The Humble Wayside Flower
Two days later Marguerite and I drove down to Dover to see her brother Armand off for France. I had sent Armand with the Day Dream to fetch Andrew and the de Tournays. But he had insisted on coming back to Dover to say goodbye to Marguerite before setting off again. I consented, knowing the reason he wanted to say goodbye; it might well be his last. He was well known to the Revolutionary Government, and every step he took on French soil while doing our work was a risk. I had hesitated to send him to meet the Comte in the first place. He had become like a brother to me as well as Marguerite, and he was unquestionably loyal to the cause . . . but he also knew the French countryside like the back of his own hand. He would not get lost on the back roads and in the forests, where they were less likely to be spotted. Yes, he was the best choice . . . but it nearly broke me in two to send him into such certain danger.
Marguerite, of course, knew nothing of Armand's real reason for returning to France. She thought he was going to work for the Revolutionary Government, and I let her think that. It would be just too dangerous if she knew . . .
For whom? Whom would it be too dangerous for? For her? . . . for Armand? . . . or for you? . . .
I felt her warm, silent figure beside me on the box, and I berated myself for these terrible thoughts, thoughts that husbands should never think about their wives.
Marguerite, what if you knew? Would you desert me? Would you betray us? If I only knew I could trust you . . .
I pulled up in front of "The Fisherman's Rest," where our arrival caused great fuss to ensue on the part of the servants. Marguerite went inside while I spoke to the stableboy about the horses.
"Stable my horses well, boy," I drawled lazily. "My thoroughbreds should be ready to return to Richmond tonight." Then I gave him a coin and watched as he drove the carriage off to the stables. Instinctively, I glanced about me, but I saw nothing suspicious. Still, I couldn't shake a strange feeling of worry from me, which I had first noticed hours ago, when we left Richmond. I remained outside for a moment, wondering about this unaccustomed feeling, before strolling into the inn.
Holding a spyglass to my eye, I glanced about the coffee-room, noticing that the Comtesse and her daughter Suzanne were absent from the gathering. However, nothing in Andrew's face gave me cause for alarm, so I surmised they had already retired to their rooms. As I surveyed the room once more, I thought I saw a dark figure move under one of the benches; but when I concentrated my gaze that way, I saw nothing.
Strange . . .
I put away the spyglass and walked over to where Andrew and Tony Dewhurst were standing.
"How do, Tony? How do, Ffoulkes?" I shook their hands and yawned slightly. "Zounds, my dear fellow, did you ever see such a beastly day? Demmed climate this."
From the other side of the room, I heard Marguerite laugh shortly, but nobody spoke. In fact, every face in the room looked extremely uncomfortable.
"La!" I said, "how sheepish you all look . . . What's up?"
Marguerite's answer was somewhat forced. "Oh, nothing, Sir Percy, nothing to disturb your equanimity--only an insult to your wife." She laughed again.
Inwardly I tensed, at the mere thought of any man daring to insult Marguerite's honor. However, I kept an outward appearance of flippancy, for I somehow knew it had not been that kind of insult. I laughed with her.
"La! m'dear! you don't say so. Begad! who was the bold man who dared to tackle you--eh?"
I saw that the young Vicomte de Tournay had become quite incensed by our whole conversation, and that her was approaching me with anger in his eyes. I turned lazily to face him, and he bowed very low.
"Monsieur," he said in a very courteous tone, "my mother, the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive, has offenced Madame, who, I see, is your wife. I cannot ask your pardon for my mother; what she does is right in my eyes. But I am ready to offer you the usual reparation between men of honour."
A very excitable young man. But then, most of the French aristocracy are. It figures he would want a duel.
"Lud, Sir Andrew, look on that pretty picture--the English turkey and the French bantam," said Marguerite, who was obviously enjoying herself.
"La! sir," I said, "where, in the cuckoo's name, did you learn to speak English?"
My little remark only served to make the Vicomte angrier.
"Monsieur!" he protested. I continued to prattle inanely.
"I protest 'tis marvellous! demmed marvellous! Don't you think so, Tony--eh? I vow I can't speak the French lingo like that. What?"
"Nay, I'll vouch for that!" said Marguerite in her soft, beautiful French accent. "Sir Percy has a British accent you could cut with a knife."
"Monsieur," came the Vicomte again, "I fear you have not understand. I offer you the only posseeble reparation among gentlemen."
Funny thing that the angrier he gets, the more courteous his speech is, and the more broken his English becomes.
"What the devil is that?" I asked uninterestedly.
"My sword, Monsieur." The young man was fast approaching violence.
"You are a sportsman, Lord Tony, ten to one on the little bantam," came Marguerite's voice from far away, it seemed, for I was still considering the best way out of this difficulty. I yawned again.
"Lud love you, sir," I muttered, "demmit, young man, what's the good of your sword to me?"
It was a wonder the Vicomte didn't run me through then and there, for that was obviously his desire. In his face and his voice was such wrath that I thought he might burst out at me in his anger, aristocratic courtesy or no.
"A duel, Monsieur."
I paused for a moment, then laughed loud and long, to the infuriation of the outraged Vicomte.
"A duel? La, is that what he meant? Odd's fish! you are a bloodthirsty young ruffian. Do you want to make a hole in a lawabiding man? . . . As for me, sir, I never fight duels. Demmed uncomfortable things, duels, ain't they, Tony?"
The Vicomte was openly seething. He obviously took my refusal as proof of cowardice, and felt it was his duty to remedy the situation. He seemed ready to draw his sword anyway, in challenge, when Marguerite spoke again.
"I pray you, Lord Tony, I pray you play the peacemaker. The child is bursting with rage, and," she said a little sarcastically, "might do Sir Percy an injury." She laughed mockingly, saying, "The British turkey has had the day. Sir Percy would provoke all the saints in the calendar and keep his temper the while."
I joined in her merry laugh, though her words stung me. Turning once more to the slighted Vicomte, I said, "Demmed smart that now, wasn't it? Clever woman my wife, sir. . . . You will find that out if you live long enough in England."
"Sir Percy is in the right, Vicomte," Dewhurst broke in, apparently in my defense. "It would hardly be fitting that you should commence your career in England by provoking him to a duel."
It would also hardly be fitting that the Scarlet Pimpernel should be provoked into a duel with one he has but recently transported.
The calmer Vicomte shrugged and said, "Ah, well! if Monsieur is satisfied, I have no griefs. You, milor', are our protector. If I have done wrong, I withdraw myself."
I allowed myself a sigh of relief.
"Aye do! withdraw yourself over there. Demmed excitable little puppy," I saidd under my breath. "Faith, Ffoulkes, if that's a specimen of the goods you and your friends bring over from France, my advice to you is, drop 'em 'mid Channel, my friend, or I shall have to see old Pitt about it, get him to clap on a prohibitive tariff, and put you in the stocks an you smuggle."
"La, Sir Percy, your chivalry misguides you," came Marguerite, "you forget that you yourself have imported one bundle of goods from France."
I stood and bowed before her in approved fashion.
"I had the pick of the market, Madame, and my taste is unerring."
"More so that your chivalry, I fear," she returned, with not a little sarcasm.
How I grow tired of this contemptible arguing, when I would like nothing better than to take her in my arms, and . . .
"Odd's life, m'dear! be reasonable! Do you think I am going to allow my body to be made a pincushion of, by every little frog-eater who don't like the shape of your nose?"
Marguerite laughed as she curtsied to me prettily.
"Lud, Sir Percy! you need not be afraid! 'Tis not the men who dislike the shape of my nose."
"Afraid be demmed!" I cried, with more anger than I had intended. "Do you impugn my bravery, Madame? I don't patronise the ring for nothing, do I, Tony? I've put up the fists with Red Sam before now, and--and he didn't get it all his own way either--"
"S'faith, Sir Percy," said Marguerite, as she let go a long laugh. "I would I had seen you then . . . ha! ha! ha! ha!--you must have looked a pretty picture. . . . and . . . and to be afraid of a little French boy . . . ha! ha! . . . ha! ha!"
It was time to end the argument, for to continue it would require intelligence from Sir Percy Blakeney, which the whole of England knew he did not possess.
"Ha! ha! ha! he! he! he!" I echoed. "La, Madame, you honour me! Zooks! Ffoulkes, mark ye that! I have made my wife laugh!--The cleverest woman in Europe! . . . Odd's fish, we must have a bowl on that!" I tapped on the table. "Hey! Jelly! Quick, man! Here, Jelly!"
Jellyband, the landlord of "The Fisherman's Rest," stepped forward to receive my request.
"A bowl of punch, Jelly, hot and strong, eh? The wits that have just made a clever woman laugh must be whetted! Ha! ha! ha! Hasten, my good Jelly!"
Yes, hasten--I feel I need a drink . . .
"Nay, there is no time, Sir Percy," Marguerite said. "The skipper will be here directly and my brother must get on board, or the Day Dream will miss the tide." There was a definite note of sadness in her voice as she spoke of Armand's departure.
"Time, m'dear?" I protested. "There is plenty of time for any gentleman to get drunk and get on board before the turn of the tide."
"I think, your ladyship," Jellyband spoke up, "that the young gentleman is coming along now with Sir Percy's skipper."
"That's right," I laughed, "then Armand can join us in the merry bowl. Think you, Tony, that that jackanapes of yours will join us in a glass?" I asked jovially, gesturing to the Vicomte. "Tell him that we drink in token of reconciliation."
But Marguerite's thoughts were elsewhere. She wore a sorrowful look, thinking of her beloved brother, who would soon leave her side.
"In fact you are all such merry company," she said, "that I trust you will forgive me if I bid my brother good-bye in another room."
I can refuse you nothing, my dear.
I opened the door to the coffee-room and bowed in the approved manner before her. She brushed past me with a little glance of contempt that seemed to stab me through the heart. Yet I couldn't help but gaze after her beautiful figure for a moment after she left, wishing she would come back to me, wishing that the Marguerite I had known in the forests of Fontainebleau would come back to me. She did not return to the coffee-room for some time after the sun had set, and there was a strange look on her face. Something happened outside "The Fisherman's Rest" that night, something important.