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Authors: Mary Nichols

Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance

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BOOK: In the Commodore's Hands
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Sam laughed. ‘It is a good thing that my understanding of French is a deal better than my speaking of it, then. And I can hold my drink better than most.’

Jay turned to Lisette. ‘Now,
mademoiselle
, I will escort you home. You have still to make yourself ready as I suggested and keeping your horses out late is not going to help if we have the call tomorrow morning.’

‘I do not need your escort,’ she said haughtily, standing up and shaking out her skirt.

‘I beg to differ. I will see you safely home
and I will repeat my instructions to your maid, then I may be sure they will be obeyed.’

Lisette did not answer, but marched out of the room, head held high. He shrugged and smiled at the other two men and went after her.

They had almost completed the journey in silence when she spoke. ‘Do you think it will happen tomorrow?’

Her voice was conciliatory and he smiled in the darkness of the coach. For all her defiance, she was a frightened girl and needed someone to lean on. Well, she could lean on him, that was why he was there, but only for as long as it took to get her, her father and his grandfather to safety. He was doing it because his mother had asked it of him and for no other reason.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘But we must not be caught unprepared.’

‘I will be ready,’ she said quietly.

He almost regretted his defeat of her. He did not like to see her spirit broken, but it was necessary if they were to succeed. ‘Good.’

The coach stopped, he jumped out and held out his hand to help her alight. She took his hand and stepped down. ‘You wish to speak to Hortense,
monsieur?’

He smiled. ‘Do I need to?’

‘No. I will tell her what you have said and Georges will make sure the horses are ready.’

‘Then I will bid you goodnight.’ He lifted her hand to his lips, then strode away.

Chapter Three

L
isette went indoors. The strain of the last few weeks and especially today had exhausted her. She trusted Sir John, and as Sir John trusted his grandson, she had no choice but to do so too. Jay Drymore was obviously a man used to command and today he had been especially cool and practical, but she wondered how good he was at dealing with the French people whose mood was volatile and bloodthirsty. If anything went wrong with the rescue attempt, his gaolers would not hesitate to kill Papa and the rescuers too. Did the Commodore realise that?
Louis d’or
would not save them.

She found Hortense anxiously waiting for her. ‘Lissie, where have you been all day? I expected you home hours ago. It is not fair of you
to worry me so. I do believe that Englishman has you in thrall.’

Lisette flung herself down on a sofa. ‘That’s nonsense. He has come to rescue Papa and it is natural that we need to talk. It is no more than that. Besides, I have not been with him all day. We parted before we reached the prison.’

‘I’m glad he had the sense not to take you to that dreadful place with him, but where have you been?’

‘I went to the market and bought food and listened to the gossip. The Assembly has taken away all the King’s power and there is talk of putting him on trial.’

Hortense gasped. ‘Surely they will never do such a wicked thing.’

‘Who knows? And they say Marie Antoinette is plotting with the Austrians.’

‘I would not put that past her. What else?’

‘I heard Henri Canard is going to stand for the legislature at the next elections. His hatred of the nobility is spreading to everyone. I shall be glad to leave, but we have to free Papa first. I went to visit Sir John on the way home. Monsieur Drymore joined us after he had been to the prison. He said there is talk of Papa being moved to Paris for a trial. I think he has a plan
to waylay the guards, but he would not tell me the details.’

‘Why not?’

Lisette shrugged. ‘I do not think he trusts me.’

‘Then he is an arrogant fool.’

‘No, Hortense, he may be arrogant, that is an Englishman’s way, I think, but he is not a fool. He bade me be ready to move at a moment’s notice. You may come too, if you wish it. I know it will be a great upheaval for you, so I will not insist.’

‘Naturally I will come. Do you think I will let you go without me?’

‘Thank you, Hortense. I am so tired, I am going to bed and you must do so too, but tomorrow morning, we must pack.’ She rose and together they climbed the stairs where Hortense helped her mistress to bed and then went to her own chamber.

In spite of her tiredness Lisette could not sleep. She found herself going over and over everything she and the Commodore had said to each other, every nuance, every meaningful look, every curt response, every compliment he had paid her, every censure too. None of it helped her to understand him. She had to take him as she found him, a complex individual
who was charming one minute and annoying the next. But none of that mattered if he saved her father.

Her thoughts strayed to visions of the rescue. She imagined the vehicle conveying her father to Paris being held up by Jay and his servant at gunpoint, of shots being fired, of people being wounded, perhaps the guards, perhaps the rescuers, perhaps her father. She saw them fighting their way to her coach and driving hell for leather to the coast, pursued on all sides. She saw the yacht rocking on the sea, out of reach, and their pursuers on their heels. And supposing they were all caught, what then? It did not bear thinking about. Surely there was another way.

She had fallen asleep at last, to wake in the morning bleary-eyed and with a bad headache. Hortense gave her a tisane and made her eat some breakfast, after which she felt well enough to pack a few clothes and toiletries in two portmanteaux, then Lisette found a velvet bag and scooped all her jewels into it: necklaces, ear drops, bracelets and tiaras, some she had inherited from her mother, some her father had bought for her. She knew the French authorities would not take kindly to her taking them out
of the country, so she hid them securely in the stuffing of one of the cushions in the carriage.

She had a little money in the house, most of it
assignats
which would be worthless in England, but there was money and stocks held at the bank in Honfleur and she needed those too. ‘I’m going into Honfleur,’ she told Hortense. ‘I need to draw money out of the bank.’

‘Do you think that is a good idea, Lissie? It will surely indicate that you are planning to flee and put the authorities on their guard.’

‘Monsieur Gascon has been the family banker for years and years, he will not betray me.’

‘You cannot be sure of that. Everyone is afraid to have secrets nowadays.’

‘I shall say I wish to use the money to pay a lawyer to defend my father and he insists on being paid in cash.’

‘If you must, but I am afraid it will not please the Englishman.’

‘I think it will please him very much,’ Lisette said stubbornly. ‘It means I can pay him for his trouble and we will be able to live independently in England and not have to rely on charity.’

‘Shall I ask Georges to put the horses to the carriage?’

‘No. I have been told they must be kept fresh and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I will walk. Besides, a walk will help to clear my head.’

‘Then I shall come too.’

Lisette did not object to that and they set off, both wearing plain gowns, bright red shawls and red ribbons in their hair. It was difficult to tell who was servant and who mistress except that Hortense was carrying a shopping basket. The maid deplored the necessity, but if it was the only way to keep her darling safe, then it had to be. They met a few people on the road, but no one exchanged a greeting, nor even a smile.

At the bank, Hortense waited in the vestibule while Lisette went into the bank manager’s inner sanctum to make her request.

‘My dear
mademoiselle,’
he said. ‘I cannot release your father’s money to you. It is in his name and only he can withdraw it.’

‘But he is in prison.’

‘Yes, I had heard.’

‘I need it for his defence and that could be costly. Lawyers seem to be able to charge whatever they like these days.’

‘If you could visit the Comte and obtain written
authorisation from him, then I would be happy to oblige you.’

‘They will not let me see him.’

‘Then I am sorry.’

‘I thought you were my friend,’ she said, disappointed and angry. ‘You are as bad as all the others. You have done well out of Papa over the years, is that not worth something?’

He looked distressed, but could only repeat, ‘I am sorry. I dare not.’ He paused, then went on. ‘You have a little money of your own your mother left you. You can certainly have that.’

‘Then please let me have it in gold coin,
louis d’or
or
ecus
, not
assignat.’

‘I don’t know…’ He hesitated.

‘Please, at least do this for me.’

‘Very well.’ He went to a safe and unlocked it, then counted out the equivalent of a thousand
livres
which he put into a pouch and handed to her. ‘Let us hope you are not robbed of it before you can use it.’

She put it in the pocket of her skirt and tied the red scarf round her waist like a belt with its ends hanging down to disguise the bulk of the pouch, then she bade him good day and left.

‘What now?’ Hortense asked after she had told her what had happened. ‘Home again?’

She did not answer because they had emerged
on to the street just as a black carriage bowled past. ‘That’s Henri Canard back from Paris,’ she said, catching a glimpse of the man sitting in it. ‘Come on.’ She started to hurry after it.

‘Where are you going?’ Hortense, being plumper and not so nimble as Lisette, was breathlessly trying to keep up with her.

‘To speak to him. He might free Papa for a price.’

‘You know he won’t. He will have you in custody as soon as you blink and then what good will you be to your papa? Leave it to the Englishman.’

‘No. I want to avoid bloodshed if I can and what Monsieur Drymore is planning could very well be violent.’

The carriage had gone out of sight, but Lisette knew where the lawyer lived and set off in that direction.

Canard’s house was a substantial one in the middle of the town. The carriage had gone by the time they reached it, but Lisette did not doubt her quarry was inside. Pausing only to catch her breath, she strode up to the door and knocked.

Canard himself answered it. He had a sheaf of papers in his hand, as if he had been studying
them. ‘Well, well, well, Citoyenne Giradet. And what do you want?’

Lisette prepared to humble herself. ‘Please, Monsieur Canard, will you not relent and set my father free? He has not harmed you or the Revolution. He is an old man content to live quietly on his estate, no trouble to anyone. Please let me have him back.’

She had said all this before and it moved him no more than it had the first time. His lip curled in a sneer. ‘He is an enemy of the Revolution, plotting counter-revolution. His estate will be forfeit when he is sentenced.’

‘But he is innocent.’

‘That is for others to decide and you may be sure the verdict will be guilty.’

‘Then what will happen to me? I have no other home and cannot manage without him. I will give you money…’

He laughed. ‘Oh, dear me, bribing an official is most certainly against the law.’

‘I didn’t mean it as a bribe.’ She backtracked quickly. ‘I meant to pay for his defence.’

‘He has no defence. I suggest you find a husband among the good citizens of this town and settle down in humble domesticity. Your father is going to be taken to Paris for trial.’

‘Paris?’ She feigned surprise. ‘Why?’

‘His crimes are so great he is to have a public trial in the Palais de Justice.’

‘When?’ she asked.

‘Soon.’

‘But I must know when. I must be there to support him. I must find someone to defend him.’

‘He will leave here tomorrow morning at dawn. And do not think about trying to set him free because he will be under armed escort.’

‘I cannot do that, as you must know, Monsieur Canard, there is no one to help me. My servants have all deserted me.’

He laughed and shut the door in her face. She turned back to Hortense, who had been standing behind her quaking with fear all through the exchange, but far from being subdued there was a light of triumph in Lisette’s eyes. ‘Good, now we call on Sir John.’

Sir John, Jay and Sam were in conference, sitting over glasses of exceptionally good wine in Sir John’s withdrawing room. Jay and his grandfather were dressed as the gentlemen they were, but Sam’s appearance was repellent. He was wearing the short trousers of the proletariat, worn-down shoes, a cotton shirt and a bright red waistcoat, all filthy. His hair was a
tangle and he was unshaven. He was also a little under the weather, having spent most of the night carousing.

‘The guards confirmed that the Comte was to be moved,’ he told them, leaving his wine untouched. ‘But they did not know exactly when. They are waiting for the summons from Paris. Apparently Henri Canard was too impatient for it to come by the mail and went off to Paris to fetch it in person. He has not returned, at least he had not returned by the time I left about dawn.’

‘Then we must watch out for him,’ Jay said. ‘Well done, Sam.’

‘I will have hot water taken upstairs for you to wash and change out of that disgusting garb,’ Sir John said. He rang a bell at his side and when a servant appeared, gave the necessary order.

‘Oh, and another thing I learned,’ Sam went on. ‘Henri Canard has a grudge against the Comte. Bullard was unclear about the details, but it goes back generations. It has something to do with the Comte’s grandfather and his own grandfather and he is bent on revenge.’

‘Then the arrest of the Comte is not political,’ Jay said thoughtfully. ‘It is a vendetta. Have you any idea how it started, Grandfather?’

‘No. I knew Gervais’s father, but not his grandfather. He had died before I came to France. I do know that his grandfather had purchased the estate and the title. You can—or could—do that sort of thing in France. Perhaps the people resented that, though why Canard would be bothered about it, I do not know.’

The servant returned to say that Sam’s bath was ready and that Mademoiselle Giradet had arrived.

All three rose as Lisette entered the room followed by Hortense. They bowed. Sam muttered,
‘Excusez-moi, mademoiselle,’
and hurried from the room.

‘Lisette, please sit down,’ Sir John said, indicating a sofa. ‘Would you like some wine? Or coffee, perhaps?’

‘You have coffee?’ she asked in surprise, knowing the import of coffee and other luxuries from abroad had been banned.

‘Jay brought it with him from England.’

‘Then I would like a dish of coffee, please.’ She sat down and Hortense found a chair by the window where she could look out on to the garden.

Jay studied Lisette while Sir John summoned the servant to order the beverage. The plain clothes she wore were far from chic, but she
wore them with a certain elegance which could not disguise her aristocratic bearing. And today she seemed to glow with an inner fire. When he had left her the previous evening, she had been tired and dejected, but now there was a tautness about her, like a coiled spring ready to fly off. Something had happened to bring that about.

‘What can I do for you?’ Sir John asked her. ‘I am afraid we have no more news.’

‘But I have news for you,’ she said. ‘Henri Canard is back and my father is to be taken to Paris early tomorrow morning under armed escort.’

‘Tomorrow!’ Sir John echoed, indicating to his servant to put the coffee pot and dishes down on a table and leave them. ‘We do not have much time.’

‘How did you learn this?’ Jay asked, as Sir John poured the coffee, which, for those who had been deprived of it, smelled delicious. ‘It could be idle rumour.’

‘It is not. I learned it from Henri Canard himself not half an hour since.’ She paused to drink coffee, making Jay think she was deliberately trying his patience. ‘I was in town when he returned and decided I had nothing to lose by asking him once again if he would have my father released, and in the course of the conversation
he told me it was out of his hands and Papa was being sent to Paris tomorrow. He waved the papers in my face when he said it.’

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