Read In the Commodore's Hands Online

Authors: Mary Nichols

Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance

In the Commodore's Hands (4 page)

BOOK: In the Commodore's Hands

‘And what about her daughter? Does she feel it too?’ The revelation that the woman he had come to rescue was related to the Wentworths had shocked him to the core. He felt again the fury that had engulfed him on coming home from a long voyage to find his wife absent and children alone with their governess. Miss Corton had said her mistress had been gone some days, but she did not know where she was.

‘The children have been told she is taking a little holiday with friends,’ she had said. It had been left to his mother to tell him the truth.

‘I believe she has gone to live with Gerald Wentworth at his home in Hertfordshire,’ she had said. ‘They seem not to mind the scandal.’

How Wentworth had seduced his wife he did not know, but the man could not be allowed to go unchallenged. His mother had advised against it, telling him to let sleeping dogs lie, but he had been so furious, he would not listen. The duel had been fought in the grounds of Wentworth Castle, the choice of his opponent and a poor one for him because his adversary’s
friends and family were there. Nevertheless he was the better swordsman and no one interfered until he was standing over the disarmed Wentworth, sword raised to deliver the fatal blow. He found he could not do it and had walked away in disgust, with the man’s threats ringing in his ears.

The gossip had raged for months; a man did not fight a duel and then refuse to deliver the
coup de grâce
when it was within his power. Many laughed at him, others said he was in hiding, fearing Wentworth’s revenge for the humiliation, for it was humiliating to lose and be spared simply because one’s opponent did not have the stomach to finish it.

None of that was Mademoiselle Giradet’s fault, he scolded himself, and ought to have no bearing on the task he had been set. Once he had accomplished it, they need never meet again.

‘Lisette?’ his grandfather said, in answer to his question. ‘A little, perhaps. I can only guess. Like her mother, she does not complain.’

‘What about her brother? What can you tell me of him?’

‘He is Lisette’s twin and has been in the service of King Louis ever since he finished his education, first as a page and then a gentleman
of the bedchamber. I believe it took money and influence on Gervais’s part to obtain the post for him. After all, they are not the old nobility. It was an unselfish act on the Comte’s part; he was devoted to his son and hated parting from him, but he wanted him to make his way at court and encouraged him to go. Michel is loyal to the King and, according to Lisette, would not dream of deserting him. She worries about him, but is convinced the King will be able to protect him.’

‘Do you believe that?’

Sir John shrugged. ‘Who knows? The King embraced the new constitution and that pleased the people, but then he chose to try to flee, no doubt to drum up foreign support, and that sent his popularity plummeting. He might just as well be in prison himself. I suppose while the legislature is divided on what to do about him, he is safe enough and that goes for Michel too.’

is content to leave him behind?’

‘I think it will be hard for her, she and her brother were close as children, but her first concern at the moment is to free her father.’

‘Then we must do what we can to bring that about.’

‘What would you like me to do?’

‘Nothing at the moment, except to put your affairs in order and gather together whatever you want to take to England, but bear in mind we cannot accommodate large or heavy items; everything will have to be carried aboard the
Lady Amy
and we must not attract undue attention. I shall tell Mademoiselle Giradet the same thing.’

‘You mean I am to be welcomed back?’

‘That is Mama’s wish.’

‘And it is mine. I will do anything to be reunited with my daughter. You may count on me.’

Lisette was ready for Jay the next morning, with the horses already harnessed to the carriage. She suspected she had been allowed to keep the equipage simply because no one had thought to take it from her. And the peasantry would not know what to do with it if they had it. Riding about in a carriage would be far too ostentatious and would bring down opprobrium on their heads. It was fashionable to be poor and dirty even if you were not. In deference to this and so she did not stand out in the crowd, she had donned the plainest gown she could find, a deep-blue cambric over which she had tied a scarf in the bright red of the Revolution. Unwilling
to don the Phrygian cap with its Revolutionary cockade, she chose to go bare-headed, tying her thick blonde locks back with a red ribbon.

She met Jay in the vestibule when Hortense admitted him to the house. All the servants except Hortense and Georges had abandoned her. She dipped her knee in answer to his sweeping bow. ‘Good morning,
. I am ready. And there is a case of our best Calvados in the boot. I hope that will be sufficient.’

‘It will do for the moment.’ He handed her into the carriage and climbed in beside her. ‘We may need more later.’

They settled in their seats for the short ride to Honfleur. ‘I have met two of the gaolers already,’ he told her. ‘They think I am a smuggler and buying brandy from the Comte to take out of the country. For a bribe, they will let me speak to him.’

‘The bribe being brandy?’

‘And money.’

‘How much money?’

He shrugged. ‘I have yet to discover their price.’

‘And then they will free Papa?’

‘Nothing was said of that. I am simply being allowed to speak to him.’

‘Oh.’ There was dejection in her voice. Why she had expected more of him, she did not know. To pay large sums simply to speak to him and leave him where he was did not sound like a good deal to her. ‘What happens after you have spoken to him?’

‘I have not yet decided. It all depends on what I discover.’

‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Nothing for the moment. I do not want those gaolers to think we are in league with one another, it will make them suspicious. I suggest you do a little shopping after I have left you and then go home and wait to hear from me.’

‘Wait! Is that all? I am in such a ferment, waiting will be purgatory. Surely I can be of use?’

‘Later, perhaps. You will need money in England, so when you go home, collect up your most valuable items, gold and silver, all your jewellery, nothing too big, and pack it ready. And make sure the horses are fresh. We may need to move swiftly when we do.’

‘I will do that. We will not leave Hortense behind, will we?’ she asked anxiously.

‘Not if you do not overload the coach and she can be ready at a moment’s notice.’

‘We will both be ready.’

They had arrived at the end of the street where the prison stood and he called to Georges to stop the coach. ‘I will leave you here,’ he told Lisette. ‘Go and do your shopping, buy food as if you were going to be at home for the immediate future.’ He took the case of brandy from the boot and the carriage pulled away again, leaving a thoughtful Lisette to continue into the centre of the town.

Jay carried the brandy into the prison and deposited it on the desk in front of Bullard who was busy writing in a ledger. He looked up at the sound of the bottles clinking. ‘Ah, the Englishman.’

‘I said I would come. We made a bargain.’

‘Let us see the colour of your money first.’

Jay produced six
louis d’or
from his pocket and put them on the table where they gleamed golden in a shaft of sunlight coming through a dusty window. Before leaving London, he had obtained them from his bank, which had been taking them from
in exchange for sovereigns. He guessed the banker was only too pleased to reverse the process. To these men, they represented undreamed-of wealth.

Bullard picked one up and bit into it, then he called Cartel and the other man on duty. ‘Seems
he’s as good as his word,’ he told them, indicating Jay. ‘Do we let him have a few words with the prisoner?’

‘Can’t see it will do any harm,’ Cartel said, gazing hungrily at the money. ‘Philippe can take him through.’

‘I’ll have my share afore I do,’ the third man insisted, picking up two of the coins and stowing them in his waistcoat pocket. Then he beckoned Jay to follow him.

The prison was not large and contained only half-a-dozen cells. No doubt before the Revolution there was comparatively little crime in the town, but now it was full of political prisoners crammed together in squalor. Jay, who considered himself used to poor living conditions from his time in the navy, found himself wrinkling his nose at the smell.

The guard stopped outside one cell and shouted, ‘
Giradet, you are wanted.’

Nothing happened immediately and then there was a movement among the inmates who parted to allow a frail old man to make his way slowly to the bars. Jay was shocked by his appearance. He was filthy and in rags, his white hair a tangled mass. He had obviously not shaved since his arrest and his beard was lank. It was clear to Jay that he would be too
frail to run, or even walk, and that getting him out and away was going to be more difficult than he had imagined.

‘Who are you?’ the old man croaked.

‘My name is James Smith. I am from England.’

‘Never heard of you. What do you want?’

‘I want to buy Calvados, but your daughter will not sell it to me without your consent.’

The old man’s tired eyes lit up. ‘You have spoken to my daughter?’


‘Is she well? They have not harmed her?’

‘She is unharmed and looking after everything until you can be reunited. But what about the brandy?’

, is that all you can think of, you English, money and your stiff-necked pride?’

‘You know nothing of my pride,’ Jay snapped. ‘But I do have money to exchange for Calvados.’

Louis d’or
at that,’ the gaoler said with a grin, which told Jay quite plainly that any money handed to the old man would be taken from him.

‘My daughter can do as she pleases and she knows it, so why come here to bother me?’ Gervais
paused, peering up at Jay. ‘Unless you have a message from her.’

‘Only that she is doing her best.’

‘That’s enough,’ the gaoler put in. ‘You have the permission you wanted, the interview is at an end.’ He put his filthy hand on Jay’s sleeve.

Jay shrugged him off. ‘You do not need to manhandle me, man. I am leaving.’ He turned back to the Comte. ‘I will tell your daughter she may deal with me with your blessing, shall I?’

If the Comte understood what he was trying to say, he gave no indication of it. ‘You leave my daughter alone, do you hear me? I won’t have her going off with any damned Englishman.’

Jay laughed softly and followed the gaoler back to the office where the other two were already making inroads into the brandy. ‘Is that one of the richest men in Honfleur?’ he asked, jerking his head back towards the cells. ‘He is a sorry specimen if he is.’

‘He will be even sorrier before long,’ Bullard said. ‘His crimes are so great Henri Canard is having him indicted in Paris. We shan’t have the pleasure of seeing him hang. He will lose his head to that new contraption they call a guillotine. I haven’t seen it at work, but they do say the head lives on minutes after it has been severed from the body.’

‘When will he go?’ Jay asked, trying not to show his disgust at the casual way the man had spoken. ‘I hope it will not be before I have made my deal with the Comte’s daughter and taken delivery of the merchandise.’

‘We have to wait for the summons from Paris. Henri Canard has gone himself to get the necessary papers for his transportation.’

‘Then I will do my deal as soon as may be and hasten my own departure.’ He produced three more gold coins and put them on the table. ‘For your co-operation,’ he said and left them.

He strode back to his grandfather’s villa in a pensive mood. The Comte was barely more than skin and bone and much older than he had imagined. He had assumed that he had fathered Lisette in his twenties and, as she was surely no more than twenty-five or six, then her father would be in his fifties. But he was seventy if he was a day, about the same age as his grandfather. Sir John was hale and hearty, but the Comte looked as though a blow from a feather would knock him over. Had he been like that before he was thrown into prison or had prison itself aged him? How on earth was he to get two old men and a young lady out of
France and on a boat to England without one or the other of them collapsing on him?

He found both Sam and Lisette with his grandfather. ‘I thought I told you to go home and wait,’ he said.

‘I did not choose to. I knew you would come back here and I wanted to hear what went on.’

Jay threw himself into a chair. ‘Nothing went on. I paid the dues and had a few words with the Comte.’

‘What did he say?’ she asked eagerly. ‘Did you tell him we were going to try to get him out?’

‘No, of course I did not. We had an audience.’

‘Then it was a waste of time.’

‘Not at all. I established that he is going to be sent to Paris for trial. Henri Canard is too impatient to wait for the summons and has gone to fetch it himself.’

‘Oh, no! We are lost. We will never get him out of a Paris prison.’

Jay heard the distress in her voice and found himself wanting to reach out to comfort her. The feeling was so alien to him, he was taken aback. He could not allow her to penetrate his reserve—sympathetic to her plight he might be, but that was all it was. Nothing would be
achieved by becoming soft. He pulled himself together. ‘Pray, do not distress yourself,
. If I have my way, he will never reach Paris. He will not leave Normandy, except on the
Lady Amy.’

‘You have a plan to break him out before they come for him?’ Sam queried, his eyes lighting up.

‘I do not think breaking him out is a good idea,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘There are other ways, but I need more information. I need to know how the Comte is likely to be transported and when.’ He turned to Sam. ‘Do you think you can continue your comradeship with those gaolers?’

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