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As Love Is Reborn

by Janet Mitchell

Marguerite St. Just came to slowly, aware only of the pain in her head. Reluctantly, she opened her eyes. The room was dim, but she could tell at once that it was not her bedroom at home, in the Rue Richilieu. Indeed, it was not a place that she had ever been in before. She was lying on a soft, yielding surface, with clean covers over her. Slowly, she became aware of the scent of salt in the air. Sea air? Was she at the shore? Trying to pierce the darkness around her, she suddenly realized that she was not alone. A strong hand gripped one of hers tightly, and she looked up to see a strange man bending over her. Vivid blue eyes gazed into hers from a weary face. What a handsome man, she thought as she fainted for the first time in her life. As she retreated into the blackness again, she heard a voice calling her name. A British voice? What would an Englishman be doing at her sickbed?

Visions danced through her head, hideous images of violence and terror that taunted her. She saw herself and Armand being led to the guillotine by…Chauvelin? Was her former lover her jailer? There was another man, a tall man with gold hair. A swordfight, a blinding flash of light, a man’s voice screaming her name in anguish.

“Marguerite? Petit Mamam?” Another voice, higher and younger, calling her name, speaking her native French. She knew this voice-her brother? She attempted to rise, and fell back on the pillows with a cry of pain.

“Don’t try to move, little mother.” Her brother’s face came into focus slowly.  His face was pale and haggard, but he smiled, tears brightening his green eyes. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Thank God you’re all right. I’ve been so worried, and Percy…I’ll send for him. He’s been at your side the entire time. I finally convinced him to eat something, and you wake up! He’s going to be so upset that he wasn’t here.” Armand squeezed her hand gently, then rose from his chair and moved swiftly towards the door of the… cabin? A boat? What were they doing on a boat? And who was Percy?

While Armand spoke to the man outside the door, her eyes drifted around the room, taking in the details she had been unable to see the previous time she regained consciousness. She was lying in a large bed, in a man’s nightshirt. The cabin was huge, compared to the tiny rooms she had traveled in on her one brief trip to England, years before. Every object in the enormous room indicated immense wealth and refinement. Armand returned to his seat and clasped her hand again. Marguerite pulled herself up on the pillows. “Armand,” she said, her voice feeble, “Percy?”

She got no further, as the door opened and a tall man burst in. Marguerite barely had time to recognize the man, the same man from her dream, before she was seized in a strong embrace. Warm lips brushed her temple, and a voice whispered over and over “Thank God”. Held against a solid chest, she felt her brother release her hand and heard the door shut as he slipped from the room, leaving her alone with this-madman?

Too bewildered to speak or move, she lay in his embrace. Who was this man holding her as if he had the right? And why had her brother, so protective of her, left her alone with him?

Strong, warm hands moved to clasp her face, turning her face up to his. Before she could say a word, his lips closed over hers. She gasped as he kissed her desperately. She felt herself respond to him, her body softening… With a jolt, she suddenly pushed him away, scrambling off the bed. “What-what are you doing? Who are you?” She shrieked.

“Marguerite? What…?” The man moved towards her, attempting to take her in his arms. Franticly, she hurled herself at the door, fingers fumbling for the doorknob. Hearing the stranger coming up behind her, she jumped backwards, and screamed, “Armand!”
“Marguerite? What is it?” She flew into her brother’s arms as he strode into the room, holding him tightly. “Armand, who is this man?” She gasped in panic. “And what are we doing on a ship?”

Armand clasped her close as she quaked with fright. “Marguerite,” he stepped back, raising his hands to cup her face. “Marguerite, this is Percy.” As she continued to gaze at him without comprehension, a look of dread came over his face. “Percy, your husband, little mother. Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet.”

“Husband? Sir Percy Blakeney? An English aristocrat?” She stared at her brother as if he had suddenly announced that she was being crowned the Queen of France. Sir Percy moved closer, reaching out a hand to her. She recoiled, feeling a twinge of guilt as he dropped his hand and stepped back, his face turning even paler.

“Marguerite.” Her brother gripped her shoulders and turned her to face him, speaking with unusual self-possession. “What is the last thing that you can remember?”
She looked blankly around the room, tying desperately to find her bearings. Tears of frustration came to her eyes. Her brother’s face began to blur and she felt the strength drain from her body. With a muffled curse, Armand caught her before she fell and gently guided her to the bed. Laying her back on the pillows, he started to pull the covers over her until she stayed his hand.

“No, Armand. I want to know what has happened.” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. “I remember…Christmas! We celebrated Christmas, secretly, just the two of us. You gave me a beautiful music box and I gave you some law books that you wanted. I let my understudy perform that week, so we could get out of Paris.” And away from Chauvelin, she thought.

“Margot, it is summer. You have forgotten half the year!” Armand grasped her hand tightly. Across the room, Sir Percy sat down abruptly. She had the impression that if a chair had not been behind him he would simply have dropped to the floor, like a puppet whose strings have been cut.

“Half a year? I have lost six months?” She turned her gaze to the man across the room, then swiftly back to her brother. “How long-how long have I been…married to-”, the name caught in her throat, and she lowered her eyes.

“Three months, dearest. You met in the early Spring and married a few weeks later. I know,” He said, as she turned a look of astonishment upon him, “I am the rash, impulsive St. Just, and you are the calm, collected one. Nevertheless, it is true. You were married in England, in Percy’s home. As a matter of fact, I live there with you. He insisted upon it.”

“I-I cannot seem to take it all in, Armand.” She sank back into the pillows. Her hands were shaking, and she clasped them together, trying to force herself to calm.

She looked up at the two men. “Could I have some food, please? Perhaps this will all make sense later.” Sir Percy and Armand leapt to their feet, no doubt relieved to have something practical to do. As the door closed behind them, she heard her brother’s voice. “Mon Dieu, Percy! What else could happen to the two of you?”

Alone, Marguerite fought the urge to flee. Where? She thought with bitter humor. We’re on a ship, headed for England. What are you going to do, jump overboard? Armand is here. There’s no danger. She reached up and felt the bandage on her head, wincing at the sudden bolt of pain. These people, whoever they might be, have taken care of you. If anyone intended harm, all they had to do was leave you bleeding and injured in France. That would have finished you off quickly.

Armand came back with a tray. “Here, Margot. Try to keep some soup down. You will feel much better with some food in you.” He placed the tray on her lap. Dutifully, she ate everything under her brother’s stern look. He was right. The soup and bread did make her feel better.

Replete, she placed the tray to the side table and leaned forward, motioning him to come closer. “Armand. We are alone, are we not?” She said in a low voice. “No one can hear us?” Her brother shook his head, a bewildered look on his face. “Not at all, Marguerite. Why do you ask-for heaven’s sake! We are in no danger, dearest. We are on our way to England, to our home.” He went to the door and threw it open. “See? No one is standing outside the door with a gun to my head.” He chuckled. “You have a more lurid imagination than I do, little mother.”
Relaxing for the first time since she had awakened, she took the time to study her brother. He looked…different. Older, somehow. Suddenly she sat up with a gasp. “Armand! What has happened to you! Those marks on your face, on your hands…come here this instant, little brother!” She ordered him, years of maternal instincts coming to the forefront.

With a martyred sigh, he sat down beside her. She took his face in her hands, her own pain forgotten. “Mon Dieu, Armand! You have been beaten!”

He smiled and kissed both of her hands gently. “I am fine, petit maman. I merely had a little…trouble back in Paris.”
“A little trouble? And the Plague is just a little fever, nothing to worry about. Armand, in Paris, simply looking at someone the wrong way can cause you to be arrested, and possibly guillotined. Now, what happened?” She demanded.

“I was arrested.” At her horrified gasp, he gripped her hands tighter. “Don’t, Margot! I am all right! It was a simple misunderstanding.” He lied. “Now, I order you to get some rest. We will be in England in less than two hours. When we arrive at Richmond-that’s Percy’s estate-we will get you a doctor, and you’ll be perfectly all right. In a few days, you will remember everything.”

“But, Armand-” Her brother shook his head. Rising to his feet, he took the tray from the table. “Later, Marguerite. For now, you must try to relax. Please?”

She sighed and nodded reluctantly. As he left the room, she turned over on her side, pulling the covers up to her chin. To her surprise, she realized that she felt perfectly safe. As she drifted off to sleep, she heard the door open. She smiled. “Good night, Armand.”

“Sweet dreams, my love.” The voice was not her brother’s.

To be continued . . .

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