Author's note: My previous story After Calais is really a prologue to this, but the two don't need to be read together. Its rating is due to a later chapter (Moonlight). My thanks, as ever, to Baroness Orczy for her wonderful characters - I hope I am treating them well. And my deepest gratitude to Sarah for her unfailing patience, good advice and enthusiasm.
"Sir Percy owned considerable property in the North..." Chapter 17: Farewell
WHEN Percy had suggested they should get away from Richmond for a few days, she had not known what to expect. They had been travelling northward now for two days - Marguerite was glad they were nearing the end of the journey and she would be able to relax with her husband.
She smiled to herself at the thought of how much her happiness was now inextricably linked to his dear presence, when such a short time ago she barely noticed whether he was there or not - except to attempt to sharpen her wits against his imperturbable good nature.
Despite spending so long confined and cramped in a coach the hours had passed swiftly. The time taken hadn't mattered to her as she felt as though she were travelling on a wave of contentment.
Sometimes she and Percy had shared the carriage, and she had been reminded of the old days of their Paris courtship, when they had wandered for hours; happy just to be together with no need for words.
At other times Percy had ridden alongside, dressed, as always, with flair, in a rich cloth coat, ruffles and high top boots. She loved to watch him as he controlled the high spirits of his eager mount - she was so used to seeing him as the society fop, that she thrilled to see his energy and confidence dealing with the thoroughbreds he rode.
Her mind had sped back to other occasions when she had seen him riding, or driving. All of those silent night drives to Richmond when she had admired his skills with the ribbons - never dreaming that his expertise was just one tiny facet of the man she was beginning to know.
This journey had been so different - still silent, for he was a quiet man - but full of promise. They had shared more than words: a warm look, a tender glance meant more than words ever could.
She had also spent hours in rapt attention of the glorious mantle which Mother Nature had thrown over the countryside through which they were travelling: the rich and gorgeous hues of autumn just suited her recently rediscovered joie de vivre.
The beauties of the English landscape in this part of the country were new to her and she had enjoyed comparing them to her homeland and the southern English counties with which she was familiar. Marguerite felt as if all the world was in tune with her happiness.
But now they had almost arrived and she felt a sudden tension as the carriage drew to a halt at a slight incline in the road. Her attention was arrested at the sight which met her eyes.
An imposing building, made from the mellow, faded stone of the area, it sprawled across the landscape as though it had grown there, rather than been built in the traditional fashion.
It was not elegant, like the luxurious Richmond home she shared with Percy, but it had an indefinable charm which drew her. It sat so comfortably in its surroundings, like an aged lady, who has grown old gracefully safe in the knowledge she will always be beautiful to those that love her.
Marguerite smiled. She had been feeling a little nervous of this first visit to Percy's northern estates, but the grandeur of her view had left her almost breathless. She glanced at Percy, sat next to her on the box-seat: he had decided to drive himself for this final, short stage of the journey and now he was looking at her, waiting for her reaction to the home of his forebears. He seemed slightly on edge, and Marguerite, now super-sensitive to his moods, was quick to offer praise.
"C'est très magnifique," she breathed, in awe. The vast scale of the hall and the parklands surrounding it had taken her aback. She wondered why Percy did not come here more often as it was such a wonderful setting for all the sports he enjoyed so. She glanced at him again, and saw the faint rigidity fade from his face.
"Welcome to Welbourne, Lady Blakeney," he said. Then, gathering the reins together again, he started the carriage along the roadway and the magnificent hall was lost from view; once more shrouded by woodland.