Author's Note: The inspiration for this piece came from the Martina McBride song, Concrete Angel. Even though the song itself doesn't really fit The Scarlet Pimpernel, certain lyrics do, so I took them out and wrote four segments based off four lyrics that struck me as particularly fitting these characters. The segments are out of order chronologically, but the lyrics are in order as they appear in the song.
I. It's hard to see the pain behind the mask (September 1792)
The discussion has been dragging on for nearly ten minutes, and shows no sign of stopping – much to Percy Blakeney's irritation.
"...But if her daughter is truly insane," Ffoulkes repeats wearily (for the second time), "then it could be more dangerous than usual to attempt such a rescue. Even if we were able to secure both daughter and mother together, what if the daughter believes we are trying to harm them rather than help them?"
"All would be lost." Hastings sighs heavily as he paces the attic they are ratted in. "She could scream, rouse the servants... I hear they are not very sympathetic sorts, either."
"Naturally," Denys mutters. "Because they feel they have something to gain from this hell! They're probably even on the watch for an attempted rescue. They want that girl dead."
Lord Tony rakes his fingers through his hair, musing it in ten different directions, as he always does when he is annoyed and frustrated and trying to solve a problem. "We cannot go in as soldiers, that much is certain. She would panic, thus."
"Percy?" Andrew queries.
He lifts his heavy-lidded eyes from the guttering candle on the table and frowns at Andrew, hoping that his expression reveals his displeasure at their feeble attempts to formulate ideas on how to save their next rescue. After all, it is up to him to determine the modus operandi, up to them to follow it – and without question.
But then, they are all new at this sport, having only begun it a month ago. It will take time to work out the little kinks, and he knew this when he hatched the idea of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Fortunately, the look does the trick, and the few members of their little league gathered around him fall silent. He takes a deep breath and rises from his chair, and says firmly, "Very well. If you are all through complaining about trivialities, I shall tell you what will be done. I will rescue the Duchess Chambrier and her daughter. As they have not yet been arrested, it is only a matter of smuggling them out of their estate and out of the village, and thence to the coast. Hastings, Tony, Denys – I expect the three of you to be waiting half a league past the east gate of the town, where I shall pick you both up in a covered cart of some sort. I shall likely be dressed as an old farmer, but be prepared for another disguise in case that one falls through. Try to dress as peasants, if you can find such clothing. Andrew, Stowmarries, Phillip – the three of you will travel back up the old bois road towards the coast; when you arrive at the Guerin farm, procure fresh horses, and wait for me a mile further up, well hidden but where you will have a good view of what is approaching on the road, so you will be able to meet us. Understood?"
There is a murmur of assent, and all rise to follow their instructions. Without waiting to see that they will do as told, Percy leaves them to it, and disappears out the attic door and into the dark hall, down the rickety steps, and out a rear door into a narrow alley.
Half an hour later, he finds himself moving down a very different hall – a hall that was once bejeweled with fine tapestries and rugs, priceless pieces of art and furniture. A hall that belongs to the elder Duchess and her daughter. Her husband passed away two years prior and since then, the servants have practically stripped the entire estate of anything worth value, believing they have the right under this new government. The Duchess allows them, for she knows she does not have the strength to stop them.
A few more paces and he is then in the boudoir, and to his surprise, he finds the younger woman alone. He pauses in the doorway, unsure how to proceed.
A mental illness eats away at her; her movements are slow and sluggish and her speech is slightly slurred. Her eyes are large and probing, skittish and afraid; because she does not have the ability to understand any more than a small child would. There is no cure for what ails her, for she was born this way, and many who see her find that her lolling tongue and rolling eyes are grotesquely frightening. The servants have started to whisper that she is dangerous and inhuman, and there have been talks that she must die.
However, to his shock, she turns those strange, white-blue eyes to his and looks him over; a hunched old man he is disguised as, dressed in tattered clothing. After a moment in which both are perfectly still, she whispers in a stumbling tongue, "Are you here to save us?"
He feels his body relax at her inquiry, and he gently replies, "I am. I have been sent by a man to take you away from France, to the Netherlands."
She pauses, as though trying to work it out in her head, before her eyes fall to a small piece of crumpled, dirty paper in her hand. "We received this," she says fretfully – and he recognizes it as the paper bearing his mark.
He slowly moves forward and kneels beside her, taking care that his movements are not too quick, lest he frighten her. There is a fleeting pain in his heart, like a sharp prick, as he looks at her and marks how odd this particular illness is, because it makes her look so cartoonish in her features. He has never seen illness like this before. Not even...
He shakes the thought from his mind. He mustn't think of such things, especially not now. Quietly, he asks, "And will you trust me to take you and your mother to safety?"
She looks at him for a long time, then diverts her eyes to the ripped curtains in the windows, the oil lamp on the table, the torn cushions on the sofa beneath her. The awful disease which riddles her brain makes her thoughts slow, and he must wait. But finally, she murmurs, "Oui, monsieur."
He nods satisfactorily, for he has gained her trust: a most difficult task. Perhaps the hardest of all.
But as he rises to his feet once more, the boudoir door opens again, and the elder Duchess enters with a gasp.
He immediately opens his mouth to explain, but the mentally ill girl speaks first.
"He is here to help! Do not send him away, maman!"
Clutching her breast from her fright, the Duchess whispers, "Mon Dieu! But of course, you must be one of those brave men whom we received notice about! She did not scream at the sight of you, monsieur? She is terrified of strangers!"
"He is different," the girl says mulishly, her large, protruding eyes gazing unblinkingly at him. She does not have the ability to explain this rational.
The duchess can only stare at both of them, and Sir Percy Blakeney can only suppress the strange emotions within him. This girl is truly mentally disabled. She was born with this disease; a disease the doctors cannot cure. Her mother has done all in her power to keep the girl out of a convent, or worse, one of those horrid institutions that locks such people away for their differences. It is a very opposite ailment from what he saw as a child, and – not for the first time – he wonders if the doctors who tried to 'help' so long ago were wrong in their diagnoses.
Of course they were. He knew it then, too. But he was too young to speak his mind. And now it is too late to speak his mind.
And yet, the mask remains impassive. He has a task to complete: he must rescue these two women from death. The past cannot be changed, but the future can.