“Hold the thief!”
The cry came from a little woman who sold apples. To Marguerite’s surprise two guardsmen showed up rather quickly and set in the pursuit of the pickpockets. People were brushed aside, stalls overturned, creating more hassle.
One of the thieves bumped into Marguerite. He was a boy, not older than ten. Without thinking, she got hold of his arm. “Keep still,” she warned him, “unless you want the guards to arrest you.”
A dirty face with dark and challenging eyes looked up to hers. Thick black hair curled over his ears and collar, the mouth was broad and ready to laugh. His bold stare told her something. She followed his gaze and noticed how she kept two fingers crossed – as an obvious sign the boy well understood.
A deep feeling of confusion took possession of her. What was she doing? What did this mean?
She had no time to think further. An officer of the guard approached her. The man bowed politely, but his face stood grim. “Madame?”
“Monsieur l’officier?” she responded with a friendly smile.
“I believe you are protecting a notorious thief and street robber,” he stated in a cold voice. “The boy next to you is well known to us, and it is my duty to arrest him.”
“I’m sure there is a mistake, Officer,” she corrected him swiftly. Her raised eyebrows indicated an air of mischief. “Jean,” she added, “the boy you see here, is the nephew of my valet. Henri can testify to that.”
The lawman frowned, especially when the servant replied.
“Indeed, I can vow to that,” Henri said. He knew where his loyalty lay.
“I’m helping my uncle to carry Madame’s purchases,” the boy peeped up, unasked. His feeling of self-confidence returned after a brief moment of panic. He grinned.
The officer sighed, seeming to admit to his defeat. This time he had to leave without prisoner. His opponent was a lady of quality, more precisely the wife of his highest chief, the Attorney General of Paris. Even though he knew she was lying, he could not question her.
“My apologies, Madame. I won’t bother you any further.”
“Don’t worry, Officer. I do admire the way in which you perform your task,” she answered. “I shall recommend you to my husband.”
As soon as the police officer moved out of sight, the boy tried the same. The game was over now. But before he could move, Henri’s hand came down on his shoulder, pinning him. “You will thank the baroness properly for saving your miserable hide,” he told him in a firm tone.
The boy wriggled but could not free himself. He looked around, hoping to see any of his mates. They were long gone. He would have to solve this problem alone.
“Thank you, Madame. And may I go now?”
“Why the hurry?”
“I have to catch up with my mates,” he said. “They must wonder where I am.”
“My guess is they’ve seen the officer right behind you, and now they think you’re his prisoner. Did they come back for you?”
“My uncle will come for me!” he tried to reassure himself, rather than her. However, his tone seemed not all too convinced.
Marguerite gazed at him more carefully. She realized he was only a child – a child who was feeling afraid and insecure. The brutality he showed was a pose, a necessity in these environs. Right there – influenced by something she could not explain – she took a decision which would change her life.
“Granted that your uncle hasn’t given up on you, he’d better try and find out where you are, because I’m taking you home with me,” she said. “There’s always room for a little page in a household as large as ours.”
“Madame, you must be out of your wits!” Henri cried out, sooner than he knew. This was going too far; he felt it his duty to protest in his master’s name.
“I won’t tolerate such behavior, Henri,” she admonished him sharply.
“But Madame! Don’t you realize you’re taking an enormous risk? This brad will steal everything that is not too big or too heavy, and pass on information to all of his accomplices. One night they will come and cut our throats.”
Marguerite burst out into laughter. She did not often do that, Henri knew. Most of the time she looked somewhat forlorn, ever since the day she became his master’s wife.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Henri. None such thing will happen – I will personally see to that. The boy must promise me to be honest. If he should take something away, just like this…,” she held up a pocket-watch on a golden chain and dangled it before Henri’s nose, ‘…then I would feel obliged to notify the law!”
The astonished expression on both the valet’s and the boy’s faces was worth a lot. She kept on laughing, until it slowly dawned on her she just gave a masterful demonstration on how to pick a man’s pocket. Another thing that totally perplexed her. What did this mean?
The problem was, she had no recollections of the past. Her conscious life had only started nine years ago, when she woke up from a coma in a Burgundy convent. Everything before that was a total blank.
The little rogue put a hand in his pocket and found nothing but a dirty handkerchief. Now he really was at a loss. Who had ever heard of a noblewoman who mastered their own special skills?