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The Ballpoint Pimpernel

Chapter 5

Abigail hobbled down the hallway in the guise of a cleaning lady, heading for room 117. Jim Simpson's room.

She knocked on the door loudly, announcing her entrance.

"Housing," she said in a rough voice, not even pausing to wait for a reply before going in. Students that didn't study hard enough didn't deserve to have privacy rights. The young man sat hunched over his desk, his face not visible.

She worked for a little while, sweeping up and dumping the dust into the large garbage can on her cart. That can would be Jim's salvation, if he would only follow directions. Finally she approached the sitting figure at the desk, who appeared to be asleep. He hadn't moved, anyway.

"Hush," she said as she touched his shoulder. "Just get in the garbage can and don't make a sound, and I can get you out of here."

The young man didn't say a word, but simply turned to face her, a triumphant smile on his face. It was not Jim Simpson. Abigail felt her heart stop as she found herself looking at the face of Monsieur Chambertin.

"Oh--sir--I didn't expect to see you here--I was just sweeping up, sir, as you said . . ." she stammered in the cleaning woman's voice, trying to think up some way to get out of there. Chambertin, obviously, was not fooled.

"You can stop the charade right now, my dear Ballpoint Pimpernel. I've found you, you see," he practically crowed. "Now, let's see who you really are." He removed her wig and hat, and Abigail, helpless, let him. He let out a cry of mock disdain as he recognized her face.

"Miss Grayson, shouldn't you be studying?"

Abigail smiled. She may have been "up a creek without a paddle," as Southerners might say, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to enjoy the ride while it lasted!

"How thoughtful of you to remind me, Monsieur Cha--Cha--Chauvelin? Really, I might have wasted much valuable time here, fooling around with costumes and such, had you not been kind enough to intervene." She delighted in watching Chambertin's jaw tighten.

"You know my name, Miss Grayson. It is Chambertin. Chauvelin was my distant ancestor's name, before English influence corrupted it. You are quite clever, aren't you? Yet you still fell into my trap."

"And you are clever as well. Almost as clever as that ancestor you were talking about. As I recall, he spent the days of the Terror in relentless pursuit of *my* ancestor. But he never caught him for good, did he? Never saw my ancestor's British head fall beneath the blade of your precious guillotine?"

Chambertin nearly choked on his own tongue, and Abigail knew she had caught him completely off-guard. Which is what she had wanted to do.

"Your--your ancestor?" he managed to stammer out. "You mean that--"

"Yes, my dear Monsieur Chauvelin."

"Chambertin," he said through clenched teeth.

"Beg pardon, Cha-Chambertin. You see, just as the relentless French agent Chauvelin was your ancestor, the brave British aristocrat Sir Percy Blakeney, the famed Scarlet Pimpernel that he could never quite catch, was mine. Ironic, is it not? And yet appropriate as well."

For a moment, Chambertin looked as if he might collapse. Abigail saw her chance. She quickly wheeled the cart out of the room, slamming the door behind her so it would lock. Chambertin had a key, of course, but it would slow him down a bit in following her. Abandoning the cleaning cart in the hall, she left the building by the nearest door and ran. Seeing a path to her left, she took it, and before Chambertin could follow her down it, she dived into a thickness of bushes on her right. There, she waited, not making even the slightest sound.

Chambertin ran right past Abigail's hiding place before coming to a complete halt halfway down the path. He had lost her. Ah well, no matter; he knew who the Ballpoint Pimpernel was now. It would be a small matter to have her seized, and then . . . He smiled maliciously at the thought and calmly, quite calmly, walked back into the "school."

Abigail stayed in the bushes, eyes fixed on Chambertin. Oh, this was not good, not good at all . . .

"Abigail?" a voice close to her ear whispered. "Where's our Jim Simpson?"

Startled, Abigail turned sharply to face the voice.

"Oh, Michele . . . I'm afraid there was no Jim Simpson. If he ever existed, he's far away from here by now. The man I met in there was none other than our friend Chambertin."

Michele couldn't mask the fear in her voice as easily as Abigail could. She gasped, horrified.

"Uh oh."

"Uh oh is right."

"But at least you escaped. At least you're safe."

Abigail sighed, looking Michele in the eyes, willing her to stay calm and rational. "I'm afraid I'm not as safe as you think. In fact, this whole operation just got a lot more dangerous for us all."

Michele lowered her eyebrows in confusion. "What are you talking about, Abigail?"

Abigail shifted her eyes to the building Chambertin had just disappeared into.

"He knows who I am."

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