"I saw you earlier," Marguerite said, her body tingling as she walked beside Percy, their arms close enough to touch but not linked: only she knew who he was, and it would not do to set tongues wagging. "From the balconies."
"I saw you from the second you entered with Lady Ffoulkes," he countered. "And I followed you when I saw you leaving the Prince's box."
"Did you stand on my gown on purpose, then?"
"Would that sound more romantic than misjudging your step from too close behind?" he laughed. Oh, how she loved that sound!
They were strolling along one of the gravelled walks, and Marguerite saw only the moonlight through the tall elms, heard only the strains of music from the gardens; they were far from alone, but she remained oblivious to the drunken young bucks, the courting couples, and the chattering female cliques, as husband and wife talked lightly and drifted closer. His voice, deep and soft, came to her ears as if from a dream, and she barely heard what he said as she listened to the musical rise and fall of his words.
"Is Sir Andrew home as well?" she asked.
"As soon as the Daydream can return," he told her, enjoying the way her satin domino was stirring against his hand. "You can tell Suzanne, when you go back inside."
"Oh, but Percy -!"
"What, leave the poor girl to the mercies of the Carlton House set?" he laughed, turning to face her.
A radiance of moonlight danced about the wealth of her curls, mounted with a miniature tricorne hat, that reached just below Percy's chin; the warm colours of her beautiful hair and bright domino were muted in the shadows of the walk, but her complexion was bathed in a pearly glow, and her eyes sparkled with emotion. Forgetting everything but their love, and that this was the first time he had seen her in weeks, Percy tenderly caressed his wife's face, drawing her into his embrace.
"Lady Blakeney!" Lord Hastings came thundering down the walk, knocking people aside and leaving a chorus of angry oaths in his wake. "Lady -!" He pulled up short before them both, staring wild-eyed at Percy.
"It is she," Percy quipped, withdrawing his touch and leaving Marguerite breathless with anticipation. "Lord Myddelton's footman, bravo," he added, commenting on Hasting's disguise with his usual flippancy.
"Forgive me!" Hastings gasped. "I saw – I thought –"
"He thought you were either a French spy or the Pimpernel," Sophia's smooth voice cut in from behind, "come to whisk Lady Blakeney across the Channel."
"Your gallantry is appreciated, my good man," Percy smiled at his friend, "but it is neither, as you now see." He turned to Sophia, "Milady."
As she inclined her head in acknowledgment, Hastings noted the satisfied smirk teasing at her lips. "Sir Percy," she purred, "Lady Blakeney."
"We shall leave you to the relative peace of the gardens," Hastings cleared his throat, taking up Sophia's arm. "Do pardon my intrusion."
He was keen to learn from his friend all that had happened in France since his own departure, but understood that this was far from the right time and place.
"Such a marvellously topical costume, Sir Percy!" Sophia called, as Hastings steered her back along the path. "But why the subdued entrance?"
"I was looking for the Pimpernel myself!" Percy replied. "Wouldn't do for a Frenchie to advertise his presence, now, would it?"
As Sophia's throaty laughter faded into the distance, Marguerite turned to look up at her husband. "Not even to another 'Frenchie'?" she teased.
"La, m'dear," he said softly, slipping his arms beneath her domino to pull her in towards him, "I knew you would find me out."
"I've missed you terribly, Percy," Marguerite sighed, pressing her cheek to the rough material of his shirt as he held her close. "It is such a trial to release you after all I have had to do to win back your love."
Her words, filtering slowly into Percy's consciousness as he breathed in the warm perfume of her hair, gripped at his heart. "Margot, my beloved," he spoke quietly, tilting her face up to his so that their eyes could meet, "surely you understand that you have always had my love?"
"I thought I knew it," she answered, reaching up to sweep the cap and wig from his head, "but then I didn't know who to love in return – Sir Percy Blakeney or the Scarlet Pimpernel."
She had all but mouthed the name, and yet Percy glanced about them, searching the shadows for the minions of a small, spare figure darkly dressed.
"Who are you?" she asked him, lifting the tricolour mask from his face.
He frowned slightly, the night air caressing his damp forehead, as his field of vision returned to normal, and then his heavy lids fell to cover the grey depths of his eyes; Marguerite's blue gaze held on.
Not knowing how to tell her that the Pimpernel, a name taken from the scarlet cinquefoils on his family coat of arms, was just as much a part of him as the flippant courtier or the wealthy landowner, Percy closed his eyes and roughly pressed his lips to hers; she submitted, starved of his touch for so long, and yet he could almost taste the unanswered question as he savoured her kiss.
"Your servant, Madame," he breathed, as they broke free of each other. "And a man very much in love with a certain scarlet domino."
Marguerite forced a smile and a sigh of laughter, trying to recapture the sudden elation that her doubts had managed to steal from her: what did it matter how he came to her, so long as he returned? There was nothing she could say that would keep him by her side, as she had once hoped, sailing home from Calais not so long ago. The 'shadowy king of her heart' was no longer a secret, but she found herself almost resenting his claim upon her emotions: their love had proved a poor match against the passion for adventure in his noble soul, and yet Marguerite admired him all the more for this, would have thought him weak for giving in. It was this bitter knowledge, that what she had gained in finding her hero in her husband might one day cost her everything, which weighted her smile when she only wanted to be happy, and made her throbbing heart ache in her breast.
"It is the colour of a brave and romantic English hero," Marguerite announced, slipping into the lofty wit of her old Paris salon to mask her torment, "and I am proud to honour his name."
"The honour is mine, my lady," Percy whispered, producing a familiar red eye mask from inside his jacket. "Shall we return?"