"You wanted to see me, Sir Percival?"
Percy looked up from the papers at the tense edge in Marie's voice. He stood and motioned her forward, brows knitting as he read the smoldering frustration she was clearly trying to hide.
"Do sit down, Marie," he invited, "I have something I'd like to talk with you about, but it appears you have something to say to me first. Am I right?"
Marie fidgeted with the fringe of her shawl as she perched on the edge of the chair he indicated, warring between respect for the man who had saved her life and concern for her friend.
"Sink me, Marie, silence doesn't become you. If you will shout your opinions to the soldiers in Paris, surely you can speak to me honestly." Percy said, reclaiming his seat.
"Sir Percival, I have known Marguerite ever since she first sang at the Comedie Francaise. I fancy Armand himself does not know some of her secrets as well as I," Marie paused, her eyes suddenly shifting about the room. They settled on the twitching fingers in her lap. "I know her face as well as I know my own, and what I see there now pains me."
Percy shifted slightly as he absorbed the accusation in her voice. "I told you, Marie, it is for her own safety. If she knows nothing she will have nothing to fear."
"Is it also for her safety that you turn from her?" Marie returned, her frank nature reasserting itself. "If ever Tussaud looked at me with the face you greeted your wife with – I would either box his ears or walk out the door, Monsieur. You looked as if she had the plague and you daren't venture too near."
"Is not love a form of plague?" Percy muttered under his breath, shoving the map in front of him aside as he stood, turning away from Marie's honest gaze. "There is too much at stake to risk her finding out."
"Do you think she would try to stop you?" Marie questioned. "Marguerite has a stout heart and a passion for France, and –"
Percy rubbed his forehead and turned, raising a hand to halt her torrent of words. He was tired from this last journey. That must be the reason Marie's words were evoking such a reaction. He could walk past Chauvelin himself and not flicker an eyelash– and he would rather do that a hundred times than listen to this simple plea.
"Please, Marie. I have made my decision regarding Marguerite. She is to know nothing. There are circumstances you know nothing about." Percy again held up his hand as Marie seemed intent on interrupting. "Please. Do not ask me anything further."
Marie blinked, was that a tremor she had heard in his voice? For a brief moment, she saw raw, twisting pain in his eyes. But for a moment only. The next he was moving from behind his desk to come stand before her.
"I told you I have a proposition for you, but I must have your word that you'll not tell Marguerite anything about this meeting. Do I have it?"
With the intense authority in that gaze, Marie never thought of not agreeing.
"You already know more about our band than anyone outside our ranks." Percy began cautiously, well aware that his proposal would seem like a double standard to the young woman. "You have proven that you can keep your head in dangerous situations, and your artistic talent would be invaluable to us. Is there anything I can say that would convince you to join the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel?"
"Join?" Marie repeated, breathless. "Sir Percival, are you quite mad?"
"Possibly," Percy shrugged, "But that matters little. I have been told I am quite mad for many things."
Something in the matter-of-fact tone made her want to laugh, but she settled for a quick smile. Despite the show of humor, Percy was all business.
"You'll not be in danger – beyond the danger of returning to Paris. I wouldn't dream of asking you to go about the city with a price on your head. You'll live at our headquarters and work."
The "yes" was teetering on her lips, but questions pushed themselves out first. "What sort of work could I possibly do for you? And why me? Surely there are others more qualified for… whatever it is you are asking me to do."
"I have a plan."
For a moment, Marie didn't think he was going to continue. The look in his eyes had softened and extended; he was no longer in the drawing room but in Paris.
"I am embarking on my most challenging role yet and chances are very good that I may lose my head over it." He returned his gaze to her and smiled. "That is where you come in."
"Moi?" She reverted to her native tongue without realizing it, still trying to grasp Percy's meaning.
"I should hate to lose my own head, and I've seen your talents in sculpting. Do you think you could make a convincing bust of me?"
Understanding was finally dawning, but the absurdity of the plan was staggering. "I could make a bust of you, certainly, but how do you propose to use it on the guillotine? And what is this role you must play?"
Percy once again raised his hand for silence. "One thing you must learn, Mademoiselle, if you are to join our band, and that is that I do not tolerate questioning." The tone was kindly enough, but the stern message was quite clear. "It is much safer and easier if those who follow me obey without question. Lives have depended on it."
"You forget that I have not agreed to become a member of this band, Sir Percy," Marie reminded him, "And I am not one who obeys without question by nature."
"I am well aware of that." Again that flash of humor beneath the business-like exterior. "Very well, Mademoiselle, what is your decision?"
Marie hesitated only long enough to draw a deep breath. "When can I go back to Paris?"