Saturday, 9 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 9 Word count 2531

Her thoughts drifted over Andy's behaviour and how it had changed over the last few weeks. She'd seen him morph from a young man with promise, to an excited boy taking on adventure, to a lost youth and then – having given him direction once more – into an excitable adventure seeking youth with sense of his own infallibility. With that combination, cast away in France, it was no wonder he had fallen.

She mused over the behaviour James had re counted. Why, she wondered, would he have let Andy go to find himself in that kind of state. They must both have been drunk and utterly foolhardy. It was an interesting reflection to muse briefly on the similarity of the two Andy's – their youthful fervour and sense of adventure over any kind of affinity or responsibility for home. And both, she thought angrily, had been turned into drunk fools and losers by this awful time.

She heard James once more despair over how it was his fault that Andy had fallen and how he should have predicted that, or at the very least somehow got him out before disaster fell and something within her snapped.

She began berating him and shredded every aspect of his character. He was, she declaimed, thoughtless, feckless, irresponsible ad foolish. He had been there to protect Andy from himself and the French and yet both had been in such a state that one of them had died. Was that night of fun worth it she enquired? Did you laugh as Andy made a fool of himself before the French? Did you think it was funny that he could walk into that situation with no backup while you sniggered outside? The words poured forth like a torrent. There was no s=escape for him and, in honour to him he took it manfully.

At first he bowed under the weight of her accusations but as each lacerating missile word found it's target he began to absorb them and accept them. Fro sulking under her gaze he began to acknowledge the truth of her words (although once the tirade had passed it would be a while before she could forgive herself for the harshness she employed) and then he began to grown before her eyes.

He looked around at the luxuries on the table and pushed his plate and glass aside. When her tirade ceased he responded quietly and humbly. He acknowledged that the loss of their mutual friend was his fault. He had a job that he had failed in and in so doing had strengthened the French against the British army. He had known enough about arms and armaments to know that the work in the smith y they passed had been giving the musketry of the French a new kind of rifling and the test dummies bore witness to increased accuracy over longer distances.

There was nothing in his eyes or face to hint any more at the failures of the last few days. Instead he saw the need now to extract the scientist. It was no longer fun and he no longer wanted to risk anyone dying. The known people in his life at risk had decreased from four to three, but the unknown people in his life at risk had escalated by thousands. In that context he was able to let go of his ego and become, as the modern world would call it, a team player.

From that day, he drank only for form at the society parties of the English. He never overate and spent at least two hours a day developing his physical strength and combat abilities.

He never told her why.

The truth was, when he had seen Andy walk in he had thought it an excellent joke on the French. He had never encountered a soldier before: although he had seen many men in regimentals and assumed they were the same thing. He did not realise the consequences of Andy's talk and had, as Melissa suggested, been sat sniggering outside. When the shots started he had been shocked. He had never dared creep in to see if Andy was even alive. Instead, he had taken to his feet and sprinted as far from the town as possible. Fleeing across the country had been difficult. The soldiers around Paris had quickly heard of the English spy who had been shot, and they were on the lookout for his compatriot who they had seen together.

James kept to small towns and byways for as long as possible. He had initially headed straight for Paris but a horseman had reached it first and he had seen the posters containing his likeness and requesting his arrest. After two nights he began to steal to move more swiftly. He was caught more than once and had to fight his way out of each situation. When he reached the yacht, he had essentially collapsed and instructed them to set sail. The posters he had read confirmed Andy's death and he felt no compunction to confess the full shame of his cowardice to Melissa when making his report. Once clean, dressed and fed however, he became more self judgemental. When Melissa had begun her attack he had converted his guilt into a sense of outrage but, either due to the strength of her passion, the duration of her rant or his own innate sense of justice and fair play he found himself acknowledging that she was confirming everything he had suspected about himself and his own attitudes.

There was only so much time he could spend lying to himself and pretending he had acted in the best mores of the British Empire. Now that crisis point had come and he responded superbly. He would never be a soldier – his self indulgence was still too prevalent for that, but from that day forth he was a responsible member of society. He contributed instead of leeching and he had found a purpose.

Once Melissa had subsided he apologised quietly. His tone was very different to previous speeches and she was surprised by it. Looking at him sharply she detected a note of sincerity which had hitherto been lacking although it was not noticeable for its absence. There was a brief pause as he began to express his hopes that she would allow him to continue in the future to contribute to her cause and that he would do everything within his power to smooth over the impact his presence in her home had on her good name.

She smiled, the merest flicker, as she contemplated the truth of her good name's value.

It was worthless in this world as she had broken every social law before she arrived, and a few criminal ones. Now, however, as she was trying to blend in, she suspected it might help.

It was two days later before she saw Lord Penthvere again. He arrived on her doorstep, fashionably dishevelled, and expressed every courtesy. There was an air of apology and understanding about him and it was not long before the purpose of his visit had been revealed.

James had been true to his word. After meeting with the other boys he had retired to his own apartments (which were now under observation and had been since that moment of toasting their success in public) and the next day identified and located Melissa's visitor with the aid of a description from Mary and a n intelligent guess that he might possible be a government staff worker. Lord Penthvere was, it appeared, aide to a leading member of parliament and close friend and confidante of the Royal Family. Feeling a slight trepidation, but bolstered vy the knowledge that this was something he must to, James presented himself at Lord Penthvere's club while he was known to be lunching there.

Requesting a private discussion he had apologised to Lord Penthvere and confided that he was here purely for the sake of Melissa. It wouldn't be right for Lord Penthvere to think anything inappropriate had happened. She did what she did for the good of the British Empire, but she couldn't prove her interests. She was also conscious, James insisted, that the role of women made it impossible for her to be known to contribute towards the British cause.

Lord Penthvere was silent, but not untouched. When James leaned forward and confided his observations of the weaponry developed by the individual they were seeking to release how whole demeanour changed. He cursed and sprang out of his chair. Marching to the doorway, he called out to George, the waiter, and instructed him to collect provisions so he could begin writing notes.

Within a few more hours He had sent several men with various orders all to the same purpose. The man developing weapons for the French was to be assassinated.

He informed Melissa of this, of his appreciation that he had wronged her by assuming that the presence of James in her house, clad as he had been, implied anything other than a business arrangement and his desire that she stay out of international affairs.

She waved him into a seat and calmly informed him that every attempt to assassinate this man would fail, that while she appreciated that he acknowledge he had no right to judge her she would rather he be aware that held true regardless of the nature of her relationship with James or any man and that finally, she was within her rights to concern herself about the extraction of one man from an undesirable situation where she found it possible.

He sat and listened to her claims with the same aura of confidence and the sense that he knew more than she as she did. It was that mirror of herself that prevented her from being offended. She had extra knowledge but couldn't possibly confide it, whereas he may also be hiding things from her. To be offended by his disbelief in her was ridiculous: whether he was operating from a source of evidence or bigotry the result was the same – he was acting on the same basis as she was and to condemn him was to condemn herself.

Accepting that he needed some form of evidence before she could change his mind, she dropped her side of the argument and moved to more frivolous items. For the first time their conversation was sociable and generally friendly. They were getting along surprisingly well. They were both well informed about current affairs and politics and he seemed to enjoy hearing her opinions while she delighted in his acerbic wit and observations of the people he knew intimately that she had only ever seen referred to in newspapers and occasionally on the lines of some society function.

An hour later he rose and reluctantly left her. The two of them had never before had the opportunity to fare well so cordially and she slipped into her habits from her old life and reached out to embrace him as he left. He was hugely surprised and confused, but once again did not reject her or freeze in offence. Instead he accepted her salutation and the two parted as friends.

When she sat by herself at a later hour, she felt mortified as she realised the perception of intimacy such an act had in this day and age. Even so, he could not regret it. It had been a sincere gesture with no subtext of seduction, manipulation or coercion. She had simply wanted to bid him adieu as a friend and he, to his credit, did not appear to have read anything more into the circumstance.

She spent several hours that night working on a plan to release Andy. The intervention of British assassins made it more likely that Andy would be moved again, and the watch around him increased. It would be more difficult than ever to extricate him. Added to this the fact that apparently the device only gave Andy the guarantee of survival – if she dived into the furore, she was at risk of death herself. She mused over the various angles of the problem and the next day called the boys to a conference.

When they were gathered together the mood was subdued. In comparison to the previous events which had been conducted with an air of lightness and fun, this was a serious sombre affair. James was profoundly affected by his experience and the other boys responded to that although they had not quite reached that stage themselves yet.

Melissa herself was more confident in her decision making process and consultation. She described the outcome of their recent effort and the effect that would have on future attempts. She also pointed out the additional dangers in the situation – attempting to rescue a man marked for assassination by the British would not look good. There was a general agreement, but all three men were now aware of the French developments in artillery and each had a sibling, cousin or friend out in the field of battle that may fall as a result of this Andy's work.

When Melissa made her instructions known, she was expecting some resistance. Although they fed back on the aspects of her plan that were unworkable within the confines they were operating, they were overall very supportive and agreed to give it a go. Michael pointed out that they needed an extra remember to the group for it to work properly, and James recommended his own cousin who, while not the most adventurous young buck, had the resources and physical attributes required and could generally be relied upon. He agreed to bring this cousin to Melissa the following day for inspection and induction into the group.

The next day the induction process duly occurred. Melissa was introduced to the cousin, John Harper, and asked to speak with him privately. It was important to her that she knew his personal feelings about working under the instruction of a woman. At first he had acted as a man of fashion; offering her a mild flirtation. When she ordered; not requested, specifically ordered; the other three to leave, he had been surprised. When the three obeyed without question or hesitation, he was visibly shocked. He watched them as they left and then turned questioning eyes towards her. She had presented the situation to him clearly – that she was to give instruction and he would obey. Did he feel that was an improper position for a female?

He was startled and it showed. His heavyset shoulder and craggy features gave him the illusion of a bullish mentality and for a moment she was afraid, but his words countered the aura he emitted. “I would not blindly follow any commands, madam, unless I had grounds to implicitly trust the commander. To expect anything less is the mark of an arrogant dictator and that is the mentality I would least choose to represent or follow.”

His wordy response took a little unravelling in her mind but she liked the gist and smiled. “We have a problem. Your cousin believes you can contribute to a successful resolution.”

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