The day was well advanced when Marguerite woke,
refreshed by her long sleep. Louise had brought her some fresh
milk and a dish of fruit, and she partook of this frugal breakfast
with hearty appetite.
Thoughts crowded thick and fast in her mind as
she munched her grapes; most of them went galloping away after
the tall, erect figure of her husband, whom she had watched riding
out of site more than five hours ago.
In answer to her eager inquiries, Louise brought
back the news that the groom had come home with Sultan, having
left Sir Percy in London. The groom thought that his master was
about to get on board his schooner, which was lying off just below
London Bridge. Sir Percy had ridden thus far, had then met Briggs,
the skipper of the DAY DREAM, and had sent the groom back to Richmond
with Sultan and the empty saddle.
This news puzzled Marguerite more than ever.
Where could Sir Percy be going just now in the DAY DREAM? On Armand's
behalf, he had said. Well! Sir Percy had influential friends everywhere.
Perhaps he was going to Greenwich, or. . .but Marguerite ceased
to conjecture; all would be explained anon: he said that he would
come back, and that he would remember. A long, idle day lay before
Marguerite. She was expecting a visit of her old school-fellow,
little Suzanne de Tournay. With all the merry mischief at her
command, she had tendered her request for Suzanne's company to
the Comtesse in the Presence of the Prince of Wales last night.
His Royal Highness had loudly applauded the notion, and declared
that he would give himself the pleasure of calling on the two
ladies in the course of the afternoon. The Comtesse had not dared
to refuse, and then and there was entrapped into a promise to
send little Suzanne to spend a long and happy day at Richmond
with her friend.
Marguerite expected her eagerly; she longed for
a chat about old schooldays with the child; she felt that she
would prefer Suzanne's company to that of anyone else, and together
they would roam through the fine old garden and rich deer park,
or stroll along the river.
But Suzanne had not come yet, and Marguerite
being dressed, prepared to go downstairs. She looked quite a girl
this morning in her simple muslin frock, with a broad blue sash
round her slim waist, and the dainty cross-over fichu into which,
at her bosom, she had fastened a few late crimson roses.
She crossed the landing outside her own suite
of apartments, and stood still for a moment at the head of the
fine oak staircase, which led to the lower floor. On her left
were her husband's apartments, a suite of rooms which she practically
They consisted of bedroom, dressing and reception
room, and at the extreme end of the landing, of a small study,
which, when Sir Percy did not use it, was always kept locked.
His own special and confidential valet, Frank, had charge of this
room. No one was ever allowed to go inside. My lady had never
cared to do so, and the other servants, had, of course, not dared
to break this hard-and-fast rule.
Marguerite had often, with that good-natured contempt
which she had recently adopted towards her husband, chaffed him
about this secrecy which surrounded his private study. Laughingly
she had always declared that he strictly excluded all prying eyes
from his sanctum for fear they should detect how very little "study"
went on within its four walls: a comfortable arm-chair for Sir
Percy's sweet slumbers was, no doubt, its most conspicuous piece
Marguerite thought of all this on this bright
October morning as she glanced along the corridor. Frank was evidently
busy with his master's rooms, for most of the doors stood open,
that of the study amongst the others.
A sudden burning, childish curiosity seized her
to have a peep at Sir Percy's sanctum. This restriction, of course,
did not apply to her, and Frank would, of course, not dare to
oppose her. Still, she hoped that the valet would be busy in one
of the other rooms, that she might have that one quick peep in
secret, and unmolested.
Gently, on tip-toe, she crossed the landing and,
like Blue Beard's wife, trembling half with excitement and wonder,
she paused a moment on the threshold, strangely perturbed and
The door was ajar, and she could not see anything
within. She pushed it open tentatively: there was no sound: Frank
was evidently not there, and she walked boldly in.
At once she was struck by the severe simplicity
of everything around her: the dark and heavy hangings, the massive
oak furniture, the one or two maps on the wall, in no way recalled
to her mind the lazy man about town, the lover of race-courses,
the dandified leader of fashion, that was the outward representation
of Sir Percy Blakeney.
There was no sign here, at any rate, of hurried
departure. Everything was in its place, not a scrap of paper littered
the floor, not a cupboard or drawer was left open. The curtains
were drawn aside, and through the open window the fresh morning
air was streaming in.
Facing the window, and well into the centre of
the room, stood a ponderous business-like desk, which looked as
if it had seen much service. On the wall to the left of the desk,
reaching almost from floor to ceiling, was a large full-length
portrait of a woman, magnificently framed, exquisitely painted,
and signed with the name of Boucher. It was Percy's mother.
Marguerite knew very little about her, except
that she had died abroad, ailing in body as well as in mind, which
Percy was still a lad. She must have been a very beautiful woman
once, when Boucher painted her, and as Marguerite looked at the
portrait, she could not but be struck by the extraordinary resemblance
which must have existed between mother and son. There was the
same low, square forehead, crowned with thick, fair hair, smooth
and heavy; the same deep-set, somewhat lazy blue eyes beneath
firmly marked, straight brows; and in those eyes there was the
same intensity behind that apparent laziness, the same latent
passion which used to light up Percy's face in the olden days
before his marriage, and which Marguerite had again noted, last
night at dawn, when she had come quite close to him, and had allowed
a note of tenderness to creep into her voice.
Marguerite studied the portrait, for it interested
her: after that she turned and looked again at the ponderous desk.
It was covered with a mass of papers, all neatly tied and docketed,
which looked like accounts and receipts arrayed with perfect method.
It had never before struck Marguerite--nor had she, alas! found
it worth while to inquire--as to how Sir Percy, whom all the world
had credited with a total lack of brains, administered the vast
fortune which his father had left him.
Since she had entered this neat, orderly room,
she had been taken so much by surprise, that this obvious proof
of her husband's strong business capacities did not cause her
more than a passing thought of wonder. But it also strengthened
her in the now certain knowledge that, with his worldly inanities,
his foppish ways, and foolish talk, he was not only wearing a
mask, but was playing a deliberate and studied part.
Marguerite wondered again. Why should he take
all this trouble? Why should he--who was obviously a serious,
earnest man--wish to appear before his fellow-men as an empty-headed
He may have wished to hide his love for a wife
who held him in contempt. . .but surely such an object could have
been gained at less sacrifice, and with far less trouble than
constant incessant acting of an unnatural part.
She looked round her quite aimlessly now: she
was horribly puzzled, and a nameless dread, before all this strange,
unaccountable mystery, had begun to seize upon her. She felt cold
and uncomfortable suddenly in this severe and dark room. There
were no pictures on the wall, save the fine Boucher portrait,
only a couple of maps, both of parts of France, one of the North
coast and the other of the environs of Paris. What did Sir Percy
want with those, she wondered.
Her head began to ache, she turned away from this
strange Blue Beard's chamber, which she had entered, and which
she did not understand. She did not wish Frank to find her here,
and with a fast look round, she once more turned to the door.
As she did so, her foot knocked against a small object, which
had apparently been lying close to the desk, on the carpet, and
which now went rolling, right across the room.
She stooped to pick it up. It was a solid gold
ring, with a flat shield, on which was engraved a small device.
Marguerite turned it over in her
fingers, and then studied the engraving on the shield. It represented
a small star-shaped flower, of a shape she had seen so distinctly
twice before: once at the opera, and once at Lord Grenville's
to Chapter 19 - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
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