LIT BY late autumn sunshine, they had been halcyon days; spent discovering and exploring new things about each other. They had driven around the estate, where Marguerite had her first glimpse of the delightful deer park; when her injury had completely healed they had walked together through the woodlands; and Percy had attempted to teach her how to drive a pair of horses.

He had spoken little of his mother save for that first night, but since the discovery of the journals he had seemed to lose the tension which visiting the Hall usually caused him. Despite his comparative silence, he had shared the journals and letters with Marguerite and she had been keen to find out more about his parents.

Eleanor's journals began when she was a carefree girl on the brink of womanhood - living for the letters and visits of her beloved brother. Her life had been trammelled by the rules and expectations of her parents, and she had never felt the need to question their judgement until it came to the issue of marriage.

Her chance meeting in a ballroom with the debonair Sir Algernon had set the seal on this stance. The early months of their marriage had been marred only by her grief at the death of her brother. But in spite of this tragedy they had been supremely happy together. Sir Algernon had transformed her life from one of unchanging duty to one where she was the centre of his world.

The journals petered out not many months after Eleanor's motherhood; she had been so overjoyed at presenting her husband with an heir and she had adored her tiny son.

The letters in the box were obviously those that had been important to Eleanor. A few - stilted and formal - were from her mother. There were others from her brother sent from his various posts around the world: merry, insouciant letters which told of the high hopes and ideals he had held.

And there were several addressed to My Darling Nell, from Sir Algernon, written during the brief occasions they were apart from one another during their marriage. They were letters filled with tenderness and love.

Marguerite, touched by the confidence Percy had shown in her, had told him more about her own childhood, growing up with her dearest Armand. She talked to him of her life before Paris, before she became the darling of the National Theatre, before he had swept her off to England.

Sharing their thoughts and feelings had bound them closely together - neither had ever been able to confide in someone else so completely. And as their trust in one another grew, so did their love for one another. It was as though they had each found a missing part of their soul in the other.

Her artistic temperament revelled in his adventurous spirit, and as she learned more of his work in her own country her respect for him grew, too. He always told the tales with an air of self-depreciation, describing more of his outrageous costumes than his brave deeds. She knew how much he risked each time he tried to save another innocent life; and with that knowledge came fear.

These few days had been a blissful idyll, but her unease was growing as she felt their love had in no way quenched his thirst for adventure.

Where once she had been ignorant and indifferent to the risks he ran, now she would have to stand by and show a smiling face to the watching world, while his precious life hung in the balance.

There was no question in her mind that he would return to France - his whole attitude when he spoke of the work of the League was one of pride. No question, either, of asking him to stay - as she would put on a brave face to the world, so would she put on a brave face to him, so that his whole mind could be concentrated on whatever tortuous scheme he next undertook.

Her mind made up, she turned from her contemplation of the flickering flames and regarded her husband. In a rare moment of complete relaxation, he had been watching her, seeing the thoughts chase one another across her face. The most brilliant actress in France had put her trust in this Englishman, and no longer hid her feelings from him behind a mask of indifference.

He loved to watch her expressive face, and as she lifted her eyes to his, he noted the look of firm determination.

"La, m'dear, I fear I'm far too fatigued for any task you may have in mind."

She smiled, his lazy drawl did not fool her for an instant; and for what felt like the hundredth time since her discovery she thought admiringly of how he had kept his secret so well.

"Percy," she said, abruptly, not wanting to let the moment pass. "You said all the League have sworn an oath to you."

"Mmm." His heavy lids had lowered, hiding his blue eyes.

Wanting his whole attention she moved to sit on a small footstool by his winged armchair.

"Percy, do be serious for a moment," she pleaded, clasping one of his slender hands.

Opening his eyes and seeing her earnest gaze, he bit back the witty retort he had been about to make - which would have been more fitting to a soirée with his friend the Prince of Wales than an evening in the country with his wife.

"I want to swear this oath, too," she continued.

His attention fully caught by this, he sat up and leaned forward to look deeply into her eyes. He gathered both her hands into his clasp and was momentarily distracted by the play of the firelight shimmering over her delicate fingers. He raised one of her hands and kissed her fingertips gently - a formal gesture of courtesy which was imbued with passion as she felt the burning heat of his lips against her cool skin.

But she would not be gainsaid. The notion that he may not return from the next visit to France had her in its grip; she wanted to play her part in his noble work with the League, even if it was impossible for her to travel by his side and face the dangers with him.

Realising that Marguerite would not be distracted from her request, he sighed softly and gave her a rueful smile.

"My darling, we have already sworn an oath to one another. I know it is almost a year ago, but you surely have not forgotten?"

"Don't tease, Percy," she said. "That is different. I want to be a part of the League too. I can help. And I want to be a member on the same terms as all of the others."

"But I don't need an oath from you - I trust you with my life, and I have already been more than repaid by your devotion. You will be able to help with some of the League's work without that."

The lines of her face hardened and set, enhancing the air of strength on her beautiful features.

Percy recalled her recent journey over to Calais and swiftly made a decision. He had been raised to believe woman were delicate creatures in need of shelter and support, but his wife was teaching him that they could also be strong, independent and resourceful - surely a welcome addition to the League.

"Very well." It was all he said, but it was enough. Her face became softer and she gripped his hands, eager to show she would be loyal and true as any of the English gentlemen already enrolled under his banner.

"I swear to be obedient to you in all matters," she announced. Seeing the humorous glint return to Percy's eyes, she finished quickly: "... relating to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel!"

Laughing, Percy stood up to his full height, drawing her to her feet as he did so. "O, for an obedient wife," he murmured, before leaning down and kissing her.

❦ Fin ❧