Note: Yes, I realize in retrospect that the Chauvelin of this chapter acts very out-of-character for the Chauvelin of Orczy's novels. I just don't care. Pretend it's the musical version of Chauvy in this chapter.
One of the soldiers dismounted and walked over to the group, cutting Chauvelin free.
“Do not worry, dearest,” Percy told Marguerite, who seemed apprehensive, but not particularly cowed. “They are not so many that my men cannot take them.”
“No?” asked a now-standing Chauvelin, rubbing his wrists. “Perhaps your men will think twice after learning that I have even more reinforcements, very near at hand. Gentlemen!” he called, “Do as the captain says! Take these people prisoner. They will be conveyed to Paris for trial and execution—all of them.”
Around them, French aristocrats drew their rapiers. Six of the “refugees” from the caverns gathered around Blakeney, tearing Marguerite roughly from him.
“Why you traitorous—!” began the burly de Pizan, only to be silenced summarily with two swords at his throat.
“You see, Sir Percy,” Chauvelin gloated quietly, “you are not the only one who can use disguises. My men here have been posing as aristos for days!”
Percy gave him a perplexed look. Then, as he seemed to realize something, his countenance brightened. “My dear Shovelin! I know that!”
The fox-like man’s eyes widened. “You do?”
“Lud, yes! Where else do you think my men acquired such nasty spare uniforms?”
Citoyen Chauvelin turned towards the captain of the guards, his face gone suddenly pasty. Indeed, the uniformed man gave him an elaborate bow and an almost imperceptible self-satisfied smirk. The weapons which moments before had been leveled against panicked civilians now pointed at Chauvelin and his six henchmen.
“Once again, I have the privilege of presenting the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel,” Percy quipped lightly. “Although one would think, by now, that they would require no introduction.” Raising his voice to address the crowd, he continued, “I am sorry for frightening you all, but I felt that such a gambit was necessary to draw these men out.”
The men in question had for long minutes glowered at Percy’s troop in barely suppressed rage. Deciding the odds were well-matched, one gave an inarticulate cry, and with the hiss of metal upon metal, they drew their rapiers and sprang at the bounders.
Letting instinct carry him, Lord Tony darted forward and caught the first rapier blow on his pistol. “Let’s be sporting, boys, shall we?” he cried gleefully. Sir Andrew and his troop shoved their pistols into holsters, and drew their swords to meet the charge.
At the first cries of chaos breaking loose, Marguerite Blakeney had—in the light of past experiences—ducked, running away from the noise, and pushing rescuees with her. She managed to get most of them behind the protective barrier of the front gate, and dared to peek out at the battle.
She could little say who was actually winning. Many a time, she let out a cheer as a French soldier hit the ground hard, only to realize that the soldier was Sir Philip, or Lord Hastings. Sword met sword with an awful, high-pitched klang, but Marguerite winced only when the metallic ringing did not come, replaced by the agonized cry of a man struck down.
There! She watched, for an intense moment, as Sir Andrew backed his man up step by step. Another step—rapiers cut the air like hummingbird wings. Another. And the man went down in a tangle of tree roots and feet, finding Ffoulkes’s sword quickly leveled at his throat.
A flash at the edge of her vision—Lord Tony had ducked a murderous blow, but the sunlight glinted off the Frenchman’s sword as it rebounded on something—had Tony been hit?
And where was Percy?
Marguerite looked around for a rock, a stick—anything to throw to impede the soldiers, but there was nothing. So, she watched as Hastings rolled out from under a downswung blade, as Dewhurst laughingly retrieved his sword, dodging the wild swings of his opponent, as Sir Andrew determinedly fell back under the onslaught of a man twice his size.
And there, in the very center of it all, dueled Armand Chauvelin and Percy Blakeney.
“What a frightful mess you’ve gotten us into!” Sir Percy chided his opponent, as he moved in to block a direct blow. He channeled its force neatly to the side. A series of quick strokes were parried—in a quieter setting, the chiming would have been lovely—but the next left him quite genuinely struggling.
“I daresay you begin to see now that this is not all some game, Blakeney,” Chauvelin said menacingly. “One way or the other, a blade will meet your neck.”
“Shame, shame,” gasped Percy, launching his own attack. “You would deny Madame Guillotine her prey. Chaubertin, even a man who is no gentleman should know that the needs of a lady always come first.”
But they were far too evenly matched, and Chauvelin knew it. A quick dart—there! Blakeney was tired—And so!
In a thin stripe down Percy’s sword arm ran a small rivulet of scarlet blood. Marguerite let out a quickly strangled cry, and Percy paused, momentarily, to meet her eyes.
His opponent needed no more than that moment.
“How amusing,” Chauvelin told Sir Percy, sword now leveled at his throat, “to be dictating your fashion sense. I do not think, though, that the one-armed bit of color will catch on. Primarily because it will not be seen.”
Sir Percy Blakeney met this man’s eyes for a tense moment, finding in them only the gleeful desire for vengeance.
“Now, Monsieur Mouron Rouge,” Chauvelin told him levelly. “Drop your sword.”
A cold weight, a distinct clicking sound, against the back of his neck. “Non, Monsieur,” hissed a melodic voice, shaking with rage. “Drop yours.”
Percy took a step back. Chauvelin’s face paled, as he followed the instructions given him.
Marguerite grinned roguishly at her husband over the little man’s shoulder. “Lord Tony loaned me his pistol!” she explained.
“I ought to lend Lord Tony my fist!” Percy exclaimed, dragging his erstwhile opponent through the remains of the battle. “You could have been killed, rushing through the fighting like that.”
Marguerite shot him a somber look. “And you would have been killed had I not rushed in.”
He turned a genuinely grateful smile on her. “Thank you, my dear.” He bent to truss up Chauvelin once more. “How are the boys doing? Can you tell?”
She peered at the crowd. “More or less triumphant, Percy. At least, they all seem to be intact.”
“Sink me!” he exclaimed with a merry laugh. “Those are my boys!”
Some days later, the rather large entourage met the skipper of the Day Dream, along with its skeleton crew, at Bilbao. First off the ship, hardly waiting for it to dock, was a fuming figure, throwing his hands up in the air and exclaiming angrily in rapid French. Marguerite merely smiled fondly. “Do calm down before you hurt yourself, little brother!” she told him. “All went according to plan.”
He embraced his sister affectionately for a brief moment, then turned on his brother-in-law. “Percy! The next time you say I can come along on a mission, then leave me to mind the Day Dream for days at a time, I will defect more quickly than you can say ‘Madame la Guillotine!’”
“Dear, ever-exciteable Armand!” chuckled Percy. “I need you to fulfill your leg of the mission. But not just yet. First, I have someone here I want you to meet.”
“Oh? Who would that—”
Blakeney gently pushed forward a slight, dark-haired figure.
“Angèle!” Armand exclaimed, rushing to her. “You are well! Are you coming to England with us?”
Lord and Lady Blakeney tactfully withdrew, leaving the two to wander down the dock and talk.
“My brother and I will accompany you to England, yes,” the girl nodded. “I lived there for some months already, you know. Did you know?” He nodded an affirmative. “I have friends there, a life we can return to.”
They walked on in silence for long minutes. “I thought maybe—” he began hesitantly.
“Armand, no,” she cut him off. “Please do not say whatever you are going to say. I—I care for you, but I do not, and have not ever, loved you.” She had turned to gaze at him.
“I know,” he told her softly. “I know that. I have others I must think of as well. I merely thought we should see each other from time to time. This terror should not break up old friendships.
She relaxed. “Yes! Of course we should keep in touch with each other! I know Edouard would adore you. Have you seen him yet?” She looked around quizzically. “He is probably with your brother-in-law again. Some kind of hero worship, of which I’m not quite sure I approve. I will go find him for you!” She strode briskly away down the dock.
Armand watched her go. Too softly for her to hear, he murmured, “I still think you’re an angel.”
“Armand, old chap!” Percy’s voice broke his reverie, and Armand found himself drawn back into the noise and bustle of the group. “I told you I had a part in this mission for you! You are to see these noblemen safely to Dover.”
“And what will you do, Percy?” Armand asked. Marguerite had picked up on the conversation, and awaited her husband’s answer with dangerous eyes.
“I will accompany the sisters on to Santiago de Compostela. The Abbess tells me they have a sister-convent there, where they will be welcome.”
“Percy, don’t you dare!” Marguerite broke into their conversation, furious.
“Shh, dearest,” he attempted to soothe her. “You must go with Armand here, and see our guests settled in England. I will see you in a few weeks’ time.”
“I will not!” she told him hotly, refusing to be soothed. “I am tired of being left out of your plans. I am your wife, and if you go to Santiago de Compostela, I will come with you.”
“But, my love—”
“I do not want to hear any argument,” she cut him off. “I have bent to your plans, and now you will bend to mine. I’m coming with you Percy, and that’s all there is to it.”
He gazed at her for a long moment. “Very well, dear heart.” He took her face in his hands, and gently kissed her forehead. “It seems unfair that I allow you a share of the danger, and not of the plotting.” Then, he smiled rakishly. “Lud, but I would love to have you with me, at any rate! And I suppose the danger is not all that great. Tell me, dearest,” He kissed one cheek, mouth lingering close to her ear. “What sort of boat should we hire for the trip home?” He kissed the other.
“I could not care in the least,” Marguerite murmured, eyes closed. Then, “What was it we were discussing again?” She decided it mattered very little, after all, and there, in front of God, the world, and an entire religious order, she fell into her husband’s embrace and offered him her lips for a passionate kiss.
One parting had still to be made before they separated onto their journeys. On the deck of the Day Dream, Marguerite approached Angèle hesitantly. “Marquise? I know we will not meet again in England.”
“You will understand,” Angèle said, without turning around, “That I do not trust you around my brother.”
Lady Blakeney seemed to overlook this remark. Only a very trained observer—none of which were present—would have noticed the muscles twitching in her cheek. “I wanted only to wish you the best. I thought you should know that I still think you deserve it.”
Angèle did turn to her now. “I do not hate you, Lady Blakeney” she said swiftly, out of the blue. “I did once, but I cannot hate you now.”
Marguerite bit her lower lip to keep the tears from betraying her.
“You will also understand, though, that I hate myself for failing to hate you.” She turned away again, gazing out at the grey sea which she would soon traverse.
silently, waiting for something more, waiting for something inspiring to
say. When, after a long moment, nothing came, she turned and left
the deck, walking to the gangplank with measured steps.
On to the Epilogue!
"Into fire--onward ho!"