Tirade... I mean, Disclaimer: The usual—these characters are the creations of Baroness Orczy, not myself. If I had created them, they would be much better behaved. They wouldn't invade my head, forcing me to stay up writing stories instead of doing my homework. Furthermore, this scene does not mean that I think Margot's a wuss. I'm with Percy in defending her on this one; I think any halfway feeling person would act like she does under similar circumstances.
“I’m not asleep; merely resting my eyes!”
Strange—I’m not in the prison at all. This is my cabin aboard the Day Dream, and that is Marguerite turned away from me, closing the door with her foot, a well-laden tray in her hands. I’ve managed to elude the ruffians who guard me, then, and steal a moment to fly straight into dreams.
I lay back, blink my eyes. Flashes of darkness and horses, a carriage in front of me and a man beside me. The horse rears…
This is no dream. The escape returns to me, the desperation of knowing the only precious thing in the world lies in peril just ahead of me on the dark road, and failing in any detail means her death.
Marguerite lets out a heavy sigh; she thinks I’m talking in my sleep. I won’t disillusion her. The clatter of china as a wave washes under us, her quietly hissed, “Merde.” I suppress the grin tugging at the corners of my mouth. My wife is all heaven to me, but her domestic skills do lack something.
Warm, heady breath on my face. Full, demanding lips cover my valiantly suppressed smile. I fall into the giddiness of her kiss, reach up for her, but she pulls away as soon as I open my eyes and smiles teasingly down at me, hands clasped behind her back. “Bon matin, Sleeping Beauty. You’ve slumbered for a hundred years, and the Revolution is over. Let’s go home and sit by the river forever, feasting on honeysuckle and dewdrops!”
No domestic skills, but she certainly can improvise poetry. “Sink me, a man closes his eyes for a moment, and wakes in Elysia!”
The morning sun filters through the porthole; Marguerite seems a strong and steady flame. I reach for her again, and she frowns at me in mock-reproval. The reproach of a goddess—ware the consequences! “You must eat first,” she instructs.
I give her my most comical leer. “I’ faith, I intend to feast.”
Laughing, she delivers a blow to my arm, and retrieves the tray, which
is laden with:
They do think I’m an invalid.
Margot sits in the chair beside the bed, tucks her feet up under her skirt, and watches every mouthful I take like a tiger waiting to pounce upon me if I hesitate. Obediently, I finish the last of it. “Satisfied?”
“Quite. Good boy,” she teases, taking the tray and placing a cool hand on my face. “Last night, you had a fever. You shouldn’t have taxed yourself any more than was necessary.” She considers for a moment. “It’s gone now.”
I do not intend to enjoy the superfluous period of convalescence all of my loved ones seem eager to foist upon me. “Marguerite, love, you need not coddle me…” Her face darkens abruptly, like a storm blowing over the Channel, drowning my complaints mid-sentence. “What is it?”
“Humor me,” she says shortly, turning back to the tray. A cloud blots out the sun beams for a moment; her thin frame convulses abruptly, straightens just as abruptly, leaving no evidence of the moment of weakness. This woman has nerves of steel, and I will destroy them before I am finished.
A strange, off-balance mood envelops her today; I try a different approach. “How maternal you are this morning, m’dear.” That earns me a sideways smile, given in profile. I hold out my hand, just as a child might, pull her to sit next to me as a husband does. “What a wonderful mother you will make some day.” Yes; talk of distant matters, more pleasant matters.
No; now she broods once more. “Percy—” the words come haltingly. She is unsure what to say, unsure if she should speak at all. “In that event, would you stay with me?”
I measure her with a look. She is too pale, too thin, too drawn still from her weeks in Paris, but I sense no change of that sort in her. “Are you…expecting, m’dear?”
“No,” she admits. “Forget that I asked. The question does not matter, and I was unkind to pose it.”
Oh, Marguerite, what wouldn’t you do to keep me with you, if not for your nobility of spirit? How desperately do you battle yourself to let me go, to defend my honor?
“Light of my life—” Where do I intend to take this conversation?
She’s not listening. She stares at the coverlet with an empty gaze of utter hopelessness, and in a snatch, I understand her. In prison those weeks, I could have slept in an instant if they’d just let down their assault. Bit by bit, no matter how I tried to conserve my strength, the interviews with Chauvelin sapped it, planning for my escape sapped it, my mere existence sapped it. The devils nearly drained me hollow. Marguerite has gone for longer, unsure of my whereabouts, unsure of my safety, possibly without food and sleep, and certainly without me. Without love. And she knows that this state will continue indefinitely. How exhausted must she be?
I hold out my arm, leaning back on the headboard. “Come here.”
She crawls into my embrace, curling against me like a terrified child. I say nothing, murmur sounds into her hair, and slowly, slowly, it begins to come out. She shudders at first, turning the eyes of a penitent on me. “I’m sorry, Percy. I shouldn’t need you with me so desperately, as if I had to keep you tied to my apron strings…” The accompanying laugh is a bit hysterical.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Margot.” I rub her back comfortingly, and she begins to tremble.
“Please, please don't ask what I know you will. Don’t ask anything of me, because I can’t give it. I’m sorry, but I can’t!”
“Can’t what? Talk to me, love. Talk to me.” My hand under her chin. Her face turned up to me, wet and dangerously white. Her eyes red more from sleeplessness than tears.
“I can’t do it anymore. I can’t let go of you, knowing what you go to face. I can’t live without you. We came too close to that, and I won’t…I won’t…!”
True to her words, she clutches me tightly enough to strain at the seams of my dressing gown. She buries her face in my chest. She’s going to hurt herself in a moment. “Breathe, Margot. Calm. I vow to go nowhere until we’ve talked through this.” She trembles more fiercely, cries more violently, the sobs wrenched with a raw pain from the pit of her stomach. Dear Lord, I felt less helpless than this that morning we set out for the monastery. “Hush—shh! I won’t leave you. I’m here.”
Emotions so fierce cannot last for long. She cries herself out against me, until all that is left is the occasional caught breath. I offer a handkerchief, and she mops her face, which is, quite frankly, a mess.
My brave darling. How calmly you promised to follow my instructions to the letter that day. How proudly you stood before the guard. How thoroughly you repressed your horror as they beat me… And only now do you succumb to that horror, now that no task remains unfulfilled?
“You must despise me,” she laughs, disguising anxiousness.
“On the contrary. I admire no being on earth so much as you.”
The silence stretches out, the next move in her court. “Percy, I need to rest.” She is imminently practical, businesslike even. “Oh, I know I am selfish, and you are the one who needs rest, far more than I could. I know what you—” She swallows. “And all I’ve done is sit for weeks, and wait at Richmond, sit and wait in Paris, sit and wait in that carriage… I shouldn’t be tired. But I am. I am exhausted.”
Yes. I think you are more exhausted than I.
“I need you to stay with me. Oh, not forever,” —as she sees the protests already on my lips before they can form into coherent thoughts. “But for a bit. For a few weeks.”
If I fall into her arms now, I may never leave again. And if I don’t leave…I’m defeated morally. I won’t lay that at her feet. Oh, Percy, how logically you’ve thought this all out. Percy, is that bitterness I detect in your internal monologue? “Darling, Armand can stay with you.”
“No!” Her vehemence makes me wonder just how much of his role in recent events her brother has been able to keep from her. “No, Armand is going back to Paris.”
“What? I never told him that!”
“No, Percy, but I’ve seen enough just from being with him to know that he needs to atone for something. He will want to go, and you will let him. I don’t need Armand, now; I need you.”
The hero of England risks his neck daily skirting the dangers that France holds. Yes, I have the courage to risk my honor for my wife’s…health? Sanity? I can risk at least this much in defending her.
And it’s true. I am so demmed exhausted.
“Percy, please do not go! I—what?” The shock in her still-swimming eyes is comical. I can’t help but laugh as I wipe away the last of the tears that fall, then attack her red nose with the discarded handkerchief. Adorable thing.
“You are absolutely in the right, love. I’m staying.”
She buries her face in my chest and bursts into tears once more. Odd’s fish, I’m going to get another bath. “No wonder you’re so exhausted, Margot. You must learn to stay calm.”
“Calm?!” She laughs in disbelief, and swipes the handkerchief from me. “You’re staying!”
“For two weeks only.”
“For two weeks!” Abruptly, she sobers. “Then back to France.”
What does she expect me to do? Say “Yes”? Shatter her heart?
She sighs—my lack of response is response enough in itself. “I try to steel myself, you know. I expect the worst; luck is fickle. Then something terrible happens, and I haven’t prepared myself at all.”
Small wisps of curls have stuck themselves to her face with tears. I push them back.
“We cannot have a happy ending, can we?”
“Lud, m’dear! This is life! I’ll see to it that we do not have an ending at all.”
She looks up at me, more vulnerable now than ever I’ve seen her when she pleads for me to stay. “Promise?”
What is the old adage? Luck protects fools and small children. I am a fool, and she seems a very small child. If ever I forbid myself to look into the future, for fear that some horrible fate would paralyze me when most I needed courage, the blinders fall away now. I see a vision of myself and this woman half a century from now. And it is a vision—not an illusion. Lud love me, no endings! I am not in some story. No tragic heroes.
I gather her closer into my arms, where she fits perfectly, like fate. “I promise.”
"This wind will sweep me home again."