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The Ground Beneath Her Feet


Disclaimer: We all know that I don't own these characters.  They were created by Baroness Emmuska Orczy; I merely use them vicariously.  And yes, I do mean vicariously. :)  On a side note, this story absolutely proves that I feel some strange, twisted need to beat up on poor Margot.  Every single story...honestly!


by: Christina

    Freshly shaved, washed, impeccably dressed—sink me, I feel like myself again!  Shrugging my shoulders around a bit settles my coat into place and stretches the bandages to an acceptable level of comfort.  The shoulders themselves are stiff, but not dangerously painful, and for the first time, I am actually glad of that wretched costume I wore--Shovelin’s men beat an aging Jew less vigorously than they would’ve flailed the robust Scarlet Pimpernel.  And then there is Marguerite’s role in all of this…  The realization that the rest of one’s life will be not bleak, but exuberantly happy, does much to banish fatigue.  And on that note, I take the stairs two at a time.

    Marguerite—my eyes immediately search her out where she rests in her brother’s arms.  Armand is telling the tale of his part in the rescue to an indulgent audience, gesticulating wildly with one hand.  Marguerite smiles sleepily, somewhat dreamily, and I feel an instinctive smile leap to my face in reaction.  Enough looking on from a distance; we’ve been kept apart too long, already.  “Armand,” I interrupt the boy’s narrative.

    Making his excuses, Armand jumps up from the crate he’s appropriated as a seat, and brings my wife over to me.  “Percy!  How do you feel?”

    “Fresh as a daisy, thank you!”

    “I feel like a sack of flour, being hefted around so,” Marguerite murmurs indistinctly.

    I try to share a concerned glance with Armand, but he merely shakes his head at her, chuckling to himself.  “Are you cold, m’dear?”  I ask Marguerite, instead.

    “No; I am quite warm.”

    I somehow doubt that.  A cool breeze has sprung up, and it stings even my face, numbing my ears and the tips of my fingers.  “Are you certain?  Even your feet are warm?”

    She frowns in concentration.

    Armand no longer tries to control his chuckles.  “I made her drink some brandy,” he explains in amusement. “I think she’s a bit tipsy.”

    “Armand, I already gave her some brandy!”

    “Yes, well how was I to know this?”

    “Excuse me, I am here,” Marguerite speaks up.  “It is less than polite to speak so about a person over her head.”

    “Sorry, dear,” we apologize.

    “Here, give her to me,” I tell my brother-in-law.  “I’ll take her below decks, out of the damp.”

    He deposits her in true brotherly fashion—affectionately, but none too gently—in my arms.

    “Armand!” she admonishes, “I said I feel like a sack of flour; that does not mean you may treat me like one!”

    I roll my eyes and leave him standing there, still half-chuckling.

    In my cabin, I’m hesitant to put her down.  This position—cradling her in my arms—is starting to feel familiar, and I begin to realize that this is not some dream, but reality.  Reality!  Marguerite has redeemed herself!  Marguerite loves me!  Marguerite is nestled against me, eyes heavy-lidded, smiling.

    “I am a bit cold,” she muses thoughtfully, and I set her in the bolted-down chair, fetch a basin of water to clean her feet.  I never knew women’s stockings were so hard to remove; finally, she takes pity on me and laughs, “For heaven’s sake, Percy, just start at the top and roll them downwards.”  Sage advice, which I follow, savoring the moment before guiding her feet into the basin.

    She yelps.  “That is freezing!”

    “Sorry, dear heart.”  The water turns cloudy.  Kneeling at her feet, I take one of them onto my knee for inspection.  “The faster I finish with this, the faster I can get you into bed.”  She chuckles, and I realize what I’ve said.  I can feel my face turning as scarlet as the flower.

    “I’d like that,” she says shyly.  “Don’t blush, Percy!  We’re old, married people, remember?”

    I ignore her comment—what am I to say, after all?—and turn my attention to her feet, which are now several shades nearer their normal color.  And lacerated.

    She catches my wince, and starts half up in concern.  “What?  Mon amour, are you well?”

    “I’m fine.  Merely worried about your poor feet.  Margot, how did you manage to walk all that way like this?”

    “I didn’t actually feel it,” she shrugs, grinning broadly.

    It is my turn to ask.  “What?  Why the smile?”

    “You called me Margot.”  Again, she is almost shy.  “You haven’t called me that in months.”

    I take her hand and kiss it, saying, “Margot, cherie,” just to make her smile.  “Wait there one moment.”

    “I promise not to move!”  she calls to me, laughing.

    Fortunately, the Day Dream is more stocked with medical supplies than a doctor’s office.  I find tweezers, a needle, bandages.  That mostly-full flask of brandy I’d set on the dresser might work as a disinfectant, too.

    “This is going to hurt, non?” Marguerite asks when she sees the supplies.

    “Sorry, Love,” I tell her with a grim smile, and pour the brandy over her foot.

    She shrieks as if she’s being murdered—it’s a wonder she hasn’t lost her voice already tonight—and plunges her foot back into the dirty water of the basin.  “Percy, that was mean!” she whimpers, tears streaming down her face.

    “I did apologize in advance,” I tell her contritely, “but unless you want gangrene, you really must take your foot out of that water and let me continue.”

    “No.”  She plunges the other foot into the basin alongside the first.  “Amputating would be less painful.”

    “Margot, do beha—”

    “The answer is still no.  You are not putting that stuff on my feet again.”

    “Very well.”  Did I mention that no matter how much I love her, this woman has always managed to exasperate me?  She shares the illogical streak that’s so often gotten her brother into trouble.  I offer her the flask.  “Drink it, then.  You won’t even be able to feel your feet.”

    She takes it from me dubiously, and manages to choke down a fair amount before the burning stuff sends her into a fit of coughing.  “Take it back!” she begs.  “After tonight, I don’t ever want to smell this stuff again!”

    I laugh.  She’s unwittingly quoted Tony Dewhurst, age 12.

    “Don’t tease!  It’s repulsive!”  She pouts prettily.  “Could I have a glass of water?”

    Who could resist a pout like that?

    “Now what happens?” she asks once she’s managed to gulp down the stale water.

    “We wait.”  For you to become so giddy that you can’t even recall you’re aboard the Day Dream.  “We talk, if you like.  Anything on your mind?”

    “Yes,” she answers immediately, but says nothing else for a moment.  “You?”

    “Ladies first.”

    She nods, staring distantly at the patterns her finger traces on the arm of the chair.  “Dieu, this is awkward.”

    “What is?” I ask gently.

    She turns a frank gaze up to meet mine.  “I’m sorry, Percy.  I’m so sorry.”

    That stops me cold.  “You already said you were sorry for the ball, and I already explained that I was in the wrong as well.”

    She shakes her head.  “No, I’m sorry for before that—all the months before that.  For mocking you and baiting you and saying I couldn’t grow to love you, when I should have known I already did.”

    “It is difficult to love a lazy fool,” I say carefully.

    “Perhaps, but I knew you were more than that.”  She is silent for a long time, thinking.  “At any rate, I felt that you were hiding from me, and…and that you’d taken me away from everything familiar only to abandon me.  I tried to hurt you as badly as I could…to prove that you weren’t so aloof, after all.”

    You lashed out because you were hurting, then?  All those months, you were hurting, too, and I didn’t see it?  “Oh, Marguerite, I couldn’t hold that against you!  I…am sorry too.  I’m sorry for leaving you so completely alone.  Had I reached out just once, perhaps we could have come to this point with far less suffering.”

    “Why would you have reached out, unless you like being cut to the quick?”  She sighs, a sound of deep regret, and twines her fingers through mine.  We sit for long moments in silent communion.  Unable to remain melancholy for long this night, I turn my attention to re-memorizing everything about her.  Her hands are so small!  Finally, I can bring them to my lips with something more than decorum.

    “When we reach England, my Margot, I think we’ll have time for a leisurely stay at Richmond before I must return to France, don’t you?”

    “Mmm,” she agrees hazily.  Then the meaning behind the words hits her, and her eyes snap open wide.  “Wait—you’re going back?”

    “They need me.”

    “Percy, Chauvelin will kill you!  You can’t go to France ever again—not ever!”

    I frown with what I know to be my most grave expression.  “Margot, I won’t stop being the Scarlet Pimpernel.”

    She examines my face, trying to discern if she has any hope of winning an argument.  A moment…  Then her shoulders slump in defeat, and, wrenching her hands from me, she covers her face with them and bursts into tears.  Oh, dear.  Perhaps the brandy wasn’t the best of ideas when she’s already so fatigued.

    “Marguerite—? Margot, Margot, don’t cry.”  I’ll stay catches on my lips.  I won’t stay.  “Shh!  Don’t cry—not tonight.”  I take her hands from her face and clasp them between mine.  Her face is the perfect picture of childlike misery.  I am the lowest of curs.

    “Darling, my heart,” I whisper, for lack of anything more substantially comforting to say.  Her hair is soft between my fingers, her body quivering with sobs.  Her face is soft under my palms, and glistening with tears.  “You must know I cannot bear to see you cry.”  I kiss her forehead gently, and she tilts her head back in invitation.  Her sobs have dwindled a bit; she now unconsciously wears the irresistible pout.

    “What’s this?” I ask, purposely misunderstanding.  I kiss the tip of her nose, which is cool against my lips, hear her half-hiccough a giggle.  “What’s this?  The lady’s nose is ticklish?”

    She giggles in earnest, now, and lets her head fall back all the way, exposing a long expanse of white throat.  Through great effort I resist it, recognizing the path to further temptation.  “What’s this?  The gentleman is strong-willed!”  she murmurs laughingly at the ceiling, her head rolling against her shoulders.

    “You, my lady, are so, so drunk,” I return tactlessly.

    “Cad.”

    I lean back down, and smack her soundly on the ankle.

    She lets her head fall forward now, and levels a somewhat foggy gaze at me, frowning disapprovingly.  “What was that for?  I apologized in advance for baiting you!”

    “You didn’t feel it though, did you?” I ask, moving her unresisting feet out of the water.

    “No, I did not.”

    I nod.  “That was what I was trying to ascertain.”  The hem of her dress trails water on the floor, and I push it up, exposing a positively indecent amount of leg, before I begin scrubbing her feet with the last remaining brandy.

    She watches with unconcerned curiosity as I remove a large shard of stone and begin threading the needle to sew together the gash it left.  “Do you do this often?”

    Visions of Galveston slumped in this chair with a gunshot wound to the shoulder, of Hastings bleeding buckets from an angry cut in his leg, play themselves before my eyes.  “From time to time.”

    She shudders at the implications of that statement.

    “Cold, Marguerite?”

    Gamely, she nods.

    “Well, I am all but done.”

    A moment of silence, then—  “You’ve—you’ve redecorated the cabin since last I was here.”

    I shoot her a grateful smile for this change of subject, and we talk of trivial matters, avoiding by tacit consent the topic which caused such earlier upset.  Neither of us is in any condition to consider it, and besides, we should be celebrating this victory, not mourning the next parting.  I wind the soft bandages around her feet, layer after layer so that she will have a thick padding to walk upon.  “There.  Now it is only a matter of finding you shoes which will fit over those.  One moment, m’dear.”

    As I disappear into my wardrobe, she calls, “Is this your way of saying I’ve walked a mile in your shoes?”

    “Perhaps,” I call back to her.  “Perhaps you have.”

    “Followed in your footsteps?” she giggles.

    “You walked; I rode,” I remind her.  The sharpest wits in Europe are definitely slightly addled at the moment.

    I return with a pair of soft leather dancing shoes.  Marguerite recognizes them instantly, and gives a small gasp of surprise.  These are my finest—custom-made by a famous Belgian cobbler for a small fortune.  They were made for indoor use only, and no doubt trekking through Dover in them will destroy them.

    “Percy, I can’t wear those!” she protests.

    “Whyever not?  They may be a bit big, but I’ll warrant your feet are not so small as usual just now, at any rate.”

    “They are your best!”

    “Only the best, of course, dearest.  Are you aware that I kiss the ground you walk upon?”

    It is Marguerite’s turn to blush, as her mouth twists into an embarrassed smile.  “I cannot walk,” she reminds me.

    “How careless of me to forget.”  I lift her from the chair with some difficulty, chiefly because she has gone limp as a rag doll under the effects of the alcohol.  Good—this sleep will heal fatigued muscles, then.  As I ease her under the covers of my bed, she grabs my lapel in a vise-grip.  “I want to go with you!”

    “Margot, I’m only going up on deck so that you can sleep a bit,” I protest.

    She smiles that same dreamy smile once more.  “I’m going on deck too, then,” she announces, throwing the covers off.

    “You can’t, dear.  You reek of brandy, and you’re halfway to being soused.”

    “How mean,” she yawns.  “You stay here with me, then.”

    “Very well.”  This time, I can stay when she asks me to do so; it is the least I can give her.  “Turn me loose for a moment, my heart.”

    “You’re staying?”

    “I’m staying.”

    She releases me, and I grab the one chair in the room which is not bolted down, dragging it near the bed to sit by her.

    “Pleasant dreams, Marguerite.”

    She nods contentedly.

    “Oh, and Margot?”

    One blue eye cracks open in acknowledgement.

    I slip a hand under her neck, feeling her warmth and the warmth of the bed.  She smiles broadly as I reach down and take her lips, tasting the richness of the brandy and her own far more intoxicating flavor.

    As I lean back, she catches my hand and turns over, tucking it beneath her chin.  I remember a desperate night at Richmond earlier this week, remember kissing cold stone.  From infinite suffering comes infinite beauty…isn’t that written somewhere?  The infinite suffering I leave on the shores of France.  I will go back, of course, and revel in watching men, like myself, and their wives, like Marguerite, leave that pain behind.  Just now, though, Margot is a world in herself—a world of infinite beauty.

End


"In between us stood a wall...  In a flash it fell apart."