Chapter Seven: Chauvelin's Confusion
Chauvelin was startled out of his stupor by the rattle of an old wagon coming down the road. He realized, by the faint touch of gray at the eastern horizon that he must have been sitting for some hours, and yet, despite that lapse of time, his heart and mind were just as sick and weary as when he had sat down. He leaned forward to stand but was deterred by painful stiffness incapacitating him. Fighting this agony, he forced himself to gain his feet and stood, rubbing himself in an attempt for circulation. At this point, if he was going to live, he had better seek shelter. Stamping his numb feet in the mud left in the streets from yesterday's rain shower, he woodenly made his way back to the inn feeling old and tired. He did not particularly wish to see Marguerite again, but the inn was the nearest public building promising some sort of restoration.
He noticed that the two guards originally at the door had apparently left their posts, for Chauvelin did not see them anywhere. He felt no concern over this, if Marguerite stayed or went at this moment it mattered little to him. The handle to the door of the inn was wet when he opened it, and bypassing the little room Marguerite had been in, Chauvelin ducked into the dining area, where he discovered the whereabouts of the two guards. They sat casually at a table, with some other soldiers in uniform, drinking some spiced wine and eating some wonderful smelling soup. Ah, well! Let the guards be warm and well fed if they wanted to, Chauvelin was certain he did not care enough to order them back outside. Chauvelin reached for the back of a chair to pull it forth and suddenly realized there was some blood on his hand. It startled him, as he could not possibly conjecture as to how it had come to be on him for it had not been there before. He recollected that the door handle had been wet and that this blood must have been what was upon it. Wondering where such a thing could have come from he glanced down at the floor and looked across the way to the small sitting room. Here and there he could see small drops of blood, leading straight from the front door through which he had entered, on to enter into the room where Marguerite had been. Fearing he knew not what, Chauvelin made his way to the small room. He did not notice that the guards had been watching him, nor that one of them had stood to his feet and would have stopped Chauvelin had it not been for his companion putting a hand on his arm and bidding him resume his seat. If Chauvelin had been even more observant, he may also have noticed that one of them bore quite a resemblance to a certain Phillip Glynde and the other to a man by the name of Galveston.
The door was closed, but not locked, and Chauvelin cautiously pushed it open. The sight he saw was that of Marguerite bending over someone reclined upon the sofa which was pulled somewhat nearer the fire than Chauvelin remembered it to have been before. He could not see who it was as the person's face was blocked by Marguerite's figure. She turned as she perceived someone had entered, suddenly revealing the personage.
It was a man, wrapped up to his chin in blankets, with a pale face and all too familiar features. Had the men recovered the corpse already and for some odd reason deposited it in this inn?
Marguerite tensed like a protective lioness at Chauvelin's presence and instinctively put her arm over the man on the sofa, whispering, "Percy…"
The man opened his eyes and Chauvelin found himself rooted to the spot in disbelief. He must be going mad. That was the only logical explanation for this. He was going stark raving mad. He emitted a noise that can only best be described as a strangled half laugh of joy and half cry of dismay.
"Ah, M. Chambertin," Sir Percy Blakeney said with his customary joviality, although considerably slower of speech, as if he were enormously fatigued, "You have done me the honor of paying me a visit. Forgive my manners, but until I become somewhat less of a human ice block I am afraid I cannot rise to meet you." He turned his head with a smile to his wife, "A little more brandy if you please, Margot."
Marguerite willingly put a flask up to her husband's lips. Chauvelin continued to stare at this scene in disbelief, speaking not a word.
"Sink me," Percy continued after taking a draught, "my dear fellow, I do not believe I have ever seen you look quite this way before. I suppose I owe you some explanation."
Chauvelin agreed wholeheartedly and thought that the explanation had damn well better be a good one.
"Well, let me start with where we parted ways," Percy began.
"Don't tire yourself my love," Marguerite interrupted with an admonishing whisper.
"It will only take a moment," he smiled and continued to Chauvelin, "Let me see, you had discharged your rifle into me – that was demmed unsporting of you by the way and I'm not quite sure I forgive you for that yet – and then you took your boat back to shore. What you did not know was that my wound, as you can now surmise, was not fatal. Not wishing to be shot at again by you or your men I slipped back below the surface of the water and swam round to the stern of your small craft. I caught hold of a bit of the rope trailing behind and thus was towed back to shore. Now, in the meantime, Tony had taken the girls we had rescued to the Daydream. Seeing that I had still not returned he gathered several members of the league – and Marguerite, whom I had allowed to accompany me on this expedition. My dear, perhaps you should continue from here?" Percy offered to Marguerite.
She assented and began. "We went ashore, the men disguised as revolutionary guards, and I without disguise. This proved to be a mistake as I was recognized in the town by a local soldier. Fortunately, his captain ordered that two of the disguised league members should hold me captive in this inn. He then ordered that the rest of the league members should join his men as he might be in need of assistance. As it so happened, he was on his way to aid you, Chauvelin, and had unwittingly recruited the Pimpernel's own men to aid in his capture. Galveston and Glynde, fearful at the narrow escape I had made, intended to take me straight back to the yacht but I convinced them to keep me in this inn where they could pretend to watch me and so have a good vantage point for any possible goings on. I told them they might let you in should you have a notion to do so. I hoped to gain information and was not in a position that you might attempt to utilize for ill. I will say that I had never thought to hear the tidings you bore me and that I did believe them to be true, Chauvelin, and I shall say no more for you may ascertain what you wish of the rest of my response."
"To which I have something to say," Percy said with great severity, "You may surmise Chauvelin, the great extent to which I have temporarily been incapacitated by knowing that you shall not feel a blow from my fist on your body. God help me, if I were not so demmed weak right now you wouldn't be left standing, considering your actions toward my wife!"
"Percy, it matters not now," Marguerite said.
"I would spare you so much if I had been able to," Percy murmured in reply to her.
"So how did you get here?" the first words Chauvelin had spoken since this great shock escaped somehow from his tightly constricted throat.
Percy narrowed his eyes at Chauvelin, "Well," he smiled, "I suppose a story is not much demmed good without an ending, what? Now where were we? Oh, so the whole band of men managed to make it to the beach before your little boat reached shore. My men were utterly clueless of the events that had taken place out on the water. I myself was not aware of their presence on the shore." Blakeney recalled in his mind that moment he had finally dragged himself half out of the water, crouching behind the boat, aching with pain from his wound and loss of blood, and so numb with cold that he could barely move his fingers. He closed his eyes briefly to blot out the unpleasant recollection and continued. "They soon learned, judging by your orders and by word of mouth from the other men that I had been killed – or at least assumed so. The poor fellows didn't know what to do for a moment. I simply knew I wanted a dry coat and perhaps a good soldier's disguise. From my position behind the boat I managed to catch hold of one of the soldiers and yanked him over into my hiding place. Fortunately, this turned out to be one of my own men, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, I believe you are acquainted with him, Chambertin?"
Chauvelin nodded numbly. What else could he do?
Indeed, it had been a very fortunate thing that it had been Andrew he had grabbed, for the instant he had pulled him into his hiding place, Blakeney had all but lost consciousness from the exertion and would have been finished off easily by a loyal revolutionary. Percy continued, "Sir Andrew obligingly gave me his coat and with the help of the others of my friends, soon overtook the remainder of men who were actually faithful to your service, my dear sir. So there you have it! This inn being the nearest sort of place to obtain warmth and shelter from the cold, Andrew, Tony and the others…managed…and now…" he seemed rather faint again and he turned his head toward Marguerite. He gazed at her happily from under half-closed lids as only a man can look at a woman whom he loves more than life itself. "My dearest, bravest, wife," he murmured. Marguerite responded by giving him another sip from the flask of brandy.
Something in Chauvelin finally snapped. "Damn you, Blakeney!" he cried out. "Damn but this is not fair! You put me through all that and – and you're alive!" he started to laugh. Suddenly he felt very heavy and a haze came over his vision. Chauvelin realized he must be fainting. He had never done such a thing before but was certain that this must be what it felt like if he were to do so. His last recollections of that moment were that of the rough-hewn wood floor coming toward his face and that foppish, half-apologetic voice saying:
"Demme, sometimes I do feel sorry for the poor chap."
A/N: It was hard not giving away in review responses what I'm sure most of you suspected! So, now I can say what I would have said in the beginning: I would not dare to do what Orczy herself never did. Long live the Scarlet Pimpernel!