A/N: Sorry for the time lapses between updates. Here are the last two chapters, I hope you enjoy reading them. Thanks once again for the reviews as well!
Chapter Six: His Wife
Marguerite Blakeney would be the perfect candidate for Chauvelin to torment. As he approached the inn, still clutching his cloak tightly against the stiff seaside wind, he began to relish the opportunity granted to him. Chauvelin had grown accustomed to inflicting pain upon Percy Blakeney through cruelty to his wife, and even though her husband was now dead, it would certainly lift his spirits to have his final victory over him through her. "Not all has been snatched away from me, my gallant friend," he chuckled into the darkness, "I still have your wife - as has often been the case before. Only this time you will be unable to save her, and I shall complete my destruction of you through the one you loved best and dearest." This thought pleased Chauvelin immensely and he began to feel like himself again. It truly would be a victory after all. His steps became more brisk as he crossed the mud slicked street to the building indicated by his men and a faint smile curled his thin lips.
The inn itself was small and on the distant outskirts of the town. Two guards of the French army now stood casually at its entrance, seeming not to fear any sort of resistance on their captive's part. As Chauvelin entered he found Marguerite Blakeney standing before the fire in a small waiting room adjacent to the front door, warming her hands. Her golden red locks of hair were quite the more fiery for the light of the flames reflected off them. Her large expressive eyes turned coldly upon Chauvelin's spare figure, but showed no hint of the deep sorrow Chauvelin knew would soon cloud them, just as soon as she were given the news. The cruelty of what he was about to do did not bother him in the least at this moment. He knew this news could very well kill Marguerite. Perhaps that was exactly what he was hoping for.
"Good evening, Lady Blakeney," he smiled sarcastically, "it is rather a cold one, is it not?"
Marguerite sighed, "Chauvelin, in truth, I know not why you continue to try to capture my husband through holding me hostage. Has there ever been ought to give you hope that you might succeed in such proceedings?"
Chauvelin chuckled. This was going to be so much better than he had thought. "Perhaps I have succeeded, already," he said in a rather mysterious, nonchalant sort of way.
Marguerite knew this was intended to make her ask him what he meant by such words and proudly held her tongue. Whatever danger she or her husband was in, she had no intention of uselessly shaming herself.
Chauvelin took some snuff and seated himself in front of the fire. He was rather enjoying this battle of wits.
Marguerite had, by now, formulated an uncompromising repartee and said, "But perhaps you have not."
"Perhaps," Chauvelin replied casually, "but then, my men and I did encounter a certain man on the road tonight, shot his horse out from under him, in fact, and the sorry fellow had to run from us on foot." He gazed at Marguerite to observe her expression.
Her abilities as an actress were serving Marguerite well at this moment. While she could not affect a careless temper in such a situation, she was doing very well maintaining a stony mask of inanimate lack of emotion. She spoke not a word – but gave a little shrug as if to say Chauvelin had not yet captured her interest.
Chauvelin continued, "He made it as far as the coast where he then proceeded to swim away from us. We pursued him in a small craft, overtook him and shot him."
Marguerite bit her lip as she heard this, and all the color drained from her face. She tried to make it appear as though she took a seat simply for her own pleasure, but the reality of it was that if she had not sat down when she did, she surely would have lost consciousness. "You must be more plain with me," she said tersely, "What does this man have to do with your success?"
"Well, now that he is dead," Chauvelin replied, "My success is complete."
Marguerite took in a little gasp of air and was suddenly on her feet. She did not care what her enemy thought of her now. Nearly losing composure altogether Marguerite pled, "Chauvelin, please have the goodness to tell me who this man was."
Chauvelin paused just long enough to let the verbal knife he had plunged into this woman's bosom twist a bit, then stated, "The Scarlet Pimpernel, who else but he?"
"Chauvelin, please do not jest with me," Marguerite's voice dropped to a low tone, almost threatening in her earnest demand, much as an omninous quiet before the storm, "it is more than I can bear."
"And so I do not jest with you my lady, but am rather in dead earnest." Chauvelin's cool voice took on an edge of finality. "Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel, is dead. I have seen him so with my own eyes. Indeed, it was by my hand."
Marguerite stood very still for a moment. So many times before she had been faced with the possibility of her husband's death, and every time she had mourned the idea of life without him, but it was usually for naught as her husband always came through everything, defying all odds. It was enough to make this moment unreal. Enough to make it seem as though this was but another time when her Percy would outwit them all. No doubt any moment she would hear his foppish voice taunting Chauvelin or feel his strong arms encircle her. No, he could not possibly be dead, she could not lose her trust in him and believe his enemy – and yet! As she looked at the little Frenchman before her, Marguerite could see the truth written upon his face. Chauvelin normally had quite perfect control over his emotions, particularly when he set out to torment her, but as Marguerite studied his features she could see that he was shaken, and that he himself was finding it hard to believe his enemy was dead. She could see the glint of victory in his eyes and an all but imperceptible twitching of his jaw muscles that bespoke of the stress his high-strung nerves must be undergoing at such a time. Chauvelin obviously sincerely believed that Percy was dead.
The realization finally struck Marguerite and she let out a heart-rending cry that would have torn Chauvelin's own heart in two had it not been turned to stone. She sank back into the chair and let her grief come, regardless of who might see it. She did not care anymore. What was life without Percy? She would die soon too, of that she was certain. Whether death at the hands of the French republic or simply from terrible grief, Marguerite had no will to live any longer than she could possibly manage without actually physically ending it herself. Why couldn't she be dead this very moment?
Chauvelin was one of the few who knew of the great love between Percy and Marguerite, but yet he was unconscious of the full extent of its great depth and strength. Indeed, it mattered little to him except that it gave him something more to gloat over. His vengeance truly was every minute becoming more and more complete. This woman could feel so much pain and he might wreak a complete victory upon her through it!
"Yes, weep," he said, standing over her, a tone of mockery creeping into his voice, "for your dear, perfect hero who was always victorious – until now. I have put an end to him. Yes, I!" he chuckled. Just hearing those words, even from his own mouth felt like a soothing balm to his mind. "I have failed many times before but the last victory is the best and the victory is now mine! I have defeated he who was considered of a might beyond human capacity. It was I who outwitted the schemer whose plans never failed, it was I!" His voice had gradually risen from the calm level of insinuation to the cry of victory. Pausing now, Chauvelin's thin lips curled back in a smirk. "He has failed you miserably, Marguerite. What sort of husband was he to you? How he neglected you in his foolhardiness! Endlessly running about our country, rescuing people as though this petty goodness might somehow make up for his failure toward you." He laughed contemptuously. "I am happy now. Truly happy. I have had my vengeance upon him."
The words were torturing Marguerite. His cruelty was so relentless! He was trying to drive her mad, perhaps because he feared the same fate himself and wished to inflict it upon another soul first. His gloating stung her, as salt will when rubbed into a deep, painful wound. His hatred was piercing her to her core, at this moment when all her broken heart needed was but one comforting word. The fact that it was he who had done the deed! And it was he who was so smug at having accomplished the feat of destroying the one who had been dearest to her – dearer than her life ten times over. His sarcastic smile, his cold, cruel eyes…Marguerite could not bear it any longer. A fury almost as strong as her grief rose up inside her. Clenching her fists so tight the blood left her hands, Marguerite virtually leapt out of her chair and whirled about to face the detestable man who had stood over her.
"Oh, stop! Stop!" Marguerite cried out suddenly with terrible vehemence, looking down upon the face whose features were, to her, the embodiment of evil. "You horrid creature! Did a mother's womb form you or were you placed on this earth by devils? Does your hatred, your evil, your vengeance, know no boundaries? What a vile wretch you are to find such pleasure in destroying all that is good! Disfiguring all that is beautiful! Hating all that is love!" A sob escaped Marguerite at this. "What is your purpose?" She cried. "Would you wish the entire world devoid of happiness? May God have mercy on your soul!"
Chauvelin made a great show of calmly flicking open his snuff box and taking a pinch so coolly that he was certain Blakeney himself would approve of his unflappable reserve. "I can assure you such words do not move me," Chauvelin remarked. "I have heard similar appeals many times before at the tribunal from arrogant aristocrats seeking mercy. It is all the same to me."
"I pity you!" Marguerite said. "I know not why I should but I do! All you have is your hate, and when your hate is gone what will you have left? You will have nothing!" she cried, taking full advantage of her height to look down on her shorter foe and add weight to her desperate words. "Nothing but a great empty space in your body where your heart once resided because hate has eaten it up completely. Is that what you desire? To live with no love? Is this how you envisioned yourself, when you decided to become what you have become? You will die a miserable old man, friendless and purposeless. Is this how you truly want to be remembered? As the cause of sorrow to a woman who never did you ill? As the murderer of a man who daily risked his life for the sake of others?" A sob very obviously caught in Marguerite's throat now, but she took a breath and continued, "As a villain? You have wrought your human vengeance, but, as I am sure Julliette de Marny would easily be able to tell you, God has warned us against such measures. 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' He has said."
"For those of us who do not believe in a God, we must make our own vengeance," Chauvelin answered, still apparently unmoved. "And I care not what others may think of me, nor how I am remembered."
"I pity you yet more," Marguerite said bitterly, "for a life without God is worse than a life without love. Yours will be a life of sorrow for your heart is hardened, and your conscience has died long ago. A man without conscience has gone past the point of saving. How can you expect to go anywhere that love is now without this crime forever haunting you?"
Chauvelin gazed impassively at the tearstained face before him and heaved a great sigh as if to say this discussion was quite too tiresome to be tolerated much longer. His habitual sarcastic smirk curled his lip – an expression he always could rely on to disguise any emotion he might have been feeling. Indeed, it was his mask just as Blakeney's foppish grin had been. Having thus managed to continue to hold Marguerite at a distance, Chauvelin turned and seated himself in a chair.
Did Chauvelin continue in his indifference because his heart was turned to stone? Or was it because there was actually a spot within the hardness that beat with a real humanity that he was ever in danger of revealing? A tiny spot of tenderness capable of love and compassion? Shall we laugh at the very thought of this? Chauvelin! Of all people! If this place did indeed exist in his heart he certainly must consider it a fatal weakness requiring suppression – or at least concealment – at all costs.
But, perhaps it was so. For the vehemence of the distraught woman before him was beginning to recall the thoughts Chauvelin had been wrestling with earlier. Thoughts he ought to never have considered if he indeed had been as hardened as he had thought himself to be. Perhaps there was something redeemable in Chauvelin after all.
He began to wish Marguerite would stop, but apparently, she had no intention of doing so, for suddenly, her voice became very calm and serious as she asked,
"Will you ever be able to see your daughter again?"
"Now that is none of your concern!" Chauvelin exclaimed. Really! Marguerite was going much too far now. She had struck him in the only place he had a semblance of feeling. The very tiny portion that was not stone.
But Marguerite did not stop. Perhaps she sensed she had finally found a hole in his carefully wrought armor of inhumanity, and she drove harder with her sword of words. She must continue for Percy's sake. She must not let Chauvelin defeat her. "Will you ever be able to bear the sight of the one I know you must love?" she said, searching Chauvelin's eyes for a glimmer of emotion but Chauvelin had closed them tightly and pressed his hand to his forehead. He did not want Marguerite to see that he was vulnerable. Marguerite now knelt at his side as he sat in his chair, still trying to catch a glance from his eyes. Resting a hand on his knee for emphasis, imploring him desperately for a response, she continued. "Will you be able to take your grandchild on your knee and look into his innocent eyes? Can you ever again accept the caresses of love and daughterly devotion that Fleurette ever has for you? You will know every time you look into her beautiful face that she is only alive through the skill and generosity of the very man you have killed tonight! If there is a shred of humanity in your heart Chauvelin," Marguerite rose again to her feet as she could no longer fight her sobs and the tears ran madly down her cheeks, "you must see! You must see, Chauvelin, that you will never be able to live with yourself!"
It was true. So terribly true. In her grief Marguerite had wrought a final victory over him, his plans and supposed triumph were turning ever less desirable. He did have a 'shred of humanity' after all. A remnant of the soul that had, once, a very long time ago, acknowledged the need for love. His heart was only very nearly turned hard. And now that Chauvelin had momentarily lost his grip on suppressing it, the feeling had come out to torment him. If Chauvelin had been in a stronger state of mind at the moment, no doubt he could have come up with an argument to counter Marguerite, or at least convince himself of her inaccuracy, but under the present strain his nerves were taking he could not. Rising abruptly from his chair, he turned his back on Marguerite and looked out the window into the darkness. Chauvelin felt himself shivering again even though he was right by a blazing fire.
He had long suppressed that pinched and tiny tender place within him. He could not acknowledge it and seek power, hatred, and evil at the same time. It had lain dormant. He had silenced it and it had not troubled him. Now it would be heard! And in hearing it, Chauvelin was brought about face to look at what he had done and recoil in horror and misery at it! Would his mind be able to handle now what this feeling told him? His hardened heart had given him no remorse for his evil. Now there was a shred of remorse and it was hideously awful! Was he actually sorry?
Chauvelin's mind was reeling. What had he done? Nothing had been right ever since he had pulled the trigger of that rifle. Without another word to Marguerite he strode blindly out of the room, leaving her to now resume her broken hearted misery in peace. Marguerite threw herself face first onto the sofa as soon as he was gone and wept bitterly.
Chauvelin stalked doggedly out into the chilly gusts of air whipping about the small inn. The world was not fair! Even in death his enemy had defeated him, cheating him of the victory. Blakeney had turned the destruction upon his foe instead! What was there to life if Chauvelin could not at least have one single victory over that man? Chauvelin turned his thoughts to ending his own existence but quickly came to the unpleasant realization that to do so would only give the victory to Blakeney again. For if Chauvelin's own success was supposed to have come in his enemy's death, then would not Blakeney's demise have been a victory to himself if it resulted in Chauvelin's death? He stared out upon the bleak, late winter fields surrounding the city, illuminated by the cold light of the crescent moon.
The world was empty to him. There was no one to love, and no one to hate. He snorted. There was not even a person that was worthy enough to attempt to control just now. Chauvelin sat numbly on a bench outside the town hall, remorse aching in his heart. He began to wish something that he never would have dreamt he would consider. He found himself wishing that Blakeney were still alive, that the deed causing so much misery had not been committed, and that any moment now, he would hear that awful, irritating, inane laugh…