My only course, then, is to go straight ahead, saying nothing to either of them, and hoping that we all get through this alive and well.
It seems the most terrible choice of all.
Quietly, sorrowfully, he closed the door again and crept away, down the passage and out into the night.
Lady Hastings yawned, despite herself. She'd gone over the situation countless times in her head- -it still didn't make sense. The rescue was set for tomorrow, and still they knew nothing. That might have made sense in of itself, had it not been for the conversation between their personal spies that James had overheard just that evening.
"Nothing. They just stay up there, and nothing happens. I hope the contact wasn't lying when he said these people know all about it."
"If he was lying, Citizen Chauvelin will have his head and ours too. I hope he was right."
"He hasn't come back to tell us if he was or not, anyway. If only we could know what they know . . ."
"Our job would be over then, wouldn't it?"
"Exactly. I'm getting tired of standing out in the cold every night for nothing. And the rain often as not, too."
"Nom d'un chien, I can't take much more of this job."
"We have to, Jacques."
"That's the worst of it. If it didn't buy the food . . ."
"We'd be out on the street, freezing and starving to death."
"We practically are now."
So everything was mixed-up. They don't know anything? Nothing at all? The contact hadn't come back? But surely he would have, after that meeting . . . surely . . .
She soon dropped off into a deep, exhausted sleep. So deep, that she didn't notice when the papers on the table were taken, nor the soft footsteps and blue eyes of the man who took them, the eyes that never saw her dark-sheathed form asleep in the corner.
Sir James nearly missed it. Had his fatigued yawn lasted a second longer, the man would have been out of sight by the time he opened his eyes again. As it was, he only caught a glimpse of him as he left the house--but enough to see that he carried a paper with him.
The papers on the table . . . James followed him as carefully and quietly as possible, intent on getting those papers back. As for the spies, well . . . they could do without him for an hour or so, couldn't they?
Before long, James found himself crouched on the landing of a common boarding-house, listening for any sign of life in the room the stranger had disappeared into. Nothing was happening.
Finally he heard a quiet voice say, "Have you found out anything, Percy?"
James could have fallen over in shock. The voice belonged to his friend, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. Andrew? Percy? What is this?
"I didn't see anyone in the room, but I saw these papers, and I had hoped they would give some clue to the mystery. But I'm more puzzled than before, Ffoulkes . . . all they are is a list of people and places. Some of them I recognize as some of our safe-houses, but others are foreign to me . . ."
"What of the words beneath their names? Here, it says ‘Willing to shelter silently for a considerable sum,' and here ‘Helpful in lending horses and clothing if needed.' And this last paper . . . it seems to be . . ."
"A map," Sir Percy Blakeney interposed, a note of surprise in his voice. "A map of their locations, scattered all across France. Whatever these people are doing, it certainly isn't against our purposes . . . rather, they seem to be on our side of the matter."
"So what do we do now?"
James heard what might have been a laugh; in their lowered voices, it was more like an expulsion of air. "I don't think we need to worry about uncovering them right now . . . tomorrow we have work to do. Let's see if they respond to a simple warning to stay out of our way . . . for now, at least." He heard a rustle of paper; probably the papers being rolled up again and tied. "To bed, Ffoulkes . . . you need rest, my dear fellow."
James hurried away from the door, trying to make himself understand what had occurred, as Sir Percy no doubt prepared to go out once again that evening.
When Lady Hastings awoke, the first light of day was breaking through the open window, and she wasn't alone in the room. Isabella and Lucy were there, too, although as fast asleep as she herself was just moments ago.
This very afternoon, the Pimpernel would attempt to rescue some half-dozen prisoners of the Republic, condemned to die . . . and if he succeeded without becoming a prisoner himself, Lady Eliza could be assured that the traitor, whoever they might be, had failed.
But they would still be among the Guild.
She got up slowly and approached the table where she had left her work the night before, but stopped in her tracks long before she reached it. There was a new paper among the old, one that had not been there before.
Someone has been in this room, looking through those papers while I was asleep . . . perhaps our traitor has succeeded after all . . .
With a shaky hand, she lifted the small note and read it. It wasn't very long, but the purport of the words nearly caused her to swoon in shock.
Sorry about the inconvenience. I advise that you stay out of our way from now on, and we shall do likewise.
And it was the signature that shocked her the most--a scarlet pimpernel.
"Lady Hastings?" a voice behind her murmured thickly. "What is it . . ."
She turned to see Isabella just rising from sleep, wondering at the expression of astonishment on her leader's face. Eliza held out the note to her.
"Read this, and discover the identity of our traitor."
Isabella's eyes grew wide as she read, and she had to lean against the couch for support. By this time Lucy had risen as well.
"What in the . . ."
Without another word Isabella handed her the note, and Lucy had to sit down when she learned the truth. Nobody could say anything for some time, until Lucy finally spoke for them all.
"Well, I never . . ."
They shared a soft, nervous laugh together; but it was short-lived, as they heard a frantic knock on the door.
"Who is it?"
"Let me in, Eliza!"
Lady Hastings looked at Isabella and Lucy anxiously. This seemed all too familiar . . .
James rushed in, breathless, and sat on the couch. For a reason she herself couldn't comprehend, Lucy went to make some tea as Sir James began.
"I know who the traitor is, Lady Hastings, and it's going to shock you . . ."
"It already has, James," Isabella said with a smile, as the entire room breathed a collective sigh of relief. It wasn't more bad news, after all. As James read the popular little note, Lady Hastings addressed all three of them.
"Apparently, we've been too careless. We must remember that the Pimpernel should never know of the work that we do, and at all costs, we must pull the wool over his eyes. A hard task, I know, but we've done it before and we can continue to do it. We should all be extra careful from now on to remain undetected, by members of the League as well as French officials."
"Indeed we must," a voice behind them said. Eliza turned quickly and found her husband behind her, a curiously intense look on his face.
"Timothy . . ."
"Forgive me, m'dear," he murmured as he kissed her hand reverently. "He bound me to secrecy about it, or I would have told you long before now what the trouble was. Please, dear, be more careful from now on. This work is too important to have to cease because of carelessness."
"I will, Timothy, and there is nothing to forgive. Your oath to him should always come first."
"No, my word to you should come first. Rest assured, I kept that too."
"I will never doubt you on that, dear." She kissed his cheek, as much as she dared in company. "Now, you need to get back. Be careful today."
Isabella and James sat next to each other on the small couch, grasping each other's hands.
"It seems that I was useless this time, dear," he whispered softly.
"Nonsense. You were the first one to spot the spies, and put us on our guard, and had you not been watching so diligently, you would never have found out the answer. You were, as always, a great help."
James laughed quietly. "To hear you describe it, I was quite noble. The way I see it, I only caused trouble for us all."
Isabella shook her head, smiling coyly. "The only one you ever cause trouble for . . . is me," she whispered in the softest of breaths, squeezing his hand. "You make me love you too much."
James grinned and kissed her hand. "Then, may I continue in the venerable profession of troublemaker for years to come."
Lucy looked out the window sadly, her face turned towards a house she knew well, in the center of Paris, where a man waited for her to come back . . .
It hurt immensely, to be in the midst of such contented love, knowing that her own love was very much discontented . . .
Chauvelin stepped into the dining room wearily, the pressures of the day weighing him down. He had a few questions to ask Lucy tonight, about what she knew about the latest escape that was just accomplished today. There were too many coincidences this time; he had to know, once and for all, if she was behind it.
She wasn't in the dining room.
"Lucy?" he called, certain that she would be in her chambers, perhaps, or even in the parlor, trying to stay away from his expected anger. She wouldn't get away that easy, he vowed. He was going to get answers this time.
But she was nowhere to be found. Exasperated, he stormed into the refuge of his library to think the intolerable situation through. And he saw the letter, laying on his desk, addressed simply to "Armand." He knew immediately what it meant. He opened it slowly, carefully, fearful that he might tear the paper.
It has been a trying week for both of us. You were right, Armand, not to trust me--I was working for my own interests alone, not ours, and most certainly not yours. Perhaps next time it will be different between us. I hope it will be.
Please, dear, you mustn't hate me for what I do. It is what I believe in with all my heart. Surely you understand what it is to believe in an ideal so fully, you who love the Republic so. I cannot hate you for that, no matter how much easier it would make this. I ask you not to question me about it, because the questions you would ask I cannot answer. You already know that it is for the good of what you hate, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and I cannot tell you any more than that. Do not, I beg you, implore me to give this work up--it would be like asking you to stop working for the Republic you believe in. Ours is a strange case, my love, two people who love each other so completely who must also give of themselves completely to opposing ideals. But it can work, Armand. It must work, for I swear I'll die if I have to live without you.
I am leaving today; my work for now is complete. I will come back to you as soon as may be, not as a spy, but as a woman who loves you with all she has. I still love you, Armand, and I pray to the God you do not acknowledge that you can find it in your heart to love me too, even after all that I have done.
His hand trembled as he read, and against his will, a single tear fell to the paper. He crumbled the letter into a tight ball in frustration, then immediately smoothed it out again almost lovingly in remorse. He sat heavily in the chair, rubbing at his eyes. What a foolish thing to do, to cry over her. She had left before, hadn't she? And as for the letter, well, it was emotional nonsense, and he had no time for it.
But she had known. All along, she had known he was having her followed, and she said nothing. And now she was gone, without a farewell or an au revoir, only a sheet of paper imploring his forgiveness. His forgiveness? And she wondered if he could still love her . . .
He buried his head in his hands, fighting the urge to shout at the ceilings and disturb the whole house.
"You don't know how many times I've wished I could stop loving you, Lucy," he murmured just loud enough for him to hear his own misery.