Fanfic: A Complex Problem (pt 2)

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 [livejournal.com profile] croik

Being the part of the story that basically consisted of me listening to kd.lang, crying and making the “now kiss” gesture at the fictional ladies.

Mrs St Just was sought out and revived when her sister-in-law found the events of the night had become far too stressful to bear, and their carriage was ordered post haste. The ladies sat opposite each other in the St Justs’ vis-à-vis, each wrapped warmly in furs as they headed out to Richmond. Peggy abhorred the city; she spent as little time as she could in town, outside of social engagements. Even when attending balls this late into the night, she always insisted on taking the couch all the way home. It was a predilection that Marguerite was grateful for, even in the silence that rode the carriage with them.

She resolved to speak not a word to Peggy about Armand. The ladies spoke but little in private at this time, and what would Marguerite say? Mrs St Just had no love for her husband. She might have believed herself in love once, but since their marriage there had been just the barest of civility between the couple, their affection cooled by the barrier between the women. What should Peggy St Just care about her Armand? Should he be executed for his crimes, his widow could finally be free of the sister she despised.

But as Marguerite sat in the carriage, watching the woman sitting opposite her, she began to be conscious of a desire to lean forward and take her sister’s hand in her own. The weight she carried in her breast was almost too much to bear, and she had no one else in the world she could turn to. Peggy would at least have understood the helplessness of a woman, and she might, in the face of Marguerite’s complete despair, have offered some of that tenderness they had left behind them in the Rue de Richelieu.

Peggy had her face turned decisively to the side, watching the moonlight dancing on the surface of the Thames as it raced by. Frank the driver, at Peggy’s customary insistence, was running the horses hard, and they were fresh, energetic animals, so the night air rushed past them, pinching color into both sets of cheeks through their lightest coverings of powder. In the pale light, Marguerite could make out the regal lines of her profile, the straight nose and clear brow which, when not marred by clumsiness and vacant inanity, made Peggy St Just a truly beautiful woman.

If only that face would soften for the sake of her once dearest friend.

They rode home in silence to a house empty of family. Sir Algernon was in the North, at the family estate, and Armand – Marguerite felt his absence heavier than ever knowing the danger he was in. As soon as Frank had helped first Peggy, then herself down from the carriage, Marguerite turned away from the idea of going to bed just yet. Instead she took herself, in her ballgown and furs, around to the back, where she could look over the expansive, beautiful gardens down to the riverbank.

It was a warm October night, and the sky was free of clouds, giving Marguerite a clear view of the very same stars that somewhere, her brother might be looking up at in the same moment. It was a source of but little comfort. All she could think about was her own despicable act; the brave man she had doomed in exchange for Armand; and the pain of having to carry this guilt entirely to herself.

Just as she had resigned herself to turning in for a undoubtedly sleepless night of suffering, she heard the unmistakable rustle of skirts sweeping over gravel, and the shadows of the tree lined promenade resolved themselves into the silhouette of Peggy. She too had chosen to walk rather than retire, her hair falling out from the pile she’d constructed at the beginning of the evening, now collapsing in pale curls around the fur on her shoulders, topping a beautiful pale blue ballgown.

Peggy resembled nothing so much as a river sweeping together out of mountain streams. Her pale complexion shone fresh and bright, but her whole attitude was icy cold as she moved forward with a firm stride, more interested in the walk than her surroundings. She did not notice Marguerite, or paid her no heed, moving up to the terrace and the house.

Marguerite could not stand the loneliness anymore: she would have confided everything to Frank had he been convenient, but instead she impulsively cried out:

“Peggy!”

Peggy stopped sharply, looking around with an expression of bewilderment, as if she had no idea her walk had not been alone. When she spied Marguerite, she dropped a curtsey, as polite as she ever was to her sister-in-law.

“Marguerite.”

For a moment, Marguerite had nothing to say; she only knew that right at this time she could not bear to be alone, and needed just to keep her sister-in-law near.

“Will you stay a while, sister? It’s such a beautiful night, and it would be all the better were it to be shared. Unless my company is so repulsive to you it would sour even this fresh air?”

“On the contrary: surely you could have no use for a silly little girl like myself? You could enjoy the evening so much better with your own clever thoughts than with me distracting you.”

She curtsied again, and swept around the skirts of her ballgown, as if intending to continue her ascent into the house.

“Peggy, do stay!” Marguerite protested, drawing closer. “You must know how much I have missed you since you drew away from me.”

“I from you! Is that how you remember it? Then I declare it must be true, you were always so much cleverer than I.”

“Nay, do not concede so placidly!” Marguerite cried. She took one final step towards Peggy, closing the physical distance between them. “You always used to speak your mind to me, even when we disagreed.”

“You are perhaps looking for an argument, then? Forgive me, Mademoiselle, I think you might find better sport among sharper wits than mine.”

“Oh, Peggy! Can I not simply desire the company of the lady who has been my dearest friend?”

“That,” Peggy said, with measured coldness, “you shall have tomorrow. I have not the brightest memory, but I am certain I heard you at supper confirming the presence of Suzanne de Tournay at our home tomorrow.”

It was true; Marguerite had pressed her school friend for a visit, in the very presence of the Prince of Wales, whose loud approval of the scheme had prevented any opposition from the vengeful Comtesse. So preoccupied had Marguerite been with her own thoughts and the determination to be with Suzanne tomorrow, she had not even looked for the approval of the lady of the house, who so frequently and passively bowed to her social demands.

When Peggy raised the subject now, Marguerite’s keen ears determined that she could hear not just the now established disconnect between the two of them, but something passionate beneath the careful levelness of Peggy’s tone. A fire she’d believed she must have only imagined in her memories of Miss Blakeney – had it been fanned back into life by thoughts of Suzanne’s visit?

“You, Peggy!”  Her voice shook, her hands clenched together under her breast, pressing in as if that could control the pain growing therein. “You, who called me sister, once. Can we never be friends again?”

“Of course we can. I married your brother, did I not? Now my house and myself are his and yours for your playground. Do you want more, Margot? Are you hoping that I will sit quietly again and listen to you with your other devoted admirers?”

Peggy raised her head marginally, her habitual slouch appearing to melt away as her height only served to lengthen the distance between her and Marguerite. It was undoubtedly true; her sensibility had been stirred, and she drew herself up with the hauteur of a queen, determined to shield that vulnerability from Marguerite. But it had been shown, now, and Marguerite darted for it, desperate for confirmation that she did not suffer alone.

“You were the most ardent of my admirers, until you married my brother.”

“And the very day of that marriage, the Marquis de St Cyr and his entire family perished at the guillotine, and I heard the gossip that my new sister-in-law had been the one to send them there.”

“I told you the truth of that!”

“After I heard it from other mouths.”

“And you never asked me for confirmation.”

It came rushing out then; Marguerite could hold it back no longer. Effusively she told Peggy everything about Armand’s love for Angèle, of his youthful worship of everything that sweet child touched. She described the poem he had penned for her, and the severity of the punishment that came crashing down on him for the crime of loving a lady above his class.

“You are his wife,” she pressed, “can you tell me you have never wondered about the scars he still wears on his back? I dressed those wounds, Peggy – a girl of fifteen nursing a brother who had been a father to her, thrashed for loving unwisely.”

Peggy said nothing, but her eyes burned with the words she did not speak. Both of the ladies in that garden at Richmond were beginning to understand how easy it is to commit that particular sin. Marguerite stopped for breath, and dropped her eyes to the delicate gloves on her hands.

“Armand – he never looked for love again after that.”

“He married me.”

The challenge had gone, replaced by simply stated fact. Armand had recovered from his experience enough to take a wife; another lady of rank, with a title of her own awaiting her. Marguerite had been too distracted by her own concerns, her efforts to undo the blow she’d dealt St Cyr, and her happiness at having Peggy as a sister, that she had never questioned the match too closely.

“He married you,” she agreed. “He married you for reasons that are not the purest, I admit on his behalf, but, Peggy – he never lied to you. Why did you marry him?”

But Peggy’s face was blank again. “I suppose I am just not clever enough to decline a proposal when it is offered. And your brother, my dear, is a singularly loyal gentleman. What more could a woman wish in a husband?”

“What of love?” Marguerite asked impulsively. The word seemed to prompt the faintest of sneers from Peggy.

“No, my dear. I would never ask that.”

Marguerite felt, in her heart, that this was a lie, or not the complete answer, but this talk of Armand was stirring her self pity, and her eyes were beginning to sting once more. A gray light was approaching from the east, and in this, Peggy could see the tears touching her sister’s face.

“Lud, Margot! Whatever are you holding back?”

“Armand!” Marguerite managed, the words crashing out in sobs. “Oh, Peggy! Armand is in the most deadly danger!”

Marguerite staggered forward one step, her knees suddenly weak under her own weight, but caught herself just in time. She looked so pathetic in that moment, her auburn hair glowing in the approaching dawn, her face pale and tired from the emotional strain so that the redness of her eyes stood in even starker contrast. Peggy’s hand clenched on her fan as she fought the urge to rush down and take Marguerite’s hands in her own, just as she had seen Suzanne de Tournay do so unselfconsciously.

“Armand?” Peggy kept her voice steady, distant. “What danger could he possibly be in?”

“Oh, that foolish man!” Marguerite managed. “He has joined the Scarlet Pimpernel, heedless of the risk! And even more foolishly, he wrote of his intentions to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. Now the note has fallen into the wrong hands, and he faces the guillotine unless…”

The rest of what she wanted to say was lost in choking sobs, and she lost the ability to look at Peggy. Her face, previously ashen, flushed with heat and she brought up a hand to her mouth, then dropped it, and tried to speak again, only to choke on the words.

“Marguerite,” Peggy entreated her, “do control yourself, I can understand but every other word.” But her eyes had hardened even further, her back straightened with resolve when she had heard of her husband in danger. The blood drained from her face when she heard of the cause of his danger.  Her folded fan twitched but slightly under the effort of keeping her comportment, but otherwise she moved not one step towards her distraught sister-in-law, while that lady cried herself out.

“What is there to be done?” The Englishwoman asked, with a calm that both confused and angered Marguerite, as engulfed as she was in the the throes of emotion.

“What?” She echoed. “I do not know, Peggy. I have exhausted everything I can think of.”

“Your friend Chauvelin?”

How bitter that name sounded to Marguerite’s ears, spoken by Peggy’s cold tongue. Unable to face the consequences of admission, Marguerite shook her head mutely.

“Well,” Peggy continued. “You may have exhausted everything at your command, my dear. But I have not. You forget I am a dear friend of Mrs Fitzherbert. I will pay her a visit tomorrow – hush, sweetheart, for all is not lost.”

“You will go?” Marguerite forced her tears free and once again searched Peggy’s face for a sign of that passion she was sure she’d seen. “You would do this for  - for him?”

But of course Peggy would try to save her husband! What nonsense could Marguerite be thinking to think she’d do this for friendship?

Peggy nodded her head slightly, and dropped a brief curtsy. “Of course, Mademoiselle, I will do what I can. Now to bed with you. You have exhausted yourself for tonight.”

Two pairs of blue eyes – one pale as the dawn, the other as rich as noon – finally met on that terrace, and tried to tell each other the truth they were both afraid of. Marguerite then closed the two steps between them and clasped Peggy’s hands in her own, pressing their fingers together.

“Thank you, Peggy,” she said, simply, but with all the force those two words could hold. Then she had swept past her, their ballgowns rushing past each other, until Marguerite had disappeared into the house, not waiting to see the indifference with which she was sure her gratitude would be met.

So engaged was she in her own misery and the relief of sharing it, that she entirely missed the way that cold, proud Englishwoman swooned against the railing, then collapsed straight down into the pool of her skirts, overcome with tears she could no longer hold back.

——————

Marguerite was yet too fraught to find sleep easily. She lay watching the dawn touch the canopy of her bed, trying to make sense of the discussion she had just had. Did Peggy really think that she could save Armand’s life by paying visits in London? Marguerite could hardly believe the calm, matter of fact way that lady had announced her intention to help. But it had helped, she could not deny that – when Peggy had very simply stated that she would do what she could, it was as a balm to Marguerite’s aching heart. Just the assurance made it easier to believe that Armand would be safe. It might just have been the relief that comes from sharing the burden, or it might be that Marguerite, even after the rift between them, could not believe that Peggy would give her word to something she would not accomplish.

And she could scarcely believe her own audacity at that fleeting thought she had seized on, almost given voice to in her passion; to think that Peggy would do this not just out of the loyalty of a wife, but for the tender friendship she had once shared with Marguerite herself. But had not Marguerite seen for herself the fire behind Peggy’s dull eyes? Try as she might have done to hide it, the spark had been there, just as it had been there in Paris. Marguerite could not have imagined it! Whether it was pride of the betrayed friend, or shame of the strength of her feelings, something had made Peggy strive to hide her emotion, to be the silly unattached airhead with no strong feelings for anything other than the cut of her dresses.

Marguerite’s dear friend, who had slept with her in that apartment on the Rue de Richelieu like they were children – she was still there, still alive under that mask. The façade had been in place even in society back then, but since marrying Armand it had become fixed, worn even in private with Marguerite. Marguerite had almost begun to consider she might have imagined the Peggy she had drawn to her heart. Now she knew: Peggy had worked to conceal that girl from the world.

Could it have been her affection for Marguerite that did this? Impossible! Marguerite could believe the proud and fashionable Margaret Blakeney to be afraid of such an attachment, but there would be countless ways of easing that burden without needing such an elaborate performance.

Marguerite slept fitfully and sparingly, too far away from the front of the house to know when precisely Peggy left for London. This did not stop her from imagining she could hear the sound of hooves on the gravel, the creak of carriage wheels, taking the lady of the house away.

When Marguerite rose fully to consciousness, the sun was risen and bright, and the house entirely empty save for the maids attending their morning duties. After breakfast, she made some inquiries about Peggy’s departure, and discovered that her sister-in-law had taken the carriage to London, and that the driver had returned just recently, having seen his mistress arrange for the sailing of the Day Dream, the yacht kept for her personal use. Whatever Peggy planned to do with her influence, she evidently intended to exert it somewhere that required sailing.

Marguerite had many times been alone in her brother’s house. Armand was busy in France, and Peggy left for frequent visits to her ailing father. He was not long for this world at this point, having succumbed to apoplexy a few months before, and could stand neither strangers nor to be removed from his house. Usually Marguerite kept to the small drawing room near her own bedroom, or to the library. On this morning, however, she was restless, and found herself wandering the house aimlessly, her feet working on their own while her mind was elsewhere.

It could be nothing but her subconscious guiding her feet that led Marguerite to Peggy’s own apartments. Marguerite’s own rooms were near her brother’s at the other side of the house, and she had seldom been in the opposite wing. Marguerite knew from Suzanne de Tournay of the habit among fashionable ladies to take visitors in their dressing room during the hours it took to complete a toilette, and when Armand and Peggy were engaged, she had imagined spending long hours in such intimacy with Peggy in the lady’s own dressing room.

This dream had never come to pass,but Marguerite knew from Armand that Peggy spent a good deal of time in her private rooms. At the beginning of the marriage, he had mentioned a room that she guarded, even from him her husband, more jealously than her own dressing room.

Now she found herself on the landing outside Peggy’s bedroom, standing in front of a heavy oak door that had been pulled almost completely to a close. The lock had been turned, but whoever had done so had been in too much of a hurry to check the closure first, and the bar of the lock was left stuck into empty air.
Hardly knowing what to expect, Marguerite placed a hand on the door and pushed it open, just far enough to admit herself.

Beyond, she found a small personal library that might be mistaken for a gentleman’s study, with its large central table and the maps on the wall. The sex of its owner was reflected in small touches such as the delicate needlepoint gracing the cushion of a sitting chair and the bright bouquet in the window, but the dainty writing table was weighed down by a box of papers, and a thick ledger, both which Marguerite had opened before she had registered where she was.

Inside she found all the record keeping and business transactions she might expect of a man tasked with the duty of maintaining a large estate. And yet each note was written and recorded in the same tiny copperplate Peggy would employ to write her correspondence.

It had never before occurred to Marguerite how Sir Algernon, whom she knew was incapable and had been barely sensible even before his apoplexy, had managed to maintain his large estate. And yet here, set out in front of her, was the answer: his daughter Margaret administered it all from her tiny drawing room in Richmond. Armand was preoccupied in France, he cared little for the workings of the British estate; everything was overseen by his wife.

The revelation was startling: Peggy who would complain of tedium in a society she claimed not to follow, who regarded the whole world out of bored, lowered lids, was spending a not insignificant part of her time in this very room, managing one of the largest personal fortunes in England. Sir Algernon had been frail for many years; this endeavor could well reach back into Peggy’s girlhood.

No wonder she had married Armand! An indifferent French man who had no use for her fortune, no designs on her title, and but a passing interest in her pastimes, was the ideal shield against more interrogative suitors. When Mme St Just became Dame Margaret, she could continue to manage her own affairs, but what a secret! Marguerite knew that not a single person in that society that gently mocked Peggy for a simpleton would recognize the person who must do all this methodical work behind closed doors. Peggy had told Marguerite she was bored and uninspired as a lady in society, and it was scarcely any wonder, if she had to conceal this business from the world.

Marguerite had never felt as close to her sister-in-law as she did there, standing in this secret lair that Peggy had worked so hard to keep from the world. There was an understanding now that rose up in her as fast as did new questions: why work so hard to be seen as a fool? For Marguerite saw now that the part Peggy played must be as much a role as anything she herself had performed in the Comedie Francais. It was an eccentricity, to be certain, but was the secret of Peggy’s administering her father’s fortune so vital that she should construct such a deliberate and impenetrable persona for herself?

As suddenly as these questions occurred to Marguerite, she was struck by a sudden wave of guilt, and horror at her own violation of Peggy’s privacy. Terrified that a maid might discover her indiscretion, she closed the ledger hurriedly and moved towards the door. And she might have never mentioned it again, had her foot not hit something small and heavy on the floor on her way out.

Startled, Marguerite stooped to pick it up and examine it. It was a solid gold seal ring that had been dropped in a hurry after some use at the table. She picked it up and turned it over in her fingers: it held a shield on which was engraved a device Marguerite had seen imitated many times, but only exactly duplicated twice:

A small five petalled flower, in the shape of a star.

It was suddenly all the more imperative that Marguerite get out of that room. Clutching the ring to her, she fled from the secret drawing room into the garden, as far from the confusion and potential questions as she could manage. She flew down the steps from the terrace and down the promenade, where she could hope for some seclusion and be alone with her thoughts.

Of course, it could mean nothing. The Pimpernel was the talk of all England, and near everyone in society fashioned his device into brooches and embroidery. Marguerite herself wore a diadem sporting the flower in rubies and diamonds. It was no great find that Peggy would have a seal ring in the latest fashion.

But Peggy! Who had shown no interest before in his actions, other than to clumsily mock him and the attention he received from society. Peggy, who was the carefully studied height of fashion in every other detail, had never so much as worn a red ribbon in her hat for the last year. Could she, not just be privy to the identity of that gentleman, but intimate enough that he had been in her private drawing room – and recently? Impossible! Marguerite lived in this very house. As palatial as the dimensions were, Peggy could not be receiving visitors without her knowledge.

Armand? No, Armand was already in the Republic’s hands when the Pimpernel was at Lord Grenville’s ball.

Names flashed through Marguerite’s heated brain. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes; Lords Antony Dewhurst and Edward Hastings; all acquaintances of Peggy’s, but all had many times admitted to membership, but not leadership of the band. Dewhurst and Foulkes had been in possession of the very letter that implicated Armand. Hastings had acted as messenger between the leader and Ffoulkes. They were possible, but perhaps not likely.

Frank – Sir Algernon’s valet who spent much of his life attending to the gentleman’s daughter? He would have access to Peggy’s drawing room, but his life was too filled with his work to allow for the task of the Pimpernel. No, he must be a gentleman, someone with the leisure time and resources to command a team of other gentlemen and mastermind every scheme.

Marguerite realized at that moment that there was only one reason for the ring to be on the floor where she had found it – if it had been dropped by the one person for whose private use that room was always kept.

Just as this realization was rising to the light and everything Marguerite called sense was trying to fight it down, she was pulled from her thoughts by her name being called from the direction of the house.

“Marguerite! Chere Margot, are you down here?”

It was Suzanne de Tournay, fresh and bright in the sunlight, hurrying down the path. At once, Marguerite slipped the ring into the bosom of her dress and pushed her thoughts as far away as she could manage, putting out her hands to her oldest friend.

“Suzanne!”

Suzanne threw herself into Marguerite’s arms and the two of them embraced warmly, keeping their hands in each others even after kissing.

“Margot, cherie, I am so glad to see you!” said Suzanne gaily. “I just had to come early and give you a surprise.”

Even Marguerite’s anxiety could not stand the assault of such genuine happiness, and her smile was real despite herself. “And what a surprise, cherie! Will you spend the day with me?”

“Oh yes, I have planned that,” replied Suzanne, turning so she could link arms with Marguerite as they walked.“We have so much to talk about, so many secrets to share!”

Marguerite could not help herself. “Oh la! And I know you must be bursting with a secret to tell me, is it not so? About Sir Andrew Ffoulkes?”

Suzanne blushed so suddenly and profusely that Marguerite knew she had hit the answer. The ladies turned to face each other, and she took both of Marguerite’s hands in her own.

“Oh, Margot! You are not angry?”

Overcome with surprise, Marguerite laughed. “Angry, me? No, cherie, I could never be angry for your happiness. What we had is in the past, Suzanne. Now I could not be happier for my friend.”

“Really?” Suzanne threw her arms around her friend’s neck. “Oh, Margot, I am so glad to hear you say that. I did not know what you might think of me.”

Marguerite gently removed Suzanne’s hands from around her neck, kissing her tiny fingers gallantly. “I think you are a girl very much in love,” she says. “And there could not be a finer object for those affections, either. Sir Andrew is a dear friend of my sister-in-law, and the truest gentleman in all of England. He would make the finest husband, I am sure of it.”

Hearing her lover spoken of by someone whose esteem she valued so highly made Suzanne duck her head, still blushing prettily, and Marguerite took her in her arms again.

“Suzanne, cherie, surely you were not so afraid of my disapproval?”

Suzanne shook her head. “No, I was not afraid,” she said softly. “But I do rejoice in your opinion of him. I’m sure maman will approve. But of course, nothing can be thought of until papa is safe.”

The Comte de Tournay! Marguerite started suddenly out of her concern for her friend’s marriage into a much more pressing realization of the danger facing her father. His was one of the many lives Marguerite put at risk when she bargained the Scarlet Pimpernel’s life for her brother’s. As Suzanne continued to itemize every single one of Sir Andrew’s many virtues, Marguerite pressed her hand to her bosom, thinking of the ring hidden there. The owner of that ring had pledged himself to the cause of rescuing the Comte and others like him, and Marguerite had bargained his life away in an evening.

Did Chauvelin discover the identity of the Pimpernel last night, when he sat in the drawing room and watched Peggy St Just dozing away?

Did she, Marguerite, hold the answer to that very same riddle pressed against her breast?

“And of course,” Suzanne was assuring herself as much as her friend, “we have every assurance that Papa will be home safely. Why, my Lord Hastings visited this morning to assure us that the Scarlet Pimpernel himself was in London with the morning light, and sailed directly to Calais to assure my father’s safety. Oh, Margot! To think I will see him again so soon!”

In London this morning! Just as Peggy herself had been. She had said it was talk to her friends, to wield influence that might make a difference, but had the Day Dream not sailed that morning? The conclusion was too fantastic even for Marguerite, who had seen all the evidence mount up in front of her.

“Margot?” Suzanne pulled her out of her thoughts, her gentle face so creased with concern that Marguerite realized her own face must look as pale and cold as it felt. “What is wrong? Are you ill, cherie? Of what are you thinking?”

If it had been any one but Suzanne asking the question, Marguerite would no doubt have been the very picture of self control, and not let even a hint through of the secret she held. But in the face of her dear, most trusted friend, it dropped out before she could prevent it.

“Peggy.”

Peggy herself! The brave leader of the band of merry gentlemen, masterminding a network of valiant rescues, conducting the most intricate and daring rescues herself, all the time letting society believe the Scarlet Pimpernel to be a man.

She had been in the supper-room at one o’clock. Had Chauvelin come to that conclusion? Impossible!

“Oh!” Fortunate for that secret, perhaps, that Suzanne misunderstood the meaning behind that misspoken word. “Oh Margot, I knew it! Does your brother know?”

Marguerite looked at her in surprise, but could hardly respond before Suzanne prattled on:

“But of course he does. Armand was always the greatest brother to you, was he not? And no doubt he is free to take his own mistress. Margot, I am so happy for you!”

“No, cherie,” for Suzanne had obviously misunderstood. “No, I… Suzanne, I am just feeling very ill. I am afraid I must cut our visit short this morning.”

Suzanne, of course, understood completely, or at least claimed she did. She threw her arms back around Marguerite’s neck and kissed her tenderly before walking back to the house. All Marguerite could do was stand there in shock until a groom arrived with a letter for her.

It was the letter from Armand, that was to incriminate him in being part of the League of the Pimpernel. Chauvelin had promised to return it to the safety of Marguerite’s hands when he was certain of the arrest of the Scarlet Pimpernel himself. Questioning the groom led her to the runner who had born the letter, and he confirmed that Chauvelin was posting straight to Dover.

It was enough. Marguerite could conclude that, between the supper-room and Peggy’s hasty departure, Chauvelin had uncovered her fatal secret and had started the pursuit. Peggy’s sex could be no defense against his cruel justice: she would face Mme Guillotine herself – which might not be the worst she would encounter before that merciful end!

Marguerite could hardly stand under the weight of this new certain dread. The only thing keeping her feet under her was the steel knowledge that something had to be done and that she, Marguerite, was the only person who knew enough to put it into action.

Then, her cold fear melted away under the heat of purpose. She had to warn Peggy. Had to do whatever she could to save her. And if any doubt arose that she, a simple woman, would not manage it, there was only the knowledge that Peggy herself was abroad doing deeds the bravest man in England, whomever that might be, had not risen to.

To London, then! To London and to someone who would aid Marguerite in reaching her sister, and warning the Scarlet Pimpernel of the danger she was in. With the warning, at least, Peggy could – must! – avoid the capture Chauvelin was so sure of.

With a new collectedness and calm, Marguerite ordered her brother’s carriage prepared for her, and sent ahead to let Sir Andrew know of her coming. Furnishing herself with money that her brother and sister always kept ready for her disposal, it was not a half hour after Suzanne’s departure that Marguerite herself was on the road, with nothing to do on the journey but to prepare herself for what was coming, and reflect on the new understanding that had come rushing to her so quickly.

Peggy St Just! The Scarlet Pimpernel! How could Marguerite have been so foolish? She had suspected from the start that there was more to her friend than she presented to the world. Had not Marguerite herself been privy to glimpses of this real woman in Paris? But the part of the inane, brainless goose had been so well played, even to the careful studying of fashion and the affected slouch of the lazy socialite. How could anyone have suspected that this silly feather-brain was masquerading as a man to save lives abroad?

Peggy, who professed to Marguerite that she longed to hunt and to explore and to play dangerous sports with the gentleman, had found the most dangerous sport of them all, risking her virtue and her life for the sake of a few souls among the hundreds that were being lost every day.

But those few lives included Suzanne’s, and her whole family, among the others that were safe in England now. Perhaps they could not stop the Terror – Lord knew Armand had tried! – but they could do what little they could. Marguerite could see Peggy’s character laid out clearly now; she who was too strong minded for the role dealt her, practiced in concealing her true intelligence by the lesser secret of running her father’s estate, bored by the — to her — inane and pointless act of being a lady in society. Peggy Blakeney must have been fired by the idea of combining her need for adventure with the chance to make a difference, however small in the world.

And another reason to marry an unconcerned, impoverished Frenchman like Armand! He had no interest in the Blakeney estate, but a vested interest in the well being of his homeland. Armand was always a romantic, even when the object of that romance became his country rather than women. When Peggy permitted him into her inner circle, was it any wonder he rushed to join her band of loyal gentlemen? Gentlemen such as Lord Hastings, Lord Dewhurst, and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, whose esteem in Marguerite’s eyes only rose as she reflected on the situation.

It did not seem the faintest bit odd to Marguerite that they would follow a woman – not when that lady was Peggy St Just. It spoke simply of their good sense and the strength of their convictions that they would recognize the strongest, bravest of hearts beating even in a woman’s breast. Peggy’s intelligence and her passion was superhuman enough to recommend her to the captaincy of their band, and Marguerite did not doubt for a second that the scheme had been her idea from its conception. Every part of Peggy’s charade was now laid out before Marguerite’s eyes, and she realized that in her brother’s wife, she had found the very best, most noble human being in existence.

Suzanne’s innocent assumption now seemed well placed. Marguerite had not borne to give it voice before, contenting herself with the companionship and friendship she’d enjoyed in Paris, but there was no denying it. Not now, not when every beat of her heart ached to see Peggy safe and alive. Not when every fiber of her self yearned to with with her again. Marguerite St Just was completely, undeniably, hopelessly in love with her brother’s wife!

 

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