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The Letter


November 18, 1793
Armand Chauvelin

If it were possible, I would say that between us, I am the weaker for this ordeal.  Every torture I send to him seems to come back and rob me of a little more of my strength; every refusal he makes drains me a little more.

He is so strong, so stubborn . . . so much like Lucy.

Never have I felt remorse for what I do to serve the Republicís ends, and I still do not; but in a tragic paradox, while I feel no remorse, I despise myself all the same for this.

Her brother!  And I submit him to every indignity, every pain!  She cannot forgive, not this; not what I have done.  Perhaps I feel some remorse for that.

He wonít give in.  Heís too devoted . . . heíd die first.  Will it come to that?  It well may.  And I would do it--I would do anything, I have done anything, for the sake of the pursuit . . .

I hold the sword over him.  And yet I hesitate to strike.  I do not regret what I will do, but I still retain a hope inside that he will give in at this late hour . . . he remains silent and unwavering, and I am forced to bring down the blade, or throw it aside . . .

I shake myself awake.  Another dream . . . another vision, the same that has plagued me these past days.  His courage, his loyalty to the Englishman will be his death, and mine, I fear . . .

Physical pain, starvation, thirst.  He has endured all this without flinching.  More than once, I have wondered if I would be able to withstand the same trials, were they put to me.  More than once, I have failed to find an answer.

I have not tried the subtler tactic, setting a danger in his way . . . maybe I was hoping the rougher methods would force him to give in before I could resort to such tragic measures . . .

The only threat of danger I could put to him would involve her.  I hope I can save that as a last option, if an option at all.

I have often caught myself with a sympathetic word halfway to my throat, almost said, when I observe him in his discomfort.  I have had to bite down on my lip, hard, to keep it silent; for he looks so much like her.  His eyes, especially, seem to have been copied from her face . . . he looks up at me in angry defiance, and I can hear her bitter rebukes.  The ones that wound me to the heart . . .

*How could you do this to my only brother . . .*

*Heís all I had before, all I have left now . . .*

*This separation has killed your love, I can see, for if you loved me at all you would never hurt him like this . . .*

*Look well, Armand, for you witness the death of my own love for you . . .*

That one hurts most of all, and I have to slam the cell door behind me before weak tears come to my eyes unbid.  Of course, it is painful; the truth always is, they say.

I know my love for her is far from dead; but the minute I assure myself of this, I consider what else I can do to make her brother break . . .

It is the self-doubt that is killing me, one torture at a time.

* * * * * * *

The solitary room was dark and silent; with his pocket-watch closed securely in his coat, there was nothing to tell him how late the hour was.  The only light came from the glowing fire and a single candle on the table he now sat at, with pen in hand; the only sounds were the monotonous cracking of the burning logs and the feverish scratch-scratch of pen on paper.

Every few minutes he would rise from his seat and pace the room with quick step, his eyes fixed firmly on the floor.  A pause in midstep, a nervous movement of the hands, and he would be seated again, writing as feverishly as before.  He scarcely seemed to pause even to dip the pen into fresh ink . . .

At long last, when the first gentle streaks of dawn showed in the east, he laid down the pen and took up the product of his labor in his hand--a letter, short for the amount of time devoted to it, but there had been many drafts.

Lucille,

There is an urgent matter I must speak with you about.  I beg you, lay aside our differences and come to Paris in all haste--this must be spoken in the strictest privacy, to you alone.  I send the necessary immunity papers and certificates of safety with this note, and I shall send an escort for you at Calais to ensure your safe passage through the country.  He shall be responsible for your safety with his life.

You know as well as I do that if you mention this to your several acquaintances, they will prevail upon you not to come, no matter how earnestly I protest the urgency of this meeting--so I need not ask you to keep them in ignorance of your journey.  This business will not keep you in the city for more than a few days, and with traveling to and from London, you should be back in your home within a fortnight of your departure.  Please, find some way to keep them from knowing, as horrible as that must sound.  The urgency of the situation requires it.

The escort I send will bring you directly to me when you arrive in Paris, so that we may take care of this as quickly as possible.  I think you will agree with me then that the sooner this is put behind us, the better . . .

Again, I beg you, do not let the separation between us persuade you to ignore this request.  The matter is of vital importance to you and to your acquaintances . . . I believe you may have guessed the purport of it already, from what I have been able to allude to in this vague letter . . .

The time grows short.  Come quickly.

Armand

His hands shook perceptibly, and with an impatient cry, he tossed the letter to the table.  The reading of it had made him agitated and uncertain.  With slow, deliberate movements, he rose and snuffed the low candle, leaving the fire to slowly burn to ash, retreating from this too-tragic scene to the cold security of the bedroom.

Sleep would not come easily, but it had to be tried.

* * * * * * *

The sound of a key turning in the lock roused Andrew from dazed meditation.  Preparing himself for the trials sure to come, he quickly shook himself and repeated his resolve in his head: I will keep my silence, even if they kill me for it . . .

No one came in the cell this time, but a single sheet of paper showed in front of the door, as if shoved in through the tiny barred window.  Curiously, with the cautious movements of a man constantly watched, he crept over and picked it up.

A note in firm hand he had seen only once before, years ago, before the madness began, when once he happened to glance at his sisterís correspondence . . .

The door is unlocked.  Open it quietly and bring the clothing you will find lying beside it into your cell immediately.  Then dress in the uniform, leave the cell, turn to your right and make your way out of the gate quickly.

As I love your dear sister, this is no trick.  But you must hurry, for I can only buy you so much time.  If you find a musket leaning against the wall as you round the first corner, you will know that all is safe--pick it up and carry it with you.  If there is no musket there, return to your cell and bury the uniform and this note before you are found out.  I can only take so many chances, and I take more than I can account for already.

Again, there is no ruse, no cruel false security in this.  Think on it and you will realize how pointless such a trick would be--do I not already have you securely imprisoned?  What would be the use in releasing and recapturing you?  You see there is no practical reason in that, and as I would rather do things for a specific reason, you should know that I do not lie this time.

Return to your leader quickly, and know that you have defeated me in a way that he never will be able to . . .

There was no signature, for it was unnecessary.

When the guards who had been posted outside the Englishmanís cell were found in a drugged sleep some time later, they were of course questioned before their inevitable arrest.  From each the same tale was wrought; they had come upon two mugs of good wine by accident, and as such a thing should never be overlooked, they drank to the health and prosperity of the Republic with great patriotism . . . then fell into a deep, sweet sleep.  They knew nothing of what became of the uniform that the shorter of the two had been wearing, nor of the musket that the other had been carrying.

They were sent by the justice of the Republic to await a longer and deeper sleep than that they had just enjoyed, in consequence of allowing a dangerous and important prisoner to escape.  When Citizen Chauvelin was found and told that his prisoner had escaped, all averred grimly, his rage would take care of their fate.  However, unfortunate messengers had been sent up and down the prison corridors in search of the vengeful citizen all evening, with no success . . . no one seemed to know where he had gone.

No one saw that he had returned to his room, where he now sat at the very table he was writing at the night before, his head buried in his hands, shaking tremulously.  And in the fire, there showed the remnants of a letter he had nearly sent, the evidence of the horrible act he had very nearly committed.

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