Tender the Storm(3)

By: Elizabeth Thornton


Meanwhile, the two younger children, Zoë and Leon, were to take up residence in separate boarding- schools in Rouen. Claire, too old to pass herself off as a schoolgirl, was to join Zoë at Madame Lambert's, but, as an added precaution, her relationship to Zoë was to be concealed. Only Madame Lambert, the head mistress and proprietress of the school, was to be taken into their confidence. Madame Lambert and Madame Devereux had been, in their youth, on the friendliest terms. Over the years, they had kept up a correspondence. For friendship's sake, Madame Lambert had agreed to employ Claire as a teacher of piano and voice. The parents were to go into hiding with a local locksmith, who, for a considerable sum of money, had agreed to conceal them in a tiny, windowless room above his workshop.

Their last night together was to be spent as normally as possible. Only one servant knew of their circumstances. Salome was Madame Devereux's personal maid and had been with Madame Devereux since before her marriage. She was from the island of San Domingo. Her skin was as brown as coffee. In these circumstances, concealment was impossible. Salome understood this. When it was safe to do so, she would rejoin the family in the country of their adoption.

It was Salome who went to answer the sudden pounding at the front door. Over the preceding months, Leon Devereux had unobtrusively reduced his staff of servants, especially the ones whose loyalty was questionable. Many people of his class had been betrayed to the Tribunal on the word of a less-than-honest retainer. It was better by far to do for themselves and to rest easy in their beds at night than to be waited on hand and foot by servants who were not to be trusted.

The pounding came again, and Zoë started to her feet only to be told by her father to continue playing. His quiet, reassuring manner brought a modicum of calm to them all. Leon, who was very much in his father's image, was the first to collect himself. Though he was a year younger than Zoë , she envied him his poise. As if nothing of any moment were taking place, he returned to the game of chess in which he and Claire were engaged.

But something of fearful, awful moment was taking place as they were to discover almost immediately. Deputies from the Commune burst through the doors of the salle. The domestic scene which met their eyes halted them in their tracks. But the respite was only momentary. They had come to arrest Leon Devereux and his wife on charges of conspiracy to treason. Resistance was useless, as the warning glance which Leon Devereux shot at his young son was meant to convey. Leon's threatening stance relaxed somewhat when, in answer to his father's question, the chief deputy reported that he was to convey Leon Devereux and his wife to the Abbaye prison. It did not seem as if the authorities were in a hurry to bring the Devereux's to trial, else they would have been lodged in the Conciergerie which adjoined the Palais de Justice. There were no warrants for the arrest of the younger members of the Devereux family. But no one was deceived into thinking that that would not soon follow.

Leon Devereux conducted himself with remarkable restraint. Madame Devereux took her cue from her husband. She was the daughter of a general. There would be no sign of cowardice from her.

They embraced their children in turn. "You must proceed with your lives as normally as possible," was their father's parting advice. "Our arrest must not interfere with your progress." His words were weighted with meaning.

Zoë did not know what was to be done. Her brother was all for brazening it out in Paris and organizing an escape attempt. It was Claire's will which prevailed. Nothing would sway her from the course her father had set for them. She was the eldest. Leon Devereux had impressed upon her what must be done should they be overtaken by events. They were to set out for Rouen in the morning as arranged. She had promised their father that she would follow his instructions to the letter.

From the moment of their parents' arrest, Claire had become a different person. Zoë had never remarked such resolution, such clear-eyed determination in her sister. Both Devereux girls had been educated for nothing more taxing than their future roles as wives and mothers. Their accomplishments in the feminine arts were unquestionable. They had not expected that they would have to make their own way in the world. In their social circles, there was always some male in the background, a father, a husband, a brother, v/ho would direct their affairs. Leon was not yet sixteen and too young to assume the responsibilities of a man. Claire was the eldest. She assumed the mantle of guardianship for her younger siblings as if she had been bred for the task.

Carte blanche. The words drummed inside Zoë's head. Under the bed clothes, she stirred restlessly. Mademoiselle had accepted carte blanche from one of Robespierre's commissioners to Rouen. No. It was impossible. She would not believe it until she heard it from Claire's own lips.

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