A/N: Hi everyone, thanks so much again and again for all your lovely reviews! Also thanks to Kisses on the Steps for the little cameo of my humble character in one of her 25 days of Blakeney Christmas chapters. If you haven't yet already, allow me to recommend them all! You will not regret it and will alternately be moved from melancholy sighing to risking death by laughter! Anyhoo... about this chapter... it's a bit long... sorry I couldn't do anything to remedy it this time, hopefully you all will forgive me... but this will be the last chapter in which Devinne features as one of Worthsby's antagonists (his league membership time clock is ticking after all) and I sort of thought I'd let him go out with a bang... not to give anything away! Please read, review and enjoy!
Sea Mews, Devinne Justice and a Demmed Good Shot
Blakeney did not forget his casually made remark regarding secret calls or sea mews and at our next league meeting, two days later, he detailed his official proposal to us.
"As our adventures continue to grow more complex and dangerous, the need for our own secret signal becomes ever more crucial," he addressed those of us who had assembled in Ffoulkes' bachelor lodgings at Pall Mall under the pretext of an evening of cards. "So this is why I would like each and every one of you to familiarize yourself with the call of the sea mew. I know you have all heard it before and I expect it is likely to be the easiest of common bird calls to master. For our own purposes of differentiation, we will repeat the call thrice at regular intervals as a preplanned or impromptu signal. Are there any questions regarding this?"
I shifted uncomfortably and occupied myself with polishing my eyeglass on the lace of my cuff. My doubts concerning my ability to fulfil this new requirement of the league were great indeed. However, it would not do to protest something like this. To question Blakeney's authority over such a trivial matter was the last thing I wanted to be guilty of.
No one else had any questions either apparently and Blakeney continued with further plans concerning our return to France at the end of the week. He intended to meet us in Calais, traveling on ahead to make arrangements and sending the Daydream back to bring a select number of us over. Several more important rescues centered in Paris were to be staged, however, my assigned position was to be in the countryside on the courier route as a sort of standby assistance in the escapes to the coast. I pushed aside the suspicion that I had been demoted and consoled myself with the thought that at least there would be less for me to ruin, being that far from the dangerous action. Perhaps I might even finally find an opportunity to prove myself worthy of more complex assignments. However, this business regarding sea mews bothered me greatly and I began to fervently pray that I would never be required to make use of it.
That was, of course, wishful thinking.
The end of the week saw me on board the Daydream with eight other league members, each in the throes of practicing our new signal. I actually began to feel somewhat normal as I realized I was not the only one having trouble. Even Sir Andrew Ffoulkes sounded more like a puppy than a bird and I grew comfortable enough to practice with everyone else. The spectacle of a troop of young Englishmen standing about deck making hideous noises that were supposed to sound like seagulls must have given Briggs and his crew no end of amusement, but they had the good taste to hide it if they did and calmly continued their business with the rigging as we screeched and wailed at the top of our lungs.
Sir Phillip Glynde was the first to finally let out a call so realistic that we all ceased our din and belabored him over how he had managed it.
"It's all in the back of the throat, dear chaps," he grinned smugly, cupping his hands to his mouth and letting out another call that left us quite jealous.
That was the beginning of the end of my newfound normalcy. Soon, everyone was catching on to the technique and by the time the Daydream dropped anchor off the coast of Calais, I was the only one who hadn't made an ounce of progress. The only noises I seemed capable of were such as I would not dare to utter in the earshot of any good citizen of France. Glynde, however, had gotten so good that entire flocks of eager sea mews would hearken to the call and come and hover over him once he got started – much to the detriment of his clothing.
"Don't worry, Charlie," Andrew consoled as we seated ourselves in the yacht's longboat, heading to shore under the cover of darkness. "We'll work on it with you. It's just a matter of time before it becomes second nature."
"I hope you're right," I replied. Then, in an effort to shake off the hopelessness of the situation, I remarked lightly, "At least you'll know it's me when you hear the distant sounds of a donkey with an upset stomach."
Dewhurst guffawed. "Actually, I was thinking you reminded me more of an expiring cat."
"I would agree," Holte added, taking on the air of a wine connoisseur. "Though I was detecting some undertones of rusty hinges…"
"Strong undertones!" Everingham threw in, "with a distinct note of angry monkeys on the finish."
"Angry monkeys?" I could not help but laugh at the playful teasing and idiotic banter of my comrades.
"Worthsby's got a point there," Holte noted, "I couldn't say I identified any hints of such exotic quality."
"I daresay Everingham has never even heard a monkey before in his life – let alone an angry one," Ffoulkes quipped.
Dewhurst chuckled. "Well now he has!"
We all laughed heartily at that – well everyone except Devinne. He seemed inclined to take the situation a bit more seriously than the rest of the adventurers. Or perhaps, as was more likely, he simply couldn't stomach seeing me put at ease.
"For heaven's sake!" he hissed. "The whole lot of you sound like a pack of drunken hoodlums! At this rate we'll have the entire French militia waiting to meet us when we reach shore. Personally, I care very little whether or not Worthsbyfailed sounds like a strangled goose on Christmas morning, an irate chambermaid, or a pony with the measles – that's all obvious enough – but I think we would do well to remember the vitality of our mission here and not risk it with such foolhardiness!"
Dewhurst was sitting with his back to Devinne and took advantage of the position to make an exaggerated expression of mock chagrin and seriousness in the darkness at Ffoulkes who sat across from him. Ffoulkes, upon observing this, was consequently obliged to hold his nose to keep from audible sounds of mirth.
"Demme," Glynde drawled, less inclined to be secretive about his opinion of the spoil-sport in our midst, "somebody has had a bad batch of snuff!"
"But truly!" Holte leaned forward and remarked in a tone of great discovery, "Do you know? I think Johnny has hit the mark!"
"I dare say I have," a disgruntled Devinne retorted, falling for the reverent expression on Froggie's face.
"That is precisely what it was!" Holte continued. "A strangled goose!"
Everyone laughed again – everyone but Devinne and me. He was scowling and I was beginning to worry we might try his patience too far, and that I would ultimately be the one to suffer the consequences.
"Alright fellows," I urged quietly, "D-Devinne is r-right. I don't want to be th-the cause of us all getting captured, what?"
The fellows quieted down and we reached the shore without incident as I mentally made a note to add encounters with Devinne to my list of things to pray I wouldn't be required to endure on this adventure.
Again, this was of course, wishful thinking.
A day later saw me settled into my new position in a tumble-down two-roomed hut about two hour's ride inland from the coast. I would be responsible not only for keeping fresh horses in the hidden stable we had restored to function in a nearby thicket, but also for relaying messages from Paris to the coast – all while keeping a low profile. I was not to leave the vicinity unless under express orders or if it became too dangerous to stay. In this event I was to leave a special signal on the road and depart with all haste back to Calais where I could rendezvous with the league members stationed there. However, there was really very little action involved. In fact, I spent most of my time trying to muck out the stable – a task for which I was quite ill-fitted having always had my own horses tended to by stable hands. Zounds, but I had never realized what a mess horses could be! My unskilled hands would fumble clumsily with the pitchfork and I scattered more manure than I ever managed to get into the rickety barrow. To complicate things, the three steeds had taken an instant dislike to me, perhaps sensing my propensity to ineptitude, and would kick and bite viciously any time I came near one of them. Two days had passed in this tedious manner, when, on the third afternoon, a familiar sound pierced my consciousness while I was working in the stable.
It was the call of a sea mew.
"Demme," I muttered to myself as I hoisted another precarious pitchforkfull of manure, "I thought I was too far inland to have to listen to such a nuisance. The demmed creature has probably sought me out to mock me."
Indeed it was a persistent sea mew, calling thrice, pausing, and then calling thrice again in a discernable pattern for several minutes.
That was when it struck me. Gadzooks, but it must be one of the league members trying to contact me, seeking verification that the coast was clear! They were awaiting my response! I dropped the pitchfork and cupped my dubiously sanitary hands as near my mouth as I dared, making my best effort with three shrieks such as a creature in dire distress might utter. Unfortunately, the horses standing behind me did not like this unexpected new proceeding at all and began to toss their heads and grow restless. I realized abruptly that I was within range of their savagely pawing hooves and quickly stepped forward to escape.
I could never have repeated what happened next nor even gotten it to occur on purpose, not if I tried for the rest of my hapless life, so perfectly choreographed were my next movements.
In my haste to escape the ill-tempered brutes, I inadvertently trod heavily on the prongs of the pitchfork I had dropped. Without warning I was confronted with the sudden appearance of the pitchfork handle, swinging up to whack me square in the forehead. I staggered backwards from this unexpected assault only to encounter the stunning sensation of a propitious blow to my posterior.
I had gotten too near the horses.
The force of this kick was more than enough to hurtle me several feet forward – straight into my perfectly placed, manure-filled barrow. The vile thing shattered under my weight and I landed comfortably in a heap of splintered wood and horse manure.
My senses reeled – both from the blow the pitchfork had bestowed upon my forehead and from the sheer enormity of what had just happened – and I lay where I fell for a moment, considering if I could possibly get unluckier than I already was. It was the sound of approaching voices that finally stirred me and I began to pick myself out of my predicament.
"You certainly didn't exaggerate," I could hear Armand's voice, "Charlie is going to have to work on that sea mew call or else…" his voice trailed off and I raised my head to find he, Devinne, and Holte were standing and staring at me with surprise written over every feature of their faces. The silence lasted only a second before all three dissolved into varying states of suppressed laughter.
"Mon Dieu! Quel dommage…" Armand snickered, holding a hand over his mouth to contain his mirth.
"Odd's life, Worthsby!" Holte guffawed. "Is this what you do with yourself all day?"
Devinne laughed roundly and exclaimed, "Look! Worthsbyfell!"
That did it. I had heard that joke one too many times now. It had been one of Devinne's personal favorites in our boyhood, usually preceded by him sticking his foot into my unsuspecting path. Invariably I would trip and fall on my face, while he laughed and exclaimed, 'Worthsbyfell!' and all the other boys would laugh with him.
I growled with the ferocity of a savage beast and seized a handful of manure, hurtling it in Devinne's general direction.
Devinne saw it coming and stepped out of the way easily, still laughing heartily.
I would have attempted another round but Armand and Froggie had by now recovered themselves and were helping me up. "Come along now, Worthsby, we have to hurry," Armand urged.
"Yes, Percy is waiting with the refugees by the hut and we need fresh horses for the cart," Holte added.
"Good," I muttered, "t-take the nasty beasts away. They have given me n-no end of t-trouble!" I wiped my soiled hands onto my equally stained breeches and watched enviously as Holte and Devinne secured two of my equine charges with as much ease as if they had been newborn kittens, leading them away. I headed back to the hut, with Armand at my side. "So what are you doing out of Paris?" I inquired. Armand's place was usually within the city walls as his status as a French Republican served the Scarlet Pimpernel much better than if he were to run about like the rest of us.
"I have been given leave to take a holiday in England – to visit my sister," he replied. "It has been some months since we saw each other last." This statement was punctuated with a small sigh and he fell quiet as we walked.
"No French lesson today, then?" I asked, hoping to lighten his mood.
Armand smiled, "No, sorry about that, I will be leaving with Holte and Devinne as soon as they're ready to proceed. Perhaps next time."
I nodded and was nearly run over by Devinne rounding the corner with a hot and lathering, bony old nag. He thrust the lead-rope at me and smirked as Armand continued to the hut.
"Well, we're off for the coast and more adventure," he crowed. "See if you can't at least manage to –"
I seized the lead rope and shook a menacing, manure-smirched finger at his face, cutting off Devinne's next insulting remark before it could escape his lips. "I – I'm warning y-y-you!" I hissed, "I've h-had enough! S-s-someday I'll even our score and – and then you-you'll b-be sorry!"
"I doubt it!" Devinne laughed flippantly before turning and ambling off in the direction of the waiting refugees. "D-don't keep me w-waiting!" he called mockingly over his shoulder as he left.
I felt like punching something, and had my bony charge so much as flattened her ears at me or bared her teeth, I just might have let her be the recipient of the brutish urge. However, unlike her younger and fiercer counterparts, this horse simply regarded me with doleful brown eyes that left me feeling more sympathetic than anything. Life had not dealt well by either of us, and neither of us were particularly useful for anything grand. The least I could do was rub her down and treat her to some oats. "Come along," I sighed, drawing the sorry beast by the lead rope, "there's nothing more for either of us to do here."
I had the nag settled in a few minutes and, leaving my wrecked pile of manure and wheelbarrow splinters for the time being, I headed back to the hut in hopes of finding some way to clean myself up. The others were long gone by the time I reached it, and so I was surprised to find an old man hunched over the rickety table in the middle of the room when I slipped through one of the several openings into the hut, and I paused as he looked up at me. Without a doubt, the odd character was simply Percy in disguise – who else could he be? – but the look of sheer astonishment that the fellow gave upon seeing me was enough to cast me back into uncertainty. Percy wouldn't be surprised to see me. Had a strange old man wandered into my hut? I gave a little smile, hoping that I wouldn't have to say something foolish and thus expose my stupidity yet again. The smile was enough, and the man straightened to his full height as a merry laugh filled the room.
"Zounds, Worthsby!" Percy laughed, "But I do believe neither of us recognized each other for a moment! What on earth have you done to yourself?"
I sighed in defeat and held out my hands in a shrug, "Just the usual sorts of things, you know. Nothing out of the ordinary. If I could actually get something right for once then I might have astounding news for you."
"Dear, dear," Percy clicked his tongue sympathetically. "I think the moment calls for something I reserve just for emergencies like this." He reached into one of his tattered pockets, "And mind you, Worthsby, I wouldn't do this for just any of the league, but yours is a situation of dire necessity." Blakeney punctuated this statement by holding out a small, brownish lump.
I took it and quickly ascertained its identity. "Soap!" I cried delightedly. This was a rare prize indeed on this side of the Channel. "Odd's life Blakeney but you are a true friend! How can I repay you?"
"I thought I caught a glimpse of something not unlike the remains of a leg of mutton in your cupboard," he grinned. "Perhaps I might whet my appetite upon it?"
I laughed, "Help yourself, but I'm afraid I roasted it into oblivion last night and if you live to curse me afterward, it will be a miracle indeed."
"I'll take my chances," he replied gaily and in a moment had the discussed morsel out on the table and was hacking away at it with a knife.
I took a few minutes outside with the soap by the water trough and managed to at least rid my face, arms, and chest of the vile filth I had been covered in and washed my shirt out as well, hanging it to dry on a bush on my way back into the hut.
Blakeney had now leaned back in his chair with his feet propped up on the table and regarded me approvingly as I returned. "Not bad," he remarked and caught the soap in mid-air as I tossed it to him. "I think now we can begin our lesson."
"L-lesson?" I queried.
"Yes, sink me old boy but I didn't stop by simply to eat your mutton and waste my soap on you, what? I have heard from the others that you have been having some difficulties."
The remark was too much for me and I quickly dissolved into the sort of laughter allotted to those poor souls whose straits are so dire that even tears have been denied them. "Some difficulties?" I gasped out, "To which of the many are you referring? And you have only just heard of this? Really Percy! I had thought you better informed!"
"Sea mews, you nitwit," Blakeney returned jovially, shaking his head with a grin at my response, "Alas I haven't time to give you a lesson on anything else."
"That is a pity," I replied, pulling up a chair to the table to sit across from him. "Especially as I doubt even you can teach me how to perfect the call of the sea mew."
"Ah, but when I have confided my secrets to you," Blakeney waved a finger at me, "you will not only call like a sea mew, you will think like a sea mew, feel like a sea mew, and know the innermost longings all sea mews cherish but have never revealed! In short, you will all but become a sea mew."
I laughed, "Very well, fire away! Astound me with your knowledge."
And so it was that I received a half-hour lesson from the master of all imitation. To Blakeney's credit, I did feel rather confident that success was finally in reach by the end of it, and I promised him faithfully that I would practice and try to make a go of it.
"You do that," Blakeney urged, taking the remaining fresh horse from the stable and mounting it bareback. "For by the end of the week, Ffoulkes will be through with a message you will relay to Devinne in Calais and you will have need of the signal in order to contact him."
"Devinne," I scowled under my breath.
"Do you find a problem with this?" Percy inquired
I looked up hastily, "Oh, no, t-to be sure," I assured him, hoping not to be seen as balking at a direct order. "I'll b-be glad to see it through." However, it would have been better if Blakeney could have taken my obvious inability to work with Devinne as a cue to keep us as separate as possible. I was beginning to suspect that he continued to place us together in order that I would have to finally face him and hold my own. It was hard to be certain, but there was without a doubt a strong degree of evaluation in the gaze Blakeney bestowed upon me from his mount.
"Your rendezvous point will be in an abandoned orchard I scouted out last week," he continued. "You will find it about an hour-and-a-half's ride from here. Follow the main road north and when you come to a crossroads with a large, stone building – an inn I believe by the name of le Chien Noir – you will take the west route to the first bridge. At the bridge you will leave the road and follow the creek downstream until you find the orchard. It will be obvious enough this time of year – you might even be lucky and find some apples hanging about – and when you get fairly well into it, you will make the call of the sea mew and Devinne will answer you. Have you got it?"
I nodded as cheerily as I could manage and tried to pretend that Devinne didn't exist. "I've got it. Godspeed, Percy!"
The next few days were still fairly tedious in that I was once more designated to wait upon further orders, but were not nearly as terrible as the ones that had immediately preceded them. True to my word, I practiced my sea mew call every moment that I was certain of complete solitude, and actually made such progress that one day I was rewarded with the arrival of one of the creatures themselves. It perched on the top of the ramshackle hut and returned my eager calls with cries of its own in such a stupendous moment of victory that I could nearly have wept for joy. I had got it at last! I danced up and down with delight and frightened the poor bird away with my antics, but at this point I heeded it little. My trouble had been overcome, that was all that mattered. Now Blakeney might be able to depend on me.
Another fact that made the days pleasant was that the care required for one old nag was considerably easier than the efforts necessary for three robust horses. Cleaning out the manure was a dream by comparison, and it was all made even more pleasant by the fact that the aged creature was quite docile and even companionable. I found myself talking to her as I worked and she would regard me intently, as though she were listening, sometimes even reaching her nose out to nudge me if I happened to be taking too long with supplying the feed. By the end of the first day I had begun to call her 'Rosie', and by the end of the third, I had taken to spending most of my spare time with her, either grooming her or just sitting in the small meadow behind the hut, watching as she grazed.
It was in this posture, on the morning of the fourth day, that I heard the call of the sea mew thrice repeated as I basked in the warmth of the late summer sunshine. I stood and promptly gave answer, pleasing myself with how good I sounded before springing round to the front of the hut to see who was arriving. Rosie, perhaps thinking I was about to dispense her midday meal earlier than usual, picked up her head and ambled along behind me, so that both of us were present when Sir Andrew Ffoulkes pulled up on his lathering charger.
"Ffoulkes!" I greeted him and stepped forward to take the bridle of his horse. The horse however, with a sideways snap of his teeth in my direction helped me recognize him as one of my previous charges, and so I kept my distance and let Ffoulkes dismount without aid.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed with an approving grin. "I could not help but notice your sea mew call has attained perfection! Didn't I tell you it was only a matter of practice?"
"You thought it was good then?" I beamed.
Ffoulkes laughed, "I almost didn't think it was you! Now," he assumed a more businesslike manner, "take this packet. It contains the instructions you are to deliver to Devinne. This will detail when and where the Daydream should be ready to sail, the meeting places and exchange points, and other matters necessary for the completion of our next rescue."
I took the rather thick letter and fingered the seal as Sir Andrew continued.
"It is to be a family called 'de Tournay', and – you'll like this Worthsby – but I do believe Percy is going to resurrect his hag disguise!" He nudged me playfully with his elbow. "A good thing you won't have to worry about any of that, eh?" Even as he smiled though, his eyes began to take on the distant look of a dreamer. "But she is such a lovely girl," he sighed. "Have you ever felt, Worthsby, just by seeing someone that you realize the one person you were created for has suddenly appeared before your very eyes, and that your world will never be the same again?"
I stared strangely at Ffoulkes, wondering what on earth he was getting at, and ventured, "Ah, well, n-not exactly. Can't say as I have. C-certainly never when I've see Percy in dis-disguise as a – a hag."
Now Ffoulkes was staring strangely at me. In an instant though, his merry eyes flashed and he threw his head back and laughed until he was forced to wipe tears from his face. "Not Percy, you idiot!" he laughed. "Mademoiselle de Tournay! But there, we are wasting time," he took a breath and recovered himself. "You need to ride with the dispatch and I need to procure some fresh horses to be on the ready for the exchange. Too bad this horse here is already spent or I'd suggest you take him on your mission. I'm afraid you'll have to take the nag – but be sure to bring it back on your return for Percy will require it to take the cart out of Paris."
"Oh, that is fine by me," I assured. "I'd rather take old Rosie than that vicious creature any day."
"'Old Rosie'?" Ffoulkes raised an eyebrow and took a glance at the nag still standing behind me. "Hmm. You do realize, Charlie, that the purpose of keeping a nag is to provide authenticity to impoverished disguises, not to fatten and groom the creatures back to health? If my memory serves me properly, this beast was significantly bonier and hoarier the last time I laid eyes on it. You aren't getting overly attached to it, are you?"
"Oh, no," I denied, even as I felt an awkward flush rise at the nape of my neck, "a-abso-solutely n-not! Here now, I-I'd better h-hurry!" I darted back into the hut, retrieved my water flask, leather mail pouch, and hat before springing off into the stable to fetch saddle and bridle for my mount.
"Don't forget your pistol!" Sir Andrew remarked from where he was cooling off his own horse.
Blakeney had instructed us each to carry a pistol when out alone on league business. The weapons themselves were outdated, battered and virtually useless in the event anything smaller than a large building would be required to be shot, however, it was not intended to kill. Our instructions were not to use lethal force against our enemies – how would we be any different than they if we took lives while trying to save others? But rather we were to fire them as a scare tactic or to cause confusion. Neither scenario required accuracy, and therefore, the pistol that I slipped into the pouch with the dispatches was a piece that had seen better days and one that I knew was completely unreliable.
Rosie submitted herself to be saddled without demure and soon I was riding at a graceless amble up the north road Percy had instructed me to take. At that pace, it took me nearly an hour longer than Blakeney had predicted before I drew rein in sight of the abandoned apple orchard, but it had not been much use persuading my steed to go any faster. I found myself hesitating as I surveyed the area. It seemed abandoned enough, there were no signs of life – or even of death – but Devinne's certain presence was enough to make it a place fraught with peril for my dignity, and so it was with a very cautious nudge of my knees that I bade Rosie take me further into it. She quickly proved more interested in feasting on fallen apples than following orders, and, after a brief struggle to extract her compliance with my wishes, I gave in and tied her to a tree to await my return – first kicking all rotten apples out of her reach before I left. Now proceeding on foot, I paused every now and then to give signal and listen for a response.
It was only after I had walked some minutes and called several times that I finally heard a response, coming from a ways off. At last! As unpleasant as it was certain to be to parley with him I had been beginning to grow nervous that Devinne hadn't shown up after all and then I would have been in a real fix. I trotted forward eagerly, planning a brief speech that would get me out of Johnny's way as fast as possible. Despite my threats upon Devinne's person several days ago, I lacked sufficient courage to carry any such thing out, and provoking violence was the last thing on my mind by the time I stopped again and looked around me. The sea mew call had come from somewhere around here, but I couldn't see anyone. Nothing but unkempt apple trees overgrown almost to the wildness of a thicket met the eye. I called again, making my best effort and relished the fact that I no longer sounded like a simpleton. To my dismay, the call was answered from a distance in the exact opposite direction as I had been going. I warily began to make my way toward it again, my confidence tottering with every step I took. Something told me this was all certain to end very badly – if only because that was usually my fate in any adventure. Again, I reached the vicinity of the reply call, and again – unable to find any sign of Devinne – I gave the signal. Again it was answered from a completely different stretch of the orchard.
So that was it. Devinne was playing tricks on me and thought he'd make a fool of me even at risk of league business! The insult was unbearable, and I stalked angrily over to where the call had originated, looking around for my mischievous comrade. There was no-one to be seen and I was forced to repeat the sea mew call. It would never do for me to start yelling his name at this point lest a passerby overhear and discover us. The call was answered yet again, and yet again it came from another distant corner of the orchard. I practically ran toward it this time, determined to catch the trickster in his prank and equally determined to make him pay as I had once threatened – for indignation had by now more than adequately supplied the courage I lacked mere moments before. I was slightly out of breath when I stopped and scanned the area the call had been made in last. Apparently I had not been fast enough, for there was still no sign of Devinne. Thoroughly infuriated at my ineptitude and ripeness for easy pranking, I had difficulty in keeping my throat from constricting as I called yet again. To my surprise, I was answered by a call quite nearby.
I glanced around frantically, fully expecting Devinne to drop out of a tree on my head, but met with an entirely different sort of surprise instead. There, on a pile of some rocks that had once formed a part of the orchard enclosure, sat a large sea mew. He regarded me with equal surprise and threw back his head, calling loudly. I recognized it as the call I had mistaken for Devinne. Here then was what I had been chasing all over the orchard this whole time! A ridiculous old sea mew! So this is what it all came to! Either I couldn't call like a sea mew to save my life, or I was so good that I was fit for nothing more than to communicate with the beastly creatures. Too angry at myself to think rationally, I decided nothing would suit me better than to rid the world of such an annoying bird, and so I quickly pulled my pistol out of my bag, cocked the piece, took aim and fired.
I had half known I would miss before I even pulled the trigger – what else could I expect from such a useless weapon? – but still felt a little better about the world, even as the shot went wide and the sea mew flew away unharmed. At least I had taught it a lesson and I could continue my mission in peace. However, no sooner had the smoke cleared from the shot than I heard a piteous groan quite nearby. I was not even afforded a second to conjecture over this before I was treated to the sight of someone toppling out of a tree, a little ways off to my left.
My heart dropped to the soles of my pinched and rotting shoes as I sprang toward the individual. In my childish wrath I had not considered the horrific fact that in missing the sea mew I might kill someone.
"Oh dear me!" I cried as I neared him, expecting I had just murdered a French peasant, though not bothering to speak only French as it wouldn't matter if the man was already dead. "Ah, Ju suis desolay – th-that is to say, pardone moi – oh demmit! I'm s-so terribly, t-terribly sorry! I – I had no idea, I – "
I was upon the fellow now and turned him over to see his face. My blithering was cut short as I gasped, "Devinne!"
Devinne, his good looking features contorted in pain, opened his eyes and practically snarled as he saw me. "Damn it, Charlie!" he burst out, following the exclamation with a volley of oaths that contained words I had not even known existed. "What in the fires of hell have you done this time?"
By now I had searched his person for the mark and ascertained that the shot had hit Devinne in the leg – and that thankfully the wound was far from fatal. Knowing this fact lifted the weight of remorse from my heart and replaced it with an unholy glee. Indeed, the knowledge that I had at long last discomfited the one who had always held the upper hand over me was enough to make it hard for me to repress a chuckle of delight as I helped him to sit up.
"Demmed sorry, dear old chap," I grinned, betraying the insincerity of my words as I prattled on, "t-terribly sorry! I feel terrible about this! Really I do. Fancy me shooting a good chap like you – lud what a lark!"
Devinne grit his teeth and glared fiercely. "You're an idiot, Worthsby! A dammed idiot!"
"I know!" I laughed, feeling better with every curse from Devinne's lips, "Nasty, awkward thing, ain't it? Now here, let me bind this up so you don't – "
My nursing ministrations were cut short by a cry of pain from my patient as I fumblingly attempted to bind a strip of cloth around his wound. "Oh God!" he shrieked. "Let me be, Worthless! You'll be the death of me. I – oh!" He cried out again as he tried to stand and failed miserably. A moan of defeat escaped him and he closed his eyes as he muttered, "So this is what it has come to. I'm at the mercy of the stupidest fool in England."
"I'm afraid so," I smiled good-naturedly and resumed my efforts to staunch Devinne's bleeding. "But Johnny, if you were there the whole time, why on earth didn't you make yourself known instead of letting me chase that confounded bird everywhere?"
"Demmit but I didn't know it was you!" Devinne seethed. "How was I supposed to know you were actually going to sound like a sea mew this time? You took so long to get here that I ended up napping in that tree, and was bloody well minding my own business when you had the indecency to shoot me out of it!"
My world grew even brighter at this discovery. Devinne had made a blunder normally reserved for someone of my own personal ineptitude! "Well that is an understandable mistake – I do idiotic things like that all the time!" I chuckled sympathetically. "Again, terribly, terribly sorry about it. Here now," I put a hand under his arm, "let's get you back to headquarters. Do you have a horse?"
Devinne resisted the assistance at first, but, realizing there was nothing else to do, relented and allowed me to help him to his feet. "I didn't bring a horse," he growled. "How was I supposed to know Percy had been fool enough to let you carry a pistol?"
"Very well, we'll take Rosie then," I decided. "Come along."
Devinne was clearly infuriated at requiring my aid and I could tell his muscles were just as tense with anger as they were pain as I put his arm around my shoulders and supported him to where Rosie stood waiting. He took one look at the bony beast and groaned again – almost sounding as though he were about to cry.
"Wordsbegone," he gasped out, "please tell me that jolting old scarecrow isn't the horse you spoke of?"
The elation I had been soaring upon at being in the position of power was now for the first time tempered with an actual sense of pity. Yes, how well I knew by personal experience that old Rosie was no gentle pacer. Devinne and his leg would be treated to an extensive and vicious gamut of bumps and knocks before we reached our destination.
"I'm afraid so," I replied, beginning to realize my steed was about to wreak a delightfully complete vengeance for me upon my old enemy – and that for some reason, it almost seemed like too great a punishment, even for the years of cruel torment I had endured at his hands – and I began to wish I could spare him somehow. But there was nothing else for it. Truer words were never written than those which say, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay!' Devinne was going to have to drink his own medicine down to the last bitter draught. "Up you go!" I gave him a hand up and stabilized him in the saddle. "Now, where to?" I took Rosie's reins and prepared to lead her from the ground.
"Return to the main road," Devinne replied weakly, "go north towards the coast. I'll signal you when to turn."
Our destination was not far, but by the time I deposited Johnny and the dispatches with Glynde and Holte he was almost unconscious from pain and nearly needed to be carried into the little seaside hut being used by the league as our costal headquarters. There he was put to bed and his wound was more properly dressed as Froggie plied me for the details of the story. Devinne's torment of me was no secret to any of the league, and so, I had not gotten far into the tale before Glynde and Froggie were cheering me on and clapping me on the back with amusement – quietly though as Devinne was resting in the next room.
"You finally gave the scoundrel what was coming to him!" Sir Phillip laughed.
"Indeed!" Froggie grinned, "I dare say he will think twice before tormenting you again! Jolly good show!"
At the time, I wasn't too sure of the truth of Holte's words, but one thing did prove certain: Devinne was never the same again after that incident. He never had been the jolliest companion to begin with anyway, but once he mended and rejoined league activities he became positively… well… insubordinate. That very winter he committed his nefarious betrayal of Percy – a deed recorded in detail by Baroness Orczy, our chronicler – and was consequently expelled from the league. The inexplicability of the action often led many of us remaining league members to conjecture that if I had never shot Devinne out of that apple tree, perhaps he never would have turned out the way he did. Ah, well, 'tis all conjecture at this point, eh what? I was certainly much happier after the accident myself, I can tell you, and I found that all the anger and frustration that had festered against him all these years was gone. I had escaped his clutches of superiority and was no longer at the mercy of his whims. Sink me, but I had never felt so free in all my life!
News of the shooting naturally spread through the league like wildfire – dispatches from our leader himself had never traveled so fast – and to my surprise, I was treated as something of a hero by all who knew. Even Percy, who I thought might be displeased at wantonly injuring one of our own, could only smile and say:
"There may be many things old Worthsby's not,
But none can deny he's a demmed good shot!"