The Humble Wayside Flower
It was proclaimed a masterpiece by all, exactly as I'd hoped. Of course, it was helped along in its fame by the Prince, who saw the great irony as no one else besides the league would.
"Marvelous, Blakeney, simply marvelous!" he declared, and the rest of the company naturally agreed. "However did you come up with it? Really, we must know . . ."
I laughed, with a bit of genuine humor for a change. "All done in the tying of a cravat," I said flippantly, with a slight shrug of the shoulders. Actually, it had been done in three tyings of the cravat: the demmed thing was being obstinate that evening, and with the nervous state I was in, I couldn't get it to tie properly. Sir Percy Blakeney's cravat, of course, must be impeccable, or it would be a scandal such as society had never seen before in all its days. But the scrap of silk would not tie. Finally, after three unsuccessful tries I threw it down in disgust, condemning the cloth to all levels of hell for its uncooperativeness.
I don't know why that started the spark of a poem in my brain, but the next thing I knew I had come up with the first line of what promised to be a clever and mocking little rhyme . . .
"Do say it again, Percy," his Highness reiterated. "It is quite amusing, you know."
"If you insist, your Highness," I said with a smile.
"We seek him here, we seek him there,
It was much later, and with great relief, that I finally spotted Andrew and Tony. But the relief only lasted a few seconds. They were in bad condition, though they made efforts to disguise it. Andrew walked--quite irregularly, a bit more like a limp than a walk--over to Suzanne de Tournay and engaged her in pleasant conversation. Every now and again, when Suzanne would turn her head away, he would wince or pale suddenly, as if in great pain. Tony had a nasty bruise on the side of his head. He--who was widely known for never dancing with the same young girl twice in a night--stood quietly against the wall, occasionally adding a comment to some conversation, but always against the wall. He leant against it as if for support, and his usually ruddy face was as pale as the moon.
It wasn't difficult to see that they had been brutally tortured for some time.
"Ah, Tony!" I called out as I walked over to him. "So finally you arrive! ‘Twas demmed inconsiderate of you to be so late, you know." He tried to force his usual lighthearted laugh, but I knew better than to accept the substitute.
"I was in a terrible predicament this evening, Percy," he said. "I could not, for my very life, decide on the opera. It took Ffoulkes and I so long in debating whether or not to attend that by the time we decided, the opera was over and the argument had become irrelevant. So, you see, we've both been out of sorts all evening."
Several laughed at Tony's story, and I joined in, but immediately turned around with an imperceptible gesture to Tony, indicating that he should follow me. We went into a small secluded room.
"What happened, Tony? Where did you get that bruise?" I said quietly. He sighed heavily, and put his hand on the table; I helped him into a chair.
"That night at the Fisherman's Rest--two men in dark clothes knocked us unconscious and stole Ffoulkes's papers. They took us to a deserted house on the Dover Road and kept us there for four days, then this morning . . . they were gone without a trace, and two saddled horses were in the yard."
He didn't mention anything about torture, but what he left out I could deduce for myself. They had been tortured for information by Chauvelin's spies while he examined Andrew's papers. He must have seen my final note, then, about being here tonight, and he wanted them to be here as bait. He freed them this morning so they could lead him to the Pimpernel. He was too close to the truth.
I quickly scribbled a note to them all while Tony sat, his eyes closed and his expression pained.
I start myself tomorrow--alone. Remain in England and wait for further instructions. If you wish to speak to me again I shall be in the supper-room at one-o'clock precisely.
"Send this the rounds--Wallescourt, Hastings, and Ffoulkes--and have Ffoulkes destroy it," I murmured as I handed him the note and left him to his few moments of rest.
One o'clock in the supper-room--and it was now half-past ten; the allemande was being danced, Ffoulkes was courting pretty Suzanne, and Marguerite was standing alone. It was the first time all night I had seen her without a dancing partner.
All evening she had danced, laughed, chatted with the host of young men that always surrounded her, hoping for a chance favor or a kind word. She laughed and danced with them--but she laughed at me, she danced around me. And even though that was how it should be, the more space between us the better, it still hurt immensely.
But now she stood alone. Perhaps I would ask her to dance myself; the upcoming gavotte was a light dance, we could make a show of being husband and wife at least, without too much seriousness having to pass . . .
As the musicians prepared to begin the strains of the gavotte, the Comtesse de Tournay pulled her daughter away from Andrew's conversation, evidently deciding the two had been alone long enough. And just at that moment, Marguerite began to walk towards him. So, she would claim Andrew for the gavotte. What a foolish thought I had considered, to dance with one's wife!
But Hastings got to Andrew first, slipping the note in his hand discreetly as he brushed past him. Ffoulkes slipped into the small boudoir behind him, and I looked to Marguerite, to see who she might choose to dance with now that her first choice had left.
She was following him, with a quick pace, into the boudoir.
A natural spy, my little Margot. Already beginning her work for Chauvelin. I wanted to know what was going on in that room, and I was afraid to know. Whatever it was, it didn't take very long, for just fifteen minutes later Ffoulkes led Marguerite from the boudoir into the figures of the minuet.
When the dance was over he led her into the next room, and I followed. As Marguerite left his arm for His Royal Highness's, he looked after her curiously, and I knew something had happened. I tried to get to Andrew, to find out what, but Chauvelin immediately engaged him in conversation--to keep him in sight--for some time, until it was time to go down to supper.
It seems as though I shall have company in the supper-room tonight, then.
At a quarter to one I laid myself down on one of the supper-room sofas and closed my eyes halfway. If Chauvelin was to find me here, hopefully he would only see a brainless idiot sleeping on the sofa. But I was hoping that he wouldn't come in at all.
If he did, it could only mean one thing; that my wife was a full-blown French spy. Only she could have let Chauvelin know where the Scarlet Pimpernel was going to be at one o'clock. I was all but certain that she had followed through with the first part of her espionage--I could but hope that she wouldn't follow through with the rest.
As the clock struck one, I heard the rustle of someone entering the room, and I cocked one eye open. There was Chauvelin, glaring all around the room as if he expected the Scarlet Pimpernel to simply be standing there in plain sight. Of course. I hadn't been able to put my heart in my hopes, and there was my proof why; I knew my treacherous wife far too well to ever seriously think she might not tell Chauvelin what she knew.
Yet something does not seem right . . .
I shut my eyes again and snored, loudly.
What kind of a woman have I married? I wondered, for the thousandth time in a year. She, with the rest of the ladies of England, has professed to admire and adore the Scarlet Pimpernel--the nation's hero. And yet she would betray him without a second thought, she would hand a man she does not even know into the hands of his enemies--
And would she have done the same, had she known the truth?
The voice startled me out of my thoughts, and I opened my eyes slightly to see Lord Fancourt standing at my elbow. Yawning, I looked around the room--Chauvelin was lying on another sofa, apparently asleep.
Why is he still here? Is he unsure of his facts--or is he waiting for more to fall into his trap? "Ah, yes--Lord Fancourt," I said slowly, "what is it?"
"Lady Blakeney has said that she is very tired, and implored me to tell you she would like to go home soon."
No. I cannot face her, not now. My face would tell her all too much.
"I'll see the horses put to at once, then, if you'll only look after her until the coach is ready?"
"Certainly, Sir Percy."
Yes, she wants to go home now--now that her work is done. There is nothing more to be gained this evening--she has accomplished her purpose.
Why did that sound so wrong to my ear?
When I pulled the coach around to the drive, I made sure my face was in shadow.