A/N: Hi all! So, ultimately my plan with this fic is to make each chapter like its own story so that it more or less developes like a collection of stories rather than one continuous one. However, that being said, the first "story" is quite long - it being the one to introduce the whole concept and detail 'how it all began' and all that good stuff, so I have mercifully divided it into three parts/two chapters. Just pretend its all one story like the rest will be! Also, I do not own Percy, Marguerite, Chauvelin, Jellyband, or any other league member besides poor old Worthsby - he is my own invention, partially inspired by Blakeney's fop persona. Other random characters belong to me! Mwahaha!
This story is gratefully dedicated to Kisses on the Steps for providing me with so much SP fan conversations, that my brain couldn't help but be inspired with a Scarlet Pimpernel fanfiction.
The Nineteenth League Member
The Personal Memoirs of Sir Charles Chesterton Worthsbyfeld IV
How It All Began
It has often been a matter of conjecture, just how exactly, I, Sir Charles Chesterton Worthsbyfeld IV, the dimmest fop in London, ever became a member of that illustrious band of men known as The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. My father would never have believed me, had I ever dared tell him, for nothing could ever dissuade his certainty in my complete incompetence regarding even the simplest of deeds outside the realms of hunting and cravats. Indeed, I am hard pressed to make it out myself – a matter in which, my unfortunate lack of intelligence hinders me greatly. Even Baroness Orczy, our faithful chronicler, never mentioned me. Doubtless she could not bring herself to consider me a true league member, but kept the number of men at nineteen all the same thanks to the nice ring it had. And yes, for the record, in all technicality, I am the eighteenth league member, as Armand St. Just was recruited after the initial formation. However, Armand is mentioned liberally by the Baroness in our escapades and so really factors among the top five league members, hardly worthy of the title of 'The Nineteenth League Member'. There is not much else I can lay claim to, so I might as well claim the title. In retrospect, I suppose knowing Blakeney had quite a bit to do with my enlistment. If I had never met him, it certainly would never have happened. Well, it should never have happened anyway, regardless…
I first met Sir Percy Blakeney one foggy afternoon after a stag hunt in the north country. I was scarcely one-and-twenty years of age, and had returned to the hunting lodge wet and cold but prosperous, having succeeded in shooting a twelve point buck at nearly a hundred yards. I am a demmed good shot if I do say so myself. Word of my success and my trophy attracted many of the other sportsman resting about, and one of them asked me to join him and his friends in a game of hazard. It turned out to be Sir Percy Blakeney, the prince of dandies, with his friends Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst. The game was splendid and continued on for hours, starting what was to be a friendly acquaintance that lasted as such for the next few years. I liked Blakeney. He was a jolly good sport, what? And was a master with cards. Also, one never had to bother with excessive thinking whilst in his company and could be free to chat about horses, fashion, and punch with very little fatigue to the mind. Besides, I never could seem to make any friends – most find me annoying and in school I was quite the despised outcast – but Blakeney was never in want of comrades and seemed to have somehow succeeded in attracting a loyal bevy of which I myself became a part. I didn't really see him that often, though, as he spent much of his time traveling while I faithfully attended all the society gatherings of London. However, I was always glad to see him when he would make an appearance, for I knew that at least here was a chap I could confide in. Someone to divert the critical eyes of the world from me with one hearty, inane laugh and accept me into his circle with the doggerel rhyme he'd invented himself, "There may be many things old Worthsby's not, but none can deny he's a demmed good shot." And so it was that I was present on that fateful night in August of '91.
It was in the latter stages of a fine society ball where I was rapidly losing at cards to Sir David Holte and even more rapidly consuming glasses of fine brandy that Percy entered the room looking…well… looking monstrous serious. He had been prone to fits of seriousness lately. I suspected it had something to do with his marriage to the cleverest woman in Europe, probably got him thinking and all that other dangerous nonsense, what?
"Fellows," he said gravely, noting the presence of each of his friends with a look, "I propose a meeting at my home, an you will all care to join me. There is something of the utmost importance I would discuss with you."
We all rose as one at these words. Well, almost as one. I attempted to rise and got my foot caught under my chair, an action that toppled it over on its side with a clatter and almost took me down with it. All eyes were on me in a moment as I sheepishly recovered my balance.
"T-terribly sorry lads," I blithered. Yes, it is an uncomfortable fact but I do stutter when I am agitated.
Ffoulkes gazed dubiously at me then murmured to Percy in a voice low enough that I presume I wasn't supposed to hear his words, "Even Charlie?"
Percy gave a very slight but firm nod, patting Andrew before turning to leave.
Ffoulkes gave me one last scrutinous glance and said, "Well then, everyone? High-ho and let's be off!"
Now that I think of it, I really don't know what I was expecting Percy to discuss with us. I suppose I trusted in his inanity, his laziness and his solid mental density enough so that I little suspected the ghastly enormity of what was about to happen. Thoughts of hunting trips, games of hazard and horse racing flitted through my tired and half-inebriated mind as possibilities. Whatever it was that Percy had in mind, it must be jolly grand. He was the very impersonation of everything I wanted to be, and if he had any plans or ideas for us, I was determined I should participate to the best of my ability.
We arrived at his home in Richmond and trailed into his so-called study. I knew better than to believe it to be one, however, for it was well equipped with furniture and I blessed Blakeney's taste for comfort as I sprawled across an inviting sofa, enveloped blissfully with cushions.
"Shove over and let me have some room!" Lord Everingham protested, attempting to dislodge my legs from their place of rest.
"Find your own seat!" I laughed and stifled a yawn. Consciousness was quickly eluding me as the hour was late and the level of spirits in my blood was quite high. However, I was awake enough to note that the others had found places to sit – most of them around Blakeney's desk in the corner behind my sofa. I didn't care for the moment that I was nowhere near the action. Sleep was calling to me and quickly becoming the most important item on my agenda. Soon, I was dreaming happily of a grand party in which I was the center of attention and king of fashionable society. I danced with all the pretty girls, talked with all the silly ones, and gave the intelligent ones the same cold distance they afforded me. It was glorious. All at once, Percy entered the room with a joyful smile – and an enormous bowl of the most delectable punch I had ever seen. We were invited to partake of it to our hearts content.
"My friends," he exclaimed, "who will join me in this?"
"As shall I!"
"To the ends of the earth I will follow you!"
Resounded from all the fellows gathered round.
I was not to be left out. But, in the exuberance of my approval, I woke myself up from the delightful dream as I sprang up and called out, "Gadzooks man, you can count me in, Blakeney!"
The punch bowl disappeared and I realized that I was now sitting up on the sofa in Blakeney's study and that eighteen pairs of eyes were fastened upon me – most not without a little surprise.
"Really, Worthsby?" Ffoulkes queried.
"That's the stuff, old boy!" Holte smiled.
"I knew you couldn't be such a good shot for nothing!" Lord Antony Dewhurst laughed.
"Bravo!" Lord Hastings exclaimed.
I was beginning to wonder what I had just agreed to, but the sight of pride on Blakeney's face as he studied me was enough to throw my cares to the wind. What did it matter anyway? As long as my hero was pleased with me, I had done something right.
"That's a good lad," he smiled at me. Then returning his gaze to all present in the room, he continued, "but in order for this to be possible, you must all swear an oath of unquestioning obedience to me as your leader in these matters."
How could I refuse? I hadn't the foggiest idea of what Percy was getting at, but I was sure that if he wanted my loyalty, then I'd be dashed if I didn't give it to him. I solemnly swore right along with the rest of the fellows present. The next thing I knew we had all promised to meet Percy on his yacht, The Daydream, at Dover in two days to await further instructions.
Jolly good, I thought to myself and left Blakeney's home with the others. Perhaps the slightest bit of discomfort had crept into my mind at that time as I chanced to consider the fact that I still didn't know what I had sworn to do, but it was easily discarded as requiring too much exertion and I was soon slumbering in my own bed in my apartments in London. Little did I know I had just agreed to embark upon the most exciting – and frightful – adventures of my useless life.
I slept through the first half of the next day and remained in bed for the latter, nursing a beastly headache. However, I did have consciousness sufficient to order my servants to pack my trunk. It is a nasty, awkward thing, packing a trunk when one has no idea of what he shall be doing or where he shall be going but still wants to be fashionably dressed for the occasion, and I am afraid my valet grew somewhat disgruntled at my lack of direction in his endeavors. However, it was all done well enough so that I had nearly one of everything and to safeguard against anything overlooked, I would bring a good quantity of gold along so I might purchase whatever was lacking. For my actual apparel, I would wear my best traveling suit and hope for the best. Indeed, I was beginning to feel well pleased with myself and a great deal more relieved by the end of that day. Certainly, whatever Blakeney had in mind, I would be able to present myself well and there would be no inconvenient surprises…
The first surprise happened shortly after I alighted from my carriage in Dover the next afternoon. After wending my way through the disgusting assemblage of sailors, menial workers, and other members of humanity that care not how they dress and who frequent the docks, I spied Lord Hastings and Sir Phillip Glynde standing near the moorings of Percy's yacht. They too were dressed in their finest travel attire, so that was a demmed relief, needless to say – at least I had done one thing right – but things were about to get very strange, very quickly.
"Hello chaps!" I greeted them, picking my way along the cleanest part of the dock. "Do you know if we are to put our trunks on board the yacht?"
"Trunks?" they exclaimed simultaneously – then dissolved into hearty laughter.
"Zounds, Worthsby you're too funny!" Glynde laughed and clapped me on the back. "Trunks? Ha ha! Lud what a good joke!"
"Come along and join the rest of us," Hastings managed after recovering his composure, "we're all waiting in the inn for the tide to change. Shouldn't be much longer now."
This response made me terribly uneasy, but I laughed a little too as best I could and followed them into the rustic little seaside inn known as 'The Fisherman's Rest'.
"One thing, er, f-fellows," I managed, trying to calm the bundle of nerves that my stomach had suddenly transformed into, "what will the servants th-think if I go somewhere w-without my trunk? They're really qu-quite liable to tell my old guv'nor." I rarely refer to my father as anything but 'the guv'nor', even in his presence. Tis rather more suiting, eh what?
Hastings paused and looked at Glynde, "I hadn't thought of that," he murmured.
"Yes but, really Charlie," Glynde took my shoulder, "you will have to confide sooner or later to your valet and bring him in on the secret. A trusted friend is necessary to assist you without questions and will capably be able to dispel servants' gossip should it ever arise."
"Oh yes, to be sure," I agreed, trying my best to look very knowing – all the while knowing as little as a chicken by a chopping block. "However, as I haven't let old Sam in yet, on the," and here I added great emphasis on the next word, "the secret," I winked afterward for good measure, "perhaps I should have him bring my trunk to the Daydream, eh?"
"What a smart fellow you are, Worthsby!" Hastings grinned. "You have him do that, and tell him to speak to my valet before he leaves. Wilfer can explain everything to him and ensure his secrecy."
"Much obliged, Hastings," I thanked him, "j-just give me a moment and I will join you shortly." All this secrecy was quite unnerving, and my legs would hardly bear my weight as I stumbled out of the inn and over to the stables where my valet was ensuring the horses were resting. I hardly remember what came out of my mouth as I told him his instructions. It must have been quite a stammered, disjointed mess, for the one thing I do remember is the very perplexed look on Sam's face as he stared at me, deciphering my attempts and wondering what the matter was.
I found my way back to my friends after this ordeal, and seated myself comfortably in the inn's public room where they were all drinking and toasting. Percy was not among us, it being understood he was already on board and making preparations.
"Off on a trip, young sirs?" the host, Jellyband inquired as he poured me a mug of ale.
"I-I-I, yes, w-well, th-that is t-to s-s-say…" I froze up and the color drained from my face like a guilty schoolboy's.
"A grand hunting party in the North Country!" Dewhurst exclaimed, saving me from further answer.
Relief surged through every part of my being as I heard the words. A hunting party! Of course! What a fine thing! I could relax now and enjoy the company of my friends while contemplating good sporting prospects. Soon I was making toasts to our success and to 'the League' we had apparently formed, right along with the best of them.
Indeed, surrounded by such camaraderie, I had never been happier. But my spirits were dealt a severe blow as we left for the Daydream at the turning of the tide. Sam, my valet, was waiting for me just outside the inn and approached me as soon as he saw me.
"Sir," he exclaimed earnestly, looking deep and admiringly into my countenance, "may I shake your hand?"
"Odd's fish, Sam," I blithered, taken aback at this display of unexpected – and unwarranted – devotion, "you may indeed."
"I thank ye sir!" He exclaimed, seizing my hand and shaking it firmly. "I was greatly mistaken in you, sir, I had taken you for a dimwit. You're a fine young man! There's not many as would do such a fine and noble and selfless thing as you are sir. I am honored to serve you and I hope as you know I will be faithful to you till the end. You may rely on me sir! Godspeed!"
What on earth was I to say to that?
"Sink me, dear man," I managed to squeak out, "tis nothing! I dare say I hardly merit such credit. 'Tis nothing!"
This only deepened the admiration in Sam's countenance and tears formed in his eyes as he tipped his hat and bowed, acknowledging my departure.
It was all beginning to seem like a terrible dream and I waxed seasick even before I set foot on the yacht. Once aboard, I trailed listlessly to the side of the deck and leaned against some rigging, trying to fathom the increasing perplexity of the situation. This was really not like Blakeney to be so unpredictable. Was this a hunting trip or was it not? Demme if I knew the answer. Fortunately, I was about to be relieved of any further mental exertion as Holte caught sight of me standing alone. Sir David Holte of Frogham, splendidly known as 'Froggie', was a fine chap but really never could keep quiet. My initial instinct upon being discovered by him was to speed off somewhere and look busy, but then, an unprecedented moment of brilliance overtook me. If I let Froggie just keep talking, I might learn the truth about this whole mess without ever having to reveal my ignorance to a single soul. The opportunity at that moment was priceless, and I took it.
"Worthsby!" Holte exclaimed, striding toward me. "Gadzooks but you look a bit green around the cravat. Have a pinch of snuff, it works wonders!"
I took the offered snuff gratefully and promptly sneezed.
Holte took some himself and continued. "Grand idea of Percy's, ain't it?" he grinned. "We'll show those Frenchies a thing or two, eh?"
"Oh yes," I agreed with about as much conviction as if I had complimented the Duke of York on a poorly cut waistcoat. Frenchies? What in the devil did they have to do with anything? Was the hunting party to be in France? Demmed dangerous with the revolution going on and all that, what?
"Just think," Holte beamed, "with Percy as our leader, disguised as the Scarlet Pimpernel and his league, we shall have all sorts of hairbreadth escapes and grand adventures – and in the greatest of causes no less!"
"To be sure," I assented, feeling an ill pallor creeping over me with every word Froggie spoke. He couldn't possibly mean that we were going to…
"Prancing into executions and prisons," he prattled on, "whisking innocent victims away from the jaws of the guillotine in daring rescues – right out from under the nose of the glorious new Republic – racing across the countryside, doing our part against tyranny, injustice, corruption…" Holte drew in a great breath of satisfaction. "No longer the soft life for us! We'll be out in the cold, the wind the elements, the – I say, Worthsby," he broke off suddenly, observing my countenance, "you look rather a bit offish just now. Is everything alright, old chap? More snuff?"
I did look a bit like a mausoleum inmate just then, and the only answer I could give my companion was a terrible groan as I seized the offered snuff and practically stuffed it up each nostril while I sought to find a way out of the mess I was fast sinking deeper into. So that was it. This was the great secret. Somehow, Blakeney, the fop, the prince of dandies, the reliably dimwitted imbecile pet of London society had schemed up a frightfully dangerous sounding sort of rescue effort for the French aristocracy. Soon we would be jeopardizing not only our lives, but our comfort, in a cause more foolhardy than Robin Hood and his band of merry men. Worse than that though was a thought that made my stomach grow cold as ice: I had given him my word of honor that I would join him and follow him loyally with implicit obedience. I may be a coward but I would rather die than go back on a word of honor, especially one made to Blakeney. I might as well renounce all society and enter a life of solitude as take back my word to him. It was this thought that froze my next words of disbelief and dismay right on the tip of my tongue. All I could do was pitiably groan again.
"I really do say, Charlie," Froggie stared aghast at my rapid deterioration, "anything I can do for you? Zounds but you don't look well!"
"My s-sm-smelling s-salts," I gasped out, fumbling with a pocket in my greatcoat.
Holte briefly raised an eyebrow before following my lead and retrieving the vial from my pocket.
I snatched up the article and uncorked it, taking a good whiff of the contents.
"Anything else I can do for you?" he pressed. "Should I see if Blakeney can't do something?"
"No!" I exclaimed promptly. "All I need is a moment's solitude. P-please…" I moaned and made as though I desperately needed to acquaint myself with the other side of the deck railing and the billowing sea below.
This action was enough to send Holte scurrying away, and I was granted the privacy I craved.
What was I to do? My first thought was to go immediately to Percy, confess the whole misunderstanding, and take my farewell as soon as the Daydream docked at her destination. But no! It could never be. Even the slightest hint at my dilemma would serve only to call my integrity into question. It was ghastly. I had never been lucky at anything in my life – except marksmanship, which had apparently only served me by getting me into this unlucky mess through acquaintance with Blakeney – and so I was used to mishaps and blunders, but of all the muddles I had ever gotten myself into, this was most certainly by far the worst. It might even be my last if all fared as I was sure it would.
The sudden feeling of a firm hand on my shoulder wrenched me from my thoughts and I turned to face the intruder.
It was Blakeney, and he looked, at that moment, anything but the fop I once knew. His eyes actually showed concern, and there was the devilish grin of an adventurer on his face.
I withdrew slightly, as guilt sickened me and I averted my gaze lest he guess at my thoughts. "Did Holte tell you to see me?" I muttered.
Blakeney laughed. "No, Worthsby, I had intended to talk with you at first opportunity, and well, here it is!"
"You d-don't doubt me?" I blurted hastily, darting a look of dismay at my friend.
"Odd's fish, man. Wouldn't dream of it," Blakeney smiled. "But, we all have our fears, 'tis only natural." He bestowed such a searching, knowing look upon me that I felt he could see into the deepest secrets of my heart.
"Oh, Percy!" I groaned, my pride caving easily to such sincerity. "I will follow you wherever you may lead – truly I shall – but I worry I shall serve only to bring everything to failure." I laughed bitterly. "You know my luck! Cards, women, life…I haven't an ounce of it. There are days I cannot tie my own cravat and I've been thrown at riding so many times it's a wonder my head hasn't come off my shoulders. Can't even insult a man without becoming a stammering fool. What a mess I will make of all your grand adventures!"
"La, man!" he returned heartily, taking my shoulder once more and looking me in the eyes, "Therein lies the beauty of it. You needn't worry about your own luck. You see, Chance is an unsightly old crone, toothless and bald but for one hair on her head, all one has to do is seize that hair and he'll find his way out of the thickest of scrapes. I have learned the knack of taking hold of that hair, and I promise, I will see you through whatever happens. All you have to do is follow my instructions to the letter, and all will be well. You'll see!"
Never in my life had anyone looked out for me. Since my boyhood days, if ever I followed a band of so-called friends into trouble, I was usually the one left behind to catch the punishment. It seemed my lot to suffer the disasters everyone else was so good at escaping. But Blakeney was different. Maybe he was right. Maybe he would see me through whatever happened. A devotion, stronger than all my fears began to surge through my being. I would follow this man wherever he led me and serve him to the very best of my inability! "Percy," I offered my hand, "I'm your man!"
Percy took it and we shook hands firmly.
As he left, I found I felt much better, and I repeated over and over to myself the words which had comforted me the most:
"All you have to do is follow my instructions to the letter, and all will be well. You'll see!"
Following instructions…What could possibly go wrong with that?