The First Sir Percy
Cover of the 1939 21st edition
|Publisher||Hodder & Stoughton|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Laughing Cavalier|
|Followed by||The Scarlet Pimpernel|
Set in Holland in 1624, The First Sir Percy, by Baroness Orczy, is another adventure featuring Sir Percy Blake, a foreign adventurer and ancestor of the Scarlet Pimpernel who goes by the name Diogenes.
The book is a sequel to The Laughing Cavalier and picks up the story a couple of months after the events in the first book.
March 1624 and a lot has happened since the plot on the life of the Stadtholder was foiled two months earlier. With the help of Mynheer Beresteyn, Diogenes has finally met his real father, an English Nobleman, and realised his true identify as Sir Percy Blake of Blakeney, heir to a large estate in Sussex.
Now an English Lord, the once penniless soldier of fortune is getting married to Gilda Beresteyn, the woman he was paid to kidnap back in January. Mynheer Beresytn has arranged a double wedding for the pair along with his son Nicholaes and his bride to be, Kaatje van den Poele.
The day is to be one of great celebration, with guests coming from far and wide including the Stadtholder Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange who owes Diogenes his life for informing him of Lord Stoutenburg's plot against his life. Also due to attend are Diogenes' fellow 'philosophers' – Socrates and Pythagoras.
Pythagoras, however has fallen foul of Lord Stoutenburg after coming across the fugitive and his servant Jan, while lost in the Veluwe on the way to the wedding. Stoutenburg recognises the philosopher and after plying him with lots of wine, gets Jan to take him back out into the snow and kill him. Jan leads Pythagoras away from his planned route, shoots him in the back and leaves him for dead.
On the day of the wedding, Diogenes is concerned about his friend and sends Socrates and a group of men out to look for him. The wedding celebrations are torturous for the adventurer who is not used to formal Dutch traditions and just wants to whisk his new bride away to their new life in England. Diogenes enlists the help of the Stadtholder to break up the celebrations early so he can go against tradition and carry off his wife in the face of scandalised and protesting wedding guests but just as he is about to ride off, a curious spectacle presents itself to view.
Socrates arrives on horseback, with the barely alive Pythagoras across his saddle. The Stadtholder agrees to stay on so his personal doctor can administer to the adventurer and when he is eventually able to speak, he is able to relay Stoutenburg's new plans to assassinate the Stadtholder in some detail.
It seems that the Archduchess Isabella has troops crossing the IJssel and coming up from Kleve. They plan to seize the cities of Arnheim and Nijmegen then march across the Veluwe and confront the Stadtholder with a vast army. On top of this, Stoutenburg is plotting to poison the Stadtholder using chemicals he has been taught to manufacture by Francis Borgia.
The Prince of Orange asks Diogenes to fight at his side but the philosopher is torn between his feelings for his new bride and the call of honour and duty. Gilda settles the matter when she brings him his sword, telling him he must leave for Vorden within the hour.
Nicholaes travels with Diogenes as far as Barneveld but on returning to the house, he tries to convince Guilda that her husband is a traitor and is in league with the Archduchess.
Diogenes makes a brief stop in Vorden where he delivers the Stadtholder's orders to Messire Marquet and his troops, but en route to Wageningen he is suddenly chased and shot at by men on horses. Plunging into the river Ijseel to evade his attackers his horse is shot through the neck and the waters sweep over his head.
Four days have passed and there is no news from Diogenes, the archduchess's troops have crossed the IJssel and overrun Gelderland. Nicholaes has been sent to Amersfoot to tell his father of the Stadtholder's coming and that they must evacuate the town. Fugatives from Ede have reached the Stadtholder's camp at Utrecht and it soon becomes obvious that Diogenes has failed in his task to deliver orders to Messire Marquet and Mynheer De Keysere.
Gilda is worried, but refuses to believe her husband can have failed in his task. She watches for him from the window and eventually spots him riding into the city. On hearing the news, Nicholaes exclaims that Diogenes return is impossible but won't say any more when questioned. He then tries to get the Stadtholder away before he can talk to the Englishman, insisting that Diogenes has sold his sword to the Archduchess. When Diogenes, weary and dazed arrives at the door, Nicholaes attacks him with cries of "Assassin!" but Gilda wrests his sword from her brother before he can do her beloved any serious damage.
The three philosophers, now with fresh horses follow Nicholaes and the Stadtholder and manage to frustrate Nicholaes's plans to deliver the Stadtholder into the hands of the Archduchess. However, before the traitor meets up with Lord Stoutenburg, he shoots at Diogenes with a poisoned bullet and the resultant smoke causes him to go blind.
Nicolaes and Stoutenburg return to Amersfoort with 4000 mercenaries and demand the surrender of the city. After taking over Mynheer Beresteyn's house, Stoutenburg threatens to get his troops to murder the population of the town unless Guilda agrees to marry him. A commotion outside the house reveals a blind Diogenes is back and is entertaining the troops.
Stoutenburg is determined to hang his nemesis, but thinks he can use the adventurer to his advantage in winning Guilda for he is convinced she will prefer a strong masterful man to a weak helpless one. The sad condition of her husband only seems to make Guilda more committed to him, so changing tack, Stoutenburg promises Guilda he will only spare Diogenes' life if she will agree to be his wife. She reluctantly gives in, but once she has gone to her room, he tells Jan to hang him anyway.
Faced with the gallows, Diogenes barters his privileged knowledge of the Stadtholder's plans for a mug of port. Stoutenburg them tells Mynheer Beresteyn that his son-in-law is a traitor, and knowing the Burgomaster's views on such behaviour leaves him alone in the dining hall with Diogenes and a loaded gun...