The Ballpoint Pimpernel
As Chambertin stepped inside the door, eager to rid himself of Miss Abigail Grayson as soon as possible, he was met by a man with a letter.
"A message for you, sir," the man said abruptly, "from the main campus." If Chambertin had been as astute at that moment as he usually was, he might have noticed the way the man nearly spit out the word "sir," almost in disgust, and been warned. But he was too overjoyed at the imminent disappearance of the thorn that had been in his side these past months to be overly observant. After all the failures, the embarrassments . . . Chambertin mechanically took the letter.
"Thank you." The man turned to go. Chambertin opened the letter quietly and read.
*Chambertin, I am disappointed. You've been tracking down this
Ballpoint Pimpernel for months, and have yet to give me anything
useful as to his identity. I thought surely even you could
have come up with something by now. I certainly hope your successor
isn't as much of a failure as you are. In short, you're fired.
Don't bother picking up your check--I'll have it sent to your
residence, along with a couple of men to escort you to incarceration
in that school you speak so highly of. You have been a miserable
failure and an annoyance, and I'm glad to finally be rid of you and
your terrible accent. Your former employer, Dean Hopson
This time Chambertin did collapse, right there in the front hall of the Honors Reform School.
When he woke, he was sitting in a chair facing eight students, obviously in a dorm room. He was confused (and disoriented besides) until he saw Abigail Grayson in the back of the group. He jumped up--or tried to, before he realized he was bound hand and foot, firmly, to his chair.
"Yes, that's right, Monsieur Chauvelin," Abigail said. She wondered a bit at why he showed no reaction tot he misuse of his name, but continued, anyway. "You see, we didn't want you to leave our little party too early. Why, we haven't even had the introductions yet. Allow me to introduce to you the members of our humble little League. This is Michele, David, Jenny, Stephanie, John, Matt, and Patricia."
"It just doesn't seem to be my day," Chambertin remarked gloomily, but calmly.
"What do you mean?" Michele asked, moving a bit closer to him unconsciously.
"First I find out that the cursed Blakeney line, which I had thought to be mercifully dead, is not dead at all, but very much alive and represented in the form of my greatest enemy. You would not understand what this means if you hadn't grown up like I have. I was taught from childhood to fear them, to be cautious of anyone with Blakeney blood in them, and to hate them. And when your enemy is of Blakeney descent, it's even worse; that line must carry some gene of ingenuity and elusiveness in it. And if that wasn't bad enough, I get fired from my job at the very moment that I finally accomplish my purpose, with a practical death warrant placed on my head. My life is in danger even now, being on campus like this; the ROTC is ordered to shoot me on sight. But I'm sure you could care less about my life. You can do with me what you like; it doesn't matter anymore."
Michele looked over at Abigail. Abigail was looking at Chambertin with cold hatred in her eyes. Michele, though, knew that he wasn't as evil as Abigail had always believed. She pulled Abigail aside to talk.
"Abigail, I think we should help him."
"Help him? Help my hereditary enemy? You must be kidding!"
"No, I'm not. Abigail, you've been blinded by your hatred and prejudice. You see nothing in him but a line of ancestors who have warred against your family. I see a man who can and is willing to be reformed. Let me at least try."
Abigail hesitated. "All right. Talk to him, if you want. But I wouldn't be surprised if he laughed in your face."
Michele smiled reassuringly, then once again approached Chambertin's chair. Chambertin was staring off into space, wondering what would happen to him. He hadn't even noticed Michele and Abigail's whispered conversation.
"How old are you, monsieur?" Michele asked him politely. Slowly, Chambertin turned his gaze to her in surprise and wonder. The last thing he had expected from these students was respect . . .
"Twenty-three. I--I never even went to college. My mother got me this job right after I got out of high school . . . she said it promised a good future."
"Where does your mother live now?"
Chambertin faltered. "She--she died three years ago. I have no family, nowhere to go. I can't even go back to my apartment--it's being watched." Michele looked at Abigail. She had quite a different look on her face now, softer--was it pity? Understanding, perhaps? Slowly Abigail nodded, and Michele smiled her thanks.
"Then, Monsieur Chambertin," she continued, "I have a proposal to make. We can help you stay here, on campus, with no danger to your life--but only if you want to be helped, and if you promise not to betray us."
"You want to--to help me? Why?"
"Because you need help, and because you don't seem to be a bad sort. Misguided, perhaps, but definitely not evil. So what do you think? Will you accept our help--and our conditions?"
Chambertin thought for a while, considering whether or not this was some sort of trap. *But why would they set a trap for me?* he finally reasoned. *They've already captured me . . . why would they go to any more trouble?* He took the risk.
"Okay. But I don't see how . . ."
"Simple," Michele interrupted. "We'll make you a student."
The rest of the League, who had been speechless up until now at Michele's behavior, suddenly found their voices.
"A student? Are you sure?" Patricia exclaimed.
"Will that work?" asked David.
"Of course it will. The ROTC won't be looking for him among the students. I doubt if they even know what he looks like; Hopson was probably just making empty threats, as usual. And he's young enough to be a student."
"I still don't trust him," John said suspiciously. Michele sighed.
"John, you don't trust anybody. I think he's trustworthy--we can at least give him a chance."
"But won't a student named Chambertin arouse suspicion?" Jenny asked.
"So we'll change his name. Chambertin, what's your first name?"
"Alain," he answered, confused. "But nobody ever calls me Alain."
"All the better. Nobody will suspect it. From now on, you're Alain. Now, for a last name . . ."
"Alain?" Abigail called. Everyone turned to stare at her in surprise; she had referred to her "enemy" by his first name. As if he were already one of them. "Does anybody here except you and I know the specifics of your family background?"
Alain was taken aback that she was speaking to him in friendship and even with a measure of respect. But he still could hear a tone in her voice that said she didn't yet trust him fully.
"No, Miss Grayson."
Abigail smiled almost warmly at him. "Call me Abigail now, Alain, please."
Alain smiled back. "Abigail. No, you and I are the only ones who know about--that."
"Then may I suggest, as a last name . . . Chauvelin? It fits well with your first name, don't you think?" She grinned slyly at Alain, and he gave her a grateful look. The animosity of their past was not forgotten, and it probably never would be, but it had been put aside at least. She was ready to trust him a little now.
"Alain Chauvelin . . ." he said, trying out his "new" name. He looked around at the group of students, of which he was now a part. On every face was a small, tenative, but distinct smile. They seemed already to welcome him in friendship.
"Well, I've always heard it said," he commented, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em . . ." They all chuckled, and Alain looked at Abigail suddenly. "Would it be possible?" he asked.
Abigail drew in her breath uncertainly. This was a strange turn of events. And she still wasn't sure if he was trustworthy or not. But if he was in earnest . . . and he seemed to be . . . She walked up to him, untied him from the chair (which everyone present had forgotten he was tied to, including him), and waited for him to stand. She looked him straight in the eye, seriously.
"Alain Chauvelin, do you swear secrecy, loyalty, and obedience to the Ballpoint Pimpernel, and commit yourself to its cause?"
"I swear," he said quietly, half-disbelieving what he was doing, but knowing that he couldn't refuse the opportunity. Abigail smiled and shook his hand firmly.
"Welcome to the League of the Ballpoint Pimpernel, Alain," she said softly.