A preview of 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 that in a few weeks I will release 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, a mash-up of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Baroness Emma Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel.
It is the story of Captain Frederick Tilney’s romance with Violet Blakeney, sister of Frederick’s good friend, George, and daughter of the retired Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney.
It is also a companion novel to an earlier work set during the Hundred Days Crisis of 1815: THE THREE COLONELS. To tie in with the other novel, 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?)
The rather long excerpt I’ve chosen for you occurs after Captain Tilney is reacquainted with the Blakeney family after five years. He attends a ball with 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.
Are you ready to dance? Enjoy!
From Chapter 2:
“How does it look?” Frederick Tilney asked his companion, tugging at his new dress-blue uniform coat. “Everything straight?”
George Blakeney snickered. “Lord, Frederick, you act as though you are being presented to the Queen!” They moved towards the door of the ballroom.
“I am not like you, George. It is not every day I meet the Prince Regent.”
“Such are the benefits of having Prinny as one’s godfather.” George grinned as the door was opened by a pair of servants. A butler escorted them across the growing crowd to a corner. There, they found a fat man dressed in the latest fashion talking to a couple.
The butler bowed. “Your Grace, may I present Mr. Blakeney and Captain Tilney.”
HRH George Augustus Frederick, the Prince Regent, smiled from ear to ear. “Georgie, my boy! Good to see you, good to see you. And where is that rascal father of yours?” He pulled George into as much of an embrace as his eighteen-stone frame would allow.
“He shall be here soon, Your Grace. Nothing would keep him away. Pray allow me to present my friend, Captain Tilney.”
Frederick made his leg. “Your Highness.”
The Regent put up one fat hand. “None of that! ’Tis only the Duke of Cornwall tonight. The ‘Regent’ is still in the palace, thank goodness.”
“Your Grace.” Frederick bowed his head. It was not unusual for the Regent to use one of his lesser titles, if only to do away with protocol on an informal evening.
The Regent eyed Frederick’s uniform with approval and spoke to the man beside him. “I think this one may be one of yours, Uxbridge. The Blues, eh? Excellent, excellent!” Frederick turned to the couple next to the Regent as his liege continued. “Have you met Lord Uxbridge, Captain?”
“I have not yet the pleasure, sir. Captain Tilney, Household Cavalry, m’lord,” Tilney said as he bowed to General Sir Henry William Paget, the Earl of Uxbridge.
Lord Uxbridge, in civilian clothes, flicked a smile in return as he spoke to the Regent. “I was with the Light Dragoons in the Peninsula, m’lord, not the heavies.” He turned his attention to Frederick. “Tilney, eh? I thought you in the Twelfth.”
Frederick colored slightly. “I was until recently, sir. I joined the Blues not three weeks ago.” He bowed to the lady beside Lord Uxbridge.
“Ah, yes—my wife, gentlemen.” Lady Uxbridge—the former Lady Charlotte Wellesley before her divorce five years prior from Sir Henry Wellesley, Wellington’s brother—smiled slightly. The two gentlemen labored to keep any expression but delight from their faces. The scandal of Lord Uxbridge and Lady Wellesley had caused a sensation.
To make small talk, Frederick was about to inquire how the former general enjoyed the House of Lords when the Regent cried out, “At last!” He waved his arm. “Get over here, you lazy popinjay! Finally someone amusing has arrived!”
Glancing at George and seeing the smile on his face, Frederick turned to see a tall, broad-shouldered man escorting two women and walking towards them, led by the butler. The man, about fifty, wore his grey hair cut in the Roman fashion. His bright blue eyes shone above the pair of spectacles balanced on his narrow, aristocratic nose. His clothes—lace-cuffed shirt, brightly colored vest and tight pantaloon trousers—were of the latest fashion promoted by the now-disgraced Beau Brummell who had fallen out of favor with the Regent the year before. The woman to his right was of an age with her escort, but for a lady of fifty, she was lovely. Streaks of grey threaded through her well-coiffed hair, and her figure was that of a woman half her age.
But Frederick’s eye was firmly captured by the young lady to the gentleman’s left. Taller than the older lady, she moved with an effortless grace, and her lovely golden gown, while modest on the whole, did little to hide her womanly charms. The unblemished ivory of her youthful skin was shown to great advantage by the tiny white roses in her ebony hair. She was, in a word, breathtaking.
The butler bowed. “Your Grace—Sir Percy Blakeney, Lady Blakeney, and Miss Blakeney.”
That…that cannot be little Violet! Frederick’s mind protested.
Sir Percy Blakeney made his leg. “Your Grace,” he drawled while bowing low enough almost to touch his knee. Rising, he grimaced. “Odd’s fish, but that is harder than it used to be!”
Lady Marguerite Blakeney hid a giggle. Even a quarter-century since abandoning the name Marguerite St. Just, she could still be amused at her husband’s antics.
The Regent laughed. “Oh, Percy, you looked like a scarecrow! Finally some amusement! I am bored to death!” He remembered himself. “Oh! Pardon, Uxbridge—no offence intended, man.”
“None taken, sir,” Lord Uxbridge replied easily.
Sir Percy smiled. “Happy to have been of service, sir.”
The Regent welcomed Marguerite and then turned to the young lady. “Is this little Violet Yvonne? My, how you have grown! You are quite a lady now.”
Miss Blakeney, a dark-haired beauty of seventeen, smiled. “Thank you, Your Grace.” Her deep blue eyes proved true to her name, Violet.
The Regent indicated the others. “Percy, do you know Uxbridge?”
“Only by reputation. A great pleasure, m’lord.”
Marguerite almost sighed. Percy cared nothing for scandals, but he could not help teasing the earl just a little. Lord Uxbridge took the jest well; the look in his eye suggested he knew Sir Percy’s reputation as well.
“I am pleased and honored to meet you, sir,” the earl said.
“Honored? Gad, it don’t take much to impress you, sir!”
Lady Uxbridge then spoke. “From what we have been told, we owe you and others a great deal, Sir Percival.”
“Please, milady, call me Sir Percy. Zooks, and there are those who owe me a great deal. Most of them are found in the card room of my club.” He turned to his son. “George! Do not just stand there. Why, one would think you were a statue. And…gad, is that Captain Tilney?”
The tall officer in blue bowed. “It is, Sir Percy. I am pleased to meet you and Lady Blakeney again.”
“It has been what—three or four years since we saw you last at Richmond?”
“Closer to five, sir.”
Sir Percy raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t recognize you in blue. Not that it don’t suit you—red is a ghastly color—but I thought you in the Twelfth.”
Tilney softly sighed, but before he answered, the orchestra started, which caused George Blakeney to look about the room.
“Looking for someone, George?” teased Sir Percy.
“Umm… yes,” he admitted.
His mother took mercy on him. “You will find the Wentworths by the refreshments.”
George grinned ear to ear. “Thank you, Mother. Godfather, please excuse me. Father—Mother—milord—milady—” By now, Blakeney was halfway across the floor. He turned and called out, “Dance with Violet, Frederick!”
“What was that about?” asked Prinny.
Sir Percy smirked. “That was about Miss Dorothy Wentworth, m’lord. Ah, he is there…he is asking…success! A true Blakeney!” Sure enough, George was escorting a very pretty girl to the line.
“Wentworth,” mused the Regent, “that name is familiar.”
“Is she related to the Captain Wentworth famous for his exploits aboard the Laconia?” asked Lord Uxbridge.
“A cousin, milord,” answered Marguerite. “Captain Wentworth’s father was a second son.” She turned to Frederick. “I believe George made a request of you, sir.”
Frederick smiled, which made the handsome blond-haired officer very pleasant to behold. “He did, but I would not be so presumptuous. Miss Blakeney,” he said to Violet, “would you dance the first set with an old friend?”
Violet shyly smiled. “I would be pleased to, sir.” Taking her hand gently, the officer led the young woman to join the others.
“Well,” groused Prinny, “if there is to be dancing, I shall retire to the card room. Coming, Percy?”
“I shall join you anon, sir.”
The Regent waddled off to a back room, the butler following in his wake. The two couples turned to watch the dancers.
“Ah, dancing. Wasted on the young, you know,” Sir Percy said. Marguerite followed his eyes. He was keeping a close watch on his daughter.
“So, you will not dance, Sir Percy?” asked Lady Uxbridge.
“Faith, I might, if you would so honor me. All but the waltz, I beg you.”
Lord Uxbridge nodded. “A notorious dance, to be sure.”
“Indeed, yes,” Sir Percy said gravely. “Those who dare to attempt it should be horsewhipped—do you not agree, Lady Blakeney?”
“Indeed, sir.” Marguerite’s elegant gloved hand hid a smile.
Percy turned to the ladies. “Would you care for something, Lady Uxbridge?” Told a glass of punch would not be refused, Sir Percy and Lord Uxbridge went off to fulfill their ladies’ desires.
Lady Uxbridge turned to Marguerite. “You are very kind, but do not feel you have to entertain us.”
“Faith!” cried Marguerite. “’Tis not unpleasant, unless you desire privacy, milady.”
“I assure you, no. I have enjoyed our conversation. But…” She paused. “I would not have our presence keep you from your friends.”
Marguerite turned, a serious look in her eyes. “They are no friends of mine if they object to any of my acquaintances, Lady Uxbridge. You will not find us such shallow folk. The hypocrisy of the ton is no stranger to me. I have suffered under its disapproval and wear my conquering of it as a badge of honor.” She scanned the crowd. “You and I both know that half of the couples here enjoy their dalliances behind closed doors. Infidelity is their sport. If many were as honest as—” She glanced at her companion. “Well, the world would be a happier place, I think.”
“Thank you, Lady Blakeney.”
Marguerite laughed. “Gad, I sound a radical! Ah, there is someone I would have you meet! Ffoulkes! Suzanne! Come meet my friend!”
Violet Blakeney was enjoying her dance with Frederick Tilney very much. She had met him when she was twelve, barely out of the schoolroom. He had visited Richmond as George’s guest a handful of times before army duties took him away. Yet, Violet had developed an infatuation with the devastatingly handsome officer. It had been five years since she had last seen him, and he still remained chief in her fantasies. It was well that George had mentioned Captain Tilney was to join him tonight; otherwise, she would have grown quite distracted.
Frederick softened the military precision of his movements with a slight smile on his handsome face. He came close and said sternly, “I am very cross with your brother, Miss Blakeney.”
She decided to tease. “Miss Blakeney? There was a time you knew me as Violet.”
Frederick’s eyes flashed. “Such is the difference five years make. You are now a young lady and deserve to be treated as such. I hope I may count Miss Blakeney as my friend as I did little Violet, George’s sister.”
Oh, but there was sweet danger in those eyes! Violet hoped she did not read too much into the dashing captain’s expression. “Of course you are my friend, even though you did put a frog down my back.”
“A thousand pardons! I have no idea why I did such a thing.” A playful expression danced on his face.
She knew exactly why. She had been George’s annoying little sister, who would not leave the two young men to practice fencing in peace. “You are forgiven, sir. But you say you are angry with George?”
He nodded gravely. “I am afraid so, madam. George has had the effrontery not to extend me an invitation to Richmond to see the beauties of Surrey again. I do not think I will ever forgive him!” He flashed a teasing smile.
Violet smiled softly. “And are the beauties of Surrey so famous that you would regret not returning?”
“Any man with eyes would. Fortunately, my loss has been recompensed tonight.”
Violet flushed at the captain’s flirtation. “Sir, you should not say such things,” she whispered halfheartedly.
Frederick lost his smile. “Forgive me, Miss Blakeney, but I could not resist expressing my admiration of…the flowers in your hair.”
Violet looked at him in surprise, her hand rising to her hair. “My flowers?”
“Yes,” he said, his face softening. “I confess I enjoy white roses very much. I assume they are from the conservatory at Richmond, an impressive structure if I recall rightly.”
The girl was confused and disappointed, for she had thought Frederick had been talking about her. A response was on her lips when she detected a mischievous glint in his eye. She tried to look displeased with him and failed.
“They are, sir. This is something new. I did not know your interests included a horticultural bent.”
“Well”—he grinned—“I am heir to my family’s estate, so I should know something about growing things. I must have some knowledge of agriculture. But who could not take note of such perfection?”
She nodded. “For my mother, I thank you.”
“By the way, the flowers are pretty too.” With that, the steps of the dance drew them too far apart for her response.
It was just as well, a blushing Violet considered, for she had to admit she enjoyed Frederick’s outrageous flirting, and the short time away from him gave her the opportunity to swallow the rebuke that she almost gave.
Let me see what he does next, now that he has outmaneuvered me. Perhaps I can give back some of his own.
Frederick drew close again, contrition on his face. “Miss Blakeney, forgive me. I should not have said what I did. I am afraid I have embarrassed you and have given you a very poor impression of me.”
Violet did not smile, but her look was not at all unfriendly. “Captain Tilney, I accept your apology. I have recovered from embarrassment before; it will not be a lasting condition.”
The dance drew them apart again for a moment. When he was close enough, she said in a low voice, “As for my opinion of you, time will tell if it is poor or not.” She smiled sweetly as she turned, earning a smile in return.
They continued the dance, exchanging more suitable conversation.
The Blakeneys, Uxbridges, and Ffoulkes stood and observed the young people finish their dance. Marguerite’s eye was upon George as he returned Miss Wentworth to her family. It seemed he was making good progress there she noted, as he spoke with ease to the girl’s relations. She glanced at her husband, intending to call his attention to their son, but she noticed that his eyes were fixed instead on their daughter.
“Percy?” she whispered.
“Hmm?” His attention never wavered as Captain Tilney walked Violet to her brother and the Wentworths. Once Violet left the cavalryman’s arm, Sir Percy turned to his wife. “Did you say something, m’dear?”
Marguerite shook her head, curious over her husband’s unusual behavior. Since Violet’s coming out a few months before, he had seen her dance many times and never batted an eye. She did not know what Percy was about. Surely Captain Tilney was a man of good character, as were all of George’s friends. She was about to remark about it when the musicians began to play a particular piece of music.
“Odd’s fish, but that sounds a pretty jig!” cried Sir Percy. “What is your opinion, Lady Uxbridge?”
“Sir Percy, I declare that is a waltz,” she said, amazed. “But, is it not early in the evening for such a dance?”
Marguerite agreed. It was the usual practice for a waltz to be played late in the evening, after those who would be scandalized by the decadent dance had already left for home. For it to be the second dance was unprecedented. No band of musicians would dare to play such a piece unless they had been well compensated. Marguerite narrowed her eyes at Sir Percy. He did not disappoint.
The baronet was grim. “Gad, I would say that you were right, m’lady. Very unfortunate. The players should have a very stern talking to. But, another punishment comes to mind.” He held out his hand to his wife. “Lady Blakeney, would you oblige me?”
She curtsied. “If you wish, sir.”
She placed her hand in his, and the two made their way to the dance floor. In moments, they were in each other’s arms, swept along by the music. Out of the corner of her eye, Marguerite saw that George and Violet were among the small group of couples dancing. She leaned her head close to Sir Percy.
“I take it you bribed the musicians, my love?”
“Of course,” he said. “Prinny will soon demand that I attend him in the card room, and that will be all the dancing for the evening, I am afraid. I would not disappoint you.”
Marguerite smiled. “But, sir,” she said, her eyes fluttering like a girl half her age, “did you not say those who dance the waltz should be horsewhipped?”
A tender look filled Sir Percy’s eyes behind his spectacles—a look reserved only for her. “I should have made myself better understood. I reserve horsewhipping for anyone but me who attempts to dance the waltz with my Margot.”
“Then, the backs of the gentlemen of England are forever safe,” she answered with all the love in her heart, “for I shall never dance like this with anyone but you, mon chéri.”
You’ve just gotta love Sir Percy and his beloved Marguerite, right?
THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL will be released through White Soup Press in print and Kindle format on August 1. They’ll be a launch party for it. Stop on by!
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.
“It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…”