Read In the Commodore's Hands Online

Authors: Mary Nichols

Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance

In the Commodore's Hands (6 page)

BOOK: In the Commodore's Hands
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Jay was filled with a mixture of annoyance and admiration. For the moment the annoyance won. ‘You could have ruined everything,’ he said. ‘You could have put him on his guard.’

‘I am sure I did not,’ she retorted. ‘He laughed in my face, knowing how helpless I am. Hortense will vouch for that, won’t you, Hortense?’

‘Yes, to be sure, he was triumphant, the evil man.’

‘Then we do not have a moment to lose,’ Jay said, determined not to bend. ‘I asked you to pack,
mademoiselle
, and have the carriage ready. I suggest you go home and do that.’

‘I have packed two portmanteaux and they are already in the boot of the carriage and my jewels hidden in the cushions and I have been to the bank and drawn out all my money in gold coin. Monsieur Gascon would not let me have Papa’s money without authorisation from him.’

‘Good God, woman!’ Jay exclaimed, really angry now. He wished she was a man; a man he could command, could punish if he was disobeyed, but a woman was another matter entirely. She was as headstrong as Marianne had
been and probably as devious. ‘Is there no end to your foolishness? Now half the town will know there is something afoot to rescue the Comte. It will make the task doubly difficult, even impossible.’

She had to defend herself. ‘Why should anyone know? The bank manager will say nothing, he dare not. What he did was illegal. He is supposed to use all gold coin for the benefit of the state.’

‘Jay, calm yourself,’ Sir John said. ‘We are in possession of information we did not have before, let us be thankful for that and make our plans accordingly.’

Sam entered the room dressed in a brown-frieze coat and breeches, his newly washed hair springing into dark curls. Jay turned to him, laughing. ‘You look halfway decent now, my friend. Sit down while I tell you the latest news.’ To Lisette he said, ‘
Mademoiselle
, I am sorry if I spoke harshly. You have done well. Go home now and bring your carriage here after dark tonight. We shall need two vehicles to carry out our plans, one to convey you, your maid and Sir John directly to the
Lady Amy
as soon as it is light enough to see, the other to bring me, Mr Roker and the Comte. Sam, you will go and make sure Lieutenant Sandford knows he has to
have the ship’s boat on the shore ready to push off the minute
mademoiselle
and Sir John arrive, then it is to come back for us. If we do not arrive within two hours, he is not to wait, but sail for England.’

‘Without you and Papa?’ Lisette queried, as Sam hurried off on his errand.

‘Yes. If a bid to free your father fails, you will certainly not be safe in France.’

‘But I cannot, will not, leave without him.’

‘Lisette, Jay will bring him to you,’ Sir John said. ‘Please do not make difficulties.’

‘You cannot be sure of that.’

‘Nothing is sure,’ Jay told her. ‘But rest assured, if we do not come, then the chances are we have perished in the attempt.’ He smiled to reassure her. ‘And believe me, I have no plans to depart this life just yet.’

‘What are you going to do?’ she asked in a quiet voice.

‘Free your father. When and how, I shall decide when Sam has returned from his errand.’

‘I will have beds made up for you and your maid,’ Sir John said. ‘At least you will be able to have a few hours’ rest before your journey.’

She finished her coffee and took her leave. Everything was in the hands of the Englishman now and she was not at all sure how she
felt about that. She supposed his coolness was an asset in a sticky situation, but she wished he would show just a little warmth. At this moment, she would have given anything for a hug, someone’s arms about her to make her feel loved and safe. Good heavens! Whatever was she thinking of?

Jay watched her go. He could not help feeling sorry for her. She must be worried to death and it had been unkind of him to be so brusque with her when all she wanted to do was help. He sincerely hoped that the visit to Henri Canard was the last of such efforts and that she would do exactly as he told her from now on.

He turned to his grandfather. ‘You will look after her and make sure she does nothing foolish, won’t you? Watching out for her at the same time as trying to deal with her father and the guards is more than I wish to contemplate.’

‘Of course I will. She is like a granddaughter to me and if anything should happen to her father, I will be all she has.’

‘She has a brother and relatives in England.’

‘You can hardly count on them. Earl Wentworth banished her mother and, though he is long dead, I have no reason to think his heirs will welcome the daughter. As for Michel, he
will share his monarch’s fate, whatever that might be.’

‘Are they alike, Michel and Lisette?’

‘To look at, yes, like peas in a pod, but I am not sure if they are temperamentally. I do not know the boy as well as I do Lisette. He has not often been home to see his father and sister since he went to court and when he has, I have not always seen him.’

‘The Comte is much older than I imagined he would be. There must have been a big age difference between him and his wife.’

‘Yes, that was another reason why her family were so against the marriage. He was a bachelor nearer fifty than forty and she was young and lovely and could take her pick of the London eligibles.’

‘There must have been a strong attraction between them for her to choose him above others. Were they happy together?’

‘Indeed, yes. They adored each other. She kept him young, but the poor man aged suddenly when she died, as if half of him had died too. It is only Lisette who has kept him going for all these years.’

‘He was in a sorry state when I saw him, filthy, unshaven, very thin and weak. I did not say anything to Mademoiselle Giradet for fear
of upsetting her, but I hope he is strong enough to transfer from one coach to another.’

‘What do you have in mind?’

‘I will tell you when Sam comes back. Have you finished putting your affairs in order?’

Sir John laughed. ‘I have always been an exile, always hoping that I might return to England one day, and in over thirty years I have not put down strong roots. all I have of any worth—my family—is already in England. I have packed a few clothes and paid all the servants off—generously, I may add—and they will scatter after I have left. I have told the coachman he may keep the carriage and horses after I am safely aboard the yacht and he tells me he thinks he will use it to set up a hire business in another town.’ He smiled. ‘He will not wish to stay here for fear of being associated with our little adventure.’

‘No, I can see he would not.’

‘You cannot know how much this means to me, Jay. The prospect of going back to England, and not as a renegade but one of the family, fills me with happy anticipation.’

Jay smiled. ‘We have a few hurdles to overcome before that happens. The next twenty-four hours are crucial.’

‘I know, but I do not doubt you can do it.’

‘I pray I may be worthy of your trust.’ He stood up. ‘I think I’ll take a stroll round the town until Sam comes back. It might give me some ideas. If
mademoiselle
returns while I’m gone, try to reassure her.’

The town was quiet. The trade it had once done had faded to almost nothing and the people were suffering. It was strange that they did not seem to blame the new regime for this, but the King and his nobility. He did not doubt he was not the only smuggler; so far as he could tell there was a lively trade in forbidden goods in and out. The authorities did nothing about that, being more concerned with putting people like Comte Giradet in gaol.

He studied the layout of the town and watched its inhabitants. Most were in the garb of the Revolution, though some were a little better dressed. And there were a few blue-uniformed National Guard patrolling the streets on foot. Occasionally they searched someone’s shopping basket, and arrested one old man because he had real tobacco in his pocket. Jay did not see the National Guard as a great threat to his plans—the
maréchaussée
were more of a problem. Employed to keep to law and order, they were mounted and armed, younger and
stronger, and would probably provide the escort taking the Comte to Paris.

He left the town and walked along the road towards Rouen, which was almost certainly the route the prison vehicle would take. The wide estuary was on his left, farmland and orchards on his right, which provided little cover for an ambush. He turned and retraced his steps, deep in thought.

Lisette had been all over the château, into every one of its many rooms, touching the remaining furniture and ornaments, her head full of memories. This had been her mother’s embroidery frame, that her father’s desk, and here were her dolls in the nursery, waiting for the next generation to play with them. There would be no next generation, not here in this lovely home she was leaving for ever, probably not anywhere unless Michel survived to bring up a family. Her father’s valuable library, the important pictures and ornaments her parents had collected over the years, the carpets and stylish furniture would have to be left for the mob, who certainly would not appreciate them. The hundreds of bottles of Calvados in the cellar would be plundered and drunk by people with no taste. It was heartbreaking and only the thought of
saving her beloved papa gave her the strength to endure it.

She had hesitated about writing to Michel to say goodbye but then decided against it. If the letter were intercepted, all Jay’s plans would be set at nought and she did not want to tempt his wrath. She would write to her brother once they were all safely in England.

It was strange how she had begun to think of the Englishman as Jay. She supposed it was because Sir John always addressed him thus and she had absorbed that. Perhaps once they were in England and all danger passed, he might become more human. Why she wanted that to be so, she did not know, except it was hard to express gratitude to someone so disdainful of her. Her gratitude would have to take the form of gold or a piece or two of jewellery. She pulled herself up; he had yet to earn it. Tomorrow would be the testing time. God willing, tomorrow at this time, they would all be halfway across
La Manche
.

She fell on her knees in front of the icon in what had been her mother’s boudoir and prayed as she had never prayed before. Then she rose and went in search of Hortense, who was talking earnestly to Georges in the kitchen. Lisette had already given the coachman some money
and told him that, once she had finished with them, he could take the carriage and horses anywhere he pleased and sell them for what they would fetch. The population was not as equal as their rulers would have them believe; there were still people who rode in carriages, pretending their elevated position in the hierarchy demanded it, men like Henri Canard.

‘Time to go,’ she said.

They went round the house extinguishing the lamps and candles, made sure the doors and windows were all locked and then left it to its ghosts.

Sam was once again dressed in his filthy clothes and Jay was not looking much better. They had spent the whole evening wandering about the town, studying its inhabitants and how they reacted to the National Guard and the
maréchaussée
. ‘I want to avoid bloodshed if I can,’ Jay said. ‘Better to rescue the Comte by guile than by force when people might be hurt.’

‘You might not be able to avoid it.’ Sam had been on his feet all day and was longing for his bed, especially as he would have to be up again before dawn.

‘True. But if we had uniforms, preferably
maréchaussée
uniforms and horses, it would help.’

‘How are we going to come by those?’

‘Steal them.’

‘Of course, steal them,’ Sam said with heavy irony.

‘I noticed there are two of those fellows lodging at the Black Horse and they keep their mounts in the stable behind the inn. Let us go and drink some of that excruciating cider and weigh up the possibilities. If I should be taken ill of a sudden and have to leave the room, do not be surprised.’

‘If you are thinking what I think you are, sir, it is better I should be ill.’

‘No, you have already proved you can tolerate the drink, while I have done nothing but complain of it. Wait half an hour, then pretend to be concerned and come looking for me. I will meet you in the stable yard.’

The two guards they had met before were in the inn’s parlour and greeted them like long-lost friends. Jay did not doubt they expected to relieve them of a little more gold. They sat with them to drink and play cards. Jay hardly touched his cider, but the amount of liquid in his glass went down gradually, tipped on the
floor under the table. Nevertheless he seemed to grow more and more intoxicated, until he suddenly dashed from the room retching and declaring he was about to be sick. The rest laughed, ordered more drink and invited another man to take up Jay’s hand. The game continued. Sam thought it wise to pretend he did not know how to play properly and lost a great deal of the money the Commodore had given him for the purpose.

Half an hour later, he declared they had cleaned him out and he had better go and find out what had happened to his friend. ‘He’s no doubt sleeping it off somewhere,’ he said, regretfully leaving the pot of
billets de confiance
and
assignat
in the middle of the table.

He found Jay in the yard, carrying a heap of clothing and leading two saddled horses. He handed one of the bundles and one set of reins to Sam and together they crept out on to the road and, once clear of the inn and out of earshot, mounted up and rode out of town.

‘What happened to the fellows these belong to?’ Sam asked.

‘Securely gagged and tied up in their beds and the door locked.’ He threw a key into some bushes as he spoke. ‘I do not suppose anyone
will disturb them before breakfast time, not even then if we are lucky. By that time we will be on our way.’

Sam chuckled. ‘I did not realise thieving was one of your accomplishments, sir.’

‘All’s fair in love and war.’

‘And which is this, love or war?’

Jay looked sharply at him and decided not to reprimand him. ‘It feels like war. I hadn’t realised until tonight how much I missed the excitement of it.’ He paused to chuckle. ‘Not that I ever had to steal a man’s clothes before.’

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