MAURICE

- Chapter Five -
"All ye need to know"
(Keats)


Aboard the =Aurora=, Maurice sat on a chair and cringed a little under the combined scrutiny of Verne, Passepartout, and the Foggs.

"You were protecting him, then," Rebecca said, wonderingly. Fogg shot a dark glance towards the far side of the room, where the two men Rebecca had knocked out as she descended from the =Aurora= via the scale lay bound and gagged. Maurice followed his gaze and nodded.

"They were about to kill him, Miss Fogg," he said, "probably by pushing him into the traffic, making it look like an accident, you know... An unfortunate push from an innocent pedestrian in the busy street. Or maybe simply faking a mugging. I had no way of knowing. I just knew I had to take Jules... I mean, Monsieur Verne, out of the street."

"You were not very delicate about it," Jules said, rubbing his neck.

"And I'm very sorry, but I wasn't sure that you would react fast enough. They were very close and you do tend to not pay attention to your surroundings."

Jules harrumphed to hide his embarrassment at this. Rebecca's mouth curled upwards in her swift, lopsided smile.

"And you decided to adopt the guise of a valet," she said, "so that you'd have an excuse to be near him at all times."

"Yes. I considered that the University was safe, but all the other times I wanted to be close, or at least close enough." He turned to Jules. "I followed you the first day, when you returned from your classes. I left you as soon as you were close enough to the garret."

"But you cleaned the whole place, and prepared dinner, and everything."

"Ah, well..." Maurice blushed. "Not really. I paid a woman I know to do all that and leave before you returned. She works in a little hotel I used to frequent. She's a very good cook, while I'm a terrible one," he added, with his shy smile.

Jules had been following his own train of thought.

"And you're not Belgian!" he said, accusingly. For some reason this seemed to hurt Maurice.

"Er, no. Sorry. But my mother is. She's from Knokke. I tried to tell as few lies as possible."

"That was very wise of you," Rebecca assured Maurice, and the young agent relaxed a little. "A good strategy for any under-cover agent."

"And when we went to the café..." Jules said, going methodically over his time with the faux-valet.

"If you hadn't asked me to go with you, I would have followed you," Maurice explained. He seemed eager to make all the facts clear to the Foggs, who still looked a bit suspicious. "We knew the kind of thugs that the double agent..."

"Fitzgerald?" Rebecca interjected. Maurice looked at her in surprise.

"Yes. We knew the kind of men he liked to hire. The kind of people that would act under the cover of a crowd: a quick stabbing, a push under a cart... I had a hard time turning you away from crowds, Jules."

"That's why you made me follow you into the alley the first evening," the writer said, in a voice of slow realization.

"Yes, and I nearly had a heart attack when I heard a noise. I thought it was them. But it was only that damned cat, and immediately after your friend Felix appeared and I was this close to putting a bullet through his head. I'm afraid that I rushed him a bit when I took him to his house afterwards. I'm not even sure I left him in =his= house, but anyway, I hurried back after you as fast as I could. That's when you were in the most danger; I was frightfully anxious."

"And you kept guard all night," Jules said, softly, remembering Maurice's puffed eyes in the morning, his rumpled shirt.

"Of course. I couldn't be sure they wouldn't try to get to you at night."

"And next morning... you didn't have to go to the Post Office, right?"

"Not exactly, but after leaving you safely at the University I ran to contact my superiors and report to them. Then I posted myself at the exit to wait for you. I had half a mind to meet you when I saw you leave, but I thought you might begin to suspect a valet that never was more than two paces away, and so I decided to follow you from a distance."

"And we saw you from the =Aurora=," Rebecca said. "We thought =you= were Jules's assassin."

"I can't blame you for that, Miss Fogg. It must have looked pretty suspicious from your point of view. Unfortunately, I saw the assassins at that moment - I recognized one of them - and the only thing I could think of was to get Jules away from the street as soon as possible. So I ran through the alleys and, well... grabbed him."

"Which you must admit that, to the casual observer, seemed more than a bit suspicious," Fogg said. He hadn't said much so far, and Maurice tended not to look at him too much.

"I'm very sorry, Mister Fogg. It was dark in the alley, and I was quite on edge, I thought you were one of them..."

"You gave me a good one in the ribs, too," Fogg said, gingerly feeling the sore spot that, first the =Aurora=, and then Maurice, had used as a punching bag. Maurice swallowed, hard.

"I'm - I'm so very sorry, sir. I mean, had I known it was =Phileas Fogg=, I'd never had..."

"Forget it," Phileas said, smiling unexpectedly and giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "You have damned good fists, man. And a good technique, too."

"Well, I can't say that you are a delicate damsel yourself, Mister Fogg," Maurice said, touching his face where Fogg's fist had left a bruise that was already turning purple. The young man seemed torn between the shame of hitting one of the Service's legends, and the pride of receiving praise from said legend. Rebecca rescued him.

"Well, it seems that you had the situation well in hand," she said, "and that our very interesting little trip to get here in time wasn't needed after all. For which I'm quite glad, all things considered."

Verne looked around at the obvious signs of recent violence aboard the =Aurora=, as well as the exhausted faces of his friends. Even Fogg, although as neat and cat-like as ever in his elegant dark suit, seemed a bit hunched over, and his pallor suggested some physical lingering pain as well as weariness. He frowned and made a mental note to ask Rebecca later about this "very interesting little trip."

"I wouldn't say so, Miss Fogg," Maurice was saying, frowning. "I could never had nailed those men as you did. My plan consisted merely of running away."

"And a damned good plan it was, too, but I'm very glad you didn't have to resort to it," Rebecca said, giving him a smile that turned the young man's face to bright scarlet.

"But why were you inventing the valet story, Maurice?" Passepartout asked. "Is it not being so strange a story to invent?"

"I thought it had a good chance, considering Jules... I mean, the nature of Monsieur Verne's relationship with the Foggs."

"An eccentric, but useful gift from an anonymous gentleman, mmh?" Rebecca said, eyes alight with mischief. "I think it was brilliant. What do you think, Phileas?"

"I would =never= resort to such a ridiculously contrived scheme, Rebecca," Phileas said, jerking his chin up and sniffing. "Of course, it would be in Verne's nature, as a writer, to fall for such a far-fetched and unlikely story."

"He thinks it was brilliant too," Rebecca said, stifling a laugh. "Well, Maurice, all I can say is that I'm damned glad you were there. Good job."

"Yes, that's the other thing," Jules said suddenly. "=Why= were you here? I mean, Rebecca discovered the plot to kill me when she deciphered those documents, but how did =you= know?"

Maurice blinked, "Well, isn't it obvious? Chatsworth sent me. Sir Jonathan Chatsworth, I should say."

There was a brief silence.

"Chatsworth," Phileas said, flatly.

"Chatsworth?" Rebecca exclaimed, with unflattering incredulity.

"Yes. He found out who the double agent was three days ago, and after the interrogation he called me to his office and gave me specific instructions to get to Paris as soon as I could and protect Monsieur Verne with my life. I have the dossier here; my instructions were to keep it with me at all times. It's very thorough."

"Well, well," Rebecca said, leafing through the dossier that Maurice gave her. "Who would have thought, eh, Phileas?"

"Chatsworth," Phileas said, in a still slightly shocked voice, "I'll be damned."

"Apparently he managed to see beyond the end of his own nose without my help," Rebecca said, tartly, but Phileas refused to be ruffled.

"I'm heartily glad that the only flash of genius Chatsworth's ever displayed was on your behalf, Verne," he said, and turning to Maurice he added, "and may I also say, glad that he happened to choose an excellent man for the assignment."

Maurice turned beet red this time, and coughed, and played with his lapels, and did all he could to avoid showing his embarrassment. When he looked up, he found the beaming face of Jules smiling at him.

"And may I add my thanks for saving my life, Maurice," he said, shaking his hand warmly. "If you're half as good an agent as you are a valet, the Service has quite an asset in you."

"Well, sir," Maurice said, his smile running from ear to ear, "I like to think that I do my job =properly=."



The End

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