She is standing by the window, her back to him, and in the twilight, she is little more than a silhouette. For a moment, he pauses on the threshold, striving for at least a facade of his usual composure.
'Margot', he whispers. She does not start, confirming that she registered his quiet entry. She meets him midway in the room and slides into his arms. Drawing his face between her hands, she brushes her lips against his and whispers, 'Have I got it right? A proper English wife's greeting?' Her voice is a tender caress. But he can't see her eyes.
He informs her that a proper English wife would have served tea. Getting his words out in an even tone is hard. Humor is worse. But he does it.
'Tea?' Mock horror laces her rejoinder. 'Urgh! How the English can stomach that insipid beverage is beyond me!' She gives an exaggerated shudder.
'You would rather ply me with wine, would you not, dear heart….and make me all the more willing to do your bidding.' The bitterness seeps into his voice against his will.
For a moment, his wife is quiet. Then, she kisses the side of his hard jaw, her arms looped around his neck. Soft lips travel to his ear. In a voice that conjures the pleasures of their previous night, she murmurs about its delightful possibilities.
It is an invitation. He knows it. But he can't breathe. He can't speak. Instead a tremble that he cannot control rips through him. Marguerite recognizes something is wrong. She moves back, trying to see his face more clearly in the dim room. She brushes his cheek with the back of one soft hand. 'What is it, darling? Are you not well?'
He pulls her back to himself in a swift move, before the horror he has been trying to keep at bay engulfs him. She stirs his embrace, protesting that he is crushing the life out of her.
Her turn of phrase is unfortunate and he sees the guillotine's merciless descent again. Again and again..and again.
He had not turned away. He had forced himself to watch as the blade… . The marquise. Their daughter's blonde hair and the hay beneath turning red together. Merciful God! Marguerite. She had done this. The bile rises again. His hands go limp against her.
He breaks. 'Dark…why is it so demmed dark in here? I.. I..need some light.' Marguerite makes an inarticulate noise of surprise as he nearly pushes her away.
He searches his deep pockets for a pair of matches. His hands tremble so violently that it takes two tries to locate them. It is no better as he unsuccessfully tries to strike a light. Gently, Marguerite takes the match out of his hands and proceeds to light the candles. He can't help but observe how she infuses even the slightest of her actions with an easy grace. He could watch her all day. God help him.
As the room gradually turns gold in the candle light, he notes with surprise that Marguerite looks unwell. A deep weariness shadows her face. Her eyes seem to brim with unshed tears. But before he can pin it down, she averts her face. When she meets his eyes again, her face is all concern for him. Her fingers entwine with his. 'Now tell me, Monsieur Husband, what is vexing you? I know that it can be no little thing which causes you to leave your bride of barely twenty four hours with scarcely a word. Your valet, Frank, told me that you had a visit from your solicitor. Is it a business matter?' She smooths the troubled crease between his brows with a finger. 'Tell Margot and let's see if she can't make it better.'
He knows that it is now or never. And yet how can it be? This tender woman and the merciless guillotine. Earlier in the day, he had knocked down Chenet, his Parisian solicitor for daring to insinuate that his Margot had a hand in the St. Cyr sentence. Nursing a battered jaw, the toad had taunted him to find out what all Paris already knew.
'Percy?' Marguerite's voice startles him.
'I'm sorry, dear. Yes, business. It's just…just..shall we go in for dinner?'
'I should have known that hunger would put you out at odds.' Tapping his stomach, Marguerite tries to defuse the sombre mood with some lightness. 'I must inform you sir, that I have been ready to go in for dinner the hour past. Only a certain somebody was late.' She twines her fingers with his, ready to go.
'Forgive me, my lady.' He pauses for a bit and briefly presses a light kiss on her forehead. He takes her in to dinner.
The dining room is cozy but is plush as the rest of his rooms. Marguerite comments that Percy's cook has really outdone himself as cover after cover is removed. With a graceful sweep of her hand, she dismisses the servants.
Her unbound hair shimmers in the candlelight and almost unconsciously, he brushes the back of his fingers against the auburn curls. Speaking more to himself, he murmurs, 'The most beautiful woman in Paris at my table, my wife. It seems like a dream.'
Marguerite blushes and shakes her head. She playfully spoons soup and threatens to feed him if he was going to be ridiculous.
It must be a dream, he tells himself. Everything including the letter from Andrew, which had followed just as he had thrown out his solicitor. The letter in which a best friend's pity tried to soften the blow about his wife's involvement in brutal murder. Foulkes cast no aspersions but merely suggested that they should not take the rumors seriously before investigating.
Was just yesterday morning that Andrew was his best man, joking about the demise of his bachelorhood? As Foulkes expounded on the outrage that would stir in the hearts of several matrons with marriageable daughters on the loss of England's most eligible bachelor, their laughter had echoed in the tiny vestry of the church. And then… all words failed as he caught his first glimpse of his bride… She had met his eyes fearlessly, proudly and put her hand in his own. It was just yesterday... and there was nothing in common between that eager bridegroom and the wreck that he now was... What could it all be, but a dream?
Yes, that was it. Just a dream. A dream that suddenly became a nightmare from which he could not awaken. He remembered the daze in which he had walked out the house earlier in the day, crushing Andrew's letter in hand. Against his volition, his feet had led him to where a frenzied crowd was baying for the blood of the Marquis. The charges shrieked by a frantic officer. Treason. Plots with Austria. The patriotism of a true daughter of the republic. Marguerite St. Just. The echoing cheer of his wife's name was the last thing that the Marquis heard before…before…
'Do you know the St Cyrs?' The question bursts from his mouth, before he grasps what his tongue uttered. It is almost as if a different man has spoken and he is far removed from all of it.
His wife's hand remains arrested in its motion of spooning a dish for a brief moment. She does not meet his eyes. 'Why do you ask?'
'It seems the whole family was beheaded this morning.'
'The whole family?' Her voice is little more than a whisper. Hoarse and strained. 'The whole... family?'
'Yes.' To say more is impossible for him.
His wife, usually so animated, is unnaturally still. 'Percy, did you know them?' Her expressive eyes are blank as they meet his.
'Yes, quite well.'
The words fall slowly from her. 'Then it is... it is unfortunate... the marquis was... He was not one whom I could count as an acquaintance'. She briefly shakes her head, as if to rid herself of some memory. 'This is a morbid subject... and let us not spoil our beautiful night with such unhappy tales'.
Her curt dismissal of the topic over and above her refusal to acknowledge any relationship with the Marquis, ignites something uncontrollable within him.
'I am afraid it is not so easy, m'dear. The very air of Paris is seeped with what you call unhappy tales... and the cruelty of those who scripted them.' His anger thrums through every word. 'Tell me, dear heart, have you seen a beheading? No? You know, it's darned shameful to say we've been in Paris, if we've not seen at least one. As deaths go, the slice of the blade at least has quickness to recommend itself. Don't you think so? I mean, it is hardly the fashion to consider how it may destroy the soul and strip away the dignity of death. But darling, this is the reign of Reason, is it not? A family whose name is five hundred years old or a detestable criminal. The blade makes no distinctions. Marvellous, ain't it? Positively..'
'Stop it', Marguerite interrupts his venomous flow. Eyes blazing, she is on her feet. 'Stop it, now'. It is her turn to tremble. She has been wrestling the agony of knowing that she has been played on the St. Cyr issue all day... now with Percy confirming her worst fears in so cruel a fashion, a helpless outrage seizes her. She speaks of birth and privilege and arrogance. Of hopes destroyed, of stomachs unfed by the callous actions of those who boast in their blood. Her spine straightens as she speaks of injustice with proper Republican passion.
It is a curious thing, he thinks, that his anger should simmer down as she speaks. A curious numbness starts pervading his body. He can't even feel the cold silver of the fork that he has been clutching. He listens to her with a strange detachment. Though her eloquence would have surely given Talma a run for his money, he is not moved. Her callousness has no power to hurt him… not just yet.
He just wants to escape... and forget... everything.
She finishes with a vehement 'You don't understand, Percy'.
'I am afraid, m'dear, that you have married an old fogey. Too slow to follow the cleverest woman in Europe'. He is as surprised as her when he speaks. Distant and remote. It is as if someone else has possessed his body.
Suddenly Marguerite feels completely spent. She sinks back into her chair. The evening has befuddled her, all its sharp twists and turns. It dawns on her that some kind of rumor of her involvement in the conviction of the Marquis must have reached him. She is taken by surprise by the depth of her hurt at how he condemned her without seeking the truth of the matter. The word of strangers had mattered more than hers. A hurt that aches to the bone. And to think that this was the lovesick husband who had held her in his arms a few hours ago. As crushed as she is, a mixture of pride and pique demands that this cool and distant mask that Percy now wears be ripped away.
'I want to visit Armand, Percy. Paris is...is.. tiring me'.
They had planned a honeymoon aboard the Day Dream. She waits for Percy to protest. He twirls the drink in his glass.
'That's a demmed smart idea, m' dear. Great timing too. I was going to bring it up after dinner. As you mentioned before, a sudden matter has indeed come up. Business you know, darling. My solicitor, the nuisance that he is, absolutely won't let me have some peace. For some reason, he does not believe that money grows on trees'.
His voice grows more affected as he speaks. He ends with an inane laugh, calculated to grate.
There is a hint of steel in her voice as she replies, 'On your honeymoon, Percy? How small must be his expectations about our marriage.'
He refuses to look at her. She doesn't know how much longer she can retain her fragile grip on her self possession. She had never even dreamed that Percy could have so much power to hurt her. The fight completely leaves her. Suddenly, all she wants is to be in his arms again.
'Percy', she says softly, 'tell me that you love me'.
'Before dessert? This would be what you Frenchies call..uh..de trop. We English always reserve professions of ardor till after.'
'I… I am afraid that …that I will have to forgo desert. I can't… I'm tired. Please allow me to retire'.
He stands as she does. 'Let me not keep you, dear. Have a good night'.
She feels the chill to her very bones.