The Scarlet Pimpernel and the Hag
Percy's arm snuck it's way to Marguerite's waist as he moved her along through one of his quarters in the Quartier de la Gare. "And what am I to do after that?" She looked to him, her eyebrow raised.
"Well," he sighed, "we can discuss that later. I must don you with your disguise first." Percy's smile was large and amused. He pushed the door in front of them, revealing a room full of chests, organized according to the different roles of the League. Some were filled with mere scraps of soiled clothing, and others with hats, wigs, uniforms, and even dresses. She giggled as she sifted through the hat chest and put on a red bonnet rouge with a tricolor ribbon.
"Mort aux aristos! Vive la République!" She cried with enthusiasm. Percy chuckled and then swiped the hat off of her curls.
"No, love," he shook his head, "I have something much more terrifying for you in store." His droopy eyes were lit with excitement.
"What? Are you going to try and pass me off as a soldier, perhaps?"
Percy scoffed, "No, you are a woman. You could not pass by the bloodthirsty hounds at those Paris gates for a slightest moment."
Marguerite pouted, "I always wanted to play the part of a man. Even my director denied that of me."
"Oh my poor Margot! " He touched her cheek with mock compassion, "Never given the chance to fulfill her deepest dreams. If ever, you would see that you are lucky to be a woman." He blushed quickly while she laughed.
"What is that supposed to mean Percy? Does my husband like playing the part of a woman?"
He toyed with the hat in his hand, "Men are disgusting, hairy and smelly creatures. I don't know how you beautiful women can love us."
Marguerite grinned, "I must be one of a fortunate few, for my husband is neither smelly, hairy or disgusting."
"In a few minutes, he will be," her husband remarked.
"Well, that can't be helped, can it?" She kissed his cheek and moved away, fingering some of the disguises, "Now, what does the Scarlet Pimpernel have in store for his wife?" He turned to one of the chests full of dresses and dug in, searching for an appropriate costume.
"If I can't pass as a man, then how can you get away with being a woman?" She asked, leaning against the wall near him.
"I can only pass by as a female if I am an atrocious mess, and if it is absolutely necessary." he groaned, " And stooping so much will someday give me back problems."
"How terrible," she cried with mock horror, "Sir Percy Blakeney with arthritis! Sink meh if I can hardly stand to say it! I think I might swoon..." she dramatically covered her eyes with the back of her hand and staggered into him. Percy caught her involuntarily and set her straight, grinning down at her for a moment before rummaging in the chest again. He pulled out a dress of almost ripped cloth up to her small frame.
"May be a little baggy, but it will hide your fine form."
"Do you have nothing else?" Marguerite eyed the fabric with distaste and asked haughtily, "What will my tailors say?"
"Gad, that is what I think whenever I come to this blasted country." She smiled sweetly at him and then frowned at the dress as he threw it to her. She smelled something sickeningly sweet, like sweat in the summer. She sniffed the rags in her arms and gagged.
"What did you dip this thing in? Sour onion juice?"
"Is there even such a thing?" Percy laughed as he dug around for more of her outfit in other chests.
"I doubt I can even put this on without puking up lunch," she complained. "I am NOT wearing these rags."
"And you wonder why I don't normally let you come with me to France," he muttered. Marguerite stiffened and dropped the dress, blinking in shock. "Really Marguerite, you always say you want to help, but I don't think you realize how much is at stake. It may seem like a game to you, but it-"
"I know that." she sputtered. "I've been through too much not to. Have I not experienced it with you on those cliffs in Calais, then in Boulogne, and when you saved the Dauphin?"
"Then take it seriously!" His forehead creased into worried wrinkles. It was the Scarlet Pimpernel speaking to her now, not her husband, and she sighed.
"I am sorry, Percy. I guess I will have to live with it," she sighed and then could not help but add, "You cannot blame me, though, for complaining about these clothes."
"That's the point. They aren't supposed to compliment you. If it did, that would be treason, what?"
"Oh nonsense, I could look pretty and pass through the gates of Paris without being stopped for questioning."
"No," he insisted with a certain fire in his eyes, "Your beauty is unnatural, so it must be from God. God is treasonable, so they will suspect you."
"What marvelous reasoning you have."
"You would have to truss me up like a turkey before I allow you to leave here without a disguise."
"And why is that?" He handed her the rest of her outfit, which she took reluctantly: a moth-eaten wrap, a dingy cap she suspected used to be white, and an apron just as dirty.
"I learned a long time ago, to never let anyone, not even the people I rescue, to see my true face."
"Did it lead to complications with your secrecy in England?"
"Exactly that," he laughed, "It was a problem of your finding out, as they recognized me, but you had no idea why." He embraced her, wrapping his long arms around her waist and back, smoothing over the creases in her fabric. "How petty that seems, now that you are here with me." Marguerite pulled away, warm inside and out, and smiled into his blue eyes.
"I need to get dressed now, Percy, if we are to save this Marquis and his family. We have been diddle-dallying too long. What did you tell Andrew? Five o'clock? It is now almost three!"
"Sink me!" he smiled and kept gazing into her eyes, as if lost in them, and responded almost dreamily, "Where has the time gone?"
"You have been staring at me too long. That's where time went," she chastised playfully, making him snap out of his daze.
"Go then, so that you may be too ugly to be admired."
Marguerite bit her lip as she dressed behind the screen, trying to remember what it felt like to be clean and smell nice before she dressed in these rags. She knew Percy would gladly and easily take her place if she requested it, but he was giving her a chance to prove her worth, to willingly go anywhere, and do anything for the Scarlet Pimpernel.
The dress felt like smog surrounding her in a cloak of smelliness and uncomfortable warmth. She finally stepped out, her outfit slightly hanging off of her in the wrong places, and she felt discomfort at shedding off her clean, but plain, farmer's wife dress Percy had made her wear when she came inside Paris. She was far from sheltered London and fashionable clothes. She spread out her arms and came at Percy.
"Oh," he sniffed and pinched his nose as she came closer and started to back away.
"Come to me," she hissed, her voice rough like sandpaper, and advanced on him, "Percy my love. Give me a kiss," Her husband sputtered out laughing and moved behind a chest full of clothing, so it was between them. She reached out for him, but he shrunk away.
"Begad," He pulled out his eyeglass from somewhere. Gee, did he keep it with him at all times? He eyed her with it now and raised an eyebrow. "Tis a new sight for me. I have ne'er beheld a hag a-runnin' after me before!"
The hag smirked and ran around one side of the chest, while the fop moved to where she had been . They had switched places, and now, were circling the chest, always arm-length away and exactly across from each other. Percy kept laughing and stumbling while Marguerite kept herself in character and hissed, snarled and chased after him until eventually, he collapsed, holding his sides as his massive frame shook.
Marguerite kneeled next to him, moved his head onto her lap, and crouched near his face. She whispered hoarsely, "I told you I'd get you!" Percy wheezed and rolled onto his stomach.
'You smell terrible, Margot!" He informed her in between heaves.
"I told you-rotten onion juice," she said in her normal voice. He rolled back onto her lap, his eyes merry and filled with tears. She looked down and smiled, truly happy being with him. It was wonderful to act again. She couldn't attempt to act after her marriage-that would have been ridiculous of course, but now, she had an alternative. She could go on adventures with him and play the parts he assigned her.
"Now I know that such a thing exists!" He sat up, somewhat recovered from his spouts of laughter. Marguerite lay her head on his shoulder tentatively, knowing that she did carry around her the smell of rotting vegetables. After a few moments, Percy sighed, "We must get your face done now. Even with your horrid clothes, I still see the face of the most beautiful woman in Europe." He stood and helped her up, a hand on her back as he led her to a desk with a mirror attached to it. She sat on the three-legged stool as he opened up drawers full of cases of ears, noses, eyebrows, moles, and glass vials full of skin-color liquid. He wiped some all over her face and neck with delicate fingers. She was able to watch him attach gray, thick eyebrows, which she laughed at.
'You seriously are going to make me wear these?"
"Of course. Hags do not have delicate, thin eyebrow like yours. I have to be thorough. You have to be the hag."
"Be the hag. Be the hag," she muttered, making Percy laugh, as he applied darker make-up to the lines of her face and neck. It gave the vision that she had wrinkles. Percy frowned when he leaned back and inspected his work. He wiped some of it off and started over.
'Why did you do that? It was fine!"
"I couldn't get-" he paused, trying it over again,"-I couldn't get the illusion correct, but I think this will do." He still looked a little unsatisfied, but he moved to her nose, applying a type of skin color paste to attach the crooked, long nose. He played with the different angles restlessly until Marguerite told him either way was fine. She grinned at herself in the mirror, trying to look as scary as possible, and almost frightened herself.
"What do you want me to do with the cart, Percy?"
"Oh, that..." he closed her eyes with two gentle fingers. She felt him brushing something soft across her eyelid, him drawing lines above, below, and to the side of her eye. "You just need to worry about driving the cart from the Place de la Revolution to the gates. Foullkes will have hidden the Marquis and his family well-hidden under the boards. Just don't," he paused, trying to concentrate as he moved to her other eye, "Just don't attract attention. Appear confident and hag...ish? Support the Revolution. Whenever possible, declare your sentiments."
"Obviously," she told him. "Do anything Citizen Chantal Collet would do or say."
"Good. You can open your eyes now." She opened them and gasped, her whole face wrinkly and dirty. She didn't even look like the same person!
"Lud, Percy! This is wonderful!" She looked to husband, who still scrutinized his work.
"I don't know. I can't seem to get the skin underneath your eyebrow correctly, like the other side."
She pushed away the petty details, "Dieu, love. Not everything can be perfect." Then, Percy did something quite unsuspected. He threw the brush and makeup on the floor in frustration. The thick liquid poured out of the glass shards.
"I can't let you go today," he told her, staring at her intently.
"What?" She stood and suddenly wished she could have been as tall as her husband. He was more intimidating any time of the day because of his height. "I'll follow all your directions. I won't give myself away."
"It's your disguise," he cried, "You are just as beautiful as before. I know they will see through the disguise."
Marguerite looked at herself at the mirror, appalled that he could still see through all of the hag's deformities. "I don't even recognize myself Percy. They won't know what I look like for real. It's fine, really Percy. I can do it."
"I can't risk it," he shook his head and started to wipe away everything that made her appear to be Citizen Collet. Her wrinkles disappeared, her large nose and furry eyebrows. He must really be serious about this.
"Percy. Stop it! I looked fine!"
"No matter what I did," he rummaged around for a dress for himself in the chest, "I could not transform you into a hag. You are just too...too Marguerite. Too gorgeous." He quickly got dressed, since he was supposed to meet Andrew in half an hour, and applied the make-up, somehow got most of his teeth to disappear, and fit a wig full of matted hair on top of his head. It made Marguerite giggle hard to see him dressed as a woman, even if she was trying hard to be angry with him for stopping her. He grabbed extra 'props' and stopped at the door before leaving.
"Margot, a kiss goodbye?" Marguerite chuckled and shook her head, not being able to bring herself to kiss him, even if she knew it was her Percy. His eyes twinkled with amusement, and his grin showed only a few, now yellow teeth.
"Once you get back and take a good bath, Percy, I will kiss you then."
"In the mean time, you should get that rotten onion juice smell off by taking a bath yourself." He leaned in and kissed her cheek instead, before shutting the door on her. Marguerite huffed as soon as she was alone, and leaned against the door, hearing his steady footsteps echo down the hallway. The room was a lot more cold and drab without him there. She relented in her frustration and swung open the door, running to her husband, who turned around in shock. It almost scared her that she doubted who was underneath that costume. Percy was a wonderful mastermind, actor, and now, she found, an artist. It was almost as if he knew her intentions, for he opened his arms wide and caught her.
"Be careful," she whispered and granted him the kiss he had asked for just moments before. He pulled her against him, and Marguerite found it hard to get a good grip on his head without messing up his wig. She smiled against his lips, thinking about what other people would say if they saw them together, an ugly hag kissing a pretty hag (if there even is such thing as a good-looking hag). She rested her hand on his shoulder, and then Percy pulled away, his only recognizable trait being his blue eyes, which twinkled blissfully. His hands, which he had somehow managed to appear wrinkly and thin, stroked off the last of her make-up on her cheek.
"There is no hiding the greatest beauty in all the world-," his eyes drank her in, making her cling to him all the more. She told herself not to be selfish to try to keep Percy here, when he was needed by the innocents being slaughtered outside. They needed him, alas, more than she did. "-my own, dear, Margot."
She beamed and raised herself on her tiptoes, giving him a quick kiss before stepping away, out of his arms.
"Go, you old hag," she urged him. "They need you."
Percy winked, vastly amusing to her in his façade, before stepping out and shutting the door.