I cannot recall the last time I wrote in these pages--an old copybook, transformed into a journal that I never keep..I can flip through these pages and find awkwardly penned German exercises.(not many. I never cared for the language). I could almost be that boy again..back before all this...
I wander. I am exhausted, and my bed--the finest I have seen for more than a sennight--is calling, but I dare not retire yet. I want to commit this to paper now, while her look and voice and touch is fresh in my memory, while I can close my eyes and see and hear and feel every second, and then perhaps I can return to these pages, on the lonely nights, and remember...
I have been absent nearly ten days, when I had meant to be gone but a week. I still tell her how long I shall be gone, where I shall be (or where she must believe I shall be) and am at pains to return at the day and hour named..why, I do not know. Perhaps so that, whatever else she may think of me, she will know I keep my word--perhaps I hope against hope that she looks for my coming and feels my absence--perhaps simply because I cannot bear to be away from her an instant longer than is indispensable. Which is worse--the pain of separation or her cruelty when we are together?
I know the answer, and yet I return, the faithful, foolish moth hurtling unerringly toward the flame; but the moth is luckier than I, for he has but one sharp, brief burst of agony and then blessed oblivion, and I have my torment until I die...or she does, but surely God will be merciful enough..she does not love me, would suffer scarcely a pang if I were gone, but if I were to lose her...God help me, I love her...
And, after all, the odds must certainly be against the Scarlet Pimpernel becoming a widower as opposed to leaving a widow! As has never been clearer illustrated than this last romp. We had the d'Oleil's to get out this time--a cowering, helpless mother, a pair of quivering, frivolous daughters, and a mule of a Marquis who would have sat like any hen on his ruined lands and gutted home till the tumbril came. But neither he nor his family had done aught to merit such a fate--the girls are shallow, but kind, and spend as much on charity as on their wardrobe if not more, and likewise the mother..
I should have been more careful, and it is only through the grace of God that we did not pay a greater price for my folly. But I felt sure it would be simple to smuggle the lot of them through, in the evening, on a holiday...there are so many holidays in France now, for so-and-so's birthday and like as not three days later his death. And simple it would have been, too, save for the aforementioned mule of an aristo.
His wife, mouse that she may be, discovered a well of purpose and intelligence that I daresay not even her worthy mate was aware existed--she was not a problem. Indeed, she was, if anything, a help, for she was not raised so pampered that she was ignorant of how to cook a stew or bind a wound. And the girls would not have been bad if they had not been told the whole of their cosseted lives that they were far too good and lovely and wonderful to bother themselves with doing anything or worrying in the slightest--they obeyed their mother, tried to calm their father, and resisted the temptation to make eyes at any of the boys.
The man was a different story. He never opened his mouth save to utter an exclamation of terror at the circumstances, complaint at the conditions, or contempt for the entire expedition.
It was the old trick that we've managed so often before--a ramshackle cart with a beastly hag or a parcel of ill-favored ruffians at the reins, the good people in question buried safely beneath more rubbish in the back than any self respecting soldier of the Republic--such of those as exist--will want to paw through. The women were disgusted, but put a brave face on it, although the younger one squirmed ridiculously until I spoke to her. The head of the family, however, pouted and begged to be allowed to be one of the drivers, never minding that his speech and carriage would give us all away from half a mile off. I thought for a moment he would refuse to budge until we had one and all agreed to forfeit our heads so as to save his sensibilities. There is dignity and then there is plain bull-headed arrogance..
I rode with them, both to keep the Marquis calm and to avoid any negative repercussions involving any sharp-eyed soldier who remembered my visibility in Madame Bevé's rescue on Tuesday, and Andrew took the cart with Mackenzie pretending to be half asleep and fully drunk at his side. The little family was scared as rabbits throughout the journey, understandably..after we managed to get through the Paris gates, the checkpoints were less of a trauma. The younger girl cried herself to sleep in her mother's arms, while her sister prayed for all she was worth and the man twisted and muttered and sweated. I myself took a nap, waking up just as we drew up to the last checkpoint just outside Calais.
Ffoulkes had all in hand, and Mackenzie threw in a sotted raving or two until I was seconds from laughter and even the mother had left off her worrying and smiled a little.
M. le Marquis would not leave off nudging me, and I was granted a great many of what I imagine to be his most ferocious stares--it was taking the lads too long to allay the guards' suspicions for his comfort, and were I not such a blind fool perhaps I would have gagged him ere we started or at least given him something to lay him asleep.
But I did not find the means of rendering him silence, and thus when one of the soldiers poked halfheartedly at the refuse the fainthearted scion of the d'Oleils erupted like a banshee, shrieking and striking in what was a noble, if ridiculous, attempt to protect his wife and daughters.
We were lucky to escape, all of us. Ffoulkes drove the ragged old nags as it is safe to say they had never been driven before, Madame yanked her recalcitrant mate back into the cart with admirable dexterity and the soldiers began to fire. The younger girl awoke, of course, and was bundled along with her mother to a place of comparative safety up beside Mackenzie by the elder. She took her place beside her father with barely a tremor, poor child, and I pushed them both behind me and piled the paraphernalia in front, hoping to shield them until we were safely out of range--something Mackenzie, taking over the reins, achieved in moments.
Acquiring a host of splinters from the confounded rickety cart, I did not realize I'd been hit until Mademoiselle drew my attention to the rather large and spreading brownish stain, and remained ignorant of the severity of the scratch until my legs dropped me rudely on the ground upon disembarking. It was a nuisance more than anything else, for I was myself again within a day--more thanks to la Marquise's ministrations than Monsieur's half-hysterical remorse--but we missed the tide and the holiday and were delayed by nearly 48 hours, being already back a day because of d'Oleil's initial stubbornness. the voyage, at least, was uneventful--a good thing, too, for Madame and her progeny were rather green as it was--and I was able to ride straight for home after installing the family in a tidy apartment that will suit until better accommodations can be found.
I did not arrive here, at my own gate, until just before two o'clock, and planned to retire quick enough. I glanced in at her room--glanced in. How could I casually "glance in" when to pass her apartments requires a trek in the precise opposite direction of mine?--but she was gone, her bed rumpled but unslept in. I assumed she was at a rout or opera, glad, no doubt, of the unexpected continuance of my absence, and I retraced my steps toward my own bed chamber.
She was there. Right there, sitting by the window that faces the road from Bath, where I was supposed to be, in only her night dress and wrap, curled with one hand resting against the windowpane, her glorious hair free on her shoulders, bathed only in moonlight, for there was no candle nor fire...the room was cold and dark as a tomb.
I wish I could take that moment and there stop time--standing there, fatigue and pain suddenly gone, the sight of her, when she could not send me away...drinking in that picture, dreaming if she was to always wait for me, care for me, imagining how it would be if she were to turn and see me, and instantly be transformed--eyes alight, face glowing, happy, happy because *I* was home, if she were to throw herself into my arms, gaily, laughing and crying..I could hold her so tightly, without fearing lest I break my facade...
I will not think on that. I cannot think on that. there lies madness..I shall go the same way as my mother..
And after all, I was granted a great blessing tonight--not bliss, but if this life gave us bliss what would heaven be for? She became aware of me, of course, ere long, and turned to me swiftly, almost as if she would obey the dictates of my hopeless fantasy, and I nearly reached out to receive her...then she sank back against the window, uncertain, almost ashamed, eyes on the floor, for she was trespassing--trespassing in what should have been as much hers as mine..!
"You are late."
I bowed, but my voice was not so stiff as the gesture was. "I'faith, I beg your ladyship's pardon..the roads were intolerable, it took me twice as long both there and back.."
She flushed, and toyed with the fragile lace collar of her nightgown.
"I feared..there had been an accident..that you were hurt.."
It was then she first met my eyes. I can see that gaze still, if I close my eyes...I pray God it may never fade...those crystal eyes.. "I wish you had sent a message somehow. I was anxious."
Marguerite, someday..someday I will tell you how I fought not to take you in my arms tonight., of the tears that sting my eyes even now...
I dared to approach her.
"I never meant to worry you. I will not forgive myself if you take ill, up this late, and it so unseasonably cold.."
"I'm not cold," she murmured, almost distantly, but I saw her tremble, now and then, in that frail nightdresss and the flimsy dressing gown.
"Let me help you to bed."
The words came of themselves, leaving me as surprised as her..I stooped, suddenly, and gathered her into my arms, the delicate little body, only a feather. I will not think on what I would have suffered had she pushed me impatiently away, or even lain stiff and uncomfortable in my arms...I will dwell instead on the bliss of that impossibly short walk to her room, her body nestled against mine, her arm round my neck as if she were glad to have it there..she was so tired, like a little child...defenseless, finally, before me...
I laid her down just as one would a child, for she was already half-asleep--fire shot through my side as I stooped, and i Flinched in spite of myself. She started awake then, and i cursed my own weakness..foolish little man, and now I had lost this one moment, this interlude...
She half raised herself, blinking the sleep from her eyes.
"What is it..? You're hurt...!"
I backed away, muttering a barely intelligible fabrication...a fall from my horse, a fencing accident, only a scratch, no cause for alarm..
She brushed a stray curl from her forehead--I see the motion, the pale shadow of her hand across her eyes, the fiery crown in the moonlight..
"But someone should.."
I spoke almost sharply, desperate to stop time, to send her back into slumber while I still kept watch..just one single pure moment in this tainted, twisted union.. And I had it, somehow. She watched me a moment longer, uncertain, and somehow I smiled, awkwardly..and then she smiled. The shy smile I had forgotten I knew, but it was there..not indulgent, not contemptuous, a dreamy smile I will not forget again...a smile for me..
And I am weak, only a man, and I could not resist that...I stepped to her again, and bent, and kissed her. A true kiss, not the brushing of lips she dutifully offers whenever I return from an absence of more than fortnight..the kisses I remember from Paris, before I knew what she was, before I had to make her believe I was something else...
She was asleep ere I left the room..why did I never notice before how she sleeps? Like a child, curled up within her nightgown, lost in the blankets of the giant heirloom bed..what did I take from her? She is so beautiful..how many men could she have found who could love her and show it, who could forgive what she has done and have nothing to hide..and I have bound her to me, to a helpless fool..
Someday I will change this. I will make this marriage worthy of the angel my heart still believes it contains, despite what my mind knows. This cannot endure long, this need for silence, this martyrdom of her homeland..and someday it will be safe..not to tell her, no, but to show her that i have never ceased to care..to hold her as I have a right to, as I must, as I love her too much not to...
Bed. I shall go to bed, and let this vanish like the dream it is..I will be stronger in the morning.