~+A Pathetic Chauvelin Story+~
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Go to Chapters Four through Six
The cobblestones looked very far away. I clutched the wall behind me and drew a deep breath. It would be very fast, I was sure....five floors wasn't that much, just enough to get it done really. Almost before I realized what was happening, the ground would be there and.......it would be over.
I pried one hand from the frame in preparation, and unconsciously it sprang to my necklace.....a cross. A gift from my mother. The Church taught that suicide was a sin, a sure way to eternal damnation, but I had always had faith in God, believed in Him........I knew He would not desert me now, despite what the church and all the world did, and very soon I would be with my mother, with my God, and with.....
I forced back a sob and gathered my courage. Just one step.....just one more step.....
"Amorie, child, you must.............AMORIE!! DON'T!!!"
It was now or never. I took one last, greedy breath, my last in this world, and took that fatal step......
But I had not counted on his swiftness, his famous dexterity. Firm hands seized my arm and waist just as my foot slipped from the sill, and dragged me, kicking and struggling, back into the firelit room.
He turned me against him as soon as I was inside, holding me tight to his chest. I fought wildly, shrieking, and suddenly realized he was no longer holding me close at all.....he could not. His hands were trembling wildly, so violently they slapped against my shoulderblades painfully, and his shaking lips were pressed softly to my hair, his whole form shuddering with the shock of nearly losing me. With a gasp, I leaned against him, the tears coming thick and fast now.
He drew me close, his own voice full of tears.
"Amorie....little one...would you truly..."
I pushed away from him suddenly, fiercely, rage swelling deep in my heart harsher then before.
"YES! Can you guess why, you FIEND?"
I spat, suddenly, and one pale hand went up to his bloodless cheek and wiped it away. He reached out for me with the other hand, smoothing back wild strands of hair behind my ears with infinite tenderness.
For just a moment I stood, the habits of all my life demanding that I turn to him for comfort, even now when he was the source of all my pain.....then I stumbled backwards, shoving my hair into order myself and glaring.
"Get out," I said softly but clearly, enunciating the words with all the hate and fury and sorrow that ripped my soul. He flinched at my voice, then straightened.
"Amorie, I understand...."
I laughed suddenly, hysterically.
"Oh, yes, Paul, you understand! Of course you do! The all-wise, all-compassionate Paul Chauvelin, he understands EVERYTHING, doesn't he brother?"
He stepped forward, looking at me quietly.
"Dare I leave you alone?" he asked softly, with a glance toward the curtains blowing in the breeze.
I turned away from him, covering my face with one hand.
He spun me to face him suddenly, cupping my chin in one hand and forcing me to meet my mother's piercing pale grey eyes shining out of his narrow face.
"Do you swear you will not try that again?"
I strove to break away, but his grip on my chin and shoulder, ever so gentle, was stronger then steel.
I hesitated a moment longer, staring at him furiously with green eyes sparkling with rage, then after a long, long moment I sighed in soft defeat.
He relaxed ever so slightly, and one hand dropped from my face and went inside his coat. I tore away now and dropped into a chair, burying my face in my hands.
The next words seemed to cost him dearly.
"He...he was not mistreated, dearest. I saw to that. It was very quick, and he faced it....he went out to the tumbril with a firm step, child, although I could not bring myself to watch the....you would have been proud of him."
"Perhaps if you'd let me BE there..." I shot back bitterly through my fingers. He sighed deeply and continued.
"I....I asked him if there was any message......I managed to get him paper..."
I spun suddenly, hating myself for the expression of desperate hope suddenly transforming my features but knowing I could not have hidden it.
He drew his hand out of his coat, and there was a small folded piece of paper in it. He gently pried apart my hands, tightly clenched together, and placed it in them.
"I'm truly sorry."
He leaned forward and kissed my forehead as he had done since I was a little child, and then he was gone.
I stared at the small paper for a long moment, then ripped it open as if it was a package of bread and I had not eaten for days.
"My own, my dearest Amorie,
Sweet one, how you must hate me, how I hate myself for the pain I have caused you.....no, you will not hate me, for you are too good for that, and because you, of all people, understand why I must do what I did.
Your brother has managed me paper and fifteen minutes' respite.....fifteen minutes to say all that is in my heart! And yet, you know, don't you? Of course you do...you know my heart, my soul, my very being. And I know yours, and I know, my love, that you will not waver through this terrible time, that you will stand firm in truth and in God. I will not urge you to cease the work you have been doing, for I know that would be futile.....but I beg you, my own, be careful. Eagerly as I shall await you in that land where I am shortly bound, I would far rather our eternity together be postponed until you are a woman of ripe old age, surrounded by a loving husband and children and grandchildren.
Already I hear your brother's tread upon the floor. Has the quarter-hour sped so fast? I fear not what I go now to meet, but that this letter and my words to you in happier times has failed to express to you the love I feel for you....that leaves me terror-stricken.
And there is his knock. He has been most kind, my darling...my Amorie. Amorie....I shall say that name on the block and then I will not be afraid, reminded of our love and our faith. I must leave you now....remember always that I love you, and be assured that the time ere we are again together shall pass swiftly for the both of us.....
Your own, ever-loving,
I folded the paper up mechanically and set it off to the side, determined not to stain with tears this last, beautiful epistle from my love. Then, with the same odd detached feeling I rose and began to walk over to my bed.....
I ended up stumbling the last few steps, falling forward onto the matress and burying my head in the pillow to smother my tearful screams of anguish.
He was in my room when I awoke, watching me with a world of sympathy in his sharp grey eyes. I turned away toward the wall, my back to him, not wanting him to see the tearstains I knew were clearly visible on my face and the pillow. One lean hand touched my shoulder.
"You should eat, Amorie," he said softly, and I shook off his hand fiercely.
"SHOULD I now?" I questioned, bitterness swelling from the depths of my soul and dripping from every syllable. "I should think you wished me dead, after all you have done.."
I regretted the words almost as soon as they had left my mouth, and I winced when there was pain in his voice as he answered.
"You know that is not true, Amorie."
I twisted suddenly, weeping helplessly.
"Paul, can't you even leave me alone to grieve?"
He looked down, gazing uncertainly at his hands.
"We....we have always stood together, Amorie..."
"No more, Paul," I responded, astonished by the sudden cold steel in my voice. Never had I spoken to him thus, never had I felt this icy flame of hard hatred in my heart for anyone, let alone my own brother. "Not ever again."
He hesitated a moment longer, then rose and slowly, hunched over and shuffling like an old man, he left the room.
I had met Alain Metancourt one year ago.....I suppose what drew me to him first was he was so unlike the only man I had known all my life, my brother....at least at first glance. Alain was like an angel, soft blond hair, smiling blue eyes, and what he believed and fought for was so very different and yet similiar to that which my older brother had given his life to.
Alain was like so many others in that first flush of the Revolution, devoted to the abstract causes of liberty and justice for those left so long under the cruel thumb of the aristocracy.....he realized earlier then most the twisted path this noble undertaking began to follow, and drew away before it became truly dangerous to do so. He was honest and forthright and brave, and although Paul regarded him as a little child who did not understand what was needed to gain the ideal behind the Revolution, they had a grudging respect for each other.
Alain never would tell me how he became involved with what eventually cost him his life. Perhaps he feared to betray his friends by a slip of the tongue....perhaps he sought to protect me. But I saw his sudden furtiveness and fear in the Paris streets, understood there was some underlying purpose to his sudden constant warnings to be careful, and thought nothing of sneaking from my room one night after a visit during which he had seemed particularly nervous, and following him to a small hovel where I found him in close conversation with a very tall, very handsome and very impeccably clad Englishman.
I led a sheltered life and always had. I had met Alain on a walk in the woods outside of Paris, for that was the only place Paul would permit me to go unaccompanied. But in those days even the most sheltered and hidden of citizens of Paris had heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel who rescued doomed aristocrats from the very foot of the horrific Madame la Guillotine, and I understood it was that with whom my love was involved. I had waited, tense and with wildly beating heart, until Alain seemed to have received his orders and crept quietly away back to his Paris flat, and then I had risen and walked silently up to the door and firmly knocked.
I shall never forget the expression on the face of the man who opened the door. Like my elder brother, I am an excellent reader of expressions and emotions. I had caught the deep, instinctive fear lingering in his eyes.....but also the indomitable courage, the quiet readiness to accept whatever came........and then it had all vanished in a look of total and unbelievable surprise.
The conversation that followed was one of the most interesting of my life. The man....whose name I still did not know, even now...refused outright to allow me to join Alain, but at my pleading relented enough to allow me to help at least a little.
And I became the messenger. I was trusted, I know, with more then many, for I came to know the face of every man with the Pimpernel, not only his faithful comrades from England but those in Paris like my own Alain who worked with him and for him. I was the one who delivered the orders, written letters or oral messages. It was less then I would have wished, but more, I suppose, then a young woman could have expected in these times, when the "gentler sex" was considered unwomanly if she managed to study some higher math without fainting....
I am wandering through a hallway, frightened and cold.
Cold...I'm very cold. The wind stirs my nightgown and freezes my bare feet. I want to go back to bed, but I'm afraid to...my room is so big and dark, so many frightening things lurking in the shadows. I am always safe with Ellise, but they took Ellise away, I hid her when they took away all my other toys but when I looked in the hiding place Ellise too was gone.
The hallway is very long, very dark. But here is a room I know....I push open the door and run in. My parents' room...I'm safe here. There is my mother, asleep on her bed, and Father next to her.
Father is unpleasant sometimes when I wake him in the night, but Mother always understands. So I clamber up on her side of the bed, pulling at the blankets.
"Maman? Maman? Maman, wake up..."
She's so cold too. Mother is usually warm, she pulls me to her and I get warm too...but now she is cold. Freezing. And so still, so stiff...
I'm frightened. I'm crying...I want Mother to hold me and make me warm, why won't she? I'm calling her, but she won't move.....why won't she wake up? Is she angry at me? What is happening?
Then hands reach down and take me, pull me up in them. These hands are warm, and soft.....they push me against the body that owns them gently, and a soft voice murmurs "Come along, Amorie, come along...."
They carry me down the hall, back to my bed, and tuck me in.....the hands put Ellise next to me and smooth my hair. I go to sleep, the hands still touching my hair or cheek gently from time to time, soft and comforting.
I came awake swiftly, then lay back on the pillow with a sigh. Half-dream, half-memory...I believed it to be true. It would have been like Paul to do that.....
Memories of my childhood are strange, disjointed, but from the very beginning there was Paul. My mother's son by her first husband, 15 years my senior, Paul had been for many years the center of my life. After my father and our mother died, within mere hours of each other, of a devastating illness, Paul it was who comforted me, only a tiny child, Pual who had raised me from thenceforth, saw me educated...
And Paul who had watched over me during the beginning of this hellish Reign of Terror, keeping me safe. I was never introduced to my brother's "friends", his comrades in murder and brothers by the blood they had shed, for Paul rose quickly through this mockery of a government, and too many would have sought to, by striking at me, hurt him who would have done anything to protect me. Very few even knew he HAD a half-sister.
At first glance we seemed to share nothing, not even a name...for I went by my father's name, LeVequene, whilst he took his own sire's name of Chauvelin. We looked nothing alike, my chestnut curls and sparkling green eyes in sharp contrast to the satiny black hair in which he took such pride and the piercing grey eyes that had never once looked at me with anything save deepest compasion and undestroyable love.
But he had not, I reminded myself suddenly, loved me enough to release my love. I had little doubt he would have had the power to do it, no doubt in fact...
I sighed. But what had I expected......? I had learned long ago that Paul's love for country came far before his powerful love of me. In truth, was that not the very reason he kept me here in our little house on the very outskirts of Paris, away from the chance to be accused of "treachery".....so he thought.
My actions with the Pimpernel, although only on the fringes of that illustrious League, reassured me of a condemnation of minutes, and perhaps even less then a day from my arrest to the scaffold. I took care to make sure Paul did not even suspect these actions, and up until now even was I arrested, I would not have feared---after all, had not the Scarlet Pimpernel long ago sworn that never once would any member of the League or helper of his perish by revolutionary hands?
I laughed, a sharp, bitter mirthless chuckle, to myself. "The League of the Pimpernel never fails to succour" eh? And they had failed with the one man whom I loved, whom wtih every throb of my heart, to see safely rescued.
The sorrow washed over me again, to be replaced suddenly by a deep and furious anger. They had failed! They had left Alain, my dear, sweet Alain, to meet his death with the courage he had so much of, despairing, alone, his thoughts even as the blade fell of the young woman who had done nothing to save him. Deserted by the leader for whose sake he had perished!
I had taken a letter to Monsieur Ffoulkes and my beloved, a letter from the leader's own hands, telling them to meet him at a well-known rondezvous point. And what had happened when Alain arrived? Ffoulkes and the Pimpernel nowhere in sight, and French guards who surrounded, and attacked.....he must have struggled terribly, my darling, and then somehow held up against the first questions, the way they.....they strove to wrest information from the loyal lips...
Thank heaven Paul had at least been able to keep him from being tortured, as soon as he realized that this young man standing proud, bloodstained and defiant amidst teh soldiers was the same who often, under Paul's obvious disapproval but grudging consent, called upon his beloved sister.
I wiped fiercely at the tears that suddenly welled from my eyes again, but I was forced to realize I had been unjust. To ask Paul to save Alain was foolish and impossible---Robespierre himself could not have effected the release of a known affiliator of the Scarlet Pimpernel without greatly endangering himself, and as for Paul.....! Paul, who had often, in his own quiet unnoticeable way, succeeded in getting innocents released, Paul, whose popularity, for reasons I knew not, had declined steadily these past months, Paul, who had once been Monseiur le Marquis de Chauvelin! It would not have been merely dangerous......he might as well have placed his own head in the guillotine in the place of Alain's. What brother would do such a thing, hm? For a young man he did not agree with, whom he perhaps felt the adored sister would be better of without? A young man who was, to boot, a loyal adherent to the man my brother hated with exactly the same intense passion that he loved me?
I swung my legs over the bed. I would go to Paul and apologize. He was all that was left for me, after all.....
"Open in the name of the Republic!"
I heard those words, accompanied by a knock on the door, from the top of the stairs and gasped.
Paul had not been in his rooms, it appeared....no, I realized in shock, he had been sitting, fully clothed even at this early hour of dawn, in the parlour just off the hallway. He paused at the door, a trim, delicate figure made even thinner and smaller by the black, mourning for the father whom he would never speak of, that he incessantly clad himself in. I felt a pang of remorse as I looked down at him from my perch on the steps....
Was it my weary mind, or were there strands of grey amidst the jet-black hair that was his pride and joy? Was it merely the wan light, or did he look paler? Perhaps it was only the dark clothes that made him look so thin, just skin stretched over bones.....
The knock came again at the door, and my brother drew a very long, shuddering breath. He attempted to arrange his jacket so that a small rip in his cravat would go unnoticed--resulting in guilt pressing even more upon my breast. Yes, Paul could mend his own clothes, was probably better skilled with needle then me, but when in these days would he have the time? Ought not I to have seen the threadbare attire, the pallor, the strange jerky nervousness of his every movements? Was I not his sister, all he had left in the world, and had he not always cared for me, regardless of his own of his own convenience and happiness?
Quite suddenly, he looked up at my room. I shrank back in the shadows away from that piercing, but so mournful gaze...
"Open in the name of the Republic!" came the third and final time...one moment more and they would break down the door. Paul reached forward and with a steady hand opened it.
The man who stood there was large and broad-shouldered. He was clad in civilian clothes, but behind him stood three soldiers in their grimy uniforms, and my heart leapt into my throat.
There was a moment of silence as my brother, small and thin and self-posessed in his sable clothes, looked the leader and his grimy back-up up and down contemptously. The man in civilian clothing abruptly cleared his throat.
My brother inclined his head curtly.
"At your service, citoyen," he murmured in a tone that held nothing of servitude. The man adopted a pompous attitude.
"Citizen, the Committee has requested I bring you to them immediately."
My hand flew to my mouth. Paul? Arrested? I ought to have laughed at the very idea, but was conscious only instead of a sudden throbbing pain in my heart, and my lungs seemed to have ceased their functioning.
"I thought I gave the Committee to understand I was unwell and would be at these lodgings and unavailable for a few days."
His voice was quite steady and firm, the air of easy command clear in every word. The man faltered somewhat.
"Yes, citizen, but, that is.."
He had evidently not been told expressly to arrest my brother, and in the face of the latter's quiet confidence was beginning to fear the soldiers had been sent with him not as soldiers but as an honor guard...
"I..I beg your pardon, Citizen," he began, not quite humbly but certainly less self-assured then he had been previously,"but I was told they request your presence most earnestly.."
Paul gave a quick, impatient little sigh, as if the Committee could not function without him and would not let him alone, then stepped aside to allow the soldiers and their rather sheepish leader to enter.
"There are a few necessities which I must needs carry back and forth with me between this house and my lodgings near the House of Justice. You will wait here while I gather these belongings."
He showed them quickly into the little eating-room at the end of the hall. The small parlour directly off the corridor was really more of a library and sitting room for myself and Paul during the evenings, and the work of a young woman's hand might have been dangerously evident--besides which, the simple entering of the soldiers into that happy little room would have seemed like sacrilege.
The guards and the messenger fell easily into a docile line behind the trim form of my half-brother; overpowered by the air of slightly contemptous, rightly granted command that he so easily assumed they never thought to require that he hurry or that one of them stand watch as he packed.
Faintly came my brother's voice from the kitchen as the guards awkwardly settled themselves.
"I shall be about half an hour. Make yourselves quite comfortable."
This last delivered in a tone that suggested quite plainly it was only innate courtesy that brought those words to his thin lips, and that if the soldiers knew what was good for them they had better NOT make themselves overly comfortable.
I shrank quickly back into my room as Paul climbed the stairs, closing the door as fully as I could without betraying myself by the click of the latch, and set my eye to the keyhole.
I could naturally see very little. Paul's sable-clad figure blocking my view for a few seconds, and then for a good quarter-hour I saw nothing save the familiar narrow corridor and heard nothing save the subdued voices of the soldiers below and occasionally the soft sounds of Paul moving about in his small rooms.
My head drooped--my sorrow, briefly forgotten in the terror of the past few moments, came rushing back, and with it an overpowering desire to rest my tired body and find temporary surcease from the torment of my emotions in merciful sleep.
Suddenly a light, cat-like tread outside my room jerked me out of my half-drowsing state. A small, folded piece of paper suddenly slid under my door. I drew back swiftly, but the next moment I heard that stealthy, familiar footstep going quickly away.
I waited until I was quite sure he must have returned downstairs, and slowly pushed open the door, crouching low to pick up the letter, and froze.
He had not gone downstairs. He was standing quite still on the landing, hearing nothing of the door opening. His head was bowed, one slender hand clenched tightly at his side, the whole slim frame taut and tense.
One of the soldiers suddenly laughed more raucously then his comrades, and I watched my brother suddenly tremble with a shudder that seemed as though it must tear the skin from his bones. His face, what I could see of it, was deathly pale and terribly set.
Quite suddenly he spoke, voice hoarse and choked.
"Courage..courage...oh my God, give me strength!"
His voice shook impossibly, choked as though he struggled against terror blocking his throat.
I stared, aghast, forgetting completely to withdraw into my room. Never once had I heard Paul sound afraid--never once had I heard him pray, not since he became a principal player in a government that denounced religion and abolished God.
Paul..what had Paul to fear? He served the Revolution with a zeal even Robbespierre could not have equalled, an ardor so pure and brave I had to respect it however much I hated the cause which inspired such fervor. Surely..SURELY Paul could not be in any danger---even after a colossal failure, over SOMETHING, at Calais in September his clear devotion and honest patriotism had kept him safe in the face of what would have sent any other man straight into the ignominous arms of Madame la Guillotine.
Of course Paul was in no danger! Of course!
Still clutching the letter he had left me, the still-warm sealing wax singeing my fingers, I looked into my bedroom and closed the door as Paul walked steadily down and informed the soldiers they could now accompany him to the Committee's meeting place.
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