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Chapter 13 - In which a reason is found

It was unusual for a lowly student to earn such a prized place in the café during late autumn - a table by the window. Yet during each of the past five days Jules had wandered across the threshold to find himself immediately accosted by the owner and led directly to this spot. He ate, he drank, and yet was never presented with a bill. Arriving after his last lecture class of the day, he spent a goodly portion of his hours staring out the window. His notebook would lie open just past his elbow, a law book rested on the table before him, and his eyes were fixed on the street outside or on the sky barely visible over the roofline of his garret across the street.

When it grew too dark to see anything outside, his friends would be stop in. They ate, they drank, they made him laugh . . . and they received their bills with better humor than he'd seen in the past. Theon and Felix argued interminably about everything, but would occasionally gang up on Norris, who often arrived the worse for drink and more often than not left surprisingly sober. Viletta and Romaine would hang from his shoulder, steal morsels of food from his plate and feed them to him, beg to leaf through his notebook - he enjoyed every minute of that, particularly the jealous looks of his other friends.

But as the night wore on his friends would slip away. Always one would remain to take his arm and help him across the street and up the steps to his room. There were simple excuses as to why they should be invited in for a moment's time - looking at new sketches that didn't exist, borrowing a book they'd never need for a lecture, finishing up an argument started at the café to which he hadn't been a party. They'd fetch water or take care of other chores until he became annoyed or embarrassed at their attentions . . . and then they'd take their leave.

Some were better at it than others. Romaine had hinted rather broadly on at least two occasions that she'd be more than happy to stay the night. As beautiful as she was, Jules knew the offer was born of pity, for until this point Romaine had eyes for no one but Theon . . . or Theon's father's estates. And, worse, how would he deal with Theon after that? He'd pretended to be deaf and blind to her suggestions, thanked her for her help, and let out a sigh of relief when she was finally on the other side of the door.

Which left him alone.

It was so much better than the prior week spent mostly abed, with only a dull-witted attendant to care for him. Dosings of laudanum left him listless and yet incapable of action; he'd pick up a pen only to have it fall from his fingers. Even when he'd managed to engage his warder in banal conversation, he'd awaken to find that he'd dozed off in the middle of a sentence.

The two visits from Dr. Picot had cheered him immeasurably, even with the accompanying discomfort of having dressings changed. Hearing something of what had happened while he had been asleep was helpful. The doctor took great pains to assure him that Aimee had been placed in a proper and loving home, but the man was far from a storyteller.

Staring at the ceiling later, Jules tried to reconstruct the events from the doctor's measured, colorless words. Dr. Picot and the Foggs had awakened the young doctor and his wife from their sleep with an unexpected offer - a new addition to their family. Explanations would have been required - Jules could only imagine what the Foggs might have said about Aimee's history, what warnings they might have given while trying to remain circumspect in their ineffably British fashion.

And yet nothing they said seemed to matter to the couple - their hearts were set upon keeping the child, sight unseen. From the moment Fogg returned to the house with a soundly sleeping Aimee in his arms, there was no doubt she had found a home. How could it have been otherwise; she had won Jules' heart even more quickly, had she not?

There had been a discussion as to whether the child should be awakened for a brief good-bye. Odd to think that it was Miss Fogg who argued in favor of leaving immediately, the doctor concurring and the two overriding Fogg, who had agreed to abide by a majority opinion.

It was at this point the narrative always halted, for the doctor had taken the use of Fogg's cabin on the trip back to Paris, leaving his hosts quietly discussing matters in the salon. What Jules would have given to have been a fly on the wall at that time, instead of uselessly unconscious in the room above!

Dr. Picot always described descending from the lift to the awakening street before his city home, the servants and early-rising costermongers and tradesman left agape as he stepped from the platform, to the street, to his front doorstep without a second's hesitation. Brushing aside the household servants, he'd moved directly for the stairs, pausing only to kiss his wife on the upper landing and, he'd said with some pride, confounding her utterly. But it was not until he'd had reached his goal, the nursery, and held his young son in his arms that his story truly ended.

Jules repeated the story to himself so often that he swore he could reconstruct the events in his sleep, yet there were flashes that did not fit. There was the vague memory of a murmured discussion, of the bed shifting and a touch on his cheek - though he'd tried to open his eyes, he'd been so drugged as to be certain that it was only a dream.

And again, when his eyes had opened to the morning light of the sun reflected on the ceiling of his room at Mme Ludek's. Before that thought had registered, he'd turned his head to see Fogg standing at the open shutters. His hands, bandaged - but why bandaged? - rested on his cane, his hat on the table near the window. Jules must have made a sound, because Fogg had turned to tell him, "It's done. Go back to sleep, Verne." He'd done so, only faintly recognizing that although his friend's clothing was spotless and pristine as usual, the shadowed profile had appeared weary almost beyond endurance.

Were these dreams, feverish imaginings? Or was his mind simply tempting him with slivers of a truth he couldn't know, giving him something with which to occupy himself until his body had healed and his brain was no longer befuddled by medication? Trapped abed in his room for a week, he would have sworn they were memories and yet now . . . he couldn't be certain what the doctor had told him and what stories he had invented to pass the time and fill in the gaps.

In those two weeks, there had been no word from the Aurora. Jules remembered that Rebecca had a mission somewhere with which he'd offered to help . . . and obviously had been unable to fulfill that promise. Had that angered her? Surely not - not the Rebecca he knew. And yet what had she done without him? Had her mission succeeded or had something gone wrong?

If something had gone wrong, would he even hear about it? If Fogg and Passepartout had escaped, of course . . . but there was always the possibility of the unthinkable. Chatsworth wouldn't consider a lowly French law student and sometime failed playwright worthy of notification. They might all be lost and he would never know.

It was nonsense, a phantom child of his drugged sleep. But as days passed without word, Jules began to wonder. He lay in his bed, drowsed in and out of slumber, and watched the window day and night for something floating overhead. When he could walk enough to manage the stairs, and with Dr. Picot's blessing, he'd begun to haunt the café across the street - no longer able to endure the closeness of the room. As the owner served him a better vintage than he deserved and his friends laughed with him, his eyes were always wandering to the window to search for the shadow of the airship on the street outside or a glimpse of its propellers above the roofline.

His last lecture for the week was over, the wine in the glass before him was already half gone, and the small bowl of soup that had been brought, unasked and unordered, was also untouched. The alcohol gave him certain clarity of vision in contrast with the laudanum, which had so twisted fantasy and reality around one another it took great pains for him to separate the two. Jules tapped his pencil upon the notebook and wondered whether sufficient of either, or both combined, could block the visions that plagued and enervated him. The possible outcome of the experiment was daunting - he was no lotus-eater, after all. He wanted to write plays, great plays of great men and women from history, yet that would never happen if he drugged himself insensate to avoid the visions. What good were they to his writing? Through them he discovered wondrous possibilities of the future . . . but the human mind and the human heart were as closed to him as before.

He dropped the pencil, lifted the glass for another swallow, and again considered the possibility that his father was right - that his dreams of becoming a great writer were mere fantasy. Keep his scribblings limited to the poems, speeches, and performances at family celebrations and he'd have a safe, comfortable life. What was adventure, but danger . . . hardly the life for the son of a respectable lawyer. It only resulted in injury and pain.

Yet this time he'd not fought to save the world, or a monarch, or even a nation - he'd only tried to save the life of a child.

As if there were any 'only' to it.

Even his father couldn't fault him for that, although he might try.

He glanced at the street before taking another drink. Nothing had changed . . . but was someone standing before his door, speaking with Mme Ludek? It was not so much the coat but the hat that decided him, his heart thudding in his chest as he recognized --

"Passepartout," he breathed, as if unable to believe his luck. Then Passepartout doffed his hat to the woman and picked up the basket he had set on the cobblestones of the street.

"No - don't go. I'm here!" His legs were still stiff, his knees bothersome after sitting so long at the window. Jules knocked over the chair in his haste, startling both the management and the other patrons, but he barely noticed. The remainder of the glass of wine spilled as he picked up his notebook - he never heard the crash as it rolled from the side of the table and to the floor.

"Wait!" he called. "Passepartout - wait! Don't leave!"

Jules was a step away from the table when he remembered the law book, now stained with wine. Another step wasted as he moved back for it - the money it was worth more important than the case he was supposed to be studying for the next lecture - and then he stumbled forward again, heading for the door. The owner tried to intercept him, but he waved the man away, hobbling toward the door as far as he could, knowing that if he tried just a little harder he could get to the street and--

Passepartout stood in the doorway, no more than six paces before him. He was recognized with a grin and before he could cover the distance, Passepartout had grasped his forearm in greeting.

"Jules! And you are being on your feet! It is good to see you."

"It's good to see you, too," was all he managed for a moment. Enough to grasp his friend's hand and know that all was well - Passepartout couldn't grin like that if anything had happened to Rebecca. Even better to know that his friends hadn't forgotten him.

"If you would not mind for me to be seated for a minute--" Passepartout dropped the basket he was carrying at his feet and released Jules' arm only to remove a handkerchief from inside his coat and mop at his forehead. "I have been walking all over Paris for the shoppings."

"Of course," answered Jules, suddenly feeling guilty, heading back toward the table he'd abandoned only a moment before. The owner gave him a sharp look, rising to his feet with the glass-filled waste pan in his hand, then he glanced over Jules' shoulder at Passepartout before scurrying away. By the time Jules had turned, Passepartout had seated himself and was investigating the soup sitting on the table.

"Terrible stuff," he declared, running the spoon through it, then lifting a spoonful and pouring it back into the bowl. "You have not been eating this dreadsful food? And to even be calling it food--no."

Not entirely certain as to how his notebook and law book had left his arms and been placed on the table, Jules levered himself back into his chair by the window. Even the painful stiffness in his knees couldn't wipe the foolish grin he knew had to be plastered on his face. "It is good to see you," he repeated. And then, curiosity getting the better of him, he leaned across the table and asked, "How was Spain?"

Passepartout raised a finger to his lips and winked, indicating that they might be overheard, but he sat back in his chair and announced, "Verys hot. And dusty. Oh, so much dust!" He shook his head sadly, as if the very thought of it distressed him. "I am still to be washing dust out of everysthing." Placing a finger in one ear as if to clean it, he then held up a fingertip and announced in annoyance, "Dust!"

Jules laughed in spite of himself. "And Rebecca and Fogg - they're well?"

"Miss Rebecca, she is still being in London doing such things," Passepartout lowered his voice and leaned across the table, "such things as spies ladies do." Then he sat back in his chair. "Master Fogg, he tells me this morning that we are to be going to Paris right away, with the dusts still to be cleaned. And when we have been arrived, he says to me, 'Passepartout, you will be seeing if Verne is up to a trip to Dijon this afternoons.' I am telling him, 'Master Jules is maybes not well enough to be going to Dijon.' And Master Fogg, he is saying that I must be stopping to ask and to see with these eyes if I am thinking you are being well enough to go to Dijon."

Suddenly finding himself under scrutiny, Jules glanced down at his closed notebook, afraid that his condition might be found wanting. Dijon, according to Dr. Picot, was where Aimee had been found a home. He remembered what Fogg had said that morning in the Aurora - when they found a place to settle Aimee, he would have to walk away, never see her again. But surely he'd be allowed to say good-bye, at the very least?

"Well?" he asked softly, daring to look up at Passepartout. "What do you think?"

"I am thinking that it would be a very big mistake for you not to be coming to Dijon." Rising to his feet, Passepartout disdainfully pushed away the bowl of soup. "Being as big a mistake as eating this garbage. You will be coming back to the Aurora where you will be having a proper luncheon. That you could be getting better eating such as this - pfaugh!"

It didn't quite make sense to him - why it would be a mistake for him not to go to Dijon - but Jules wasn't about to quibble. Tucking his notebook and his soggy law book under his arm, he pushed himself up from the table again. He saw Passepartout throw something down to the table as they left, vaguely recognized the bills as franc notes, and then swung his head around to look again as they headed away, amazed at the amount of money that had been left.

"Passepartout, that's far too much--"

"Is enough," noted Passepartout, with no small amount of disdain. "For such bad soups, is enough."

He might have imagined the look that passed between the café owner and Passepartout as they left, but Jules couldn't be entirely sure. His immediate concern became juggling his notebook, his law book, and the heavy basket Passepartout left in his care the moment they stepped out the door and onto the cobblestone street.

"Is better to be finding a ride," announced Passepartout, stepping forward to flag down a passing carriage for hire. "Master Fogg is telling me this morning that I am not to have new shoes before the new year because I am wearing them out so fastly. If I am not to be having shoes, then I am to be riding after shoppings."

The comment had been made with an insolent grin that Jules echoed, although he had a suspicion that Passepartout wasn't precisely parroting that particular conversation. It was the wonderful nature of it, the ease with which Passepartout invented reasons or excuses that something must be done this way and not that. Although the reasons didn't quite salve his wounded pride, they did make it easier to accept the magnificent gesture of a chair at a café table or a carriage ride.

Passepartout made great show of huffing and puffing in exhaustion. He put his feet up on the opposite seat to the point where he was barely sitting at all, but was stretched the distance across the two seats as if lying flat on a board. It was an amazing display and made Jules laugh aloud . . . until he remembered the money.

Two hundred francs. He's borrowed the money from Fogg - Passepartout had delivered it to him that glorious morning when they'd all set out in the carriage - and then Dondre had stolen it from him. He'd not thought of it since.

Today's date was two days past the agreed-upon date of repayment.

Jules felt as if he might be ill.

It never failed to amaze him how quickly Passepartout could shift his mood from clown, to efficient valet, to brilliant engineer . . . to friend. "Jules? You are not well? We should be making the carriage to stop?"

He turned his head to find that Passepartout had risen to his feet, crouched beneath the roof of the carriage, one hand already on the trap link where he could contact the driver. His worried expression gave Jules another momentary pang - this was not something he could share.

"I'll be fine," he muttered, fighting back the urge to tell Passepartout to stop the carriage and he'd walk back to his room, climb the stairs, lock the door, draw the shutters . . . and hopefully expire of acute embarrassment. It had cost him so much to even consider asking for the loan. Fogg had granted it on the favorable terms of their friendship and they'd shaken on it. To show up at the Aurora without the money . . . .

Of course, Fogg would never mention it. Nor would he ever mention his disappointment at the failure in Jules' character, but he knew that each time he looked at Fogg he would be searching for it - in his eyes, in his words, and in the limitation of his trust.

He was very glad, at the moment, that he hadn't eaten the soup. His stomach was still unsettled from a lack of too-solid food and the laudanum the week before, plus the wine he'd drunk this morning atop that.

Jules expected Passepartout to attempt to cheer him with chatter and hunched down in a corner of the carriage in misery, prepared with false smiles to acknowledge the jests and an occasional mutter of agreement . . . but Passepartout remained silent. When he stole a glance over his shoulder, he saw that Passepartout was sitting properly on the seat, hands folded atop his right knee, his expression carefully neutral.

He'd let Rebecca down about his help with her mission, borrowed money from Fogg he'd forgotten to repay, and now he'd just insulted Passepartout in refusing to tell him what was wrong, a common enough action between friends. Perhaps he could compound the situation into absurdity by pointing out a stray cat the coachman could run over.

The trip back to the Aurora, which he'd begin with such joy, became an ordeal. It was wrong to accept the invitation to Dijon. His heart broke when he realized it meant that if he didn't see Aimee this time, he would probably never see her again. But how could he endure the normally comfortable airship ride, all the while watching Fogg for a hint of some censure about the loan? Fogg wouldn't forget about something like this - he was a sharp man when it came to money, however off-hand he might seem about the actual spending of it.

A loan between friends. Never a lender or a borrower be, was that it? Words were so awkward in the translation - would they be more elegant in English?

He'd been a fool.

The carriage arrived. Jules looked out the window of the old whale-like conveyance and saw the Aurora moored in a stubby brown field. The harvest had been taken in long enough ago for even the mice to abandon some hope of a crumb of grain fallen by the wayside for grateful gathering. Passepartout descended from the carriage and disappeared around the side, to the driver. By the time he'd returned Jules was already halfway out of the carriage, swearing under his breath at the awkwardness of holding onto his law book, his notebook, and the doorframe so that he wouldn't fall if his knees gave way. Passepartout reached out a hand to help, but the hand fell away when Jules shot him a sharp look, muttering, "I can do this myself."

"Of course," was the only answer, given with a taut, polite smile.

He could say or do nothing right today. Normally he would have matched pace with Passepartout, skittering down the slight incline from the hard-packed dirt lane to the torn earth of the harvested field. They would have talked of his new sketches and ideas, of whether a three-quarter or half-inch screw could be trusted to hold a brass plate of a certain thickness, and whether the joints of the carriage could be fitted with better springs to adjust to the vagaries of unpaved roads. Instead, Passepartout took Jules' law book from him as a matter of course, knew enough not to even try for the notebook, and walked the requisite step and a half behind, as would any servant attending to a guest of his master. If Jules slowed his pace intentionally, or unintentionally when the side of his foot nearly slid into the burrow of a small animal, Passepartout would be there to steady him, grabbing his arm until he righted himself. It was done without comment on Passepartout's part, no matter how Jules swore in annoyance at himself for needing the help or at Passepartout for providing it.

The gangway up to the Aurora was solid and unshifting, a subtle incline that Jules found he need not attack with vigor. His heart eased as his hand brushed along the wood of the cabin exterior, so good to be home.

That frightened him enough that he stopped without warning, suddenly aware of Passepartout exhaling close behind him as if startled and barely avoiding a collision.

This wasn't home. He had no right to think of it as such.

Passepartout stepped around him and held the door open for him as he limped inside. Fogg was in the salon, seated, the book in his hand already being marked and set aside. He rose and stepped forward with such a smile of greeting that it made Jules heart-sore, desperately wanting to respond in kind.

"Verne! You're looking much better than the last time I saw you."

The handshake was far from perfunctory, a true greeting. The strength of it surprised him and he overbalanced, his right knee failing for a second. Before he'd quite recovered, the smile had disappeared from Fogg's face and his arm was supported by a grip of steel. "Sit down."

Passepartout had shied from taking his notebook, but Fogg was not in the least intimidated by the item . . . or perhaps he didn't quite understand what it meant to Jules. It was removed from Jules' hand, dropped to the table, and Jules was led to the chair Fogg himself had vacated upon his entrance. "No, Fogg, really - I'm fine. It was just the carriage ride, my knee stiffened up a little, that's all."

Fogg turned on Passepartout, who was depositing the law book on the table. Having removed his own overcoat, he was standing silently, waiting for Jules' jacket. "I said you were to bring him only if he were well enough to travel."

"No, I'm fine, really," insisted Jules, a hint of anger creeping into his voice at the unearned reprimand directed toward his friend. "Passepartout couldn't have kept me away. It was my decision to come."

Considering the notion for a moment, Fogg nodded. "Very well." He moved aside so that Passepartout might take Jules' outer jacket from him, adding, "Tea, I should think, followed by with a light luncheon as soon as we're under way."

"I'm not very hungry," admitted Jules, looking up at Passepartout for support.

But Passepartout was having none of it. "Is better that you are eating," he scolded. "And not like what is being called soup in that café. I have somethings much better to bring you back to your strength."

"Excellent," agreed Fogg. And as Passepartout left for the kitchen, dismissed to his duties, Fogg turned toward Jules. "Dr. Picot has been sending me reports on your progress. How's the rib?"

It startled him even to think of it. Jules drew a deep breath involuntarily - but there was no pain. "After the first few days, I didn't even notice it," he admitted, with some wonder.

"That's the way of it, or so I've been told. Uncomfortable injury. Never had bad enough luck to crack one, though the memory of bruised ones do tend to linger for a time, particularly before a downpour. If I were you," he raised an eyebrow, "I'd avoid such an injury in future."

The serious tone, along with the idea that such an injury could be avoided, caused Jules to smile. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Do so." Fogg gestured down at Jules' trousers. "The knee still worries you?"

"The right one, a bit. It's my own fault - Dr. Picot said I should walk for at least fifteen minutes an hour to fight the stiffness and--" he shrugged. "It's easier to sit in the café."

"I would imagine. I wonder what Dr. Picot would say to that excuse. Or, for that matter, Rebecca. Ah, the tea."

Passepartout had entered the salon with a silver tray balanced on his hand. Fogg picked up the book he'd tossed to the table and removed it to the sideboard as the tea service was set in place. Passepartout poured with little fuss and some small amount of ceremony.

Jules took the cup with a grateful smile and murmured thanks, but Passepartout's demeanor continued to be respectful - it was unnerving. "Passepartout mentioned that Rebecca is still in London. Is everything all right? Her last mission?"

"Went as well as those things are likely to go. Chatsworth was perturbed about the delay - I think he's rather playing the schoolmaster at the moment, keeping the errant student behind after class to sweep up chalk dust." Fogg chuckled under his breath, somehow managing to handle both the thin china teacup and the saucer without rattling one against the other - a proper English skill Verne had yet to acquire. "I think she'd be concerned to hear that you weren't exercising as Dr. Picot has ordered. Trust me, Verne, Rebecca's concern is not something to be acquired easily or handled lightly."

"I'll remember that."

"Just do the exercises as prescribed and we'll say nothing of it to Rebecca, for the moment."

The warning was steel in a velvet glove, something he might have said to his own brother. Jules stared down at the tea, then put the cup and saucer back on the table, afraid that it might choke him. When he looked up he realized that Passepartout had stepped away - perhaps gone back into the kitchen.

"Yes, I know," said Fogg, placing his own teacup down on the table. "Excellent coffee, but he does make a hash of a decent cup of tea. Not that I'm much better with it myself. Rebecca said something about having a word with him about it . . . or was that about setting up a better target for throwing knives in her cabin? There's been an issue, I gather, with cracking the veneer of the inner cabin wall."

"It's not the tea." Jules stared glumly at the cup at the table, inwardly admitting that he wouldn't know good tea from bad tea. "There's something--" He looked up, met Fogg's gaze. "The money I borrowed - I didn't return it as we'd agreed."

Fogg stared at him in bewilderment for a moment, as if completely baffled by the sudden change in the topic. "Return it?"

"I was to pay you back within a fortnight. That was . . . two days ago." Jules swallowed uncomfortably and looked away, counting back days to verify the calculation. "Yes, two days ago. I have some money - my father sent my allowance, but I need to get the bank note changed. When I'm back on my feet, I plan to sell some of my books--"

"Why would you do that? Verne, there's no payment due. The matter is settled."

Much as his heart was gladdened to hear that, his pride rose up angrily. He met Fogg's gaze again. "I don't want charity."

"It's hardly charity. Wait--" Fogg gestured for him to remain seated, an imperious wave of the hand, as he rose and opened a glass cabinet at the other side of the room. He removed something from within, then returned to the table. Slipping the gold money clip from the banknotes, he tossed them down before Verne. "There it is. You can count it, if you like."

Jules reached his hand out to touch them, but saw a dark brown stain upon the upper bill - his fingers would not move toward the money. It was his turn for bewilderment and he stared up at Fogg.

"All there," repeated Phileas evenly. "Well, perhaps but for ten francs or so. I retrieved it from that villain the night we recovered the child."

"Retrieved--?" All franc notes looked the same to Jules - they were never in his possession long enough for him to make any distinction beyond the worth of the note.

"You said he'd stolen it from you when they'd taken Aimee." Fogg gestured down at the bills. "There it is. We shall consider the shortfall an unfortunate result of the affair. The matter of the loan is settled."

The brown stain. "He didn't . . . return it to you." His dealings with Dondre had been limited, and more often painful than not, but he was well aware that any money that had fallen into the pimp's hands would not have left easily, even when confronted by the formidable civility of a gentleman such as Phileas Fogg. Fingers shaking, Verne finally got his hands to obey him, reaching out to pick up the money--

But Fogg was faster, flicking the bills from their jumble into an even pile, flipping them in half, and then sealing the bundle with the money clip. "Settled, as I said." The money clip and the contents disappeared inside Fogg's coat. "Think on it no longer. Better than you should concentrate on the end of your convalescence, your studies, and your writing."

Blood.

There had been blood on the bills and a goodly amount of it. Jules continued to hold Fogg's gaze, his mind working frantically. Had the bandaged hands been a dream or a reality? What had been Rebecca's role, or Passepartout, in this matter? He had missed so much, so very much, while he'd been sleeping.

"How?" he asked. And then, realizing that there was so much more to the question than that one word entailed, amended it to, "What happened?"

Fogg looked away for a moment, studying the wall of the cabin with an intensity Verne certainly would have found unnerving had the gaze been directed at himself. A second passed, only that much before Fogg looked at him again and said firmly, "It was an affair of honor between . . . gentlemen."

An evasion, not a lie - there was some comfort to be taken in that. They would have made a pact between them not to tell; those who had coined the English expression 'thick as thieves,' could have easily amended it to 'thick as Foggs,' without having lost any nuance of meaning. He was being shielded from something they knew was too horrible for him to approve or accept. In time he might learn more of the details, but the Foggs had decided the immediate matter on his behalf.

It was maddening in a fashion, in the same way that a too-cautious relative might seem overprotective. But that was how friends treated other friends. How family treated their own.

It was up to him to determine how he would react, how he would take this gesture on their part. Fogg was watching him with what any casual acquaintance would view as polite interest. But Verne had seen enough by now to know that he was waiting for a response and that response would be conveyed to Rebecca when she inquired after it. It was important to them.

He was important to them.

Jules did not need to ask the questions now. His suspicions could remain as such, for the moment. Without asking, he knew that Dondre was dead - the blood was to tell him that much. The man who had beaten him . . . not to be considered at this time. Aimee rescued, her final hours in Dondre's company less important than her safety and placement in a true home.

"It's all settled, then," he said, a firm note of conclusion in his tone so the intent was to be unmistakable. He then added, "Thank you."

There was a brief look of relief on Fogg's face, which disappeared behind an entirely civil and socially required acknowledgment of his gratitude, punctuated by a quick heel click and brief bow. The entire reaction was far too formal for the salon of the Aurora, but seemed right somehow, maintaining the somber mood until Fogg seated himself, picked up his teacup, and sipped at it.

"Blast," he whispered, then called "Passepartout?"

The valet appeared from the kitchen, removing an apron from around his waist as he came through the door. "Luncheon is almost readies, Master."

"Very good. I think we might leave for Dijon now, if you're so inclined. And . . . I think coffee?" Fogg glanced over at Jules, as in search of support. "Verne's not much for tea."

"A character flaw," agreed Jules quickly. "The café's isn't any good and mine's not much better."

"We shall be casting off at once," said Passepartout, accentuating his comment with a slight bow toward Fogg. "And there will be coffees directly."

"Thank you, Passepartout." It was only after Passepartout headed toward the navigational unit that Fogg shared a look of commiseration with Jules and pushed away his teacup in despair. "One wonders how difficult it could be. Do you know he actually had the nerve to put cinnamon in my Darjeeling the other day?"

Jules leaned back into the chair, finally relaxed. His stomach had settled down - he was even looking forward to the luncheon Passepartout had promised. As an afterthought, he reached across the table and grabbed his sketchbook. Pulling the pencil from the binding, he opened the book to a blank page, considering the problems attendant upon the making of tea, such as he understood the process. "Perhaps Rebecca will have a solution."

"That's something we must also discuss." Jules looked up, startled, as Fogg placed a hand lightly on his arm. "There's to be no word to Rebecca about this trip to Dijon."

"She doesn't . . . know." Jules closed his mouth deliberately, before any other foolish words could escape. Of course Rebecca didn't know they were going to Dijon, or she'd have moved heaven and earth to accompany them, even defying Chatsworth his academic retribution. "Where does she think you've gone?"

"To check on your continued well-being, of course." When Jules blinked at him in surprise, Fogg fixed him with a steady gaze. "Come, Verne, we aren't foolish enough to believe that you'd follow Dr. Picot's instructions precisely to the letter, particularly his admonition to exercise. Both Rebecca and I have suffered injuries in the past - we're aware that a taskmaster is not only invaluable but also irreplaceable in such instances. Speaking of which--" Fogg removed his pocket watch from his vest and checked the time. "We'll take a stroll around the deck at a quarter past the hour for each hour of our journey. Would that be agreeable to you?"

"Um - yes."

"Good." The watch went back into his pocket and Jules had the sudden impression that it would not need to be checked again to determine the exact moment the agreed-upon time arrived. "In addition," continued Fogg, with an air of utter bafflement, "she seems determined to introduce to Chatsworth the idea of training canines to assist in search and rescue operations. Which means that we shall spend the length of the return trip to England avoiding the affections of that insufferable bloodhound."

Jules had a vague memory of a long snout, an even longer tongue, and sad eyes almost hidden by fleshy folds. "I think I remember. Bruce, wasn't it?"

"A name that will continue to instill horror in every respectable tailor in Saville Row, yes."

Fogg sighed as if in disgust, causing Jules to smile; he'd gotten the impression that the attitude was more a matter of show than of true feeling. But there had been something said about . . . England? "We'll be returning to Paris from Dijon?"

"If only to fetch that dreadful hound, yes. Unless you have other plans and can't spare a day or so to convalesce at Shillingworth Magna?" There was a pause as Fogg cleared his throat. "I can't promise you an entirely pleasant time there. Rebecca mentioned something about 'hiking' which invariably involves stomping about in wooded areas for no discernible rhyme nor reason."

Jules laughed this time. And then he remembered what Dr. Picot had said, about Miss Fogg being vehemently opposed to waking the child to say good-bye and Fogg being of a contrary mindset. This trip was evidently Fogg's idea. Was the stay at Shillingworth Magna a bribe to buy his silence in the matter?

No. Because it would have been just as easy to have bypassed Paris entirely and head straight to Dijon from London. Fogg could quite easily have checked on Jules on his way back from Dijon, when he picked up the dog. "Verne?"

"I'm sorry." He shook his head as if trying to disentangle a dozen different lines of thought from his brain. "It's just that, trying to keep something like this from Rebecca . . . ."

"A daunting prospect," agreed Fogg sternly. "But not impossible. Besides, we'll adhere to the letter of the agreement - we may see the child, but she may not see or speak with us. That may be considered an argument in our favor when Rebecca finally discovers our subterfuge."

His automatic inclusion as a conspirator would have been heartening, if it hadn't involved trying to get something past the vigilant Rebecca Fogg.

Fogg rose to his feet. "It's time for our first stroll around the deck. We'll finish in time for luncheon."

Unlike Passepartout, who seemed to hover invisibly, always ready to lend assistance if need be, Fogg merely stepped to one side of the salon, watching as Jules pushed himself up from his chair. It was hard enough to stand for a few seconds, his knees incredibly stiff and threatening to collapse beneath him if he didn't lock them in place. He'd noticed that feeling passed once he started moving, if he continued to move.

Their pace around the deck was measured, Fogg walking leisurely along beside him, making no comment if he were forced to grab the handrail for support. Nor did he seem to offer any assistance, which was something of a surprise, although Jules suspected that if something had gone wrong Fogg would have intercepted his fall before he could hit the deck or do himself further injury. It was cold outside without his jacket, the bracing wind retaining more of a bite as their altitude increased, and yet it helped to be cold, helped him to concentrate on something other than the ache of movement. After their first circuit, Fogg removed his own coat with momentary assistance from Passepartout, claiming some nonsense about feeling confined.

They talked, but what they talked about he couldn't say - casual things. Jules couldn't much remember if they strolled the circuit of the Aurora five times or fifteen times during the brief walk. He realized after the fact that Fogg had picked up the pace just as they had begun to argue about something of no real consequence. He'd been forced not only to defend his point, but also push himself to match the pace set by his friend or risk not being heard above the wind.

The argument continued through luncheon, the topic moving from transport to the effects of military campaigns on the commerce of nations, and perhaps back again. After luncheon had settled, they left the table to be cleared and walked the perimeter of the cabin in the same pattern as before. Jules' legs ached and he felt chilled by the time he returned to the salon, but his range of motion had markedly improved. Passepartout placed a blanket around his shoulders and delivered both a cup of hot chocolat and a small bowl of warm soup, both of which proved better than the fare offered at the café.

Jules was not entirely certain when he fell asleep. His shoulder was shaken and he started awake to find Passepartout leaning over the chaise lounge and grinning at him. "Time to be waking, Jules."

"Are we there?" He yawned, stretched his arms and, delicately, shifted his legs from the lounge to the floor.

"We are having arrived, yes."

Passepartout leaned down to place his shoulder beneath Jules' arm, helping him to stand. He grabbed the table for support, but there was no real pain attached to the process of initial movement after waking - the first time that had happened since the assault. A few steps were awkward, slow, but he was moving unaided across the cabin in a matter of minutes.

Fogg descended at the spiral staircase, checking his cuffs. "Verne - good to see you up and about. Are we ready, then?"

"The Aurora is secured, master," announced Passepartout, as he helped Jules into his jacket. "I will be planning supper upon your return."

"No, you're to come with us." Fogg hesitated a moment, as if a sudden thought had struck him, and cleared his throat. "If that's amenable to you, Passepartout."

"Oh yes, master. I would be most interested in seeings the littles girl again."

"Excellent."

Jules leaned his back against the wall and shook his head in wonder - Fogg had changed his clothing entirely. It was late afternoon, and the dark blue suit he now wore was the height of fashion for the hour. Only the ash walking stick in his hand seemed out of place . . . until Fogg tossed it to him.

"Here, Verne. Something to aid your steps."

He caught it awkwardly, then held it in both hands as he looked it over. It was a solid enough stick, with no discernible ornamentation, although the knob at the top was most certainly made of gold. That was enough to give Jules pause. "No, I'll just get it dirty. What if I left it somewhere?"

"It can be cleaned. And replaced easily enough." Fogg continued down the stairs, retrieving his dark walnut stick with the silver handle from Passepartout, along with his hat. "Try it. You'll be glad enough for the use of it on the way back. Even with Passepartout lighting our way, it's bound to be pitch dark."

With a nod of acquiescence and a shared look of commiseration with Passepartout - trying to change Fogg's mind once it was set would have been a Herculean task at best - Jules hefted the stick in his hand and followed Fogg out of the cabin.

It wasn't too long a walk from the field where the Aurora had been moored to the edge of town, but Jules was glad to have the use of the walking stick before they'd gone more than a hundred steps from the airship. The sunlight was fast fading to the west. He tried to keep pace with Fogg's longer stride and, failing that, found that Fogg slowed his steps sufficiently to accommodate his limitations. Passepartout walked behind them, a bundle beneath his arm and the unlit lantern swinging from his right hand.

"You never did tell me the name of Dr. Picot's friend," noted Jules, as they finally stepped clear of the dirt road and began to encounter the cobbled paving of the city streets.

"I thought it wise not to ask." When Jules stared at him, Fogg met his glance briefly, then looked away. "And wiser still to continue that practice."

He lost a step in disbelief and then hurried to catch up again. "But if we don't know his name, how can we keep track of Aimee?" And then, "Oh," as he began to realize what exactly it would mean to walk away, never looking back, never reminding her of how she had come to her new life. Destroy the bridge, wasn't that what Fogg had said? At the time he'd thought the words over-dramatic and yet now, when they meant something, there was a weight to them that threatened to crush some part of his soul.

His heart beat faster, less from the exertion of the trek than from the tumult of emotions he was experiencing. As Fogg led them up one street and down another from the outskirts of the town to its heart, Jules nearly called halt on two separate occasions. Could he bear to see Aimee and know that this would be the last time? Wouldn't it be better to return to the Aurora now? He could beg off on his inability to continue; surely Fogg would release him from this obligation?

The last time he'd seen her, she'd been held captive in Dondre's arms. Aimee had been crying, screaming his name . . . he'd been unable to save her. Hardly a final image he wanted to preserve for the rest of his days. If he could only assure himself that she would be happy . . . .

He'd begun to suspect that many of the streets were beginning to look familiar because Fogg was leading them in circles, the better to confuse their final destination. Darkness had finally fallen by the time they reached a small house on the corner of a common street, yet it was not to the main entrance that Fogg led them, but a side door.

"Is a dispensary," noted Passepartout quietly. "The doctor's patients would be waitings there."

"Not at this time of night." Fogg cast a glance over his shoulder at them. "But we're expected."

He had barely rung the small brass bell that hung from doorframe before the door opened. This doctor was no adherent to Parisian court style as had been Dr. Picot - his sleeves were rolled to his elbows, and an apron hung over his shirtfront and down to his trousers. His hair was blonde, long at the back and slightly unkempt. There was a wary expression in his brown eyes as he nodded once to Fogg, then stepped inside, indicating they join him.

The room was clean, smelling faintly of acid solutions and sulfur. Whitewashed walls, decorated with framed pictures and drawings, gleamed in the faint light of the gas lamps. A tumble of chairs and wooden benches had been pushed to one side of the room, giving it a hollow, empty feel.

The doctor, if that was who he was, studied them carefully. Jules suddenly felt awkward in his less than pristine clothing, especially standing beside the immaculate grandeur of Phileas Fogg, who had removed his hat upon entering.

"I received your message, Monsieur Fogg," said the doctor in a quiet tone. "But I'll admit it confused me. You had agreed, the three of you, there was to be no further contact. If you've come to retrieve the child, I assure you, monsieur, that I will fight you--"

Fogg placed his hand on the doctor's shoulder - the man's face had flushed and he'd obviously spent the last several hours in an agitated state. "We've no intention of taking the child from you." When the doctor glanced again at them in turn, Fogg added, "Let me introduce Monsieur Verne - he's the one who found the child. And my valet, Passepartout."

Jules stepped forward to take the man's hand and saw some recognition of his identity in the doctor's eyes. Instead of a handshake he was drawn into the other man's arms. "God bless you, Monsieur Verne. God bless you for what you have done."

There wasn't much Jules could do but accept the embrace, as dizzying as it was, then struggle to retain his footing as the doctor released him and turned to take Passepartout's hand in greeting with a friendly, "Monsieur."

Fogg lifted his hand near his mouth, but couldn't quite hide the smile caused by Jules' consternation at the sudden effusion of affection from the doctor. "Dr. Picot informed our friend of the part you played in saving the child, Verne."

"Forgive my rudeness, Monsieur Fogg, but after we had discussed what was to be done and then to receive the telegram that said only that you were to arrive this evening?" He glanced over at Fogg, eyes contrite and yet still suspicious. "You appear at my door with two men I have not met. What was I to think?"

"I should beg your pardon most humbly, and do," said Fogg. "It was thoughtless of me. Verne was indisposed when we were last here; his final encounter with the child involved dire circumstances. I thought he might have a chance to see her, one last time?"

Jules took an awkward step forward, the throbbing in his lower legs and knees stilled to insignificance when compared with the insistent, nervous rhythm of the heart in his chest. "Please?" he asked anxiously. "Just to see her. And if not that, to know she's well and happy." Catching the doctor's arm, he added, "Is she all right?"

The question he dared not ask - 'Does she think of me?' - would remain unanswered.

"The wounds of her body have been healing, yes," said the doctor, placing his own hand briefly over the grip Jules had on his arm. "We've been cautious in feeding her - she eats little, but often. My wife has taken to sleeping with her, but she wanders at night. I often find her curled against my back in the morning. She's beginning to understand that we have no intent to strike her. Raymond--Dr. Picot--" he corrected, seeing their lack of recognition of the initial name, "and your friends had warned us of what we might expect. We have not been disappointed in the challenges, or in our small successes. Her laughter is our greatest joy."

"You'll be able to help her?"

Jules started, hearing Fogg's quiet and almost-too-steady voice behind him - he'd been concentrating entirely on the doctor's answer. He looked back to the doctor for confirmation, knowing that there was so much not being said . . . and yet was unable himself to find the words to ask.

The doctor paused, then nodded. "I believe so. We're doing all within our power to give her the happiness she's been so long denied. If there's anyone you might call upon to help Aimee, I ask you to send him to me. I have no professional pride in this matter - only a firm resolve to aid my daughter, in any way I can."

Daughter.

It stunned Jules for a moment - a word of ownership, of belonging. Though he'd wished with all of his heart that someone might use that word to describe Aimee, it could not help but remind him how much in his world had been changed by the events of the last two weeks, how much he had lost.

"Forgive me, gentlemen - you had caught me at my preparations for tomorrow's patients." The doctor lifted his apron from his neck and folded it over his arm, then led them to a door set in the far wall. "This leads to my office and laboratory. There's a window from which you may view the interior of the greenhouse. Aimee has chosen that as her play area - her dolls are kept there now."

"Does she want for anything, doctor?" asked Fogg. Clearing his throat and looking away, he added, "Please forgive me, for the last thing I want is to insult you, but if there's any need--?"

"I would forgive you any insult, Monsieur Fogg, for the debt I owe you in having brought Aimee into our lives. Save for time, care, and love enough - which are in no small supply in this household - she has no needs the income from my practice cannot meet." He hesitated a moment, a shadow in his eyes. "When our daughter, our first daughter, left us, she was but a year or so older than Aimee. My wife couldn't bring herself to part with the child's things. Aimee adopted the collection of dolls immediately." He smiled sadly. "I suppose I must relearn their names all over again."

They followed the doctor across the room. His hand on the doorknob, he hesitated once more. "There will be no lights within, so that we might not be seen from below. I must ask you to be quiet, monsieurs, to speak only in whispers - sound carries from this room so awkwardly sometimes."

"There will be no outbursts," promised Fogg, casting a death-filled glare at both Passepartout and Jules, who nodded their assent to the restriction.

Thus it was in a somber mood they headed up the staircase and to the second floor. The doctor's office was divided between a desk and something akin to a laboratory, which normally would have drawn Jules' immediate attention. He smiled to himself as they passed by the racks of glass piping, catching Passepartout's covetous glance at a piece of equipment. Fogg, undistracted by the promises of science, passed them and was the first to take his place at the window.

"A glass house," Jules whispered, but not too loudly, for neither Passepartout nor Fogg would know what the phrase had meant to Aimee.

The roof of the greenhouse was just beneath them - were they acrobats they could easily have opened the window and stepped out upon it, although Jules would have wagered only Passepartout could have successfully navigated the apex of the steeply sloped roof. The plants within had been trimmed back for the approaching winter and the glass, although tinted, was clear paned and not hand-blown. There were gas lamps within, making it easier to view the silent tableau.

The doctor's wife was pretty, but not uncommonly so, with dark ringlets pulled back from her face. If Jules were pushed to make an opinion or comment, he would have decided that her clothing was not this year's fashion, but perhaps belonging to the year before. It was attractive, at any rate, and suited her. She was kneeling beside a miniature, white-enameled table upon which had been set a child-sized china tea set. Small chairs ranged around the edge - he could count at least seven dolls, some of which were lying on the table itself. Across the table was seated Aimee, diligently pouring tea for her dolls.

She was speaking - he could see her lips moving. Her hair was clean and curled and trimmed. The smock she was wearing actually seemed to fit. Her face was scrubbed and she was smiling, laughing as the doctor's wife reached across the table to tickle her. Dolls were scattered as she scrambled over the other chairs to reach the woman and climb into her lap.

From this distance he couldn't see the detail of the china or hear the child's words, but imagination would fill that in later. This gave him something to build on, something to remember.

"This was a good day for her," said the doctor very softly, from beside Jules. "They have not all been good. They will not all be good. But she's ours now and we'll care for her as best we can."

There were no words for the moment - his throat was blocked and he couldn't speak them. But he grasped the doctor's upper arm and smiled his thanks, hoping that his expression could be seen in the light from the greenhouse below. Wiping his forearm across his eyes, he turned and saw Passepartout also had moved away.

"The littles girl will be happy," he said, in a very quiet voice, as he approached Jules. His eyes, too, were glistening. "She will be very happys."

Only Fogg remained at the window. Perhaps he had greater strength of will than any of them, for Jules knew he could bear to see no more without his heart breaking. He watched as the doctor approached Fogg and touched his arm gently. "Monsieur?"

"I would like," began Fogg, then he paused to clear his throat as he, too, stepped back from the window and turned his full attention on the doctor. "I'll speak with her, before we leave."

"No," said Jules softly, a chill seizing his heart when he saw the determined look on Fogg's face. Using the cane, he all but stumbled in his haste, moving between Fogg and the bewildered doctor. "No. We agreed."

Fogg wouldn't look at him, turning his face back toward the window. "A few words. What harm could they do?"

"No. It's wrong. We can't."

The cane was knocked out of his hand by an unexpected blow - it clattered to the floor and rested there. Jules should have fallen, but that Fogg grabbed the shoulder of his jacket, holding him on his feet. "By what right do you deny me this?" Fogg hissed, glaring at him imperiously, with cold and angry eyes. "There's no reason--"

"We agreed," repeated Jules softly, filled with a sudden, intense anger in the face of Fogg's obstinacy. "Do you think I don't want to go down there to hug her and hear her laugh? That I don't want to say good-bye? How dare you think you have more right than - than any of us!" He pulled his shoulder from beneath Fogg's grasp, managing to stay on his feet well enough without the cane to back up a step. "It's still true, what you told me; we're part of her past, not her future. If what we did, if what happened, is going to mean anything, we have to walk away. We have to walk away."

Jules' voice, although quiet, had echoed to the very rafters of the small room. His anger kept him on his feet, kept him facing Fogg - which he knew any man with half his sanity intact would never have done. His breath came in gasps, as if he'd run a mile. And still he would have struck Fogg if the man had taken a step toward the window again.

Fogg was watching him with careful eyes, as if gauging his resolve. The moment of cold anger had gone, replaced with even colder civility. "Passepartout, if you'd be so kind as to give that parcel to the doctor. It's for the child. A parting gift - money to be set aside for her dowry . . . and a d-doll."

There was the crackle of paper wrapping as Passepartout handed over the parcel. Jules stood immobile, less afraid to move than unable to move, for the anger hadn't completely left him. Fogg continued to watch his eyes, but said nothing.

"Who shall I saw it's from, Monsieur?" asked the doctor, his own voice indicating this episode had shaken him.

"Say only that it's a gift from a friend - that will suffice. No--" Fogg continued to stare at Jules, hadn't looked away, hadn't blinked. "I gather the child asks after Verne - Jules?"

His heart stopped, waiting for the answer from the doctor.

"Yes. Often. But Monsieur--?"

"You will tell her--" Fogg hesitated, a faint smile on his lips, "You will tell her that Jules had to go away, far away. But that he's sent this doll to her, to replace the one that was lost."

It was taking more of his will to simply stand in place. Jules couldn't let this happen. Better that she not remember, better that she forget them all.

Better that she forget him.

"Fogg--don't--"

Even he could hear the half-hearted note in his own protest.

"If she remembers something of this," said Fogg softly, "better that it be you." He raised his voice, saying, "Would you have any objections to that, doctor?"

"If that's your wish."

"I don't think it should be otherwise."

And then Passepartout's voice, from behind them, "Master? If we are to be leavings--?"

"Yes. Quite." Only then did Fogg look past Jules again, toward the doctor. "I'm sorry, doctor, for having inconvenienced you and your family - my regards to your lovely wife. You must know that we're grateful, will always be grateful, for what you've done for the child. Rest assured that unless you ask for our help - which will be given at any time, under any circumstances - you will never see or hear from us again."

"I think," said the doctor nervously, "that would be best."

"Indeed." Fogg cleared his throat, adding, "Gentlemen, we've overstayed our welcome. Verne, Passepartout?"

Jules very much felt like collapsing to the floor - without that anger to sustain him, he was almost afraid to move. Fogg retrieved the cane and pressed it into his hand, then caught hold of his arm with such a supportive grip that Jules guessed it might have taken some amount of explosive to wrest himself free of it.

"Can you manage the stairs?" asked Fogg, as Passepartout and the doctor were arranging a light for the lantern.

"Yes." Jules wasn't as certain as he sounded, not with his knees shaking and his weight all but resting on the cane and Fogg's arm, but he wasn't about to let Fogg know that. Taking the steps slowly, he managed better than even he had expected. There was only the space across the room and to the door to be traveled, and then he rested against the portico railing as Fogg shook hands with the doctor.

The young doctor turned to Jules, clasping his shoulder with a firm grip. "Never worry for her welfare," he promised. "She'll be much loved."

After the door had closed, only Passepartout's lantern seemed to shed any light; dark clouds skidding over the moon obscured what little starlight should have been visible. The route back to the Aurora was less circuitous this time, shorter by at least three-quarters of an hour, and still it was a difficult journey for Jules. There was silence among them and not such a comfortable silence, either. It didn't seem entirely wrong to accept Passepartout's help as he entered the cabin, or to collapse on the chaise lounge without even removing his coat.

Phileas, of course, doffed his hat, cane, and gloves, those going to Passepartout immediately. His jacket followed so that he was in his shirtsleeves. Jules lay flat on his back with his feet on the lounge, too weary to feel guilty about the mud from his boots scraping off on the cushions. He didn't much care what Fogg was doing and stared up at the ceiling of the salon, listening to the clink of crystal - the decanter - and liquid being poured.

The memory of the look in Fogg's eye, that anger aching for release, sent a chill through him. He couldn't quite believe it - he'd stood up to Fogg, and survived. Not only that, he'd stood up to Fogg . . . and won.

And then Fogg was standing over him, a glass of . . . something in his hand. "This will help."

"For medicinal use, only?" Jules asked, then winced at the sharpness of his own words. Swinging his legs from the couch and to the floor, he took the offered glass and looked up. "I'm sorry. That was rude."

Fogg cleared his throat and lifted his own glass toward the light as if inspecting the contents. "But not entirely undeserved. I owe you an apology."

"No, you don't--"

"Yes, I do," said Fogg sharply, seating himself in the chair he'd given to Jules earlier. "You forgive too easily, Verne."

The liquor was sharp, burning as it went down his throat. "Another--" he coughed at the sudden fire in his chest, "another flaw in my character."

"Hardly. If anything, I've found your character insufficiently flawed."

Jules considered the comment for a moment, staring at the brown liquid - what was it, scotch? - and wondered whether he should take the words as a compliment or a condemnation of his youth. He took another sip of the stuff and found it went down easier the second time, particularly if he didn't try to breathe immediately after drinking. "You weren't thinking."

"I struck a cane from your hand."

"You were upset."

Fogg swallowed the remains of his own liquor, slammed the glass on the table and stood up. "Damn you, man! At least allow me to apologize. Stop making excuses for me."

Jules blinked, then set his own glass down on the table very carefully - the scotch was going straight to his head. "All right - I accept your apology for knocking the cane out of my hand. And for grabbing my jacket. And for shouting at me." Considering the glass again, he picked it up, took another sip, and decided that he might not want to be entirely conscious at that. "Is that all?"

"No. I need to apologize for dragging you here under a false pretext."

Jules nearly dropped the glass to the table in surprise; the fumes that had been making him light-headed suddenly seeming to disappear. "You wanted to give me a chance to see Aimee one last time?"

Fogg had begun to pace. "Yes, of course."

"But . . . there was another reason." It would have been easy to have by-passed Paris completely and gone directly from London to Dijon. Why make the stop, why take the chance of letting one more person, particularly one who couldn't lie worth a damn, in on a secret trip which would only anger Rebecca?

It was starting to make sense.

"You wanted me with you when you went to see Aimee," announced Jules, staring at the liquid in his glass again as he puzzled out the problem. Startled, he stared up at Fogg, speaking his thoughts aloud. "You didn't trust yourself to adhere to the rules you'd set down. You wanted me . . . to stop you?" It was enough of a shock to cause him to upend the whiskey down his throat, swallowing the fiery stuff before squeaking, "You thought I could stop you?"

"A slight correction - I knew you could." With a sigh, Fogg retrieved the decanter and set it on the table after calmly pouring another scotch for each of them. "Passepartout would have tried to cajole me from the mistake - it wouldn't have worked in that situation. Rebecca, of course, would have cheerfully knocked me into next midweek . . . and may yet, if she ever gets wind of this." Fogg sipped at the second scotch, the glass finally resting in his cupped hands. "But you," he pointed toward Jules, "would likely try to talk me around out of common sense, which might have succeeded. The one thing I hadn't expected from you was that surge of righteous anger. Never underestimate a man fueled by righteous anger, Verne - he's a dangerous opponent."

Jules looked down at the second glass in front of him. It might have been the scotch, but he found himself smiling at the comment. Dangerous? Him? It was so utterly absurd.

As absurd as the normally unflappable Phileas Fogg striking a cane from the hand of an injured man?

"I'll accept your apology," Jules said, pushing away the second glass, "if you'll tell me why."

Fogg raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Why you became so attached to Aimee." He leaned forward, hands clasped together on his knees, and stared at his fingertips. "Aimee reminded me of my sisters. Rebecca - well, she's a woman and with women . . . it's obvious."

"You underestimate Rebecca," Fogg warned softly.

He dismissed the comment with a wave, having warmed to his subject. "Passepartout has such a sense of fun that he's like a child himself sometimes. But you--" He stared at Fogg for a long moment, then shook his head. "I was certain you'd want nothing to do with her, and I was wrong," he admitted quickly, seeing Fogg's brow furrow. "Then I was certain it was because of what had been done to her, that you were angered that 'gentlemen,' men of standing and property, could do something like that to a child. I still think that's part of the answer, but I can't figure out the rest of it. I can't figure out why."

Silence fell between them. Jules watched as Fogg turned his head, staring across the room as if considering the matter. He suspected that he'd pushed too hard and that he wasn't going to receive any answer, for Phileas Fogg could be a very private man.

Then Fogg leaned forward and pushed the second glass of scotch back toward Jules. "Drink."

He hesitated, then picked up the glass and weighed it in his hand. Whether Fogg was trying to get him drunk to avoid answering the question or had realized that his questions were an attempt to distract himself from the throbbing pain in his legs, he couldn't say. In any case, the drink seemed to be required before he was going to get any type of an answer, so--

It burned, much as the first one had, but there was less unpleasantness about it. Finishing, he turned his head and coughed violently for a second or two, then placed the empty glass upside down on the table.

"Your--" another cough, "--turn."

Fogg did him one better, tossing the liquid down the back of his throat as if it were water. Jules was not at all surprised to see the man completely unfazed by the action. Then Fogg folded his hands elegantly upon his knee and fixed Jules with an unwavering gaze. "You said that you have three sisters and a brother, all younger?"

"Fogg, it's not fair to answer - to answer a question - with a question." Damn Scotch.

"Answer - three sisters and a brother?"

"Well . . . yes," he managed, without tripping over his tongue too badly.

"And that was all?"

Remembering how full the household could seem when they might be home on holiday, Jules found the question didn't make sense. "All? That was more than enough! How could there be more?"

It was his friend's serious demeanor that sobered him and the softly echoed question, "Indeed, how could there be more?" before Fogg rose and walked away, toward the observation window.

How could there be more? Families were extended when many generations and branches gathered beneath one roof - that would increase the number of children. Then there were the distant relations that were acquired from misfortune. Rebecca had mentioned something of having grown up at Shillingworth Magna as a ward of Fogg's father, Sir Boniface, which led him to believe that her immediate family might have perished in an accident or illness. He didn't know how old she'd been at the time, but now wondered how that must have been for her. Death was so difficult for children to--

Death.

Children.

It was so common. He'd never thought about it because his family was among the lucky ones - all of the children born had survived infancy. There'd never been a need in his immediate family for a tiny coffin, a small crypt or headstone . . . yet he'd seen so many in other families as he'd grown and never given a thought to them.

Until now.

If time had passed, he wasn't aware of it. Jules found himself slipping down the seat of the lounge. He looked up and saw Fogg standing over him with a faint, rueful smile.

"I didn't . . . know." It was embarrassing - two scotches and he was almost incoherent. If Jules closed his eyes and thought hard, he couldn't remember having seen the first being poured. Had Fogg given him something? Or was he just tired, so tired, from all he'd accomplished today?

Perhaps he'd spoken aloud, for Fogg answered, "You'll be doing far more tomorrow, once Rebecca decides you're fit enough to go hiking."

He fought to open his eyes; his legs were lifted to the chaise lounge and then a blanket was thrown over him. The jets in the gas lamps were lowered and the room seemed to blur like a watercolor left in the rain.

Passepartout's voice, "--Miss Rebecca is being angry--to be so ill and drinking--"

"It dulls the ache," answered Fogg's voice. "Or so I've found."

The words echoed in his brain, even as a pillow was placed beneath his head and his boots were removed. To dull the ache--the ache in his knees, the ache of saying a final farewell to Aimee, the ache of never having known a sister who might have lived a few short hours or days or years. Too much aching for a human heart to bear and yet they all did bear it in their own fashion.

It was the 'how' that interested him. That's where he would find the true worth of adventure - not in his visions, or in the danger, but in his friendships. It was through these friendships that he'd learn to understand the complexities of the human mind and the human heart.

It was through these friendships that he'd learn to write about them.

Jules opened his eyes and tried to say as much to the blurry room, but as hard as he fought, the words came out garbled.

Fogg, whiskey glass in hand and seated in a chair not so far to his right, said simply, "Go to sleep, Verne."

He did, and was free from the tyrannies the visions imposed upon his mind and body . . . at least for one more night of blessed, restful slumber.

****

End of Chapter Thirteen

****

End of the story.

There's nothing to see here. You may all return to your homes. And remember to put out the torches, please.

Thank you.