We alight from the carriage, gracefully wending our way into the grand palace. The Prince of Wales is now the King of England, and we are still His Royal Highness's close friends. I love the fact that I am still considered society's greatest darling, even though my husband and I are no longer young. These expeditions tire me much more than they used to do - four children and twenty years do not go by without leaving their mark. I am still hearty enough, but I have much less patience with the tedious regulation and convention of grand state functions.
My husband knows my mind in this matter, for we have often talked of it, as we have talked of most things. There is little indeed, now, that can separate us for more than a few hours.
I endure the introductions and the dinner, forced by my station and my rank to be merry and unforcedly courteous to all I meet, whether I know them, or like them, or not.
Percy is in the same predicament, but his reputation always precedes him, and "That Demmed Idiot Blakeney" must entertain the new breed of London's jeunesse doree, and I know by the set of his shoulders that he has had enough for one night.
I look at him across the room, my eyes making their slow way across his shoulders and the nape of his neck. I do not know how it is, but whenever I try to make him look at me, he always does. He turns, quite slowly, and his gaze meets mine. There has always been a channel between us, and our thoughts can flow along it as easily as the water in the Channel itself flows with the tide. There is but one thing I want now, and it is to hold his hand, or have him beside me. I cannot make him do it, but I can make him want to. I know exactly how to tease him to my side. I look away. His gaze remains hanging in the air, and I want to return to it, but if I hold myself away from him just a very little, he will gather me back, and of his own free will he will give me exactly what I want.
Some would say that feeling wanes as we get older. I say that it only becomes more fun. To connect with my husband is now a great and perfect sport - and we each can score off the other.
He comes to stand at my side, and a light comes into his eyes that I have worked all evening to produce. He shines that light on me and I can stand like a queen in the midst of any situation. I am never bored, never anxious, never alone when those eyes of his shine with the light that only I can give them. He looks at me, sly askance. We are in public, we cannot kiss or embrace as we would like to do, but through the long years I have learned much about waiting, and how to be satisfied with the tiny bursts of emotions that society allows us.
No one is looking at us just now - he winks at me. Why is it that my heart still leaps when he does that? I have no defense against him, nor against any of his roguish play. I can feel a blush starting around my ears and rushing to my cheeks. I give him one of my all-encompassing head-to-toe looks, and rake him over the coals of my memories. That gives him pause. He turns slightly away from me, unable now to look at me and still control what I know is stirring beneath the surface. I have felt the same stirring of his heart against me many times - have I not found it the ultimate proof of his love for me?
I relent in the intensity of my looks, for the sound of a gavotte begins nearby, and of a sudden I have what I have wanted all the evening - a chance to touch my husband. He turns to me, and without a word, extends his hand, and bows his question in my direction. I take his hand as he leads me to the ballroom, a thrill rippling through me in the same way it did the first time he ever touched my hand and declared that he loved me beyond his own life and reason. I cannot get enough of that thrill of fingers on fingers, but when he takes me in his arms and guides the steps of our dance to the clear-toned rhythms which fill the room, I feel as filled and as whole as I have ever felt. Nigh on twenty years have passed since he first took me in his arms, but it is still as right, as joyous, as fulfilling, and as exhilarating as it was then.
Our eyes meet again when he releases me for my spin, and when he pulls me back, he winks again. I nearly melt, for now I know for sure he has some adventure planned for us this night, and if twenty years have taught me anything, it is that my husband is inventive. An adventure with me tonight will fill the need he has always had - a need to be needed.
The Scarlet Pimpernel was - as I now know - a most sublime expression of this need, but now, I am the only one who can fill it, and I know just how to respond to him. The world sees but one small part of him, and I am the only one who has ever known the whole of Sir Percy Blakeney. I am his adventure now, and he will never give me up.
I love him.
Not because he is no longer the Scarlet Pimpernel, but because he always was.
I hand her down from our coach, leading her slowly into Windsor Castle like it was our own home. The King and myself have long been friends - there is nothing unusual about me and my wife being invited to a state dinner. I do not like the high life of society quite as much as I used to - twenty years with my wife, four children, and a full life of my own have opened my eyes to the simple joy there is in living. Yet I am more than able for this night to endure the rules and strictures of Royal company, and I have long been endowed with the ability to see amusement everywhere, but not let it show on my face.
The dear form beside me is not so lucky. She has but few desires now, and one of them is to surround herself with people she likes and loves, and are easy to talk to. State dinners are not the easiest of diversions, and soon she will not want to attend them at all.
I do not mind. I feel the same. We have talked on this matter, and we agree most admirably these days.
I survive the evening very well until after dinner. For several hours now I have forced myself to be lighthearted and inanely entertaining, as I am expected to be, and now I wish only to be quiet, and sit with my wife.
She looks at me from across the room. I can feel the touch of her eyes like I did that very first time at Le Comédie-Française. She is not looking at me or though me, she is looking into me, and I have no defenses. She wants me to turn and look at her, and I cannot say no. As calmly as possible, I turn and meet the onslaught of her gaze. It is like being surrounded in a sweet, brilliant fog when I look at my wife. Nothing else matters, and she is more beautiful every instant I hold her eyes to mine. She breaks eye contact and looks away. It is then that my heart jumps, and I am made aware of how much she means to me, and I how much I ache for her presence at my side. How can someone I have known for so long still have the power to undo me so utterly? How does she know me so well? How can she bear to know me so? I am so vulnerable to her every whim that if she is ever unhappy I should know of it, even were I half dead and circling another star.
She is, at this moment, longing for me to be near her, wishing that all conventions could be swept away and I could take her hard into my arms and kiss her with that passion I did not know I possessed until I met her. She holds my heart utterly at her will, but I feel powerful because of it, for as she holds me, I hold her. For twenty years we have held each other thus, each tending and nurturing the others' love, healing the others' pain, and filling the others' needs.
I cannot deny that she excites me as much now as she did at first. The taste of her has changed, but it is the same wine as it always was.
I cross the room and stand beside her - a perfectly conventional action. But what I do next is hardly convention, I would not even consider doing it if I did not think we were fairly out of being watched for the moment, yet I do not think I will be seen, and so I wink. I see her give a tiny start and her rising flush tells me that she is as full of memories as I am at that moment. I have always been able to gain a reaction from her, even when she does her best to keep me out.
I know that some of that flush is because of her sudden fury at my wink, and she pays me back by sending me a look that strips me down to my bones and forces me to remember every kiss I have ever given her, and exactly how she has responded to each one of them. I turn away, my heart wildly moving the very buttons on my jacket, for I cannot endure such torment. I must touch her somehow, in any way whatever. Of a sudden, my rescue comes in the form of pretty strains of music. Someone has started a gavotte.
With the ease of long practice, I wordlessly ask her to dance with me. When she puts her hand into mine, I cannot but help remembering the first time I took those fingers to my lips, and declared that she was more than life to me. The ballroom seems too far away, but at last we find our place among the couples, and I can take my wife into my arms. I never feel more alive than when I have her close to me, leading me, and following my lead. I cannot believe it has been twenty years since I first did this with her. It seems but a moment since the world first felt this right, and yet there has been an eternity between then and now.
I have learned some things, at least, and one of them is that a little adventure goes quite a long way, and brings great rewards. I remember a certain bottle of port I have been saving, and recall a room in Blakeney Manor that holds some very sweet memories for us both. We neither of us have been in that room for a while, and I have long wanted my wife's opinion on the redecorating of it. I shall ask her tonight. I cannot help but to tell her I have something in mind, and as she draws away from me for her spin, I wink again. She blinks and nearly stumbles, then turns back to me and I prevent her from falling. I am none the less glad - she knows now, and is more than willing to have an adventure with me. I cannot be the Scarlet Pimpernel anymore - I left that man behind me when I came home at last. But sometimes I must release the wave of my adventurous spirit, for sometimes it is the right thing to do.
Marguerite is the only one who can see my spirit, and so it is to her I turn when I need to loose the old young man in me, and ride devil-may-care once more. She is the only one, now, who understands, the only one who knows. She is my life, and the light of it.
I love her.
Not because she is my wife, but because she is the greater part of myself.
We are both the Scarlet Pimpernel, and we are one.