A Complex Problem
Fandom: The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy)
Rating: General Audiences
No Archive Warnings Apply
Category: F/F (genderswap. With secondary M/F)
Characters: Peggy Blakeney, Marguerite St. Just, Armand St. Just, Andrew Ffoulkes, Suzanne de Tournay
A Yuletide gift for croik
Being the part of the story in which I discover I really like trolling my villains.
It was the middle of the afternoon by the time she finally reached Sir Andrew’s London home, and was shown into his presence. Then, they barely had time to greet each other before Marguerite, still the model of composure she had constructed in Richmond, announced calmly:
“Sir Andrew, I would we had time to waste on pleasantries, but I have come here to inform you that your chief, the Scarlet Pimpernel, my sister Peggy St Just, is in the most deadly danger.”
If she had room for even the slightest doubt about Peggy’s identity, it would have been chased away by the way all color and animation disappeared from his countenance at this simple statement. Sir Andrew stood still and pale as marble as he listened to Marguerite’s collected relation of the events of last night. She left out, of course, the particulars of her interaction with Peggy, and the personal revelations she’d run into on that front. Instead she owned, quietly and shamefully but with no loss of clarity, her own betrayal for the sake of her brother, her regrets on that front, and earnestly and passionately, her desire to right this terrible wrong and save both brother and sister-in-law.
His countenance softened as he listened to the pathetic plight that Marguerite laid before him, and as he observed quite how moved she was by the situation. Eventually, with the barest hint of a smile, he bowed his head.
“I see now why Peggy married your brother,” he said.
Before Marguerite could press him for further information, he had dipped a deep bow to her. “I am yours to obey, Mademoiselle.”
Brimming with gratitude, she related her plan to him: they were to meet that night in Dover, making their separate ways to allay suspicion from whichever of Chauvelin’s spies remained in London, and from London society in general. There, with Sir Andrew disguised as a servant to accompany her, and equipped with his knowledge of the Pimpernel’s operations, they would proceed to France to find and warn Peggy. Marguerite harbored no delusions that she would be persuaded to cancel her mission, with those lives that depended on her. But with the warning that Marguerite and Sir Andrew brought her, it was more likely that her brilliant mind would find a way out.
Hope and love were now the forces driving Marguerite forward, all thoughts of despair forced aside by her sureness of purpose. She had an ally, and a plan, and the certainty that came with knowing exactly where she should be and what she had to do. Sitting in her carriage on the road east from London, she had nothing more pressing to do but sit and rest her weary nerves. As the sun disappeared behind her, Marguerite drifted into a soothing sleep, the last image of her mind that of the latent fire burning behind Peggy’s half closed blue eyes.
The meeting with Sir Andrew at Dover brought news of an agonizing delay to their plans. A terrible storm was sweeping in from France, and would preclude their putting out that night. But, he was at pains to point out, Chauvelin would be similarly hindered, were he to try to sail to France. And so, they resigned themselves to spending the night there at The Fisherman’s Rest.
As they waited, Ffloulkes undertook to amuse Marguerite by relating his own history. Sir Andrew was a tall and fair man with a bright, honest face that was unable to conceal the obvious admiration he had for Peggy St Just. His father had been friends with Sir Algernon, and he himself a great favorite of that gentleman when a child. Peggy and Andrew had been fast friends in childhood, before her mother’s illness and her father’s anxiety led the family abroad in search of healthier climates. On Sir Algernon’s return with his daughter, the friendship had been renewed and Andrew – then Sir Andrew – had been taken with the latent passion that burned beneath her studied manners, and the strength of character she’d cultivated in herself.
“She was as a sister to me,” he explained to Marguerite. “And when we met again, I felt that filial bond just as strongly. I would have proposed to her myself, but we knew that was not the nature of the love between us. Of course, I knew of her administration of her father’s estate. Sir Algernon was quite incapacitated with grief even before his wife died. Afterwards, he would surely have lost everything without Peggy’s sense and intelligence.”
Marguerite had been right in her surmise: The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had been Peggy’s idea alone, conceived as news of the Terror reached her ears, and developed further with Sir Andrew and their other friends, principal among them Lord Tony Dewhurst. Not a single one of those men sworn into the League – nineteen with Armand’s most recent commitment – would think of disobeying a single order given by Peggy, nor of the slightest carelessness regarding her secrecy.
As for his own slip back in London, Sir Andrew had little to say. “Miss Blakeney had little reason to ever take a husband,” he answered Marguerite’s pressing questions. “She is heir to her own father’s title and fortune, and her mission is too important to her to risk a husband interfering with her privacy. Of course, St Just is a brave and noble man, as you must surely know, Mademoiselle, and as devoted to the cause as any of us, but marriage was never a necessity to her. It never crossed any of our minds that she might be compelled to do so by the direction of her heart.”
Marguerite did not dare to ask more – she could not afford to inflate her hopes too much in that regard. Instead, she steered the conversation around again to praises of Peggy’s daring and courage: a subject on which, she was pleased to discover, Sir Andrew delighted in telling.
He recounted for his avid listener the many daring escapades that had been engineered by the resourceful and ingenious Pimpernel, detailing thoroughly every clever move she had made to elude her foes and bring the condemned nobility to safety. He spent a good hour amusing Marguerite with tales of Peggy’s numerous disguises, each more ridiculous than the last. Peggy’s height and long limbs gave her an advantage in passing as a man, and she had an astonishing gift in imitating anybody’s mannerisms and speech, and also of constructing characters so much larger than life that they repelled any further investigation. Including, Marguerite realised, the very character of the foolish Mrs St Just herself!
In rescuing the family de Tournay, for example, she had created the most wicked caricature of an old market woman, with the hair of a dozen executed aristocrats on her whip (donated, Sir Andrew added gaily, from the nineteen men she commanded) and the threat of a plague-ridden grandson in her cart – the very cart in which Suzanne de Tournay hid with her mother and brother!
While on that subject, Sir Andrew’s face took on a wistful aspect, and Marguerite smiled for him. How happy it was, to see a man as deeply in love with a sweet girl as he evidently was. She was grateful, twice over, that he and Peggy had never tried to make a match. Firstly, of course, it freed her to marry Armand and sweep into Marguerite’s life, but Marguerite could not imagine a man more perfectly suited to little Suzanne’s happiness than the gentleman sitting with her now, wiling away the hours with tales of his daring friend.
The wait seemed agonizing, but it had to be borne, and Marguerite spent a restless night taking what sleep she could. It was well into the following day when Sir Andrew brought news that there was a schooner available to charter, and the weather was soon to be acceptable for sailing. The relief was almost overwhelming, but the fresh salt air soon revived her as they embarked for France. Sir Andrew gave her further hope when he told her the tale of a mysterious short man dressed all in black, making similar inquiries as Sir Andrew was searching for a boat. Chauvelin was delayed by the same force that kept them in England. He would be sailing out at the same time.
The trip was short and uneventful, and she felt much more invigorated by being that much closer to her goal. Marguerite wondered, as she walked through Calais, what impenetrable disguise her friend would have adopted to pass unnoticed in this town. Thinking of the many disguises Andrew had described, she found herself longing to see Peggy’s genius at work.
Sir Andrew led her to the Chat Gris – the unremarkable inn that Peggy and her band had frequently used in the past, that her notes to him had let him know she would be using again. There, inquiries of the landlord revealed something unexpected: yes, Peggy was here in town, but as herself! A rich, English lady traveling unchaperoned and conspicuously so, liberal with her purse and brazen with her attitude. So indeed, no one could miss her presence.
Sir Andrew promised to find her, and warn her of Chauvelin’s imminent arrival. He arranged at the inn for Marguerite’s safety, and left her hidden in a dark loft, where she could look down in secrecy on the dining room of the inn. There, no guest could enter or partake of the establishment’s hospitality, without her seeing all. She bade Sir Andrew good luck with his search, and settled in to wait.
Hardly had Marguerite the time to grow accustomed to her cramped quarters when someone was indeed shown into the inn. Two someones, in fact, one of them dressed as a curé, marked by his white collar and broad brimmed hat. Immediately as he started into the room, however, Marguerite recognized his short, insect like frame, his furtive way of moving, and when he looked up to the clock by Marguerite’s hiding hole, she caught the steel look in his dark eyes. It was Chauvelin! Here in Calais and at the very inn to which Peggy was bound to return.
Disguised, no doubt, in order to spring a trap for his enemy, Chauvelin gave orders to his companion, – Desgas, his secretary – about keeping an eye out for “That blasted Pimpernel,” an English stranger in disguise, but gave no further identifying remarks. Neither name nor sex of the prey was mentioned, but Marguerite was sure he must know. Desgas was to return with half a dozen armed guards to this very inn in ten minutes. Six men, and more elsewhere, to catch one woman!
Marguerite’s breath caught in her throat. He was here, and before they were able to warn his prey. On Desgas’ departure, Chauvelin called the innkeeper over and made the same inquiries of him that Andrew had – more demanding, and with the threat of arrest behind him, but with the same result. A fair English lady had been in this inn and was abroad in Calais at this moment. It was clear that he knew for whom he was waiting.
With a confident smirk, Chauvelin sat down and began to eat, sipping frequently from the red wine set before him. All his observer could do, trapped in her loft, was to pray, silently and earnestly, that Peggy would not walk in. For what, with all her brilliance and passion, could she do against the man himself on his own soil? On this shore, he commanded soldiers of the Government. He could have Peggy seized at any moment: could seize her himself, if she were only to show herself. What evil plan he had in store for her there, Marguerite dared not imagine. The only thing that could save Peggy now was her absence.
Waiting, and praying, it seemed to Marguerite that the dreadful thump of her heartbeat must surely betray her to her foe, and begun almost to look on his inevitable discovery of her as a welcome relief from the pain of waiting — until her ear was caught by a sound from outside.
She glanced quickly to Chauvelin. Had he heard it? She hoped he had not, that it would pass by without notice, but no, his head lifted and his glass returned to the table, and she knew he had caught it to. Who could miss it?
Outside, approaching the inn, was the clear, bright sound of a woman singing God Save the King.
The voice stopped outside the inn, as they both knew it would, and the door handle began to turn. Marguerite longed at that second to fly from her hiding place and scream for Peggy to turn around, but she clenched her hands until her knuckles turned white and stayed in place. Chauvelin had stiffened in his chair, and stared at the door with an expression of bloodthirsty delight that chilled Marguerite to her heart, thinking of the fair lady it was directed towards. Then, before the door could open, he turned away, keeping his face turned towards his meal.
Peggy swept into the inn, and what a picture she looked against the dirt of her surroundings! Every inch the fashion plate, she was exquisite in a spotless white dress, over which she had selected the most striking crimson redingote, with a matching hat perched firmly on her yellow hair. Marguerite could see, with eyes recently opened to Peggy’s true character, through every studied inanity and silliness, to the passion and nobility that smoldered beneath those blue eyes. It was obvious, in this moment, how the lady had persuaded nineteen proud English gentlemen to follow her like a Queen, and how thorough the charade that hid this woman from the world. Peggy’s song had not stopped, only paused while she worked the door, and now it revived with carefree jollity when inside.
Her gaze swept the room, and for a heartbeat Marguerite was convinced those pretty blue eyes alighted on the black curtain that shielded her loft from view. No sooner had they glanced in that direction, however, did they move on and Marguerite’s brief hope died, because then Peggy was looking at the figure in front of her, still hunched over his food in mimicry of dining. She laughed out loud at his appearance.
“I declare, is that Citizen Chaubertin I see in front of me?”
That gentleman looked up, and a flash of anger crossed his face; whether at being recognized or at having his name misspoken, Marguerite could not tell. It vanished quickly, and was replaced by a slow, greasy smile.
“Chauvelin, Madame St Just.”
“Beg pardon, I am so stupid with names. And whatever brings you to this charming town?” Peggy prattled on indifferently. “I could have sworn I saw you in London just two days ago.”
“A man’s business, Madame, may call him to many places very suddenly. I would be more interested by your presence on this shore. It is hardly the favorite leisure destination for London’s fashionable set.” As he talked, Chauvelin brought out his snuff box, fidgeting with that and finally taking a sniff when he had finished his speech.
“And is it business that causes you to dress like that?” Peggy said, ignoring his implied question. “Lud, Citizen, have you taken orders, now? I would hardly have thought it of you.”
She had taken a seat now, on the opposite side of the table from Chauvelin, her ungainly legs sprawled out in front of her so that her riding boots were well clear of the hems of her skirts. Her eyes touched on the wine bottle and looked back at him, until he had finished with his snuff and obliged by pouring her a glass.
“A harmless charade, nothing more, Madame St Just. I’m sure you have conducted many of your own in time.”
“Oh no, man – that’s enough wine, thank you ever so much – if I were to adopt a disguise, you can be assured it would be much more thorough than that. Why, I knew you straight away. Perhaps with some powder – ”
She leaned forward, across the table, steadying herself with one hand over his snuff box, while the other whipped away his hat to get a better look at his face.
“…but no, I fear there really would be nothing you can do about that nose.”
She seemed so idle in offering what appeared to be well placed advice that Marguerite would have laughed out loud, were she not frozen where she lay. As if to prove that her insult was meant with the best of intentions, Peggy let out one of those loud snorts that she was so famed for in London, and sat back.
“But perhaps the disguise is not meant for me, what? Perhaps it is to waylay suspicions while you focus your pursuit of me in secret….” there was no response, although Chauvelin had stilled where he sat “…good lord, Citizen! Don’t you know I am happily married!” She placed a hand over her breast in honest seeming shock, and gasped – before dissolving into that braying laugh of hers.
Chauvelin was white with fury at these insinuations from the Englishwoman, but Marguerite could see that he also appeared impotent in that rage. He rose from his chair, an action that did not quite hide the furtive glance he gave to the clock, which he otherwise could not see without turning in his chair. He picked up his hat, which Peggy had so carelessly swept on to the table.
“Happily married, indeed! And where is your husband, Madame?”
“Why, here in France, of course!” she declared lightly. “La, but you have not finished your meat. Would you mind terribly, monsieur? Dreadfully forward, I know.”
“By all means,” Chauvelin conceded, with a sarcastic bow.
For one dreadful moment, Marguerite feared the food might be poisoned – but had she not just seen Chauvelin himself partaking of that same dish? She bit her tongue, especially as her enemy had drawn close to her now, using the mirror on the wall to adjust his hat, and also to inspect his nose for the truth of Peggy’s careless insult.
“What was I saying?” The lady was saying, pausing only to fetch the pepperpot and apply the contents liberally to her food. “Demmed French food, all blood and no bite – oh yes! What possible reason would a married woman have for coming to this dreary country but to meet her husband? Beg your pardon, Chauvelin, of course you cannot help being French.”
Chauvelin gave another predatory smile and touched the brim of his now secured hat. “Indeed I cannot, Madame. And you and your husband will to Paris, I assume?”
“Oh no, man. Lille, only.” Peggy was too engrossed in her food to notice the man circling the table as a wolf, until he was nearly standing over her foot “Dangerous place now, Paris, is it not? I’m sure I do not care to visit it this year at least.”
She finished what he had left of his plate in a few hungry bites before cleaning her mouth and hands with a serviette and looking up at him with a lazy smile.
“Lud, monsieur, what are you at?” she asked casually. “You are standing so close I can hardly move. Step back, won’t you?”
With an inclination of his head, Chauvelin did, allowing Peggy room to stand up. At her full height, she stood a head taller than him. It presented an amusing tableau, the tall elegant lady looking down lazily at the tense, coiled man, him squinting up at her with poorly restrained hatred. She hardly seemed to notice it.
To Marguerite’s watching eye, Peggy seemed the tallest she ever had, an Amazon standing over her enemy. There was something regal about her in that moment, and Marguerite realized that it was because Peggy never usually straightened her posture, stood to her full height. When she did now, she towered over the man. Any intimidation he’d thought of using over the woman was completely lost in her casual stretch and the way she smiled indulgently down at him. It forced him to take a step back, as he did so looking nervously at the clock; a look which caused Peggy to do the same.
“Lud, citizen!” she declared. “you will keep glancing to that clock. What, are you worried that someone is hiding in it? With a sword, perhaps, determined to run you through?”
It was testament to Chauvelin’s stretched nerves that he jumped and turned to the clock in alarm, at which sight Peggy only laughed. “Good lord, man! No one could hide in a clock that size! Are you mad? But I see you are looking for your snuff,” – for now Chauvelin was patting down his clothing anxiously. “Do you not see it is on the table where you left it.”
So it was, although its presence was greeted with some suspicion. Had it been there when he stood, took his hat, and watched his meal taken by Peggy? But now the small silver box was indeed waiting for him on the table, and he snatched it up, glancing at the lady with a curious look of triumph, for at this moment, they could hear the careful measured steps of a band of trained soldiers. The men sent for, coming to arrest poor Peggy while she merely amused herself picking at Chauvelin’s patience.
He smiled that smile of triumph, and took a pinch of snuff.
He had no way to know, that in Peggy’s lazy impudence, she had stolen his box from the table as he poured her wine, and filled it with pepper as she ate! The convulsive sneezing that seized him was all-consuming; doubled over, he had no way of seeing, let alone preventing, Peggy St Just from calmly turning on her heel, and slipping out of the room.
Chauvelin’s men burst in while he was still in the throes of the sneezing fit, and had to wait until he had enough composure to stammer out:
“The woman! The English woman! Did you see her? Stop her!”
There was a heavy pause in which Desgas met the questioning glances of the soldiers before turning back to his master.
But Chauvelin had no time for their contempt at his letting a mere woman escape. He raged at them, and Desgas eventually admitted he had heard talk of a tall English lady having a conversation with a local merchant, contriving to hire him and his cart for a journey to a hut, belonging to a man known as ‘Pere Blanchard.’ Now they knew the rendezvous point for Peggy and Armand, and could close the net on both of them! Chauvelin sent his soldiers on to scout the road for the cart bearing the Scarlet Pimpernel. One soldier attempted a joke about searching for a woman, but he was silenced quickly.
It was agony for Marguerite. She watched from her hiding place as Chauvelin paced the inn, sending Desgas out on errands to find out as much information about the cart as possible. Desgas returned with another carter, who was familiar with the area and had witnessed Peggy herself making the transaction. Chauvelin employed the man to lead the way to the hut, and carry Chauvelin himself to the meeting place. Desgas was to find a full unit of soldiers and follow behind.
As Chauvelin left the inn, heading out of town, Marguerite knew she had follow him. Just to see Peggy, just to warn her once, to fight with the last of her own breath to save her beloved, was all Marguerite could think of.
The night was dark and cold, and she pulled her wrap tight around her as she followed the party at as safe a distance as she could put between them. The wind was picking up as she left, and the cloud cover was complete, threatening rain at anytime. But the howling winds at least covered her steps on the edge of the road, which she kept as quiet and as small as possible, to protect her from backwards turning eyes. She followed the road carefully, her feet slipping in the mud, in shoes that were the height of fashion in London, but were completely unsuitable for walking for any length of time. Her skirts tore in the bracken, and she shivered in the cold, but she kept her heart firmly on the destination: on seeing Peggy again.
After over an hour of walking, the cart bearing Chauvelin was met by his soldiers, galloping in the opposite direction. There Captain reported that they had seen no evidence of this English Lady, for whose existence they had only Chauvelin’s word and the word of the merchant to believe. However, they had found the hut they were sure was the rendezvous. There, they had from a distance, seen two men that fit the descriptions of both Armand and the Comte de Tournay, and heard enough of their conversation to know they were waiting for the Pimpernel.
The Captain made a point, in relating what he had heard, that Armand St Just referred to his leader as il and not elle. Chauvelin dismissed that point angrily.
They had left soldiers guarding that hut from any new arrivals, and come back to report to Chauvelin and receive further orders. He delighted. Marguerite, hearing all this, despaired. Peggy could not hope to escape, now. She would arrive at the hut only to have the soldiers close in on her, and all would be lost. Unless somehow – God knew how! – Marguerite could possibly warn her in time.
She felt that hope slipping away from her. Now all she could hope for would be to tell Peggy how she felt, to finally push both their fears aside and spend the last moments of her life with the woman she loved, for that love was now no more dangerous than the situation they were in.
Marguerite’s body ached from fatigue, and her feet throbbed in pain, but she kept on in the mud. It amounted to nearly two hours’ total effort on that road before they reached their destination: a tiny, run-down fisherman’s hut on a cliff overlooking a rocky beach. She found herself the best hiding place she could, and listened to Chauvelin giving further orders to his men to form a perimeter around the hut, through which no person could pass without notice.
He ordered them to be as silent as possible not only to avoid the notice of the men within, but to prevent anyone of any stripe from entering the hut. The carter, who had led them this far by the promise of payment, was threatened, terrorized and tightly bound to prevent escape or warning of their victims. Once Peggy arrived, then they could close in and capture her, and the men inside waiting for relief. In the meanwhile, all anyone could do was wait.
Marguerite sagged in the mud, ready to give in to despair. Her shoes had pinched her feet into agony, and she took them off, exposing torn stockings to the cold air and affording herself a brief respite. How she envied Peggy’s riding boots at that moment! She had come wholly unsuited for the exertion. But in her stockinged feet she could move noiselessly around the hedge on the side of the road towards the beach and the hut to find a better view of the situation, scrambling for the hope that there could be something she could do, some way of ending this torturous wait.
As she cleared her view of the beach she saw her: A schooner sitting quietly on the water, not three miles from the hut, clean white sails set and ghost-like in what moonlight was pushing through the clouds. The Day Dream, Peggy’s favorite yacht, waiting for a master and mistress who would never reach her.
She froze and sank down again now that she had closed a small distance towards the hut and the soldiers, moving inland slightly to put herself away from the Day Dream and any glances turned that way. Marguerite could once again hear Chauvelin talking to his men. They too, had seen and recognized the ship, and were on alert again. They had scouted the hut and discovered four men inside; Armand, de Tournay, and two others Marguerite could not identify, all waiting for the Scarlet Pimpernel and release. But the plan, as Chauvelin gave it, did not change. They waited in the dark for her fated appearance.
Oh, Peggy! Where could she be? Marguerite could feel the treacherous hope rising that perhaps Peggy had indeed been warned off by her encounter with Chauvelin at the Chat Gris. Perhaps she had turned around and sought safety for herself.
No. No, this was impossible, Marguerite knew. She understood enough of Peggy’s character now to know the how inconceivable it would be to her to would abandon her husband and the men she had sworn to rescue. And where would she go without the Day Dream?
Marguerite could feel her senses numbing in the cold, and the inevitability of despair as she waited for some relief from the wait. She pinched her arm to keep herself alert and strained to listen for any sign of Peggy. She had been waiting there for half an hour when she heard the faintest sound from the beach – the weight of a person on pebbles! Marguerite almost cried out, and had to bite down on her lip to prevent her from doing so.
There, crouching on the beach, picking their way as quietly as possible to the shore, were four men – Armand and the Comte de Tournay among them. And waiting for them in the surf, a small dinghy with a single man at the oars. They were making their way to safety! It had been the Comte’s careless foot on the rocks that had made the noise, and Armand turned around to see if anyone had looked over.
His eyes met Marguerite’s and he froze in shock.
Their eyes met, and even in the dark, the brother and sister could communicate the faintest understanding between them. Armand had been in the middle of executing a planned escape, but he had not expected to see her there, and now all his plans were thrown into uncertainty. He dropped back from the party and beckoned desperately at her. They had to leave!
But Chauvelin was between Marguerite and the beach. If Marguerite tried to approach him, they would find her, and find Armand escaping, and all would be for naught. And if Armand delayed much longer, their eyes would turn that way naturally and he would be seen.
She shook her head furiously and turned her back on him, scrambling up the grassy slope away from the beach. It took an effort to put her sore feet down heavily, but she carefully made just enough noise to counter the men creeping on the beach. She even relaxed her steady control of her breath, letting it come in gasps from her heightened tension.
A hand closed tightly on her skirt, then on her ankle, and pulled her down. Marguerite landed in the mud, and turned around to look Chauvelin right in the eye. Beyond his triumphant face, she could see Armand turning helplessly and completing his journey to the boat.
She was now Chauvelin’s prisoner. But Armand, with enough sense not to put the men he was rescuing in danger for the sake of his sister, was making his escape. Now the only lives to be lost were Peggy’s and her own, and if any life had to be lost alongside, or exchanged for, the woman she valued most highly, Marguerite now had the power to make it hers.
Chauvelin did not pass up the opportunity to gloat over her. Immediately, someone mockingly asked if this was the lady they were waiting for. His master did not even mind the remark.
“No, my friend. This is someone else.”
For now he had Peggy St Just’s sister-in-law – the sister of the man he believed to still be in the hut waiting for relief. All Chauvelin could see in his greed for victory was an innocent woman he could use in his complex game to capture the woman he hated so much. Did he suspect what Peggy meant to her? Marguerite did not think that, but he did have a trophy now.
She was bound and tied, and he threatened to gag her, but changed his mind at the opportunity to torture her further. Instead, he silenced her with the threat that the slightest attempt to warn her brother or his wife would be met with the execution of every last person in the hut.
Marguerite shivered in the cold, and met Chauvelin’s eyes with her own wide and round, letting him think she was shaking in fear. Armand was safe, but Peggy – where was she? And now Marguerite was caught, could she hope to see her again?
Confident that Marguerite could not escape and would not betray her brother, Chauvelin let her lie, bound and miserable in the mud. She could hardly feel the force of her bonds, in the cold and her fatigue. But the relief of having seen Armand allowed her to succumb finally to exhaustion. She swooned where she lay, dropping out of consciousness.
It was in this swoon that she heard it, and thought it might be a dream. Peggy’s clear and solid voice singing God Save the King, carried on the wind so that no one could be quite certain in which direction or for how far it carried. The sound of the men stirring was what brought Marguerite into full awareness. They had heard it too.
It was Marguerite’s chance. She squirmed in the mud against her bonds, and screamed, clearly into the night.
“Armand! Armand, my brother! Fire! Your leader is here! He is betrayed! Fire, Armand!”
She was sure there was no hiding the sex of Peggy’s voice, but she was not going to name her now. Not when she had seen the disdain Chauvelin had met. Let every one but himself believe the Pimpernel a man. Maybe she could still escape with Peggy if that were the case. She screamed and she screamed with the very last of her energy, and fell back down, quite faint again.
The singing was silenced as soon as Marguerite’s screams rang out, but the air was soon filled with male shouts and curses, and the heavy tread of boots as Chauvelin ordered them into the hut to fulfill his threat. The curses were louder when they found it empty, the men disappeared.
He turned angrily to the Captain of his men, demanding to know why he had been disobeyed, only to be reminded that his orders were to let no one enter the hut, and had not mentioned the possibility of people leaving.
She bit back a smile and stayed quiet as she listened to events, keeping her face the perfect mask of surprise. She listened, as the soldiers found a note in the hut, bearing the signature of a hastily drawn five petalled flower, and telling of her presence in a certain creek back near Calais. The boat, she directed, was to meet her there.
“St. Just is lost, but the Pimpernel shall be ours!” Chauvelin declared. He found among his men someone who was sure of the way that they would be at the identified location before the boat had time to make the trip. Chauvelin had victory within his sight, but he still suffered from the loss of St Just and de Tournay, and needed to vent his frustration. The wretched carter, who lay bound firmer than Marguerite and gagged, became the object for this. He was tied and beaten so his howls of pain echoed across the bay, before Chauvelin and his soldiers hastened away.
They abandoned Marguerite on the rocky shore. She still missed her shoes and she was too exhausted physically and emotionally to move at all. Maybe they thought her unconscious; she did not care.
She had been so hopeful for a second, but Peggy was still to be hunted down by her enemies, still not safe. And Marguerite was now unable to reach her. In the silence left by the departing soldiers, she wept.
The curse rang out clear, and bright, completely British and completely womanly. Marguerite gasped quietly, still choking on tears that prevented her from matching the curse for volume.
The voice continued:
“Lud, but I wish they hadn’t been quite so brutish. I will have to wear shawls for weeks!”
Finally, Marguerite found her voice. “Peggy! Oh dearest, won’t you show yourself?”
“It’s all very well asking me that, dear, but I’m trussed up here quite firmly. I’m afraid if you want to see me, you shall have to make the distance yourself.
It was the carter! Tied and beaten by Chauvelin out of nothing more than spite for not catching Peggy. How Marguerite would love to see their faces had they known! She scrambled to her feet, then fell again as her bleeding soles failed to take her weight, crawling desperately across the pebbles to where, she now saw, Peggy had adopted the most perfect disguise of a man, and had borne through a man’s shirt the pain and humiliation of a beating.
“Peggy,” she said, as she reached her, “Oh Peggy cherie, what have they done to you?”
She collapsed by Peggy’s side, laying her hands gently on the back of the shirt, and was almost horrified to see Peggy wince away from her touch.
“Nothing I wouldn’t take again, dear. But would you… my hands.”
Her hands and legs had indeed been tied quite firmly to the rock, and Marguerite worked with nails and teeth to get them undone, crying all the time with sympathy and with relief, and not in small part with her own fatigue as well. All the time, Peggy muttered soothing words in that affected drawl of hers.
“Hush, now. Hush, my Margot. It’s not as bad as all that.”
When she was untied, Peggy found the jacket she had worn as a man, and draped it gently around Marguerite’s shoulders, neither of them even trying to stand. Marguerite sat there as the woman she had betrayed so carelessly gently smoothed the woolen coat over her shoulders, looking down at her work rather than up at Marguerite. Then she stopped.
With her arms still on Marguerite’s, in the act of dressing her, Peggy’s head swayed, and in a swoon she dropped it down on Marguerite’s shoulder.
“Oh Peggy!” Marguerite cried, easing the fainted woman off her shoulder and laying her down in her own lap. The jacket was weighted curiously, and an inspection of the pockets produced a flask of brandy, which she gently touched to Peggy’s lips.
Peggy stirred and blinked up in the darkness at Marguerite,. She smiled, and lifted a heavy hand to take Marguerite’s own.
“My darling nurse,” she said. “Where would I be without you?”
“Oh!” Marguerite, who had been overjoyed to see Peggy’s eyes open, now looked away in shame. “Oh Peggy, if only you knew.”
“Lud! That thing at the ball?” Peggy pushed herself up onto her elbows, unable to sit quite yet, but determined to keep her back off the rocks. “I knew, Margot. A trifling thing, long since forgiven, now quite forgotten.”
“Now hush.” Peggy, with great effort, brought herself to sit. “My Margot, you are forgetting that you saved my life tonight. For if I had not been forewarned by Sir Andrew of Chauvelin’s presence in Calais, I would have walked straight into his trap.”
“Sir Andrew – he found you?”
“He found me and told me you were waiting for me, precious. Something he would never do if you had not brought him here. Sterling chap, all the way. Obeys every single one of my orders, of course. But when my orders were to stay home, it took you to take charge. My life is yours, my dear.”
Peggy explained the rest of the plot; how she had colluded with the men inside to have them sneak out quietly and board the boat while she waited out. How she had slipped Armand a false note to leave for Chauvelin, sending him on a wild goose chase, and how all they had to do now was wait for Ffoulkes himself, to bring them to a smaller dinghy and then to the Day Dream.
Marguerite could not help herself at that point, she threw her arms around Peggy and covered her cheek with kisses. It was Peggy who interrupted her, taking both Marguerite’s tiny hands in her own and bringing them down between the ladies. Her indifferent air was all gone, her affected laziness failing to completely hide an intense passion burning behind them.
“You saved my life, Margot,” she said again. “My dearest, Margot. How could I not have seen how noble, and brave you are?”
“Brave, me? Peggy -”
“No, you are brave,” Peggy said, her voice steady, but her inanity not quite holding up. “For did you not come here with nothing but the wind under your feet to carry you? And I – who commands a band of men like a general – I am afraid.”
“Hush.” Now it was Marguerite’s turn to sooth the other. “Do not be afraid, chere. Do not! I am at your side, now. And will never leave it, if you will -”
The rest of her sentence was lost, for Peggy drew Marguerite to her then, and closed her mouth over Marguerite’s own.
After that first, long, sweet kiss, Marguerite sighed and heard Peggy do the same, before they looked each other in the eyes. Everything else they would want to say was communicated then, without words.
They sat, then, as lovers on the rocky beach, with Marguerite eventually laying her head on Peggy’s shoulder. Their fingers entwined with each other, now on Peggy’s knee, now on Marguerite’s, it mattered not. Together, they watched the Eastern sky grow silver, until the sound of a foot on the pebbles tore Marguerite out of her reverie.
“Someone is coming!” The last half hour had done a little to soothe her nerves, but she still startled, while Peggy smiled and smoothed out Marguerite’s auburn hair from her face.
“Of course,” she said. “It is only Sir Andrew. What ho, Ffoulkes!”
That gentleman had seen them now, and he touched his hand to his hat as he approached.
“My ladies,” he said, with a gallant bow. “Your brother and husband await you on the Day Dream, as you ordered, Mrs St Just.”
“Everyone got out without a hitch?”
“As smooth as ever.”
Still dressed as a carter, Peggy stood slowly, picking a strand of auburn hair from her shirt as naturally as a man adjusting his cravat. The only concession to the terrible beating she had taken was in the softest groan as she straightened her back.
“Oh, Sir Andrew. I’m afraid my sister has done herself a terrible injury to her feet. Carry her to the boat, won’t you?”
Marguerite put her hands up genteelly and Andrew scooped her up in his arms. Peggy stood by his side, leaning on him slightly, but her hand soon found Marguerite’s fingers, and she pressed them gently.
“La, sir,” Marguerite teased. “Carrying another lady like a bride. What would darling Suzanne say?”
“She would say,” he replied, steadily, “that I am a noble and chivalrous man, and a worthy member of the League.”
“Have you made your case to her father yet, Andrew?” Peggy inquired lazily.
“I have been in the man’s acquaintance for little more than an hour, my lady,” he replied, with a familiar smile. “I thought it might wait.”
“Until we put shore in England, then, but not a moment before,” she replied. “You must never lose hold of your love once you’ve found her.”
“Is that an order, my captain?”
Peggy squeezed Marguerite’s hand again. “Yes, sir. It is.”
What more is there to say? In Armand’s cabin on the Day Dream, the ladies clung to each other like they were afraid to be parted, and Armand, as master of the vessel, was able to give them the privacy they needed. He and Andrew talked, on that voyage; and an arrangement was made, a vow to secrecy implied, and silent approval given of the happiness of the women, one a sister, and one as good as to her dearest friend.
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, as good as his word, wasted no time at all in securing the approval of the Comte de Tournay, but his happiness would have to be delayed by a few weeks following the loss of Sir Algernon, who had been as an uncle to him. Sir Algernon was succeeded by Dame Peggy St Just, and she and her husband, it was said, had as happy a marriage as any of the more passionate couples in England.
Marguerite St Just continued to live with her brother and his wife on their Richmond estate, and for many years retained her title as the darling of English society. She never took a husband, and in doing so, kept many a heart aching.
As for Chauvelin: his claims that the Scarlet Pimpernel was a woman were met with incredulity by his masters, and ridicule by his men, and after a while he ceased to repeat them. He was never invited back to England.
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