Heard No More
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more." - Macbeth
No sport lasts forever.
Haven't I known that from the beginning? I don't think I wanted to admit it to myself, but in the back of my mind, I always knew it would end, someday . . .
But I didn't think it would be like this. So be it.
I cannot say how long I have been here . . . time means nothing to me now. And it's becoming so hard to remember . . . everything blurs in my mind, like a freshly painted portrait in the rain . . . indistinguishable now, from what it once was.
And, all at once, everything is so clear.
They are taking me out of the cell, and this time, it is not for another of their interrogation sessions. They tried that, and soon found how useless it was. I am not so easy to break as all that, you know . . . no, this time it is for something more lasting.
How many people are here? I try and count, to keep myself from losing reason . . . ten, eleven, twelve . . . twenty-three, twenty-four . . . thirty-seven . . . fifty-one. Fifty-one awaiting their turn. Fifty-one awaiting their fate. And I make fifty-two.
I count them again . . .
And then they call my name. "Antony Dewhurst, English spy." Unconsciously, I cringe . . . ah well, I won't be bearing the dreaded name much longer . . .
Must they cut my hair? I suppose they must. Nothing must get in the way of the Republic's justice, even a gentleman's queue. I watch the blond hair fall to the floor, mesmerized . . . I wonder how long have I worn it atop my head . . . and it looks so dead, lying there on the stones . . . severed . . .
I should have expected the mob to be prepared with missiles to attack me with. A rotten cabbage grazes my head and strikes the young lady beside me in the face . . . she is brave, she does not cry. If my hands were not tied, I would offer her my handkerchief to wipe the residue from her cheek . . . I manage to nudge her gently, and smile a bit, and she smiles back . . .
And at last we arrive at our destination. I am scheduled for the fourth to go up from the cart. The young lady is ahead of me, and I can see she trembles. I wonder if I tremble, too . . . I hope I do not.
One head falls.
This is what I had to do . . . it is what has to happen. There is nothing to feel remorse for . . . better I than Andrew, or Percy! They are so much more vital to the game than I, a mere player . . . I have strutted and fretted my hour, and now I must take my final bow, for the curtain swiftly closes . . .
Another head falls.
It is her turn now. She turns to me as they seize her, a fleeting panic in her eyes. I try to communicate with mine, but they are so incompetent; I cannot say what I want with them now, and I dare not speak out loud, I won't give them the satisfaction of hearing my last words, until the time comes . . .
Somehow, she understands, and the fear vanishes. Calmly now, she turns and walks in her turn up . . .
Her head falls.
And now, at last, I am to go. I am not afraid, I know what is to become of me . . . and there is nothing to fear from it. It is my final contribution to that which we have done for so long . . . and may they continue after I am gone . . .
I am forced to lay on the board and stare down into that straw basket. The blood is fresh, and it fascinates me for a brief second; then I hear them raising the blade . . .
The blade falls . . .
"LONG LIVE THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL!"
I hear this in the crowd--no longer hearing his thoughts, nor seeing through his eyes, but in the common guise of a laborer--as the blade comes down with a sharp, sickly slice; I break into a cold sweat at the words, the final parting words . . . the final syllable is cut off abruptly, and I close my eyes; I can't watch his head fall, it is hard enough knowing that he dies, and I have done nothing . . . why haven't I done anything? . . .
My heart feels as if it has burst inside me, I wonder that I am not torn apart from the force of it . . .
No, it can't be . . . Tony . . .
Percy awoke with a start and a gasp of cold air. He was panting as if from a hard run . . . and a line of sweat trickled down his cheek . . .
The tiny room looked no different than it did when he fell asleep. The walls were the same, the floor made of the same rough wood . . . in one corner, not five feet away, Ffoulkes slept in silence . . . and in the opposite corner, Tony lay peacefully. Placidly . . . snoring.
He must have made some sudden soft noise when he woke, because suddenly Andrew was awake, too. He sat up in his place quietly and looked at Percy with a curious, worried expression.
"Is everything all right, Percy?" he whispered ever so softly, almost just a breath of air and not a whisper. Percy swallowed once, and nodded.
"Yes . . . Tony woke me with his snoring, that's all . . ."
Andrew grinned slowly, then kicked Tony's foot, which he could just reach. Tony twitched and turned over.
"Eh . . . what did you do that for . . ."
Andrew chuckled at him. "Stop snoring, Dewhurst," he whispered, "and go back to sleep."
"Wasn't snoring," Tony murmured, the rest of his words muffled as he fell back into slumber. Andrew fell back to the floor tiredly, still chuckling at the joke . . .
Percy leaned back into the position he was in, though his eyes were wide open, and probably would be for at least another hour . . .
May it never come to that . . .dear God, please, may it never come to that . . .