He was showing off to impress her but Marguerite, being a practical woman who enjoyed living the finer life,
appreciated Roxton's effort.
She thought they were going to take a horse and carriage to the event. It was still a
popular way for the elite to get from place to place in Europe of the early twentieth century. Nonetheless later, when she
was relaxing in their transport, Marguerite reflected that she should have known better. Roxton, ever the modern-day man,
had hired a driver and sleek black automobile. They were going to the party in luxury and style.
With his tuxedo,
cummerbund, and long tails Roxton looked every inch an attractive and robust crown prince -- and he beamed when she said so.
If Roxton's mesmerized expression upon seeing Marguerite wearing the new burgundy silk was any indication, she too appeared
the perfect image of breathtaking royalty.
Miss Krux wore her hair regally up; long, dark locks intricately entwined
together. Her fair shoulders and long, smooth throat were bare, the ruby teardrop displayed in all its glory. While the plunge
at the front of her gown was daring it was not so distracting that a man could not drown in the enthralling depths of her
large, enigmatic eyes.
They sat together in the back of the automobile and what could have been a monotonous thirty
five minute drive proved to be romantic and enchanting. Roxton had ordered an ice bucket and bottle of Dom Pérignon.
He carefully uncorked the bottle, poured the champagne into two chilled glasses, then toasted "missing friends" and the evening
The night started off wonderfully romantic, even magical, as they looked into each others eyes. Then without
warning, whilst sipping his drink, Roxton began to cough.
"I'm fine." Roxton told Marguerite, annoyed by the break
in mood. "Just not my favorite year." he declared, referring to the champagne, and appeared a little embarrassed.
all those months on the plateau, drinking plain spring water or whatever concoction Challenger dreamed up, our systems still
need to get acclimated. I say no spirits other than Zanga whiskey for another month, Roxton." Marguerite teased but she was
also apprehensive. As striking as he appeared Roxton was also looking a little pale and weary.
Roxton waved her concern
away when she mentioned it. "Maybe a little tired but after last night, this morning and this afternoon …." he joked
then took her hands in his when they put their glasses down.
Uneasy, Marguerite glanced at the back of their oblivious
driver's head. She was relieved to see there was a heavy frame of thick glass between he and his passengers. The man either
could not hear what they were saying or did not care.
Roxton gently squeezed her fingers and smiled.
loved the warmth of his bare skin next to hers. Both were having such a hard time keeping their hands off one another. It
was pleasant and a little disconcerting. Roxton was behaving differently since their reunion and he was so very attentive.
Of course, he was also conscientious on the plateau but in a completely dissimilar way. It was as if he persistently felt
he had something to prove in that dangerous world and now, back home in what they so blithely referred to as civilization,
Roxton just sought to live his life and plan for a future. In essence, he merely wanted to settle down, love, be loved and
possibly one day - sooner better than later - arrange a future with a woman he respected and adored.
It thrilled Marguerite,
however briefly, to be the object of his affections.
Later, during her isolated future, Marguerite would remember this
time together fondly but also with much trepidation. For many reasons it was the beginning of the end.
entering the enormous foyer Roxton and Marguerite barely had time to check their cloaks when they were besieged by admirers.
Some of the people they recognized from The King George and others, who had confessed to reading the late Edward Malone's
saga of The Lost World, were unreservedly curious and asked countless questions.
After awhile Marguerite, maneuvering
away from the inquisitive, found herself looking up at the vaulted ceiling of the main hall and also the incredible, expensive
antique tapestries hanging on the walls of the ballroom they were delivered into. She was not a simpleton when it came to
such events and finery but this gathering was, by far, the most extravagant she had ever been invited to. Baroness Noble hired
a huge orchestra to play for her guests and the sensational spread of food and spirits, as well as the hundreds of invited
guests swirling around the dance floor, was enough to make any woman's senses reel.
"Mademoiselle Marguerite, your
gown is exquisite!" Madam Rancine approached, rapidly waving a fan in front of her plump, ruddy face. "You are easily the
most beautiful woman here." she complimented.
"You are too kind." Marguerite smiled, pleased with a familiar face,
and kissed the woman gently on the cheek. Feeling Roxton's warmth behind her, realizing he too managed to get away from their
public, Marguerite introduced him. "Madam, this is Lord John Roxton. Lord Roxton, this is Madam Rancine. I met her last week
during my speech at the Grobet-Labadié Museum."
"Pleased to meet you." Roxton leaned forward and gently kissed
the back of the mature woman's hand.
"This is Lord Roxton?" the woman asked, appearing confused and a little distressed.
Then, when it registered that Marguerite and the handsome Lord were staring at her in an inquiring fashion, Madam Rancine
quickly became flustered and excused herself.
"What was that about?" Roxton asked.
Marguerite shrugged slightly,
"I don't know." Troubled, she watched as the woman weaved in and out of the crowd. "I guess you must have scared her off."
Marguerite kidded, dismissing the matter.
"Ladies often have that reaction to me." He smiled down at his companion,
"No matter." Roxton took Marguerite's hand in his, "Miss Krux, would you like to dance?' he asked, looking out at the waltzing
others in the ballroom.
"Yes, thank you." She then added with a chuckle, "I'll be brave."
so often happens during such events, Marguerite's escort was eventually called away for 'gentleman talk' which included a
shot of bourbon, large cigars and politics. Marguerite might have told Roxton and the others that she was fond of a good,
stiff drink and also the duties of king and country were not beyond her realm of understanding. However, attempting to keep
within the realm of decorum, Marguerite wished Roxton well and asked him not to take too long. It was getting late.
was naturally assumed she would join a circle of clucking ladies, exchanging gossip and the latest fashion news, but Marguerite
- not interested in such triviality - retrieved her cloak and stepped out for a breath of fresh air. She strolled about a
charming courtyard surrounding a large fountain which depicted angels and trumpets.
She sat on the fountain's lip and
looked up into the slightly overcast night sky.
"Miss Krux, is that you?"
Marguerite looked in the direction
of the tentative voice which called to her. Her expression brightened when she suddenly recognized the young woman approaching
from the shadows, "Miss Sheehan?"
The last time she saw the American heiress she was in the dining area of The King
George, appearing plain, bookish, and very shy. But now, approaching Marguerite from the ballroom, Amanda Sheehan was
quite lovely. Her smile was bright and genuine as she reached forward to daintily embrace Marguerite.
"How are you?'
the girl asked.
"Just fine … and yourself?"
"We were doing very well but had to get out of London." her
slightly squeaky voice informed in a hurried fashion. "We'll be leaving France in a few days to go home …"
Amanda smiled demurely, "Yes, 'we'. I got married." she giggled.
Marguerite blinked, a little
"It was sudden and impractical." He announced, bringing with him a glass of imported
champagne. "And we will probably both regret it." he laughed with good humor.
"Percy Lipton." Marguerite settled back
on her heels.
He placed the champagne glass in Amanda's hand and kissed her affectionately on the cheek. "The same."
Percy reached forward and gently took Marguerite's hand for a brief squeeze.
"When were you married?"
two weeks after we departed the ship. I went with Percy to visit his ailing Great Aunt. The poor dear passed away and I stayed
on for her funeral then …" Amanda shrugged, "We just fell in love. Silly, isn't it?"
Percy looked fondly down
at his spouse, "She is a remarkable woman, taking me on like this."
"Oh look!" Amanda's attention was suddenly diverted,
glancing at the ballroom back entrance where the figure of a woman stood, "Darling, I must speak to Lady Marigold. She lost
her husband very recently and …"
"Go dearest, I'll join you in minutes."
"Goodbye, Marguerite. It was
so nice seeing you again."
As Mrs. Lipton moved away Marguerite sighed and looked closely at Percy. "She's an innocent.
Don't hurt her, Percy."
"You sound like someone who knows about hurt."
Marguerite said nothing, merely stared
Percy looked down at his shoes and nodded, "Nothing like that, Marguerite, I assure you. Believe it or not,
it truly is love this time." he explained, "My Aunt Marcia was a wealthy woman and when she died she left all her money to
me. I'm very well off. I haven't seen her in five years. You can imagine the expressions on her children's faces when her
written will was read."
"But how …?"
"You mean, why Percy Lipton?" He chuckled, "I was the only one of
Aunt Marcia's relatives that visited her when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis five years ago. She remembered my good manners.
Politeness obviously meant a lot to Aunt Marcia."
"So, you're rich?" Marguerite asked, her brows raising.
he nodded, "How funny it is that I taught myself to live off of any wealthy woman who would have me but now, when I have money,
have married a pauper?"
"Pauper?" Marguerite questioned, "But I thought Amanda was a …?"
"Her father was
a well-to-do industrialist who went bankrupt. They sent her to England to finish up her schooling and hopefully find a good
husband. I'd like to think she succeeded -- at least in part." Then, a bit more serious, "Don't tell her you know. Amanda
was so fragile and embarrassed when she told me about her family. Her honesty touched my heart."
slowly. Percy Lipton was genuinely in love. Who would have ever saw that coming? Still, something troubled her. "Why do you
both have to leave England? Amanda said you had to get out of London."
"Haven't you heard? Sickness is running rampant
in England. Worse than any other place. Soon the shipyards from nearly every country will be closing and there will be no
way for us to return to America."
Marguerite remembered what Roxton said, how he had heard from Challenger about the
problem. Plague. Had it really gotten this far?
"I suspect horse and buggy service, automobiles and trains will
be next." Percy continued, "I suggest you and yours stay away from England as long as possible. It's just not safe, Marguerite."
can't stay away. she thought, My future depends on what I find in England.
returned to her husband, appearing troubled. "Darling, Lady Marigold and Madam Rancine would like to speak with you." She
looked at Marguerite then quickly averted her eyes.
He took her hand, "Very well, my love. A husband's duty never rests."
He quipped then looked fondly at Marguerite, "Find someone, Marguerite. It would do you good. "
The couple departed.
watched Percy and Amanda, pleased with their happiness. They reminded her ever so slightly of Ned Malone and Veronica Layton.
There was an abundance of emotion and inner strength between those two as well. "Be content.' she whispered.
- to her consternation - Marguerite saw Baroness Noble catch Percy and Amanda halfway between the ballroom and the courtyard.
Marguerite could see Felicia asking them a question then, when Percy waved a careless hand in Marguerite's direction, she
knew who it was the Baroness was looking for. "Damn it." Marguerite whispered and turned away, looking for any available exit.
Krux!" the Baroness called.
Too late. Steeling herself, Marguerite bit her lower lip, took a breath, then turned
and smiled brightly at the approaching aristocrat. She wore blue taffeta, which matched her eyes, and was - as Marguerite
expected - quite beautiful.
"Oh, dear Marguerite, I'm so glad you could come. I've been wanting to have a chat with
you." She looked about, "Where is John?"
You know damn well where he is, Marguerite silently bristled but, still
visibly smiling, said: "With the men. You know how they are."
"Oh yes," Felicia allowed a perfunctory vocal titter
and waved a lacey handkerchief in front of her generously displayed cleavage. The woman appeared over-heated and it might
have looked alluring if it wasn't so silly. It was a truly chilly evening. "Men and their games." Felicia pondered.
nodded and looked up again at the night sky.
"Miss Krux, may I be bold?" Felicia abruptly asked.
"I admire honesty."
"I am quite surprised that you and Lord John are still together."
Marguerite paused before
saying, "We haven't been together long. I've been lecturing all over the world."
"And you met again here in Paris?"
by accident, yes."
"Oh," Felicia patted her chest with the handkerchief, "That's a relief."
The comment puzzled
Marguerite and she looked directly at the woman, "Why?"
"Well, when I saw John and you together on the ship I feared
he was going to do something foolish like ask you to marry him. As you well know that would be social suicide. Think
of it, a man like him joined together forever with a woman who has no background whatsoever."
"What do you know about
my background?" Marguerite pulled her cloak around her a little tighter.
"Quite a bit." Felicia's tone was direct,
"I had you checked out."
"You what?" Marguerite's eyes widened. She couldn't believe the nerve of the woman.
stop playing games, Marguerite." The Baroness grew very serious. "I want him and deserve him."
course, Roxton. If my ridiculous parents hadn't paired me with that stupid fool I married I would have had John Roxton
and Avebury long ago."
"But Roxton said you and William …"
"Yes, William. A dream union really.
I could manipulate him, make him bend to my will -- and he was the older Roxton brother and heir. But it was John I always
wanted. He with his wild ways and prowess."
Marguerite wasn't about to ask what she meant by prowess. "Those
days are long gone, Baroness. And I think my reputation could stand up to whatever it is you think you have found in my background."
yes, you were an heiress." Felicia muttered, "You husband was well thought of … to many. Especially his mistresses.
Not so much to his business partners. However, it is not that of which I speak." Felicia looked away from Marguerite, glancing
over her own shoulder to see how the party was moving along. When she look back at her rival Marguerite was still standing
in the same space, staring at her, "Where shall I begin?" she asked and allowed a wicked smile when Marguerite did not reply,
"Dance hall girl, singer, mystic, possible spy, prostitute, thief and …"
"I was never a prostitute." Marguerite
said, her expression impassive, her tone cool.
Felicia allowed it to sink in for a moment then, "No, but perhaps your
Marguerite stepped back, stunned.
"You have no idea who your true parents are. You
were an orphan, raised by the scum of the earth. You ran away when just a girl because you were caught having an affair with
"Shut up." Marguerite's tone was low but a threat, "You do not know what you're talking about." Attempted
molestation, Marguerite thought, was not the same as having an affair.
"Well, people will
talk." Felicia licked her lips arrogantly, "Be honest with yourself, Marguerite. Do you really feel you are the best woman
for Lord Roxton? Do you honestly think he could do no better than you?"
"He doesn't think so." Marguerite
replied but regretted the comment the moment it left her lips.
Felicia rolled her eyes, "He thinks he's in love.
A man in love will believe whatever it is a woman tells him … at least until a short time after the marriage. Then they'll
start to wonder … and wander. Who could know that better than you, dear Marguerite? From what I understand your
husband had an eye for lovely woman. Many of them."
Marguerite could feel herself weakening and hated it. "But
John would never …"
"Of course he would. It's something that's understood. I would expect and accept it. Can
you?" Felicia enjoyed her small coup while watching Marguerite close her eyes, attempting all in vain to hide the emotions
chasing across her face. "Lord John Roxton was brought up to live a certain way, in a style handed down from one generation
to the next. We are not like you, Miss Krux. You are a woman who has had to struggle for everything she's achieved. Throwing
away something that has lost its usefulness is typical for us but you, I dare say, expect it to last forever. I envy you your
Marguerite met her eyes, steady. "Madam Rancine." she whispered, "You said something to her." She remembered
how the woman practically bolted the moment she realized who Roxton was.
"Not really. I just said that Lord Roxton
has been keeping company with a woman below his station. And until he comes to his senses it might be considered correct
to avoid him."
"How dare you? You don't think that will work on everyone, do you?"
"No, just the right
people." Felicia looked away, with a smirk. "And that, my dear Marguerite, is what is important." She fanned herself once
again with the handkerchief and purposely changed the subject, "Warm, isn't it?"
Marguerite wanted to say something.
Every part of her mind screamed that she should tell Baroness Noble that she was nothing more than a bitter, titled widow
with nothing to show for all her scheming and tricks than the obvious wealth of her position. She was cold and cruel and Roxton
would never have her. Yet, how could Marguerite condemn the woman for things that she, Marguerite herself, might have
done in her sorted past?
Baroness Noble moved away from the fountain and began to walk back to the ballroom.
my best to your children, Baroness." Marguerite called, watching as the woman stopped briefly in her tracks. "I know
how very close you are to them."
Felicia never looked back, exposing her stricken face. She continued on.
it was unworthy of her but Marguerite could not stop the contemptable words. She had done a little research of her own. The
Baroness' children hated their mother and they did not hesitate to tell anyone who asked. Maybe that was why she ushered them
off to those lovely, lonely little private schools where she would never have to look at them or see their sneers. And perhaps
that is also why, as young adults, having just reached the age of inheritance, her son sent his mother abroad as often as
possible, to keep her away from he and his sister.
One factor Marguerite did not count on, or she might not ever had
said those words, was that the Felicia noble was a doomed woman. The reason she was so warm this evening would eventually
be understood. In less than a month she would die, another of the victims of the terrible sickness which had invaded all of
Europe and the western world.
She was very quiet and less than relaxed as he gently brushed
her hair. Marguerite sat on the edge of his bed, wearing her silky dressing gown as he kneeled behind her.
coat was gone, his shoes kicked aside and his dress shirt was unbuttoned. "I love it like this. Your hair." he murmured.
did not reply.
Roxton tried to talk with Marguerite as they were driven home. She appeared thoughtful and glum. Someone
must have said something to her at the party and whatever it was hit a nerve. Otherwise, Marguerite would be furiously babbling
rather than locking the hurt inside and saying nothing.
Trying a different approach he said: "I saw you talking with
Percy Lipton and Miss Sheehan earlier in the evening. What's their story?"
"They married." she said.
Good for them."
"She has nothing as it turns out. Bankrupt. He, on the other hand, came into money. They are
going back to the United States."
"The man has more character than I thought."
"He can afford it. He's not a
Roxton stopped in his brushing suddenly, struck by what she just said. Warily, he positioned himself so he could
look at the woman's face and touch her chin. "Marguerite, what are you thinking?"
She looked at the hurt and concern
in his eyes. She had to tell him the truth, what it was she was feeling, or burst. "John, you haven't said anything but
I think I know where you want us to go …" When he did not deny it she continued, " ... but this is impossible.
I am no one and you …"
"You are definitely a someone."
"No. You don't understand. I'm demanding - you've
seen how I react when I don't get my way - and you have position. You're titled. You could never be truly happy with me and
we'll drift and be miserable and you'll find someone else …"
"Where is this coming from?" he asked, "Marguerite,
despite my label I am not a man of eloquent words. I'm a hunter. But if there is one thing I need to make you understand
it's that I have never been sincerely in love and willing to share my life with anyone until … I met you."
his hands slid to her shoulders, "I don't know how this happened. God knows you didn't give me any encouragement …"
could not stop a cheerless chuckle.
"… but I know it's real. I know I want to marry …"
don't." she pleaded, nearly sobbing. She placed her hand over his mouth then let it slid away. "Not yet. I can't …"
Marguerite closed her eyes. "I'm just tired." she whispered and sat straight, "A good night sleep I think and we will both
be thinking clearer by tomorrow."
Roxton slipped the brush into her hands and gently rubbed Marguerite's shoulders.
stood, nervous by his touch and what it could produce, and slowly turned around to look at him, "I'm going to my
room tonight, John. I need to be alone."
"I understand." he said although it was clear by his expression that he did
not. "I'll help you pack tomorrow and call for a carriage. We will go to the train station together." Roxton stood in front
of Marguerite and took her hands. "We'll talk some more." He was encouraged when she smiled gently up at him and nodded, "Meanwhile,
can I kiss you goodnight?" he asked and nearly felt like a teenager exchanging a desire with his girlfriend.
He cupped her face in his hands and leaned down slowly. The touch of Marguerite's lips on his was like revisiting
a magical elixir. He wanted her more than ever but, because she requested it, he held back. But it was okay. There would be
other moments like this, when he would hold her in his arms, cover her with passionate kisses and she would, just by being
her, assuage his desire. Roxton would take her to as yet undiscovered heights and, despite her reservations, they would be
"Goodnight, John." Marguerite parted from him and touched his cheek. She then slowly turned
and walked into her adjoining room, shutting the door behind her.
With a heavy sigh, Marguerite leaned her back on
the door and tried hard to keep the tears from running down her cheeks as she said, "Goodbye, John."
he woke the following morning Roxton turned groggily in his bed and saw something on the pillow beside his head. Roxton lifted
himself up and looked at it for a moment then, puzzled, pulled it up by its long chain. It was the ruby necklace he had given
Roxton gulped and his eyes darted to the adjoining door between their rooms. He bound out of the bed
suddenly and threw the door open, "Marguerite!"
She was gone, as was her luggage. The only thing that remained
was the gown she wore the previous evening, spread out on her bed, with a note laying on top of it.
Please don't be angry. We know it's for the best. I did promise you one night ... Do not look
for me. Just .... forgive me.