Author's note: Inspired by the Baroness' own words in Elusive. My thanks to Sarah for the persnicketiness.
But now, contrary to all precedent, to all usages and customs of London society, Marguerite seldom was seen at routs or at the opera without her husband; she accompanied him to all the races, and even one night - oh horror! - had danced the gavotte with him.
Sir Percy and His Lady, The Elusive Pimpernel
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TO the casual observer this evening was one of many in a long line of endless soirées, balls and assemblies. The only changes were in the guests' attire, the size of the ballroom and the décor decided upon by tonight's fashionable hostess.
Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney had arrived separately. Lady Blakeney had accompanied her compatriot Lady Ffolkes and her new husband Sir Andrew to the ball. A fact which had caused no comment at all - unlike some other aspects of the evening.
On his arrival in the ballroom Sir Percy's tall figure had at once become the centre of a crowd of brightly clad ladies, all twittering around him in the hopes of catching a crumb of his time, and, if they were in luck, a dance with the leader of London's fashionable set.
His lazy blue gaze swept across the ballroom, pausing now and then to nod to his acquaintances.
Lady Blakeney's regal figure stood straight and proud and she seemed to command her own space in the crowded room. Her golden gown shimmered in the light blazing from the myriad candelabra, while a fall of tiny jewels at her throat glinted, reflecting pinpoints of light whenever she moved.
As was usual Lady Blakeney had collected a court of friends and admirers around her. But in the past few minutes she had dismissed the throng with a gentle smile or a few brief words. She now stood, in splendid isolation, seemingly surrounded by some impenetrable force.
On seeing his wife alone, Sir Percy seemed oblivious to her solitary grandeur and he moved languidly towards her with a good-natured jest at her single state. Whispers and giggles ripple through the crowd at Sir Percy's words. Whatever would his wife say at having her deserted state pointed out so publicly?
An audience gathered, waiting to hear that inimitable wit and his wife engage in that verbal sparring for which they were famed. Bandying words back and forth had become something of a trademark for them in the months of their marriage.
Many a jaded society dame could find herself refreshed and ready for the next dance having spent a few minutes eavesdropping on the Blakeney's ascerbic barbs, instead of yawning over the usual insipid platitudes heard at these functions.
There had been rumours at the beginning of the ball that Lady Blakeney was in love. The gossipmongers asserted it as fact: she displayed all the signs of the lovelorn - she seemed to be waiting for someone in particular to arrive - and speculation was growing as to who the mysterious gentleman could be.
Some said she knew the identity of that equally mysterious English gentleman, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and he was therefore her secret love. After all, she had come over to safe old England from France, just as many an émigré had, though she had not come under his agency, of course.
But others scoffed at the preposterous thought that England's bravest, most noble hero would confide in a French actress. Especially one from an undoubtedly republican background, who, it had been rumoured, was instrumental in some of the new order's unsavoury activities.
This rumour was anyway soon routed by one far more scandalous: Lady Blakeney was in love with her own husband.
Far be it for any chronicler to suggest Sir Percy was not a favourite with the ladies, for he undoubtedly was. However, it was not so long ago that the beautiful Lady Blakeney only ever spoke to - or about - her husband in order to make him the butt of her ready wit. But to change so dramatically, and worse - to love your own husband - fashionable London shook its head in despair at the fickle ways of women.
However, many disbelieved this rumour just as much as they had insisted the previous on-dit held no truth. But the look on her face when Sir Percy had first entered the ballroom this evening was unmistakable. Her whole being glowed as though some force had lit her figure from within. Her beautiful face had taken on a softer, gentler aspect and her eyes, so admired by so many, had held a look which could only be recognised by those who have loved. It held her heart.
This, said those peddling the rumour, had lasted maybe a second or two, before her lids had fallen and she turned with a smile and laugh to her faithful cavalier, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes.
Not that Sir Percy had noticed at all. With his usual good humour he had deflected questions about how the fishing had been in the North with his merry, inane laugh before leaving almost immediately for the card room.
It had provided the quizzes with another subject for discussion, as many a lady had been disappointed she had not been asked to dance by the acknowledged leader of society. Sir Percy was very fond of the card room, but surely he could have spared some time to dance?
However, he had since returned, a few hours later it is true, and perhaps some young ladies would be lucky. But instead of leading out any of the aspiring debutantes, Sir Percy was now locked in a war of words with his wife. The gathering crowd waited for Lady Blakeney's reaction. They were not disappointed.
"Surely, sir, as my husband it is your duty to be at my side. You cannot expect other gentlemen to take your place in this arduous task."
Those near enough to hear tittered in appreciation of Marguerite's turning the tables on Sir Percy in this manner. She had not acquired the title of the cleverest woman in Europe with no reason, and she was quick to carry the war of words into the enemy camp.
Not that it was the done thing to be bandying words with your spouse in front of an interested audience - but Marguerite was excused her eccentricity on the grounds of her French birth, her former profession as an actress, and, not least, her close friendship with the Prince of Wales.
The strains of the orchestra readying itself for the next dance filtered through the atmosphere building around the couple.
"Lud! It seems you will not have to suffer my company long as I feel sure you will shortly be claimed for this dance," Sir Percy's pleasant, drawling voice was heard to say.
His wife, who had been gazing out across the ballroom, snapped her attention back to him. Looking straight into his eyes she said: "Yes, I had been saving this dance for someone. But I was concerned he might not make an appearance this evening."
Sir Percy's glance swept around the room. "I hope the appearance of your husband has not deprived you in any way, Madame."
"Indeed, sir, it seems to have deprived me of a partner for the next dance. Unless..." she paused.
Those guests still in earshot when she spoke again were aghast. It was bad enough having words with your husband in this way, but to force him still further was intolerable.
"You could make amends, sir, by taking his place."
Sir Percy, the quintessential English gentleman, could do no more than bow his assent to his wife's suggestion. He would never deliberately wound a lady's delicate sensibilities by refusing. And so, much to the amazement of the majority of guests, Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney, hand in hand, took their places for the gavotte.
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Marguerite looked up at her husband, hoping for a sign that the happiness they had shared not many weeks since was real. Being without him had made her doubt her own senses, and she had been beginning to think it was all some strange and distorted dream until she saw him step into the ballroom this evening. She knew at that moment he had come back to her. That his only reason for his otherwise inconsequential halt on the way to the card room had been to reassure her of his safe return.
Bound by the constraints of the dance she carefully followed the movements of the lady in front of her in the long line, needing to concentrate to complete the first few skipping steps of the dance. Despite being surrounded by London's elite she was only aware of the presence of the man by her side.
She circled around slowly. They were separated by just a few inches, but it felt as though they were still parted by the entire width of the English Channel. As he took her hand in his she searched again, for something indefinable which would prove to her he remembered all they had shared.
Sir Percy was elegant. He was well-dressed. He wore a look of inexhaustible good humour as he trod the stately measures of the dance by her side. But she wanted more: she wanted to see the man who had walked with her in the moonlight at their Richmond home, the man who had carried her to safety, the man who had bared his soul to her - the man she loved.
Together they turned and were once more back where they had started. Marguerite glanced up under her lashes. Where was Percy? To be so close and yet so far apart was torture to her. She felt cast back to the first months of their marriage with this elegant fop by her side.
They linked arms and separated from the rest of the dancers. And, suddenly, in an instant, Percy was there. His hand put the lightest pressure on her arm as they glided into the figure-of-eight turns. As their arms slid together there was a rightness in the movement which sent a thrill through her. And when she looked up, there he was. The intense look from his blue eyes put her doubts to rest in a moment.
Marguerite spun gracefully into the next stage of the dance. Their joined hands held aloft, she turned under them again and again. She felt a giddiness sweep over her, not from the movement, but by the current of emotion she could now feel between them.
But the feeling could not go on forever and she was brought back to reality with a snap as the man to her left clasped her hand in a clammy hold. Her mind jolted back to the ball room as she followed his lead in the large circle which had formed. She could feel Percy's warmth on her right and was comforted by his proximity.
Finally she could turn back to him and turned once more under their upraised hands. She looked up into his eyes as she sank into a deep curtsey her own eyes blazing with love for him. Then, as he executed a perfect bow over her hand, she bowed her head and consciously wiped the emotion from her face.
They stepped to the edge of the dancefloor together, performed a bland courtesy to one another, before Sir Percy was claimed by one of his many friends for another game of cards.
Marguerite felt once more bereft. But the solid, almost painful, beat of her heart in her breast told her the feeling was not of abandonment. It was rather the tug of two hearts joined, not wishing to be parted.