It was simple, that first rescue, though it certainly didn't seem so. Yet compared to what we did later on, and what we would know later, it was very simple indeed. And we were careless. The mere fact that we succeeded is due to a combination of two things; Percy's knack for planning for every eventuality, and the great surprise it was to the Republican Government.
Andrew and I, walking down the prison corridors in the rough uniforms of guards, were to take the Duchess de Carnay and her son from their cell under the pretense of taking them out to the tumbril. The uniform itched, and I briefly wondered who--or what--had been in it previously, and what might still be in it; quickly I pushed that thought out of my mind, but not before I involuntarily shuddered at it.
Suddenly Andrew stopped and took a set of keys from his coat. He opened a door on his right, loudly, and walked boldly in. I followed, matching his attitude with my own. The cell was packed with women and children, wearing tattered clothes with some reminiscence of the finery they had worn of old.
"The ci-devant Duchess de Carnay and son," Andrew said roughly. A petite woman timidly but promptly stood, helping a boy of no more than eight up with her. We went over to them and seized their arms.
"Is it time to go home now, Maman?" the boy asked suddenly, and I froze. The child's voice was so trusting and brave; undoubtedly he had seen the prison guards abuse other prisoners before, had seen people go from here and never come back. Yet he wasn't afraid. The mother hushed her son, afraid that we might beat the poor lad for speaking.
"Yes, my little Jean," she said quietly. "Time to go home."
"And will we see Papa there?" The good woman brushed a tear from her eye before I could tie her hands.
"Yes, Papa will be there."
"Enough talk!" Andrew shouted. I wanted to say something, anything, to calm the mother and reassure her, to let the child know that they were going to be safe. It was terrible to have to remain silent and drag them out with us. We hurried them along in the direction of the courtyard.
But right before we reached the place where the tumbrils were loaded, we turned and hid in a dark side hall. I placed my hand over Madame's mouth to keep her quiet, else she would have uttered a telltale gasp of astonishment and fear.
"Your obedience is vital, Madame," I whispered in her ear, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Andrew keeping watch. "You must trust us completely and do exactly as I say, and we will help you." She nodded, not daring to speak. "Good. We are going to take you to a cart outside; you must hide yourself in that cart and not utter a sound, no matter what you hear." I then knelt down to talk to the child. "Jean, you must be very quiet. Do you feel brave?"
"Yes, sir," he answered in a soft whisper, and without fear. I wondered if he had already guessed what was going on.
"Then you must obey us very carefully, and without a word. When we take you and your maman outside, you will get into a cart. Once we hide you in that cart, you must stay completely silent, no matter what happens."
Jean nodded importantly; he had an important job to do. I smiled, and stood up, nodding at Andrew.
We traveled along twisted corridors and finally reached a small door to the outside. Outside the door Percy was waiting with the cart, in a hideous disguise. I would not have recognized him had I not known who he was. His face was covered with sores, and he seemed to have bathed it in dirt. His hands were similar in appearance, and the rags he wore just barely held together. There was a great bulge in his cheek, and his hair fell in greasy strings about his face. I had to look twice before the sparkle of the blue eyes under his cap reassured me it was indeed Percy.
The cart was filled with hay, but underneath the straw was a canvas sheet covering the bottom. We pulled up this sheet and motioned for Madame and her son to get underneath it. Her face went white, and I thought she might cry out in terror at the thought of suffocating underneath so much hay. But I once more put a hand over her mouth and pointed to the bottom of the cart; the boards were so widely spaced that plenty of air could get through. She nodded, though still very frightened, and obligingly stepped into the cart. Andrew lifted little Jean in after her, and I heard him say before lying him down, "Take care of your mother, Jean."
Of course we were foolish! Three months later, we would never have thought of speaking to them at all; it was far too dangerous. But that first time, the horror of the prisons made their first impressions on us; we saw no harm in just letting them know that they were not going to die. We had not yet learned that those very words of reassurance could be the ones that send them to their deaths, and us as well.
We covered them both up with the sheet and spread the hay over it so that it was invisible. Then Andrew nodded to Percy and he drove the cart off. We changed clothes quickly, into the same sort of rags that Percy had been wearing, and rode out to the barrier. We were to meet the cart again outside the city, where a carriage waited for the refugees.
At the barrier, we were stopped.
I held out the false documents we had drawn up, holding my breath. Now we got to see whether or not they would work.
"Are these in order?" the guard asked.
"Well, I don't know, citizen," I replied in the street French I had learned. "I guess they is--they're the only papers we got, so I ‘xpect they'd better be." Any more questions, and we might have to bolt for it--
"You may pass, citizens," he said. Once out of the city, I let go a long breath I hadn't realized I was still holding.
"One obstacle passed, eh?" Andrew said quietly. I nodded. I was feeling rather strange at the moment; my heart was pounding, and I seemed to feel a great shaking throughout my body, but it wasn't unpleasant. It seemed very familiar, in fact. I knew I had felt this way before, this excitement, this thrill--
"That was a good race, Tony."
"Yes, it was, wasn't it?" I laughed. "You very nearly beat me, Andrew, you brigand."
Andrew laughed, too. "Next time I will, wait and see."
"And what about our bet, my friend?"
"You'll get it, you'll get it! We better get these horses back to the stables now--"
A servant approached running. "Master Antony, a letter for you . . ."
That was it! That last race before I left Oxford, the closest race I ever had, when Andrew very nearly beat me. I had felt the same thrill then, urging my horse forward ever so slightly to inch ahead of his and win the race. It was the excitement of the game, of winning by the breadth of a hair, the thrill of it all that I felt. Except this was so much more pronounced, many times stronger than before. This was the sport I had been looking for.
When we were back on the Day Dream, Percy's schooner, and safely sailing for England, I still couldn't calm my excitement. Excitement . . . if I knew a better word for it, I would use it, because what I felt went far beyond excitement. I gripped the railing and gazed at the coast we were leaving. It was more than mere thrill; it was a desire to experience it again and again, to make a life of the game I was playing. I was so wrapped in my thoughts I didn't even see Percy come up behind me until he stood at my side.
"I trust you enjoyed yourself, my friend?" he asked lightly, carelessly. But it seemed he held back a tone of concern, as if he thought I might have been too overwhelmed at what I had seen in the prison. I nodded, bringing myself out of my own contemplations, and turned to smile at him.
"You know what, Percy?" I asked mischievously, adopting Society manners. "We must do this again sometime." He laughed loudly, and I with him, as the boat pulled into Dover.
To be continued . . .