Launch Party for THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL,
a Story of JANE AUSTEN’S FIGHTING MEN
by Jack Caldwell
Hello, everybody—Jack Caldwell here. I am proud to announce the release of my ninth novel and the second book in my newest series, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, a Story of JANE AUSTEN’S FIGHTING MEN.
That’s right, I have another series of books beside my New Orleans novels, the CRESCENT CITY SERIES.
In 2012, I published an audacious book: a joint sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility entitled THE THREE COLONELS. In it, I did two things:
– I assumed that all of Jane Austen’s characters knew each other; and,
– I sent Colonel Fitzwilliam, Colonel Brandon, Major Denny, and Captain Wickham to Waterloo.
What you may not be aware of was I wrote more novels in this unique universe—stories that happened during the Hundred Days Crisis of 1815, when the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba and triggered the War of the Seventh Coalition, one of the turning points in world history. THE THREE COLONELS was the cornerstone of a series of companion novels—books that happened during the same period of time, featuring characters who knew each other and referred to actions that occur in the other stories.
One of those novels was a Persuasion sequel, The Unexpected Passenger, now titled PERSUADED TO SAIL. I’ll publish it one day.
I also wrote a more outlandish book than THE THREE COLONELS. This one was not only a sequel to Northanger Abbey, but was a mash-up with the Baroness Emma Orczy’s classic swashbuckler, The Scarlet Pimpernel. I named it THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.
How did I get away with putting Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart.—the Scarlet Pimpernel— in 1815 England, when he was active in 1792 during the French Revolution? Simple. I checked the Baroness Orczy’s books and it was clear that he would be in his early fifties by the time of Waterloo.
So, I assumed Sir Percy and his beloved Lady Marguerite Blakeney would still be around. I made their son, George Blakeney, a fencing partner and friend of the rakish Captain Frederick Tilney from Northanger Abbey. And I invented a forbidden romance between Frederick and George’s sister, Violet Blakeney.
To tie in with THE THREE COLONELS, I made Frederick friends with the dashing Colonel Sir John Buford of that book. Major Denny, Colonel Brandon, and the Darcys made appearances, as well. (Got to have the Darcys in an Austen book, right?) It then occurred to me that I created another series—JANE AUSTEN’S FIGHTING MEN.
THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is the second book in the series. From the back cover:
The worlds of Jane Austen and the Baroness Orczy combine in a swashbuckling tale from the author of THE THREE COLONELS.
Captain Frederick Tilney, dashing cavalry officer and rakish heir to Northanger Abbey, is interested only in fencing and carousing. That is, until he meets the girl of his dreams, the lovely and intriguing Violet Blakeney.
However, her father is not convinced of Frederick’s pledge to reform and the officer is banished from Violet’s presence. The baronet has a will of iron, for he is none other than Sir Percy Blakeney—the retired Scarlet Pimpernel!
Now, during the Hundred Days Crisis, an evil from the Pimpernel’s past menaces the Blakeney family while Sir Percy is crippled by age. Frederick must convince the baronet to accept his assistance in accomplishing the impossible —take on an entire country to recuse the girl they both love.
The excerpt I’ve chosen for you occurs after Frederick Tilney is reacquainted with the Blakeney family after five years. He has been invited to visit the Blakeney home in Richmond by his good friend, George Blakeney, the son of Sir Percy. Fredrick is very surprised that George’s little sister, Violet, has grown into a very lovely young lady.
From Chapter 3:
For the first time in years, Frederick Tilney walked the grounds of Richmond, and time had not diminished what he admired about the place.
The Blakeney estate had been built centuries before, and the family had not been disinclined over improvement to the house. The massive brick and stone edifice was softened by the number of windows that adorned the aspect as well as the trees planted nearby. The grounds were extensive and well cared for by an attentive hand. The stables were the finest Frederick had ever beheld, and he was jealous on behalf of the Blues own horses.
Frederick and George stood before the estate’s stables, awaiting their mounts, and Frederick spent the time complimenting Richmond. His honest enthusiasm was slightly embarrassing for his friend.
“Thankee, Frederick.” George blushed. “It is a fine place, I know, but ’tis just home to me, you see.”
“You must be proud of it,” Frederick insisted. “As I have said before, Northanger is nothing to it, nor is any other great house in which I have set foot.”
“Oh, I am not sure about that! It is not a palace by any means. Do not mistake me,” George clarified, “I do love the dear, old place, but one day it will be my responsibly. I can tell you, I own that the prospect of becoming the master is overwhelming.”
Frederick’s first consideration was to speak—to reassure his young friend and give empty words of empathy. He found his voice stuck in his throat, however, for he recalled George’s fears were his own. Indeed, Northanger Abbey was nothing to Richmond, but it was a sizable estate. There were duties and responsibilities that a sensible man would not leave to his steward.
However, General Tilney had insisted his first-born and heir follow in his footsteps and had purchased Frederick’s commission at the earliest age possible. For almost half his life, the army had been his passion, and he had excelled in his lessons of horse and sword and drill. Because of that, he knew almost nothing of accounts or finances or crop rotation, for that part of his education had been neglected.
Henry Tilney had been correct. The army was never to be his permanent profession. Frederick, for all his bluster, knew his abilities and his limitations. He feared no man with his sword in his hand, and he would obey an order to charge directly into Bonaparte’s redoubtable Imperial Guard without hesitation. Asked to discuss the price of wheat against barley, however, and he was utterly at sea.
Frederick’s thoughts flew through his mind in an instant, and George hardly noticed the hesitation. Before his guest could change the subject, fate did it for them.
“Violet!” cried George. “Will you join us on our ride?”
Frederick’s eyes followed George’s gaze to see the girl approaching from the house. Miss Blakeney had made quite an impression the night before, all in golden and white, in the best finery money could buy. Her outfit now was a revelation: good fabrics, made and chosen for riding rather than show, were tailored to show the rider to best advantage. Frederick knew instantly Miss Blakeney would look as comfortable and as lovely on a horse as she had in a ballroom, and for a man who lived in the out-of-doors and loved it, his admiration could only grow.
“Capitan Tilney,” Miss Blakeney said with a surprised smile as she curtsied in response to his bow, “I did not know you were to be here today.” She glanced at her brother. “George did not tell us.”
“I sent a note to Mama,” George muttered.
“Your brother was kind enough to invite me to take in the beauties of Surrey on horseback.”
“At your insistence!” cried George good-naturedly.
Frederick’s smile grew. “I believe your attendance would only add to our enjoyment.”
Miss Blakeney looked Frederick dead in the eye with a strength of character that belied her young age. “Indeed—the beauties of Surrey?” Her sweet voice was tinged with challenge and reproach, and Frederick was wise to consider his reply.
“Yes, Miss Blakeney, if you and your brother would be so kind as to show them to me.”
The girl was visibly pleased with his polite and correct response. “It would be my pleasure, sir.” She nodded and followed the groom to retrieve her horse.
The gentlemen mounted and awaited Violet. Frederick noticed that George eyed him with some agitation.
Blakeney said in a low voice, “Remember yourself. She is my sister.”
Good God! Does George think me so base as to dally with Miss Blakeney? He swallowed his pride for the time being. “Of course, George. Never fear. I have nothing but the highest respect for all of your family.”
Blakeney had the good grace to reply abashedly, “Sorry, old man. I should not have said that. I do not know what came over me.” At that moment, Miss Blakeney emerged from the stable, her mare as fine an example of horseflesh as Frederick had ever seen. “Ah, Violet! Shall we set off?”
Captain Tilney was all gallantry. “After you, Miss Blakeney.”
She acquiesced, and the three set off. It did not take Frederick long to see his blunder. From behind, he found it nearly impossible not to admire Violet Blakeley’s seat.
Most of the improvements made to Blakeney Manor were to satisfy Lady Blakeney’s desire for more light in the house. Scores of windows had been added or enlarged. Few great houses in England could boast of the Versailles-like walls of glass that adorned the home of Sir Percy. It was Marguerite’s delight.
There was one area in the house that her improvements could not reach, and it was in the bowels of the keep. It was there that Lady Blakeney searched for her husband.
Opening a well-greased door in the basement, she quietly entered a long, dark room, the meager sunlight from the small, narrow bank of windows along one wall near the ceiling insufficient to the task of properly illuminating the space. Oil lamps and candles were employed to compensate, with middling results. It did not help that the cool, dank place—even the floor—was made entirely of stone. A few tapestries and war banners adorned the otherwise bare walls. At the far end, placed high in a spot of prominence, was a great seal with a red, five-petal flower at its center. Swords, muskets, and suits of armor were stored with great care in racks opposite the windows. A long table with chairs dominated one half of the room, the other given totally to the sport of fencing.
Most of Blakeney Manor had been remade in the image of its mistress, but this place was not hers. This was the domain of the Pimpernel.
Marguerite’s eyes were drawn to the far side of the long room, where a tall gentleman in his shirtsleeves practiced fencing. Slowly, deliberately, the man worked through the motions of defense and offense against a burlap-covered object in the shape of a human torso with several black targets painted on its surface. He stood sideways, right foot forward, his foil held as an extension of his arm. So engrossed was he in his labors, he appeared to have no knowledge that there was a witness to his exercises.
A quarter-century before, the Parisian actress Marguerite St. Just had been captivated by the most beautiful man she had ever beheld. Since then, Lady Blakeney had made her husband her standard of perfection in a gentleman, and many a dashing courtier would be slighted by her as bearing no comparison to Sir Percy.
She stood silently, taking great pleasure in observing the play of the still-considerable muscles of his broad shoulders and back as they moved gracefully under his sweat-drenched, almost transparent shirt. A warm heat filled her belly as she recalled the countless times her fingertips had run along those same muscles while she joyfully made love to him. Past fifty, she thought, and he can still turn my head.
The idyllic moment was shattered when, with an oath, Sir Percy dropped his foil and gripped his sword-hand, the blade’s metallic contact with the floor echoing throughout the hall.
“Percy!” Marguerite dashed to his side as quickly as her little feet would allow. Sir Percy watched her approach with a mixture of mortification and resignation on his damp face.
“Ah, ’tis nothing, m’dear,” he drawled. He tried to hide his discomfort, but his wife could see the pain behind his eyes. Ignoring his protests, she tenderly inspected his right hand.
“Is it the rheumatism again?”
“It comes and goes,” Sir Percy admitted. “I have been trying to work it out.”
Marguerite gently but firmly pulled Sir Percy towards a bench. “Come, sit down. I will fetch the white willow bark.” She noticed he walked to the bench with a decided limp.
It took but a moment once he was settled and easy. The local apothecary had concocted a tincture of white willow bark for just such an occasion, and a vial of it was stored in one of the cabinets in the room. A draught was produced, and Sir Percy choked it down.
The baronet coughed as he handed the glass to his wife. “Gad, but that is vile! Where is my brandy—or better yet, my good port?”
Marguerite’s gaze was drawn to the pink, M-shaped scar on Sir Percy’s left forearm—evidence of the Pimpernel’s last battle of wits with their nemesis, the fiend Chauvelin. May he burn in Hell! She recalled how her fearless and clever husband had bribed a French veterinary to brand him with the mark of a convict, all the better to disguise himself and rescue Marguerite from certain death. She remembered all the chances and pains her beloved had undertaken as the Pimpernel to foil Chauvelin and his terrible master, Robespierre, and save countless Frenchmen from the guillotine—all, Sir Percy claimed, in the name of sport.
It was a lie, of course. Sir Percy may have enjoyed himself, but what drove him was love of his fellow man and an iron will to do what was right. Yet, the abuses he had suffered and the years that had passed conspired now to bring him low.
Marguerite kissed his brow. “Rest a moment, love. Recover, and we will have a glass together in your study.”
“That would please me above all things,” Sir Percy said as he kissed her fingers. “So, what brings you down here to my dark cave?”
“We have a guest tonight. George has brought home Captain Tilney. They are to return to London tomorrow.”
“Tilney, eh? Good, I would like to further my acquaintance with the man. Ahh!” Sir Percy groaned as he got to his feet. “A bit of a sip then off to me bath. Must look our best for the good captain. Oh!” he gasped as he tried to walk. Marguerite was quick to support him.
“Here, Percy, lean on me.”
“Now, leave off,” Sir Percy complained. “I shall be as right as rain in a moment.”
Marguerite knew what would appease him. She whispered in his ear, “I know, m’dear, but will you deny me the pleasure of standing so close to you?”
“Oh!” he laughed. “Well, if you put it that way, lead on, my lovely!”
THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL is available now through White Soup Press in print and Kindle format (you’ll have to wait a little while for Nook—sorry).
As for the other books in my Jane Austen’s Fighting Men Series, THE THREE COLONELS (Sourcebooks Landmark) is available now.
You’ll have to wait for PERSUADED TO SAIL and ROSINGS PARK (the sequel to THE THREE COLONELS). Sorry—I can only write and edit so fast.
Okay, now for what you’ve been waiting for—A FREE BOOK.
To comment, tell us what is your favorite swashbuckling book &/or movie, and why. Is it:
- The Scarlet Pimpernel
- The Adventures of Robin Hood
- The Three Musketeers
- Captain Blood
- Princess of Mars (John Carter series)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Princess Bride
- Zorro—the Gay Blade
- Or something else?
TWO winners of a print copy will be chosen at random. Good luck!
“It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…”