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An SAJV tale by Adela / Daurmith

- Primus -
Libera Animas Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum

"Jackass, woodenhead, snollygoster," muttered Rebecca under her breath, as she walked at a very unladylike pace through the streets of London. "Windbag, yellowdog, whippersnapper. Imbecile." People on the streets fled from her rage as she strode towards Saville Row, still muttering the best from her not inconsiderable repertory of insults. It was a good thing that she never crossed any suspicious character, or he would have looked suspicious for a very short time before looking directly unconscious. The piece of paper she held crumpled in her hand seemed to smoke.

The flow of invectives had started the moment she closed the door to Chatsworth's office on her way out. The pasty, pompous face of her chief was still in her mind, his words only too vivid. "It's a delicate matter, Miss Fogg," had been his first, hesitant words. She sat and waited. Chatsworth would get to the point, if given enough time and a few unsubtle hints.

"Would it have something to do with that telegram you have there, Sir Jonathan?"

"What telegr... Oh." Chatsworth looked at the piece of paper that he had been fondling for the last five minutes. "Oh. Ahm. Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, it does. It's - Well, it's a rather delicate matter, Miss Fogg."

"What is, Sir Jonathan?" Rebecca fought hard to keep her voice polite and interested.

"The, well, the, ah... This matter, yes. It's from Brideshaw. It's been decoded, of course. The telegram, not Brideshaw. Reliable man, Brideshaw. You don't know him, but he's been with us a long time."

"I've read some of his reports," Rebecca offered, wanting him to move on.

"Yes. This is, um. Awkward. The information here concerns your family, you see. So, I would leave to you the decision whether to tell your cousin or not. It is not, well, it is not a highly classified matter. Or you can also keep the information to yourself, as you choose. As I said, it is entirely up to you. I would hate to deprive you of the responsibility."

Chatsworth held the telegram at arm's length, still out of Rebecca's reach, not quite offering it to her. Finally she got fed up, rose from her chair, and took the slip of paper from the pudgy fingers. Chatsworth surrendered it with a weak "It is a family matter, really," and she read it.

Five seconds later, without looking up, she crumpled the telegram in her hand, murmured "I see. Thank you, Sir Jonathan," and exited the office, very pale.

Her anger lasted her most of the walk. Then she turned the corner and saw the clean, empty street, and the elegant yet sober door of her cousin Phileas's house. All the anger ebbed from her as blood from a wound, and she stood there stupidly, her face slackening in sudden sorrow. Chatsworth had weaseled out if this one, the toady twit. It was up to her. Should she tell Phileas? She smoothed out the paper, now warm and damp from her hand's sweat. But the words were still there, clear and blunt:


* * * * *

"Miss Rebecca, what a pleasure to be seeing you! Come in, come in!"

"Thank you, Passepartout." Rebecca bought a few precious instants while she allowed Passepartout to get her coat and gloves. "Is Phileas in?"

"Mister Fogg is being in the study, Miss," Passepartout said, suddenly formal. "Will I announce you?"

"Not yet. Tell me, how is he?" Although the French valet had been in Phileas's service for less than a month, his utterly idiosyncratic approach both to service and to the English language had appealed enormously to Rebecca, who found it very easy to talk to him. However improper the question might have been if addressed to any normal valet, it fell squarely into the boundaries of the unorthodox camaraderie established between the cheerful Frenchman and the female agent.

Passepartout hesitated for an instant and Rebecca felt her throat constrict. The crumpled telegram burned her hand.

"He's being mostly well, Miss," he said at last. "Going away and gaming, and then coming back to drinking and not to sleeping. But he is with an interest in the =Aurora=, and we gone for a trip to France last week. He liked that."

=This is absurd=, Rebecca told herself. =Phileas is a grown man. Granted, he lost his father not two months ago, but even then, here we are, talking about him behind his back as if he were an invalid.=

"Now that you are here, perhaps I can make him have food with you together, yes?" Passepartout said, hopefully.

"I - I don't know, Passepartout. Maybe I should come back later. I mean, tomorrow." =Coward=. "I don't - I really don't want to disturb him."

"Not disturbing, you are not never disturbing, Miss Rebecca! Come, come, let me make the cup of tea and you go to the study and I bring pasties. He will be glad to see you."

=Would he.= "Very well, Passepartout. Thank you." She surrendered, and went to the studio with lead on her feet. How could she tell him?

How could she not?

* * * * *

"Rebecca." Phileas rose from his armchair in one fluid movement and came to greet her with a warm, genuine smile on his face. He was immaculately dressed in a beautiful smoking jacket. The blinding whiteness of his shirt glowed faintly in the dimly lit room. "It's so nice to see you. Sit down, please. Passepartout!"

"Yes, Master?"

"Would you bring us a pot of Earl Grey?"

"The water is being boiling already, Master, and I will bring the good pasties."

"Thank you."

They sat down.

"You know, I'm becoming quite fond of Passepartout," Phileas said in a light tone, when the silence grew awkward. "I don't quite know why. He has no idea of proper service, his English is appalling, and his inventions would exhaust the patience of Job himself. But he seems to come attached to the =Aurora=, and I confess I am in love with that ship. You should come for our next trip."

"Oh? Where are you going?" Rebecca managed not to sound like a hoarse frog, and even produced a small smile.

"Oh, I don't know. Africa. Or Turkey. I haven't quite decided yet."

Tea arrived, almost hidden behind a plate full of seed cakes and toasted crumpets. Passepartout served it with a maximum of fuss but a minimum of spills and, after hovering indecisively for a few seconds around the table, he left. Rebecca guessed he would not go far. Behind the barrier of the china cup, she studied her cousin.

The death of his father, Sir Boniface, had been a blow more for England than for Phileas. As Head of the British Secret Service, Sir Boniface had left a huge hole at the top that Chatsworth had absolutely no hope of filling. Rebecca, the first female field agent in the Service, had to get used to the new chief, and was having a moderate success. Since Phileas had resigned last winter - shortly after the disastrous mission in East Prussia that had cost his brother Erasmus his life - he didn't have that problem.

Phileas had been one of the most brilliant agents the Service had seen, but after Erasmus's death, he'd seemed to crumble into a silent heap of despair. He'd gone much further than merely resigning from the Service; he'd cut any contact with his father, adopting the manners and appearance of a high-class fop: no more than a rich, superficial dilettante with a taste for heavy gambling and heavy drinking.

Shortly after Sir Boniface's funeral, however, Phileas had played a most peculiar game of poker that had left him the sole possessor of the =Aurora=, a beautiful dirigible, and Passepartout, her navigator, who had also taken the duties of a valet. The bizarre turn of events had left Phileas somewhat off-balance; recently he appeared to have almost forgotten his black moods and was taking a small, but increasing, interest in life again.

Given this state of things, Rebecca had absolutely no idea about how he would react to the news she was bringing.

"Very well," Phileas said, and Rebecca started and spilled half her tea. "Will you tell me what is it, or will I have to guess?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"You have hardly said two words since you arrived, cousin. And, forgive me, but you look quite pale. Is there any way in which I can be of service?"

"Phileas, I..." Phileas's gaze fell on her fist, still holding the telegram, and then on her face. He waited, no longer smiling. She could still make an excuse and leave, go to Prussia alone. But he needed to know. And she needed him to know. Even if the knowledge brought back the gaunt, empty-eyed shell into which her cousin had retreated after Erasmus's death.

"We've received this," she whispered, and handed him the crumpled paper. He took it with a raised eyebrow, glanced at it, and then his face closed up in a totally blank mask, devoid of all expression. She waited, afraid of his reaction, terrified of getting none.

"Passepartout." He called softly, getting up. The valet appeared in a second, and his face changed when he perceived the mood in the room.


"Prepare the =Aurora=. I wish to leave for Prussia as soon as possible."

"Yes, Master."

"=We= wish to leave," said Rebecca, also getting up. The course of action was laid and she had no more doubts. "I just need to fetch some things for the trip."

Phileas didn't acknowledge her words in any way. As soon as Passepartout left, he walked out of the room in silence and disappeared upstairs.

Rebecca sat alone in the room and tore the telegram in many little pieces.

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End of Chapter One