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Wayside Flowers

by: Christina

Disclaimer—These characters do not belong to me.  They were created by the Baroness Orczy, and I do not make any money from them.  Of course, if you didn’t already know this, you probably wouldn’t be reading this story!

WARNING! WARNING This particular story absolutely oozes disgustingly squishy romance—don’t read it if you don’t like that sort of thing.  Furthermore, it has NO PLOT.  Well, okay, it has a plot, just not much of one.  It’s the precursor to my other stories.

Oh, yes!  This bit takes place just a few days after the events of The Elusive Pimpernel.


    I was having the most lovely dream, of Paris just before my marriage, when Marguerite and I would stroll through the gardens of the Louvre, and the Parisian light would tinge everything pink, even her laughter.

    This vision was rudely interrupted by a shaft of light of the more common variety, hot and glaring, on the insides of my eyelids.  Nothing for it; I will have to wake up.  I crack open one eye, ever so cautiously, and find myself staring at the low, raftered ceiling of a cottage—infinitely preferable to some of the places I’ve spent a night.

    During the very first moments I stir towards consciousness, terror always seizes me, lest I wake to the inside of some damp prison, or the gruesome sight of a screaming proletarian mob.  It only lasts for the very first moments, though; I’ve never been one to drowse half-asleep for long.

    Marguerite’s slipped out of the cottage while I slept.  Demmed dexterous of her; usually, I wake if she so much as tosses, a quirk which kept me up all last night.  A restless energy has filled her since we left Bolougne.  She’s scarcely slept, scarcely sat down, since we reached the Day Dream that ghastly night.  Even when we sit to dinner, drumming fingers, a tapping foot betray the state of her nerves.  I don’t know all of what happened to her in France, but I know that, during the last day of her imprisonment, they placed her in a cell under constant guard.  She did not stir, did not let a betraying expression cross her face, for twelve solid hours.  Twelve hours, and now she’s ready to climb the walls if I try and make her sit still.

    I should go look for her—where are those demmed clothes?  I’ve left them scattered, of course; that will never do.  On Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., they’ll be a sight to scandalize the world.
 As I scramble around, with an eye at least to remove the offending garments from the floor, the door slams shut with more force than necessary, heralding my wife’s return.

    “Percy!  For goodness’ sake, you’ll sleep ‘till noon, man!”  Laughing, mischievous, she leans against the doorway of the bedroom, hands behind her back.  At one time, that comment would have been a barb aimed to sting; today, her eyes dance, inviting me into the gentle rebuke.  She’s happier than she has been in weeks, my Margot.  She’s been out walking this morning; her simple blue dress highlights the color the wind’s whipped out in her cheeks and across the bridge of her nose.

     “My dear Lady Blakeney,” I return with as much feigned dignity as I can muster, “no civilized man would be caught out of doors before such an hour.  Why, the sun himself has only just put in an appearance!”  I go to her, but she takes a step back, hiding behind the door frame.  “La, but you look the ruffian!” I tell her with raised eyebrows.  “I have the feeling I should expect a surprise attack!”

    She laughs.  “Only a surprise.”  And with the flourish which did curtain calls at the Comédie Française proud, she presents me with them—a bouquet of scarlet and white, mingled.  “They’re all over the walks, the very last ones of the year,” she explains, excited as a child.

     I touch the white petals wonderingly.  “Pimpernels and marguerites.  I never thought of such a thing before.  Just imagine what London society would say if it realized that its darling couple were the most common variety of wayside flowers!”

    Marguerite smiles winsomely up at me, and I can’t resist the urge; I caress her jawline and say softly, “How like a flower you are this morning.”

     She ducks her head instinctively, self-consciously, at my inspection, a gesture unknown to Marguerite in all her life until a few days ago.  I wince at that, and tilt her face into the light for inspection.  “It looks like it hurts something ghastly, Love.” I caress her cheekbone as lightly as I know how.  “Does it feel any better?”

    We’d been staying at the cottage in Dover since our return from Bolougne, waiting for the bruising across Marguerite’s face to heal enough for her to be presentable in public.  I am not selfish—or selfless—enough to leave my wife in such a state, and no cover story in the world will explain those marks.  Dark, purple-black blood rims both deep blue eyes, spreading out to her temple and cheekbone on the left side, where the bruise pales to lurid shades of yellow and green—healing, at least.   She is beautiful, still; I want to take away those marks in the way that I want to erase her memories of the last week, to spare her them.

    She smiles bravely, though.  “I vow, Sir Percy, you make so much of a bruise!  The headache is all but gone, now.”

    She, however, makes so little of it that I am close to weeping for her, if she will not.  With violent effort, I suppress such sympathy—that way lies madness.  It is worse torture, though, not to hear of her past few days, not to live every moment with her, and hurt in empathy.

    “L’Abbé Foucquet departed Dover last night,” I mention, schooling my voice steady.  “He inquired after the brave young lady who had been his cell-mate.”

    Tight-lipped, she turns away from me, moving to get water for the flowers.  Here, at least, we can display them with no fear of discovery.  Here, I need not act the fop too lazy to concern himself over his wife’s feelings.

     “He mentioned that she’d been unconscious, then delirious and sick, for more than a day.  Struck hard in the face, was his surmise.”

    She arranges the flowers.  She will not speak.

    I have had enough of our stoic acts, though.  Taking her by the shoulders, I spin her around, and into an embrace.  “God, Margot!” It is a plea for forgiveness.  “I should have killed that devil when I had him trussed up.  I should have hunted down the cur who did this to you and strangled him!”  I am vaguely aware that this is not the talk of the calculating Pimpernel; I do not care.

    An agonized “No!” escapes her lips, and she presses herself more tightly against my chest.

     With a sigh, I let it go.  Mustn’t she have felt just such a need for vengeance towards the Marquis de St. Cyr?  I sink into a chair, pulling her to sit across my lap, and leaning her head gingerly into my shoulder so I can stroke that golden hair.  She rests against me for a moment, only; the next, she’s lifted her eyes to meet mine, and she’s that demmed clever woman again.

    “Do you see, now, why I question you each time you return from France?  Do you see why I want to know every detail of your sufferings?” she asks.  “If you do, you understand why I must not tell you mine.”

    I have no response to her questions.  I would rock her against me in silence once more, but she won’t have it.  I sigh, my mind turning to more unpleasant matters.  “Tony brought word to the Fisherman’s Rest last night.  A group—a convent, really—in the Pyrenees needs my help.  They are in no immediate danger, but Chauvelin does plan to move against them, and no religious personage, you know, is safe just now…  I’ll go back for them in a few weeks, once you are better.”

    “How?  Through Bolougne?!” She darts up, angry, as I knew she would.  I have seen only one thing faster than the wit of Lady Blakeney, and that is her passion.  “Mon Dieu!  Is not seeing you sail off to that awful place once enough?  Must I endure again?”

    She stops her angry pacing, cocks her head towards me.  “Do you not say that the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel never fails, because it never attempts the impossible?”  She is losing the endings of her words in that French accent now, she’s so angry.  Best just to play cool.

     “That is our motto, yes.”

    “And what can you mean by ‘impossible’, if not impossible rescues?  You do not try to save everyone, non?”

    “We recognize that if we tried to save everyone, we should not be around long enough to save anyone.  We do only what good we can.”

    She nods succinctly.  I saw the trap in her reasoning, and yet I walked squarely into it.  Our eyes meet for a moment in a battle of wills, then she sinks to the ground beside me, and when our eyes meet again, hers have softened, full of unshed tears which I cannot chalk up to her acting ability.

    “Then save me,” she pleads.  “If you must choose, save me.”

   “Marguerite—”

     “I’ll die if you’re harmed!” Her cheeks are turned up to me, wet.

    More tenderly, “Margot—”

    “Percy, please don’t make me wait for the courier every week, dreading that the next letter will come from Sir Andrew, and not yourself, feeling that perhaps I would prefer anything to not knowing.  Please!”

    “Beloved.”

     “How did you feel knowing those awful men held me prisoner?  Tell me.”

     “I felt—”

     Helpless.  Wild with terror.  Like killing anything which stood in my way to get to you.

    “I felt exactly like you must, waiting in Richmond,” I admitted.

    “Then stay with me,” she pleads.

    It’s exasperating, impossible.  “Dear one, would you have me be that man all London thinks I am?  Would you have your love for me inspire nothing more than the most finely cut coat in the land?”  She is silent.  “As I am worthy to love you, I must not leave others to suffer while I indulge in my own happiness.  Even if it means that you suffer with me.”

     She leans against my leg in defeat.  From behind the curtain of loose hair, her voice sounds hollow.  “And my great role in life is to play the hostess?  No!”  She looks up violently, crushes my hand to her battered cheek with all her might, and I am the one who winces. “As I am worthy to love you, you will not leave me behind again.”

    I look at her dumbly, which she takes as an opening to continue her appeal.

     “I can play any part you can.  Non, I can play parts which you cannot.  You must need a woman from time to time.  Even if you think only of duty, I can prove valuable to you.”

    I say nothing.

    “And if you intend to sail off into danger, you owe me this much.”

    Odd’s life, she has me there.
 

~*
 

     Anyone who happened to be out for a walk at midnight that September evening might have encountered Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney strolling casually towards the Fisherman’s Rest, taking a circuitous route along the outskirts of Dover.  Sir Percy looked quite the dandy (if I do say so myself) in a new white suit of the incroyable style, cravat tied to perfection, as usual.  Lady Blakeney resembled nothing so much as a valentine, clad in a short-waisted gown of white and deep scarlet, the ghostly pale hat of which cast deep shadows onto her face.  Upon reaching the yard of the inn, Sir Percy could be heard to exclaim “Sink me, if this last demmed rain hasn’t left mud on the bottom of my boots.  Most unappealing.  Er...would you not care for some assistance with your train, Lady Blakeney? The walk has the most irritating sink-holes.”

    At least, that is how one might narrate the tale, if he were so interested in narrating.

    Our good host Jellyband meets us on the porch, holding the door open for Marguerite, who sweeps inside as if trailing an entire entourage, instead of merely her somewhat dull husband.  Following in her wake, I am pleased to notice most of the League already assembled, having a drink and a boisterous conversation, or losing at hazzard.  Still submersed in my part, I seat my lady graciously at a table.  Sir Andrew Ffoulkes nods to the innkeeper from his seat at the front of the room, indicating that we need nothing more.

    Marguerite, for her part, turns to smile up at our host from under her bonnet.  “Thanks, good Jellyband.”  The man recognizes a dismissal when he hears one, and he tramps his way back upstairs, muttering something about candles in rooms, and the fickleness of nobility.  I notice a bit of a smile tugging at his lips, though.

    “Gentlemen, in light of past happenings, perhaps we’d best check under all the tables!”  I announce merrily.  “Do be a sport, Tony, and check the wine closet, too!”  A concerted laugh greets my order, as they all scramble to search the place, Dewhurst and Elton scuffling with each other on their way to the adjoining kitchen.

    “All clear, Percy!” Ffoulkes announces but moments later.  The general bustle of men taking their places ensues—some standing by the door, others pulling chairs from around the room to me.

    “I want to thank you all for coming on such short notice tonight.  Some of you are just back from France, I know—splendidly done there, Ozzy, Tony.”  They nod, grinning.  “Tonight’s induction is a bit unusual—which is to say, unprecedented—but if my wife was able to convince me to let her charge into danger, she’ll have the Frenchies believing that chocolate cake and gold doubloons will rain from the sky if they’ll only do as she says!”  An appreciative chuckle for the charms of Lady Blakeney.  “It would be ever so helpful to have a woman on some missions.”

     Marguerite divests herself of the white bonnet, placing it next to her on the table.  We sit just to one side of the roaring fire, and when she looks up, the light catches her face, and a collective gasp issues from the bounders who did not accompany me to Bolougne.  Ozzy scowls, and Andrew clenches his fist convulsively.  “Besides,” I continue, “We are all in danger, always, since my identity has been compromised.” No word of her role in that; what’s past is past.  “We might as well face it together.”

    Marguerite’s face is set, determined.  Her eyes sparkle with fearlessness.  I ask for objections; there are none.

    “Very well, then.  My dear, if you will attend to me.  What you are about to hear you must reveal to no one.  As a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, you swear unquestioning obedience to the Pimpernel himself.  You will not desert another bounder…”

    I know, beyond a doubt, that I will live to regret this.  Yet now, as she stands next to me and swears into the League, I cannot feel anything but the that the two most important parts of my life are finally coming together.
 

End


Enough of this; I'd rather be in the Nest myself! Take me home.