Author's Note: A 'bout of wicked humor, compliments of Percy and Marguerite. Written in a fractured style, which may or may not appeal to everyone. It's also one of many, many ideas I have on Chauvelin's demise (or lack thereof), and the fact that Kulmstead is still running around out there. Spoilers for: Sir Percy Hits Back and The Traitor (from the short story collection,The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel). Sir Percy's remark about "a lady never leaves her escort" comes from Frank Sinatra's song "Luck Be A Lady"; I own it not.
Very little in the world could have made Lord Anthony Dewhurst, one of the handsomest and wealthiest fops in England, miss a step during the dance. He was a master at social intricacies, having escorted many a young, blushing lady onto the ballroom floors prior to his marriage, and he prided himself on his excellent grace.
Such a wonder then, when quite suddenly he came to an abrupt halt with a quietly uttered, yet forceful oath, his eyes fixated upon a point in the balcony. Beside him, his wife just did manage to catch her balance; behind him, Lord John Bathurst barely came to a halt before crashing into his friend's back.
"Really, Tony," he muttered, regaining his composure, and with a mix of good nature and light annoyance. "You'll disrupt the entire ballroom if you keep on, thus!"
Tony did not appear to hear him, however. Instead, he leaned down to his wife and whispered, "Quick, m'dear! Pretend you are faint."
Lady Dewhurst briefly stared at him, as though he had lost his wits, before recollecting her own. As gracefully as possible, she slipped into her husband's arms; he caught her deftly and quickly began to make his way out of the throng of slowly moving, meticulous dancers – most of which were looking irritated at the interruption – supporting his swooning wife.
Lord Bathurst gave his partner a hasty apology before leading her out of the crowd and to the side of the room, where he excused himself to be of assistance to Lady Dewhurst. Graciously, his partner curtsied and teasingly informed him that he had best make it up to her by dancing the next. He promised he would, and seconds later, he had dropped to his knees beside Lord Anthony, his expression no longer jesting, but concerned.
"What, in the name of heaven –"
"Blakeney," Tony whispered urgently. "We must find Blakeney."
Yvonne, still pretending to be faint, cracked one eye open, her mouth crinkling into a cute pout. "It would help," she hissed softly, "if you informed us why you suddenly look as though you've seen a ghost, and must find my lord."
Her husband, pale to the lips, whispered back, "Because I have just seen a ghost. John, you shall too, if you look to the third pillar left of the stairs. Careful! Don't let anyone see you do it."
The seconds ticked by; a couple of elderly ladies stopped and politely inquired if the lady was well, and Anthony reassured them that his wife was merely faint from the dancing, and would be well again soon. They smiled sympathetically and moved on, their long skirts swishing with their slow movements.
Lord Bathurst waited until they were out of earshot before he muttered, "Blakeney was in the card rooms last I was aware; His Highness is likely occupying the man's time."
"And Lady Blakeney?" Tony asked urgently.
Yvonne, more annoyed now than anything else, said in a low voice, "In one of the boudoirs, I believe."
"We must ensure she does not see –!"
"See whom?" Yvonne demanded.
The two members of the former League of the Scarlet Pimpernel looked at her, each with anger in their eyes.
"A traitor," Lord Bathurst said quietly.
"And a demon," Tony added. "A demon who should, by all accounts, be dead."
There was a pause, while Yvonne dramatically closed her eyes again and moaned softly, to ensure a passing gentleman did not stop and ask questions.
As soon as he had moved on, Tony glanced once again at his comrade. "Will you stay with my wife? I shall go and find Blakeney."
And that was when a new voice interrupted the discussion.
"Find Blakeney? What's up, Dewhurst? If you're going on an adventure, you most certainly aren't going alone! I'm dying for some sport, truly. We haven't had any in ages, it seems."
Lord Bathurst gave Sir Jeremiah Wallescourt, one of the handsomest, most cheerful young men in the room, an exasperated look. "This time it's not quite sport, I'm afraid. This time, it's potentially deadly."
"All sport is deadly, is it not?" Wallescourt said, with a good-humored smile.
It was Tony's turn to look grim. "Not when Kulmstead is upstairs with Chauvelin." And, ignoring the Jeremiah's suddenly pale face, he added sharply, "Well, Wallescourt? You desired adventure. Find Lady Blakeney immediately, and bring her to Lady Dewhurst – my wife is pretending to have a headache, for the sake of justice and scheming. She's doing a mightily fine job, if I do say so myself. Blakeney couldn't have taught her better."
"Lud love you, Lord Tony! I thought you were dancing with your charming young wife! Don't tell me you've somehow managed to escape your duties in the middle of the minuet!"
Completely startled, Lord Anthony Dewhurst whispered, "Lady Blakeney...! I thought you were with Lady Ffoulkes, in the –"
"East boudoir, yes," she said pleasantly. "But dear Andrew came to claim her, and I thought perhaps I should rescue my husband from His Highness's card table, before Percy loses his fortune. Now, what are you about, sulking around the halls in such a mysterious manner?"
He drew her aside, to ensure the conversation remained private. "Lady Blakeney, it is imperative that we find your husband. "Do you know who is here, at the Viscount's ball, this very minute?"
She shrugged lightly. "Everyone who is someone, I imagine."
"True. But there are also those here who are lower than the snakes that glide upon the earth."
Her brow furrowed slightly as her eyes narrowed upon him. "I can formulate several names which fit such a description. Specifically?"
He noticed the way her jaw locked; it was some seconds before she murmured dangerously, "He would dare to appear in England, again? I thought my husband left him in France, as good as dead."
"It would have been better," Tony said quietly, "had your husband ran him through instead of sparing his life. I believe Percy expected the dogs of the Revolution to deal with Kulmstead, but it appears they did not. Worse, he is not alone. And I fear his choice in company does not help his shattered reputation in the least."
"Dem it all, Blakeney!" His Highness was most exceedingly annoyed as he slammed his cards upon the inlaid table. "That's the sixth hand you've won in a row! I vow I should quit the game now, to save any grace!"
An inane, foolish laugh twittered through the card room. "I must say, Lady Luck favors your humble servant this evening, does she not? I would lend her to you, sir, but a lady does not leave her escort, you know."
A musical voice behind him said, "I am exceedingly glad to hear it, my lord!"
Turning, Blakeney came face to face with his wife, who – despite her serene expression – could not deceive the sharpest mind in England.
"Ah, see here, sir! Luck is ever with me. But m'dear, His Highness is most annoyed with me, I must say. I've won all the rounds thus far, so I pray for your clever advice. Should I continue, or bow gracefully out of the game before I am sent to the gallows for such an odious offense?"
She leaned over and took his cards away from him, pretending to examine the hand he had just been dealt. After a moment, she lightly confessed, "Tis not the best hand I've seen you hold," and she returned them to his slender, white fingers. "Your Highness, I vow you shall have a chance at the next."
"Excellent! Blakeney, your beautiful wife never lies. I'm in this round, if she believes I can win it."
But while his Highness's chips hit the table, Blakeney glanced up at his wife, his eyes slightly narrowed.
For now, tucked among his cards was a narrow scrap of paper, where there had not been any before.
"Sir, you shall win it," he said, quickly returning to the game, as Marguerite had merely smiled blandly back at him. "For I shall fold. Sadly, it appears Lady Luck has flitted elsewhere. Fickle creature, I daresay. But then again, aren't all ladies?" He placed the hand upon the table, upside down, while at the same time he gently and discreetly folded the piece of paper his wife had given him into his palm. "I pray you excuse me!" he added. "For I've not danced with my wife all evening, and tongues will be wagging if I do not do my duty soon!"
"Ha!" His Highness looked triumphant and reached for the pot. "Lady Blakeney, you are indeed the brightest jewel in all of England!"
"Brilliant, Lady Blakeney," Tony whispered, the moment Percy and Marguerite slipped out of the card rooms and into the hall.
"I would hardly call it that," she retorted, clearly in a dangerous mood. "T'was only a diversion to retrieve Sir Percy. If I were half so brilliant, I would have thought of a plan before this."
"Ah, well, I'm working on that already, m'dear."
"I do hope it does not involve your return to France, in any way, shape, or form."
"I should hope not. But," her husband smiled at her, more wickedly than not, "I'm afraid it does require your assistance, dearest Margot. I am in need of an actress, and," he chuckled, "it seems that Luck herself has provided me with the most charming one of all. Are you willing to accept the role I offer? Are you willing to play a clever woman, opposite the fool? The compensation is exceedingly high."
Her mouth in a thin line, Marguerite finally replied, "I shall do my best, sir."
"Excellent! Now, Tony, do get back to your wife. She won't be able to feign a headache all evening, I fear. But keep the premise up if possible."
By this time, they had reached the ballroom again. Blakeney quickly slowed his movements, becoming almost sloth-like. Eyelids fluttering to half-veiled, he glanced about and murmured, "Dem, Dewhurst. Did you alert all of my men?"
Were it not for the gravity of the situation, Lord Dewhurst would have been far more amused. Instead, he merely complained, "I daresay Wallescourt and Bathurst did."
For, here and there, dotted about the ballroom and the balcony above, were fifteen other men, all prowling about and looking rightly murderous. Missing among them were Fanshawe and Devinne (neither of whom seemed to appear at many social functions these days), and Kulmstead, who was with Chauvelin.
"Well." Blakeney relaxed into the role of the fop. "I suppose they will have to wait. For right now, my most valuable member of the League is Lady Blakeney. M'dear?" He gestured before him. "After your lovely self."
The confrontation was simply too diverting! A little Frenchmen dressed all in black, prematurely aged, with quite a bit of gray mixed in his brown hair...standing before the tall, foppish Sir Percy Blakeney, and the most beautiful woman in Europe, Lady Marguerite Blakeney. All about the ballroom, men and women had stopped to watch, clearly entertained by the spectacle. It seemed that the Frenchman had descended the stairs to speak to the Blakeneys, and he was accompanied by an Englishman that no one had seen in quite sometime – Lord Kulmstead, a young man who had not appeared in society for several months. Some had stated that he had spent that time abroad, but it was all most mysterious.
The Frenchman stopped two steps from the bottom; yet he still did not quite meet Blakeney's eyes, for he was still a fraction too short, even elevated!
Curtly, he said, "Sir Percy. Lady Blakeney." Then, glancing at Marguerite, he added, with a twisted smile that made several ladies about the room shiver, "I believe you currently possess something of mine. I have come to England to inquire of it."
Only those members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel noted the way the Blakeneys' faces tightened. But Marguerite's voice remained light as she said, "Something of yours, Monsieur? Pray, forgive me. I do not believe I possess anything that belongs to yourself."
Chauvelin's lip curled, and he said thinly, "You know exactly what I speak of, Lady Blakeney."
Sir Percy, with consistent good humor, interrupted, like the dolt he was. "Oh! That? I would hardly say the object in question belongs to anyone. But if it belongs to someone, I should say it belongs to Monsieur Columbe; not Lady Blakeney. What say you, m'dear?"
At this, Chauvelin's expression changed, becoming more dangerous as blood reddened his pale face. "Where is she, Blakeney?" he hissed. His eyes darted about, as though expecting to see that which he sought.
"Pray," Marguerite said, rather gaily, "why should you believe Sir Percy knows anything of that which you inquire of?" She then laughed, cheerfully. "He's quite lucky if he remembers anything aside from tying that cravat of his in a new fashion. It is a new fashion tonight, is it not, milord?"
"Indeed it is, your ladyship! I am exceedingly pleased you've noticed! You see, I twisted the fabric beneath itself before tucking it around the –"
"Enough, Blakeney!" Chauvelin looked murderous. "Or, should I call you...?"
Kulmstead's eyes seemed to burn brighter and more wicked, and he completed the sentence for the man he had accompanied to the ball. "The Scarlet Pimpernel?" he murmured.
Everyone present – the ladies and lords and dukes and counts and members of the elite aristocratic class – sucked their breath in as one entity. Sir Percy Blakeney? The Scarlet Pimpernel? Was it true? Could it be true?
At the same time, the members of the League seemed to move forward as one; even Lady Dewhurst rose to her feet with the speed of lightening in order to grasp her husband's arm, lest he throw himself into the dangerous charade before him, and swing from the gallows the next day for murder – for it was obvious he wanted to strangle Kulmstead with his bare hands.
But, to everyone's shock, Marguerite's highly amused laugh immediately disarmed the huge room and the charged atmosphere.
"Sir Percy,theScarlet Pimpernel?" she cried, unable to hide her mirth. "Oh, too rich!" And, whapping her closed fan on her husband's arm with a soft thwack, she added gleefully, "Pray, sir, have you been keeping such a wicked secret from your wife? I hear the Pimpernel has a dexterous brain, enabling him to contemplate such schemes as to whisk the unfortunates from beneath the very blade of the guillotine without detection!" And, turning to her foes, she giggled, "Simply too rich, Lord Kulmstead, for you to suggest that that man is my husband! What a good joke!"
By this time, Blakeney was laughing, too – that inane laugh that grated everyone's nerves, and loudly. "Dem it all, but it is an astounding notion, is it not? No, no, m'dear! I assure you, I couldn't dream of being a man such as the Scarlet Pimpernel! Lud, but I'd not even know where to begin! Three parts devil he is, what? Absolutely not! Give me a good brandy and a cravat, and I am satisfied. I've no desire to go to France, even with the government overthrown again. Twice in just a few short years, is it? No, I'll stay at my northern estates for sport, thank you."
And at this, the room began to laugh – ladies suddenly twittered at the absolute absurdity of the idea of Percy Blakeney being the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel, while men chuckled and nudged each other. For a brief moment, it had almost seemed possible! But really, it was too ludicrous to be remotely true! How couldthey have even considered it? What a good joke, indeed!
However, at this turn of events, Kulmstead looked just as furious as Chauvelin. He glared all around him at the laughing, insipid elite, his hands balling into fists. And, suddenly distracted by quiet movement on the stairs, he turned to see who was daring to sneak up behind him, only to come face-to-face with five men, all of whom looked murderous. Worse, behind the Blakeneys and Andrew Ffoulkes stood ten others, clearly in no mood to be gracious. He was effectively surrounded by the entire League. But before he could argue, or make his escape, Lord Stowmarries stepped forward to join the conversation.
His voice was quite terse, if not a bit dry, as he said, "Monsieur Chauvelin! I had heard tale that you were sentenced to death in France. I am surprised to see you here, in England."
"It is no surprise," Chauvelin replied acidly. "I was obviously not sent to the guillotine before the government was overthrown. This young man, Kulmstead, agreed to assist me in my journey to England, to find my daughter. Which brings me back to why I am here. I understand she is a good friend to Lady Blakeney."
"Ah, yes! We were speaking of possessions," Blakeney agreed, smiling as the converation turned once more. "Well, I'm afraid your daughter is not here tonight. Why was that, m'dear? Headache, or something of the sort?"
"Not at all, Sir Percy," Marguerite said dryly. "My, but your memory is abysmal! I still cannot believe Lord Kulmstead would believe you to be the Pimpernel! Dieu, man. A headache, indeed! No, no. Lady Columbe –"
"Fleurette Armand!" Chauvelin interrupted, visibly angry.
"Oh! But he doesn't know, m'dear!" Percy looked exceedingly delighted. "Heavens, but it was the wedding of the year, was it not?" Looking through his spyglass about him for support, he said, "You were there, Glynde! Demmed smart, was it not? My wife outdid herself, if I do say so."
"You are too kind, Sir Percy," Marguerite said brightly. "It was nothing!"
"Nothing?" Phillip grinned. "It was brilliant, your ladyship! All lace and frills, nothing was left unattended! And the ceremony was lovely! Mademoiselle Fleurette was a charming little china doll, in her white satin and silver gown, and the festivities afterwards lasted for hours! Enough wine for all of England to be merry!"
The ladies in the room were now sighing with longing, and whispering to each other about the wedding that had taken place only three months prior; no wedding in the near future could possibly come close to the extravagance that Lady Blakeney had lavished upon that angelic French child she had adopted! Such a beautiful girl, and such a lovely day it had been!
"I'm not so sure of Monsieur Columbe though, eh what?" Blakeney said blandly. "Nearly tripped through the church, he did, and stepped on that expensive wedding gown more than once. He's not quite of the same class as Fleurette, I daresay."
Marguerite scolded him. "Now, really, my lord! 'Tis most un-sportsmanlike to chide Amédé, thus! He's a good lad, whatever he may be."
"If you say so, m'dear. But I can safely say that I did not trip up the aisle on our wedding day."
"No," she replied coolly, "Though it still surprises me to this day you did not."
"Ah, well, it doesn't matter, I suppose. But why was Fleurette unable to come tonight, dear? Seeing as I've forgotten, that is. I thought she enjoyed balls, and that sort of thing."
Marguerite smiled impishly at her husband, her dimples showing. "Ah, yes! Well, Doctor Pradel says that she must have her rest –"
"Doctor?" Chauvelin's eyes flickered to Marguerite, suddenly and painfully tense, on the verge of appearing almost mad.
Marguerite pretended not to notice, and innocently explained, with large eyes, "Yes, of course, sir. He is the best, you know. And, seeing as it is her first child –"
"Demmed entertaining, I daresay." Sir Percy grinned as he poured himself a brandy, clearly far more amused than he rightly should have been, perhaps. "Never thought he'd faint. Must be the French in him."
"Too bad he didn't remain unconscious," Lord Tony muttered. "And demmed rotten luck that Kulmstead remained alert! How dare he have personally escorted Chauvelin across the Channel, with the sole purpose of exposing you!"
Sir Andrew shrugged lightly. "Well, it matters little, now. He's on his way to the West Indies, from what I understand. Isn't that correct, Lady Blakeney?"
Marguerite's attempt to remain impassive failed as her lips twitched into a smile. "That is where the Captain of the Neptune's Fury told me he was bound, yes."
"Are you quite certain he's on that ship?" Hastings demanded, prowling the Blakeney's parlor like an annoyed, trapped cat, ready for a fight.
"Quite," Blakeney assented, settling upon the settee and taking a sip of spirits. "It wasn't easy, getting him out of the Viscount's ball without causing too great a scene. His Highness is still annoyed with us for our charade; I'll have to apologize to him profusely for it, I'm afraid, even though he knows why we had to act so. But once we were on the streets of London, it was much easier to truss the man and get him to the docks."
"I still believe he may have deserved death." Hastings looked murderous.
Blakeney, however, smiled sadly. "Does anyone deserve death?"
Marguerite did not even pause. "Chauvelin," she said forcefully.
At this, her husband laughed. "Monsieur Chauvelin is getting his desserts, m'dear! Fleurette herself will manage his death! But, God in heaven, don't tell her that! She'd be horrified if she knew she and her future expectation is the likely cause for sending him to an early grave."
There were chuckles around the room, before Stowmarries finally mused, "Still – Chauvelin as a grandfather? I don't relish that thought."
And the chuckles turned to outright laughter.