~+A Pathetic Chauvelin Story+~
Go to Chapter Five
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Go to Chapters One through Three
I felt suddenly and unaccountably cold, hands trembling and heart pounding wildly, and the sealing wax that clung to my fingers as it cooled felt unbearably hot.
I tossed the letter hurriedly on my rumpled bed and seized the pole, working at the dying fire in the hearth until it leapt high and fierce.
I drew my chair very close to the conflagration, trying vainly to tell myself this vague, impossible, pressing foreboding came only from the cold, and began slowly to pick at the sealing wax.
It seemed an eternity before I was able to open Paul's last letter--last? Why had I though that? Don't be ridiculous! Surely it was nothing more then a brief note informing me where he had gone...
I unfolded it slowly.
The worst, child, has finally come to pass, and I with all my heart thank God I have made arrangements for you in the face of my arrest..."
I got no farther. This, close upon the heels of Alain's death, was too much to endure.
With a wild shriek, I leapt up, intending to do..what? I cannot say--I think perhaps in that moment I was not entirely sane. I would challenge anyone who loved as I did to keep their lucidity every moment in the face of the deaths, already accomplished or imminent, of those they loved.
But whatever my intent was, it was never carried out, for the sheet, this last letter from my beloved brother, fell from my uncontrollably shaking hands into the rising flames that licked at it eagerly, and I fell to my knees, reaching quickly for the precious document heedless of the inferno that raged around it.
A sudden spark, landing on the slender white hands that were the only notable physical characteristic Paul and I shared, brought me back to myself with a short, sharp burst of agony.
Only one though remained clear in my feverish brain--I had to help Paul. And there was but one way I could do that--my leader, the Scarlet Pimpernel, may have left my beloved to his fate, but he would find himself deeper then he reckoned should he fail to save my brother.
I had no illusions about what I would be asking. Paul hated the Scarlet Pimpernel with everything in him, and it was only natural to assume the sentiment was returned at least in some part. Nor was I an important part of the League, who could appeal to past services performed--heavens, I did not even know the chief's true identity, nor the names of any in the League save for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. That gentle nobleman had taken my love under his wing, so to speak, and had told me his name as a token of his trust in his friend's betrothed.
But I knew faces. I knew disguises. I knew lodgings and meeting places and previously used plans for diversions which would be used again, for they had not yet been connected with the escape of aristos. And although I seriously doubed I could truly endanger, nay, for all intents and purposes murder the smiling man with the boyish, lazy laugh whom Alain, Ffoulkes and so many others loved and revered, even for Paul, I could certainly at least threaten to go to the Committee with my knowledge, and hope he would not call my bluff.
And when I thought of Paul, my Paul who had always loved and protected me despite our radically different view, Paul, my brother! I could see him, face pale and set, thin hands bound behind him, raven hair awry, the delicate white skin marked, perhaps, by bruises and signs of torture, light grey eyes the only sign of the terror he felt. When I pictured Paul climbing the steps of the scaffold, head held high, Paul thrown roughly down on the platform preparatory to being placed beneath the awful blade, Paul's beautiful, stormy pale eyes, staring down at the basket with its bloodied straw, as he heard them give the order to drop the blade......
I rose from the floor with dry eyes and hands tightly clenched at my sides. Quickly and efficently I placed several of my more serviceable dresses and a few treasured posessions that had not been pawned to put food in the mouths of me and my brother during hard times into a sturdy bag. I drew my cloak around me and left the room, not troubling to make my bed, douse the fire or hide the signs of hasty departure. Let them know Paul Chauvelin had a sister. Let them know she would not let him die, and be afraid.
I felt my jaw tighten with a fierce determination that mirrored the one which I had so many times seen in Paul's face, which I had seen in him not an hour ago as he stood in the corridor and gathered his courage.
So be it. Let the Scarlet Pimpernel take care as well. For when those unendurable images raced through my mind, when I pictured my half-brother at his execution, I thought I might very well be willing to give up the Pimpernel and his League, including myself. Paul, at all costs, must be saved.
I strode quickly through the Paris streets, holding my bag tightly but unobtrusively. After three hours' sleep in an alleyway, my near-hysteria and the following false, distant calm of shock had faded, and it was with a clear mind and alert intellect that I walked the broken cobblestones.
First, to check the prison-registars and loiter a bit about the guardhouse--I had to ascertain absolutely Paul had been arrested. Once that awful fact was beyond a doubt, I would contact the Pimpernel; although he and his men of necessity changed lodgings often, there were a few loyal Parisians at whose houses one could leave a verbal or written message, and be assured it would reach the leader or one of his most trusted lieutenants within a few hours. I would request a personal, and PRIVATE interview as soon as may be. The Pimpernel himself was, I hoped, far too chivalrous to harm a young woman, even one threatening himself and his friends with death unless he risked himself for his enemy. But even if that was not available, I would speak with one of the others, and let them shout and yell and threaten. The way I felt at the moment, I would not have advised even the most powerful man to stand between me and my brother's safety. I would make my threat, and if necessary would not hesitate to carry it out, even it such a thing meant my own death alongside my leader.
"Bonsoir!" came a cry to my right. I knew, even as I turned to face the owner of the voice, that I was in danger.
A man stood leaning against the wall, smiling easily. I kept walking, hoping against hope he would take the hint.
No such luck. He moved now from the corner into the street, falling into step beside me. I averted my eyes, staring straight ahead.
"Bonsoir, citizeness," he said, not unpleasantly. I still did not look at him, now holding my head high and my gaze frigid.
"'Tis late for you to be about," he commented jovially.
The man seemed unaware or uncaring that his flirtatious efforsts were meeting with icy indifference.
"Quite a lovely night! Don't you think so, citizeness?"
I began to nod, and the next moment men swarmed from the alleys around me. The original robber watched placidly, the same pleasant smile on his face, as two of his comrades wrenched my bag from my clingig hands. I screamed, lashing out furiously, but they were stronger. One knocked me to the ground, then both vanished into the gloom with my belongings.
I scrambled to my feet, burning with indignation, and struck the still-present, and still smiling, leader full in the face. No melodramatic slap, either, but a clenched-fist, straight-into-his-jaw-with-all-the-force-I-was-capable-of blow.
The smile dropped from his face as if it were a mask casually dropped, and before I could flee or hit him again a long hand shot out and closed around my wrist, and an ugly grin very different from his former easily vacant look spread across the now-bloody face.
"Not leaving so SOON, pretty one?" he questioned, thrusting his face--smelling of sweat, drink, blood and the simple stench of unwashed body--close to mine.
I screamed wildly, suddenly terrified of what this man might do as I had not been of his confederates, afraid not of death but of something worse. I struck at him viciously with my free hand, but he was too drunk or too enraged to care, and now he was beginning to force me down toward the ground.
I struggled still, pushing, hitting, straining, wrenching my body violently sideways in an effort to gain my freedom, screaming all the while in the desperate hope that SOMEONE would hear and come. But not now, I knew. Not in this Paris...
But someone did hear, and someone did come. A slender, spotless hand surrounded by lace suddenly intruded upon my line of vision, and the next moment the man went flying.
So suddenly released, I fell to the cobblestones, landing on my derrierre with a thump that was neither self-sufficient-young-ladyish nor damsel-in-distressish, not to mention undignified. A few sharp words from my rescuer, accompanied by several encouraging blows, and the man was gone into the night.
My savior chuckled, a mellow, good-humored sound, and I knew with a sudden thrill who he was. I had heard that laugh before.
"That pleasant fellow did not harm you, Mademoiselle?" he questioned in perfect French, a gentle solicitude underlying his bantering tone.
I stumbled backward, half-crawling. He knelt swiftly on the cobblestones next to me, touching my arm with gentle, authoritive concern. Then he brushed my hood back with the same respectful, gallant confidence, and I was not swift enough in turning away my face.
Nothing could be more hateful to me at this moment then to accept the help, PLEAD for the succor of this man who had so callously allowed my love to perish for the cause my rescuer had recruited him to. But if pride held my tongue now, it would mean my brother's blood upon my head.
"Bonsoir, monsieur," I pronounced clearly and quietly, meeting his gaze. He looked away suddenly, sorrow clouding his features, and a bitter triumph swelled in my heart as my last lingering hope that he somehow HAD saved Alain, a hope I had been scarcely conscious existed, expired at his obvious sadness. This man OWED me, and he would repay the debt with Paul's life.
For a moment that intolerable silence hung between us, then he rose swiftly, helping me to my feet.
"Mademoiselle, you are not safe here. Come with me, at once. Please, you must.."
There was a strange earnest authority in his tone. True, Paris was less then safe..but it was not as if I was being actively pursued to put that knowledge of danger very near in his eyes. And I was determined to have my say.
"Monsieur, I need to speak with you."
I was proud that my voice never trembled, and that of the two of us he was the one who looked away when our eyes met. But now he was half-pulling me, gently but with an undeniable strength, along the maze of streets. I recognized the way we were traveling--we were coming nearer and nearer to one of the Pimpernel's many lodgings.
"Not at the moment, Mademoiselle LeVequene. Soon."
And I perforce had to be silent, for now we were in one of the worst sections of Paris, and I did not need his communicative look and firm finger upon his lips to tell me a loud noise could call the attention of any of a number of groups of dangerous men down upon us.
I allowed myself to be led into the dilapidated, noisome building and up to his mean, bare attic room that, although falling rapidly into disrepair, was scrupulously spotless. He gave me to understand with a glance and a gesture I was to take a seat upon the one narrow bed, poured me a small mug of brandy which he then severely watered down, and then pulled a chair close to the bed and straddled it backwards, watching me over the rungs as he handed me the warm mug, all in total, almost unnatural silence.
In spite of myself I sipped at the burning liquid, allowing it to bring the brief sensation of warmth and vigor as it coursed down my throat.
"Monsieur," I began again, then paused, uncertain, staring fixedly at my slim white hands encircling the mug. Paul's hands.
I looked up, meeting his eyes.
"Monsieur, I have a favor to ask of you."
He had taken out an exquisite lace handkerchief from his pocket and was deeply absorbed in using it to wipe his already spotless hands. He shot me a quick, penetrating glance from beneath his heavy lids, and I flushed in spite of myself.
My hands were shaking, although I had felt no lessening of my firm resolve. What if he said "no"? Could I truly denounce him, denounce myself, denounce the men Alain and I had counted as friends, to a Committee that would consider speedy execution the MOST merciful option for the Scarlet Pimpernel and his followers? Good heavens, the man had just saved my life!
"Monsieur," I reiterated for the third time.
"Yes, Mademoiselle LeVequene?"
"Monsieur, my..my brother. He has been...has been arrested."
Exhaustion was overwhelming me--a strange shortness of breath left my thoughts a-whirling, but I clung to one steadfast rock of fact. My brother was in danger, and I held the power of life-and-death information over the only man who could save him.
"Yes, Mademoiselle, I know."
I stared, uncomprehending. Why did the simple words take so long to sink into my brain? His image was blurring before my eyes, my breath coming quick and fast and leaving my heart aching with the effort to pump sufficient blood with little air. My hands shook, suddenly, as feeling drained from them, and the heavy mug fell. It would have shattered on the floor, but with a quickness that seemed supernatural to my delirium he darted forward and cradled it in his sure, slender hands before it could land.
Blackness was now washing over me, suffocating darkness pressing close. My lids felt heavier then iron, my limbs weighted with lead, and keeping my eyes open and focused upon him seemed a Herculean effort.
The rest of my accusation died in my mouth, as I lacked both the strength to move my tongue that seemed to have been fastened to the roof of my mouth and the breath to speak. He pushed me gently down onto the bed, plucking the edges of the thin covers from under the mattress, and even through the wildly spinning room I was conscious of the incongrous, infinite compassion in his gaze.
"I am so very sorry, Mademoiselle LeVequene," he was saying, and his firm hands were pressing the clean, threadbare blankets tightly around me. I succumbed, finally letting my eyes close and unconsciousness triumph, and heard the Scarlet Pimpernel say from miles away just before it did,
"It is only, you see, I gave him my word."
When I awoke, sunlight was streaming in through the narrow but sparklingly polished window. I sat up uncertainly, blinking against the glaring brightness, and then strong arms closed around me with sudden passionate intensity.
I shrieked in the first shock of surprise and instinctive fear, and then recognized the voice, choked with emotion, that was mumuring my name over and over.
I couldn't say his name. I couldn't even lift my head to let my lips meet the kisses he was covering my hair with. AllI could do, in the sudden tumult of impossible joy, was cling to him, hold on with all my strength of body and soul, and let the inevitable tears come. Just for a moment those horrible images I had had of Paul, images that even in my drugged sleep had haunted my nightmares, receded. The beloved I had thought was dead was here. The eyes I had thought glazed over these past days stared into mine, mirroring my happy tears with his own so that his beautiful blue eyes were blurred, the arms I had thought deprived of movement evermore were clenched tightly about me, and the lips I had known closed forever were even now pressed gently but hungrily to mine.
Alain, my Alain, my betrothed, lived and held me, and in the supreme, heavenly joy of that moment the dark anxieties gathered about my brother fled before the light of pure happiness.
I did not think to ask how he had escaped the death mapped out for him, fool that I am. I was too happy, too idiotically, tragically happy, and the few words we managed to say to each other before we were interrupted were all of love and joy.
He drew a little away from me, flushing, and we both turned to face the Pimpernel.
Impeccably clad in clothes that would have rivalled the richest of Paris in olden days, he stood leaning against the door-jamb, surveying us both through his eyeglass.
At the sight of him, all the memories, the worry, the deadly danger in which my only relative even now stood washed over me. By his own admission, the Scarlet Pimpernel knew Paul was arrested, and had done nothing to help him. And now I no longer had the power I had had before---I may have had the strength of resolve to turn myself and my leader in to a tribunal that knew no mercy, but Alain? My lost love so ecstatically and so unexpectedly found?
"You are well, Mademoiselle LeVequene?" he was querying now, and I smiled vacantly, detaching Alain's arm from mine.
"Of course, Monsieur."
A plan was growing, ever so faintly in my mind. Not even a plan yet..simply a fact. The Pimpernel would not help me..I would therefore help myself.
"If you and Alain could give me a few moments to perform my toilette....?" I questioned, voice carefully even and careless.
He bowed, chivalry personified.
"But of course, Mademoiselle."
Alain kissed me and followed his leader out, and I went to work.
There was very little to do, of course. My things had been stolen last night---I splashed some watero n my face, brushed my hair as best I could with my fingers, and smoothed my rumpled dress.
Then, carefully and silently, I walked down the stairs, slipped out through the first open groundfloor window I could find, and began moving as quickly as was possible without attracting attention toward the Place de la Greve.
All the loafers, the housewives, the unemployed of Paris were to be found enjoying the spectacle of "saccre aristos" meeting their fate. If Paul's arrest had been bruited abroad, it was in places like the Place de la Greve that I would be likely to overhear any gossip regarding an arrested Republican and where he was incarcerated. If I heard nothing soon, I would check the prison registars as I had planned last night. But looking at it clearer in the morning light, that might bring attention down upon me, for Paul was not known to have any family or friends, and if I planned to effect Paul's escape somehow, I would need to be free completely of any suspicion.
I drew my cloak tightly about me, wrinkling my nose at the stench of bodies pressing close that were strangers to bathwater, and worked my way through the crowds. I paused here and there when I caught a snatch of conversation that sounded promising, but I learned nothing of import.
Quite suddenly I heard the rattle of the tumbril wheels upon the pavement, and the crowd surged back to allow the rickety cart to pass. Slender and small, a diminutive figure in my dark cloak, I stood sturdy as a rock prompted by an impulse I could not define, and they flowed behind me until I stood in the front line. I was close enough to reach out and touch the hastily-built wooden structure as it rattled by with its fodder for Madame la Guillotine.
Most of the doomed backed into the center of the cart, clinging to one another for courage as the mob around hurled insults and also more tangible things such as stones or rotten food. A few shouted defiance, and one man actually leapt from the tumbril with sudden strength and attacked one of the guards, getting a bloody nose for his trouble as he was thrown roughly back into the cart, speeded on by many a mocking jest.
But one was not standing in the center. Hands clasped behind him, although he did not appear to be bound, head lowered, he stood quietly in a far corner of the tumbril, steady despite the wild rocking of the rough cart as it moved. He appeared unaware of the shouted insults, and when a piece of rotten fruit splashed into pungent pieces near one foot he did not stir.
I stared at him, willing it not to be true. Surely there were plenty who would have that slim, upright bearing, who would have the thick glossy black hair, plenty who would have affected all sable attire, surely, surely....
One woman danced very near to the tumbril, jeering up at the silent condemned man. He merely turned his head, adopting an air of thinly veiled contempt I knew well. Irritated by his lack of response and scornful air, she stooped and grabbed a loose piece of the cobblestones and flung it straight at him.
He ducked, flinging up one hand to block it, but the sharp stone grazed his forehead, leaving a long, shallow cut.
He raised his head proudly as if to atone for his instinctive cringing motion, ignoring the blood that oozed down one side of his narrow face.
Still I could not speak or move. The tumbril passed me, bearing my brother to the guillotine, a drop of his blood falling onto the cobblestones near me. I stared at it, fascinated.
And then with sudden startling clarity all that was happening broke over me. I screamed, a wild, despairing sound that went unnoticed amid the shouts of the mob and shrieks of those now being dragged to the guillotine, but Paul stiffened and spun around, gray eyes filled with both despair and hope seeking mine.
I was running after the tumbril, flinging myself along the avenue that had opened for its passing and had not yet closed. They were hustling him roughly from the tumbril now, and I screamed again, fighting to get to him through the guards.
One of them thrust me furiously aside, shouting angrily, and Paul's voice cut suddenly clear and sharp across the din.
"Let her be!"
Even battered, being roughly ordered by the guards, his clothes stained and blood streaking his face, even standing now at the foot of the scaffold, there was such a note of command in his voice that one of the men holding me let go completely, stepping several feet back, and the other loosed his grip until it was no more then a light touch on my arm.
I took advantage of my sudden freedom, pushing through to him and flung my arms about him.
I wanted to scream, to yell, to shout that he was innocent so loudly that it would echo through the Place de la Greve for thousands of years. And I could barely manage a hoarse, choked whisper into his shirt.
"Amorie, what.." he murmured furiously, but I wouldn't loosen my grip.
"Here, madame la aristo!" a guard shouted, yanking at me as Paul's momentary authority faded. "Let your lover alone, whore!"
Paul stiffened briefly in rage, then forced himself to subside.
"I have never seen this girl before in my life, citizen soldier," he responded with icy dignity. "She must be mistaken."
He tilted my head upward, meeting my desperate gaze with a silent plea.
"She is shivering," he announced suddenly, sweeping off his cloak and spreading it around my shoulders. I still clung to him with impossible tenacity, shaking my head over and over.
He appeared to stumble, briefly, and took advantage of the moment to put his arms around me tightly, his head upon my shoulder and lips close to my ear.
"Alain isn't dead, Amorie. He isn't. He'll find you. You'll be safe."
I managed a nod, trying to speak. But he spoke again before I could, struggling to hide the fear in his tone.
"Please, don't do this. Don't. They'll kill you too, if they know...I couldn't take that. Leave, child, please, promise me.."
He was murmuring wildly, moving swiftly away from the guards toward the guillotine so they did not wrench us apart before he could say everything he wanted to. I nodded again, not even sure what I was promising, and he hugged me tightly.
"Ask Sir Percy. He'll tell you. It's alright, dear.."
I finally found my voice again, and could only say his name.
He clenched me to him so tightly I could not breathe.
"Shh. Shh. Amorie, you have to leave. Go on, leave now. Go on."
He tried to let go and couldn't, for I held on too tightly, and then he responded with an equally strong embrace. The tears were flowing unchecked down my face now. Had it truly been only a few seconds? Surely the guards were suspicious..surely..
But it had been only seconds. This anguished, final farewell was over in less time then it takes to read this sentence.
He held me to him once more, briefly, powerfully.
"I'm alright, child. I'm alright. I'll be waiting. I love you, Amorie."
Then he drew away, pushing me unobtrusively into the crowd, away from the soldiers. He turned and walked quietly and steadily up the steps, turning back only once, at the very top, to meet my eyes with a long look of love and courage.
I stayed until it was over. Then I turned, wrapping his coat close around me, and walked away through the crowd. However much I might have wanted to stay, however much I at this moment wished to follow him up the guillotine and end it now, he had asked me to live. And so I would.
Paul had worn black as mourning. He had worn it since our parents died when I was such a child. I had promised to marry Alain, and of course I would, and I knew I would be happy as well, although at the moment it seemed as though I could never be happy again. A married woman could not wear always black. But in my heart, I too would be in mourning. Until I died.
They were waiting when I returned. Several Englishmen whom I recognized were in close conversation with the Pimpernel and my love in the outer room.
I lurched in, pushing open the door and staring at them. Alain sprang from his seat by the window, a pensive, anxious look vanishing from his face as he dove towards me holding out his arms--and froze as I stepped into the little room made dark by drawn shades, and he saw Paul's coat draped across my shoulders.
The chief, who had been leaning casuallly against the hearth, removed his elbows from the lintel and came suddenly upright with a look of quiet respect. From the sympathetic looks shout at me from the bowed heads of the men gathered around the fire I realized they too knew what had happened.
"May I lie down in the inner room, sir?" I questioned before anyone could speak, astonished at the easy steadiness of my tone. "It would not be quite fitting for me to go to Alain's lodgings, and I am afraid I do not at the moment feel quite up to sallying forth in search of a decent room on my own."
The Pimpernel bowed, pushing through the small circle of men and pushing open the door.
"But of course, Mademoiselle."
I nodded and smiled politely, dimly wondering deep inside myself how I could be so calm, and walked quietly past him into the room.
As I passed, he slipped one hand into his pocket and came up with a small, folded note.
"I think he would have wished you to read this, mademoiselle," he commented quietly, pressing it into my hand. I stared at him, uncomprehending, my fingers closing around the paper more out of instinct then any conscious effort, and then he closed the door gently behind me.
This was too much like yesterday afternoon, like Paul's final letter to me so cruelly destroyed, and like the morning before that, Alain's message written with death, as he thought, so imminent. I had a sudden, wild, unreasoning impulse to fling this letter into the fire too, as if so long as I did not read anything from Paul that referred to his arrest, nothing that predicted the catastrophe of this morning, I would soon find it had all been only a nightmare.
But I had no choice. Almost against my will I sat down on the bed, feeling drained of thought or feeling like some sort of machine--like a guillotine, striking ruthlessly when I was told and not before.
With awkward, uncertain fingers that trembled for no reason, I opened the note. It was dated three days ago, the morning after Alain had been arrested.
Sir Percy Blakeney,
It is strange how at some points in our lives the strangest things can seem to take on the utmost importance. This letter had been written to the Scarlet Pimpernel. I knew his true name, his real identity. "Sir Percy.." he was the one Paul had wanted me to speak to.
It seemed ages before I could again turn my thoughts to the letter.
Sir Percy Blakeney,
Goodness knows I am the least of all people to have the right to ask anything of you, and I give you my word of honor--something which, although you may not believe it, means as much to me as to you--that never would I ask for myself. But I am powerless--yes, powerless--to save someone I love as much as ever you and your wife loved one another, and you are the only person whom I can ask for help.
I have had this plan in mind for some time, for I knew from the beginning that very few of those of us who saw the Revolution start would live to see the end of this Reign of Terror. Public opinion is too fickle, and the guillotine too ready to catch anyone against whom it turns, for I or any of my colleagues to expect to live unless we are very fortunate. But I was only recently given a chance to put it into action.
Last night you had made arrangements to meet Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and M. Alain Metancourt in a certain place. Messages were sent to all three of you, anonymous notes warning you that the Committee knew of your meeting place and would be waiting. Those messages came from me. I thought to place you in my debt, to force you to accede to the demands I would make. But the message sent to Metancourt went awry....the Committee must have, I suppose, intercepted it. If they recognize it as mine, then all is indeed lost, not that it is not already. But Alain arrived, and was taken.
Your man is even now inside the prison. He has..courted a young woman. Her name is Amorie, and she is my half-sister. All I have left in this world. Sir Percy, she would die without Alain. You MUST rescue him. They..they have several times promised him life and freedom if he would reveal where you or some of your men are likely to currently be, and he has refused. He is a brave boy, and is going to die for trusting in you. I know you cannot permit that, and I likewise cannot permit the beloved of my only sister to perish.
I will see to it that Alain Metancourt is unharmed. He will not be tortured or injured in any way. I will not tell him he will be rescued, for I will have no way of knowing whether or not you will be able to and it would be cruel to make him hope for something that will not come. He will be very lightly guarded and but loosely bound when he steps in the tumbril, this too I can promise you. I will bribe or bully the guards into promising me they shall leave the tumbril for five minutes halfway to the guillotine. You will have those five minutes to rescue Alain and any one else with him. More then this I cannot promise you, and even this will cost me all I have to give.
And then, for her own sake as well as your friend's, I beg you to see that Amorie is safe. She can be found in my alternate lodgings on the western outskirts of the city, the brown house with the tall windows and green etchings. Metancourt can show you it. I shall do my best to make sure that they do not suspect her....it is not known yet that I have a sister. I will spend a day or so with her after tomorrow, and then return to Paris. When they come to arrest me after that it will not endanger her. If, heaven forbid, they do arrest me before I can return to Paris, she will undoubtedly try and search for me...you must try and keep her from doing this. It will only endanger her and make it harder for you to get her out of France.
Please, I beg of you, look on this not as a letter from a man who has so often wronged you and your wife but on the plea of a brother who loves his sister. As her only protector, as someone who loves her even as deeply as you love your wife, I ask for your sacred promise, for the word that you will never break, that you will see to her safety. Do not worry about me, and tell her not to either. That the soldiers will reveal who it was that bribed them--I suspect the version will be far more colorful when they have finished with it--in order to save their own skins I have no doubt, and that the Committee's revenge will be swift. As I said, I have been prepared for this for a long time; I knew from the start that to serve this Revolution wholeheartedly was to sooner or later become its victim. And I have in any case been living upon borrowed time since our encounter last September...I thank God--yes, Sir Percy, I do believe in God, or I think I could not face death so easily. Does that surprise you?--that I have had at least these months with my sister and serving a cause that, despite your feelings, I truly believe in. Not in the butchery, but the freedom.
Once more, I can but ask you--take care of my sister. Promise that you shall do this. It is my hope that she and Alain marry, but in any case you MUST see her safely to England...or, if she wishes to join you, as I fear she will, at least protect her as you do the others in the League. I shall try and write her a final message, but if I am somehow prevented, tell her of this, of what I did to ensure her happiness and life. Tell her that I shall be waiting for her, and that I am not afraid.
Ever in your debt,
I looked quietly at this letter, then gently folded it up and placed it on the bed beside me. Paul had planned this from the beginning..that was how Alain had escaped. That was why the Pimpernel and Ffoulkes had not been at the rondezvous point. That was why Paul had appeared so unsurprised when the soldiers arrived, and why Sir Percy had been so urgent about getting me out of the Paris streets, unsure if the soldiers had not already learned of me. This was why he had drugged me, to keep me from endangering myself in a wild search for my brother. He had known, and Paul had known.
I rose silently, still staring transfixed at the small letter.
And then, in one swift, sudden flash, I fell to my knees beside the bed and poured out all the grief, all the terror, all the almost unendurable sorrow of the past few days in a flood of wild tears and gasping sobs that seemed as if they must tear me inside out.
The door opened suddenly and Alain was kneeling beside me, holding me close, and I wept into his chest. It seemed hours before it was over, but was probably no more then a few minutes, and then I rose, still with his arms around me, and went into the outer room.
Sir Percy was still there, speaking quietly with his friends. They grew silent as I entered, looking at me as if they knew what I was about to say. Perhaps they did.
I ought to have felt childish and uncertain. I ought to have felt ashamed of the tear-stains on my face, tears for their bitterest enemy. I ought to have felt afraid.
But I did not. Fear, uncertainty, shame, those would come later. At the moment I was conscious only of Paul climbing the steps of the scaffold with his head held high. If he was brave enough to die, I could have the courage to live.
"I want to help."
Percy nodded, and one of the men moved slightly to allow me access to an empty chair. I walked there, head held as high as Paul's, and took my seat. I leaned forward, folding my white, slender hands that were just like my brother's, and looked up at my leader.
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