|The 28 July
Author: Clio1792 PM
Angst/Romance/Adventure Piece, combining plot elements and characters from Baroness Orczy's "Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel," and "A Child of the Revolution," with brief mention of characters in "Sir Percy Hits Back," and "Sir Percy Leads the Band."Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Romance - Words: 11,908 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 4 - Published: 10-16-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6404471
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The piece offered below is something of a spoiler-an epilogue, if you will-to Baroness Orczy's A Child of the Revolution (1932), as well as the piece I posted last spring, Through the Fire. The narrative also refers to Orczy's Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1922), set during the same last week of July, 1794.
I have rated it T, although I will advance a few warnings: the character death referred to herein is canon; there are several references-for how could I resist them?- to the love of man and wife; the details of Robespierre's demise, not for the squeamish, can be verified in various historical accounts; and there is one mention of a character described in Chapter 25 of Sir Percy Hits Back (1927), as "the most notorious jade of Orange."
Readers who find such plot points problematic may wish to forego reading this piece.
Needless to say, I do not own any of Baroness Orczy's works. Neither do I own Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1754) or The Social Contract (1762), to which I make brief reference below.
I would like to thank Belfast Docks for an earlier, thought-provoking correspondence about the veteran's experience, and BaronessOrc, for bringing Child of the Revolution to my attention. I also wish to formally thank BaronessOrc for her brilliant editorial work on the "55 Fiction Challenge," as well as the many fine authors who contributed creative and inspired vignettes to that series. Two of my own submissions, "Celebration, 1794," and "Adieu à Paris," may be said to represent epilogues to this story.
As always, I offer apologies for anything that offends, and welcome all comments, negative and positive.
In the Street
In a quiet corner of Paris, quite near to the bridge called the Pont Neuf, a charming walkway, the Quai de la Megisserie, winds parallel to the Seine.
Over two hundred years ago, in the year of our lord 1794, on the sunny afternoon of the 28th of July-or, for those who declared their loyalty to the First French Republique, the 10 of Thermidor, Year II-this meandering corridor of gray cobblestones had another name, however.
It was known at the Quai de la Ferraille, wherein lay the apartments of that eloquent veteran of the Battle of Valmy, and professor to the deaf, dumb, and blind, Citizen André Vallon.
Neighbors had shaken their heads and said nothing, when, wringing her hands, the Vallon's faithful servant, Marie, had lamented the awful arrest of the poor, brave Citizen Vallon, for supposed crimes against the Republic, two months earlier.
They had watched, over the hot, tense, weeks that followed, as Vallon's lovely wife Aurore, daughter of the ci-devant Charles de Marigny, had arisen early each morning to make her way to the Palais de Justice, fired with the vain hope that she could somehow, in some way, engineer her husband's release.
Months earlier, as neighbors bespied the couple in the streets, there were those who had speculated that the Citizen and his wife were a poorly matched pair, who fought and fared not well together.
Yet all that could be seen in the expression of the Citizeness Vallon on those early mornings was a ragged desperation that made many who resided nearby lower their gaze as she went out, hoping to avoid the intensity of her eyes.
Now, it was said, all been for naught. Citizen Vallon had been condemned by the Revolutionary tribunal on the 26 July, and carried off in a tumbril to his execution, to the devastation of his loving wife, and the wailing dirge of students who mourned his loss.
In the days since, as Marie reported, Citizeness Vallon had taken to her bed, destroyed by grief and despair.
And yet, over those past two days, there had been other matters to preoccupy the neighbors who lingered to gossip along the Quai de la Ferraille; news of how, on the very same day Citizen Vallon had been condemned, Citizen Robespierre had been brought down before the National Convention by the passionate opposition of Jean-Lambert Tallien and Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier.
Throughout the breezy summer day and night of 11 Thermidor-or, if our readers prefer, the 27 July-excited discussion rang in the streets.
There were tales of how Robespierre had turned blue with passion and rage, his words drowned out by a rising tide of hecklers' taunts, as those at the Convention had shouted that the orations of their once-feared leader were choked into silence by the blood of Danton.
There was news, later, of how armies besieged the mighty architect of the Terror in the Hôtel de Ville.
As the chimes of midnight rang in the earliest morning of a new day, there were new reports of how, when the forces that sought to arrest him had at last overpowered his defenses, Citizen Robespierre had unsuccessfully attempted to take his own life, managing only to blow his jaw apart.
By late in the afternoon of the 28 July—or the 12 Thermidor, as some might call it-this ordinarily quiet corner of the city reverberated with the news that had transformed Paris, and, indeed, the whole of France: After spending his final hours in the very same chamber that had once housed the doomed Queen Marie Antoinette, with nothing more than a handkerchief to staunch the generous flow of blood, Citizen Robespierre was finally being dragged to meet his end on the very guillotine to which he himself had condemned so many.
At times, a sympathetic pair of eyes might stray up, up, upward, to the high casements of the window many had known as attached to Citizen Vallon's sunny apartments, wondering if the din in the street was loud enough to disturb the tragic, grieving Citizeness...
Behind the window
Where neighbors imagined a lonely widow lay curled into the sheets, helplessly pumbled by grief and wretchedness, there, were, in fact, two in the darkened bedroom.
The first, cutting a handsome figure, even as he reclined, was none other than that redoubtable Child of the Revolution, protégé of Danton; veteran of the Battles of Verdun and Valmy; and professor to the deaf, dumb, and blind; Citizen André Vallon himself.
The second, triumphantly stretched alongside the Citizen's form in sybaritic bliss, was Aurore de Marigny Vallon, her blond tresses spread about the pillow that adjoined her husband's; her expression shining with the same devotion she saw reflected in her rescued husband's eyes.
On the evening of the 26 July, Aurore had returned to the apartment in the Quai de la Ferraille, her mind well-nigh paralyzed with apprehension, as she clutched the piece of paper that had transformed the misery of the past two months into a soaring hope she dared not voice:
André is safe! Go home and wait for him. Silence and discretion above all.
(Baroness Orczy, A Child of the Revolution, Chapter 42)
Aurore had spent the final hours of the 26 July in an agony of anticipation: sitting tensely upon the great chair of her husband's sitting room, shivering in the heat of July; shaking with an anxiety that nearly nauseated her; straining her ears beyond the snores of their faithful cook and housekeeper, Marie; beyond the snatches of gossip in the streets; beyond the sounds of calling birds and stray cats in nearby alleys; as she awaited the promise of that tiny scrap of paper.
From time to time she had opened her hand to re-read its message; to close her eyes in a prayer that she was awake and not dreaming.
And then, as the chimes of midnight rang the 27 of July, she had heard the step of the man she loved upon the stair, and known a joy she had not thought to experience again in life.
They had nestled in his great chair for a time, teasing each other with a whisper of hands and lips; with kisses, and with words of love.
At last, when they could stand it no longer, they had pulled each other into the bed chamber they had shared two months earlier and locked the door.
And thereafter, Citizen Vallon and his wife had hidden in the darkened bedroom, its portal firmly bolted.
Her husband's phantom rescuers had warned that discretion would be called for, and Aurore refused to hazard even the smallest gamble with her husband's life
Over the past thirty-six hours, Aurore had protected her husband by feigning grief, and a migraine.
It was stuffy in the bedchamber; too hot to close the window, too dangerous to open it fully.
And yet, as Aurore and André lay side by side, sticky with a sweat that seemed only to meld their bodies further, the lovers shared a conviction that paradise, truly, could be no better than this.
From time to time, when passion had not carried them to distraction, the drift of conversation in the street would prick André with a curiosity sufficient to creep stealthily toward the window, listening intently to the substance of the news exchanged below while remaining just far enough beyond the range of prying eyes to be seen.
Aurore would begin by pleading with her husband to return to bed.
Then, as the play of emotions on André's face piqued Aurore's curiosity, her pleas would metamorphose into questions and hissed requests for clarification, to which her husband would respond with an impatient gesture, slicing his single hand through the air in an age-old command for silence.
The Citizen and his wife might have been bound for their first quarrel since the conclusion of their estrangement, except that André would, eventually, return to their sweet refuge and begin to explain the import of what he'd overheard to his wife.
And, along the way, André Vallon once more found himself sharing more of his thoughts, his feelings, his past, with the woman he loved than he had ever dreamed he'd share with anyone.
He told her of his university days, and the fierce baccalaureate disputation that had won him academic accolades and the admiration of Danton, while the latter remained a pillar of the Committee of Public Safety and a sought-after advocate.
He spoke to her of his term as Danton's secretary, of his mother's disquieting reservations, and the way in which they had ultimately proved so devastatingly accurate.
He described the sad circumstances of Danton's decline, and his own decision to enter the army.
"That it all should have gone so awry, when we had such fine ideals!" André lamented, shaking his head.
Aurore said nothing, but only held her husband in a close embrace as she listened, offering with her touch the comfort she knew mere words could no longer furnish.
André heaved a sigh of genuine regret. "I can only be relieved if bringing Robespierre to justice will bring this carnage to a close!"
"I am hearing from the street," André went on, "that they have taunted Robespierre with the blood of Danton. It is good that they have done so. Danton may have been misguided in many of his actions," Andre admitted thoughtfully, "but he had a good heart, and he was very kind to me."
And Aurore, who had seen her world, her values, so thoroughly challenged, so completely inverted over the past few months, could only nod, her eyes filled with tears at her husband's frustrated regret.
Four times over the course of that day and the next, Marie had called through the barrier of the locked door, her voice ripe with concern, to chide her apparently grief-stricken mistress.
"Citizeness," Marie would plead, "you must try to eat something..."
Aurore would respond by calling for a few morsels in a deliberately feeble voice.
On every occasion, Marie had obliged by leaving a full tray—a loaf of bread and a round of cheese on one occasion; a plate of roast chicken and fruit on another; and finally, at noon on the 28 July, a full pot of savory broth, steaming with the aroma of vegetables and bits of chicken-on the floor at the doorframe's base.
Aurore would invariably begin weeping tears of sentimental joy as she and her husband fed each other like a newlywed couple—in the final instance, trading sips of soup with the single spoon Marie had left for her mistress aside the pot.
André had smiled that mocking smile Aurore had once dreaded and then learned to adore.
"You are salting the soup, ma mie," he had teased her, as they consumed their most recent meal.
But he jested only to hide his own brimming heart.
When they had eaten their fill, Aurore would furtively replace the empty plates and utensils outside the bedchamber door, firmly re-bolting it before Marie returned.
Thus replete, the happy couple had resettled themselves abed on the afternoon of the 28 July, to caress, and to converse.
"So brave," Aurore whispered, as she ran her fingers lightly down her husband's chest, a gesture she had learned he appreciated. "Doctor Mignet said you saved his life and those of six other men, carrying them away from capture over enemy lines, after your arm was wounded." She gave him a level look. "You told me nothing of this, the night of your arrest."
As André's lips curved once more, there was an odd look in his eyes-a mixture, it seemed, of affection, embarrassment, and...exasperation?
"What, exactly," he questioned his wife, "did the good doctor say, dearest?"
Aurore hesitated a moment, flustered by his tone. "Why, he said you brought him and six other men from behind enemy lines, after your arm was shattered at Valmy..."
André's ironic smile broke into simpler lines of pure amusement, mixed with tenderness. "And when, may I ask, did Doctor Mignet narrate this heroic tale?"
"When first we were married," she replied. For a moment, Aurore allowed herself to be dazzled by the look in her husband's eyes, but then cast her own downward. "I am ashamed to say that I scarce believed him."
Aurore was startled as her husband emitted an unexpected snort of laughter, and continued laughing until she chided him at the danger that they might be overheard.
"Your skepticism does you credit, ma mie," André finally complimented his wife, when he had recovered himself. "The good doctor is prone both to exaggeration and lapses in memory. It was at Verdun, not at Valmy, that I carried him away from the invading Prussian army-Brunswick harried us, and we were obliged to flee when the fortress fell. I had two arms, in those days-and I can assure you, my love, I saved but three men, the Doctor's fine self included!" André fell again to chuckling, this time, more softly, at his older friend's foibles. "I vow that tale grows taller with each telling-every time Mignet repeats it, he adds a man and subtracts a limb!"
Aurore remembered her irritation during those first difficult months of her marriage, when the praises Doctor Mignet and his mother heaped upon her husband seemed to grate against her nerves, offering nothing in what she then would have described as her grievous affliction but a reproach to her own discomfiture.
In the end, she had come to share her husband's affection for his former comrade-in-arms as well as for Mignet's mother. Indeed, it was their loyalty that had enabled her to find André in those last desperate hours before his arrest.
Now, as she watched her husband dissolve into renewed mirth at his friend's hyperbole, she could only begin to laugh as well-at her own foolishness; with relief that danger was passed; at the glorious sound of her husband's good humor.
Besides, how could there fail to be laughter, on such a day as this, when her precious husband was safe, and the world was bright, and new?
And so now husband and wife giggled together, until they were both obliged to muffle their mirth in an embrace.
When at last they had quieted, Aurore re-arranged herself into the crook of her husband's single arm.
A minor point, perhaps, but she had one additional query: "Is it true that Dumouriez called you the bravest soldier under his command?"
"Why certainly, that is true," André acknowledged, as his hand reached out to toy with an errant blond curl. "But a compliment from that scoundrel, who left us unprotected at Valmy, and looked, thereafter, to reinstate the king, hardly amounts to anything boastworthy."
"Oh!" And now Aurore's perfect mouth pouted, as she leaned into her husband playfully. "It is not the Doctor's memory that is at fault, so much as your own stubbornness! You are simply determined not to be praised!"
André's eyes were shining as he grinned at his wife. Her cherry mouth once more tempted him, and he would have kissed her again, but for the sudden sound of frantic knocking.
Marie's voice, filled with apprehension, sounded behind the bedchamber door.
"Citizeness! Citizenness! You must come downstairs! There are two soldiers below with important news!"
Aurore's eyes widened with alarm.
Had they discovered André's escape?
Dear God, would they take her husband back to his execution?
She turned to her husband, her eyes frantic in mute appeal.
André was silent for a moment, as he studied her suddenly feverish gaze.
And then she heard her husband instruct her with the same tone of self-command Aurore remembered from the nightmarish evening of his arrest.
"You must open the door, ma mie," he said, quietly. "Let Marie in, and let us see what this is about."
"But she doesn't know..." Aurore protested, her eyes shifting anxiously to the vibrating portal.
"And it has been better, up to now, that she did not. But we need to find out what is going on."
For a moment, André's self-control seemed to falter, as he gripped her shoulder with his remaining hand.
"What happens to me is of no consequence, ma mie," André began in a low, urgent tone, trying to make her understand. "I am a soldier, and I have already escaped death twice. But Marie might lie," André continued, "to protect you."
His single arm dragged her closer, drawing their faces together, "I can face whatever comes with equanimity," he whispered emphatically, "if I know you are safe."
He pulled his wife completely to him at that, and gave her a quick kiss, deep, passionate, and fierce.
"Now, open the door, ma mie."
Aurore's look retained its dubiousness.
Had he not defied her advice to flee the night of his arrest?
Would it not have been better to listen to her, then, as well?
But, as she watched her husband rise to take up his breeches, she found that she, too, was reaching for her shift, pulling on the skirt and blouse she had cast aside the evening before last.
The knocking on the door grew louder, and faster, Marie's voice echoing its earlier summons.
"Citizenness! You must come!"
Slowly, with one last backward glance at her husband, Aurore reached the door, cautiously unbolted it, and pulled the handle.
Marie, whose knocking had become furious enough to be thrown slightly off balance by Aurore's action, nearly fell into the room, and then emitted a yelp of surprise as her eyes fell upon André.
For a single second, Aurore took complete leave of her reason.
Acting entirely upon instinct, with a degree of vehemence of which she barely imagined herself capable, Aurore dived toward their faithful retainer and clamped her hands like a vise around the woman's head and mouth.
"Marie," Aurore said, her soft voice taking a hard tone that startled even her husband, "I do not wish to frighten you, but I must warn you that if you utter another word above the level of a whisper, I will throttle you with my bare hands."
Despite the gravity of the situation, André found himself obliged to hide a smile.
"My tigress," he thought, with some satisfaction.
"I will remove my hands from your mouth now, Marie," Aurore continued, her voice as firm, quiet, and terrifying as before, "but I must have your guarantee you will speak softly, so that no one below can hear us." At that Aurore caught Marie's rolling gaze in an unflinching, intimidating stare. "Do I have your guarantee, Marie?"
Marie's head bobbed up and down, her eyes as wide as saucers.
Slowly, Aurore removed her hands.
"Citizen Vallon," Marie gasped again, her voice considerably lower after her chastening, "you are alive…"
André took in the old woman's trembling form and stepped toward her, trying to speak as gently as he could, to calm her, while Aurore continued to hover at her shoulder, a waiting fury.
"Yes, Marie, I am alive. I was rescued by friends. But now, we must know: what is the difficulty?"
"There are soldiers downstairs, Citizen Vallon," Marie breathed as she continued to pant from the combination of her exertion in climbing the stairs and the shock of the past few minutes.
André looked wary. "Soldiers? Why?"
"It is the Citizeness," Marie continued, as her sagging bosom continued to heave, "Her father…."
"He is not my father," Aurore broke in fiercely. "He forfeited that title when he denounced my husband. He is not welcome in this house. I reject his kinship! And if he is here," and here Aurore clenched her teeth, and spoke with sufficient vehemence to burden Marie with a new wave of anxiety, "I shall repudiate him to his face!"
For a moment, after Aurore's emotional remarks, the only sound that could be heard was the rush of Marie's persistent heavy breathing. But both Aurore and André noticed a subtle change in her expression: a shift from consternation to pity.
"He is not downstairs, Citizeness," Marie said, finally, in a more somber voice, as her breathing steadied. "The soldiers have come to inform the Citizeness that her father is dead."
Aurore backed a few steps away from Marie at this announcement, and sat, heavily, on the edge of the bed, her body suddenly numb with shock.
André's eyes were drawn in concern to the figure of his wife as he sought to take charge of the situation, moving briskly toward Marie, who now stretched out her hand to reveal a small piece of paper.
"The soldiers have come," Marie elaborated, "to take the Citizeness to her father. And they brought this missive for the Citizeness."
"Give it to me, Marie," André commanded, stretching forth his hand
When she had done as she was told, he used his fingers to unfold the crumpled piece of paper and read these words:
Your father has died and requires a proper burial. These men may be trusted; they will take you to him and help you attend to it.
Sketched at the base of the paper was the figure of a scarlet flower, with five petals.
One Day earlier: In the Rue de l'Anier
Marguerite Blakeney had wanted a bath rather dreadfully after her ordeal.
There was, nonetheless, a strong satisfaction to be taken in scrubbing the dust and grime off her husband's flesh.
Disguised as Rateau, the asthmatic coal-heaver, Percy had rescued his precious wife from the clutches of their old adversary, Chauvelin, just moments before the firing squad under Chauvelin's command would have raised their muskets to end Marguerite's life.
She had flung herself into her husband's arms, heedless of the soot that covered him from head to toe, giddy with relief that they were safe again, at last.
They had left Chauvelin in the corner of that attic room in the Rue de la Planchette, firmly constrained by a network of tight ropes, to await whatever end lay in store for him in the wake of Robespierre's fall from power.
They had come to the home of Rateau and his mother, torn between a desperation to touch and rediscover one another and a simpler, more primal urge to be clean.
"I'm such a disgusting object, m'dear," Percy had said, laughing in his quaint way. "I vow if I laid hands upon you now, we'd both stink enough so that they'd smell us in London!"
And Marguerite, sticky with the heat of July, her dress streaked with the muck of her husband's sooty disguise, could only reply to Percy's speculation with the observation that her own odor might be just as rank.
It was Percy who had first called for a tub, and hot water.
And what, then, could Marguerite do but take up the bar of country-made soap presented to them by Rateau's mother and rub it along that well-loved form?
She had rejoiced in spreading soap vigorously along the muscles of his back to reveal the texture of his skin. She had slowed her movements to tender precision about the reddened flesh that surrounded the branded letter M on his right arm.
From time to time, Marguerite had paused to drop a kiss along her husband's shoulder blades, to bring reverent lips to the scar itself.
From time to time, Percy had raised his wet hands to slow his wife's industry, to smooth the curls of her luxuriant hair from that well-loved face, to kiss the lips he cherished, and murmur words of love and thanks.
And then they watched with some satisfaction as Rateau dragged the tub outside to empty it, and filled another bath for Marguerite.
It had been good to lie together in the dark of the bedchamber Rateau and his mother afforded them, nestled finally in one another's arms, inhaling the scent of soap on each other's skin, listening to the sounds of a gathering night.
It had been amusing to find that the two of them had fallen asleep almost instantly, exhausted.
It had not been until the darkest hours before dawn of the 28 July that Marguerite Blakeney had gradually awoken to become aware of her husband's form, stirring beside hers.
In the velvety blackness of night, Marguerite had turned to discern her husband's eyes, burning with tenderness, and desire.
He had reached out to lose his hand in the tendrils of her hair, to gently trace his fingers over her lips and her neck, as she leaned forward to brush light kisses along his arm.
And then Sir Percy Blakeney had drawn his beloved wife to his side, and together they had tested the quiet of a dark morning, recapturing a joy lost in the anxious days of Marguerite's captivity.
Later, much later, as the first rays of sun rose to illuminate the bedchamber, Marguerite shifted away from Percy, attempting to hide a sob that overwhelmed her.
After a few moments, his hands had pulled her back to rest alongside his form despite her resistance, tilting her chin upward so that he could kiss away her tears.
"Why are you crying, beloved?" Percy asked, looking deeply into her eyes.
"I thought I would never see you again," Marguerite confessed. "I prayed you would never come for me to walk into that devil's trap."
Sir Percy Blakeney raised an eyebrow half in amusement, half in reproach. "You doubted me, m'dear?"
His sniff communicated insult, but his stern tone hid a smile.
"It is not that I doubted you," Marguerite hastened to reassure her husband, laying a hand on his chest. "Only that I feared Chauvelin..."
"I would never have allowed any harm to come to your adorable person," Percy told his wife in a firm, yet gentle tone. "But I will confess that the very idea that our good Monsieur Chaubertin might have gone so far as to contemplate your harm did cause me to lose my temper with the rascal a second time."
Marguerite's lashes might still have been wet, but she was sufficiently startled by her husband's confession to prop herself up on one elbow. "What? Percy!"
"I brought my fingers around that miscreant's neck," Percy admitted ruefully, "and for one split second..."
Marguerite looked at her husband, her gaze a mixture of sympathy and reproach. "Percy! He might have called his guards! They might have arrested you then! You should never have run such risks on my account!"
"On the contrary, m'dear" Percy contradicted her, as he raised his right hand to thread his fingers once more through the abundant curls of her hair, "'twas on my own account that I accosted him...for I confess," he continued in a lower, more serious tone, devoid of the lightness that had informed his previous words, "that I could not live without you, and the thought of what he wished to do engendered too much pain to be tolerated."
Tears sprung once again to Marguerite's eyes, as she leaned forward to share a tender kiss with her husband.
Marguerite relaxed, then, along her husband's chest.
For a long time, she was silent, reveling in the delicious luxury of her husband's nearness.
Finally, Marguerite questioned her husband, in a low, serious tone.
"It is over, it is not, Percy? Now that Robespierre has fallen, the Terror will come to end at last?"
Percy said nothing for a few moments, continuing to stroke his wife's back.
"Yes, Margot, it is over," he finally replied.
He had voiced these words with a sigh—deeper, and more fervent, than he, perhaps, had intended it to be.
Once more, Marguerite fell silent.
She was thinking of the endless nights she had struggled without sleep over the past two years: nights she had lain alone, overwhelmed by bitter loneliness, in Richmond; nights she had walked the floor, tormented by hideous anxiety, in Paris….
She would entertain not even the slightest whit of nostalgia for those nights, Marguerite thought to herself, her lips tightening into a grim line.
Her husband's disposition, however, was an entirely different matter.
When Marguerite spoke again, it was to voice an intuition that she suspected would gnaw at her consciousness for months, nay, years, to come.
"You will miss it, Percy," Marguerite said.
This remark, her husband noted, was not a question.
His hand tightened about his wife's back
He knew that she had longed desperately for the day when he might bring his activities abroad to an end.
For years, now, since the termination of their estrangement, she had waited and worried, faced danger and any multitude of tasks, ever at his behest.
Sir Percy Blakeney had eschewed the model of so many among his class, selecting a common bride-a foreigner, indeed! - rather than a member of the nobility.
He had married unabashedly for love, rather than for connections or for wealth.
And yet, he thought, he could not have gained a wife whose steadfast loyalty could possibly have been greater.
It was this certainty, he acknowledged to himself, that had made him lose his self-control with Chauvelin a week earlier.
It was this certainty that now compelled him to unburden his heart to one of the few individuals on earth-excepting, perhaps, his boon companion and second-in-command, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes-who knew him almost better than he knew himself.
"La, little woman," Percy began, as his lips curved into a wry smile, "there are no secrets to be kept from you, are there?"
Percy sighed again as he admitted what his wife already knew. "Of course I will miss it."
"But I confess, Margot," he continued, shifting, slightly, to rearrange the pillow behind his head, "that my approach to the enterprise of the League is not what it was when we began four years ago."
Marguerite adjusted her position to align with her husband's, while the gentle stroking of her hands along the side of his chest encouraged him to continue.
"At first," Percy went on, shifting his gaze toward the ceiling as he continued to speak, "it was all a glorious game-a noble sport-the means by which all of us-Sir Andrew, Lord Tony, Hastings, and the rest... sought to cheat those butchers who called themselves the Committee of Public Safety of the opportunity to murder men and women whose only crime was their elevated rank."
Marguerite's hands stilled for a moment, and he felt the weight of her hesitation, of the things she did not say.
"They were not all of them innocent, Percy," Marguerite pointed out finally, after a delicate pause.
"No," Percy agreed, in a low voice. "I know that now, better, perhaps, than I knew it four years ago."
"And much of what I know," Sir Percy added, lifting his head slightly to turn and look directly into his wife's eyes, "I learned from you, Margot."
"And yet," Percy continued, "I learned it no less from men and women I met and came to respect who lacked the advantages of noble birth-those I saved, like our good doctor Pradel; those I could not, like the public woman Claire de Châtelard, who displayed as great a heart, and perhaps a better courage in the face of death, than many a woman of far more esteemed lineage."
Marguerite found that the tears had returned to her eyes, as she remembered what Percy had written to her of Mademoiselle Châtelard, the woman who had befriended Chauvelin's daughter Fleurette in the prison at Orange.
"And so, I must beg your forgiveness, Margot," Percy went on, "for while I believe the enterprise of the League may be nearly complete, there remains one loose end to be tied-a matter I must discuss with the other League members in a few hours when they arrive here for breakfast."
Startled, and distinctly disobliged, Marguerite sat up at that. "The members of the League are coming here?" she asked, in some consternation.
"Not for several hours yet," Percy reassured her.
"But when they do," Percy continued, pulling his wife back into his embrace, "they will come, as I have asked them, to hear what we must do for the final individual to which our League attended, just hours before I was able to goad Tallien into his dire stand against Robespierre and lay the groundwork for your rescue, my love."
Marguerite's brow furrowed quizzically, as she continued to listen to her husband's words.
"I can only lay apologies at your feet, m'dear," Percy went on, "for the delay this imposed-and yet this man—a man, I must confess, I might have despised a few years ago as an exponent of the Revolution's ideals-is one for whom I have come to carry the greatest admiration-as one who may be said to have embodied the very best of the principles that came awry two years ago when this so-called 'Terror' began..."
Piqued to sufficient curiosity to request clarification, Marguerite pulled herself back a bit along the pillows by her husband's side. "Who is this man, then, Percy?" she asked.
And so Sir Percy commenced the telling of a tale he would repeat, some months later, in the Assembly Rooms at Bath, to his Highness the Prince of Wales.
"His name," Sir Percy began, "is André Vallon..."
Noon on the 28 July in the Rue de l'Anier
It was close to noon before the members of the League finally gathered to fill the kitchen of the lodgings Rateau and his mother shared in the Rue l'Anier.
Here were Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Anthony Dewhurst, wearing the peasant outfits that would serve as their disguises as they made their way to the coast, where Percy's yacht, The Daydream, lay in wait.
There were Lord Edward Hastings, Lord John Lord John Bathurst, Lord Stowmarries, Sir Edward Mackenzie, Sir Philip Glynde, my Lord Saint Denys, Sir Richard Galveston, and the others, dressed still in the uniforms of soldiers of the Republic that had served as their disguises in the plot to rescue Sir Percy's beautiful wife.
By that time, Paris was ringing with the story of Robespierre's unsuccessful suicide; his imprisonment at the Hôtel de Ville; his impending execution.
Sir Percy had paid Rateau handsomely to provide his men with a spread worthy of the celebration every man of the League agreed was in order.
Mouthfuls of baked ham, roast chicken, fresh boiled eggs, and hearty bacon, all prepared through the early morning by Rateau's mother, muffled the good-natured jests exchanged by men who had faced mortal danger together, and worked tirelessly for the outcome of this day.
Hot loaves of bread, brought to the table to complement the meal, filled the kitchen with a savory aroma, as did the rich scent of imported coffee.
A man could sip it hot, along with steaming chocolate, to wash down his meat, liberated at last from the fear that such an aroma would bring denunciation from neighbors as a ci-devant.
Sitting at the head of the table around which the League members alternately stood, and sat, was the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, Sir Percy Blakeney.
The sleeves of the billowing linen shirt he had selected to complement the simple trousers of his farmer's costume were rolled back to reveal the brand he had so readily accepted to save his wife a few days before.
Perched upon his lap, his beloved wife Marguerite was engaged in the dainty consumption of a few morsels of meat, which she alternated with sips of chocolate.
Fashionable though she might be, Marguerite was no less simply attired than her husband, having donned the costume of a farmer's wife that she would wear a few hours hence, when she and Percy departed from Paris by the Porte Saint Antoine to wend their way toward Calais.
It came to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, as he watched Marguerite eat and laugh along with her husband, that he had never seen Lady Blakeney look quite so radiantly happy before.
Finally, when a lull seemed to occur in the jocularity of the gathering, Percy called for silence and was gratified to see it fall, instantly, upon the kitchen.
"Gentlemen," Percy began, unfolding a map he'd secreted at the base of his chair across his place at the table, "we have one bit of unfinished business: André Vallon."
"We returned him to his wife, Percy..." Richard Galveston began.
"I realize that," Percy replied, cutting off whatever Galveston might have gone on to say with a nod of acknowledgment.
"A difficulty nonetheless remains," Percy went on, raising his voice a little, in order to forestall any further friendly-and irrelevant-interruptions. "Vallon's father-in-law, the aristocrat Charles de Marigny, lies dead in the guardhouse storeroom of the Palais de Justice. If we do not intervene," and here Percy cast a dramatic eye about the room, "the man is destined for a pauper's anonymous grave in Paris's public cemetery, l'Oussuaire municipal."
"To prevent this, it is imperative," Percy continued, "to inform the daughter and bring her and her father's body safety to the family crypt at Marigny."
Percy paused a minute, and then looked directly at Lord Tony. "Charles de Marigny was an exceedingly difficult man-vaguely reminiscent of your father-in-law, Tony," Percy added, with a merry wink.
Lord Anthony Dewhurst laughed back at his chief. "Hardly a recommendation, Percy!"
"Oh no," Percy agreed, more serious, now. "Nor was it meant as one!"
"However," Percy went on, meaning to conclude the explanation he would furnish before calling for the assistance the task would require, "Marigny's denunciation of his son-in-law continues to menace Vallon as well as his wife."
Percy looked about the kitchen at the faces of the men with whom he'd shared countless risks over the past four years. "I am requesting four volunteers who would be willing to remain in France to escort both Vallon and his charming bride to Marigny and back, for the period of...let us say...two to three week's time." Percy's tone was brisk.
"That should be sufficient space for the question of Vallon's denunciation to be reevaluated, or, better still, put aside entirely."
Lord Stowmarries spoke up now. "If Marigny was really so exceedingly difficult, what makes you so certain André Vallon will travel to bury his father-in-law, Percy?" he inquired, to nods of interest from some of the other men.
Sir Percy smiled slyly at that. "Vallon's only real weakness is his wife."
Ffoulkes and Lord Tony exchanged glances.
Their silent communication did not escape Sir Percy, who raised his voice to tease his own spouse, "As you are mine, eh, little woman?"
"Ah, I am not your weakness, Sir Percy," Marguerite replied archly, elevating her voice a fraction as she exercised her celebrated drawing-room wit. "Better far, I suspect, to describe me as your liability!"
Lady Blakeney's jest elicited ready laughter across the assemblage.
"Hardly that, m'dear," Percy responded, affecting the fulsome, ornamental tone he might have employed at court, "You, madam, are my inspiration!"
Marguerite raised an eyebrow, as her lips curved to match her husband's compliment with another ready jest. "I shall have to take then, Sir Percy," she replied, "to inspire you somewhat less in future!"
At this, Percy threw his head back and laughed in earnest, his mirth igniting the response of Marguerite's answering laughter, and merriment throughout the room.
For a moment, Sir Percy Blakeney and his lady drew their heads together to share a look of tender amusement that few, beyond the trusted members of the League, might ever have seen them exchange in public.
Sir Percy tightened his arm about his wife's waist.
Marguerite buried her head in the crook of her husband's shoulder.
But then Sir Percy grew sober again, and lifted his gaze once more to take in the members of his League.
Within seconds, the assembly fell silent as Percy resumed his argument.
"Vallon already risked everything for his wife the night of his arrest," Percy asserted, looking about the kitchen to meet the eyes of old friends. "He'll not disappoint us now, I'll wager. So, gentlemen," he went on, "I'll need four men to serve as escorts and pall-bearers. Are any of you prepared to take on such a role?"
Sir Philip Glynde was the first to raise his hand.
"I'm always ready for a round, you know that Percy," he said.
Sir Edward Mackenzie was next; then Lord Stowmarries; with my Lord Hastings being the fourth and final League member to offer his service in response to their chief's appeal.
"You'll take the old pony cart," Percy said, his voice gaining volume and strength as it invariably did when he was dispatching orders. "It should be large enough to hold the coffin we can procure later this afternoon."
"Since Lady Blakeney and I will be leaving by the Porte Saint Antoine," Percy continued, indicating the point on the map of Paris he'd spread across the table, "you four should leave by the Quai de la Bercy, and proceed south to Marigny. Stay there...maybe two days to a week's time to accomplish the burial—you can contact the old Abbé Rosemonde at Marigny, and ask him to officiate—and allow our fine couple to set any affairs in order. Bring them back and watch them closely...you'll need to intervene if you see it go badly,"
"And if it goes well, Percy?" Mackenzie asked.
"Then send our good professor and his lovely citizeness a bottle of champagne, and wend your way homeward!" Percy rejoined, as his blue eyes began to dance again. "Although I doubt mere champagne could be any sweeter than Vallon's assurance of liberty to live with his pretty wife in peace!"
Sir Andrew noticed that the arm Sir Percy had circled about Marguerite's waist tightened again as he uttered these words, while Marguerite's eyes remained demurely fixed upon the stone floor of Rateau's apartments.
Sir Percy turned his eyes, then to Glynde, Stowmarries, Hastings, and Mackenzie. "Is it too great a hardship, gentlemen, to take this up?" he inquired. "I can only apologize," and here Percy laughed again, "for the uxorial passions of us married folk, as Ffoulkes, Tony and I will shortly be bound for London!"
Mackenzie shook his head, as did Hastings. "We're ready, Percy!" they assured him.
Draughts were poured into waiting glasses as the meal concluded with the passing of a whiskey bottle from hand to hand.
Sir Andrew offered a toast to Lady Blakeney, to which Sir Percy could only rejoin with a toast to gentle Suzanne, the Lady Ffoulkes.
Lord Hastings gallantly offered a toast to the fair Lady Dewhurst.
Lord Tony responded with a toast to Lord Hastings, and the fellow members of the League, who had so generously volunteered to remain behind, and enable his departure for home, and the beautiful woman who waited for him.
It was Marguerite who finally raised her glass, to propose a toast that honored them all.
"To the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel!" Marguerite began, her voice ringing with the accents that had once enthralled audiences at the Comédie Française. "twenty astonishingly brave men!"
"And to the many men, women, and children it has rescued," Marguerite proclaimed, "and the many others," Marguerite continued, as her voice sank to a lower, more somber register, "that it could not."
"May France never forget the tragedy of their loss!"
"Here, here!" Lord Tony shouted, encouragingly.
"And may the courage of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel live on, in song and story, forever!" Marguerite finished.
The sun of a blazing afternoon sparkled as twenty-one glasses came together.
At the Guardhouse
An hour or so later, in the Quai de la Ferraille, André Vallon looked up from the note he had just read to focus his gaze on his wife.
Playing across his mind was a memory of the afternoon of his rescue.
There had been a turmoil of sound in the alleyway as he and the other men and women condemned had been hustled down the hall, away from the gallery of the Palais de Justice and loaded aboard the tumbril that had been set to transport them to their execution.
Preoccupied with craning his neck to get one final glimpse of Aurore, André had distantly heard the laments of his distressed students; the cries of the waiting crowd; the shouts of his father-in-law and the villainous Hector Talon.
And then, suddenly, as the din had seemed to rise beyond the level where any one voice could be discerned as distinct from another, he had felt the sensation of a strong arm slung across his chest.
André's first instinct had been to flail against it.
He had bucked and struggled against that arm of iron, until a voice had hissed in his ear words to still his movements.
"Think of your wife, man" the voice had whispered, as André felt the power of the arm across his body drag him fully from the tumbril. "She will be home, waiting for you, if you cooperate..."
This note, André considered, might well originate from the same source.
But he was taking no chances with the safety of the woman he loved.
"I'm going downstairs with you," he began, in an assertive tone.
"You should stay here," Aurore protested. "It's far too dangerous for you to be seen in the street..."
"Is it any less perilous for you to be wandering about Paris on a day such as today with men we do not know?" André argued, his voice rising slightly. "I won't have it!"
"And how are you to bury your father, ma mie?" André continued to argue, as he observed the mutiny of disagreement in his wife's expression.
"Will you transport his body to l'Ossuaire Municipal," he demanded, with a voice that ripened with the mockery Aurore had come to know during the first year of their married life, "on your own? Perhaps," he added, "you are expecting to carry it yourself?"
Aurore choked back hot words of retort, arguments that her husband was no more capable than she of carrying her father to his grave.
Biting her tongue, she watched, instead, as André turned to the case of drawers behind him to retrieve the pin that he used to hold up his left shirt sleeve.
Anger and anxiety caused him to fumble, and there was a slight ringing sound as the pin fell to the floor.
And then Marie saw the Citizeness Vallon rise from the bedside where she had been sitting, and walk toward her husband.
With a gentle movement, Aurore knelt to retrieve the pin.
Coming to her feet, she waved her husband's right hand away from the shirt sleeve he had sought to fasten, and deftly pinned his left sleeve to his shirt.
"Very well, then," Aurore said, her eyes lifting to meet her husband's.
André took up his wife's hand with his own, and kissed it.
"I will not leave you again, ma mie," André vowed.
With Marie leading the way, the couple filed out of the bedchamber that had been their refuge for the preceding two and a half days, and followed their faithful retainer down the staircase into the street.
Waiting below, as they crossed the threshold of the building in which they lived, were two men, wearing the uniform of the French Republic.
One, André thought, looked faintly familiar—he believed he remembered this man from the rooms of the apartment near the Palais de Justice, whence he had been hidden during the hours immediately after his rescue.
The other, slightly shorter, man, was completely unknown.
"What is your name?" Andre questioned the taller man as he stepped into the Quai de la Ferraille.
Sir Philip smiled. "It is not necessary to know our names, Citizen Vallon."
"It is best to think of us only as friends," Mackenzie put in, carefully.
"My wife will not travel alone," André said firmly. "I will accompany her."
Glynde and Mackenzie exchanged glances as they remembered Percy's words.
Vallon's only real weakness is his wife.
A furtive, private, grin shadowed Mackenzie's features.
Was Percy ever in error about anything?
And, so, flanked by these two friends they could not name, Citizen André Vallon and his wife stepped carefully into the high heat of late afternoon, walking quickly, lest the neighbors, who had gathered so often over the past two days, should see them.
Most had left, crowded into the Place de la Revolution, to gape at Robespierre's final moments.
From off in the distance, Aurore could hear the roaring crowd howl their assent at the afternoon's developments.
Someone had set off firecrackers to celebrate Robespierre's execution. Her husband's hand seemed to grip hers harder with every explosion, but the noise grew less overpowering as they began to cross the bridge of the Pont Neuf . The silvery-grey waters of the Seine coursed beneath them and the breezes along the river blew about Aurore's hair, lifting her tresses.
The setting sun began to glint behind them as they proceeded down the Quai de l'Horlage, lengthening their shadows as they turned onto the Boulevard du Palais.
Soon, they were cutting through the courtyard behind Sainte Chapelle, the delicate church a medieval king had built centuries ago, to house the holy relic he had acquired on crusade.
The last faint rays of daylight had disappeared behind the city's rooftops by the time the little party gained the courtyard of the Palais du Justice.
The guardroom was off to one side of the rectangular courtyard.
Before it, André and Aurore discerned a small pony cart, hitched to four horses who stood idle and waiting.
The cart was driven by two more men in uniforms of the army of the French Republic.
It quickly came to Aurore that these were no more real French soldiers than the men who had escorted them, as she noted the taller man who had walked beside André hail the drivers, speaking to both in a language she could not entirely understand, but recognized as English.
While the man who had flanked her husband strode forward to greet his comrades in the courtyard, the man who had walked beside her turned and spoke to her in French.
"We have a coffin in the back of the cart, Madame," he explained. "We would propose to remove your father's body to Marigny, where it can be buried besides your ancestors in your family crypt. But perhaps first," and now the disguised English gentleman's eyes met hers kindly, "you might wish to go in to see him."
Aurore hesitated a moment, and then nodded.
André turned to his wife. "Do you want me to go in with you, ma mie?"
Aurore shook her head. "No, André," she replied. "I need a few moments alone."
André brought his hand around to her face, and tilted it upward so the emerging moonlight shone into her eyes. "Are you certain?" he questioned her carefully.
"Quite, quite certain," she replied, firmly.
But was she?
As Aurore left her husband behind, following the disguised Englishman in silence across the moonlit cobblestones, she realized she was completely ignorant of what she should expect.
Had she ever even seen a dead body before?
She struggled to remember.
How would she feel when she saw her father?
She had no idea.
She only knew, as they had made their way through the streets en route to the Palais de Justice, that the bitter words she had last exchanged with her father over a month before had rung, endlessly, through her mind.
Overflowing with grief and rage, she had ordered her father to quit the apartment on the Quai de la Ferraille, when he had come to visit her.
Over and over again, over the past hour, Aurore had remembered the words of denunciation she had flung at the man who had raised her, tutored her, loved her as a girl:
"I am not your child!...no longer the child of so vile a worker of iniquity as you. You have brought upon me such immeasurable sorrow as no man has ever brought on woman since the beginning of time. The very sight of you turns my heart to stone, and I can but pray to God that I may never set eyes on you again. And now, I entreat you to go before I quite forget that you are old and that you are my father." ( Baroness Orczy, A Child of the Revolution, Chapter 41)
And now it appeared those words had been the last he would ever hear from her.
That interview had been the final instance at which Aurore would ever see her father alive.
Would she have said such words if she had known?
Was there something else, something different, she should have said?
This was the question that had haunted Aurore for the past hour and a half.
"I should have explained," she had kept murmuring fiercely to herself, as André had squeezed her hand as they made their way through Paris to the Palais de Justice.
His strong grip was offered to comfort, she knew, but no less because he was tormented by anxieties of his own, as the fireworks set off explosions about them, and the joyous noises of the crowd could only be faintly distinguished from the howls of the mob that had been heard in the streets just a few short days ago.
"I should have explained," she continued to think, as the grey cobblestones of the city of began to glow under their feet in the settling moonlight.
But what words could be offered, now that her father's body lay cold, his voice silenced, his ears unable to hear?
How could she possibly explain something she still did not entirely understand herself?
As they entered the low-raftered side room of the Palais guardhouse, an imp of a man approached them. Gnome-like with age, his features were wrinkled and vaguely frightening, while he wore the pantalon of the Revolutionaries with a white linen shirt and wooden sabots.
The shirt was yellowed and stained with specks of chewing tobacco. Indeed, as he approached, Aurore found his stench—a strong odor of tobacco, combined with the smell of perspiration from an unwashed body in the summer heat, well-nigh overpowering.
"Citizens!" he cackled, his high-pitched, grating voice lingering over his greeting. "Have you come at last, then, for the body I've been keeping for you?"
"Not a pretty sight, no, no!" he added with a second cackle that made Aurore's skin crawl. "I'll be requiring more payment for the time you've kept me waiting!"
"You'll receive full pay, Fouquet" her escort assured the old man, handing him an envelop.
It quickly developed that the envelop contained not money, but more tobacco.
"Can you take the Citizeness to her father?"
"Hey, hey, not a pretty sight, not a pretty sight, for such a pretty girl, eh?" Fouquet continued to repeat as took up a candle and shuffled toward a far door.
His words were accompanied by a sordid grin. It revealed several missing teeth and a few brown lumps along his gums that were the remnants of the few that remained.
Aurore found herself shrinking from the old man as his bony hand turned the door of the guardroom closet.
He moved into the room ahead of her, placing the candle on a long table to illuminate a stretched form lying across it.
It was her father's corpse.
Fouquet shook his head one more time, as Aurore gasped.
And then he shuffled out, closing the door behind him, and leaving Aurore alone.
Taking up the candle, Aurore tentatively leaned forward to scrutinize the countenance of her dead father.
His head was oddly shaped, a strange indentation in his forehead, as if a pointed heel had stepped into his skull-as, indeed it had.
A second concave ornamented the old man's chest, where the crowd's rush had broken his ribs and punctured his heart, killing him almost instantly.
An acrid, overpowering smell reached her nose; vaguely sweet, but somehow unsettling.
It was the smell, she realized, of her father's decaying body, an indication that the men disguised as soldiers who had brought them here had spoken no more than the truth when they urged that the burial must take place as soon as possible.
Aurore drew a breath that brought the odor into her lungs as she stared at the waxy skin along her father's check that had miraculously remained intact; the eyes, closed as if they were asleep.
Images and memories flashed through her mind then of the innocence of childhood, of a father she had once adored.
Her first draught of wine, proffered when she was but a girl of six: she had choked and sputtered as she took her first sip of the bitter liquid at her father's urging, while her father had laughed uproariously;
Riding to hounds through the forest, racing her horse into the clearing and then bringing it to a full stop to earn her father's praise;
Listening to her father air his views on the aristocratic Parlements, the revolution in America, the timeless prestige of the royal family.
To the admiring ears of a young daughter, it had all sounded so terribly authoritative, definitive, indisputable.
It had only been later, much later, as she had compared her father's speeches to André's rigorous reasoning during those early nights in André's Paris apartment; as she had read the books and pamphlets André had brought to her, discussed them, even argued over them, at André's careful prodding, that she had first begun to doubt the wisdom of her father's tutelage.
It was only after she had married André that it had actually occurred to Aurore, for the first time in her life, that she was capable of thinking for herself.
It had been a revelation—as stirring and exhilarating, in its own way, she realized now, as the knowledge she'd discovered of her body when she had come, finally, to her husband's bed.
She continued to study her father's corpse, barely realizing she was whispering her thoughts aloud.
And soon, she found, she was uttering her final speech of farewell—the explanation she could only regret not having attempted to make during that last dreadful day she had seen her father alive.
"The world changed about us, Papa," she began, in a timid whisper "...So many things changed..."
Aurore paused a minute, trying to remember, to be even-handed, to argue both sides of the question, as André had taught her to do.
"Some of what we lost was beautiful-those sunny afternoons, riding through the forest; the evenings we would sing, or read together...the servants...the luxury...the food..." Aurore was startled to hear her voice catch on a soft laugh. "Do you remember our cook when I was still a child at Marigny, Papa? The woman they called Babette? Do you remember the sauces she'd prepare, with the spices from India? From the Americas? I cook now, Papa-I help our maidservant, Marie, wring flavor from the scrawniest, most pathetic fowl you can imagine—chickens Babette would have fed to the pigs! I'm improving—that's what Marie says-but I can assure you, even if I live to be a hundred and a six, I will never cook as well as Babette!
"And I know," she added, with a sad smile, "that I will never dine that opulently again!"
Aurore's voice softened, then, as she continued. "It's hard not to miss those things, Papa. I know you missed them, once the Revolution began. I miss them too, sometimes...But I could never mourn them the same way you did, until the longing for them robbed you of all reason. I had to live in the world as I found it..."
"And I learned to do this, Papa," Aurore continued to whisper, even as her voice gained in strength, "...even as I flailed against it, because I changed. André changed me. He spoke to me of books, of ideas-social justice, and care for the unfortunate; building a world that benefited the many, and not just the few-ideas, ideals, worth working for, worth dying for, Papa."
Aurore looked at her father, and tried to see, tried to remember, in the corpse that remained, a living man. "To you, André would never be anything but a canaille, a dog; one of the howling rabble. In the beginning, I saw him through your eyes, and that was all I could see as well. But I've learned that this is not the only way to think of men, Papa. André taught me that. A man's worth is found in his actions; in his character; in the force of his will to triumph over nature and the vicissitudes of fortune. It is as Monsieur Rousseau says, Papa, in his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, in the beginning of his Social Contract: Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains-and these chains are imposed by the conventions that gave us the world we lived in before the revolution-privileges we inherited, but had not earned..."
Tears were running down Aurore's perfect checks as she spoke. They were barely heeded as she continued.
"Thinking about these matters," she continued, her voice ripe with emotion, "...reading about them...discussing them, with André-it opened my eyes, Papa. I'm not the girl I was. I remember her...and sometimes…" Aurore voiced a tiny confession, a confidence she had not shared with her husband, the echo of her voice barely audible in the empty room, "I even miss her-I was stupid, and silly, and trivial, thinking only of horses, and pretty dresses, and music, and fine food-but things were simpler then…."
Aurore drew another shaky breath and continued.
"But I can't really regret meeting André, because my world, my understanding, is so much greater, so much deeper, now, and I could never be that innocent young girl again. The last year and a half made me into someone different from the daughter you'd known...but it hurt so terribly to see that you could not learn to love me once I had changed...that you could not seem to forgive me for becoming a different woman..." her voice broke now, and rose in one final, agonized question: "Why, oh why, couldn't you even try? Why couldn't you love me enough to at least try, for my sake, to understand?"
Aurore's breath caught on a sob.
"Why did you have to try to take my husband from me, after I'd learned to love him?"
Aurore's eyes were clouded with tears, but she blinked them back and lifted the candle, searching the fixed features of her father's corpse, scrutinizing it desperately for some answer, some sign.
Aurore's hands were trembling as she set the candle down again beside her father's dead body.
The room was still.
All she could hear were the noises from beyond the shut door: the faint crackle of Fouquet's grating voice; the smooth tones of the men who'd accompanied her in response.
From her father, there was no answer. Nor would there ever be.
A wave of bitter loneliness assailed Aurore.
And there, in the private silence of the guardroom, Aurore gave herself up to grief.
She did not know how long she remained in that narrow chamber, weeping over her father's dead body; but she was aware, finally, of a strong arm lifting her out of her chair, to pull her into an embrace.
It was her husband's arm, tracing soothing circles on her back, murmuring gentle words of comfort into her hair.
There was only so long that André had been able to wait for his wife in the courtyard.
He remembered, too well, his own agony of loss after his mother's death.
And so he had finally strode across the cobblestones briskly, shouldering past the yammering Fouquet as he entered the guardhouse, and crossed the floor to open the storeroom door.
There was, André realized, a kind of healing in bestowing the comfort he'd failed to have two years before upon the woman he loved.
Aurore lifted her head and looked into her husband's eyes.
"Our first-born son," he reassured her as he continued to hold her tightly, "shall be named Charles, after your father."
"No!" Aurore sniffed, her voice choked by lingering tears, and the heartbreak of her father's rejection. "If we have a son, we should name him Georges, for Danton, who was so kind to you."
"And if we have a daughter," Aurore went on to assert, her voice still muffled by sobs, "she should be called Marianne, after your mother."
Warmed as he might have been by his wife's steadfast loyalty, André was not to be deterred.
"No, he shall be named Charles," André contradicted his wife, tilting her face up to his with his single hand.
"I owe your father an immeasurable debt, " André asserted, speaking firmly as he shifted his gaze to bestow an ironic smile upon his father-in-law's corpse. "Were it not for his foolish malevolence," he continued, looking once more into Aurore's tearful eyes, "I might never have discovered that you cared for me."
And then André Vallon brought his wife tightly to his side, and kissed the top of her head.
Holding hands, the couple watched as Stowmarries and Glynde, Mackenzie and Hastings, entered the side room to gather up the body of Charles de Marigny and carry it to the rough coffin that lay, waiting, in the pony cart.
Trailing behind her father's body, Aurore saw the men they knew only as friends lower her father's remains into the coffin, and then gesture for them to be seated along the benches that lined the pony cart's side.
Aurore observed her husband grasp the edge of the cart's entrance to climb aboard.
A few minutes later, she waived aside Glynde's proffered hand as she hoisted herself in the same way.
Occupying one side of the benches along the cart's side, she saw these men of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel settle themselves across from her husband and herself, as their companions manned the cart's front.
The coffin lurched slightly as the cart began to move forward, clip-clopping its way down the Quai de Henri IV and the Quai de la Bercy in a swift and steady rhythm.
Over the next half hour, their conveyance brought them closer, ever closer, to the southern edge of the city, toward the road that would take her back to her childhood home, back to Marigny.
As the church bells of Paris rang the hour of ten in the evening, Aurore rested her head on her husband's shoulder, and felt André squeeze her hand once more.
Another set of fireworks had just exploded to celebrate Robespierre's death in the Place de la Revolution.
And now Aurore threaded her fingers tightly through her husband's, their hands linked in silent communication, and a kind of melancholy triumph.
Neither one of them, she thought, might ever fully bury the past.
But at last, at least, a way lay open for them to contemplate France's future, and their own.
"…A fine fellow, your André Vallon," His Royal Highness remarked. "What became of him?"
"He was duly served with a Writ of Accusation, brought to the bar, and acquitted. He has taken up his work again with the blind and the deaf and dumb."
"And he and your lovely Aurore spin the thread of perfect love in their apartment on the Quai de la Ferraille, is that it?"
"I should say as perfect as I have ever seen, sir," Blakeney remarked with a smile.
"Outside your own, you lucky dog!" His Royal Highness rejoined with a sigh.
"Did the daughter ever recover her father's body for decent burial?"
"I believe so."
"Ah, well!" His Royal Highness concluded. "I'll grant you, Blakeney, that for a child of that awful revolution, your friend Vallon has come out of the flames unscathed."-
(Baroness Orczy, A Child of the Revolution, Chapter 43)