|Primary Characters:||Blakeney, Marguerite, Andrew, Suzanne, Chauvelin|
|Description:||The Scarlet Pimpernel is taken prisoner by Chauvelin. Andrew is given an impossible choice. Should he save his friend’s life and sacrifice his own honour? Marguerite comes to the rescue.|
It was an outrageous risk to take, but Marguerite should have known her husband Percy wouldn’t consider his personal safety. Not when it came to his favorite sport, the cheating of Madame la Guillotine and her most faithful servant, Citizen Chauvelin. She should have known that though Chauvelin now knew the true identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Percy would never stay away.
Beneath the deliberately moronic facade, beat the heart of an irrepressible hunter. The relations between an Englishman of Percy’s class and his sport resembled the fanaticism of any religion or the Republican cause. When Marguerite had first met her husband-to-be, she had been unable to understand what motivated him, and even when she finally knew his true self, she did not know the full extent of his devotion to his chosen vocation.
To Marguerite, life was simple. All that truly mattered was love. Once you’d found the love of your life, everything else ceased to matter greatly. Sadly, she was beginning to see that to Percy nothing was that simple. He owed his band of young followers devotion. The wretched aristocratic refugees needed him. How could he choose a life of cowardice in safety in England while so many suffered across the channel?
After their second honeymoon, they had had their first real argument. It was a change from all those months of cold silences, but afterwards Marguerite felt a growing frustration. Her passionate nature enjoyed the opportunity of at last letting out her pentup emotions. Life in England had been rewarding in more ways than one, but it was undeniable that her temper had suffered from the enforced passivity. It was clear that though her heart belonged to an English gentleman, a peer of the realm and a personal friend of the Prince of Wales, her nature was very French.
Still, soothed by their newfound unity, she had allowed herself to be lulled into a false sense of security. She had believed that now that she knew Percy’s secret, she’d be allowed to share his cause. Apparently, she thought bitterly, she had been mistaken. Percy had callously and ruthlessly deceived her into believing he intended to spend more time with her now that no barriers to their love existed.
They had spent the night in passionate abandon. Towards morning, Percy had placed a kiss on her forehead. Barely awake, she had mumbled a few affectionate words. Instantly dozing off again, she knew nothing of her husband’s departure. Later in the morning, she awoke to find herself alone, abandoned. When questioned, the servants betrayed no knowledge of their master’s intended destination. That meant nothing. Marguerite knew where he was heading.
Angered by this deception, Marguerite contemplated once again giving pursuit, but decided that this time, Percy could take the consequences of his recklessness. Instead, she chose to remain at home for a few days, then returning to London, to attend a few plays, operatic performances and soirees. Discreet enquiries regarding her husband’s whereabouts were greeted with evasive mention of business at one of the Blakeney holdings up north. Her own enquiries revealed that not only her husband, but his young friend, sir Andrew Ffoulkes, proved to be conspicuously missing.
This only served to confirm Marguerite’s suspicions. Did these arrogant young fools never learn? Her own beloved brother, Armand, had nearly lost his life, helping the Scarlet Pimpernel and his band of young followers. Marguerite still couldn’t understand how Armand had managed to subdue his own feelings of loyalty to the Republican ideals and lend his aid to enemies of la Republique. Though Marguerite herself had long felt that the ideals had been lost in the later years. The reign of terror had little to do with the principles of man’s equal rights.
Once her own culpability in the downfall of an aristocratic family had been explained, she had been allowed back into the life of her young friend Suzanne. Knowing that Suzanne was at present suffering the absence of her betrothed, Andrew, Marguerite decided on the spur of the moment, to return Suzanne’s aborted visit to her own home. Knowing that the Countess, Suzanne’s mother, no longer resented her, Marguerite was sure of her welcome.
She had been right. Suzanne greeted her affectionately, the young Count was as always cordial and like most members of his Estate, greeted her with all the courtesy that a lovely lady was due. Aristocratic only by marriage, Marguerite still formally outranked the de Tournays in England if not in old France. The elderly Count and Countess were less warm in their welcome, but courteous enough.
Suzanne couldn’t wait to get her friend to herself. She was filled with exciting news about her young betrothed. Apparently the affair had progressed rather more quickly than Marguerite had anticipated. Perhaps it was the novelty of living in England that had allowed Suzanne to thus mollify her strict, oldfashioned parents. In addition, the fact that young Andrew had been instrumental in ensuring the de Tournay family’s safe escape from France could hardly have harmed the cause of the happy young couple.
As soon as the customary courtesies had been exchanged, Suzanne eagerly suggested a long walk in the park. Smiling indulgently, Marguerite agreed. She could still remember the first, sweet days of love. Too quickly would they turn to grey, dull boredom unless one worked on the relationship, but how could she and Percy give their love the time and nurture it would require to continue flourishing, when he constantly ran off to France? There was a very real risk that Suzanne’s life would be similar to Marguerite’s own, with Andrew naively and devotedly following his leader. It must not happen.
Marguerite wished to teach Suzanne the art of skillfully, subtly and undetectably steering a man. And having observed Andrew with Suzanne, Marguerite thought she could see possibilities. Yes, it shouldn’t be too difficult to effect this desirable change in young Andrew’s behaviour.
“Oh, Marguerite, papa has given his permission for Andrew to marry me.”
Indeed, matters had progressed rather more quickly than Marguerite had anticipated. Naturally she knew that the elderly count was very fond of his youngest child.
“Look. It belonged to Andrew’s dear mother.”
Proudly, Suzanne displayed the prominent ring that was adorning her slender hand. The diamond was sparkling every bit as much as her eyes.
“It was right here that Andrew placed it on my finger. In this very spot.”
“I am so happy for you, cherie.”
“Yes, yes. We are going to be so happy. Marguerite, I love him so. I would die for him.”
“Let’s hope it won’t come to that.”
“I want to do everything I can to make him happy.”
“Yes. But isn’t it better that you begin to think of ways for him to make you happy?”
“Oh, I am already so happy, I couldn’t be happier. My heart would surely burst from joy. Isn’t he the most handsome and brave young man in the world?”
“Andrew is a very fine young man. But -”
“I didn’t mean any disrespect. Of course your husband is also very handsome and -”
“Yes, yes. That is not what was on my mind. Suzanne, I think there are a few things I need to teach you.”
“What? Do you think me very forward? Will Andrew scold me for acting in an unseemly manner?”
“That is not what I had in mind. Very soon, I suspect you will adapt to your role as a married woman. What I meant was that you must not spoil Andrew so. Men are apt to become very spoiled if we continue to indulge their slightest whim. You must learn to make him come to you. It is his duty to serve you, not the other way around.”
Suzanne’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“Oh, naturally I am not suggesting that you behave disgracefully. You should not take a lover or anything like that.”
The young girl pressed a hand to her mouth in horror over such a shocking suggestion. However, despite her agitation, she found herself listening carefully. To make Andrew her devoted slave, would that not be so much more rewarding than making herself his slave? Marguerite, who had been married for several years would know these things, and she would do well to listen to her friend.
“No. I would never betray Andrew so. How should I behave? Please instruct me, as I know I am very inexperienced in these matters.”
Marguerite smiled, reassuringly. Yes, she would take her duties as an instructor most seriously. Here was one young woman who should not have to compete with foreign adventures over her husband’s loyalties. Andrew must be brought to heel, even if Percy was beyond hope.
Just as Marguerite had expected, her young friend was a keen student. Every word fell on attentive ears. When the ladies returned inside the castle that had been loaned to the de Tournays, Marguerite thought she saw a new glint of confidence in Suzanne’s eyes. Andrew would meet a changed betrothed on his return to England.
Eventually, Marguerite’s restless nature wearied of the new pastime and she returned to London. For a few days, she was allowed to introduce her young friend to the distractions of the city, but after that she was on her own. The Prince of Wales was as always very attentive and Marguerite wanted for nothing.
Still, even the entertainment of the fashionable salons of London began to pale after another week. Despite her initial anger towards her husband, she had now cooled off and was beginning to feel the first stirring of concern. How many times could a man, even such a man as Percy, continue to cheat Madame la Guillotine?
One night she happened to run into another of her husband’s followers, lord Anthony Dewhurst, and as soon as she could get the young man to herself for a moment, Marguerite began to question him at length. As always, he was reluctant to reveal any news concerning his leader. But Marguerite would take no evasion, and in the end lord Tony told her everything.
To Marguerite’s horror, the young man shared her concern. The Scarlet Pimpernel was expected back at any time, and in fact, had been expected these past days. No news had arrived concerning his whereabouts, or his safety.
While pretending to be mollified by the young man’s hollow reassurances, Marguerite resolved to once again seek out the beast in its lair. She had been of assistance to Percy once, perhaps she might tempt her luck once more? God willing, she would snatch her husband and Suzanne’s young betrothed from the jaws of death and bring them back safely to England.
Percy Blakeney, Baronet, woke up slowly, trying to remember where he was. His head was pounding like after a particularly merry party with his friends, long before his marriage. Now it was all coming back to him.
That filthy little weasel, Chauvelin. Perhaps it had been unwise of him to underestimate his adversary. It was easy to do. The man’s unimpressive exterior made it all the easier. And to think that the accursed Frenchman had lured the Scarlet Pimpernel into a trap.
Blakeney swore under his breath, before attempting to loosen the bonds that tied his arms and legs together. No use. He was too securely tied down. All he could do was await Chauvelin’s next move.
In the meantime, Blakeney remembered that his young friend, sir Andrew, had been with him. What had become of the poor lad? Blakeney seemed to remember hearing shots fired. The room he was in was pitch black, and he could hear nothing. Yet, since there was no gag preventing him from speaking, he attempted to call his friend’s name. No reply. He had not expected any. Surely he would be able to tell if anyone was nearby, conscious or not.
But Andrew’s absence gave rise to new concerns. It had always been Blakeney’s worst fear that one of the young men in his service would fall victim to the enemy. But they all knew the risks involved. The Scarlet Pimpernel employed no boys. Still, Andrew was a good friend. They had been at school together and –
Blakeney’s thoughts were interrupted by a door swinging open. Light from a candle cast dancing shadows across the walls, but it was a while before the man carrying the candle came into view. Chauvelin. That was not much of a surprise. Who else would have gone to such trouble? Behind Chauvelin, two large men were standing at attention.
“Back off and let me speak to the prisoner.”
The two men retreated towards the door.
“I see you never learn, Blakeney. After the last time, I would have thought even you would have taken heed and stayed safely in England with your lovely wife. You didn’t bring her this time as well, did you?”
“Where is my friend?”
A shadow of anger flew across Chauvelin’s pinched features.
“Alas, your young friend seems to have deserted you.”
“Is he safe?”
“To my knowledge. He ran like a rabbit when my men came upon you.”
Blakeney did not for a moment believe Chauvelin’s description of Andrew’s behaviour. Knowing that Andrew was safe cheered him immensely. Any minute now, the dear boy might be implementing a daring plan of rescue.
“Who were you planning to spirit away this time?”
“My friend, I haven’t the faintest idea what you are on about. You know me. The air of France is irresistible to me, so I could not stay away. Do you not find the landscape most lovely? And the sport -”
“I am afraid that your sport this time has turned out to be a bit more dangerous than you may have anticipated. We shall see. I have the funniest feeling that you might change your mind and prove to be more talkative in a few days time. A few days without food or drink. If not, I have other means at my disposal.”
That had an ominous ring to it, but Blakeney rarely knew the sting of fear. He had faith in his friend, and he was optimistic enough to believe that while there was life there was hope. All was not yet lost.
Meanwhile, Andrew was hiding not far from where his bold and reckless leader was being held prisoner. His beloved Suzanne might have been hard put to recognize her handsome young betrothed, but outward appearance mattered little to a man who was on a quest to save the life of one of his closest friends.
The farm house was partly hidden by thick foliage but Andrew’s eyes were young and keen and he had no trouble making out the front door, and when sidling around to the rear, finding the back door. Those appeared to be the only access routes to the building.
However, there was also an oak tree growing conveniently close to an upstairs window. After a moment’s consideration, that was the means Andrew chose to make his way inside the house. He awaited darkness, then proceeded towards the oak tree. The sky was partially overcast but a half moon was lighting his way and he had no trouble climbing the tree, rather like in his childhood.
The young peer had worn out more than one pair of pants in similar pursuits for far more lighthearted reasons. In fact, once, when he was old enough to know better, his friend Percy had managed to goad him into ascending a tree growing in the grounds of their school. Andrew had humiliatingly fallen to the ground and twisted his ankle rather painfully. It was a memory he chose to repress as soon as it made its way into his mind unbidden.
The window was standing slightly ajar, which made for easy access. Perhaps it was a little too convenient, but Andrew thought nothing of this in his eagerness to save his friend and leader. He dropped noiselessly to the floor in the small cramped room inside. Believing himself undetected, he moved cautiously forward, only to find his progress halted by four strong arms grabbing him. A light shone into his face, revealing the features of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s worst adversary, Citizen Chauvelin.
“Ah, I knew it would be worth my while, keeping a vigil for the devoted young friend. Welcome, Ffoulkes. Your friend, the Scarlet Pimpernel, is awaiting your company. But first – let us talk.”
With an elegant gesture, Chauvelin ordered his henchmen to disarm and tie up the young English nobleman. After having brutally shoved their prisoner down onto a chair, they exited the room, without a word. Chauvelin pulled up another chair and sat down, after fastidiously brushing off the seat to ensure that his spotless black pants remained in the same pristine condition.
“Now. Let us have a pleasant conversation. And perhaps we shall be able to come to some kind of understanding.”
Andrew drew himself up. Under no conditions would he reveal any information to this vile scoundrel. In fact, he was reluctant to even open his mouth. He was well aware of the Frenchman’s treacherous ways.
As if reading the young Englishman’s mind, Chauvelin smiled and continued his monologue.
“You have come to rescue your friend. Quite natural. Loyalty is an admirable trait. Let me ask you what you would be prepared to do to ensure your leader’s safe return?”
“I will tell you nothing.”
“You misunderstand me. At this point we have all the information we need. It might interest you to know that the de Montforts were apprehended only a few miles from here earlier tonight. So your work has been in vain. All that remains is a chance to save your leader. I repeat, what would you do to keep him safe? What would you give?”
“I don’t have anything that would be of any use to you.”
“Do not be too hasty. There is something that would be of considerable use to me.”
At this point, Chauvelin subjected Andrew to a penetrating stare that much unsettled the young man. The gaze travelled across Andrew’s body and returned up to his face. Chauvelin nodded contentedly, as if approving of his findings.
“Yes, most certainly you have something which would be of use to me.”
Andrew could think of nothing that he possessed which would cause such enthusiasm in the little Frenchman. Despite that, he felt a shiver go down his spine. Whatever it was, he was sure that it would be distinctly unpleasant. Confusingly, Chauvelin now abruptly changed the subject of the onesided conversation, or so it seemed to Andrew.
“My sources inform me that you are betrothed to the lovely young Suzanne de Tournay.”
This startled Andrew out of his brooding. If there had been any way this vile little man could ever get his hands on Suzanne –
And again, it appeared that the Frenchman had been able to guess the course Andrew’s thoughts were taking.
“Do not concern yourself, my young, passionate friend. Your lovely betrothed is in no danger from me. As far as I know, she’s perfectly safe and still in England. Interesting.”
This again struck Andrew as a very incongruous remark and his astonishment must have been apparent on his pleasant, open features.
“So that is your preference in women. How – quaint.”
Taking this as a slight against his beloved Suzanne, Andrew spoke out, vehemently, forgetting his precarious situation.
“How dare you speak that way about a lady who is the very epitome of -”
“Calm yourself, Ffoulkes. Take no offense. I was merely remarking that it is interesting to see in which direction your eye likes to wander. That is the type of woman you prefer. You can tell much about a man merely from looking at his wife or betrothed. Already when young Marguerite St Just accepted Blakeney’s proposal I told myself that there was more than met the eye in that young fop. And I was right, was I not?”
This was interpreted as another slight, this time against his leader and friend, and once again Andrew struggled uselessly against the bonds holding him back.
“That brings us back to the present. Blakeney in my hands. And you – You are in a unique position to save his life, should you be prepared to make the sacrifice asked of you. Let us see how much he really means to you.”
Chauvelin rose from his chair and sidled over to his prisoner, bending over him and placing his lips uncomfortably close to the young man’s ear, he proceeded to whisper his demands.
At first, Andrew didn’t think he had heard the Frenchman correctly. He was nowhere near as fluent in the alien tongue as his friend and leader, furthermore, the voice was so faint as to be nearly inaudible. However, there was no mistaking the intentions of the hands that were now beginning their slow and intimate exploration of Andrew’s body.
Andrew’s eyes widened in shock and dismay. Was there no end to the infamy of this softspoken villain? Surely this was a jest, albeit in poor taste? But in order to truly impress on his prisoner the seriousness of his bargain, Chauvelin repeated his words, this time in English, lest there be no misunderstanding. There was no possibility of misconstruing the intent of the Frenchman.
Slowly, Andrew’s shocked mind began to work again. If the Frenchman was serious – and there was every reason to doubt his intentions, at least when it came to making good his promises – but if he was serious, Andrew was in a position to save his friend’s life. Should he not do so, no matter what the cost to his own sensibilities? Repugnant as the task would be, it would pain Andrew more to know that he had held Percy’s life in his hand and refused to do his utmost to save him.
“How will I know that you will keep up your end of the bargain?”
“There are of course no guarantees. On the other hand, in your position there is not much you can do. Do nothing and you will know that your inaction will certainly cost your friend his life. Give yourself to me and at least there is a chance his life will be saved. Is that such a difficult decision to make?”
Andrew’s eyes felt suspiciously moist. Suzanne. If she ever learned of his degradation and his weakness, would she even wish to look at him again? It was a long time before he trusted his voice enough to produce his reply to the Frenchman’s shameful suggestion.
Silently, Chauvelin awaited his young victim’s reply. He made no move to hurry him along. Young Ffoulkes was trapped and he knew it. All that remained to the Frenchman was to haul in his catch. Such a beautiful young man. Even more desirable than his leader. Younger. More innocent. Naive. Exactly the way Chauvelin liked his young men. They were in stark contrast to the women Chauvelin lusted for. Fortunately, what he lacked in physical attraction, he made up for in terms of power.
“Alright. I will do as you wish. If it will save Percy -”
“Excellent. The only possible decision under the circumstances, I can tell you. My men were under orders to take him outside and shoot him as the spy and traitor to the Republique that he is, within the hour.”
Andrew avoided Chauvelin’s gaze. He could not endure the look in those predatory eyes. His mind was in turmoil. If Percy were ever to learn – Should Suzanne – Hardly paying attention to his enemy, Andrew was prey to his emotions.
Chauvelin wasted no time calling for his men. They brought the young man to the bedchamber on the same floor. Everything was arranged according to their master’s orders.
Andrew was left in no doubts as to what would happen, should he foolishly seek to physically attack his jailor. The bonds were removed. He was left sitting sullenly on another chair, while Chauvelin kept watching disconcertingly.
As soon as the two guards had departed, Chauvelin wasted no time seeking out the comfort of the bed, which seemed somewhat more luxurious than might have been expected in a house of this kind.
“Well? Delightful as it is to wait and anticipate, I must confess that I do not have all night. And I would have expected it to be in your own interests, to get this little intermezzo over with as soon as possible, no?”
The vile little man was right. Of course he gained nothing by remaining like this, reluctant to even move. The sooner he forced himself to endure this charade, the sooner it would be over. Rather ungainly, and far less gracefully than was his habit, Andrew got up and approached the bed. He didn’t think he had ever felt this reluctant to undertake any task. The only memory that even came close was his departure for school. But that was a long time ago, and dwelling on the past did nothing to facilitate his coming ordeal.
Chauvelin looked on with something like approval. The very unwillingness with which his prey made his approach only served to increase the Frenchman’s anticipation.
When Andrew reached the bed, he sat down, on the edge, as far away from Chauvelin as possible. After a while, the Frenchman’s inaction began to unnerve Andrew and he turned slowly to face him.
There was a strange look on Chauvelin’s face, serving to further discomfit the younger man. Chauvelin seemed to derive some kind of twisted pleasure from watching and sensing the Englishman’s discomfort. Finally, when the charged atmosphere in the room appeared to have reached a critical point, Chauvelin reached out and pulled his young prey closer. Though Andrew did his best not to meet the other man’s gaze, he could do nothing about the way those cold, hard fingers felt as they slowly travelled across his skin.
“Ffoulkes. At this point I feel it is only fair to point out that I will expect some kind of reciprocity. This – passivity is fine, but after a while it begins to wear thin, and I shall expect a little more – shall we say – enthusiasm?”
Andrew’s long dark eyelashes fluttered upward and at last he looked into Chauvelin’s eyes. The man was serious, there was no doubt about it. And as the Frenchman held all the cards, what else could Andrew do, but submit?
“I – I shall do my best.”
The anguished look vanished beneath the thick dark lashes, and once again, the Englishman retreated inside himself. If Chauvelin had expected to gaze into the young man’s very soul, he would be disappointed.
But all in all, the situation was very much to Chauvelin’s taste. Very much so. And what most appealed to him was not the actual physical experience, so much as the knowledge that in accordance with his explicit orders, the Scarlet Pimpernel would be forced to witness his friend’s humiliation. Yes, the accursed Englishman would know exactly what sacrifice young sir Ffoulkes had made for him. He would know at what price his freedom had been bought.
Now Chauvelin could no longer contain himself. He began to unbutton Andrew’s shirt, with fingers no longer languid and elegant. The brutal strength those dainty hands wielded, astonished Andrew, but he was left no time to wonder at such incongruities. Soon his skin was bared and no part of his body remained hidden from the loathsome enemy’s eyes and hands. But knowing that his friend’s life hung from a thin thread and that everything depended on his own actions, Andrew strove to fulfill Chauvelin’s expectations to the best of his ability.
Meanwhile, Blakeney was seated near a spyhole in the wall, hands and feet tied, and his mouth gagged. Not a sound of his useless rage penetrated into the other room. Though he strained against his bonds, Blakeney could make no move and he was forced to helplessly watch the scene that was being unfolded before his eyes. There was nothing he could do. And for some devilish reason, he found himself unable to avert his gaze, or close his eyes. He was impelled to watch every second of the tableau.
Using the information she had obtained from lord Tony, Marguerite was able to find the location where her husband and young Andrew had last been heard from. From there, it was an easy matter for the talented actress to trace the men to the farmhouse, where the servants of la Republique were holding their prisoners.
Travelling alone, Marguerite had been forced to don the dress of a simple country woman, but being a native Frenchwoman, as well as an actress, the challenge could easily be met. She had even taken the precaution of travelling in the clothes of a fisherman’s wife. The woman had been quite happy to part with her rags, in return for the noble lady’s finery. In the small fishing village she arrived in towards dawn in the third day of her journey, Marguerite had been successful in exchanging the English woman’s garb for that of her French equivalent.
Thus suitably disguised, she set out on the last leg of her journey. The local people could provide her with enough information to point her in the right direction. Though she was well aware of the risk that any of the impoverished locals might seek to gain a measure of wealth by reporting any suspicious behaviour to the authorities, the terror which now reigned in greater part of France prevented such an occurrence.
Finding herself outside the farmhouse which Chauvelin and his men had made their headquarters, she stopped to consider her next move. After what seemed like an eternity, Marguerite decided to do away with caution and in one bold move begin her rescue attempt. Ever impulsive, she felt the need for delay was over. If her quick strike did not meet with success, she doubted waiting and planning would gain her an advantage. Her days of repressing her true nature were over.
Though not quite as agile in the art of tree climbing as young Andrew, she nevertheless exhibited great skill in other ways. Making her way to the kitchen entrance, she fearlessly knocked on the door, trusting in her disguise to keep her safe. The half-wit boy who answered her call appeared not to find fault with her presence, and neither did the horrifyingly filthy elderly cook who wordlessly accepted her delivery of freshly caught fish, and her explanation of her presence. After all, was it the business of the common people what servants the Republic chose to employ?
It did not take Marguerite long to ascertain the whereabouts of the prisoners. She hung back while the half-wit boy served the unspeakable meal, noting all the exits of the house, as well as the number of guards. Was it really true that Chauvelin had chosen to employ only two men to guard such distinguished prisoners? With two against three, not counting her own modest physical strength, she felt certain that her husband and young Andrew would be victorious against their enemies.
Unfortunately, while the boy was half-witted and seemed barely able to speak, the cook was a different matter. The old man had apparently seen fit to inform his masters of the new arrival and soon, Marguerite found herself confronted with the two muscular guards, as well as her old arch-enemy, Chauvelin.
“Citizen St Just. Or shall I say – Madame Blakeney? This is an unexpected pleasure. You ought to have announced your arrival in advance, to enable us to greet you in a manner worthy of such a lady.”
Impatiently gesturing for the guards to leave him alone with the new prisoner, Chauvelin herded Marguerite towards his own bedroom. This was indeed an unexpected pleasure. One that he intended to put to full use. Much as he appreciated taking advantage of frightened young men, Chauvelin relished opportunities such as this one. A lady like Marguerite St Just would never normally have fallen into his hands. He owed much to la Republique.
“Here we are. Can I offer you any refreshments, madame?”
Marguerite’s expression told Chauvelin how little she appreciated the hospitality of the house, and indeed, he secretly agreed with her. However, he had taken the liberty of securing a cache of more palatable nourishment for his own use, and as it amused him to play out a little scene of seduction, he now offered Marguerite a glass of fine wine.
“Thank you, but I must decline.”
With another elegant hand gesture, Chauvelin dismissed the bottle of wine. The time for jest was past. They ought to get down to business. He intended to present the lovely madame Blakeney with the same terms as young Ffoulkes only last night. The thought of the young fool filled Chauvelin with satisfaction, and a slight smile played on his lips as he formulated his proposal to the lady.
“Ah. Then let us begin. You have come to rescue your husband, I understand. Very well. I will offer you a bargain.”
“I am only too familiar with your bargains. You and your master the Devil -”
“You flatter me, madame. I do not have the connections you credit me with. Me – I am just a simple servant of la Republique as once you were. Need I remind you of your days as a citizen of the Republic of France?”
“You need remind me of nothing. What is your shameful bargain?”
“How like you to cut to the heart of the matter. Tres bien. Alors, let us make haste. It is a very simple thing. You want your husband back -”
“And sir Andrew Ffoulkes.”
“And his handsome young friend. Absolutely. You see, I can be generous. I have your husband and that delightful young man. You – What do you have? What can you offer me in exchange for these very important prisoners? If I were to let you have them, I would need a considerable compensation.”
“My husband’s wealth is equal to that of the Duke of -”
“Material wealth is of no consequence to me. La Republique pays me handsomely for my services to its cause. No. There is something else that you possess that will please me far more.”
Unlike Andrew, Marguerite knew far too well how the vile little man’s mind worked. She could easily guess what she would be called upon to sacrifice in order to save her husband. Knowing this, she had come prepared. But she left it to Chauvelin to defile himself further by putting his disgraceful bargain into words.
“Well? I am waiting. State your terms, citizen.”
“Very well. You are young and beautiful. Me – I am a lonely man. My duties as a servant of la Republic leave me no time for – more pleasurable pursuits. One night with you and your husband and his friend are free to go.”
Marguerite did not for a moment place any trust in the treacherous little man’s words, but she feigned surprise, outrage, and eventually resignation to her fate. This was a night of a brilliant performance. Chauvelin could find no flaw in her perfect mask.
“You leave me no choice. But promise me that my husband shall never know of my degradation.”
“You have my word, madame.”
Not having known of the lovely madame Blakeney’s arrival beforehand, Chauvelin had been in no position to make plans for that eventuality, and so her reputation would perforce remain spotless. At least until he would reveal to her that his promise was void.
Already, a messenger was riding to Paris, bearing a letter informing about the two spies. By tomorrow, they would no doubt be dispatched to the capital for sentencing and a tryst with Madame de la Guilliotine. It would be a pleasure of another kind to let Blakeney know that his wife had sold herself like a common whore, to his most bitter enemy.
“Leave me, Chauvelin. I need to freshen up after my journey.”
“Excellent. I will send the boy up with an attire more suited for your beauty.”
Her eyes widened in astonishment. The depravity of this man knew no boundaries. Did he keep the garments of the poor aristocratic ladies he had sent to the Guilliotine? And for what purpose? Marguerite decided to interpret his reasoning in the very poorest light.
“I am amazed, Chauvelin. You? I had heard of men who derive pleasure from dressing like women, but I never expected -”
She had the intense satisfaction of seeing the little man’s face cloud over in dismay and injured pride. No. He did not enjoy such perversions. Naturally not. A man such as Chauvelin would content himself with more voyeuristic pleasures and even more so, a more direct approach. How many poor women had been subjected to his advances?
“You do me a grave injustice. I shall return shortly and I will expect you to look as you did when I first saw you on stage, madame.”
“I will be ready.”
As soon as the door shut behind the vile little man, Marguerite fished out the small vial concealed near her bosom. Personally, she never had to resort to the use of laudanum, but it always paid to come prepared for any eventuality. She estimated the required dose then hastily dropped the vial back into its hiding place.
The boy had arrived, bringing the dress. He returned a few moments later, with a basin, some water and a sponge. Apparently, Chauvelin was as fastidious as he looked. Gladly, Marguerite took advantage of the opportunity to rid herself of the odour of fish and the grime that had accumulated during her passage from England. Less than half an hour later, Chauvelin was back to claim his prize. Marguerite was ready for him.
“I find that I must after all avail myself of your offer of refreshments. A drink -”
A fluttering of the eyelashes accompanied this plea. Chauvelin felt he understood just fine. He was torn between ghoulish delight at the lady’s discomfort, and indignation that a night with him should fill a lady with such loathing. But if she needed to steady her nerves with a drink, she would have one. He would have one as well, to celebrate the occasion.
Over the years, he had silently lusted for the exquisite young actress, but due to her popularity in the capital, she had always had protectors in high places. Never had Chauvelin been able to enjoy any intimacy with her until tonight.
Deftly, Marguerite was able to pour the few drops of laudanum into her own glass. Displaying a sleight-of-hand worthy of a great illusionist, she then managed to substitute her glass for Chauvelin’s. He noticed nothing. This was a great risk to take, for normally, the little man’s dark eyes missed nothing. Tonight, however, his mind dwelled too fondly on his good fortune. At last, all he had dreamed of for so long was within reach. He drained the glass in one long draught.
“I hate to rush you, madame, but time flies. Shall we?”
Instead of replying with words, Marguerite responded by a slight inclination of her head. Seeing her so meek and submissive filled Chauvelin with a wild exultation. Finally. But why was his sight suddenly dimming? Was the excitement getting the better of him? Why was his head suddenly swimming and –
With satisfaction, Marguerite surveyed her work. She could hardly believe her luck. Already, her enemy was succumbing to the drug. He had not even had time to lay one hand on her. She spared one second to ascertain that she had not been amiss in dosing the drink. Despite everything, she did not wish to be the cause of anyone’s death.
But Chauvelin was breathing calmly and naturally, and his features had lost some of the sharpness in sleep. Perhaps he had been on the point of exhaustion, perhaps the slight build of her enemy had deceived her into giving him a somewhat larger dose than strictly necessary. Whatever the reason, no harm was done.
Now Marguerite wasted no time finding her husband. She had overheard Chauvelin giving the guards their orders. They would be keeping away from their master, so he could enjoy the night’s pleasures alone. She would not be disturbed for some hours yet. Stealthily moving through the house, she first sought out Andrew, in the room where he was being held.
Not until now did it occur to Marguerite that she had not thought to search Chauvelin’s pockets or desk drawers for the keys. Torn between the need for haste, and the necessity of obtaining the means of unlocking the door, she was frozen to the spot. Should she return and look for the keys or continue and try some other means of opening the door? The latter held more appeal.
In the end, she decided to hurry on, and if necessary return to Chauvelin’s room later. To her relief, a hairpin proved efficient enough, when applied to the old lock mechanism. Soon the door swung open, revealing a severely changed young man. The last time Marguerite had laid eyes on him, he had been filled with joy over his betrothal to Suzanne de Tournay. Now – What had Chauvelin done to him? Frowning in distress, Marguerite approached the bed, where Andrew was curled up, rather like a little boy.
She was stunned by the violence with which the young man whirled around to face her.
“There is no need for alarm. Come. We must make haste.”
“Madame Blakeney? But how -”
“I will explain everything, but now, let us begone.”
He nodded absently, but did not appear to be in any way concerned with his own safety. Still, he heeded her insistence and awkwardly rose from the bed and prepared to follow her.
“Andrew, what is amiss?”
She knew she was correct in her assumption, because her husband’s young friend refused to face her. He was going to think of some ruse to put her off. Chauvelin must have put his prisoner through some manner of torture or –
“Andrew, answer me.”
“With all due respect, madame, I feel we ought to concern ourselves more with making our escape, and more importantly, with finding and releasing P – Blakeney.”
“Are you injured?”
She had no intention of letting herself be deterred by the young man’s reassurances. There was something amiss and she was determined to find the cause of it. Again, she had a strong sense of some evasion being planned and she was not going to stand for it.
But his voice sounded weak and it did not appear that he was convinced by his own statement.
“Very well. I shall see for myself.”
And ignoring the young man’s apparent discomfort, she grabbed his chin and subjected him to a thorough examination. She had to admit that his face appeared free of injury. A closer examination of his garments revealed no blood stains or any other indication of injury. With a sigh, she let go. She still felt something was wrong and the tension in the young man’s body only served to confirm her suspicions.
But he was right. They needed to proceed with their escape. Anything else would need to wait. With Marguerite leading the way, they made their way along the corridor to the room in which the Scarlet Pimpernel was to be found. Again, the hairpin was pressed into action. Breathlessly, Marguerite burst into the room.
“Marguerite? How -”
“My darling, you are not injured?”
“No. I am perfectly fine. Oh. Ffoulkes.”
Something changed in Blakeney’s demeanour as he caught sight of his old friend, over his wife’s shoulder. In addition, his voice lost all of its warmth. Marguerite could think of no explanation for this.
“Shall we -”
“By all means. Let us depart this charming place. Later, I trust you will fill me in on the reason for your timely appearance here, my love.”
“Yes, yes. Let us begone.”
The small fishing vessel by which Marguerite had made her crossing, was still waiting in the village, as promised. The generous amount of sterling silver she had paid the captain could be said to have something to do with such reliability. Regardless of the reason, no one objected to the haste with which arrangements were made for a swift departure. On the outgoing tide, the ship rode safely across the Channel, and despite some unexpected gusts of wind, their arrival was not much delayed.
During the passage, Marguerite and Blakeney were given a chance to talk. The captain lent them his cabin, which was the only place they would be able to get some privacy. Hurriedly, Marguerite explained how she had come to be in France, in time to save her husband and their friend. She was far more interested in learning what was causing her husband’s changed behaviour, and if he could tell her, what was the matter with Andrew.
Blakeney, however, appeared less than willing to discuss his time in captivity. Marguerite knew this was a time for force. She would exert her power over him and make him talk. If this secrecy was threatening to come between them, like his dangerous taste for the sport of rescuing French aristocrats, she would have no choice. Their marriage meant everything to her.
“Now tell me what is amiss. Percy, do not attempt to deceive me. I know you far too well not to see that something has changed. Tell me all.”
“You do not know what it is you are asking.”
“No, Percy. This time I am not asking. You will tell me. I thought you had made a pledge to me never to keep me in the dark anymore. After all that we have been through, are you still willing to jeopardize our marriage? Think carefully. If you are not prepared to confide in me, I shall have to make my home with Armand. He will not turn me away.”
“Marguerite. What is on my mind is nothing to do with my work in France. I agree, I was wrong not to discuss this latest assignment with you. My love, it will never happen again. From now on, you will be privy to all information about -”
Here he merely raised his hand, displaying the ring, bearing the Scarlet Pimpernel’s mark.
“Not good enough, Percy. No secrets. That was the understanding. Do you not love me anymore?”
She hated herself for using this emotional blackmail, but if her husband would not see reason, what else could she do? Still, the look on his face spoke of such torment, her own heart took a leap in her chest.
“How can you say that? I love you more than life itself, Marguerite.”
“Then please tell me what is causing such a change in you. Something is upsetting you and I need to know what it is. Did Chauvelin have you tortured? Percy, are you injured?”
“No, nothing like that. Not physically -”
On Blakeney’s face the struggle could be clearly seen. Eventually, he appeared to come to a decision.
“Very well. You leave me no choice. I wished this day would never come. Chauvelin forced Ffoulkes to make an impossible choice. My life or – What that little rat wanted from him was -”
A sudden inspiration told Marguerite what bargain poor Andrew had been faced with. The same as she had, only hours before. And naturally, being a man, he had not known how to evade that cruel fate.
“I had no idea. He was so – Let us say I never guessed he was partial to men as well as women.”
“Nor did I. Needless to say, Andrew made the decision to – Furthermore, Chauvelin arranged it so that I would be the witness to that disgraceful spectacle, unable to speak or protest. Andrew does not know this – But I must speak to him.”
Believing her husband was seeking out his young friend to somehow reassure him and express his gratitude, Marguerite quite happily accepted the suggestion. After all the excitement not so long ago, she was now beginning to succumb to fatigue. She reclined on the surprisingly neat and clean bunk, the use of which the captain had offered her. She could hear the voices of her husband and the young man from outside her door, but was too weary to keep her eyes open.
The sailors were all on deck, thus leaving their betters to their own devices. Though small, the vessel still offered a measure of privacy below decks. Hearing the door creak open, Andrew looked up and to his dismay he met the eyes of the man he least wanted to meet at this moment. For some reason, and at this point, he would not put anything past Chauvelin, Blakeney had learned of what had transpired between him and the Frenchman. This was even worse than the ordeal itself.
Awkwardly, Andrew struggled to get up, to face his old friend with some dignity, not grovelling at his feet. He had barely succeeded, when a stinging slap hit his cheek, so hard that his eyes filled with tears.
“How dare you? Give yourself to such a vile creature like a – a – catamite. Are you an English gentleman or a harlot? Answer me.”
“Percy, please – He would have had you killed – What was I to do? The man has no honour.”
“Neither do you, it appears. You were mine.”
“No, Percy. I do not belong to you. At least not anymore. We are boys no longer. But I truly regret you had to learn about the bargain I struck for your life.”
There was no reasoning with Blakeney. He was mad with jealous rage. Without paying attention to the pleading in his friend’s voice, he pushed the young man up against the wall, grabbing his arms. With a violence normally alien to the languid peer, he proceeded to shake Andrew.
“Percy, for mercy’s sake. This is not like you. Desist.”
For the moment, the violence was abandoned to be replaced by an unsettling perusal of the young man’s face and neck. When Blakeney spoke again, his voice had changed. It was low and husky. The rasping breaths alarmed Andrew further than the hostilities of a moment ago.
“Do you remember that first night? How frightened you were. How innocent. How lovely. Your skin was as smooth as a peach.”
As if to illustrate his words, Blakeney now let his fingers lightly brush Andrew’s cheek. Today’s unshaven young man had very little in common with the boy of the past, but Blakeney appeared oblivious to the discrepancy between reality and his memories.
Knowing his words would change nothing, Andrew bit his lower lip, taking a deep breath, bracing himself for whatever his friend intented to do to him. The now gentle fingers moved to the young man’s lips, tracing their contours. Seconds later, Andrew felt Blakeney’s hot breath scald his lips. Another heartbeat passed and the older man’s mouth covered Andrew’s, effectively silencing any objections he might have.
But Blakeney met with no resistance. The only sign that the young man was aware of what was going on was a small whimper that did not quite escape from the depth of his throat. Blakeney’s body pressed closer, and his hands turned rougher again, as they began to reclaim the younger man’s body. The demanding lips moved on down Andrew’s neck. His mouth now free once more, Andrew whispered a desperate plea.
“Percy. No. This is wrong. Let me go. For shame. Have you forgotten that your wife is sleeping only a yard or two away?”
The mention of his wife only served to further infuriate Blakeney. Another stinging blow silenced any further objections. Again, Blakeney’s mouth attached itself to Andrew’s.
Suddenly, the cabin door behind them swung open, revealing a very pale Marguerite standing on the doorstep.
“Percy? Have you lost your mind?”
Distracted by the arrival of his wife, Blakeney’s grip on Andrew loosened and with newfound resolve, the young man tore himself free and ran up the ladder to the deck.
“Mylady – Forgive me. You are right. For a moment I had lost my mind.”
“This calls for further explanations.”
Imperiously, Marguerite indicated the interior of the cabin. Though she felt that with every second she wasted, the risk was greater that young Andrew would do something rash, she knew she had to take her husband to task over this – unforgivable betrayal of both her and a loyal friend.
Marguerite did not think she had ever seen her husband this distraught. Not even on the night they had found their way back to each other, when both had feared the other lost forever, due to misunderstandings. His face was ashen, and in the eyes there was a haunted look that made her throat constrict. What dark secret was her husband hiding? She had felt that her only rival was his love of danger.
When at first no reply was forthcoming, Marguerite felt an urge to stamp her foot and to scream in frustration. But she restrained herself, not wanting to lose her advantage. Now more than ever she needed her husband on his knees before her, not towering above her, figuratively speaking.
“It all happened so long ago. Until tonight I had believed myself successful in repressing those memories. Alas, my baser nature has reasserted itself. Marguerite, how could I? The boy was only acting in my best interests.”
Taking a deep breath, Marguerite failed to think of anything to say, so she went on staring at her husband to encourage him to continue his explanation.
After a moment’s hesitation, he went on.
“We were at school together, as you know. I was four years older, and – Perhaps you do not know what it is like in those places – No matter. When Andrew arrived, I was immediately taken with his appearance and his endearing ways. You must understand that we had no access to women. The servants were all elderly men.”
“So what they say about les Anglais is true. You are a nation of pederasts.”
Her husband flinched at her choice of words as if from a blow. It was clear that he did not wish to hear himself spoken of in such a manner. When his silence continued, Marguerite lost her patience and began speaking very quickly.
“So you took advantage of the boy.”
“Please. It was not – quite like that.”
“Are you saying that you love – loved Andrew?”
“No. I do not believe I loved him exactly. But we had great affection for each other.”
“Or the boy had no choice.”
“Marguerite, do you believe me the sort of man who would force myself on a boy?”
“I don’t know. Are you? And before you give me your answer, tell me this: what was it I saw in the passage outside only moments ago? Love?”
Blakeney could not endure the look in his wife’s eyes. She was right. What manner of man was he? He had never used force against Andrew in the past, but what about tonight? It was as he had told his wife, he had indeed lost his mind. What had he done?
“Percy. You must make a choice. Think very carefully before you reply. Which one of us do you love? Me or Andrew?”
“You. There is no doubt about that.”
“Hm. And what if I anger you in some way? Will you brutalise me the way you did your friend just now?”
“Never. I would rather die. Marguerite, you must believe me. It is you I love and I would never raise a hand against you. What I saw happen between Andrew and Chauvelin caused me to temporarily lose my head. It will never happen again. You have my word. I swear on my honour. On my name, on my family’s name. By God, I swear never to repeat what has passed between Andrew and I tonight.”
“Very well. I will take your word for it. And now, I will go and speak to Andrew. No. You remain here.”
The look in Marguerite’s eyes held Blakeney spellbound. Transfixed to the spot, he watched her leave, and resolved to await her return.
To her relief, she found their young friend by the gunwale staring into the night as if contemplating the ultimate sin.
“Mylady. I must beg your forgiveness. What you witnessed just now -”
“No, Andrew. If anyone owes anyone an apology, it is not you, but my husband. I have spoken extensively with him about tonight’s incident. He told me everything. About the past and – the bond between you.”
What little colour remained in Andrew’s face vanished. It was only with the utmost self-mastery he could remain outwardly calm.
“You must not think I place any blame on you. Nor can I find it in my heart to truly condemn my husband for what passed between you all those years ago. You were boys. The English do not recognize the need of – interaction between men and women. However, what occurred tonight is unforgivable. I expect my husband will offer you his sincerest apology. Somewhat later. For now, I must repeat my own words of consolation. There is not much I can say that will bring any comfort. All I can tell you is to remember your lady. Suzanne loves you very much, Andrew. After a while these memories will fade.”
“Suzanne? How can I face her after – this? I must give her her freedom.”
“Listen to me, Andrew. Do not act rashly. You will do something you and Suzanne will live to regret. I am a woman and thus I might be said to know something about these things. Rest assured that the love Suzanne has for you will not be changed by anything that has occurred in France or aboard this ship. Do you not believe me?”
“Mylady. Forgive me. I mean no disrespect, but you are only trying to console me. How could any woman respect or love a man like myself? As your husband so astutely pointed out, I have no honour. For a lady like Suzanne to be bound to a man like myself is -”
“A man like yourself? You are a true and loyal friend. Andrew, take my word for it, Suzanne’s feelings for you will not change.”
“They would if she had any knowledge of my degradation.”
“Oh, how like a man. You are hopeless, stubborn, insupportable. I give up. Suzanne will have to make you see reason herself. Now I will leave you. And Andrew – seek shelter below decks.”
Stiffly bowing to his old friend’s wife, the young man once again gave himself up to desolation.
Down below, Blakeney was awaiting his wife with slightly more composure.
“How was Andrew?”
Marguerite shook her head helplessly. What could one woman do against such stubborn male foolishness?
Blakeney misunderstood his wife’s reaction and an expression of alarm flew over his handsome features.
“He will not see reason. Now he is determined to cause himself and Suzanne more misery by breaking off the betrothal.”
“I see. My love, will you let me go and see him? This time I will do what I ought to have done in the first place. Apologize and thank him for his sacrifice. Perhaps I might get him to see sense.”
Blakeney’s wife did not for a moment believe her husband would succeed where she herself had failed, but she approved of the changed attitude. Perhaps it would do young Andrew some good to see his tormentor of only an hour ago turned into this penitent sinner.
“Very well. But treat him gently. A repetition of what occurred earlier -”
The look on her husband’s face spoke eloquently of regret, and a suitably changed demeanour. Marguerite suspected this encounter would be very different from the first one.
“I will, my love. This – incident has been a most important lesson to me.”
“I should hope so.”
Marguerite’s expression told Blakeney that he would be facing a difficult time. It would take his wife long to regain her trust in him, but he was determined to work hard not to disappoint her again. And after making that solemn vow, he turned his mind onto a different task. He did not have much hope he would be successful, but he knew he had to try.
It was painfully clear that he had badly used his friend. Tonight and in the past. How he had prided himself on his unselfish devotion to the cause of royalist France, when in truth he was a selfish, brutal cad, and had taken advantage of an innocent young friend to satisfy his baser needs. Would there ever be any forgiveness for him for this most loathsome sin, in this life or the hereafter?
Up on deck, Andrew was still staring out into the night, oblivious to the wind and the rain that was drenching his hair and garments. If exposed to the elements for much longer, Blakeney feared his friend would suffer a fatal chill, and succumb to an influenza.
The young man whirled around to face the man who had once been so dear to him. Now – But still, despite everything, Andrew was desperately hoping for the slightest sign of contrition.
“My friend, I stand before you a changed man. Let me beg your forgiveness. Andrew – if it would help sway your heart, I shall kneel before you and grovel like a serf.”
The pale face slowly changed expression. Could it be that Blakeney had had a change of heart? Was he truly asking forgiveness for –
“Percy. No forgiveness is necessary. Please tell me you have forgiven me for my -”
“No, my friend. You of all people need never ask my forgiveness. What that man put you through – Believe me, I would love to wring his neck with my own two hands. And for me to lose my temper and – Andrew, I would also like to ask your forgiveness for what passed between us as boys. I was wrong. You were a child and I took advantage of you. That ought never to have happened. It did. I can not change the past. I beg you, do not let this disaster prevent you from finding happiness in Suzanne’s arms.”
“I am no longer worthy of her love. I never was, but like you I had managed to make myself forget the past. Now I can no longer delude myself. Chauvelin – must have seen my weakness to present me with this particular bargain.”
“No, Andrew. The man has no honour, but that is only to his shame, not yours. Now, let us descend into the captain’s cabin. You are drenched to the skin. Do not catch your death, or I will have to answer to Suzanne.”
Inclining his head, Andrew acknowledged the wisdom of his friend’s words. Down below, he submitted to Marguerite’s care. With the use of some blankets she was able to at least partially dry the young man.
When the ship made the harbour dawn had arrived and the brilliant sunlight dispelled the night’s storm. The Blakeneys’ coach was standing by, waiting to take the baronet and his lady back home. However, before they could allow themselves the luxury of their own home, they took their young friend to the castle where the Tournays had made their home in their exile.
After a few last admonitions, Marguerite sent the young man on his way with a quick kiss. Knowing full well how every sign of endearment towards any other man distressed her husband, she held on to the young man a few seconds longer than necessary.
“Do not disappoint me, Andrew. And more importantly, do not disappoint Suzanne.”
Andrew did not look back as he walked up to the gate. His early arrival would startle his betrothed’s family. Worse, he knew the message he came bearing would break Suzanne’s heart. But he did not see that he had any choice. A man like himself would defile a lady like Suzanne with his mere proximity. He needed to break the news to her family and take his leave, as quickly as possible.
Meeting Suzanne face to face made such a resolution hard to follow. The young lady reacted as impulsively as was her wont. Without listening to any words of greeting, she shamelessly pulled her betrothed into her arms, ignoring the looks of the scandalised servants.
“Marianne, Cecile, leave us. I wish to speak with my betrothed alone. Allez.”
A quick glance at Andrew told Suzanne just how weary he was after his journey.
“And bring us refreshments. Fruit, bread, wine. Vite. And tell Francois to bring some of my brother’s clothes for sir Andrew.”
The servants scattered at their young mistress’ command. Her temper when she was crossed was not easy to endure. Besides, everyone in the de Tournay household were fond of the handsome young peer who had succeeded in winning the hand of Suzanne de Tournay.
By now Suzanne had grown somewhat concerned about her betrothed. His face was white and he seemed to sway on his feet. And his usual sweet and charming ways had changed. Who was this silent stranger? Was something amiss? She was determined to find out, and if she was correct, she would find a way of dispelling that tense look from her beloved’s face.
“Speak to me, Andrew. You are alarming me. Tell me what is amiss.”
Struggling to find the words, Andrew fell rather than sat down on the bench Suzanne had led him to.
“Suzanne – Mylady. I am no longer worthy of your love. You must seek happiness with a man who can give you the life you deserve.”
“What has happened? Go on, tell me this very instant. Have you lost your holdings? You are not injured?”
“No, Suzanne. I have not lost my holdings. Nor am I injured. But – I can not tell you what has occurred, but I have no honour and you ought to -”
“Quelles betises. You are weary. The exhaustion is affecting your mind. I shall have the servants make a room ready for you. Francois will take you upstairs and you will sleep. When you have had some rest we shall speak again.”
“Did you not understand me, Suzanne? I am not the sort of man who is worthy -”
“I heard you very well. My English is getting more proficient every day, non? But you are not making any sense. If you are not worthy, who is? Have you given your heart to another woman?”
“Never. My heart is yours for eternity.”
“Then all is well. I am beginning to see that your assignment in France did not go well. Did you fail to bring to safety the people you set out to rescue? Alors, these things happen. Do not distress yourself. I know you and le Scarlet Pimpernel did your very best.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of a maid carrying a tray containing the required refreshments. With some insisting, Suzanne was able to force some sips of wine over the lips of her distraught betrothed. She believed he had suffered a bad shock, perhaps of nearly falling into Republican captivity. Perhaps the poor family he had set out to rescue had been killed. But to make these outrageous claims – She would not stand for it. Not after all the trouble she had had making her papa see that sir Andrew Ffoulkes was the man for her.
“Go on, Cecile. We shall manage on our own. Have them make ready a room for sir Andrew. Where is Francois and those clothes? Ah, there he is. Then you may go, Cecile. Thank you, Francois. Leave the clothes there.”
With a grand gesture, Suzanne dismissed the valet. Turning back to face her betrothed, she prepared to fight him on this ridiculous whim of his.
“Have you regained your senses now?”
“Suzanne, I beg you. Take my word for it, I am no longer worthy of you.”
“I can not tell you.”
“Nonsense. You can and so you shall. Well? I am waiting.”
Suzanne in such a temper was a glorious sight to see. The colour in her cheeks was very becoming and her eyes shone with the determination that she would not let anything get in her way. This young man was hers, and he would remain in her hands. The lessons her older friend had taught her were still fresh in her mind. Clearly this was time for some exertion of her power.
“Please. Do not ask me.”
“But I am asking. Go on, tell me.”
“You are leaving me no choice.”
Stumbling over the words, Andrew forced himself to kill his emotions and tell Suzanne what had come to pass in France. When he had finished with his sad tale, he waited anxiously for his beloved’s face to turn cold, for her to look away from him in disgust.
But he was wrong. What he feared did not come to pass. Instead the look in her eyes softened and Suzanne once again pulled him into her arms.
“Mon pauvre petit. What a sacrifice. I am proud of you. To save your friend at such cost. Is this what caused this foolish outburst? This is all? Then I trust I shall hear no more about breaking off the betrothal. You are weary, and you have had a bad shock, but we can set that right. Go upstairs and have some hours of sleep. You will be the better for it.”
“Suzanne – Did you not understand me?”
“Yes, perfectly. Did I not tell you that I am making excellent progress in my study of the English language? You were forced to make a sacrifice for your friend. Eh bien? Do you really think that it would make me love you less?”
She was amazing. He had not expected any woman to take his humiliation this lightly. There was a lingering suspicion that his innocent young betrothed had not fully understood what had in truth occurred between him and the vile Frenchman, but still, she must have some understanding of what it had entailed. Apparently, it meant nothing to her. Clearly, her feelings for him remained the same. Perhaps Marguerite had been right.
But that did not change the fact that he had once given himself to his friend, quite freely, with no death threat hanging over him. He was still and had always been a weakling, a coward, a catamite. How had he ever thought he could escape his past?
“Suzanne. This is not all. I – There is something I have kept from you. What that man demanded from me might not change anything, but this does. If only you knew -”
“What is it now? Unless you have been secretly married to an inn-keeper’s daughter and you have three children by her, I do not think I will be much discomfited.”
“No. I am not married, or ever have been. Nor have I entered into any shameful union with such a woman.”
Though Andrew had since leaving school sought out the companionship of servant girls on occasion, he had never felt it proper to set a woman up in some cottage to secretly visit her. He had always hoped that one day he would meet a lady like Suzanne and be joined with her in a manner seemly for a peer of the realm, and a gentleman.
“Very well. I am rapidly running out of patience with these games of yours. If you have tired of me -”
“Never. I will never tire of you -”
With a smug smile, Suzanne relaxed somewhat. That was what she had wanted to learn.
“Have you killed a man in cold blood? Are you accused of treason?”
“No, but -”
“Very soon my parents and my brother will come to breakfast, and by then, I hope you will either have gone up to bed, or will be calm enough to sit down and share their meal. What have you done that is so evil? Tell me, quickly, so that we may end this foolishness.”
“Suzanne, when I was at school -”
This, on the other hand, was something Suzanne had not wished to hear. She believed that such things were best kept secret. Like her friend, she had heard rumours about the English and their strange ways, despite her youth and innocence. This was not altogether surprising, but she was amazed that Andrew was willing to reveal such a dark secret about himself. Drawing on a newly found strength, Suzanne tried to imagine how Marguerite would have reacted to such news.
“I see. Well, just tell me how you feel about me. Do you love me or not?”
“Of course I love you.”
“Not your friend?”
“I do not love him as I love you.”
“Very well. Then I hope this will be the last I hear of these matters. It is not a topic of discussion suited for a lady’s ears. We will pretend it never happened. You were young, there were no women at your school. It is not pleasant to contemplate. When we are married, I should hope I will be able to keep you contented. Well?”
A flood of relief washed through Andrew. He had never been able to imagine that a lady of Suzanne’s refinement could bear to know such things about her betrothed and not turn away from him with loathing. Yet, she had listened to his sordid tale and not once flinched. At last he was beginning to see how much she truly loved him.
And she was right. Perhaps it had not been necessary to confide in her. She had been prepared for such a thing to have occurred in his past, and never once let that possibility deter her from entering into this marriage.
Once the grim determination that had driven him to this confession left him, Andrew found himself so weary, he did not know how he would be able to make his legs carry him up the stairs. Eagerly, he drained the glass of wine that was still standing on the tray within reach of his hand. He waited a moment longer, then felt some strength return to him.
“Suzanne, please tell your parents I am sorry I can not share their meal. I – It seems I must take you up on your offer of a room. This journey has been long and wearying.”
“Of course. A very wise decision. Maman and papa will understand. I shall send Francois to take you to your room. Andrew – I think papa is beginning to relent. We shall have the wedding before the end of the year. Trust me. I know how to persuade my father.”
“My love. You are so wise and resourceful. Forgive me for telling you these distressing matters.”
“No forgiveness is necessary. But you will never again speak of leaving me?”
“Never. I am back to stay. I believe that the Scarlet Pimpernel will have to continue his work without me.”
“I am glad you have made this decision. As a married man, I trust you will take your responsibilities seriously.”
“There is no question about that. So I shall. See you soon, my love.”
This time, when Suzanne held him, Andrew did not pull away. Whatever had come to pass in the last couple of days, and no matter how distressing events had been, he was home at last. With Suzanne, he had found more happiness than he deserved. He would endeavour never to let her down again.
Chauvelin woke up to hear someone pounding on the door. What was happening? Yes, it was all coming back to him. That sly little minx had drugged him. Strangely enough, he felt no anger at having thus been outsmarted by a woman he had desired for so long. If he was not mistaken, she would now be long gone, having taken her husband and their young friend with her.
Deep down, Chauvelin felt content that once again, the Scarlet Pimpernel and Marguerite Blakeney had evaded his efforts at capturing them. Though he hated them as much as he wanted and envied them, he did not wish the game to end. He found that he enjoyed the challenge.
They would meet again. And perhaps that time, they would be forced to acknowledge him. If he captured them again – when he captured them again – he would set them free himself. That way, they would owe their safety to him. Yes, if they were to find themselves owing him gratitude –
Knowing he had some difficult explaining to do, Chauvelin straightened out his dishevelled clothing. He wished he had had more time to arrange his appearance before facing the messenger from Paris, but it was not to be. And considering what uncouth brutes the authorities liked to send, he did not much regret his lack of refinement. There would be other times. La Republique still needed him. He still had protectors. The game was not over.