Le Jeu Final
The Dover Messenger
wail pierced the air, followed by a whimpering which soon faded as a loyal
servant pushed the stable doors wide and mounted Sir Percy's swiftest
stallion. He set off, obeying without comment or question.
At Richmond, all was silence.
Each village, with its occupants half-falling over their fences with insatiable curiosity, blurred past as the echo of the horse's hooves hammered the rider's ears, and the Dover Messenger focused on one crucial goal: transmit his missive to
someone, someone waiting at The Fisherman's Rest. Only after the message's delivery could the plan be set into motion, could those in danger be preserved and the unworthy be vanquished. Heedless of the attention he drew to himself, the
Dover Messenger rode on.
He hurtled into the town, upsetting a cart of vegetables and irking a surly, grizzled pedestrian to no end. Unprepared for his vociferous arrival, the very buildings in the city turned their eyes upon the rider, at once affronted and intrigued by
his sudden and disruptive appearance. Streets sped away beneath those relentless hooves; the man steered and spurred his steed along alleys, through arching passages, across the square, pounding out the shortest route to the inn from the
north-west, to the inn which had long provided a refuge and meeting place for the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Its Tudor frame sagging as the jowls of an old, beloved hunting dog retired to his master's hearth, its ancient painted sign flaking
placidly onto the road, The Fisherman's Rest nestled sleepily between its neighbors, welcoming any traveler, even this one. The messenger dismounted before it, practically without easing his pace, and tossed the reigns haphazardly at a stableboy before tearing through the door of the inn, omitting the customary courtesy, a knock for admittance.
His chest heaving from exertion, the wearied adamant took several faltering paces into the dining area, extracting a folded scrap of paper from inside his vest and concealing it in his fingers. Stretching out his arm, as if to cast his fist as far distant from his body as possible, he buried his head against the shoulder of his rumpled
greatcoat as his legs buckled and crumpled beneath him; he tottered and collapsed much like a house consumed by fire. As arm and wood planking connected, his fist rolled open, releasing his missive, which skittered across the floor unnoticed by the myriad concerned patrons of the inn, who rushed to ply the exhausted man with brandy and water. Only one customer retained his seat, and it so happened that the note resolved its journey directly to his right, seeming to be delivered to him. As
Jellyband mollified the customers, as several men carried the fainted messenger to an adjoining room, as Sally fanned the supine figure with her apron, this customer leaned over and claimed the note disdainfully with two fingers, as if the sweat of the messenger's palm had tainted it.
Daintily did he unfold the dispatch; deliberately, procure its precious secrets. A gratified smile transformed his benign, unremarkable visage into one of unmistakable malevolence and evil as the man guarded the paper in his cloak. In the midst of the commotion, he rose from his chair, cast a coin on the table, and shut the door behind him as he stepped out to prowl the busy, vulnerable streets of Dover.
the clock chimed midnight, the troubled Lady Blakeney, a dainty hand clasped
to her slightly creased forehead, paced the length of the dilapidated
chamber with a sluggish step, the folds of her gown sweeping dust from
the knotted plank floor of Le Poisson Vert. Her wearied eyes found
every object indistinct, her breath came in shallow, haggard
gasps, her be-slippered feet scarcely left the ground as she dragged one before the other; nevertheless, Marguerite, bereft of rejuvenating sleep since the League's arrival in Paris, sustained a relentless search for the Marquis du Mauriat, a search which had been blessed with no progress for seven days. Her every movement driven by her zealous quest to
rescue Gilbert du Mauriat, her attention claimed by an all-consuming desire to complete Sir Percy's work, Lady Blakeney grew gaunt and pale, susceptible to illness and, her followers dreaded, incapable of resisting any violence which an enemy might inflict upon her. At long last, after hours of treading the floor, she collapsed upon the windowseat in a merciful half-conscious state induced by this habitual strain and self-neglect.
Sir Andrew discovered her early in the morning and refused to leave her until she awoke. In place of the sweltering Paris heat and the stench of blood and rot which permeated every quarter of the city, a cool breeze somehow wafted through the open window near sunrise as if to reclaim her. Marguerite opened her eyes, those child-like blue eyes now
ringed with purple, those eyes with their fire and shine extinguished.
"No sign of him, Sir Andrew?" the woman asked spiritlessly, already informed of the answer and only inquiring out of ritual. Sir Andrew only shook his head the negative, and Marguerite heaved a sigh and leant
out of the window to inhale the fresh scent left as a calling card by a rainy night. "Where do we search today?" she continued, moving to the door and descending, on the arm of Sir Andrew, for breakfast.
The pair turned at the landing as Ffoulkes replied, "We do not search anywhere, M'lady. I propose to visit the Conciergerie once again—since the man might be hidden away among its crowds—and Tony and Hastings plan
to cover the outskirting prisons in which the Marquis may have escaped our notice. I also must insist, Madam," and here he paused, turning to face the wife of his noble leader, "that you forgo your own adventures for the day. Consider your own state of health—you've penetrated the most squalid quarters of Paris, explored every prison, examined every
prison record—you've worked ceaselessly—and you're obviously over-taxing yourself!"
Stern and unblinking, Marguerite paid him no heed, but slipped into the mildewed cellar where the League congregated every morning to discuss its itineraries over stale biscuits and bowls of thin, insipid gruel. All unkempt, unshaven, and fatigued, the men arose from the worm-eaten table to greet her. As she spooned the grayish porridge into her mouth mechanically, Marguerite questioned each man's findings individually, but no one had gleaned information more than that the Marquis was not here, he was not there, he was not in some other infernal place where they had inquired after him repeatedly. Not their finest spies, not their deftest subterfuge could unearth the whereabouts of the Marquis, who seemed to have evanesced along with the League's faintest hopes of
Nonplused, she set her spoon down and cocked her head, voicing aloud the puzzles which clouded her perceptive mind. "What can Chauvelin mean by it? What has the Marquis done?" Probing the rubbery lumps of gruel
which had formed in her bowl as it cooled, she nodded decidedly and looked around the table with an air of authority. "I will go to Chauvelin's office. He may have papers which would divulge the knowledge we lack, and if I seek an audience with him he would hardly refuse me."
A chorus of dissenting exclamations erupted from the League, and Sir Martin interfered when Lady Blakeney attempted to stand. "Now," he disguised his worry as a scoff, stepping between her and the door, "how do you intend to accomplish that?"
Valiantly, Marguerite locked her sunken eyes on his, her sallow skin tight over her regal cheekbones, her gown—ragged, faded, and unraveling—hanging limply on her enervated frame. "Perhaps," she returned with solemn resolve as he averted his gaze, "on the pretense of pleading for my execution."
Ffoulkes, aghast, made no move to halt her progress towards the cellar stairs, but froze to his spot, capable only of a feeble entreaty.
"But—but, I'm holding you under house arrest…!"
To the utmost astonishment of the room, Marguerite paused with her hand encircling the doorknob; she muttered Sir Andrew's final words under her breath, and her shoulders and golden head lifted slightly, as if in anticipation…or realization. Wheeling, she flattened herself against the door, her breathing suddenly rapid, her pulse racing. "House arrest!" she whispered adamantly, a feverish sparkle animating her
eyes. "Mon Dieu! C'est ca! The one thing we had failed to consider."
A girlish laugh bubbled from her lips, and a smile broke like a long-awaited dawn over her features as she darted from the cellar, quickly pursued by the League.
residence suited him. Foreboding as his personage, narrow as his
mind, it sat at the corner of a smoky alley, on the end of a line
of two-story buildings, directly opposite a sort of plaza, the line forming
the square's fourth side, but separated from it by a rutte street.
Two chimneys extended from either side of the Mansard roof as a demon's
horns protrude from the dark mane which shadows its monstrous eyes.
Those eyes, two iron-braced windows, stared unblinking from thei sockets
through the merchant whose wares clattered hollowly against hi cart, beyond
the bedraggled urchin boys scuttling through the gutters across the stone
courtyard to Marguerite. She returned their mocking
gaze with defiance.
Ffoulkes and Sir Martin materialized behind her, having crept out from the stairways which led down to the common below-ground slums. "How ar we ever to get in?" wondered Sir Martin aloud. "And if we do, who's to say where Chauvelin's hiding the Marquis, not to mention where he' stationed guards?"
Marguerite did not turn, but rather addressed the air in front of her in a voice which only her comrades could hear. "Oh, qui sait? Here and there. I doubt that anyone ever enters the house save Chauvelin himself. We may assume of the guards—ils sont partout, mes amis. They are everywhere." She paused, pondering. "However," Lady Blakeney
rejoined, "we might profit by interrogating those two young men over there. If they regular the area, they may have observed something. She indicated the urchins with a tilt of her head. "They are certainly
regarding us with interest."
Sir Martin scratched his temple beneath his tricorn hat and adjusted his vest uncomfortably in the August heat. "But suppose, M'lady," he ventured tentatively, "suppose that they themselves are under Chauvelin's pay? They are unobtrusive, observant, and they would likel accept any reward, regardless of how meager, in return for rendering
Chauvelin une petite service, n'est-ce pas?"
"True," responded Lady Blakeney, weighing her options. "But it is a calculated risk, Sir Martin. It is all a calculated risk. Do we keep silent and further endanger the Marquis' life, or do we pursue the truth at the possible cost of our own? Il faut prendre une decision. And on must be tactful," she added, approaching the two boys.
She bent down over the pair, who huddled in a dingy corner of the plaza, their wide eyes, pristine blue orbs beaming from grimy faces, examining her warily. Flinching as dogs might when their master raises his cane, the brothers searched for a means of escape as Marguerite held out her hand to them in friendship. The younger of the two scampered
away as her arm drew nearer, so she withdrew a pace and smiled warmly at the remaining boy—a gangly youth of about nine—who gawked at her openly. Crouching down, she pointed at the building across the road and
inquired, "Do you know the man who lives in that house?"
Only a resounding dripping of contaminated water into the rancid sewer below rewarded her ears, and the youth wiped his nose on his grey, rough sleeve, indistinguishable from his mud-streaked skin, leaving a glistening trail on the poorly woven garment. Undaunted, Lady Blakeney kneeled in the dirt and appealed to the boy again in a comforting tone
which gained his confidence. "Do you know his name?"
The boy sniffled audibly. "M. Chauvelin," he reported, so rapidly that, had Marguerite not been already enlightened of the answer, she would scarcely have concluded it from his statement.
"Good!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Anyone else?"
"Nah," he drawled, as if unsure, then shook his head violently, whether to indicated the negative or dispatch a shower of lice, Marguerite could not ascertain.
"Not even a cook?" she persisted, ducking her head with feigned astonishment.
"Aye, he keeps a cook…And another man…" he continued, unbidden.
"A personal servant? Perhaps an errand boy who often comes and goes?" Professionally, Marguerite employed her well-honed tactics of hints and suggestions, entrapment and persuasion, to draw out an answer from her reluctant informer.
"Nah. A finer man, in culottes," he sneered. The boy spit into the gutter to blatantly express his distaste for any person wearing culottes, the breeches representative of aristocracy. "I saw him go in, one night, but I never seen him since. Not even through a window, though I see M. Chauvelin and his cook."
"And that's all who live there?"
"Yes." The youth paused, cocking his head. "Vous etes vraiment belle," he praised her in an abrupt flurry of French.
A gratified smile spread charmingly across Marguerite's childish features as she returned, "And you are very helpful, and a handsome lad yourself." Seeing the boy puff his chest, Marguerite seized the notion and the opportunity to rationalize her inquisition. "M. Chauvelin thinks I'm pretty too. You see," she whispered secretively, causing the
boy to lean forward until their heads—one gleaming golden, one untidy straw—nearly touched, "I am an actress, and M. Chauvelin enjoys my company so much that he's invited me to visit him this evening. But, you understand—and I know you understand, as you're a highly intelligent fellow—the household mustn't know about it. Does the cook ever…" she
paused slyly, her eyes darting mysteriously to and fro, "leave?"
"Aye. She goes out most afternoons, but she's always in come evening. She sits by the window to sup. She snores," he commented randomly. "You'd better be careful of the guards, though."
Her pulse rocketing, her thoughts whirling, her speech breathless, Marguerite probed this treasure-trove of information with further questioning. "Guards? What guards? Inside Chauvelin's house?"
"Nay. Across the square! Three men watching from the windows. I've seen them. They never go away." He frowned, and his brow darkened in thought, a precocious expression indicative of the cloud of revolution which preyed upon a fleeting childhood, washing youth down the gutter with the blood which coursed from the guillotine. "Nay, tarry. Last night there was but one sentry at once. They stood shifts. I know," he divulged, "because I was watching the curtains." He indicated several windows, and Lady Blakeney noted their location, as did Sir Andrew and Sir Martin. "First that one, then that one, and lastly, the one to the right."
Marguerite rose with a sweep of skirts, and the boy followed suit, rubbing his nose and straightening his ragged tunic proudly. Smiling affectionately, she promised him a reward for his trouble and thanked him at some length before dismissing him, with one final reminder, with her finger against her lips, to tell no one; the boy saluted, clumsily—mimicking the militia which marched daily through the streets wreaking havoc in the name of liberty—and scurried away to rejoin his brother.
Lady Blakeney—confident, daring, resourceful—turned to face her companions, a triumphant aspect gracing her tall, lovely personage.
A roguish smile, reminiscent of Sir Percy, darting across her features, she commanded "Retournons-nous a Le Poisson Vert!"
Wrenched From the Talons
evening thundered in with a torrent of stinging rain, and Marguerite huddled
once more in a corner of the courtyard, only a thin shawl over her gown
for warmth and a ragged umbrella to deflect the cascade from the heavens.
An involuntary shiver shook her frame as she waited…waited for the master
of the house across the road.
He came. For ten seconds, Marguerite froze, her courage faltering, briefly daunted by what she must undertake; then, she thrust her chin out and flew across the courtyard like a swooping blackbird in her dark dress, her pattens sounding a sharp and resonant report upon the wet cobbles. She leapt the few stairs which led to her enemy's door,
composed herself, and knocked. Momentarily, a portly, flushed cook answered Lady Blakeney's summons, glowering at her suspiciously out of bulging, watery eyes.
Marguerite pleaded desperately, and her performance required only a shade of her considerable theatrical prowess. "Citoyenne, je dois parler a Citoyen Chauvelin immediatement! It is a matter of some
The cook sneered visibly, casting Marguerite a perfunctory glance from head to toe. "M. Chauvelin n'accorde jamais les audiences a sa maison!" she snapped curtly, and moved to shut the door in Marguerite's face.
Lady Blakeney jammed the hinges with her umbrella. "Only tell him it is Marguerite St. Just!" she begged, and, after a disdainful grunt, the cook disappeared. Returning minutes later, during which time Marguerite stood respectfully on the threshold, enduring the inclement weather, the cook admitted the visitor.
"M. Chauvelin will see you in the library." With a final scornful expression, the cook made her exit, presumably to pursue a deep and—Marguerite presumed—artificially-induced sleep in the kitchen, leaving Marguerite to conduct herself to the library: however, Lady Blakeney had known this house well in her former days as a budding actress and intellectual bellwether, and she hurried to the ground floor chamber in the back right corner of the building.
Chauvelin stood with his back to her, arranging his affairs on a heavy wooden desk, his slight, trim figure scarcely taller than the fireplace before him. Examining a green leather-bound book absently, he rounded the desk and filed it on one of the many shelves which composed the four walls of the room. Such valuable information—philosophy, law, science, history—put to such ill use, quite boggled Marguerite's mind. The heights to which this man might have risen contrasted so pointedly the level to which he had fallen—not a political, but a moral nadir.
With sinister grace, Chauvelin turned to face her, approached, took her small hand and pressed it chivalrously to his lips. "My dear Lady Blakeney," he addressed her disingenuously, "what errand brings you to Paris? I do not customarily honor diplomats in my library, but for you I make an exception. This is truly a pleasure." A sardonic smile twisted one side of Chauvelin's mouth.
Involuntarily, she recoiled, withdrawing her hand from his. "This is no diplomatic mission, Chauvelin. It is a personal matter."
"Personal?" Chauvelin raised a black eyebrow. "How so?"
Marguerite's blue eyes glared, her black-gloved finger accused as she spat, "You killed Sir Percy!"
Taken aback, Chauvelin furrowed his brow, cocked his head, and touched the long fingers of his right hand to his chest, to indicate himself.
"Me?" Only then did he survey Marguerite's person, observing her state of mourning. "Oh, forgive me, Citoyenne. My sympathies on your…loss," he added, his tone dripping sarcasm.
Seething with fury, wracked with sincere grief, Marguerite drew ominously closer to her foe, her eyes beginning to blur with long-repressed tears. "This is no ploy, Chauvelin! Percy is dead—or dying—at Richmond at this very moment, and it is your hand that has felled him! I implore you to call off Sang Rouge!"
"I fear I must show you the door, Madame. You are talking nonsense," countered Chauvelin, taking her arm and escorting her towards the hall. "I have never heard of your…" He waved his free hand in the air, "'Sang Rouge' or whatever you called him."
In disbelief, Marguerite ripped her arm away and seized up a cognac decanter from an open cabinet. Chauvelin retreated towards the windows. "How can you?" demanded the distressed lady. "How dare you deny the existence of the assassin? I understand that Sang Rouge is under your employ! Do you still doubt my sincerity? Do you think I
mean to draw you into a trap? Good God!" The decanter hurtled towards Chauvelin's head, missing him by a fraction as he leapt aside, and collided forcefully with the windows, sending glass splinters ricocheting off ceiling and walls as both window and decanter shattered with the impact.
Lady Blakeney fell to her knees and released a shower of tears to rival the gale battering Paris and now pouring through the broken panes onto the bare wood floor. She cried freely and passionately, her shoulders heaving with the force of her sobs; not even a hardened revolutionary such as an agent of the Committee of Public Safety could remain
impervious and unmoved. With a tenderness reminiscent of their former friendship, Chauvelin assisted the weeping Marguerite to a chair and offered to fetch some brandy from the wine cellar, a suggestion to which Marguerite acquiesced with a weak nod.
When Chauvelin returned several minutes afterwards, highly suspicious, his guest had not moved from her chair. Studying her intently with his demonic pale eyes, Chauvelin poured the brandy, handed her a dainty crystal glass, and took a seat opposite her with a swish of his black coat-tails.
"I gather," began Marguerite candidly, having consumed the brandy, "that my former manner is not the most effective means of confronting the enemy. I will endeavor to discuss this matter with you more calmly."
She inhaled deeply. "I don't trust you, Chauvelin—as well you are aware—and I put it to you that you do know Sang Rouge and that, furthermore, he operates under your orders." Her voice rose. "Every scheme you weave, every cruelty you concoct, every vile word that slithers from your lips, every rotting ideal that oozes from your
A frigid leer from Chauvelin silenced her tongue. "Once and for all, Citoyenne, I have never heard of, nor hired, an assassin called Sang Rouge," the sable-clad agent persisted darkly, sinking deeper into his chair and clutching the arms ferociously. "I could have enjoyed our little chat, Marguerite, but you insisted upon behaving rudely." He rose smoothly and wrinkled his nose at her, shaking his head and tutting like a professor reprimanding an insubordinate pupil. "No doubt due to English influence." He made to conduct Marguerite from the room
She drew herself proudly to her full height—several inches taller than her companion—and returned his glare, snapping haughtily, "The English have not the habit of imprisoning their nation's brightest minds."
Taking her arm, Chauvelin acknowledged her point. "Ah, that is true. The honor of imprisoning Lady Blakeney, the English have left to me."
"Will you hold me hostage, then?!" burst Marguerite, once more breaking free. "But no, your house is already occupied, isn't it?"
Chauvelin stiffened. "Du Mauriat," he whispered, clenching his fists. "You're after Du Mauriat." Marguerite backed towards the door, and Chauvelin raised an accusing finger, bellowing "You shall not dupe me again, Marguerite St. Just! I will crush you!!"
Lady Blakeney eluded the blow aimed at her, slipping out of the library and tearing down the corridor with Chauvelin in close pursuit. Wrestling with the door, Marguerite flung it wide just as her adversary seized her around the waist and heaved her into the air, shouting for the guards, whom Marguerite visualized abandoning their posts and hastening to Chauvelin's aid. Lady Blakeney had not anticipated the brute strength which seared through Chauvelin's limbs in his fury—he had foregone his customary elegance, the gentility upon which she had depended, and condescended to overpower her himself. The rain pelted them both, complicating their battle. As she struggled against Chauvelin's grasp, flinging her elbow backwards and striking him in the chest, Marguerite heard the pounding of the sentries' boots approaching like the claps of thunder rending the summer night overhead.
"Laissez-lui! Laissez-lui!" shrieked a childish voice, and a wooden ball cracked into Chauvelin's temple while a muddy bare foot pummeled his shin, causing him to relinquish his hold.
Reacting promptly, Marguerite hoisted the child into her arms and took off towards the river, slipping perilously on the wet streets as she darted around each corner. From behind her, the barking commands issued by Chauvelin met her ears.
"YOU! Capture her and deliver her back to me! YOU! Guard Du Mauriat's door and pray—for your own sake—that it's not too late!! Run, d~~ it! RUN!"
Bullets whistled around her as she neared the water's edge; with the boy clutched tenaciously to her breast, she shrieked and toppled headlong into the murky, rushing water, which engorged the pair into its rain-swollen belly. By the time they skidded to a halt on the bank, the guards could discern nothing in the flood.
How Can I Tell You?
the tender caress of a mother, Marguerite brushed the boy's shining hair
as he sat below deck on the Day Dream. Sir Andrew and the Marquis
Du Mauriat had pulled the two from the Seine, as Lady Blakeney had hoped,
as they drifted past the fishing boat beneath a bridge. Now, the
League's mission accomplished, the Day Dream clipped through the English
Channel, it's nose pointed towards the Cliffs of Dover, which emerged from
the sea on the horizon like the pure white gates of Heaven
Marguerite hummed soothingly as the ship creaked and undulated on the waves, leaning over Etienne, the urchin, in a motherly fashion as he drifted off to sleep. Her smile as she looked upon him echoed the melancholy truth of her own youth as an orphan in the cruel streets of Paris, waking every morning with pangs of hunger in her stomach, never
sure if she and her brother would survive the day. Since the Day Dream had raised its anchor in Calais, a notion had gradually crept into her heart: she could not abandon these rescues after the Marquis touched English soil. Never would Percy’s mission be accomplished, for it extended far beyond the sport of tempting death, far beyond aristocratic sympathies, far beyond even the revolution itself, to the basic code of "right" and "wrong" and the compassion of the human soul. No, never until the judgment day, when God would raise the humble and righteous
and cast unrepentant sinners into the fiery pit would the cause be satisfied, and she could no more retreat into a placid and apathetic life than she could forget the injustice that had infused the old regime and contaminated the new.
Lord Tony broke her reverie by inquiring of her how Chauvelin reacted to her antics in the library, for their argumen had penetrated to the upper floor as he and Ffoulkes picked the lock on the Marquis’s door, but the words had been indistinguishable. "Good show, M’lady, picking the brandy decanter to chuck through the window. Chauvelin’s absence
just then gave us considerably more time to release Du Mauriat."
Sighing in a frustrated manner, Lady Blakeney replied, "He claimed to know nothing of Sang Rouge. And Dewhurst," she proceeded, shifting her position to face Sir Andrew and him, "he was telling the truth."
"Oh, come off it! He must know!"
"No!" cried Marguerite adamantly, springing agilely to her feet, her features a mixture of despair and anger. "He would never command an agent of his to kill Percy." She paced the floor, thinking aloud. "That is an honor he reserves for himself," she voiced an ironic comment.
Sir Martin Straker-Smith stroked his chin cogitatively. "Well, that puts us pretty much back where we started. All we know is, Sang Rouge has it in for Percy and you."
Marguerite halted in the middle of the room, a strange twitch hovering around her mouth as a memory surfaced in her brilliant mind, and she broke suddenly into a wry, scoffing laugh. "I know who it is then," she decided with a smirk, "Lord Fotherdill!"
Sir Andrew started, failing to recognize her sarcasm, and challenged her accusation skeptically. "Lord Theodore Alfus Fotherdill?"
"Yes; the nincompoop threatened us in Dover," Marguerite explained, but then silenced Sir Andrew with a raised hand before he could speak again. Ridiculous! Preposterous! Impossible! She brushed off her disquieting premonition, recalling Fotherdill’s foppish buffoonery, but the League’s descriptions of Sang Rouge returned to her like the waves
crashing against the dipping prow—France’s answer to the Scarlet Pimpernel, they had dubbed him, and had she not, in the past, been blinded by a facade of that very same foppishness and buffoonery? Why had Fotherdill’s threat given her pause, after she and Percy had exchanged witticisms at the Lord’s expense? There had been livid rage
behind it, rage and hatred and a solemn oath that had seemed out of place, uttered by such a caricature of a man. And only Fotherdill, she concluded, could have overheard Percy’s encoded plans to rescue the Marquis Du Mauriat and family. But could he have interpreted them? Hadhe trailed the couple to The Fisherman’s Rest to eavesdrop?
"Mon Dieu!" Lady Blakeney exclaimed in disbelief, "It is Fotherdill!"
A dull thud and the clatter of activity overhead announced the arrival of the Day Dream in the Dover dock. As though in a dream, Marguerite mounted the steps to the deck, her elegant skirt rustling with her every
move. No sooner had she appeared than a voice accosted her from the quay, a familiar voice, a voiced choked with tears: as she scanned the faces along the pier—the countenances of ruddy fishermen unloading traps, of young sailors with wooden chests hoisted onto their backs, of merchants and consumers of all sorts—she noticed the frantic
gesticulations of the faithful Jellyband among the crowd, heard his voice above the din. Forcing calmness, her heart pounding in dread of the news which she suspected must come, she descended the ramp to meet
Weeping openly, the man wrung his hands and stuttered, "Oh, L-Lady B-Blakeney! Oh, how, how c-can I t-tell ye?…The—the Scarlet Pimpernel, M’lady…is dead!"
down, sinking, swirling, drowning in an interminable whirlpool of denial
and grief! Thus floundered Lady Blakeney. History has proven
that the mind will resist the undesired inevitable until that outcome
numbs it with as much woe as if death had swung its sickle with no warning. Preparation, expectation proves futile in lessening pain.
She did not faint, though her companions tensed and poised to catch her: oh! no. The cleverest woman in Europe, the wife of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite walked forward blindly, deafly, mutely. Walked forward to her horse, which Jellyband had—showing foresight—brought with him lest weakness overcome the lady. Not weakness, however, but strength propelled her to mount, heedless of concerned protestations from all sides, and emphatically request that she be left alone.
"I have a few matters of business to attend to on behalf of my husband," she explained evasively. The League knew better than to bar her way.
Fotherdill, she recollected, kept a manor in the environs of East Grinstead, so Marguerite had galloped in a westerly direction from Dover, intent upon settling the score or perishing for Percy's sake, as she had once before vowed to do. As she plunged into a labyrinth of greenery, as her mare's hooves pounded in harmony with her aching
temples, she swore to make good her prior promise. So intensely did she pursue her aim that she failed to note the sounds of a lone rider following in her wake until her mount's fatigue demanded that she slow
Pausing by a stream to allow the horse refreshment, Marguerite felt her spine tingle, heightening her faculties, and hooves, though muffled by the sponge-like layers of leaves upon the forest floor, pierced her acute ears like shots from a rifle. Releasing a sigh which said "Let it come," she pivoted with a fatalistic certainty. There, before her,
stood Sang Rouge, his fists routinely clenching at his cloaked sides; the sun's dying rays—shining as a kiln on his face—illuminated a ghastly grimace of molten hatred.
"Where are they?" he growled menacingly. The man whom once she and Percy had mocked on the streets of Dover now advanced, devoid of pomposity or frilly padding, but clad in leather gloves and brandishing a riding crop—hardly an object of fun.
"Where are who?"
"The Du Mauriats. Sir Percy has been dead for over a week—he was deathly ill and incapable of rational action for at least seventy-two hours beforehand, most likely longer. You must have moved them," he
accused, his eyes as piercing as crossbow bolts as he threatened her with his whip.
"And what if I did?" responded Marguerite, in an effort to buy time. She backed towards her mare, who tugged anxiously at its tether. What could she do? How could she attack? How could she reach the pistol she
kept in the saddle-bag?
"Then your missions to France will soon draw to an end." He slapped the whip against his gloved hand, playing with the instrument suggestively.
Marguerite winced involuntarily at the sound of the straining leather
"Or, at least, you will not command them personally…"
She determined to draw information from her adversary cautiously as she toyed with the clasp of the saddlebag, as if in abstraction. "Why should Sang Rouge be so interested in the whereabouts the Du Mauriats?
Why do you plan to extract their location forcibly from my lips?"
Sang Rouge clenched his whip and his teeth. "Tell me where you've
"No!" she vowed, fumbling to loosen the saddlebag from her whinnying
horse. Down upon her it tumbled when the horse gave a particularly violent rear, and, frantically endeavoring to restrain the panicked mare, she lost her footing and concentration. In an instant, Sang Rouge
bore down on her like a savage beast lusting for blood, his crop thrashing her, his weight pinning her to the ground as effectively as iron shackles.
"WHERE…ARE…THEY…?" he raged, punctuating every word with a merciless crack of the riding whip. Marguerite shrieked and writhed, her hands alternately clawing at her tormentor's face and pawing the earth blindly in search of the saddlebag and pistol.
"I don't know! I don't know!" she screamed, tears of pain audible in her voice. Again and again the whip fell on the struggling woman, but it could not break her will to retaliate. Groping, her fingers at last
touched leather, and she extracted the gun and shot. Fotherdill yelped and arched his back, his face a portrait of pain.
Marguerite seized the moment to roll away and raise herself on her left arm, leveling the pistol with Sang Rouge's head. Chest heaving, the villain clutched at his side, where Marguerite observed a dark liquid seeping through his fingers in the twilight; he turned his agonized visage, radiating loathing, towards her, as if with superhuman effort.
She pulled the trigger, and Sang Rouge flinched, taking the bullet through one outstretched hand, while the other clamped down upon her wrist, wresting the pistol from her desperate fingers and directed it back towards her.
His venomous whisper as he hung over her made Marguerite shudder in the silence that ensued. "I will no longer indulge this child's play you pretend at."
"At which you pretend!" corrected a voice from behind him in a lazy drawl.
Wheeling, Sang Rouge dragged Marguerite through the dirt, and as she lifted her golden head, she found herself in Heaven.
"Mustn't end a sentence with a preposition, Rougie, don'tcha know," advised Sir Percy, leaning against a tree and twirling his walking stick.
"D~~ you!" hissed Sang Rouge. "And may you and your wife go to H~~!"
"Yes, well," commented Percy offhandedly, "You know what they say. 'Is he in Heaven, or is he in Hell?'" With the tip of his boot, Percy flicked the abandoned whip into the air and caught it adroitly. "Now," he continued, all foppishness absent from his voice, "Remove that pistol from my wife's precious head."
Sang Rouge made no move, and Percy took a cautious step forward, worry and resolve glinting in his grave blue eyes. He repeated his request, which still prompted no response from his foe; he neared once more. Suddenly, he sprang, cheetah-like, cracking his walking stick over Fotherdill's bloodied knuckles and knocking the gun away with his foot.
Sang Rouge made to deliver a blow to Marguerite before she scampered out of reach, but Percy caught his fist mid-swing and, gritting his teeth, wrestled his brutal and cunning adversary to the ground.
"I warned you!" Percy roared ferociously, "My wife is off limits, you fiend!"
Lord Fotherdill was later found dead in the woods, throttled with his own cravat.
When Concealment is No Longer Possible
only wish you hadn't been witness to it, M'dear," sighed Sir Percy, leading
Marguerite along the undulating hills which become the White Cliffs of
Dover as they fall away into the consuming Channel. Moonlight mellowed
the rolling swells and rugged chalk cliffs—green to royal purple, white
to dusky blue; it transformed them into silent spectators,
hosts opening their arms to their human visitors.
She rested her hand on his arm and her head against his broad, muscular shoulder. "I saw the Revolution, Percy. I lived it. Death is no stranger to me."
Shaking his head in wonder, Sir Percy took her hand in his. "I seem doomed to underestimate your extraordinary bravery, Margot."
They walked on, cherishing each other's company, the only sounds the murmur of the wind through the tall grass of late-summer, the pensive cries of the gulls above their heads, the soothing rush of the waves
below, and the whispering of their own breath.
"However," began Marguerite, her melodious voice blending perfectlywith the ambiance, "I long for enlightenment. This episode has produced so many puzzles…"
Percy chuckled. How it comforted Lady Blakeney to hear him laugh!
"And so much to explain to dispel them! But I shall do my best toanswer your request.
"Lord Fotherdill was a spy in the earlier part of the Revolution," Percy commenced, "when the King still endorsed the government. The former Marquis Du Mauriat discovered and denounced Fotherdill, doing his duty to his King and country. The traitor was thrown into jail, and languished there for some time, nearly dying. Then, through a stroke of
luck, Lord Fotherdill escaped and returned to England, never having met the Marquis face to face. He swore, however, that he would repay the Du Mauriats for destroying him and almost causing him to starve. England didn't know him for what he was, as he went by an alias in France.
"It was Fotherdill who exposed Gilbert Du Mauriat, who had been part of a plot to remove Louis XVI to Austria when the Revolution turned to anarchy. The government isolated Gilbert from his family in hopes that he could be induced to reveal the names of other conspirators. You know how a man is denounced. What with the paranoid state of the French
government, poor Gilbert could be jailed with the mere signature of this fellow whom he had never met, and who had never met him.
"When the League entertained hopes of rescuing the Du Mauriats, Fotherdill saw his prey about to elude his snare. He assumed the identity of Sang Rouge and began to make attacks on the League in any
way he could, ending with his assault on your brother. Despite his efforts, we prevailed, and whisked Henri, Francoise, and her father to Dover. Sang Rouge, having never laid eyes on Gilbert, mistakenly took Hercule for the Marquis and poisoned his snuffbox."
Eyes wide with astonishment, Marguerite exclaimed, "So Francoise's father was the target, not you!"
Percy tilted his head from side to side, unsure of how to reply. "Well, that was true, initially. However, Fotherdill ultimately chose to kill two birds with one stone, if you will forgive the trite expression, M'dear.
"I recognized the symptoms which had afflicted the unfortunate Hercule, and I guessed what had happened, although I attempted to hide it from you. I only waited for the end. But the end," he concluded firmly, "did not come. As you well know, I'm of a hearty constitution, and Fotherdill had not put enough of the stuff in my snuff, if you follow, so I pulled through after a struggle of three or four days.
" By the time I regained my senses, you had already departed for France to join the League, which Fotherdill had got out of his way through yet another convenient coincidence—finding that seal intact in the fireplace and affixing it to a forged letter. He could now proceed to locate and exterminate the remaining Du Mauriats without risking detection or
experiencing hindrance from our quarter.
"I knew I had no time to lose, so I decided to let him feel secure by intentionally allowing news of my death to fall into his hands while I conveyed Francoise and Henri to safety. They now reside happily in Leeds. Sang Rouge routed out their cottage the following day only to find it empty, and he returned to Dover, enraged.
"Reasoning that you had removed the Du Mauriats, and spiteful that they had slipped through his fingers, he spread the news of the demise of The Scarlet Pimpernel. He then took a room in The Fisherman's Rest where he lay in wait for your return. Disguised, I followed suit, telling no one. I might have told Jelly, I suppose, but he does get to chattin',
and I didn't fancy losin' the game in the final act. Unfortunately, when Fotherdill spotted the Day Dream coming into harbor, he left immediately for the docks, as did Jellyband, but I was delayed while passing the dining room by an acquaintance who would not let me alone. Thus, I met the League just outside the door of The Fisherman's Rest,
and I must say, they were perfectly flabbergasted to see me upright and walking!
"Sir Andrew recounted your parting words, and I could anticipate your destination. I followed instantly, with the fear hovering over my mind that Sang Rouge would do you harm before I could reach you." Percy tipped Marguerite's chin up and tenderly brushed his fingertips across her neck, where several red welts gave testimony to the beating she had
"Jelly expressed his fears that you were going to commit suicide," added Percy as he kissed each wound in turn. "But I said to him, 'What? Marguerite kill herself? And miss my funeral? Never!'"
A smile played exquisitely across Lady Blakeney's features, and a laugh danced on her lips.
The couple recommenced walking, hand-in-hand, along the cliffs, gazing out over the peaceful English Channel on a night so clear that Marguerite could scarce believe the atrocities which her countrymen still committed just across the water.
"And now, my darling," finished Percy, "Now that you know all this, forget it. Let it pass from your mind as the gulls pass overhead and the foam, once spent, melts back into the sea. Revel in this moment, and in the beauty of this free nation, and praise God for his benevolence in blessing it so bountifully."
Marguerite studied her husband's handsome face and marveled, as always, at his heroism. "He blessed this nation by creating you, Percy," she said.
"And He blessed me by creating you," Percy responded, taking her in his arms.
And the scarlet pimpernels which dotted the surrounding hillside closed their tiny petals for the night.
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