Author's Note: *gasp* Yes, I'm alive! I had planned to end the story on the last chapter but several reviewers commented that it seemed forced, and I agree. So I started playing with another chapter over the past year, and heaven help me, I don't know if it will end with this one or if I'll start messing about with another after this! I'm in graduate school right now, so there's no telling...I have tons of work to do, and it might be months before I can do another chapter. But heck, I even set it up for another chapter because I'm a gluten for self-punishment and procrastination.
Honestly, at this point, I don't know where I'll take this story. I have some ideas, but several are more or less one-shots that fit in here or there with this story, but weren't part of the original storyline (which I totally winged). I'm still making it up as I go. If, in the future, I decide to do a one-shot instead of a chapter that actually progresses the story forward, I will note it so it (hopefully) won't be confusing.
The Invisible Savior
The premier of The Invisible Savior was one of those gaudy affairs that reeked of too many reporters and screaming fans. The camera flashes were blinding and the crowd was excitable, which only served to give Marguerite a slight headache. Not to mention the fact that she was smiling because she had to; that always made her head throb.
She only went to the premier because it was expected of her to do so, even though she had officially retired. Worse, the paparazzi had gotten wind of that fact that she was retiring, and the second she stepped out of her limousine the cameras went into a wild frenzy of clicking, their flashbulbs creating a dizzying strobe effect. For a moment she couldn't even see the red carpet in front of her.
A hand suddenly grasped her elbow to help her. However, far from helping her, the reality was that the person holding her arm was unintentionally creating even more of a scene. She overheard several reporters shout out to her, asking if she had recently eloped, if she were getting out of the business because she was secretly pregnant, and if it were true that she was romantically involved with the financial backer of her last film project.
As usual, she ignored the questions; it was foolish to get involved in any discussion with the paparazzi. She was sure there was a verse in the Bible about that: not to argue with fools, lest you become one yourself, and Marguerite was no fool. On the other hand, her guide was certainly playing the fool tonight, which was just as bad as the paparazzi thinking she might secretly be pregnant.
As Percy guided her up the carpet towards the theatre entrance, she ignored him, too. He was waving insipidly at the reporters with a boyish, silly smile playing on the corners of his lips. He would point at one reporter and then another, nodding pleasantly and lifting his hand in greeting, as if they were old friends he hadn't seen in a while instead of the blood-sucking vampires they really were. He was acting like a moronic, attention-seeking hog, which he most certainly was not. God, it was grating when he acted this way, but heavens, the reporters simply loved it. Marguerite remembered when this movie project came about several months earlier, and how she'd hated that grating, false personality of his back then, too.
It was a minimal relief to step inside the theatre doors and away from the massive crowd. There were more reporters there too, but these had paid handsomely to be inside the theatre. She ignored them as well. She was in no mood to answer questions about any aspect of her personal life. Instead, she let the reporters bombard Andrew and Suzanne, and she felt mildly amused at watching poor Andrew fend for himself. Thankfully, Suzanne knew the business well and made certain her fiancée said nothing inappropriate, or anything that could be misconstrued. Although, really, anything one said to a reporter could be misconstrued, and Andrew would learn the hard way, as most everyone did, Marguerite thought dryly.
Percy spoke to a few reporters, but only about his role as the financial backer for the film in that irritating, bored, lazy voice of his, shrugging off the cost as if it were a trifle and musing that no, he didn't have any additional plans for future films at the moment. By the time they reached the theatre itself, Marguerite was ready to return to his townhouse where she could hear herself think, and sit down in front of the fire with a glass of fine wine.
As she settled herself in a theatre seat and Percy relaxed into the one beside her, she hissed, "I would rather go home. Do we have to stay?"
"Obligations, m'dear. Obligations."
"If you say that one more time," she snapped, "I'm going to get up and go home without you."
His mouth twitched, as though he wanted to smile at her fire, but he kept his expression impassive.
Suffering through the movie was worse than suffering through Blakeney's alternate persona or the paparazzi. Marguerite absolutely hated to watch her own acting on screen. It had always been thus; once finished with a project, she had always moved forward and not looked back. She tended to avoid watching her own movies at all costs, and if it weren't for Fontbleu insisting she attend tonight, she would have stayed home. Andrew looked just as uncomfortable as she felt at seeing himself on the screen, though Suzanne seemed delighted with his performance.
As soon as the film ended (by God, had it really only been an hour and a half? It felt like five hours, at the very least!), Marguerite practically dragged Percy outside and into the limousine again, resolutely ignoring the reporters a second time.
"Tongues will be wagging…" Percy mused, finally able to drop his alter ego and be himself. "You should know better than to ignore the press, m'dear."
"The press will do as they damned well please," she replied frostily, "and the hell with anything I could say to them. Driver, you know the address?"
Percy burst into laughter, and Marguerite ignored that, too.
When she awoke the next morning, it was to discover that Percy's side of the bed was empty. She rolled over and glanced about the masculine bedroom, but she was alone. He must have risen early and headed to breakfast. Normally he waited for her to get up on the weekends before he got out of bed. It must have been something rather pressing for a Sunday morning, especially when they had stayed up late the night before.
She propped herself up on her pillows and sighed. This day marked the real end of her film career: the day after the premier of that silly, final movie. Inwardly, she was infinitely glad. She could relax now, and do whatever she pleased, without answering to anyone except Percy. But she had Percy to help her, so she wouldn't flounder and drown on her own. It was a blessed relief, really. She could stay at home and be his wife, get involved in charities, check on Hagen…
The door to the bedroom suddenly opened and Percy entered, smiling in a most mysterious, teasing manner.
"Ah, I see you're awake, m'dear."
"That sort of smirk never bodes well," she responded, arching a delicate eyebrow.
His smile widened. "Louise happened across this when she came to work this morning. I must admit, I found it highly entertaining."
He held out a newspaper, and Marguerite took it with some trepidation. The headline read, Marguerite St. Just Leaves Business, with a sub-headline of, Invisible Savior Tops Box Office. Additional headlines, further throughout the paper, included things like, Has Marguerite St. Just Eloped?, Secret Pregnancy?, and Upcoming Actor Andrew Ffoulkes Sweeps the Ladies Off Their Feet – which made Marguerite snort with laughter. So that was what Percy found entertaining.
"I must say, I sent Frank out to find some more of these," Percy gloated gleefully. "Poor Andy, he'll be absolutely and wholly embarrassed. Heaven help him when the rest of the League read this! Tony won't let him live it down!"
"Oh, that will be horrid," Marguerite burst out, still laughing. "Andrew won't know what to do!"
"Serves him right, wanting to get into the business." Percy sat down on the edge of the bed, flipping through the paper with amusement.
"I never did like reporters," she admitted, glancing back at the front page. "Anything for a sensationalist story…! Even if it wasn't true!"
"That's why we should move to England," Percy reminded her. "Far less notoriety than France."
"As long as I can come to Paris once a month," she replied, tossing the paper aside to the floor. "You may as well use that in the fire. Secret pregnancy! What a load of rubbish."
The back of Percy's neck turned faintly pink as he stood up and scooped the paper off the floor. "I likely wouldn't object, you know."
"And why does that does not surprise me?" She rolled her eyes. "But I can safely assure you that I am not currently pregnant. Will you ring for breakfast?"
Without hesitation, he rang the servant's bell; then he turned to Marguerite and mused, "We should visit Hagen soon."
"I was just thinking about that before you came in with that rag. There is much to be settled about his education."
"I know you wish to pay for it, but we should sit down and discuss particulars. As we're now married," he flashed his wedding band at her cheekily, "aren't our bank accounts joint?"
Marguerite gave him an exasperated look. "Percy, we have discussed this. I'm paying for Hagen's education, not you! I have enough money to do that!"
"Yes, but –"
"No buts, Percy! It was my fault, and I will pay for it!"
Thankfully, the door opened at that moment and Louise entered with a tray of breakfast for m'lady, and to help lay out her clothes for the day and dress her. Percy, thankfully, took the opportunity to bow himself out of the room, and Marguerite sighed the moment he was gone. The argument over Hagen was becoming an old one – a battle of wills, as it were, and they were both horribly strong-willed. Marguerite was determined to pay for Hagen's university education herself, while Percy wanted to do it instead. She supposed he was right; their bank accounts were practically joint now, but she still wanted to win this particular battle.
They visited Hagen two weeks later, as summer was creeping throughout France. It was far warmer than it had been when Marguerite had been forced to crawl through tunnels and burrow in hidden rooms to escape Chauvelin, and when they pulled up to the curb of the neat Swiss neighborhood where Madam Muhr lived with the refugee children, Marguerite was happy to see the entire group playing in the yard again.
As soon as they stepped out of the car, the children screamed with delight and raced for Percy, colliding with his legs and arms, tugging at him and shouting over each other as they each tried to tell him what they had been doing since he had last seen them. They practically dragged him to the house, and Madam Muhr stepped out and laughed at the scene before her.
Marguerite stood on the pavement a bit longer, smiling as she watched the spectacle before her. But as she started up the walk to the porch, she realized Hagen had remained behind.
He smiled at her – a real boyish smile, not the type that Percy wore to confuse people.
"It is good to see you again, Madam. I see Monsieur Blakeney finally got you to an alter." He nodded towards her left hand. "I am sorry I was not there to see it!"
Marguerite laughed. "Yes, he did! I wish you could have been there too, but it was a massive secret, lest the press show up at the church. However, I can assure you that our lives are a daily battle of strong wills and determination. We have been fighting incessantly over you, as a matter of fact. So it is probably best you weren't at the wedding!"
Hagen's ears turned pink. "Me?"
"Yes, you." Marguerite smiled at him and started up the walk, and Hagen fell into step beside her. She went on, "I am determined to pay for your education myself, you see. It is a fraction of penitence, and will never make up for what I did. But I still wish to do it. Percy, on the other hand, is determined to pay for it himself, as I am now his wife."
Hagen's smile turned shy and sad. "You are very kind to me, Madam. But I do not blame you for what happened. I meant it when I saw you last, in the winter. Monsieur Blakeney does try to do everything himself, does he not?"
"He does. It is an irritating habit he and I both share, I suppose."
When they stepped into the house, it was to find the children herding Percy to the scrubbed table, so he could sample a tart Seraphina had made that morning. Though Percy tried to object, the children begged him to please taste the treat, for Seraphina had worked so hard on the new recipe. As he stammered incoherently, they pushed him into a seat and quickly set the table and tied a napkin around his neck.
Madam Muhr was watching them with amusement. She turned to Marguerite and gloated, "They will have him there a while. Would you two like the use of the parlor, then?"
"Yes, please." Marguerite returned the smile, more than pleased that Percy was unable to escape the clutches of the children he had saved years ago, which would give her an opportunity to talk to Hagen alone. They retreated to the parlor, and Madam Muhr shut the door behind them.
"I see Herr Blakeney has you trapped into matrimony now." She chuckled as she gestured to chairs by the window.
"Yes, but we are happy. Excepting a few marital spats, of course."
"Such is life! But you are well suited, so such spats are either likely nothing…or everything!"
"Yes, I'm afraid they are. Nothing or everything!"
"What do you and Monsieur Blakeney fight about?" Hagen asked innocently.
"As I said, lately, we have been fighting over you," Marguerite admitted, and when Hagan flushed and started to protest, she said, "I want to pay for your education. I don't want Percy's help with this. So, have you thought of where you would like to go to school?"
Hagan was still quite pink. "I do not know, Madam. I said I would never return to Paris, but the best schools are there. I do not know English well, so attending a British or American school would be pointless. I won't go to school in Germany or Italy."
"Paris is not all bad," Marguerite reminded him gently. "And it is rebuilding since the war. You may stay with us while you are there, and I assure you that you will find our home quiet and conductive to proper studying. And as you say, the best schools are in Paris."
"That is very kind of madam. If you wish, I shall take the entrance tests."
"I'm sure Percy can pull some strings on that. He should like to do something, seeing as I won't allow him to actually pay for it."
"Don't allow him too much lead in a battle of wills," Madam Muhr warned Marguerite knowledgably. "Give Blakeney an inch and he will run with it, full speed ahead, like a passenger train on the express line. A hundred and thirty kilometers per hour, I'll warrant."
Marguerite laughed at the image. It felt good to laugh; she had been doing more of it since her marriage to Percy.
Hagen laughed, too. "That is how I felt when Monsieur Blakeney rescued us," he admitted. "As though we were speeding through the countryside to escape the soldiers. It was quite surreal. I cannot imagine being on a train again, in a real car. The last time I was on a train, I was crammed into a cattle truck with a hundred other men." His face fell at this.
"You will have to board one," Madam Muhr told him kindly. "If you wish to go to Paris."
"Yes, I know." He looked slightly frightened at the thought.
Marguerite reached over and placed her hand on his. "Percy and I will ride with you. We would not let you make such a journey alone, no matter how old you are."
"Thank you. You are very kind to me."
The door burst open at that moment and Percy entered. He was still half-facing the kitchen, calling out jovially, "It was delicious, ma chou, but you must let me speak to Madam Muhr. I promise I will be back in a moment!"
Only Marguerite caught the irritation underlining his tone, but when he closed the door, he glowered at them all, and no one could mistake his expression.
Marguerite couldn't help but smile at him. "I did not arrange that, if that is what you are thinking."
"I had wondered! It was as if the whole thing was planned, dem it all!" His voice was tight. "You've had ample time to chat with Hagen while I was held captive! Margot, you must let me help you in this –"
"Please do not fight over me," Hagen begged.
Percy twitched. "I suppose she will have her way. This is exceedingly frustrating, Margot!"
"Let her have her way," Madam Muhr responded, narrowing her eyes at Percy. "She deserves that much."
"Oh, very well!" he blustered, raking his hands through his hair in aggravation. "Everyone is ganging up on me, and all I want to do is help!" Before anyone could argue, he demanded, "Where will you go to school, Hagen?"
"I do not know yet, Monsieur. I will take the entrance tests as soon as possible. The best schools are in Paris, so…" He took a deep breath as Percy's blue eyes bore into his in sudden surprise. "That is where I must go. Madame Blakeney has assured me that I may stay with the two of you whilst I am there, if it is not an inconvenience."
"Inconvenience?" Percy blurted. "It would hardly be anything like an inconvenience! Of course you will stay with us if you come to Paris, where else would you go?"
"The university has dormitories, I am sure," Hagen started, but Blakeney cut him off, now pacing the room and musing his hair further.
"You will have the gold bedroom on the second floor. It offers a fine view of the garden and fountain, and gets plenty of light throughout the day. It is quiet as well, which would be good for studying, and I will make certain the staff know not to disturb you unless you wish it –"
"Monsieur Blakeney, I'm sure anything would be fine, but you do not need to give me anything so extravagant!"
"But it is a fair walk to the university, so I will insist one of the chauffeurs drive you… Jean-Paul, perhaps, for he is a good sort, and would be happy to do what is needed –"
"That is too much, Monsieur Blakeney, I can walk –!"
"I'll speak to the head of the mathematics department when we return, and explain the situation to him in detail… of course, that will be hard, because no one knows Margot and I are married..."
"Percy," Marguerite interrupted. "Do stop pacing, you'll wear holes in your shoes, or worse, Madam Muhr's carpet. We can finalize details after Hagen passes his entrance tests. I'm sure you need to brush up on your studies," she added, turning to Hagen. "Are there any good tutors here? That is probably the most pressing issue, and never mind Percy and chauffeurs."
Hagen looked relieved that she had intervened, while Percy sputtered. But it was Madam Muhr who spoke.
"There is a former Jewish tutor around the corner. I met him the other day at the market. Perhaps he would be a good place to begin. He commented that he had taught mathematics before the war."
"His name?" Percy asked briskly.
"Herr Eliezer Wechsler. I believe he was liberated from a camp and moved here shortly after the end of the war."
Percy nodded, and before anyone could say anything, he started out the door. Marguerite felt a wave of irritation wash over her. She was on her feet and after him in seconds, ignoring the children's surprise as she hurried through he house and to the front door.
"Where do you think you are going, without me?" she demanded angrily.
Percy paused at the end of the pavement and stared at her in surprise. "I was going to visit Herr Wechsler, of course."
"Without me!" she reiterated, her voice rising.
"Well, yes," he stammered, "it could be dangerous –"
"Oh, do shut up, Percy!" she snapped, storming up to him and grabbing his arm. "An elderly Jewish man who was liberated from a concentration camp is hardly dangerous! I am not going to stay here while you go visit him, do you understand me?"
"Shouldn't I go, too?" Hagen was beside them now, flushed but determined. "It is me whom he will have to tutor, after all."
"You will go nowhere until I have assessed the situation," Percy reminded him firmly. "I did not rescue you from death for naught."
"This isn't the war, Percy." Marguerite scowled at him. "We're talking about an elderly man who is likely frail from everything he has lived through the past decade. We will all go."
It took several more minutes to convince Percy that their minds were made up, and he was in no way happy about the situation as they started out in the direction Madam Muhr advised. He stayed slightly in front of them, as though trying to shield them, which Hagen in particular found amusing.
"But Monsieur Blakeney, I walk these streets every day," he insisted.
Percy merely twitched, as though at war with himself – battling the issue of whether it was safe or not to walk the streets of a quiet Swiss town after the war had ended. Margot merely rolled her eyes and shook her head; while Hagen pointed out the shops he visited daily on errands from Madam Muhr.
After some inquiry into said shops, they discovered that Herr Eliezer Wechsler lived in a small flat downtown, on a first floor that overlooked a tiny alley. It seemed a quiet and dull street, and Marguerite wondered why the man did not have a more cheerful location. They entered the building and found the correct door, and Percy knocked politely.
They waited in silence for a few moments, and Marguerite wondered if the man were home. But then they heard soft footsteps and the scratch of a lock. The man who opened the door was just as she expected – a frail gentleman who looked far older than he actually was, his hair already gray and his face lined. He surveyed them curiously, and Percy spoke to him in German.
"Please, we are looking for Herr Eliezer Wechsler, the tutor."
The man gazed at Percy curiously, though wearily. "Herr Wechsler has not tutored in years, sir. I don't even know if I could remember how."
"Madam Muhr suggested you," Marguerite said gently, forgetting that she spoke in French.
"You are French?" He turned his gaze to her and spoke in French as well – and quite fluently, she thought.
"Oui. My husband is British. But Hagen is also French, and he has not had schooling for some time. He was interned at Auschwitz, and now he wishes to go to a university in Paris. We were hoping we could pay you for your services to tutor him in mathematics. That is his aptitude."
The man turned his eyes to Hagen, who nodded deferentially.
There was a long, tense silence. Finally, Herr Wechsler murmured, "Auschwitz." He shuddered, and his eyes temporarily lost their focus, as though he were remembering horrible things. He roused himself after a moment and asked quietly, "How old are you, young man?"
"Twenty, monsieur. I was twelve when I was captured. I was tall for my age, so I was originally sent to a factory with my father."
Marguerite flinched, but if Hagen noticed, he did not say anything.
"Twenty…" Herr Wechsler looked even wearier. "So young, and yet so old. Wretched war. Do come in, it is not polite for me to keep another survivor waiting on my doorstep, no matter my answer."
The inside of the apartment was sparse but neat, and they took seats on a narrow sofa next to the only window in the room, which overlooked the little alley.
"It has been a long time since I have tutored anyone," Herr Wechsler said, almost to himself. "Before the war, even. My father was a banker, and I showed aptitude for mathematics myself. He funded my education and I became a teacher. Using his money, we were able to avoid capture for some time, but my parents were captured during a raid. I presume they are dead. They were quite elderly, so they were likely sent directly to a killing camp." He sighed and turned to stare out of the window. "I could not escape and was eventually sent to Auschwitz myself." The word left his mouth bitterly. "You, Hagen, should have entered a university two years ago. I know that was likely not possible. If you were sent to the camps at the age of twelve, you missed most of your secondary education. As such, it will be extremely difficult for you to enter a university. But I have a soft spot in my heart for those who were at Auschwitz. Are you willing to do the necessary work? It will be hard."
"I am no stranger to work," Hagen responded with a grim smile.
Marguerite tensed at his words. This was a conversation between two men, one young and one old, who had both lived through something she and Percy had not. They shared a common bond, these two, and she and Percy were outsiders to the conversation. Auschwitz was that common bond, and she prayed that it would be in their favor.
Percy spoke quietly, breaking the spell. "It is a different sort of work," he said, gazing at Hagen. "It is not forced labor, you know. If you don't want to go to a university, we won't make you. I will support you no matter what you wish to do, even if you wish to do nothing the rest of your life!"
Hagen laughed softly. "I know, Monsieur Blakeney. But I cannot do nothing. I would not know how."
"Your name is Blakeney?" Herr Wechsler turned from the window to stare at Percy. "The man who saved Jews?"
Percy looked highly startled. "I did not realize my name was so well known. I have taken great pains to hide certain… facts... from the general public! Not because I am ashamed of what I did, but because I don't want people to know who I am or was. There are still Nazis out there. How do you know this information? Most people only knew me as an enigma: the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
"Yours was a name that circulated quietly amongst the camps – a mysterious man who saved Jews from the clutches of death. The Scarlet Pimpernel was what I heard first, but then I met someone not long ago who had been saved by your league and knew your name firsthand. That is how I learned of it." He turned to Marguerite, not giving Percy a chance to react. "And you?" he asked kindly. "Were you saved from a camp by Herr Blakeney?"
Marguerite shook her head as bile rose in her throat. "No. I am Catholic. I left France for Switzerland in 1943."
"But why did you leave France if you were Catholic?" Herr Wechsler looked confused.
It was Hagen who spoke. He placed a hand on Marguerite's and said gently, "Madam was tricked by a man pretending to work for the French government. She was trying to help my family..."
Dawning lit Herr Wechsler's face as he stared between Marguerite's shamed expression and Hagen's kind one.
After a long, terrible pause, he whispered, "Do not blame yourself, Madam. The war was bigger than any of us."
Hagen added, "Madam insists on paying for my education, should I want one."
Marguerite added hollowly, "I will also pay you for your time, Herr Wechsler, should you agree to tutor Hagen. Small penitence, but the best I can offer at present."
"Well. I suppose it would give me something to do," he slowly admitted. "I do very little these days, except remember. Wake from nightmares. Wonder if I am still imprisoned. I will see if I can find some textbooks. I have none now. They were all stolen and burned, I suspect."
"I can obtain textbooks in French," Percy assured him.
Herr Wechsler nodded. "That would be helpful."
"I will find some and bring them to you, then. Within the week."
"Excellent. In the meantime, Hagen, I would like you to brush up on what you know, even if it is doing simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Go through your numbers. Yes, I will take you. It will give us both something to do."
"We thank you for agreeing so readily," Marguerite said gratefully. "We were afraid you might not wish to help."
"I tend to stay a recluse, yes," he admitted. "But only out of fear for the past."
Percy rose. "We will not overstay our welcome, but we do thank you for your help," he said, extending his hand.
Herr Wechsler shook Percy's hands, then Hagen's, and finally took Marguerite's. "I will make sure he passes the entrances exams," he promised solemnly. "It may take a year or two, but I will help him. In doing so, his life will not be wasted. That is the best way to take revenge upon those who imprisoned us. It will also be your revenge. You cannot tell me that though you walked free, your mind was free. I know it was not."
Marguerite flinched. "No. It never has been."
With that, they quietly left the apartment, and headed back to Madam Muhr's home.
Author's Additional Note on Random Historical Information That Will Never Appear on Jeopardy or Pizza Trivia Night But Is Interesting Anyways, Especially if You Are a History Fanatic Like the Author Is:
Madam Muhr made the comment about kilometers per hour when comparing Percy to a train. That is correct: Germany switched to the metric system in 1872, so she would have been familiar with metric instead of Imperial. If you're curious, 130 KPH = ~ 80 MPH. Passenger steam trains in the US regularly ran at fairly high speeds, especially out west. Obviously, Europe is a little different; it's a lot smaller than the US for one thing. However, the International Steam Record Holder for speed is 126 MPH (202 KPH), going to a steam locomotive in the UK in 1938, just before World War II. During a test run in 1945, a Pennsylvania-class steam locomotive out of Fort Wayne, Indiana towed a 17-car train over 48 kilometers, reaching a top speed of 110, and maintaining 100 MPH for 12 minutes. It's rumored that famous American engineer Casey Jones was running at 75 to 80 MPH constantly throughout his final, fatal run in 1900. So I think it's reasonable to say steam locomotives in Europe were probably traveling at those same speeds 40 years later.
Things like this are what I find myself researching, when I should be working on my thesis, y'all.