This chapter is placed somewhere in the timeline of The Ionian Mission and possibly Treason's Harbor, taking some advantage of the 1812-1813 O'Brian Timewarp. I also took the liberty of being somewhat free with dates in respect to a couple other elements of the story, but I hope they aren't too extravagant. I've always liked the idea of joining the storylines of different authors in a hopefully consistent manner.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" exclaimed Stephen. "Is this a joke? Am I to take this seriously? I am to meet The Scarlet Pimpernel? Am I to risk my life playacting this... jocose phantasm... some callow, puerile fiction? Do you expect to entertain me with lantern-jawed, reticent English noblemen of heroic stature alongside their requisite willowy heroines?"
"Stephen, my dear fellow, please...", implored Sir Joseph Blaine, "The name is an unfortunate choice I know... doubtless someone is making game of us, yet we have a measure of corroboration and the opportunity is far too great to pass up- and you are our only agent at hand with the necessary connections."
Sir Joseph looked at Stephen Maturin who returned the gaze with his particularly remote, unsettling pale eyes, and continued, "We do not know his identity, but our source indicates that 'S.P.' is highly placed within the Guereillos and is respected by many in Catalonia. All our information points to this being legitimate."
Stephen sat back, staring now at the glowing embers within the fireplace of Sir Blaine's home office. "The Scarlet Pimpernel, for the Love of God..." he muttered. "Someone with the Spanish resistance and yet palatable in Catalonia...", and aloud, "Joseph, it is possible I know this person, yet this... code name... is simply too flagrant to make any sense of it. What am I to do with this fellow?"
Sir Joseph glanced up from the long since memorized papers on his desk, replying, "Mr., ...ahem, Pimpernel informs us he is in a position to establish coordinated guerilla operations in Aragon and Catalonia if we are able to arrange supply points on the Mediteranian coast between Barcelona and a small town, Collioure on the French coast."
"Sure that sounds very well.", Stephen replied, "Yet it is also exactly what one might say to lure another into a very costly trap."
Joseph nodded and sighed, thought for a moment, and said, "Quite, quite. Do you know Major Michael Hogan of the Army?"
"Yes..." replied Stephen, slowly, "he is attached to Sir Wellington. Some time ago I had occasion to meet with him in Portugal. A very able seaman-like officer, as we say in the Navy, even if he is only a landsman."
"Just so," replied Joesph. "He was the means of the proposal reaching us. Major Hogan and I do not communicate often, yet he informs me this is legitimate to the extent he is able to establish."
"Is the Army involved?"
Blaine replied, "Not at first. If the operations proceed as planned, Mr. Hogan has assured us he can supply a number of independent detachments suitable for this sort of operation once preliminary objectives have been accomplished. Your role would be to form the necessary liasons and confirm bona fides. Once this is done, normal command structures would assume the operation."
"I see." Stephen replied, and continued, "Please to give me some additional details if you would."
Blaine paused, glanced at his notes, and said, "As you know, Wellington took Madrid but is now in retreat back to Portugal. If Bonaparte gains momentum once again we could end up in a very bad position indeed- it could well be the end of us in the South. With the Russian front opening up, the war is evolving very quickly. You know the weaknesses and volatility ever-present within our allies- we cannot afford to leave any avenue unexplored."
"With this in view, we have prepared the basis for a limited campaign as follows; First; you make initial contacts on the coast of Languedoc near the border with Spain. We have several dates and times. If all goes well, then we begin drops of arms and supplies at several locations, wherupon various operations will be carried out against several garrisons in the area. The goal is to disrupt French operations, locally, on the coast & inland, and to shorten the Spanish Resistance's supply and communication lines in the East. Once the operation is begun, and if sucessful, it is hoped we may divert significant French attention from Portugal, giving Wellington a chance to regroup. We do not have resources for another front, this effort is only to be an extensive annoyance."
Stephen nodded, pursed his lips and replied "If Hogan is confident of the veracity of this... person, I shall certainly trust his word. It seems an elegant enough plan. I accept, Sir Joseph."
"Good! Thank you my dear Maturin- this is a great relief." replied his chief, smiling, "And I believe you would prefer Captain Aubrey to facilitate the Naval elements of this operation?"
"Yes, if you please." replied Stephen, "As you know, the two of us are already bound for the Med."
"Excellent. We shall have the requisite secret orders drawn up, along with the finer details, to be sent to Admiral Thornton who will make appropriate local dispensations. Since you are shortly to leave in the Worcester, and if you are agreeable, we will send them with you. I also have here additional briefing material and other relevant information which may ease your mind somewhat over the irregularity of this connexion."
"Very well Joseph, very well. You mentioned Collioure," said Stephen contemplatively, "Sure, I know it well, its a lovely town. A dear friend of mine lived there for many years. I believe I shall light a candle for him this very evening, so I will."
"Well now," he continued, "Let us look to your papers..."
Several months later, in the dark of the moon and exactly to the appointed hour, Stephen was lifted bodily from the Surprise's Captain's barge and set ashore amid the thousand smells of the early summer Languedoc coastline.
"There you are Doctor, " whispered Bonden, "see you tomorrow evening, same place, same time. You have your dark-lantern? Pistol? Cloak...?"
"Yes, yes!" replied Stephen testily, and as quietly, "I must be off now, Godspeed to you Bonden."
Stephen did not go a hundred paces away from the shore before two figures materialized from the black night air on either side of him.
"What do you want?" the smaller of the two grated, following the whisk and faint glimmer of a very long knife suddenly just short of touching Stephen's neck. Suprised by the spoken English, and with his heart in this throat, Stephen mastered an involuntary grimace and quietly replied, "I am to meet the Scarlet Pimpernel".
"Ha!", said the larger man, also in English but with a pure Ulster accent, "I told you it would work, sir."
The shorter man holstered his knife and stepped forward, saying, "Quiet, Harper. Sir, my name is Captain Richard Sharpe. I am the Scarlet Pimpernel."
© 2001 Greg Menke