The Elusive Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy
I— Paris: 1793
Chapter II— A
Chapter IV— The
Chapter V— Sir
Percy and His
Chapter VI— For
the Poor of
Chapter X— Lady
Chapter XI— The
Chapter XIV— The
Chapter XVI— The
Chapter XIX— The
Strength of the
Chapter XXV— The
The Terms of the
Chapter XXX— The
The English Spy
Chapter I— Paris: 1793
There was not even a reaction.
On! Ever on! In that wild, surging torrent; sowing the wind of
anarchy, of terrorism, of lust of blood and hate, and reaping a
hurricane of destruction and of horror.
On! Ever on! France, with Paris and all her children still rushes
blindly, madly on; defies the powerful coalition, Austria, England,
Spain, Prussia, all joined together to stem the flow of carnage, defies
the Universe and defies God!
Paris this September, 1793! - or shall we call it Vendémiaire, Year
I of the Republic? Call it what we will! Paris! A city of bloodshed, of
humanity in its lowest, most degraded, aspect, France herself a
gigantic self-devouring monster, her fairest cities destroyed, Lyons
razed to the ground, Toulon, Marseilles, masses of blackened ruins, her
bravest sons turned to lustful brutes or to abject cowards seeking
safety at the cost of any humiliation.
That is thy reward, O mighty, holy Revolution! Apotheosis of
equality and fraternity! Grand rival of decadent Christianity.
Five weeks now since Marat, the bloodthirsty Friend of the People,
succumbed beneath the sheath-knife of a virgin patriot; a month since
his murderers walked proudly, even enthusiastically, to the guillotine!
There has been no reaction - only a great sigh! ... Not of content or
satisfied lust, but a sigh such as the man-eating tiger might heave
after his first taste of long-coveted blood.
A sigh for more!
A king on the scaffold; a queen, degraded and abased, awaiting
death, which lingers on the threshold of her infamous prison; eight
hundred scions of ancient houses that have made the history of France;
brave generals, Custine, Blanchelande, Houchard, Beauharnais; worthy
patriots, noble-hearted women, misguided enthusiasts, all by the score
and by the hundred, up the few wooden steps which lead to the
An achievement, of a truth! And still that sigh for more! But for
the moment - a few seconds only - Paris looked around her mighty self,
and thought things over!
The man-eating tiger for the space of a sigh licked his powerful
jaws and pondered! Something new! - something wonderful!
We have had a new Constitution, a new Justice, new Laws, a new
Almanac! What next?
Why, obviously! How comes it that great intellectual, aesthetic
Paris never thought of such a wonderful thing before? A new religion!!
Christianity is old and obsolete, priests are aristocrats, wealthy
oppressors of the people, the Church but another form of wanton tyranny.
Let us by all means have a new religion.
Already something has been done to destroy the old! To destroy!
Always to destroy! Churches have been ransacked, altars spoliated,
tombs desecrated, priests and curates murdered; but that is not enough.
There must be a new religion; and to attain that there must be a
new God. "Man is a born idol-worshipper."
Very well then! Let the People have a new religion and a new God.
Stay! - Not a God this time! For God means Majesty, Power, Kingship!
Everything in fact which the mighty hand of the people of France has
struggled and fought to destroy. Not a God, but a goddess.
A goddess! An idol! A toy! Since even the man-eating tiger must
Paris wanted a new religion, and a new toy, and grave men, ardent
patriots, mad enthusiasts, sat in the Assembly of the Convention and
seriously discussed the means of providing her with both these things
which she asked for.
Chaumette I think it was who first solved the difficulty -
Procureur Chaumette, head of the Paris Municipality, he who had ordered
that the cart, which bore the dethroned queen to the squalid prison of
the Conciergerie, should be led slowly past her own late palace of the
Tuileries, and should be stopped there just long enough for her to see
and to feel, in one grand mental vision, all that she had been when she
dwelt there, and all that she now was by the will of the People.
Chaumette, as you see, was refined, artistic; the torture of the fallen
Queen's heart meant more to him than a blow of the guillotine on her
No wonder, therefore, that it was Procureur Chaumette who first
discovered exactly what type of new religion Paris wanted just now.
"Let us have a goddess of Reason," he said, "typified if you will
by the most beautiful woman in Paris. Let us have a feast of the
Goddess of Reason, let there be a pyre of all the gew-gaws which for
centuries have been flaunted by over-bearing priests before the eyes of
starving multitudes, let the people rejoice and dance around that
funeral pile, and above it all let the new goddess tower smiling and
triumphant. The Goddess of Reason! The only deity our new and
regenerate France shall acknowledge throughout the centuries which are
to come!" Loud applause greeted the impassioned speech.
"A new goddess, by all means!" shouted the grave gentlemen of the
National Assembly, "the Goddess of Reason!"
They were all eager that the People should have this toy; something
to play with and to tease, round which to dance the mad carmagnole and
sing the ever recurring "Ça ira." Something to distract the minds of
the populace from the consequences of its own deeds, and the
helplessness of its legislators.
Procureur Chaumette enlarged upon its original idea, like a true
artist who sees the broad effect of a picture at a glance and then
fills in the minute details; he was already busy elaborating his scheme.
"The goddess must be beautiful ... not too young ... Reason can
only go hand in hand with the riper age of second youth ... she must be
decked out in classical draperies, severe yet suggestive ... she must
be rouged and painted ... for she is a mere idol ... easy to be
appeased with incense, music, and laughter."
He was getting deeply interested in his subject, seeking minutiae
of detail, with which to render his theme more and more attractive.
But patience was never the characteristic of the revolutionary
government of France. The National Assembly soon tired of Chaumette's
dithyrambic utterances. Up aloft on the Mountain, Danton was yawning
like a gigantic leopard.
Soon Henriot was on his feet. He had a far finer scheme than that
of the Procureur to place before his colleagues. A grand nation fête,
semi-religious in character, but of the new religion which destroyed
and desecrated and never knelt in worship.
Citizen Chaumette's Goddess of Reason by all means - Henriot
conceded that the idea was a good one - but the goddess merely as a
figure-head: around her a procession of unfrocked and apostate priests,
typifying the destruction of ancient hierarchy, mules carrying loads of
sacred vessels, the spoils of ten thousand churches of France, and
ballet girls in bacchanalian robes, dancing the carmagnole around the
Public Prosecutor, Foucquier Tinville, thought all these schemes
very tame. Why should the people of France be led to think that the era
of a new religion would mean an era of milk and water, or pageants and
of fireworks? Let every man, woman and child know that this was an era
of blood, of blood and again of blood.
"Oh!" he exclaimed in passionate accents, "would that all the
traitors in France had but one head, that it might be cut off with one
blow of the guillotine!"
He approved of the National fête, but he desired an apotheosis of
the guillotine; he undertook to find ten thousand traitors to be
beheaded on one grand and glorious day: ten thousand heads to adorn the
Place de la Revolution on a great, never-to-be-forgotten evening, after
the guillotine had accomplished this record work.
But Collot d'Herbois would also have his say. Collot lately hailed
from the South, with a reputation for ferocity unparalleled throughout
the whole of this horrible decade. He would not be outdone by
Tinville's bloodthirsty schemes.
He was the inventor of the "Noyades," which had been so successful
at Lyons and Marseilles. "Why not give the inhabitants of Paris one of
these exhilarating spectacles?" he asked with a coarse, brutal laugh.
Then he explained his invention of which he was inordinately proud.
Some two or three hundred traitors, men, women and children, tied
securely together upon a barge in the middle of the river: the barge
with a hole in her bottom! Not too large! Only sufficient to cause her
to sink slowly, very slowly in sight of the crowd of delighted
The cries of the women and children, and even of the men, as they
felt the waters rising and gradually enveloping them, as they felt
themselves powerless even for a fruitless struggle, had proved most
exhilarating, so Citizen Collot declared, to the hearts of the true
patriots of Lyons.
Thus the discussion continued.
This was the era when every man had but one desire, that of
outdoing others in ferocity and brutality, and but one care, that of
saving his own head by threatening that of his neighbour. The great
duel between the Titanic leaders of these turbulent parties, the
conflict between hot-headed Danton on the one side and cold-blooded
Robespierre on the other, had only just begun, the great, all-devouring
monsters had dug their claws into one another, but the issue of the
combat was still at stake.
Neither of these two giants had taken part in these deliberations
anent the new religion and the new goddess. Danton gave signs now and
then of the greatest impatience, and muttered something about a new
form of tyranny, a new kind of oppression.
On the left, Robespierre in immaculate sea-green coat and carefully
gauffered linen, was quiety polishing the nails of his right hand
against the palm of his left.
But nothing escaped him of what was going on. His ferocious egoism,
his unbounded ambition was even now calculating what advantages to
himself might accrue from this idea of the new religion and of the
National fête, what personal aggrandisment he could derive therefrom.
The matter outwardly seemed trivial enough, but already his keen
and calculating mind had seen various side issues which might tend to
place him - Robespierre - on a yet higher and more unassailable
Surrounded by those who hated him, those who envied and those who
feared him, he ruled over them all by the strength of his own
cold-blooded savagery, by the resistless power of his merciless cruelty.
He cared about nobody but himself, about nothing but his own
exaltation: every action of his career, since he gave up his small
practice in a quiet provincial town in order to throw himself into the
wild vortex of revolutionary politics, every word he ever uttered had
but one aim - Himself.
He saw his colleagues and comrades of the old Jacobin Clubs
ruthlessly destroyed around him: friends he had none, and all left him
indifferent; and now he had hundreds of enemies in every assembly and
club in Paris, and these, too, one by one were being swept up in that
wild whirlpool which they themselves had created.
Impassive, serene, always ready with a calm answer when passions
raged most hotly round him, Robespierre, the most amibitious, most
self-seeking demagogue of his time, had acquired the reputation of
being incorruptible and selfless, an enthusiastic servant of the
The sea-green Incorruptible!
And thus whilst others talked and argued, waxed hot over schemes
for processions and pageantry, or loudly denounced the whole matter as
the work of a traitor, he, of the sea-green coat, sat quietly polishing
But he had already weighed all these discussions in the balance of
his mind, placed them in the crucible of his amibition, and turned them
into something that would benefit him and strengthen his position.
Aye! The feast should be brilliant enough! Gay or horrible, mad or
fearful, but through it all the people of France must be made to feel
that there was a guiding hand which ruled the destinies of all, a head
which framed the new laws, which consolidated the new religion and
established its new goddess: the Goddess of Reason. Robespierre, her
Chapter II— A Retrospect
The room was close and dark, filled with the smoke from a defective
chimney. A tiny boudoir, once the dainty sanctum of imperious Marie
Antoinette; a faint and ghostly odour, like unto the perfume of
spectres, seemed still to cling to the stained walls, and to the torn
Everywhere lay the impress of a heavy and destroying hand: that of
the great and glorious Revolution.
In the mud-soiled corners of the room a few chairs, with brocaded
cushions rudely torn, leant broken and desolate against the walls. A
small footstool, once gilt-legged and satin-covered, had been
overturned and roughly kicked to one side, and there it lay on its
back, like some little animal that had been hurt, stretching its broken
limbs upwards, pathetic to behold.
From the delicately wrought Buhl table the silver inlay had been
harshly stripped out of its bed of shell.
Across the Lunette, painted by Boucher and representing a chaste
diana surrounded by a bevy of nymphs, an uncouth hand had scribbled in
charcoal the device of the Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
ou la Mort; whilst, as if to give a crowning point to the work of
destruction and to emphasise its motto, someone had decorated the
portrait of Marie Antoinette with a scarlet cap, and drawn a red and
ominous line across her neck.
And at the table two men were sitting in close and eager conclave.
Between them a solitary tallow candle, unsnuffed and weirdly
flickering, threw fantastic shadows upon the walls, and illumined with
fitful and uncertain light the faces of the two men.
How different were these in character!
One, high cheek-boned, with coarse, sensuous lips, and hair
elaborately and carefully powdered, the other pale and thin-lipped,
with the keen eyes of a ferret and a high, intellectual forehead, from
which the sleek brown hair was smoothly brushed away.
The first of these men was Robespierre, the ruthless and
incorruptible demagogue, the other was Citizen Chauvelin, ex-ambassador
of the Revolutionary Government at the English Court.
The hour was late, and the noise from the great, seething city
preparing for sleep came to this remote little apartment in the now
deserted Palace of the Tuileries merely as a faint and distant echo.
It was two days after the Fructidor Riots. Paul Déroulede and the
woman, Juliette Marny, both condemned to death, had been literally
spirited away out of the cart which was conveying them from the Hall of
Justice to the Luxembourg Prison, and news had just been received by
the Committee of Public Safety that at Lyons the Abbé de Mesnil, with
the ci-devant Chevalier d'Egremont and the latter's wife and family,
had effected a miraculous and wholly incomprehensible escape from the
But this was not all. When Arras fell into the hands of the
Revolutionary army, and a regular cordon was formed round the town so
that not a single Royalist traitor might escape, some three-score women
and children, twelve priests, the old aristocrats Chermeuil, Delleville
and Galipaux, and many others, managed to pass the barriers and were
Raids were made in the suspected houses: in Paris chiefly, where
the escaped prisoners might have found refuge or, better still, where
their helpers and rescuers might still be lurking. Foucquier Tinville,
Public Prosecutor, led and conducted these raids, assisted by that
bloodthirsty vampire, Merlin. They heard of a house in the Rue de
l'Ancienne Comédie, where an Englishman was said to have lodged for two
They demanded admittance, and were taken to the rooms where the
Englishman had stayed. These were bare and squalid, like hundreds of
other rooms in the poorer quarters of Paris. The landlady, toothless
and grimy, had not yet tidied up the one where the Englishman had
slept; in fact, she did not know he had left for good.
He had paid for his room a week in advance, and came and went as he
liked, she explained to Citizen Tinville. She never bothered about him,
as he never took a meal in the house, and he was only there two days.
She did not know her lodger was English until the day he left. She
thought he was a Frenchman from the South, as he certainly had a
peculiar accent when he spoke.
"It was the day of the riots," she continued; "he would go out, and
I told him I did not think that the streets would be safe for a
foreigner like him: for he always wore such very fine clothes, and I
made sure that the starving men and women of Paris would strip them off
his back when their tempers were roused. But he only laughed. He gave
me a bit of paper and told me that if he did not return I might
conclude that he had been killed, and if the Committee of Public Safety
asked me questions about him, I was just to show the bit of paper and
there would be no further trouble."
She had talked volubly, more than a little terrified at Merlin's
scowls, and the attitude of Citizen Tinville, who was known to be very
severe if anyone committed any blunders.
But the Citizeness her name was Brogard, and her husband's brother
kept an inn in the neighbourhood of Calais the Citizeness Brogard had
a clear conscience. She held a licence from the Committee of Public
Safety for letting apartments, and she had always given due notice to
the Committee of the arrival and departure of her lodgers. The only
thing was that if any lodger paid her more than ordinarily well for the
accommodation, and he so desired it, she would send in the notice
conveniently late, and conveniently vaguely worded as to the
description, status, and nationality of her more liberal patrons.
This had occurred in the case of her recent English visitor.
But she did not explain it quite like that to Citizen Foucquier
Tinville or to Citizen Merlin. However, she was rather frightened, and
produced the scrap of paper which the Englishman had left with her,
together with the assurance that when she showed it there would be no
Tinville took it roughly out of her hand, but would not glance at
it. He crushed it into a ball and then Merlin snatched it from him with
a coarse laugh, smoothed out the creases on his knee, and studied it
for a moment.
There were four lines of what looked like poetry, written in a
language which Merlin did not understand. English, no doubt.
But what was perfectly clear, and easily comprehended by anyone,
was the little drawing in the corner, done in red ink, and representing
a small, star-shaped flower.
Then Tinville and Merlin both cursed loudly and volubly, and,
bidding their men follow them, turned away from the house in the Rue de
l'Ancienne Comédie and left its toothless landlady on her own doorstep
still volubly protesting her patriotism and her desire to serve the
Government of the Republic.
Tinville and Merlin, however, took the scrap of paper to Citizen
Robespierre, who smiled grimly as he in his turn crushed the offensive
little document in the palm of his well-washed hand.
Robespierre did not swear. He never wasted either words or oaths;
but he slipped the bit of paper inside the double lid of his silver
snuff-box, and then he sent a special messenger to Citizen Chauvelin in
the Rue Corneille, bidding him come that same evening, after ten
o'clock, to room No. 16 in the ci-devant Palace of the Tuileries.
It was now half-past ten, and Chauvelin and Robespierre sat
opposite one another in the ex-boudoir of Queen Marie Antoinette, and
between them on the table, just below the tallow candle, was a
much-creased exceedingly grimy bit of paper.
It had passed through several unclean hands before Citizen
Robespierre's immaculately white fingers had smoothed it out and placed
it before the eyes of ex-ambassador Chauvelin.
The latter, however, was not looking at the paper, he was not even
looking at the pale, cruel face before him. He had closed his eyes, and
for a moment had lost sight of the small, dark room, of Robespierre's
ruthless gaze, of the mud-stained walls, and the greasy floor. He was
seeing, as in a bright and sudden vision, the brilliantly lighted
salons of the Foreign Office in London, with beautiful Marguerite
Blakeney gliding queen-like on the arm of the Prince of Wales.
He heard the flutter of many fans, the frou-frou of silk dresses,
and above all the din and sound of dance music he heard an inane laugh
and an affected voice repeating the doggerel rhyme that was even now
written on that dirty piece of paper which Robespierre had placed
"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
Is he in heaven, is he in hell,
That demmed elusive Pimpernel?"
It was a mere flash! One of memory's swiftly effaced pictures, when
she shows us for the fraction of a second indelible pictures from out
our past. Chauvelin, in that same second, while his own eyes were
closed and Robespierre's fixed upon him, also saw the lonely cliffs of
Calais, heard the same voice singing "God save the King!" the volley of
musketry, the despairing cries of Marguerite Blakeney; and once again
he felt the keen and bitter pang of complete humiliation and defeat.
Chapter III— Ex-Ambassador Chauvelin
Robespierre had quietly waited the while. He was in no hurry: being
a night-bird of very pronounced tastes, he was quite ready to sit here
until the small hours of the morning, watching Citizen Chauvelin
mentally writhing in the throes of recollections of the past few
months. There was nothing that delighted the sea-green Incorruptible
quite so much as the aspect of a man struggling with a hopeless
situation, and feeling a net of intrigue drawing gradually tighter and
tighter around him.
Even now, when he saw Chauvelin's smooth forehead wrinkled into an
anxious frown, and his thin hand nervously clutched upon the table,
Robespierre heaved a pleasurable sigh, leaned back in his chair, and
said with an amiable smile:
"You do agree with me, then, Citizen, that the situation has become
Then as Chauvelin did not reply, he continued, speaking more
"And how terribly galling it all is, when we could have had that
man under the guillotine by now, if you had not blundered so terribly
His voice had become hard nad trenchant like that knife to which he
was so ready to make constant allusion. But Chauvelin still remained
silent. There was really nothing that he could say.
"Citizen Chauvelin, how you must hate that man!" exclaimed
Robespierre at last.
Then only did Chauvelin break the silence which up to now he had
appeared to have forced himself to keep.
"I do!" he said with unmistakable fervour.
"Then why do you not make an effort to retrieve the blunders of
last year?" queried Robespierre blandly. "The Republic has been
unusually patient and long-suffering with you, Citizen Chauvelin. She
has taken your many services and well-known patriotism into
consideration. But you know," he added significantly, "that she has no
use for worthless tools."
Then as Chauvelin seemed to have relapsed into sullen silence, he
continued with his original ill-omened blandness:
"Ma foi! Citizen Chauvelin, were I standing in your buckled shoes,
I would not lose another hour in trying to avenge mine own humiliation!"
"Have I ever had a chance?" burst out Chauvelin with ill-suppressed
vehemence. "What can I do single-handed? Since war has been declared I
can not go to England unless the Government will find some official
reason for my doing so. There is much grumbling and wrath over here,
and when that damned Scarlet Pimpernel League has been at work, when a
score or so of valuable prizes have been snatched from under the very
knife of the guillotine, then, there is much gnashing of teeth and
useless cursings, but nothing serious or definite is done to smother
those accursed English flies which come buzzing about our ears."
"Nay! You forget, Citizen Chauvelin," retorted Robespierre, "that
we of the Committee of Public Safety are far more helpless than you.
You know the language of these people: we don't. You know their manners
and customs, their ways of thought, the methods they are likely to
employ: we know none of these things. You have seen and spoken to men
in England who are members of that damned League. You have seen the man
who is its leader. We have not."
He leant forward on the table and looked more searchingly at the
thin, pallid face before him.
"If you named that leader to me now, if you described him, we could
go to work more easily. You could name him, an you would, Citizen
"I cannot," retorted Chauvelin doggedly.
"Ah! But I think you could. But there! I do not blame your silence.
You would wish to reap the reward of your own victory, to be the
instrument of your own revenge. Passons! I think it natural! But in the
name of your own safety, Citizen,, do not be too greedy with your
secret. If the man is known to you, find him again, find him, lure him
to France! We want him the people want him! And if the people do not
get what they want, they will turn on those who have withheld their
"I understand, Citizen, that your own safety and that of your
Government is involved in this renewed attempt to capture the Scarlet
Pimpernel," retorted Chauvelin drily.
"And your head, Citizen Chauvelin," concluded Robespierre.
"Nay! I know that well enough, and you may believe me, an you will,
Citizen, when I say that I care but little about that. The question is,
if I am to lure that man to France, what will you and your Government
do to help me?"
"Everything," replied Robespierre, "provided you have a definite
plan and a definite purpose."
"I have both. But I must go to England in, at least, a
semi-official capacity. I can do nothing if I am to hide in disguise in
out of the way corners."
"That is easily done. There has been some talk with the British
authorities anent the security and welfare of peaceful French subjects
settled in England. After a good deal of correspondence they have
suggested our sending a semi-official representative over there to look
after the interests of our own people commercially and financially. We
can easily send you over in that capacity if it would suit your
"Admirably. I have only need of a cloak. That one will do as well
"Is that all?"
"Not quite. I have several plans in my head, and I must know that I
am fully trusted. Above all, I must have power Decisive, absolute,
There was nothing of the weakling about this small, sable-clad man,
who looked the redoubtable Jacobin leader straight in the face, and
brought a firm fist resolutely down upon the table before him.
Robespierre paused awhile ere he replied; he was eyeing the other man
keenly, trying to read if behind that earnest, frowning brow there did
not lurk some selfish ulterior motive along with that demand for
But Chauvelin did not flinch beneath that gaze which could make
every cheek in Franch blanch with unnamed terror, and after that slight
moment of hesitation Robespierre said quietly:
"You shall have the complete power of a military dictator in every
town or borough of France which you may visit. The Revolutionary
Government shall create you, before you start for England, Supreme Head
of all the Sub-Committees of Public Safety. This will mean that in the
name of the safety of the Republic every order given by you, of
whatsoever nature it might be, must be obeyed implicitly under pain of
an arraignment for treason."
Chauvelin sighed a quick, sharp sigh of intense satisfaction, which
he did not even attempt to disguise before Robespierre.
"I shall want agents," he said, "or shall we say spies? And, of
"You shall have both. We keep a very efficient secret service in
England, and they do a great deal of good over there. There is much
dissastisfaction in their Midland counties you remember the
Birmingham riots? They were chiefly the work of our own spies. Then you
know Candeille, the actress? She has found her way among some of those
circles in London who have what they call Liberal tendencies. I believe
they are called Whigs. Funny name, isn't it? It means perruque, I
think. Candeille has given charity performances, in aid of our Paris
poor, in one or two of these Whig clubs, and incidentally she has been
very useful to us."
"A woman is always useful in such cases. I shall seek out the
"And if she renders you useful assistance, I think I can offer her
what should prove a tempting prize. Women are so vain!" he added,
contemplating with rapt attention the enamel-like polish on his
fingernails. "There is a vacancy in the Maison Moliére. Or what might
prove more attractive still in connection with the proposed Nation
fête, and the new religion for the people, we have not yet chosen a
Goddess of Reason. That should appeal to any feminine mind. The
impersonation of a goddess, with processions, pageants, and the rest.
Great importance and prominence given to one personality. What say you,
Citizen? If you really have need of a woman for the furtherance of your
plans, you have that at your disposal which may enhance her zeal."
"I thank you, Citizen," rejoined Chauvelin calmly. "I always
entertained a hope that some day the Revolutionary Government would
call again on my services. I admit that I failed last year. The
Englishman is resourceful. He has wits and he is very rich. He would
not have succeeded, I think, but for his money and corruption and
bribery are rife in Paris and on our coasts. He slipped through my
fingers at the very moment when I thought that I held him most
securely. I do admit all that, but I am prepared to redeem my failure
of last year, and there is nothing more to discuss. I am ready to
He looked round for his cloak and hat, and quietly readjusted the
set of his necktie. But Robespierre detained him a while longer: that
born mountebank, born torturer of the souls of men, had not gloated
sufficiently yet on the agony of mind of this fellow man.
Chauvelin had always been trusted and respected. His services in
connection with the foreign affairs of the Revolutionary Government had
been invaluable, both before and since the beginning of the European
War. At one time he formed part of that merciless decemvirate, which
with Robespierre at its head meant to govern France by laws of
bloodshed and of unparalleled ferocity.
But the sea-green Incorruptible had since tired of him, then had
endeavoured to push him on one side, for Chauvelin was keen and clever,
and, moreover, he possessed all those qualities of selfless patriotism
which were so conspicuously lacking in Robespierre.
His failure in bringing that interfering Scarlet Pimpernel to
justice and the guillotine had completed Chauvelin's downfall. Though
not otherwise molested, he had been left to moulder in obscurity during
this past year. He would soon enough have been completely forgotten.
Now he was not only to be given one more chance to regain public
favour, but he had demanded power which, in consideration of the aim in
view, Robespierre himself could not refuse to grant him. But the
Incorruptible, ever envious and jealous, would not allow him to exult
With characteristic blandness he seemed to be entering into all
Chauvelin's schemes, to be helping him in every way he could, for there
was something at the back of his mind which he meant to say to the
ex-ambassador, before the latter took his leave: something which would
show him that he was but on trial once again, and which would
demonstrate to him with perfect clearness that over him there hovered
the all powerful hand of the master.
"You have but to tname the sum you want, Citizen Chauvelin," said
the Incorruptible, with an encouraging smile; "the Government will not
stint you, and you shall not fail for lack of authority or for lack of
"It is pleasant to hear that the Government has such uncounted
wealth," remarked Chauvelin with dry sarcasm.
"Oh! The last few weeks have been very profitable," retorted
Robespierre, "we have confiscated money and jewels from emigrant
royalists to the tune of several million francs. You remember the
traitor Juliette Marny, who escaped to England lately? Well! Her
mother's jewels and quite a good deal of gold were discovered by one of
our most able spies to be under the care of a certain Abbé Foucquet, a
calotin from Boulogne devoted to the family, so it seems."
"Yes?" queries Chauvelin indifferently.
"Our men seized the jewels and gold, that is all. We don't know yet
what we mean to do with the priest. The fisher-folk of Boulogne like
him, and we can lay our hands on him at any time, if we want his old
head for the guillotine. But the jewels were worth having. There's a
historic necklace worth half a million at least."
"Could I have it?" asked Chauvelin.
Robespierre laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"You said it belonged to the Marny family," continued the
ex-ambassador. "Juliette Marny is in England. I might meet her. I
cannot tell what may happen: but I feel that the historic necklace
might prove useful. Just as you please," he added with renewed
indifference. "It was a thought that flashed through my mind when you
spoke nothing more."
"And to show you how thoroughly the Government trusts you, Citizen
Chauvelin," replied Robespierre with perfect urbanity, "I will myself
direct that the Marny necklace be placed unreservedly in your hands;
and a sum of fifty thousand francs for your expenses in England. You
see," he added blandly, "we give you no excuse for a second failure."
"I need none," retorted Chauelin drily, as he finally rose from his
seat, with a sigh of satisfaction that this interview was ended at last.
But Robespierre, too, had risen, and pushing his chair aside, he
took a step or two towards Chauvelin. He was a much taller man than the
ex-ambassador. Spare and gaunt, he had a very upright bearing, and in
the uncertain light of the candle he seemed to tower strangely and
weirdly above the other man: the pale hue of his coat, his
light-coloured hair, the whiteness of his linen, all helped to give to
his appearance at that moment a curious spectral effect.
Chauvelin somehow felt an unpleasant shiver running down his spine
as Robespierre, perfectly urbane and gentle in his manner, place a
long, bony hand upon his shoulder.
"Citizen Chauvelin," said the Incorruptible, with some degree of
dignified solemnity, "meseems that we very quickly understood one
another this evening. Your own conscience, no doubt, gave you a
premonition of what the purport of my summons to you would be. You say
that you always hoped the Revolutionary Government would give you one
great chance to redeem your failure of last year. I, for one, always
intended that you should have that chance, for I saw, perhaps, just a
little deeper into your heart than my colleagues. I saw not only
enthusiasm for the cause of the People of France, not only abhorrence
for the enemy of your country, I saw a purely personal and deadly hate
of an individual man the unknown and mysterious Englishman who proved
too clever for you last year. And because I believe that hatred will
prove sharper and more far-seeing than selfless patriotism, therefore I
urged the Committee of Public Safety to allow you to work out your own
revenge, and thereby to serve your country more effectually than any
other perhaps more pure-minded patriot would do. You go to England
well provided with all that is necessary for the success of your plans,
for the accomlishment of your own personal vengeance. The Revolutionary
Government will help you with money, passports, safe conducts; it
places its spies and agents at your disposal. It gives you practically
unlimited power, wherever you may go. It will not enquire into your
motives, nor yet your means, so long as these lead to success. But
private vengeance or patriotism, whatever may actuate you, we here in
France demand that you deliver into our hands the man who is known in
two countries as The Scarlet Pimpernel! We want him alive if possible,
or dead if it must be so, and we want as many of his henchmen as will
follow him to the guillotine. Get them to France, and we'll know how to
deal with them, and let the whole of Europe be damned."
He paused for awhile, his hand still resting on Chauvelin's
shoulder, his pale green eyes holding those of the other man as if in a
trance. But Chauvelin neither stirred nor spoke. His triumph left him
quite calm; his fertile brain was already busy with his plans. There
was no room for fear in his heart, and it was without the slightest
tremor that he waited for the conclusion of Robespierre's oration.
"Perhaps, Citizen Chauvelin," said the latter at last, "you have
already guessed what there is left for me to say. But lest there should
remain in your mind one faint glimmer of doubt of or hope, let me tell
you this. The Revolutionary Government gives you this chance of
redeeming your failure, but this one only; if you fail again, your
outraged country will know neither pardon nor mercy. Whether you return
to France or remain in England, whether you travel North, South, East
or West, cross the oceans, or traverse the Alps, the hand of an
avenging People will be upon you. Your second failure will be punished
by death, wherever you may be, either by the guillotine, if you are in
France, or if you seek refuge elsewhere, then by the hand of an
assassin. Look to it, Citizen Chauvelin! For there will be no escape
this time, not even if the mightiest tyrant on earth tried to protect
you, not even if you succeed in building up an empire and placing
yourself upon a throne."
His thin, strident voice echoed weirdly in the small, close
boudoir. Chauvelin made no reply. There was nothing that he could say.
All that Robespierre had put so emphatically before him, he had fully
realised, even whilst he was forming his most daring plans.
It was an "eitheror" this time, uttered to
him now. He
thought again of Marguerite Blakeney, and the terrible alternative he
had put before her less than a year ago.
Well! He was prepared to take the risk. He would not fail again. He
was going to England under more favourable conditions this time. He
knew who the man was, whom he was bidden to lure to France and
And he returned Robespierre's threatening gaze boldly and
unflinchingly; then he prepared to go. He took up his hat and cloak,
opened the door and peered for a moment into the dark corridor,
wherein, in the far distance, the steps of a solitary sentinel could be
faintly heard: he put on his hat, turned to look once more into the
room where Robespierre stood quiety watching him, and went his way.
Chapter IV— The Richmond Gala
It was perhaps the most brilliant September ever known in England,
where the last days of dying summer are nearly always golden and
Strange that in this country, where that same season is so
peculiarly radiant with a glory all its own, there should be no special
expression in the language with which to accurately name it.
So we needs must call it "fin d'été" the ending of the summer;
not the absolute end, nor yet the ultimate departure, but the tender
lingering of a friend obliged to leave us anon, yet who fain would
steal a day here and there, a week or so in which to stay with us: who
would make that last pathetic farewell of his endure a little while
longer still, and brings forth in gorgeous array for our final gaze all
that he has which is most luxuriant, most desirable, most worthy of
And in this year of grace 1793, departing summer had lavished the
treasures of her palette upon woodland and river banks; had tinged the
once crude green of larch and elm with a tender hue of gold, had
brushed the oaks with tones of warm russet, and put patches of sienna
and crimson on the beech.
In the gardens the roses were still in bloom not the delicate
blush or lemon ones of June, nor yet the pale Banksias and climbers,
but the full-blooded red roses of late summer, and deep-coloured
apricot ones, with crinkled outside leaves faintly kissed by the frosty
dew. In sheltered spots the purple clematis still lingered, whilst the
dahlias, brilliant of hue, seemed overbearing in their gorgeous
insolence, flaunting their crudely coloured petals against sober
backgrounds of mellow leaves, or the dull, mossy tones of ancient,
The Gala had always been held about the end of September. The
weather, on the riverside, was most dependable then, and there was
always sufficient sunshine as an excuse for bringing out madam's last
new muslin gown, or her pale-coloured, quilted petticoat. Then the
ground was dry and hard, good alike for walking and for setting up
tents and booths. And of these there was of a truth a most goodly array
this year: mountebanks and jugglers from every corner of the world, so
it seemed, for there was a man with a face as black as my lord's
tricorne, and another with such flat, yellow cheeks as made one think
of batter pudding and spring aconite, of eggs and other very yellow
There was a tent wherein dogs all sorts of dogs, big, little,
black, white, or tan did things which no Christian with respect for
his own backbone would have dared to perform, and another where a
weird-faced old man made bean stalks and walking sticks, coins of the
realm and lace 'kerchiefs, vanish into thin air.
And as it was nice and hot, one could sit out upon the green and
listen to the strains of the band, which discoursed sweet music, and
watc the young people tread a measure on the sward.
The quality had not yet arrived, for humbler folk had partaken of a
very early dinner, so as to get plenty of fun and long hours of delight
for the sixpenny toll demanded at the gates.
There was so much to see and so much to do: games of bowls on the
green, and a beautiful Aunt Sally; there was a skittle alley, and two
merry-go-rounds; there were performing monkeys and dancing bears, a
woman so fat that three men with arms outstretched could not get round
her, and a man so thin that he could put a lady's bracelet round his
neck and her garter round his waist. There were some funny little
dwarfs, with pinched faces and a knowing manner, and a giant come all
the way from Russia so 'twas said.
The mechanical toys, too, were a great attraction. You dropped a
penny into a little slit in a box, and a doll would begin to dance and
play the fiddle; and there ws the Magic Mill, where, for another modest
copper, a row of tiny figures, wrinkled and old and dressed in the
shabbiest of rags, marched in weary procession up a flight of steps
into the mill, only to emerge again the next moment at a further door
of this wonderful building looking young and gay, dressed in gorgeous
finery and tripping a dance measure as they descended some steps and
were finally lost to view.
But what was most wonderful of all, and collected the goodliest
crowd of gazers and the largest amount of coins, was a miniature
representation of what was going on in France even at this very moment.
And you could not help but be convinced of the truth of it all, so
cleverly was it done. There was a background of houses and a very
"Too red!" some people said, but were immediately quashed by the
dictum of the wise, that the sky represented a sunset, as anyone who
looked could see. Then there were a number of little figures, no taller
than your hand, but with little wooden faces and arms and legs, just
beautifully made little dolls, and these were dressed in kirtles and
breeches all rags mostly and little coats and wooden shoes. They
were massed together in groups with their arms all turned upwards.
And in the centre of this little stage, on an elevated platform,
there were miniature wooden posts close together, and with a long, flat
board at right angles at the foot of the posts, at the top, was a
miniature knife, which ran up and down in a groove and was drawn by a
miniature pulley. Folk who knew said that this was a model of a
And lo and behold! When you dropped a penny into a slot just below
the wooden stage, the crowd of little figures started waving their arms
up and down, and another little doll would ascend the elevated platform
and lie down on the red board at the foot of the wooden posts. Then a
figure dressed in brilliant scarlet put out an arm, presumably to touch
the pulley, and the tiny knife would rattle down on to the poor little
reclining doll's neck, and its head would roll off into a basket beyond.
Then there was a loud whirr of wheels, a buzz of internal
mechanism, and all the little figures would stop dead, with arms
outstretched, whilst the beheaded doll rolled off the board and was
lost to view, no doubt preparatory to going through the same gruesome
pantomime again. It was very thrilling, and very terrible: a certain
air of hushed awe reigned in the booth where this mechanical wonder was
The booth itself stood in a secluded portion of the grounds, far
from the toll-gates, and the bandstand, and the noise of the
merry-go-round, and there were great texts, written in red letters on a
black ground, pinned all along the walls: "Please spare a copper for
the starving poor of Paris."
A lady, dressed in grey quilted petticoat and pretty grey and black
striped paniers, could be seen walking in the booth from time to time,
then disappearing through a partition beyond. She would emerge again
presently, carrying an embroidered reticule, and would wander round
among the crowd, holding out the bag by its chain, and repeating in
tones of somewhat monotonous appeal: "For the starving poor of Paris,
if you please!"
She had fine dark eyes, rather narrow and tending upwards at the
outer corners, which gave her face a not altogether pleasant
expression. Still, they were fine eyes, and when she went round
soliciting alms most of the men put a hand into their breeches pocket
and dropped a coin into her embroidered reticule.
She said the word "poor" in rather a funny way, rolling the "r" at
the end, and she also said "please" as if it were spelt with a long
line of "e's," and so it was concluded that she was French and was
begging for her poorer sisters. At stated intervals during the day the
mechanical toy was rolled into a corner, and the lady in grey stood up
on a platform, and sang queer little songs, the words of which nobody
"Il était une bergere, et ron et ron petit pataplon"
But it all left an impression of sadness and of suppressed awe upon
the minds and susceptibilities of the worthy Richmond yokels, come with
their wives or sweethearts to enjoy the fun of the fair, and gladly did
everyone emerge out of that melancholy booth into the sunshine, the
brightness, and the noise.
"Lud! But she do give me the creeps," said Mistress Polly, the
pretty barmaid from the "Bell Inn" down by the river. "And I must say
that I don't see why we English folk should send our hard-earned
pennies to those murdering ruffians over the water. Bein' starving, so
to speak, don't make a murderer a better man if he goes on murdering,"
she added with indisputable if ungrammatical logic. "Come, let's look
at something more cheerful now."
And without waiting for anyone else's assent, she turned towards
the more lively portion of the grounds closely followed by a
ruddy-faced, somewhat sheepish looking youth, who very obviously was
her attendant swain.
It was getting on for three o'clock now, and the quality were
beginning to arrive. Lord Anthony Dewhurst was already there, chucking
every pretty girl under the chin, to the annoyance of her beau. Ladies
were arriving all the time, and the humbler feminine hearts were
constantly a-flutter at sight of rich brocaded gowns, and the new
Charlottes, all crinkled velvet and soft marabout, which were so
becoming to the pretty faces beneath.
There was incessant and loud talking and chattering, with here and
there the shriller tones of a French voice being distinctly noticeable
in the din. There were a good many French ladies and gentlemen present,
easily recognisable, even in the distance, for their clothes were of
more sober hue and of lesser richness than those of their English
But they were great lords and ladies, nevertheless dukes and
duchesses and countesses, come to England for fear of being murdered by
those devils in their own country. Richmond was full of them just now,
as they were made right welcome both at the Palace and at the
magnificent home of Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney.
Ah! Here comes Sir Andrew Ffoulkes with his lady! So pretty and
dainty does she look, like a little china doll, in her new-fashioned,
short-waisted gown, her brown hair in soft waves above her smooth
forehead, her great hazel eyes fixed in unaffected admiration on the
gallant husband by her side.
"No wonder she dotes on him!" sighed pretty Mistress Polly, after
she had bobbed her curtsey to my lady. "The brave deeds he did for love
of her! Rescued her from those murderers over in France, and brought
her to England safe and sound, having fought no end of them
single-handed, so I've heard it said. Have not you, Master Thomas
And she looked defiantly at her meek-looking cavalier.
"Bah!" replied Master Thomas with quite unusual vehemence in
response to the disparaging look in her brown eyes, "'tis not he who
did it all, as you well know, Mistress Polly. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes is a
gallant gentleman, you may take your Bible oath on that, but he that
fights the murdering frog-eaters single-handed is he whom they call the
Scarlet Pimpernel: the bravest gentleman in all the world."
Then, as at mention of the national hero, he thought that he
detected in Mistress Polly's eyes an enthusiasm which he could not very
well ascribe to his own individuality, he added with some pique:
"But they do say that this same Scarlet Pimpernel is mightily
ill-favoured, and that's why no one ever sees him. They say he is fit
to scare the crows away, and that no Frenchy can look twice at his
face, for it's so ugly, and so they let him get out of the country
rather than look at him again."
"Then they do say a mighty lot of nonsense," retorted Mistress
Polly, with a shrug of her pretty shoulders, "and if that be so, then
why don't you go over to France and join hands with the Scarlet
Pimpernel? I'll warrant no Frenchman'll want to look twice at your
A chorus of laughter greeted this sally, for the two young people
had in the meanwhile been joined by several of their friends, and now
formed part of a merry group near the band, some sitting, others
standing, but all bent on seeing as much as there was to see in
Richmond Gala this day. There was Johnny Cullen, the grocer's
apprentice from Twickenham, and Ursula Quekett, the baker's daughter,
and several "young 'uns" from the neighbourhood, as well as some older
And all of them enjoyed a joke when they heard one, and thought
Mistress Polly's retort mightily smart. But then Mistress Polly was
possessed of two hundred pounds, all her own, left to her by her
grandmother, and on the strength of this extensive fortune had acquired
a reputation for beauty and wit not easily accorded to a wench that had
But Mistress Polly was also very kind-hearted. She loved to tease
Master Jezzard, who was an indefatigable hanger-on at her pretty
skirts, and whose easy conquest had rendered her somewhat contemptuous;
but at the look of perplexed annoyance and bewildered distress in the
lad's face, her better nature soon got the upper hand. She realised
that her remark had been unwarrantably spiteful, and, wishing to make
atonement, she said with a touch of coquetry which quickly spread balm
over the honest yokel's injured vanity:
"La! Master Jezzard, you do seem to make a body say some queer
things. But there! You must own 'tis mighty funny about that Scarlet
Pimpernel!" she added, appealing to the company in general, just as if
Master Jezzard had been disputing the fact. "Why won't he let anyone
see who he is? And those who know him won't tell. Now I have it for a
fact from my lady's own maid Lucy, that the young lady as is stopping
at Lady Blakeney's house has actually spoken to the man. She came over
from France, come a fortnight tomorrow; she and the gentleman they call
Mossoo Déroulede. They both saw the Scarlet Pimpernel and spoke to him.
He brought them over from France. Then why won't they say?"
"Say what?" commented Johnny Cullen, the apprentice.
"Perhaps he isn't," said old Clutterbuck, who was clerk of the
vestry at the church of St. John the Evangelist.
"Yes!" he added sententiously, for he was fond of his own sayings
and usually liked to repeat them before he had quite done with them,
"that's it, you may be sure. Perhaps he isn't."
"What do you mean, Master Clutterbuck?" asked Ursula Quekett, for
she knew the old man liked to explain his wise saws, and as she wanted
to marry his son, she indulged him whenever she could. "What do you
mean? He isn't what?"
"He isn't that's all," explained Clutterbuck with vague solemnity.
Then, seeing that he had gained the attention of the little party
round him, he condescended to come to more logical phraseology.
"I mean, that perhaps we must not ask ' Who
mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel?' but 'Who was that poor and
"Then you think" suggested Mistress Polly, who felt unaccountably
low-spirited at ths oratorical pronouncement.
"I have it for a fact," said Mr. Clutterbuck solemnly, "that he
whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel no longer exists now; that he was
collared by the Frenchies, as far back as last fall, and, in the
language of the poets, has never been heard of no more."
Mr. Clutterbuck was very fond of quoting from the works of certain
writers whose names he never mentioned, but who went by the poetical
generality of "the poets." Whenever he made use of phrases which he was
supposed to derive from these great and un-named authors, he solemnly
and mechanically raised his hat, as a tribute of respect to these giant
"You think that the Scarlet Pimpernel is dead, Mr. Clutterbuck?
That those horrible Frenchies murdered him? Surely you don't mean
that?" sighed Mistress Polly ruefully.
Mr. Clutterbuck put his hand up to his hat, preparatory, no doubt,
to making another appeal to the mysterious poets, but was interrupted
in the very act of uttering great thoughts by a loud and prolonged
laugh, which came echoing from a distant corner of the grounds.
"Lud! But I'd know that laugh anywhere," said Mistress Quekett,
whilst all eyes were turned in the direction whence the merry noise had
Half a head taller than any of his friends around him, his lazy
blue eyes scanning from beneath their drooping lids the motley throng
around him, stood Sir Percy Blakeney, the centre of a gaily-dressed
little group which seemingly had just crossed the toll-gate.
"A fine specimen of a man, for sure," remarked Johnny Cullen, the
"Aye! You may take your Bible oath on that!" sighed Mistress Polly,
who was inclined to be sentimental.
"Speakin' as the poets," pronounced Mr. Clutterbuck sententiously,
"inches don't make a man."
"Nor fine clothes neither," added Master Jezzard, who did not
approve of Mistress Polly's sentimental sigh.
"There's my lady!" gasped Miss Barbara suddenly clutching Master
Clutterbuck's arm vigorously. "Lud! But she is beautiful today!"
Beautiful indeed, and radiant with youth and happiness, Marguerite
Blakeney had just gone through the gates and was walking along the
sward towards the bandstands. She was dressed in clinging robes of
shimmery green texture, the new-fashioned, high-waisted effect suiting
her graceful figure to perfection. The large Charlotte, made of velvet
to match the gown, cast a deep shadow over the upper part of her face,
and fave a peculiar softness to the outline of her forehead and cheeks.
Long lace mittens covered her arms and hands, and a scarf of
diaphanous material, edged with dull gold, hung loosely around her
Yes! She was beautiful! No captious chronicler has ever denied
that! And no one who knew her before, and who saw her again on this
late summer's afternoon, could fail to mark the additional charm of her
magnetic personality. There was a tenderness in her face as she turned
her head to and fro, a joy of living in her eyes that was quite
Just now she was talking animatedly with the young girl who was
walking beside her, and laughing merrily the while:
"Nay! We'll find your Paul, never fear! Lud! Child, have you
forgotten he is in England now, and that there's no fear of his being
kidnapped here on the green in broad daylight?"
The young girl gave a slight shudder, and her child-like face
became a shade paler than before. Marguerite took her hand and gave it
a kindly pressure. Juliette Marny, but lately come to England, saved
from under the very knife of the guillotine by a timely and daring
rescue, could scarcely believe as yet that she and the man she loved
were really out of danger.
"There is Monsieur Déroulede," said Marguerite after a slight
pause, giving the young girl time to recover herself and pointing to a
group of men close by. "He is among friends, as you see."
They made such a pretty picture, these two women, as they stood
together for a moment on the green, with the brilliant September sun
throwing golden reflections and luminous shadows on their slender
forms. Marguerite, tall and queen-like in her rich gown, and costly
jewels, wearing with glorious pride the invisible crown of happy
wifehood; Juliette, slim and girlish, dressed all in white, with a
soft, straw hat on her fair curls, and bearing on an otherwise young
and childlike face the hard imprint of the terrible sufferings she had
undergone, of the deathly moral battle her tender soul had had to fight.
Soon a group of friends joined them. Paul Déroulede among these,
also Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lady Ffoulkes, and, strolling slowly
towards them, his hands buried in the pockets of his fine cloth
breeches, his broad shoulders set to advantage in a coat of immaculate
cut, priceless lace ruffles at neck and wrist, came the inimitable Sir
Chapter V— Sir Percy and His Lady
To all appearances he had not changed since those early days of
matrimony when his young wife dazzled London society by her wit and by
her beauty, and he was one of the many satellites that helped to bring
into bold relief the brilliance of her presence, of her sallies, and of
His friends alone, mayhap and of these only an intimate few had
understood that beneath that self-same lazy manner, those shy and
awkward ways, that half-inane, half-cynical laugh, there now lurked an
undercurrent of tender and passionate happiness.
That Lady Blakeney was in love with her own husband nobody could
fail to see, and in the more frivolous cliques of fashionable London,
this extraordinary phenomenon had oft been eagerly discussed.
"A monstrous thing, of a truth, for a woman of fashion to adore her
own husband!" was the universal pronouncement of the gaily-decked
little world that centered around Carlton House and Ranelagh.
Not that Sir Percy Blakeney was unpopular with the fair sex. Far be
it from the veracious chronicler's mind even to suggest such a thing.
The ladies would have voted any gathering dull if Sir Percy's witty
sallies did not ring from end to end of the dancing hall, if his new
satin coat and broidered waistcoat did not call for comment or
But that was the frivolous set, to which Lady Blakeney had never
It was well-known that she had always viewed her good-natured
husband as the most willing and most natural butt for her caustic wit;
she still was fond of aiming a shaft or two at him, and he was still
equally ready to let the shaft glance harmlessly against the flawless
shield of his own imperturbable good humour; but now, contrary to all
precedent, to all usages and customs of London society, Marguerite
seldom was seen at routs or at the opera without her husband; she
accompanied him to all the races, and even one night oh, horror! had
danced the gavotte with him.
Society shuddered and wondered! tried to put Lady Blakeney's
sudden infatuation down to foreign eccentricity, and finally consoled
itself with the thought that, after all, this nonsense could not last,
and that she was too clever a woman and he too perfect a gentleman to
keep up this abnormal state of things for any length of time.
In the meanwhile, the ladies averred that this matrimonial love was
a very one-sided affair. No one could assert that Sir Percy was
anything but politely indifferent to his wife's obvious attentions. His
lazy eyes never once lighted up when she entered a ballroom, and there
were those who knew for a fact that her ladyship spent many lonely days
in her beautiful home at Richmond, whilst her lord and master absented
himself with persistent if unchivalrous regularity.
His presence at the Gala had been a surprise to everyone, for all
thought him away fishing in Scotland or shooting in Yorkshire, anywhere
save close to the apron-strings of his doting wife. He himself seemed
conscious of the fact that he had not been expected at this
end-of-summer fête, for as he strolled forward to meet his wife and
Juliette Marny, and acknowledged with a bow here and a nod there the
many greetings from subordinates and friends, there was quite an
apologetic air about his good-looking face, and an obvious shyness in
But Marguerite gave a happy little laugh when she saw him coming
"Oh, Sir Percy!" she said gaily, "and pray have you seen the show?
I vow 'tis the maddest, merriest throng I've seen for many a day. Nay!
But for the sighs and shudders of my poor little Juliette, I should be
enjoying one of the liveliest days of my life."
She patted Juliette's arm affectionately.
"Do not shame me before Sir Percy," murmured the young girl,
casting shy glances at the elegant cavalier before her, vainly trying
to find in the indolent, foppish personality of this society butterfly
some trace of the daring man of action, the bold adventurer who had
snatched her and her lover from out the very tumbril that bore them
both to death.
"I know I ought to be gay," she continued, with an attempt at a
smile; "I ought to forget everything, save what I owe to"
Sir Percy's laugh broke in on her half-finished sentence.
"Lud! And to think of all that I ought not to forget!" he said
loudly. "Tony here has been clamouring for iced punch this last
half-hour, and I promised to find a booth wherein the noble liquid is
properly dispensed. Within half an hour from now His Royal Highness
will be here. I assure you, Mlle. Juliette, that from that time onwards
I have to endure the qualms of the damned, for the heir to Great
Britain's throne always contrives to be thirsty when I am satiated,
which is Tantalus' torture magnified a thousandfold, or to be satiated
when my parched palate most requires solace; in either case I am a most
"In either case you contrive to talk a deal of nonsense, Sir
Percy," said Marguerite gaily.
"What else would your ladyship have me do this lazy, hot afternoon?"
"Come and view the booths with me," she said. "I am dying for the
sight of the fat woman and the lean man, the pig-faced child, the
dwarfs, and the giants. There! Monsieur Déroulede," she added, turning
to the young Frenchman who was standing close beside her, "take Mlle.
Juliette to hear the clavecin players. I vow she is tired of my
The gaily-dressed group was breaking up. Juliette and Paul
Déroulede were only too ready to stroll off arm-in-arm together, and
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was ever in attendance on his young wife.
For one moment Marguerite caught her husband's eye. No one was
"Percy," she said.
"When did you return?"
"Early this morning."
"You crossed over from Calais?"
"Why did you not let me know sooner?"
"I could not, dear. I arrived at my lodgings in town looking a
disgusting object I could not appear before you until I had washed some
of the French mud from off my person. Then His Royal Highness demanded
my presence. He wanted news of the Duchesse de Verneuil, whom I had the
honour of escorting over from France. By the time I had told him all
that he wished to hear, there was no chance of finding you at home, and
I thought I should see you here."
Marguerite said nothing for a moment, but her foot impatiently
tapped the ground, and her fingers were fidgeting with the gold fringe
of her scarf. The look of joy, of exquisite happiness, seemed to have
suddenly vanished from her face; there was a deep furrow between her
She sighed a short, sharp sigh, and cast a rapid upward glance at
"Percy," she said abruptly.
"These anxieties are terrible to bear. You have been twice over to
France within the last month, dealing with your life as lightly as if
it did not now belong to me. When will you give up these mad
adventures, and leave others to fight their own battles and to save
their own lives as best they may?"
She had spoken with increased vehemence, although her voice was
scarce raised above a whisper. Even in her sudden, passionate anger,
she was on her guard not to betray his secret. He did not reply
immediately, but seemed to be studying the beautiful face on which
heart-broken anxiety was now distinctly imprinted.
Then he turned and looked at the solitary booth in the distance,
across the frontal of which a large placard had been recently affixed,
bearing the words! "Come and see the true representation of the
In front of the booth a man, dressed in ragged breeches, with
Phrygian cap on his head, adorned with a tricolour cockade, was
vigorously beating a drum, shouting volubly the while:
"Come in and see, come in and see! The only realistic presentation
of the original guillotine. Hundreds parish in Paris every day! Come
and see! Come and see! The perfectly vivid performance of what goes on
hourly in Paris at the present moment."
Marguerite had followed the direction of Sir Percy's eyes. She,
too, was looking at the booth; she heard the man's monotonous, raucous
cries. She gave a slight shudder and once more looked imploringly at
her husband. His face though outwardly as lazy and calm as before had
a strange, set look about the mouth and firm jaw, and his slender hand,
the hand of a dandy accustomed to handle cards and dice and to play
lightly with the foils, was clutched tightly beneath the folds of the
priceless Mechlin frills.
It was but a momentary stiffening of the whole, powerful frame, an
instant's flash of the ruling passion hidden within that very secretive
soul. Then he once more turned towards her, the rigid lines of his face
relaxed, he broke into a pleasant laugh, and with the most elaborate
and most courtly bow he took her hand in his and, raising her fingers
to his lips, he gave the answer to her question:
"When your ladyship has ceased to be the most admired woman in
Europe namely, when I am in my grave."
Chapter VI— For the Poor of Paris
There was no time to say more then. For the laughing, chatting
groups of friends had once more closed up round Marguerite and her
husband, and she, ever on the alter, gave neither look nor sign that
any serious conversation had taken place between Sir Percy and herself.
Whatever she might feel or dread with regard to the foolhardy
adventures in which he still persistently embarked, no member of the
League ever guarded the secret of his chief more loyally than did
Though her heart overflowed with a passionate pride in her husband,
she was clever enough to conceal every emotion save that which Nature
had insisted on imprinting on her face, her present radiant happiness
and her irresistible love. And thus before the world she kept up that
bantering way with him, which had characterised her earlier matrimonial
life, that good-natured, easy contempt which he had so readily accepted
in those days, and which their entourage would have missed and would
have enquired after, if she had changed her manner towards him too
In her heart she knew full well that within Percy Blakeney's soul
she had a great and powerful rival: his wild, mad, passionate love of
adventure. For it he would sacrifice everything, even his life; she
dared not ask herself if he would sacrifice his love.
Twice in a few weeks he had been over to France: every time he went
she could not know if she would ever see him again. She could not
imagine how the French Committee of Public Safety woulc so clumsily
allow the hated Scarlet Pimpernel to slip through its fingers. But she
never attempted either to warn him or to beg him not to go. When he
brought Paul Déroulede and Juliette Marny over from France, her heart
went out to these two young people in sheer gladdness and pride because
of his precious life, which he had risked for them.
She loved Juliette for the dangers Percy had passed, for the
anxieties she herself had endured; only today, in the midst of this
beautiful sunshine, this joy of the earth, of summer and of the sky,
she had suddenly felt a mad, overpowering anxiety, a deadly hatred of
the wild adventurous life, which took him so often away from her side.
His pleasant, bantering reply precluded her following up the subject,
whist the merry chatter of peole round her warned her to keep her words
and looks under control.
But she seemed now to feel the want of being alone, and, somehow,
that distant booth with its flaring placard, and the crier in the
Phrygian cap, exercised a weird fascination over her.
Instinctively she bent her steps thither, and equally
instinctively the idle throng of her friends followed her. Sir Percy
alone had halted in order to converse with Lord Hastings who had just
"Surely, Lady Blakeney, you have no thought of patronising that
gruesome spectacle?" said Lord Anthony Dewhurst, as Marguerite almost
mechanically had paused within a few yards of the solitary booth.
"I don't know," she said, with enforced gaiety, "the place seems to
attract me. And I need not look at the spectacle," she said
significantly, as she pointed to a roughly-scribbled notice at the
entrance of the tent: "In aid of the starving poor of Paris."
"There's a good-looking woman who sings, and a hideous mechanical
toy that moves," said one of the young men in the crowd. "It is very
dark and close inside the tent. I was lured in there for my sins, and
was in a mighty hurry to come out again."
"Then it must be my sins that are helping to lure me, too, at the
present moment," said Marguerite lightly. "I pray you all to let me go
in there. I want to hear the good-looking woman sing, even if I do not
see the hideous toy on the move."
"May I escort you then, Lady Blakeney?" said Lord Tony.
"Nay! I would rather go in alone," she replied a trifle
impatiently. "I beg of you not to heed my whim, and to await my return,
there, where the music is at its merriest."
It had been bad manners to insist. Marguerite, with a little
comprehensive nod to all her friends, left the young cavaliers still
protesting, and quickly passed beneath the roughly-constructed doorway
that gave access into the booth.
A man, dressed in theatrical rags and wearing the characteristic
scarlet cap, stood immediately within the entrance, and ostentatiously
rattled a money-box at regular intervals.
"For the starving poor of Paris," he drawled out in nasal,
monotonous tones the moment he caught sight of Marguerite and of her
rich gown. She dropped some gold into the box and then passed on.
The interior of the booth was dark and lonely-looking after the
glare of the hot September sun and the noisy crowd that thronged the
sward outside. Evidently a performance had just taken place on the
elevated platform beyond, for a few yokels seemed to be lingering in a
desultory manner as if preparatory to going out.
A few disjointed comments reached Marguerite's ears as she
approached, and the small groups parted to allow her to pass. One or
two women gaped in astonishment at her beautiful dress, whilst others
bobbed a respectful curtsey.
The mechanical toy arrested her attention immediately. She did not
find it as gruesome as she expected, only singularly grotesque, with
all those wooden little figures in their quaint, arrested action.
She drew nearer to have a better look, and the yokels who had
lingered behind, paused, wondering if she would make any remark.
"Her ladyship was born in France," murmured one of the men close to
her; "she would know if the thing really looks like that."
"She do seem interested," quoth another in a whisper.
"Lud love us all!" said a buxom wench, who was clinging to the arm
of a nervous-looking youth, "I believe they're coming for more money."
On the elevated platform at the further end of the tent, a slim
figure had just made its appearance, that of a young woman dressed in
peculiarly sombre colours, and with a black lace hood thrown lightly
over her head.
Marguerite thought that the face seemed familiar to her, she also
noticed that the woman carried a large embroidered reticule, in her
There was a general exodus the moment she appeared. The Richmond
yokels did not like the look of that reticule. They felt that
sufficient demand had already been made upon their scant purses,
considering the meagreness of the entertainmnet, and they dreaded being
lured to further extravagance.
When Marguerite turned away from the mechanical toy, the last of
the little crowd had disappeared, and she was alone in the booth with
the woman in the dark kirtle and black lace hood.
"For the poor of Paris, madame," said the latter mechanically,
holding out her reticule.
Marguerite was looking at her intently. The face certainly seemed
familiar, recalling to her mind the far-off days in Paris, before she
married. Some young actress no doubt driven out of France by that
terrible turmoil which had caused so much sorrow and so much suffering.
The face was pretty, the figure slim and elegant, and the look of
obvious sadness in the dark, almond-shaped eyes was calculated to
inspire sympathy and pity.
Yet strangely enough Lady Blakeney felt repelled and chilled by
this sombrely-dressed young person: an instinct, which she could not
have explained and which she felt had no justification, warned her that
somehow or other the sadness was not quite genuine, the appeal for the
poor not quite hearfelt.
Nevertheless, she took out her purse, and dropped some few
sovereigns into the capacious reticule; then she said very kindly:
"I hope that you are satisfied with your day's work, madame; I fear
me our British country folk hold the strings of their purses somewhat
tightly these times."
The woman sighed and shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, madame!" she said with a tone of great dejection, "one does
what one can for one's starving countrymen, but it is very hard to
elicit sympathy over here for them, poor dears!"
"You are a Frenchwoman, of course," rejoined Marguerite, who had
noted that though the woman spoke English with a very pronounced
foreign accent, she had nevertheless expressed herself with wonderful
fluency and correctness.
"Just like Lady Blakeney herself," replied the other.
"You know who I am?"
"Who could come to Richmond and not know Lady Blakeney by sight?"
"But what you come to Richmond on this philanthropic errand of
"I go where I think there is a chance of earning a little money,
for the cause which I have at heart," replied the Frenchwoman with the
same gentle simplicity, the same tone of mournful dejection.
What she said was undoubtedly noble and selfless. Lady Blakeney
felt in her heart that her keenest sympathy should have gone out to
this young woman pretty, dainty, hardly more than a girl who seemed
to be devoting her young life to a purely philanthropic and unselfish
cause. And yet in spite of herself, Marguerite seemed unable to shake
off that curious sense of mistrust which had assailed her from the
first, nor that feeling of unreality and stageiness with which the
Frenchwoman's attitude had originally struck her.
Yet she tried to be kind and to be cordial, tried to hide that
coldness in her manner which she felt was unjustified.
"It is all very praiseworthy on your part, madame," seh said,
somewhat lamely. "Madame?" she added interrogatively.
"My name is Candeille Désirée Candeille," replied the Frenchwoman.
"Candeille?" exclaimed Marguerite with sudden alacrity, "Candeille?
"Yes of the Veriétés."
"Ah! then I know why your face from the first seemed familiar to
me," said Marguerite, this time with unaffected cordiality. "I must
have applauded you many a time in the olden days. I am an ex-colleague,
you know. My name was St. Just before I married, and I was of the
"I knew that," said Désirée Candeille, "and half hoped that you
would remember me."
"Nay! who forget Demoiselle Candeille, the most popluar star in the
"Oh! that was so long ago."
"Only four years."
"A fallen star is soon lost out of sight."
"It was a choice for me between exile from France and the
guillotine," rejoined Candeille simply.
"Surely not?" queried Marguerite with a touch of genuine sympathy.
With characteristic impulsiveness she had now cast aside her former
misgivings: she had conquered her mistrust, at any rate had relegated
it to the background of her mind. This woman was a colleague: she had
suffered and was in distress, she had every claim therefore on a
compatriot's help and friendship. She stretched out her hand and took
Désirée Candeille's in her own; she forced herself to feel nothing but
admiration for this young woman, whose whole attitude spoke of sorrows
nobly borne, of misfortunes proudly endured.
"I don't know why I should sadden you with my story," rejoined
Désirée Candeille, after a slight pause, during which she seemed to be
waging war against her own emotion. "It is not a very interesting one.
Hundreds have suffered as I did. I had enemies in Paris. God knows how
that happened. I had never harmed any one, but some one must have hated
me and must have wished me ill. Evil is so easily wrought in France
these days. A denunciation a perquisitionan accusation. Then the
flight from Paris the forged passports the disguise the bribe the
hardships the squalid hiding-places. Oh! I have gone through it all
tasted every kind of humiliation endured every kind of insult Remember!
that I was not a noble aristocrat a Duchess or an impoverished Countess
" she added with marked bitterness, "or perhaps the English cavaliers
whom the popular voice has called the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
would have taken some interest in me. I was only a poor actress, and
had to find my own way out of France alone, or else parish on the
"I am so sorry," said Marguerite, simply.
"Tell me how you got on, once you were in England," she continued,
after a while, seeing that Désirée Candeille seemed absorbed in thought.
"I had a few engagements at first," replied the Frenchwoman. "I
played at Sadler's Wells and with Mrs. Jordan at Covent Garden, but the
Aliens' Bill put an end to my chances of livlihood. No manager cared to
give me a part, and so "
"Oh! I had a few jewels, and I sold them A little money, and I live
on that But when I played at Covent Garden I contrived to send part of
my salary over to some of the poorer clubs of Paris. My heart aches for
those that are starving Por wretches, they are misguided and misled by
self-seeking demagogues It hurts me to feel that I can do nothing more
to help them and eases my self-respect if, by singing at public fairs,
I can still send a few francs to those who are poorer than myself."
She had spoken with ever-increasing passion and vehemence.
Marguerite, with eyes fixed into vacancy, seeing neither the speaker
nor her surroundings, seeing only visions of those same poor wreckages
of humanity, who had been goaded into thirst for blood, when their
shrunken bodies should have been clamouring for healthy food,
Marguerite thus absorbed had totally forgotten her earlier prejudices,
and now completely failed to note all that was unreal, stagey,
theatrical, in the oratorical declamations of the ex-actress from the
Pre-eminently true and loyal herself, in spite of the many
deceptions and treacheries which she had witnessed in her life, she
never looked for falsehood or for cant in others. Even now she only saw
before her a woman who had been wrongfully persecuted, who had suffered
and had forgiven those who had caused her to suffer. She bitterly
upbraided herself for her original mistrust of this noble-hearted,
unselfish woman, who was content to tramp around in an alien country,
bartering her talents for a few coins, in order that some of those, who
were the originators of her sorrows, might have bread to eat and a bed
in which to sleep.
"Mademoiselle," she said warmly, "truly you shame me, who am also
French born, with the many sacrifices you so nobly make for those who
should have first claim on my sympathy. Believe me, if I have not done
as much as duty demanded of me in the cause of my starving compatriots,
it has not been for lack of good-will. Is there any way now," she added
eagerly, "in which I can help you? Putting aside the question of money,
wherein I pray you to command my assistance, what can I do to be of
useful service to you?"
"You are very kind, Lady Blakeney" said the other hesitatingly.
"Well? What is it? I see there is something in your mind "
"It is perhaps difficult to express but people say I have a good
voice. I sing some French ditties they are a novelty in England I
think. If I could sing them in fashionable salons I might perhaps.. "
"Nay! you shall sing in fashionable salons," exclaimed Marguerite
eagerly; "you shall become the fashion, and I'll swear the Prince of
Wales himself shall bid you sing at Carlton House and you shall name
your own fee, Mademoiselle and London society shall vie with the élite
of Bath, as to which shall lure you to its most frequented routs There!
there! you shall make a fortune for the Paris poor and to prove to you
that I mean every word I say, you shall begin your triumphant career in
my own salon to-morrow night. His Royal Highness will be present. You
shall sing your most engaging songs and for your fee you must accept a
hundred guineas, which you shall send to the poorest workmen's club in
Paris in the name of Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney."
"I thank your ladyship, but.. "
"You'll not refuse?"
"I'll accept gladly but you will understand I am not very old,"
said Candeille, quaintly. "I ... I am only an actress but if a young
actress is unprotected then..."
"I understand," replied Marguerite gently, "that you are far too
pretty to frequent the world all alone, and that you have a mother, a
sister, or a friend which? whom you would wish to escort you to-morrow.
Is that it?"
"Nay," rejoined the actress, with marked bitterness, "I have
neither mother, nor sister, but our revolutionary government, with
tardy compassion for those it has so relentlessly driven out of France,
has deputed a representative of their in England to look after the
interests of French subjects over here."
"They have realised over in Paris that my life here has been
devoted to the welfare of the poor people in France. The representative
whom the Government has sent to England is specially interested in me
and in my work. He is a stand-by for me in case of trouble in case of
insults A woman alone is oft subject to those, even at the hands of
so-called gentlemen and the official representative of my own country
becomes in such cases my most natural protector."
"You will receive him?"
"Then may I present him to your ladyship?"
"Whenever you like."
"Now, an it please you."
"Yes. Here he comes, at your ladyship's service."
Désirée Candeille's almond-shaped eyes were fixed upon a distant
part of the tent, behind Lady Blakeney, in the direction of the main
entrance to the booth. There was a slight pause after she had spoken,
and then Marguerite slowly turned in order to see who the official
representative of France was, whom, at the young actress's request, she
had just agreed to receive in her house.
In the doorway of the tent, framed by its gaudy draperies, and with
the streaming sunshine as a brilliant background behind him, stood the
sable-clad figure of Chauvelin.
Chapter VII— Premonition
Marguerite neither moved nor spoke. She felt two pairs of eyes fixed
upon her, and with all the strength of will at her command she forced
the very blood in her veins not to quit her cheeks, forced her eyelids
not to betray by a single quiver the icy pang of a deadly premonition
which at sight of Chauvelin seemed to have chilled her entire soul.
There he stood before her, dressed in his usual sombre garments, a
look almost of humility in those keen grey eyes of his, which a year
ago on the cliffs of Calais had peered down at her with such relentless
Strange that at this moment she should have felt an instinct of
fear. What cause had she to throw more than a pitiful glance at the man
who had tried so cruelly to wrong her and who had so signally failed?
Having bowed very low and very respectfully, Chauvelin advanced
towards her, with all the airs of a disgraced courtier craving audience
from his queen.
As he approached she instinctively drew back.
"Would you prefer not to speak to me, Lady Blakeney?" he said
She could scarcely believe her ears, or trust her eyes. It seemed
impossible that a man could have so changed in a few months. He even
looked shorter than last year, more shrunken within himself. His hair,
which he wore free from powder, was perceptibly tinged with grey.
"Shall I withdraw?" he added after a pause, seeing that Marguerite
made no movement to return his salutation.
"It would be best, perhaps," she replied coldly. "You and I,
Monsieur Chauvelin, have so little to say to one another."
"Very little indeed," he rejoined quietly. "The triumphant and
happy have ever very little to say to the humiliated and the defeated.
But I had hoped that Lady Blakeney, in the midst of her victory, would
have spared one thought of pity and one of pardon."
"I did not know that you had need of either from me, Monsieur."
"Pity, perhaps not; but fogiveness, certainly."
"You have that, if you so desire it."
"Since I failed, you might try to forget."
"That is beyond my power. But, believe me, I have ceased tot hink
of the infinite wrong which you tried to do to me."
"But I failed," he insisted, "and I meant no harm to
"To those I care for, Monsieur Chauvelin."
"I had to serve my country as best as I could. I meant no harm to
your brother. He is safe in England now. And the Scarlet Pimpernel was
nothing to you."
She tried to read his face, tried to discover in those inscrutable
eyes of his some hidden meaning to his words. Instinct had warned her,
of course, that this man could be nothing but an enemy, always and at
all times. But he seemed so broken, so abject now, that contempt for
his dejected attitude, and for the defeat which had been inflicted on
him, chased the last remnant of fear from her heart.
"I did not even succeed in harming that enigmatical personage,"
continued Chauvelin with the same self-abasement. "Sir Percy Blakeney,
you remember, threw himself across my plans quite innocently, of
course. I failed where you succeeded. Luck has deserted me. Our
Government offered me a humble post, away from France. I look after the
interests of French subjects settled in England. My days of power are
over. My failure is complete. I do not complain, for I failed in a
combat of wits but I failed I failed I failed I am almost a fugitive
and I am quite disgraced. That is my present history, Lady Blakeney,"
he concluded, taking once more a step towards her; "and you will
understand that it would be a solace if you extended your hand to me
just once more, and let me feel that although you would never willingly
look upon my face again, you have enough womanly tenderness in you to
force your heart to forgiveness, and mayhap to pity."
Marguerite hesitated. He held out his hand, and her warm, impulsive
nature prompted her to be kind. But instinct would not be gainsaid: a
curious instinct to which she refused to respond. What had she to fear
from this miserable and cringing little worm, who had not even in him
the pride of defeat? What harm could he do to her, or to those whom she
loved? Her brother was in England! Her husband!! Bah! Not the enmity of
the entire world could make her fear for him!
Nay! That instinct, which caused her to draw away from
Chauvelin, as she would from a venomous asp, was certainly not fear. It
was hate! She hated this man! -hated him for all that she had suffered
because of him; for that terrible night on the cliffs of Calais! The
peril to her husband who had become so infinitely dear! The
humiliations and self-reproaches which she had endured.
Yes! It was hate! And hate was of all emotions the one she most
Hate? Does one hate a slimy but harmless toad, or a stinging fly?
It seemed ridiculous, contemptible, and pitiable to think of hate in
connection with that melancholy figure of this discomfited intriguer,
this fallen leader of revolutionary France.
He was holding out his hand to her. If she placed even the tips of
her fingers upon it, she would be making the compact of mercy and
forgiveness which he was asking of her. The woman Désirée Candeille
roused within her the last lingering vestige of her slumbering wrath.
False, theatrical, and stagey - as Marguerite had originally suspected
- she appeared to have been in league with Chauvelin to bring about
this undesirable meeting.
Lady Blakeney turned from one to another, trying to conceal her
contempt beneath a mask of passionless indifference. Candeille was
standing close by, looking obviously distressed and not a little
puzzled. An instant's reflection was sufficient to convince Marguerite
that the whilom actress of the Variétés Theatre was obviously ignorant
of the events to which Chauvelin had been alluding; she was, therefore,
of no serious consequence - a mere tool, mayhap, in the ex-ambassador's
hands. At the present moment she looked like a silly child who does not
understand the conversation of the "grown-ups."
Marguerite had promised her help and protection, had invited her to
her house, and offered her a munificent gift in aid of a deserving
cause. She was too proud to go back now on that promise, to rescind the
contract because of an unexplainable fear. With regard to Chauvelin the
matter stood differently; she had made him no direct offer of
hospitality; she had agreed to receive in her house the official
chaperon of an unprotected girl, but she was not called upon to show
cordiality to her own and her husband's most deadly enemy.
She was ready to dismiss him out of her life with a cursory word of
pardon and a half-expressed promise of oblivion; on that understanding,
and that only, she was ready to let her hand rest for the space of one
second in his.
She had looked upon her fallen enemy, seen his discomfiture and his
humiliation! Very well! Now let him pass out of her life, all the more
easily since the last vision of him would be one of such utter
abjection as would even be unworthy of hate.
All these thoughts, feelings and struggles passed through her mind
with great rapidity. Her hesitation had lasted less than five seconds:
Chauvelin still wore the look of doubting entreaty, with which he had
first begged permission to take her hand in his. With an impulsive toss
of the head, she had turned straight towards him, ready with the phrase
with which she meant to dismiss him from her sight now and for ever,
when suddenly a well-known laugh broke in upon her ear, and a lazy,
drawly voice said pleasantly:
"La! I vow the air is fit to poison you! Your Royal Highness, I
entreat, let us turn our backs upon these gates of Inferno, where lost
souls would feel more at home than doth your humble servant."
The next moment His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had entered
the tent, closely followed by Sir Percy Blakeney.
Chapter VIII— The Invitation
It was in truth a strange situation, this chance meeting between
Percy Blakeney and ex-Ambassador Chauvelin.
Marguerite looked up at her husband. She saw him shrug his broad
shoulders as he first caught sight of Chauvelin and glance down in his
usual lazy, good-humoured manner at the shrunken figure of the silent
Frenchman. The words she meant to say never crossed her lips; she was
waiting to hear what the two men would say to one another.
The instinct of the grande dame in her, the fashionable lady
accustomed to the exigencies of society, just gave her sufficient
presence of mind to make the requisite low curtsey before His Royal
Highness. But the Prince, forgetting his accustomed gallantry, was also
absorbed in this little scene before him. He, too, was looking from the
sable-clad figure of Chauvelin to that of gorgeously arrayed Sir Percy.
He, too, like Marguerite, was wondering what was passing behind the
low, smooth forehead of that inimitable dandy, what behind the
inscrutably good-humoured expression of those sleepy eyes.
Of the five persons thus present in the dark and stuffy booth,
certainly Sir Percy Blakeney seemed the least perturbed. He had paused
just long enough to allow Chauvelin to become fully conscious of a
feeling of supreme irritation and annoyance, then he strolled up to the
ex-ambassador, with hand outstretched and the most engaging of smiles.
"Ha!" he said, with his half shy, half pleasant-tempered smile, "my
engaging friend from France! I hope, sir, that our demmed climate doth
find you well and hearty to-day."
The cheerful voice seemed to ease the tension. Marguerite sighed a
sigh of relief. After all, what was more natural than that Percy, with
his amazing fund of pleasant irresponsibility, should thus greet the
man who had once vowed to bring him to the guillotine? Chauvelin
himself, accustomed by now to the audacious coolness of his enemy, was
scarcely taken by surprise. He bowed low to His Highness, who, vastly
amused at Blakeney's sally, was inclined to be gracious to everyone,
even though the personality of Chauvelin, as a well-known leader of a
regicide government, was inherently distasteful to him. But the Prince
saw in the wizened little figure before him an obvious butt for his
friend Blakeney's impertinent shafts, and although historians have been
unable to assert positively whether or no George Prince of Wales knew
aught of Sir Percy's dual life, yet there is no doubt that he was
always ready to enjoy a situation which brought about the discomfiture
of any of the Scarlet Pimpernel's avowed enemies.
"I, too, have not met M. Chauvelin for many a long month," said His
Royal Highness with an obvious show of irony. "An I mistake not, sir,
you left my father's Court somewhat abruptly last year?"
'Nay, your Royal Highness," said Sir Percy, gaily, "my friend
Monsieur er Chaubertin and I had serious business to discuss, which
could only be dealt with in France Am I not right, Monsieur?"
"Quite right, Sir Percy," replied Chauvelin curtly.
"We had to discuss the abominable soup in Calais, ahd we not?"
continued Blakeney in the same tone of easy banter, "and wine that I
vowed was vinegar. Monsieur er Chaubertin no, no, I beg pardon
Chauvelin Monsieur Chauvelin and I quite agreed upon that point. The
only matter on which we were not quite at one was the question of
"Snuff?" laughed His Royal Highness, who seemed vastly amused.
"Yes, your Royal Highness snuff Monsieur Chauvelin here has - if I
may be allowed to say so - so vitiated a taste in snuff that he prefers
it with an admixture of pepper. Is that not so, Monsieur ...er
"Chauvelin, Sir Percy," remarked the ex-ambassador drily.
He was determined not to lose his temper, and looked urbane and
pleasant, whilst his impudent enemy was enjoying a joke at his expense.
Marguerite the while had not taken her eyes off the keen, shrewd face.
Whilst the three men talked, she seemed suddenly to have lost her sense
of the reality of things. The present situation appeared to her
strangely familiar, like a dream which she had dreamt ofttimes before.
Suddenly it became absolutely clear to her that the whole scene had
been arranged and planned: the booth with its flaring placard,
Demoiselle Candeille soliciting her patronage, her invitation to the
young actress, Chauvelin's sudden appearance - all, all had been
concocted and arranged, not here, not in England at all, but out there
in Paris, in some dark gathering of bloodthirsty ruffians, who had
invented a final trap for the destruction of the bold adventurer, who
went by the name of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
And she also was only a puppet, enacting a part which had been
written for her: she had acted just as they had anticipated, had
spoken the very words they had meant her to say: and when she looked at
Percy he seemed supremely ignorant of it all, unconscious of this trap,
of the existence of which everyone here present was aware save, indeed,
himself. She would have fought against this weird feeling of obsession,
of being a mechanical toy wound up to do certain things, but this she
could not do; her will appeared paralysed, her tongue even refused her
As in a dream, she heard His Royal Highness ask for the name of the
young actress, who was soliciting alms for the poor of Paris.
That also had been pre-arranged. His Royal Highness for the moment
was also a puppet, made to dance, to speak, and to act as Chauvelin and
his colleagues over in France had decided that he should. Quite
mechanically Marguerite introduced Demoiselle Candeille to the Prince's
"If your Highness will permit," she said, "Mademoiselle Candeille
will give us some of her charming old French songs at my rout
"By all means! By all means!" said the Prince. "I used to know some
in my childhood's days. Charming and poetic I know I know We shall be
delighted to hear Mademoiselle sing. Eh, Blakeney?" he added
good-humouredly, "and for your rout to-morrow, will you not also invite
"Nay! But that goes without saying, your Royal Highness," responded
Sir Percy, with hospitable alacrity and a most approved bow directed at
his arch-enemy. "We shall expect M. Chauvelin. He and I have not met
for so long, and he shall be made right welcome at Blakeney Manor."
Chapter IX— Demoiselle Candeille
Her origin was of the humbles, for her mother - so it was said - had
been kitchen-maid in the household of the Duc de Marny, but Désirée had
received some kind of education, and though she began life as a dresser
in one of the minor theatres of Paris, she became ultimately one of its
most popular stars.
She was small and dark, dainty in her manner and her ways, and with
a graceful little figure, peculiarly supple and sinuous. Her humble
origin certainly did not betray itself in her hands and feet, which
were exquisite in shape and lilliputian in size.
Her hair was soft and glossy, always free from powder, and
cunningly arranged so as to slightly over-shadow the upper part of the
The chin was small and round, the mouth extraordinarily red, the
neck slender and long. But she was not pretty; so said all the women.
Her skin was rather coarse in texture and darkish in colour, her eyes
were narrow and slightly turned upwards at the corners; no! she was
distinctly not pretty.
Yet she pleased the men! Perhaps because she was so artlessly
determined to please them. The women said that Demoiselle Candeille
never left a man alone until she had succeeded in captivating his
fancy, if only for five minutes; an interval in a dance the time to
cross a muddy road.
But for five minutes she was determined to hold any man's complete
attention, and to exact his admiration. And she nearly always succeeded.
Therefore the women hated her. The men were amused. It is extremely
pleasant to have one's admiration compelled, one's attention so
determinedly sought after.
This, however, was in the olden days, just before Paris went qutie
mad, before the Reign of Terror had set in, and ci-devant Louis the
King had been executed.
Candeille had taken it into her frolicsome little head that she
would like to go to London. The idea was, of course, in the nature of
an experiment. Those dull English people over the water knew so little
of what good acting really meant. Tragedy! Well! Passons! Their heavy,
large-boned actresses might manage one or two big scenes, where a
commanding presence and a powerful voice would not come amiss, and
where prominent teeth would pass unnoticed in the agony of a dramatic
Ah! Ça non, pár exemple! Demoiselle Candeille had seen several
English gentlemen and ladies in those same olden days at the Tuileries,
but she really could not imagine any of them enacting the piquant
scenes of Molière or Beaumarchais.
Demoiselle Candeille thought of every Englishborn individual as
having very large teeth. Now large teeth do not lend themselves to
well-spoken comedy scenes, to smiles, or to double-entendre. Her own
teeth were exceptionally small and white, and very sharp, like those of
Yes! Demoiselle Candeille thought it would be extremely interesting
to go to London and to show to a nation of shopkeepers how daintily one
can be amused in a theatre.
Permission to depart from Paris was easy to obtain. In fact, the
fair lady had never really found it difficult to obtain anything she
very much wanted.
In this case, she had plenty of friends in high places. Marat was
still alive, and a great lover of the theatre. Tallien was a personal
admirer of hers, and Deputy Dupont would do anything she asked.
She wanted to act in London, at a theatre called Drury Lane. She
wanted to play Molière in England in French, and had already spoken
with several of her colleagues, who were ready to join her. They would
give public representations in aid of the starving population of
France; there were plenty of Socialistic clubs in London quite Jacobin
and Revolutionary in tendency: their members would give her full
She would be serving her country and her countrymen, and
incidentally see something of the world and amuse herself. She was
being bored in Paris.
Then she thought of Marguerite St. Just, once of the Maison
Molière, who had captivated an English milor of enormous wealth.
Demoiselle Candeille had never been of the Maison Molière; she had been
the leading star at one of the minor - yet much-frequented - theatres
of Paris, but she felt herself quite able and ready to captivate some
other unattached milor, who would load her with English money and
incidentally bestow an English name upon her.
So she went to London.
The experiment, however, had not proved an unmitigated success. At
first she and her company did obtain a few engagements at one or two of
the minor theatres, to give representations of some of the French
classical comedies in the original language.
But these never quite became the fashion. The feeling against
France and all her doings was far too keen in that very set which
Demoiselle Candeille had desired to captivate with her talents, to
allow the English jeunesse dorée to flock and see Molière being
played in French by a French troupe, whilst Candeille's own compatriots
residents in England had given her but scant support.
One section of these - the aristocrats and émigrés - looked upon
the actress who was a friend of all the Jacobins in Paris as nothing
better than canaille. They sedulously ignored her presence in
this country, and snubbed her whenever they had an opportunity.
The other section - chiefly consisting of agents and spies of the
Revolutionary Government - she would gladly have ignored. They had at
first made a constant demand on her purse, her talents, and her time;
then she grew tired of them, and felt more and more chary of being
identified with a set which was in such ill-odour with that very same jeunesse dorée whom Candeille had desired to please.
In her own country she was, and always had been, a good Republican:
Marat had given her her first start in life by his violent praises of
her talent in his widely-circulated paper; she had been associated in
Paris with the whole coterie of artists and actors: every one of them
Republican to a man. But in London, although one might be snubbed by
the émigrés and aristocrats, it did not do to be mixed up with the
sans-culotte journalists and pamphleteers who haunted the Socialistic
clubs of the English capital, and who were the prime organisers of all
those seditious gatherings and treasonable unions that caused Mr. Pitt
and his colleagues so much trouble and anxiety.
One by one Désirée Candeille's comrades, male and female, who had
accompanied her to England returned to their own country. When war was
declared, some of them were actually sent back under the provisions of
the Aliens Bill.
But Désirée had stayed on.
Her old friends in Paris had managed to advise her that she would
not be very welcome there just now. The sans-culotte journalists of
England, the agents and spies of the Revolutionary Government, had
taken their revenge of the frequent snubs inflicted upon them by the
young actress, and in those days the fact of being unwelcome in France
was apt to have a more lurid and more dangerous significance.
Candeille did not dare return: at any rate, not for the present.
She trusted to her own powers of intrigue, and her well-known
fascinations, to re-conquer the friendship of the Jacobin clique, and
she once more turned her attention to the affiliated Socialistic clubs
of England. But between the proverbial two stools Demoiselle Candeille
soon came to the ground. Her machinations became known in official
quarters, her connection with all the seditious clubs in London was
soon bruited abroad, and one evening Désirée found herself confronted
with a document addressed to her: "From the Office of His Majesty's
Privy Seal," wherein it was set forth that, pursuant to the Statute 33,
George III., cap. 5, she, Désirée Candeille, a French subject now
resident in England, was required to leave this kingdom by order of His
Majesty within seven days, and that in the event of the said Désirée
Candeille refusing to comply with this order, she would be liable to
commitment, brought to trial, and sentenced to imprisonment for a
month, and afterwards to removal within a limited time under pain of
transportation for life.
This meant that Demoiselle Candeille had exactly seven days in
which to make complete her reconciliation with her former friends, who
now ruled Paris and France with a relentless and perpetually
blood-stained hand. No wonder that during the night which followed the
receipt of this momentous document, Demoiselle Candeille suffered
gravely from insomnia.
She dared not go back to France, she was ordered out of England!
What was to become of her? This was just three days before the eventful
afternoon of the Richmond Gala, and twenty-four hours after
ex-Ambassador Chauvelin had landed in England. Candeille and Chauvelin
had since then met at the "Cercle des Jacobins Français" in Soho
Street, and now fair Désirée found herself in lodgings in Richmond, the
evening of the day following the Gala, feeling that her luck had not
altogether deserted her.
One conversation with Citizen Chauvelin had brought the fickle jade
back to Demoiselle Candeille's service. Nay, more, the young actress
saw before her visions of intrigue, of dramatic situations, of pleasant
little bits of revenge - all of which was meat and drink and air to
breathe for Mademoiselle Désirée.
She was to sing in one of the most fashionable salons of England:
that was very pleasant. The Prince of Wales would hear and see her!
That opened out a vista of delightful possibilities! And all she had to
do was to act a part dictated to her by Citizen Chauvelin, to behave as
he directed, to move in the way he wished! Well! That was easy enough,
since the part which she would have to play was one peculiarly suited
to her talents.
She looked at herself critically in the glass. Her maid Fanchon - a
little French waif picked up in the slums of Soho - helped to readjust
a stray curl which had rebelled against the comb.
"Now for the necklace, Mademoiselle," said Fanchon, with suppressed
It had just arrived by messenger: a large morocco case, which now
lay open on the dressing-table, displaying its dazzling contents.
Candeille scarcely dared to touch it, and yet it was for her.
Citizen Chauvelin had sent a note with it.
"Citizeness Candeille will please accept this gift from the
Government of France, in acknowledgment of useful services past and to
The note was signed with Robespierre's own name, followed by that
of Citizen Chauvelin. The morocco case contained a necklace of diamonds
worth the ransom of a king.
"For useful services past and to come!" and there were promises of
still further rewards, a complete pardon for all defalcations, a place
within the charmed circle of the Comédie Française, a grand pageant and
apotheosis, with Citizeness Candeille impersonating the Goddess of
Reason, in the midst of a grand national fête, and the acclamations of
excited Paris: and all in exchange for the enactment of a part - simple
and easy - outlined for her by Chauvlein!
How strange! How inexplicable! Candeille took the necklace up in
her trembling fingers and gazed musingly at the priceless gems. She had
seen the jewels before, long, long ago! Round the neck of the Duchesse
de Marny, in whose service her own mother had been. She - as a child -
had often gazed at and admired the great lady, who seemed like a
wonderful fairy from an altogether different world to that inhabited by
the poor little kitchen slut.
How wonderful are the vagaries of fortune! Désirée Candeille, the
kitchen-maid's daughter, now wearing her ex-mistress's jewels. She
supposed that these had been confiscated when the last of the Marnys -
the girl Juliette - had escaped from France! - confiscated and now sent
to her, Candeille, as a reward or as a bribe!
In either case they were welcome. The actress's vanity was soothed.
She knew Juliette Marny was in England, and that she would meet her
to-night at Lady Blakeney's. After the many snubs which she had endured
from the French aristocrats settled in England, the actress felt that
she was about to enjoy an evening of triumph.
The intrigue excited her. She did not quite know what schemes
Chauvelin was aiming at, what ultimate end he had had in view when he
commanded her services and taught her the part which he wished her to
That the schemes were vast and the end mighty she could not doubt.
The reward she had received was proof enough of that.
Little Fanchon stood there in speechless admiration whilst her
mistress still fondly fingered the magnificent necklace.
"Mademoiselle will wear the diamonds to-night?" she asked with
evident anxiety: she would have been bitterly disappointed to have seen
the beautiful thing once more relegated to its dark morocco case.
"Oh! Yes, Fanchon!" said Candeille, with a sigh of great
satisfaction. "See that they are fastened quite securely, my girl."
She put the necklace round her shapely neck, and Fanchon looked to
see that the clasp was quite secure.
There came the sound of loud knocking at the street door.
"That is M. Chauvelin come to fetch me with the chaise. Am I quite
ready, Fanchon?" asked Désirée Candeille.
"Oh! Yes, Mademoiselle!" sighed the little maid; "and Mademoiselle
looks very beautiful to-night."
"Lady Blakeney is very beautiful, too, Fanchon," rejoined the
actress naïvely; "but I wonder if she will wear anything as fine as the
The knocking at the street door was repeated. Candeille took a
final, satisfied survey of herself in the glass. She knew her part and
felt that she had dressed well for it. She gave a final, affectionate
little tap to the diamonds round her neck, took her cloak and hood from
Fanchon, and was ready to go.
Chapter X— Lady Blakeney's Rout
There are several accounts extant, in the fashionable chronicles of
the time, of the gorgeous reception given that autumn by Lady Blakeney
in her magnificent riverside home.
Never had the spacious apartments of Blakeney Manor looked more
resplendent than on this memorable occasion - memorable because of the
events which brought the brilliant evening to a close.
The Prince of Wales had come over by water from Carlton House; the
Royal Princesses came early, and all fashionable London was there,
chattering and laughing, displaying elaborate gowns and priceless
jewels, dancing, flirting, listening to the strains of the string band,
or strolling listlessly in the gardens, where the late roses and clumps
of heliotrope threw soft fragrance on the balmy air.
But Marguerite was nervous and agitated. Strive how she might, she
could not throw off that foreboding of something evil to come, which
had assailed her from the first moment when she met Chauvelin face to
That unaccountable feeling of unreality was still upon her, that
sense that she, and the woman Candeille, Percy, and even His Royal
Highness, were, for the time being, the actors in a play written and
stage-managed by Chauvelin. The ex-ambassador's humility, his offers of
friendship, his quietude under Sir Percy's good-humoured banter,
everything was a sham. Marguerite knew it; her womanly instinct, her
passionate love, all cried out to her in warning; but there was that in
her husband's nature which rendered her powerless in the face of such
dangers, as, she felt sure, were now threatening him.
Just before her guests had begun to assemble, she had been alone
with him for a few minutes. She had entered the room in which he sat,
looking radiantly beautiful in a shimmering gown of white and silver,
with diamonds in her golden hair and round her exquisite neck.
Moments like this when she was alone with him, were the joy of her
life. Then, and then only, did she see him as he really was, with that
wistful tenderness in his deep-set eyes, that occasional flash of
passion from beneath the lazily-drooping lids. For a few minutes -
seconds, mayhap - the spirit of the reckless adventurer was laid to
rest, relegated into the furthermost background of his senses by the
powerful emotions of the lover.
Then he would seize her in his arms, and hold her to him, with a
strange longing to tear from out his heart all other thoughts,
feelings, and passions save those which made him a slave to her beauty
and her smiles.
"Percy!" she whispered to him to-night, when freeing herself from
his embrace she looked up at him, and for this one heavenly second felt
him all her own. "Percy, you will do nothing rash, nothing foolhardy,
to-night. That man had planned all that took place yesterday. He hates
you and... "
In a moment his face and attitude had changed, the heavy lids
drooped over the eyes, the rigidity of the mouth relaxed, an that
quaint, half shy, half inane smile played around the firm lips.
"Of course he does, m'dear," he said, in his usual affected, drawly
tones, "of course he does, but that is so demmed amusing. He does not
really know what or how much he knows, or what I know...In fact er ...
we none of us know anything just at present..."
He laughed lightly and carelessly, then deliberately readjusted the
set of his lace tie.
"Percy!" she said reproachfully.
"Lately, when you brought Déroulède and Juliette Marny to England I
endured agonies of anxiety and... "
He sighed, a quick, short, wistful sigh, and said very gently:
"I know you did, m'dear, and that is where the trouble lies. I know
that you are fretting, so I have to be so demmed quick about the
business, so as not to keep you in suspense too long And now I can't
take Ffoulkes away from his young wife, and Tony and the others are so
"Percy!" she said once me, with tender earnestness.
"I know, I know," he said, with a slight frown of self-reproach.
"La! but I don't deserve your solicitude. Heaven knows what a brute I
was for years, whilst I neglected you, and ignored the noble devotion
which I, alas! do even now so little to deserve."
She would have said something more, but was interrupted by the
entrance of Juliette Marny into the room.
"Some of your guests have arrived, Lady Blakeney," said the young
girl, apologising for her seeming intrusion. "I thought you would wish
Juliette looked very young and girlish in a simple white gown,
without a single jewel on her arms or neck. Marguerite regarded her
with unaffected approval.
"You look charming to-night, Mademoiselle, does she not, Sir Percy?"
"Thanks to your bounty," smiled Juliette, a trifle sadly. "Whilst I
dressed to-night, I felt how I should have loved to wear my dear
mother's jewels, of which she used to be so proud."
"We must hope that you will recover them, dear, some day," said
Marguerite vaguely, as she led the young girl out of the small study
towards the larger reception rooms.
"Indeed, I hope so," sighed Juliette. "When times became so
troublous in France after my dear father's death, his confessor and
friend, the Abbé Foucquet, took charge of all my mother's jewels for
me. He said they would be safe with the ornaments of his own little
church at Boulogne. He feared no sacrilege, and thought they would be
most effectually hidden there, for no one would dream of looking for
the Marny diamonds in the crypt of a country church."
Marguerite said nothing in reply. Whatever her own doubts might be
upon such a subject, it could serve no purpose to distrub the young
"Dear Abbé Foucquet," said Juliette after awhile, "his is the kind
of devotion which I feel sure will never be found under the new régimes
of anarchy and of so-called equality. He would have laid down his life
for my father or for me. And I know that he would never part with the
jewels which I entrusted to his care, whilst he had breath and strength
to defend them."
Marguerite would have wished to pursue the subject a little
further. It was very pathetic to witness poor Juliette's hopes and
confidence, which she felt sure would never be realised.
Lady Blakeney knew so much of what was going on in France just now:
spoliations, confiscations, official thefts, open robberies, all in the
name of equality or fraternity, and of patriotism. She knew nothing, of
course, of the Abbé Foucquet, but the tender little picture of the
devoted old man, painted by Juliette's loving words, had appealed
strongly to her sympathetic heart.
Instinct and knowledge of the political aspect of France told her
that by entrusting valuable family jewels to the old Abbé, Juliette had
most unwittingly placed the man she so much trusted in danger of
persecution at the hands of a government which did not even admit the
legality of family possessions. However, there was neither time nor
opportunity now to enlarge upon the subject. Marguerite resolved to
recur to it a little later, when she would be alone with Mdlle. De
Marny, and, above all, when she could take counsel with her husband as
to the best means of recovering the young girl's property for her,
whilst relieving a devoted old man from the dangerous responsibility
which he had so selflessly undertaken.
In the meanwhile the two women had reached the first of the long
line of State apartments wherein the brilliant fête was to take place.
The staircase and the hall below were already filled with the early
arrivals. Bidding Juliette to remain in the ballroom, Lady Blakeney now
took up her stand on the exquisitely-decorated landing, ready to greet
her guests. She had a smile and a pleasant word for all, as, in a
constant stream, the élite of London fashionable society began to file
past her, exchanging the elaborate greetings which the stilted mode of
the day prescribed to this butterfly world.
The lacqueys in the hall shouted the names of the guests as they
passed up the stairs: names celebrated in politics, in worlds of sport,
of science, or of art, great historic names, humble, newly-made ones,
noble illustrious titles. The spacious rooms were filling fast. His
Royal Highness, so 'twas said, had just stepped out of his barge. The
noise of laughter and chatter was incessant, like unto a crowd of
Huge bunches of apricot-coloured roses in silver vases made the air
heavy with their subtle perfume. Fans began to flutter. The string band
struck the preliminary cords of the gavotte.
At that moment the lacqueys at the foot of the stairs called out in
"Mademoiselle Désirée Candeille and Monsieur Chauvelin!"
Marguerite's heart gave a slight flutter; she felt a sudden
tightening of the throat. She did not see Candeille at first, only the
slender figure of Chauvelin dressed all in black, as usual, with head
bent and hands clasped behind his back; he was slowly mounting the wide
staircase, between a double row of brilliantly attired men and women,
who looked with no small measure of curiosity at the ex-ambassador from
Demoiselle Candeille was leading the way up the stairs. She paused
on the landing, in order to make before her hostess a most perfect and
elaborate curtsey. She looked smiling and radiant, beautifully dressed,
a small wreath of wrought gold leaves in her hair, her only jewel an
absolutely regal one, a magnificent necklace of diamonds round her
Chapter XI— The Challenge
It all occurred just before midnight, in one of the smaller rooms,
which lead in enfilade from the principal ball-room.
Dancing had been going on for some time, but the evening was close,
and there seemed to be a growing desire on the part of Lady Blakeney's
guests to wander desultorily through the gardens and glass-houses, or
to sit about where some measure of coolness could be obtained.
There was a rumour that a new and charming French artiste was to
sing a few peculiarly ravishing songs, unheard in England before. Close
to the main ball-room was the octagon music-room, which was brilliantly
illuminated, and in which a large number of chairs had been obviously
disposed for the comfort of an audience. Into this room many of the
guests had already assembled. It was quite clear that a chamber-concert
- select and attractive as were all Lady Blakeney's entertainments -
was in contemplation.
Marguerite herself, released for a moment from her constant duties
near her royal guests, had strolled through the smaller rooms,
accompanied by Juliette, in order to search for Mademoiselle Candeille
and to suggest the commencement of the improvised concert.
Désirée Candeille had kept herself very much aloof throughout the
evening, only talking to the one or two gentlemen whom her hostess had
presented to her on her arrival, and with M. Chauvelin always in close
attendance upon her every movement.
Presently, when dancing began, she retired to a small boudoir, and
there sat down, demurely waiting, until Lady Blakeney should require
When Marguerite and Juliette Marny entered the little room, she
rose and came forward a few steps.
"I am ready, Madame," she said pleasantly, "whenever you wish me
to begin. I have thought out a short programme - shall I start with the
gay or the sentimental songs?"
But before Marguerite had time to utter a reply, she felt her arm
nervously clutched by a hot and trembling hand.
'Who who is this woman?" murmured Juliette Marny close to her ear.
The young girl looked pale and very agitated, and her large eyes
were fixed in unmistakable wrath upon the French actress before her. A
little startled, not understanding Juliette's attitude, Marguerite
tried to reply lightly:
"This is Mademoiselle Candeille, Juliette dear," she said effecting
the usual formal introduction, "of the Variétés Theatre of Paris -
Mademoiselle Désirée Candeille who will sing some charming French
ditties for us to-night."
While she spoke she kept a restraining hand on Juliette's quivering
arm. Already, with the keen intuition which had been on the qui-vive
the whole evening, she scented some mystery in this sudden outburst on
the part of her young protégée.
But Juliette did not heed her: she felt surging up in her young,
overburdened heart all the wrath and the contempt of the persecuted,
fugitive aristocrat against the triumphant usurper. She had suffered so
much from that particular class of the risen kitchen-wench, of which
the woman before her was so typical an example: years of sorrow, of
poverty were behind her: loss of fortune, of kindred, of friends - she,
even now a pauper, living on the bounty of strangers.
And all this through no fault of her own: the fault of her class
mayhap! but not hers!
She had suffered much, and was still overwrought and nerve-strung:
for some reason she could not afterwards have explained, she felt
spiteful and uncontrolled, goaded into stupid fury by the look of
insolence and of triumph with which Candeille calmly regarded her.
Afterwards she would willingly have bitten out her tongue for her
vehemence, but for the moment she was absolutely incapable of checking
the torrent of her own emotions.
"Mademoiselle Candeille, indeed?" she said in wrathful scorn.
"Désirée Candeille, you mean, Lady Blakeney! My mother's kitchen-maid,
flaunting shamelessly my dear mother's jewels, which she has stolen
The young girl was trembling from head to foot, tears of anger
obscured her eyes; her voice, which fortunately remained low - not much
above a whisper - was thick and husky.
"Juliette! Juliette! I entreat you," admonished Marguerite; "you
must control yourself, you must, indeed... you must Mademoiselle
Candeille, I beg of you to retire..."
But Candeille - well-schooled in the part she had to play - had no
intention of quitting the field of battle. The more wrathful and
excited Mademoiselle de Marny became the more insolent and triumphant
waxed the young actress's whole attitude. An ironical smile played
round the corners of her mouth, her almond-shaped eyes were
half-closed, regarding through drooping lashes the trembling figure of
the young impoverished aristocrat. Her head was thrown well back, in
obvious defiance of the social conventions, which should have forbidden
a fracas in Lady Blakeney's hospitable house, and her fingers,
provocatively toyed with the diamond necklace which glittered and
sparkled round her throat.
She had no need to repeat the words of a well-learnt part: her own
wit, her own emotions and feelings helped her to act just as her
employer would have wished her to do. Her native vulgarity helped her
to assume the very bearing which he would have desired. In fact, at
this moment Désirée Candeille had forgotten everything save the
immediate present: a more than contemptuous snub from one of those
penniless aristocrats, who had rendered her own sojourn in London so
unpleasant and unsuccessful.
She had suffered from these snubs before, but had never had the
chance of forcing an exclandre as a result of her own humiliation. That
spirit of hatred for the rich and idle classes, which was so
characteristic of revolutionary France, was alive and hot within her:
she had never had an opportunity - she, the humble fugitive actress
from a minor Paris theatre - to retort with forcible taunts to the
ironical remarks made at haughty émigrés, who swarmed in those very
same circles of London society into which she herself had vainly
striven to penetrate.
Now at last one of this same hated class, provoked beyond
self-control, was allowing childish and unreasoning fury to outstrip
the usual calm irony of aristocratic rebuffs.
Juliette had paused awhile, in order to check the wrathful tears
which, much against her will, were choking the words in her throat and
blinding her eyes.
"Hoity! toity!" laughed Candeille. "Hark at the young baggage!"
But Juliette had turned to Marguerite and began explaining volubly:
"My mother's jewels!" she said in the midst of her tears. "Ask her
how she came by them? When I was obliged to leave the home of my father
- stolen from me by the Revolutionary Government - I contrived to
retain my mother's jewels you remember, I told you just now The Abbé
Foucquet - dear old man! - saved them for me that and a little money
which I had he took charge of them he said he would place them in
safety with the ornaments of his church, and now I see them round that
woman's neck... I know that he would not have parted with them save
with his life."
All the while that the young girl spoke in a voice half-choked with
sobs, Marguerite tried with all the physical and mental will at her
command to drag her out of the room and thus to put a summary ending to
this unpleasant scene. She ought to have felt angry with Juliette for
this childish and senseless outburst, were it not for the fact that
somehow she knew within her innermost heart that all this had been
arranged and pre-ordained: not by Fate, not by a Higher Hand, but by
the most skilful intriguer present-day France had ever known.
And even now, as she was half-succeeding in turning Juliette away
from the sight of Candeille, she was not the least surprised or
startled at seeing Chauvelin standing in the very doorway through which
she had hoped to pass. One glance of his face had made her fears
tangible and real: there was a look of satisfaction and triumph in his
pale, narrow eyes, a flash in them of approbation directed at the
insolent attitude of the French actress: he looked like the
stage-manager of a play, content with the effect his own well-arranged
scenes were producing.
What he hoped to gain by this - somewhat vulgar - quarrel between
the two women, Marguerite, of course, could not guess: that something
was lurking in his mind, inimical to herself and to her husband, she
did not for a moment doubt, and at this moment she felt that she would
have given her very life to induce Candeille and Juliette to cease this
passage of arms, without further provocation on either side.
But though Juliette might have been ready to yield to Lady
Blakeney's persuasion, Désirée Candeille, under Chauvelin's eye, and
fired by her own desire to further humiliate this overbearing
aristocrat, did not wish the little scene to end so tamely just yet.
"Your old calotin was made to part with his booty, m'dear," she
said, with a contemptuous shurg of her bare shoulders. "Paris and
France have been starving these many years past: a paternal Government
seized all it could with which to reward those that served it well,
whilst all that would have bought bread and meat for the poor was being
greedily stowed away by shamless traitors!"
Juliette winced at the insult.
"Oh!" she moaned, as she buried her flaming face in her hands.
Too late now did she realise that she had deliberately stirred up a
mud-heap and sent noisome insects buzzing about her ears.
"Mademoiselle," said Marguerite authoritatively, "I must ask you to
remember that Mlle. de Marny is my friend, and that you are a guest in
"Aye! I try not to forget it," rejoined Candeille lightly; "but of
a truth you must admit, Citizeness, that it would requrie the patience
of a saint to put up with the insolence of a penniless baggage, who but
lately has had to stand her trial in her own country for impurity of
There was a moment's silence, whilst Marguerite distinctly heard a
short sigh of satisfaction escaping from the lips of Chauvelin. Then a
pleasant laugh broke upon the ears of the four actors who were enacting
the dramatic little scene, and Sir Percy Blakeney, immaculate in his
rich white satin coat and filmy lace ruffles, exquisite in manners and
courtesy, entered the little boudoir, and with his long back slightly
bent, his arm outstretched in a graceful well-studied curve, he
approached Mademoiselle Désirée Candeille.
"May I have the honour," he said with his most elaborate air of
courtly deference, "of conducting Mademoiselle to her chaise?"
In the doorway, just behind him, stood His Royal Highness the
Prince of Wales, chatting with apparent carelessness to Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes and Lord Anthony Dewhurst. A curtain beyond the open door was
partially drawn aside, disclosing one or two brilliantly dressed
groups, strolling desultorily through the further rooms.
The four persons assembled in the little boudoir had been so
absorbed by their own passionate emotions and the violence of their
quarrel, that they had not noticed the approach of Sir Percy Blakeney
and of his friends. Juliette and Marguerite certainly were startled,
and Candeille was evidently taken unawares. Chauvelin alone seemed
quite indifferent, and stood back a little when Sir Percy advanced, in
order to allow him to pass.
But Candeille recovered quickly enough from her surprise: without
heeding Blakeney's proffered arm, she turned with all the airs of an
insulted tragedy queen towards Marguerite.
"So 'tis I," she said with affected calm, "who am to bear every
insult in a house in which I was bidden as a guest. I am turned out
like some intrusive and importunate beggar, and I, the stranger in this
land, am estined to find that amidst all these brilliant English
gentlemen there is not one man of honour."
"M. Chauvelin," she added loudly, "our beautiful country, has,
meseems, deputed you to guard the honour as well as the worldly goods
of your unprotected compatriots. I call upon you, in the name of
France, to avenge the insults offered to me to-night."
She looked round defiantly from one to the other of the several
faces which were now turned towards her, but no one, for the moment,
spoke or stirred. Juliette, silent and ashamed, had taken Marguerite's
hand in hers, and was clinging to it as if wishing to draw strength of
character and firmness of purpose through the pores of the other
woman's delicate skin.
Sir Percy, with backbone still bent in a sweeping curve, had not
relaxed his attitude of uttermost deference. The Prince of Wales and
his friends were viewing the scene with slightly amused aloofness.
For a moment - seconds at most - there was dead silence in the
room, during which time it almost seemed as if the beating of several
hearts could be distinctly heard.
Then Chauvelin, courtly and urbane, stepped calmly forward.
"Believe me, Citizeness," he said, addressing Candeille directly
and with marked emphasis, "I am entirely at your command, but am I not
helpless, seeing that those who have so grossly insulted you are of
your own irresponsible, if charming, sex?"
Like a great dog after a nap, Sir Percy Blakeney straightened his
long back and stretched it out to its full length.
"La!" he said pleasantly, "my ever-engaging friend from Calais.
Sir, your servant. Meseems we are ever destined to discuss amiable
matters, in an amiable spirit A glass of punch, Monsieur...er
"I must ask you, Sir Percy," rejoined Chauvelin sternly, "to view
this matter with becoming seriousness."
"Seriousness is never becoming, sir," said Blakeney, politely
smothering a slight yawn, "and it is vastly unbecoming in the presence
"Am I to understand, then, Sir Percy," said Chauvelin, "that you
are prepared to apologise to Mademoiselle Candeille for the insults
offered to her by Lady Blakeney?"
Sir Percy again tried to smother that tiresome little yawn, which
seemed most distressing when he desired to be most polite. Then he
flicked off a grain of dust from his immaculate lace ruffle and buried
his long, slender hands in the capacious pockets of his white satin
breeches; finally he said, with the most good-natured of smiles:
"Sir, have you seen the latest fashion in cravats? I would wish to
draw your attention to the novel way in which we in England tie a
"Sir Percy," retorted Chauvelin firmly, "since you will not offer
Mademoiselle Candeille the apology which she has the right to expect
from you, are you prepared that you and I should cross swords like two
Blakeney laughed his usual pleasant, somewhat shy laugh, shook his
powerful frame, and looked from his altitude of six foot three inches
down on the small sable-clad figure of ex-Ambassador Chauvelin.
"The question is, sir," he said slowly, "should we then be two
honourable gentlemen crossing swords?"
Chauvelin, who for one moment had seemed ready to lose his temper,
now made a sudden effort to resume a calm and easy attitude, and said
"Of course, if one of us is coward enough to shirk the contest..."
He did not complete the sentence, but shrugged his shoulders
expressive of contempt. The other side of the curtained doorway a
little crowd had gradually assembled, attracted hither by the loud and
angry voices which came from that small boudoir. Host and hostess had
been missed from the reception rooms for some time; His Royal Highness,
too, had not been seen for the last quarter of an hour. Like flies
attracted by the light, one by one, or in small, isolated groups, some
of Lady Blakeney's guests had found their way to the room adjoining the
As His Highness was standing in the doorway itself, no one could,
of course, cross the threshold, but everyone could see into the room
and could take stock of the various actors in the little comedy. They
were witnessing a quarrel between the French envoy and Sir Percy
Blakeney, wherein the former was evidently in deadly earnest and the
latter merely politely bored. Amused comments flew to and fro: laughter
and a Babel of irresponsible chatter made an incessant chirruping
accompaniment to the duologue between the two men.
But at this stage the Prince of Wales, who hitherto had seemingly
kept aloof from the quarrel, suddenly stepped forward and abruptly
interposed the weight of his authority and of his social position
between the bickering adversaries.
"Tush, man!" he said impatiently, turning more especially towards
Chauvelin, "you talk at random. Sir Percy Blakeney is an English
gentleman, and the laws of this country do not admit of duelling, as
you understand it in France; and I for one certainly could not allow..."
"Pardon, your Royal Highness," interuppted Sir Percy, with
irresistible bonhomie, "your Highness does not understand the
situation. My engaging friend here does not propose that I should
transgress the laws of this country, but that I should go over to
France with him, and fight him there, where duelling and... er... other
little matters of that sort are allowed."
"Yes! quite so!" rejoined the Prince. "I understand M. Chauvelin's
desire ...But what about you, Blakeney?"
"Oh!" replied Sir Percy lightly, "I have accepted his challenge, of
Chapter XII— Time-Place-Conditions
It would be very difficult indeed to say why -at Blakeney's
lightly-spoken words - an immediate silence should have fallen upon all
those present. All the actors in the little drawing-room drama, who had
played their respective parts so unerringly up to now, had paused
awhile, just as if an invisible curtain had come down, marking the end
of a scene, and the interval during which the players might recover
strength and energy to resume their rôles. The Prince of Wales as
foremost spectator said nothing for the moment, and, beyond the
doorway, the audience there assembled seemed suddenly to be holding its
breath, waiting -eager, expectant, palpitating - for what would follow
Only here and there the gentle frou-frou of a silk skirt, the
rhythmic flutter of a fan, broke those few seconds' deadly, stony
Yet it all was simple enough. A fracas between two ladies, the
gentlemen interposing, a few words of angry expostulation, and then the
inevitable suggestion of Belgium or of some other country where the
childish and barbarous custom of settling such matters with a couple of
swords had not been as yet systematically stamped out.
The whole scene -with but slight variations - had occurred scores
of times in London drawing-rooms. English gentlemen had, scores of
times, crossed the Channel for the purpose of settling similar quarrels
in Continental fashion.
Why should the present situation appear so abnormal? Sir Percy
Blakeney - an accomplished gentleman - was past master in the art of
fence, and looked more than a match in strength and dexterity for the
meagre, sable-clad little opponent who had so summarily challenged him
to cross over to France, in order to fight a duel.
But somehow everyone had a feeling at this moment that this
proposed duel would be unlike any other combat ever fought between two
antagonists. Perhaps it was the white, absolutely stony and
unexpressive face of Marguerite which suggested a latent tragedy;
perhaps it was the look of unmistakable horror in Juliette's eyes, or
that of triumph in those of Chauvelin, or even that certain something
in His Royal Highness' face, which seemed to imply that the Prince,
careless man of the world as he was, would have given much to prevent
this particular meeting from taking place.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt that a certain wave of
electrical excitement swept over the little crowd assembled there, the
while the chief actor in the little drama, the inimitable dandy, Sir
Percy Blakeney himself, appeared deeply engrossed in removing a speck
of powder from the wide black satin ribbon which held his gold-rimmed
"Gentlemen!" said His Royal Highness suddenly, "we are forgetting
the ladies. My lord Hastings," he added, turning to one of the
gentlemen who stood close to him, "I pray you to remedy this
unpardonable neglect. Men's quarrels are not fit for ladies' dainty
Sir Percy looked up from his absorbing occupation. His eyes met
those of his wife; she was like a marble statue, hardly conscious of
what was going on round her. But he, who knew every emotion which
swayed that ardent and passionate nature, guessed that beneath that
stony calm there lay a mad, almost unconquerable impulse; and that was
to shout to all these puppets here the truth, the awful, the
unanswerable truth, to tell them what this challenge really meant; a
trap wherein one man, consumed with hatred and desire for revenge,
hoped to entice a brave and fearless foe into a death-dealing snare.
Full well did Percy Blakeney guess that for the space of one second
his most cherished secret hovered upon his wife's lips, one turn of the
balance of Fate, one breath from the mouth of an unseen sprite, and
Marguerite was ready to shout:
"Do not allow this monstrous thing to be! The Scarlet Pimpernel,
whom you all admire for his bravery, and love for his daring, stands
before you now, face to face with his deadliest enemy, who is here to
lure him to his doom!"
For that momentous second, therefore, Percy Blakeney held his
wife's gaze with the magnetism of his own; all there was in him of
love, of entreaty, of trust, and of command went out to her through
that look with which he kept her eyes rivetted upon his face.
Then he saw the rigidity of her attitude relax. She closed her eyes
in order to shut out the whole world from her suffering soul. She
seemed to be gathering all the mental force of which her brain was
capable for one great effort of self-control. Then she took Juliette's
hand in hers, and turned to go out of the room; the gentlemen bowed as
she swept past them, her rich silken gown making a soft hush-sh-sh as
she went. She nodded to some, curtseyed to the Prince, and had at the
last moment the supreme courage and pride to turn her head once more
towards her husband, in order to re-assure him finally that his secret
was as safe with her now, in this hour of danger, as it had been in the
time of triumph.
She smiled and passed out of his sight, preceded by Désirée
Candeille, who, escorted by one of the gentlemen, had become singularly
silent and subdued.
In the little room now there only remained a few men. Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes had taken the precaution of closing the door after theladies
Then His Royal Highness turned once more to Monsieur Chauvelin and
said with an obvious show of indifference:
"Faith, Monsieur! Meseems we are all enacting a farce, which can
have no final act. I vow that I cannot allow my friend Blakeney to go
over to France at your bidding. Your government now will not allow my
father's subjects to land on your shores without a special passport,
and then only for a specific purpose."
"La, your Royal Highness," interposed Sir Percy, "I pray you have
no fear for me on that score. My engaging friend here has -an I mistake
not- a passport ready for me in the pocket of his sable-hued coat, and
as we are hoping effectually to spit one another over there...
gadzooks! but there's the specific purpose ... Is it not true, sir" he
added, turning once more to Chauvelin, "that in the pocket of that
exquisitely-cut coat of yours you have a passport-name in blank perhaps
-which you had specifically designed for me?"
It was so carelessly, so pleasantly said, that no one save
Chauvelin guessed the real import of Sir Percy's words. Chauvelin, of
course, knew their inner meaning: he understood that Blakeney wished to
convey to him the fact that he was well aware that the whole scene
to-night had been pre-arranged, and that it was willingly and with eyes
wide open that he walked into the trap which the revolutionary patriot
had so carefully laid for him.
"The passport will be forthcoming in due course, sir," retorted
Chauvelin evasively, "when our seconds have arranged all formalities."
"Seconds be demmed, sir," rejoined Sir Percy placidly. "You do not
propose, I trust, that we travel a whole caravan to France?"
"Time, place, and conditions must be settled, Sir Percy," replied
Chauvelin; "you are too accomplished a cavalier, I feel sure, to wish
to arrange such formalities yourself."
"Nay! neither you nor I, Monsieur er Chauvelin," quoth Sir Percy
blandly, "could, I own, settle such things with persistent good-humour;
and good-humour in such cases is the most important of all formalities.
Is it not so?"
"Certainly, Sir Percy."
"As for seconds, perish the thought! One second only, I entreat,
and that one a lady - the most adorable -the most detestable -the most
true -the most fickle admist all her charming sex... Do you agree, sir?"
"You have not told me her name, Sir Percy?"
"Chance, Monsieur, Chance. With His Royal Highness' permission, let
the wilful jade decide."
"I do not understand."
"Three throws of the dice, Monsieur ... Time Place Conditions, you
said -three throws and the winner names them... Do you agree?"
Chauvelin hesitated. Sir Percy's bantering mood did not quite fit
in with his own elaborate plans; moreover, the ex-ambassador feared a
pitfall of some sort, a did not quite like to trust to this arbitration
of the dice-box.
He turned, quite involuntarily, in appeal to the Prince of Wales,
and the other gentlemen present.
But the Englishman of those days was a born gambler. He lived with
the dice-box in one pocket and a pack of cards in the other. The Prince
himself was no exception to this rule, and the first gentleman in
England was the most avowed worshipper of Hazard in the land.
"Chance, by all means," quoth His Highness gaily.
In the midst of so hostile a crowd, Chauvelin felt it unwise to
resist. Moreover, one second's reflection had already assured him that
this throwing of the dice could not seriously interfere with the
success of his plans. If the meeting took place at all -and Sir Percy
now had gone too far to draw back -then of necessity it would have to
take place in France.
The question of time and conditions of the fight, which at best
would be only a farce - only a means to an end -could not be of
Therefore he shrugged his shoulders with well-marked indifference,
and said lightly:
"As you please."
There was a small table in the centre of the room with a settee and
two or three chairs arranged close to it. Around this table now an
eager little group had congregated: the Prince of Wales in the
forefront, unwilling to interfere, scarce knowing what madcap plans
were floating through Blakeney's adventurous brain, but excited in
spite of himself at this momentous game of hazard, the issues of which
seemed so nebulous, so vaguely fraught with dangers. Close to him were
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Lord Anthony Dewhurst, Lord Grenville, and perhaps
a half score gentlemen, young men about town mostly, gay and giddy
butterflies of fashion, who did not even attempt to seek, in this
strange game of chance, any hidden meaning save that it was one of
Blakeney's irresponsible pranks.
And in the centre of the compact group, Sir Percy Blakeney, in his
gorgeous suit of shimmering white satin, one knee bent upon a chair,
and leaning with easy grace -dice-box in hand -across the small
gilt-legged table; beside him ex-Ambassador Chauvelin, standing with
arms folded behind his back, watching every movement of his brilliant
adversary, like some dark-plumaged hawk hovering near a bird of
"Place first, Monsieur?" suggested Sir Percy.
"As you will, sir," assented Chauvelin.
He took up a dice-box which one of the gentlemen handed to him, and
the two men threw.
"'Tis mine, Monsieur," said Blakeney carelessly, "mine to name the
place where shall occur the historic encounter, 'twixt the busiest man
in France and the most idle fop that e'er disgraced these three
kingdoms. Just for the sake of argument, sir, what place would you
"Oh! the exact spot is immaterial, Sir Percy," replied Chauvelin
coldly, "the whole of France stands at your disposal."
"Aye! I thought as much, but could not be quite sure of such
boundless hospitality," retorted Blakeney imperturbably.
"Do you care for the woods around Paris, sir?"
"Too far from the coast, sir. I might be seasick crossing over the
Channel, and glad to get the business over as soon as possible... No,
not Paris, sir -rather let us say Boulogne. Pretty little place,
Boulogne... do you not think so?"
"Undoubtedly, Sir Percy."
"Then Boulogne it is... the ramparts, as you will, on the south
side of the town."
"As you please," rejoined Chauvelin drily. "Shall we throw again?"
A murmur of merriment had accompanied this brief colloquy between
the adversaries, and Blakeney's bland sallies were received with shouts
of laughter. Now the dice rattled again, and once more the two men
"'Tis yours this time, Monsieur Chuavelin," said Blakeney, after a
rapid glance at the dice. "See how evenly Chance favours us both. Mine,
the choice of place ...admirably done you'll confess ...Now yours the
choice of time. I wait upon your pleasure, sir... The southern ramparts
at Boulogne - when?"
"The fourth day from this, sir, at the hour when the Cathedral bell
chimes the evening Angelus," came Chauvelin's ready reply.
"Nay! but methought that your demmed government had abolished
Cathedrals, and bells and chimes. The people of France have now to go
to hell their own way for the way to heaven has been barred by the
National Convention... Is that not so? Methough the Angelus was
forbidden to be rung."
"Not at Boulogne, I think, Sir Percy," retorted Chauvelin drily,
"and I'll pledge you my word that the evening Angelus shall be rung
"At what hour is that, sir?"
"One hour after sundown."
"But why four days after this? Why not two or three?"
"I might have asked, why the southern ramparts? Sir Percy, why not
the western? I chose the fourth day - does it not suit you?" asked
"Suit me! Why, sir, nothing could suit me better," rejoined
Blakeney with his pleasant laugh. "Zounds! But I call it marvellous
demmed marvelous. I wonder now," he added blandly, "what made you think
of the Angelus?"
Everyone laughed at this, a little irreverently perhaps.
"Ah!" continued Blakeney gaily, "I remember now... Faith! To think
that I was nigh forgetting that when last you and I met, sir, you had
just taken or were about to take Holy Orders... Ah! how well the
thought of the Angelus fits in with your clerical garb... I recollect
that the latter was mightily becoming to you, sir"
"Shall we proceed to settle the conditions of the fight, Sir
Percy?" said Chauvelin, interrupting the flow of his antagonist's
gibes, and trying to disguise his irritation beneath a mask of
"The choice of weapons, you mean," here interposed His Royal
Highness; "but I thought that swords had already been decided on."
"Quite so, your Highness," assented Blakeney, "but there are
various little matters in connection with this momentous encounter
which are of vast importance ...Am I not right, Monsieur? Gentlemen, I
appeal to you...Faith! one never knows. My engaging opponent here might
desire that I should fight him in green socks, and I that he should
wear a scarlet flower in his coat."
"The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy?"
"Why not, Monsieur? It would look so well in your buttonhole,
against the black of the clerical coat, which I understand you
sometimes affect in France and when it is withered and quite dead you
would find that it would leave an overpowering odour in your nostrils,
far stronger than that of incense."
There was general laughter after this. The hatred which every
member of the French revolutionary government -including, of course,
ex-Ambassador Chauvelin- bore to the national hero was well known.
"The conditions then, Sir Percy," said Chauvelin, without seeming
to notice the taunt conveyed in Blakeney's last words. "Shall we throw
"After you, sir," acquiesced Sir Percy.
For the third and last time the two opponents rattled the dice-box
and threw. Chauvelin was now absolutely unmoved. These minor details
quite failed to interest him. What mattered the conditions of the fight
which was only intended as a bait with which to lure his enemy in the
open. The hour and place were decided on, and Sir Percy would not fail
to come. Chauvelin knew enough of his opponent's boldly adventurous
spirit not to feel in the least doubtful on that point. Even now, as he
gazed with grudging admiration at the massive, well-knit figure of his
arch-enemy, noted the thin nervy hands and square jaw, the low, broad
forehead, and deep-set half-veiled eyes, he knew that in this matter
wherein Percy Blakeney was obviously playing with his very life, the
only emotion that really swayed him at this moment was his passionate
love of adventure.
The ruling passion strong in death!
Yes! Sir Percy would be on the southern ramparts of Boulogne one
hour after sunset on the day named, trusting, no doubt, in his usual
marvellous good-fortune, his own presence of mind and his great
physical and mental strength, to escape from the trap into which he was
ready to walk.
But even at this moment, Chauvelin had already resolved on one
great thing: namely that on that eventful day nothing whatever should
be left to Chance; he would meet his cunning enemy not only with
cunning but also with power, and if the entire force of the Republican
army then available in the north of France had to be requisitioned for
the purpose, the ramparts of Boulogne would be surrounded and no chance
of escape left for the daring Scarlet Pimpernel.
His wave of meditation, however, was here abruptly stemmed by
"Lud! Monsieur Chauvelin," he said. "I fear me your luck has
deserted you. Chance, as you see, has turned to me once more."
"Then it is for you, Sir Percy," rejoined the Frenchman, "to name
the conditions under which we are to fight."
"Ah! that is so, is it not, Monsieur?" quoth Sir Percy lightly. "By
my faith! I'll not plague you with formalities. We'll fight with our
coats on if it be cold, in our shirt-sleeves if it be sultry... I'll
not demand either green socks or scarlet ornaments. I'll even try and
be serious for the space of two minutes, sir, and confine my whole
attention -the product of my infinitesimal brain - to thinking out some
pleasant detail for this duel, which might be acceptable to you. Thus,
sir, the thought of weapons springs to mind ...Swords, you said, I
think. Sir! I will e'en restrict my choice of conditions to that of the
actual weapons with which we are to fight. Ffoulkes, I pray you," he
added, turning to his friend, "the pair of swords which lie across the
top of my desk at this moment."
"We'll not ask a menial to fetch them, eh, Monsieur?" he continued
gaily, as Sir Andrew Ffoulkes at a sign from him had quickly left the
room. "What need to bruit our pleasant quarrel abroad? You will like
the weapons, sir, and you shall have your own choice from the pair. You
are a finer fencer, I feel sure and you shall decide if a scratch or
two or a more serious wound shall be sufficient to avenge Mademoiselle
Candeille's wounded vanity."
Whilst he prattled so gaily on, there was dead silence among all
those present. The Prince had his shrewd eyes steadily fixed upon him,
obviously wondering what this seemingly irresponsible adventurer held
at the back of his mind. There is no doubt that everyone felt
oppressed, and that a strange murmur of anticipatory excitement went
round the little room, when, a few seconds later, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
returned, with two sheathed swords in his hand.
Blakeney took them from his friend and placed them on the little
table in front of ex-Ambassador Chauvelin. The spectators strained
their necks to look at the two weapons. They were exactly similar one
to the other: both encased in plain black leather sheaths, with steel
ferrules polished to shine like silver; the handles, too, were of plain
steel, with just the grip fashioned in a twisted basket pattern of the
same highly-tempered metal.
"What think you of these weapons, Monsieur?" asked Blakeney, who
was carelessly leaning against the back of a chair.
Chauvelin took up one of the two swords, and slowly drew it from
out its scabbard, carefully examining the brilliant, narrow steel blade
as he did so.
"A little old-fashioned in style and make, Sir Percy," he said,
closely imitating his opponent's easy demeanour, "a trifle heavier,
perhaps, than we in France have been accustomed to lately, but,
nevertheless, a beautifully-tempered piece of steel."
"Of a truth there's not much the matter with the tempering,
Monsieur," quoth Blakeney, "the blades were fashioned at Toledo, just
two hundred years ago."
"Ah! here I see an inscription," said Chauvelin, holding the sword
close to his eyes, the better to see the minute letters engraved in the
"The name of the original owner. I myself bought them - when I
travelled in Italy- from one of his descendants."
"Lorenzo Giovanni Cenci," said Chauvelin, spelling the Italian
names quite slowly.
"The greatest blackgaurd that ever trod this earth. You, no doubt,
Monsieur, know his history better than we do. Rapine, theft, murder;
nothing came amiss to Signor Lorenzo... neither the deadly drug in the
cup nor the poisoned dagger."
He had spoken lightly, carelessly, with that same tone of easy
banter, which he had not forsaken throughout the evening, and the same
drawly manner, which was habitual to him. But at these last words of
his, Chauvelin gave a visible start, and then abruptly replaced the
sword -which he had been examining - upon the table.
He threw a quick, suspicious glance at Blakeney, who, leaning back
against the chair and one knee resting on the cushioned seat, was idly
toying with the other blade, the exact pair to the one which the
ex-ambassador had so suddenly put down.
"Well, Monsieur," quoth Sir Percy, after a slight pause, and
meeting with a swift glance of lazy irony his opponent's fixed gaze.
"Are you satisified with the weapons? Which of the two shall be yours,
and which mine?"
"Of a truth, Sir Percy" murmured Chauvelin still hesitating.
"Nay, Monsieur," interuppted Blakeney with pleasant bonhomie, "I
know what you would say of a truth, there is no choice between this
pair of perfect twins: one is as exquisite as the other. And yet you
must take one and I the other... this or that, whichever you prefer.
You shall take it home with you to-night and practise thrusting at a
haystack or at a bobbin. The sword is yours to command until you have
used it against my unworthy person ...yours until you bring it out four
days hence -on the souther ramparts of Boulogne, when the Cathedral
bells chime the evening Angelus; then you shall cross it against its
faithless twin. There, Monsieur -they are of equal length of equal
strength and temper a perfect pair. Yet I pray you, choose."
He took up both the swords in his hands, and carefully balancing
them by the extreme tip of their steel-bound scabbards, he held them
out toward the Frenchman. Chauvelin's eyes were fixed upon him, and he
from his towering height was looking down at the little sable-clad
figure before him.
The Terrorist seemed uncertain what to do. Though he was one of
those men who, by the force of their intellect, the strength of their
enthusiasm, the power of their cruelty, had built a new anarchical
France, had overturned a throne and murdered a king, yet now, face to
face with this affected fop, this lazy and debonnair adventurer, he
hesitated -trying in vain to read what was going on behind that low,
smooth forehead or within the depths of those lazy, blue eyes.
He would have given several years of his life at this moment for
one short glimpse into the innermost brain cells of his daring mind, to
see the man start, quiver but for the fraction of a second, betray
himself by a tremor of the eyelid. What counter-plan was lurking in
Percy Blakeney's head, as he offered to his opponent the two swords,
which had once belonged to Lorenzo Cenci?
Did any thought of foul play, of dark and deadly poisonings linger
in the fastidious mind of this accomplished English gentleman?
Chauvelin tried to chide himself for such fears. It seemed madness
even to think of Italian poisons, of the Cencis or the Borgias in the
midst of this brilliantly-lighted English drawing-room.
But because he was above all a diplomatist, a fencer with words and
with looks, the envoy of France determined to know, to probe, and to
read. He forced himself once more to careless laughter and non-chalance
of manner and schooled his lips to smile up with gentle irony at the
good-humoured face of his arch-enemy.
He tapped one of the swords with his long-pointed finger.
"Is this the one you choose, sir?" asked Blakeney.
"Nay! which do you adivse, Sir Percy?" replied Chauvelin lightly.
"Which of those two blades think you is most like to hold after two
hundred years the poison of the Cenci?"
But Blakeney neither started nor winced. He broke into a laugh, his
own usual pleasant laught, half shy and somehwat inane, then said in
tones of lively astonishment
"Zounds! Sir, but you are full of surprises. Faith! I never would
have thought of that! Marvellous, I call, it demmed marvellous! What
say you, gentlemen? Your Royal Highness, what think you? Is not my
engaging friend here of a most original turn of mind? Will you have
this sword or that, Monsieur? Nay, I must insist -else we shall weary
our friends if we hesitate too long. This one, then, sir, since you
have chosen it," he continued, as Chauvelin finally took one of the
swords in his hand. "And now for a bowl of punch. Nay, Monsieur, 'twas
demmed smart what you said just now. I must insist on your joining us
in a bowl. Such wit as yours, Monsieur, must need whetting at times. I
pray you repeat that same sally again!"
Then, finally turning to the Prince and to his friends, he added:
"And after that bowl, gentlemen, shall we rejoin the ladies?"
Chapter XIII— Reflections
It seemed indeed as if the incident were finally closed, the chief
actors in the drama having deliberately vacated the centre of the stage.
The little crowd which had stood in a compact mass round the table
began to break up intou sundry small groups: laughter and desultory
talk, checked for a moment by that oppressive sense of unknown danger,
which had weighed on the spirits of those present, once more becamse
general. Blakeney's light-heartedness had put everyone into a good
humour; since he evidently did not look upon the challenge as a matter
of serious moment, why then, no one else had any cause for anxiety, and
the younger men were right glad to join in that bowl of punch which
their genial host had offered with so merry a grace.
Lacqueys appeared, throwing open the doors. From a distance the
sound of dance music once more broke upon the ear.
A few of the men only had remained silent, deliberately holding
aloof from the renewed mirthfulness. Foremost amongst these was His
Royal Highness, who was looking distinctly troubled, and who had taken
Sir Percy by the arm and was talking to him with obvious earnestness.
Lord Anthony Dewhurst and Lord Hastings were holding converse in a
secluded corner of the room, whilst Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, as being the
host's most intimate friend, felt it incumbent on him to say a few
words to ex-Ambassador Chauvelin.
The latter was desirous of effecting a retreat. Blakeney's
invitation to join in the friendly bowl of punch could not be taken
seriously, and the Terrorist wanted to be alone, in order to think out
the events of the past hour.
A lacquey waited on him, took the momentous sword from his hand,
found his hat and cloak, and called his coach for him: Chauvelin,
having taken formal leave of his host and acquaintances, quickly worked
his way to the staircase and hall, through the less-frequented
He sincerely wished to avoid meeting Lady Blakeney face to face.
Not that the slightest twinge of remorse disturbed his mind, but he
feared some impulsive action on her part, which indirectly might
interfere with his future plans. Fortunately no one took much heed of
the darkly-clad, insignificant little figure, that glided so swiftly
by, obviously determined to escape attention.
In the hall he found Demoiselle Candeille waiting for him. She too
had evidently been desirous of leaving Blakeney Manor as soon as
possible. He saw her to her chaise; then escorted her as far as her
lodgings, which were close by: there were still one or two things which
he wished to discuss with her, one or two final instructions which he
desired to give.
On the whole, he was satisfied with his evening's work: the young
actress had well supported him, and had played her part so far with
marvellous sang-froid and skill. Sir Percy, whether willingly or
blindly, had seemed only too ready to walk into the trap which was
being set for him.
This fact alone disturbed Chauvelin not a little, and as, half an
hour or so later, having taken final leave of his ally, he sat alone in
the coach which was conveying him back to town, the sword of Lorenzo
Cenci close to his hand, he pondered very seriously over it.
That the adventurous Scarlet Pimpernel should have guessed all
along that sooner or later the French Revolutionary Government -whom he
had defrauded of some of its most important victims -would desire to be
even with him, and to bring him to the scaffold, was not to be wondered
at. But that he should be so blind as to imagine that Chauvelin''
challenge was anything else but a lure in induce him to go to France
could not possibly be supposed. So bold an adventurer, so keen an
intriguer was sure to have scented the trap immediately, and if he
appeared ready to fall into it, it was because there had already sprung
up in his resourceful mind some bold coup or subtle counter-plan, with
shich he hoped to gratify his own passionate love of sport, whilst once
more bringing his enemies to discomfiture and humiliation.
Undoubtedly Sir Percy Blakeney, as an accomplished gentleman of the
period, could not very well under the circumstances which had been so
carefully stage-managed and arranged by Chauvelin, refuse the latter's
challenge to fight him on the other side of the Channel. Any hesitation
on the part of the leader of that daring Scarlet Pimpernel League would
have covered him with a faint suspicion of pusillanimity, and a subtle
breath of ridicule, and in a moment the prestige of the unknown and
elusive hero would have vanished for ever.
But apart from the necessity of the fight, Blakeney seemed to enter
into the spirit of the plot directed against his own life with such
light-hearted merriment, such zest and joy, that Chauvelin could not
help but be convinced that the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel at
Boulogne or elsewhere would not prove quite so easy a matter as he had
at first anticipated.
That same night he wrote a long and circumstantial letter to his
colleague, Citizen Robespierre, shifting thereby, as it were, some of
the responsibility of coming events from his own shoulders on to the
executive of the Committee of Public Safety.
"I guarantee to you, Citizen Robespierre,"
he wrote, "and
to the members of the Revolutionary Government who have entrusted me
with the delicate mission, that four days from this date, at one hour
after sunset, the man who goes by the mysterious name of the Scarlet
Pimpernel will be on the ramparts of Boulogne, on the south side of the
town. I have done what has been asked of me. On that day, and at that
hour, I shall have brought the enemy of the Revolution, the intriguer
against the policy of the Republic, within the power of the Government
which he has flouted and outraged. Now look to it, citizens all, that
the fruits of my diplomacy and of my skill be not lost to France again.
The man will be there at my bidding; 'tis for you to see that he does
not escape this time."
This letter he sent by the special courier which the National
Convention had placed at his disposal in case of emergency. Having
sealed it and entrusted it to the man, Chauvelin felt at peace with the
world and with himself. Although he was not so sure of success as he
would have wished, he yet could not see how failure could
possibly come about: and the only regret which he felt to-night, when
he finally, in the early dawn, sought a few hours' troubled rest, was
that that momentous fourth day was still so very far distant.
Chapter XIV— The Ruling Passion
In the meanwhile silence had fallen over the beautiful old manorial
house. One by one the guests had departed, leaving that peaceful sense
of complete calm and isolation which follows the noisy chatter of any
great throng bent chiefly on enjoyment.
The evening had been universally acknowledged to have been
brilliantly successful. True, the much-talked-of French artiste had not
sung the promised ditties, but in the midst of the whirl and excitement
of dances, of the inspiriting tunes of the string band, the elaborate
supper and recherché wines, no one had paid much heed to this change in
the programme of entertainments.
And everyone had agreed that never had Lady Blakeney looked more
radiantly beautiful than on this night. She seemed absolutely
indefatigable; a perfect hostess, full of charming little attentions
towards everyone, although more than ordinarily absorbed by her duties
towards her many Royal guests.
The dramatic incident which had taken place in the small boudoir
had not been much bruited abroad. It was always considered bad form in
those courtly days to discuss men's quarrels before ladies, and in this
instance those who were present when it all occurred instinctively felt
that their discretion would be appreciated in high circles, and held
their tongues accordingly.
Thus the brilliant evening was brought to a happy conclusion,
without a single cloud to mar the enjoyment of the guests. Marguerite
performed a veritable miracle of fortitude, forcing her very smiles to
seem natural and gay, chatting pleasantly, even wittily, upon every
known fashionable topic of the day, laughing merrily the while her
poor, aching heart was filled with unspeakable misery.
Now, when everybody had gone, when the last of her guests had
bobbed before her the prescribed curtsey, to which she had invariably
responded with the same air of easy self-possession, now at last she
felt free to give rein to her thoughts, to indulge in the luxury of
looking her own anxiety in the face and to let the tension of her
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had been the last to leave, and Percy had
strolled out with him as far as the garden gate, for Lady Ffoulkes had
left in her chaise some time ago, and Sir Andrew meant to walk to his
home not many yards distant from Blakeney Manor.
In spite of herself Marguerite felt her heartstrings tighten as she
thought of this young couple so lately wedded. People smiled a little
when Sir Andrew Ffoulkes' name was mentioned: some called him
effeminate, other uxorious, his fond attachment for his pretty little
wife was thought to pass the bounds of decorum. There was no doubt that
since his marriage the young man had greatly changed. His love of sport
and adventure seemed to have died out completely, yielding evidently to
the great, more overpowering love, that for his young wife.
Suzanne was nervous for her husband's safety. She had sufficient
influence over him to keep him at home, when other members of the brave
little League of the Scarlet Pimpernel followed their leader with mad
zest on some bold adventure.
Marguerite, too, at first had smiled in kindly derision when
Suzanne Ffoulkes, her large eyes filled with tears, had used her wiles
to keep Sir Andrew tied to her own dainty apron-strings. But somehow,
lately, with that gentle contempt which she felt for the weaker man,
there had mingled a half-acknowledged sense of envy.
How different 'twixt her and her husband.
Percy loved her truly and with a depth of passion proportionate to
his own curious dual personality: it were sacrilege almost, to doubt
the intensity of his love. But, nevertheless, she had at all times a
feeling as if he were holding himself and his emotions in check, as if
his love, as if she, Marguerite, his wife, were but secondary matters
in his life; as if her anxieties, her sorrow when he left her, her
fears for his safety, were but small episodes in the great book of life
which he had planned out and conceived for himself.
Then she would hate herself for such thoughts: they seemed like
doubts of him. Did any man ever love a woman, she asked herself, as
Percy loved her? He was difficult to understand, and perhaps -oh! that
was an awful "perhaps"- perhaps there lurked somewhere in his mind a
slight mistrust of her. She had betrayed him once! -unwittingly, 'tis
true! Did he fear she might do so again?
And to-night, after her guests had gone, she threw open the great
windows that gave on the beautiful terrace, with its marble steps
leading down to the cool rive beyond. Everything now seemed so peaceful
and still; the scent of the heliotrope made the midnight air swoon with
its intoxicating fragrance; the rhythmic murmur of the waters came
gently echoing from below, and from far away there came the melancholy
cry of a night-bird on the prowl.
That cry made Marguerite shudder: her thoughts flew back to the
episodes of this night and to Chauvelin, the dark bird of prey, with
his mysterious, death-dealing plans, his subtle intrigues, which all
tended towards the destruction of one man: his enemy, the husband whom
Oh! how she hated these while adventures which took Percy away from
her side. Is not a woman who loves -be it husband or child -the most
truly selfish, the most cruelly callous creature in the world -there,
where the safety and the well-being of the loved one is in direct
conflict with the safety and well-being of others.
She would right gladly have closed her eyes to every horror
perpetrated in France; she would not have known what went on in Paris;
she wanted her husband! And yet, month after month, with but short
intervals, she saw him risk that precious life of his, which was the
very essence of her own soul, for others! for others! always for others!
And she! she! Marguerite, his wife, was powerless to hold him back!
Powerless to keep him beside her, when that mad fit of passion mad fit
of passion seized him to go on one of those wild quests, wherefrom she
always feared he could not return alive: and this, although she might
use every noble artifice, every tender wile of which a loving and
beautiful wife is capable.
At times like those her own proud heart was filled with hatred and
with envy towards everything that took him away from her: and to-night
all these passionate feelings, which she felt were quite unworthy of
her and of him, seemed to surge within her soul more tumultuously than
ever. She was longing to throw herself in his arms, to pour out into
his loving ear all that she suffered, in fear and anxiety, and to make
one more appeal to his tenderness and to that passion which had so
often made him forget the world at her feet.
And so instinctively she walked along the terrace towards that more
secluded part of the garden just above the river bank, where she had so
oft wandered hand in hand with him in the honeymoon of their love.
There great clumps of old-fashioned cabbage roses grew in untidy
splendour, and belated lilies sent intoxicating odours into the air,
whilst the heavy masses of Egyptian and Michaelmas daisies looked like
ghostly constellations in the gloom.
She thought Percy must soon be coming this way. Though it was so
late, she knew that he would not go to bed. After the events of the
night, his ruling passion, strong in death, would be holding him in its
She, too, felt wide awake and unconscious of fatigue; when she
reached the secluded path beside the river, she peered eagerly up and
down, and listened for a sound.
Presently it seemed to her that above the gentle clapper of the
waters she could hear a rustle and the crunching of the fine gravel
under carefully measured footsteps. She waited awhile. The footsteps
seemed to draw nearer, and soon, although the starlit night was very
dark, she perceived a cloaked and hooded figure approaching cautiously
"Who goes there?" she called suddenly.
The figure paused: then came rapidly forward, and a voice said
"Ah! Lady Blakeney!"
"Who are you?" asked Marguerite peremptorily.
"It is IDésirée Candeille," replied the midnight prowler.
"Demoiselle Candeille!" ejaculated Marguerite, wholly taken by
surprise. "What are you doing here, alone, and at this hour?"
"Sh-sh-sh" whispered Candeille eagerly, as she approached quite
close to Marguerite and drew her hood still lower over her eyes. "I am
all alone I wanted to see some one-you, if possible, Lady Blakeney for
I could not rest I wanted to know what had happened."
"What had happened? When? I don't understand."
"What happened between Citizen Chauvelin and your husband?" asked
"What is that to you?" replied Marguerite haughtily.
"I pray you, do not misunderstand me" pleaded Candeille eagerly. "I
know my presence in your house the quarrel which I provoked must have
filled your heart with hatred and suspicion towards me. But oh! how can
I persuade you? I acted unwillingly will you not believe me? I was that
man's tool and... Oh God!" she added with sudden, wild vehemence, "if
only you could know what tyranny that accursed Government of France
exercises over poor helpless women or men who happen to have fallen
within reach of its relentless clutches."
Her voice broke down in a sob: Marguerite hardly knew what to say
or think. She had always mistrusted this woman, with her theatrical
ways and stagey airs, from the very first moment that she saw her in
the tent on the green: and she did not wish to run counter against her
instinct in anything pertaining to the present crisis. And yet, in
spite of her mistrust, the actress's vehement words found an echo in
the depths of her own heart. How well she knew what tyranny of which
Candeille spoke with such bitterness. Had she not suffered from it,
endured terrible sorrow and humiliation, when under the ban of that
same appalling tyranny she had betrayed the identity -then unknown to
her -of the Scarlet Pimpernel?
Therefore when Candeille paused after those last excited words, she
said with more gentleness than she had shown hitherto, though still
"But you have not yet told me why you came back here to-night? If
Citizen Chauvelin was your taskmaster, then you must know all that has
"I had a vague hope that I might see you."
"For what purpose?"
"To warn you if I could."
"I need no warning."
"Or are you too proud to take one? Do you know, Lady Blakeney, that
Citizen Chauvelin has a personal hatred against your husband?"
"How do you know that?" asked Marguerite, with her suspicions once
more on the qui-vive. She could not understand Candeille's attitude.
This midnight visit, the vehemence of her language, the strange mixture
of knowledge and ignorance which she displayed. What did this woman
know of Chauvelin's secret plans? Was she his open ally, or his
helpless tool? And was she even now playing a part taught her or
commanded her by that prince of intriguers?
Candeille, however, seemed quite unaware of the spirit of
antagonism and mistrust which Marguerite took but little pains now to
disguise. She clasped her hands together, and her voice shook with the
earnestness of her entreaty:
"Oh!" she said eagerly, "have I not seen that look of hatred in
Chauvelin's eyes? He hates your husband I tell you ...Why I know not,
but he hates him and means that great harm shall come to Sir Percy
through this absurd duel ... Oh! Lady Blakeney, do not let him go. I
entreat you, do not let him go!"
But Marguerite proudly drew back a step or two, away from the reach
of those hands, stretched out towards her in such vehement appeal.
"You are overwrought, Mademoiselle," she said coldly. "Believe me,
I have no need either of your entreaties or of your warning I should
like you to think that I have no wish to be ungrateful that I
appreciate any kind thought you may have harboured for me in your mind
But beyond that please forgive me if I say it somewhat crudely- I do
not feel that the matter concerns you in the least The hour is late,"
she added more gently, as if desiring to attenuate the harshness of her
last words. "Shall I send my maid to escort you home? She is devoted
"Nay!" retorted the other in tones of quiet sadness, "there is no
need of discretion. I am not ashamed of my visit to you to-night. You
are very proud, and for your sake I will pray to God that sorrow and
humiliation may not come to you, as I feared. We are never likely to
meet again, Lady Blakeney... you will not wish it, and I shall have
passed out of your life as swiftly as I had entered into it. But there
was another thought lurking in my mind when I came to-night. In case
Sir Percy goes to France, the duel is to take place in or near
Boulogne... this much I do know... would you not wish to go with him?"
"Truly, Mademoiselle, I must repeat to you..."
"That 'tis no concern of mine, I know, I own that. But, you see,
when I came back here to-night in the silence and the darkness -I had
not guessed that you would be so proud... I thought that I, a woman,
would know how to touch your womanly heart ....I was clumsy I
suppose... I made so sure that you would wish to go with your husband,
in case... in case he insisted on running his head into the noose,
which I feel sure Chauvelin has prepared for him. I myself start for
France shortly. Citizen Chauvelin has provided me with the necessary
passport for myself and my maid, who was to have accompanied me. Then,
just now, when I was all alone and thought over all the mischief which
that fiend had forced me to do for him, it seemed to me that perhaps..."
She broke off abruptly, and tried to read the other woman's face in
the gloom. But Marguerite, who was taller than the Frenchwoman, was
standing, very stiff and erect, giving the young actress neither
discouragement nor confidence. She did not interrupt Candeille's long
and voluble explanation: vaguely she wondered what it all was about,
and even now, when the Frenchwoman paused, Marguerite said nothing, but
watcher her quietly as she took a folded paper from the capacious
pocket of her cloak and then held it out with a look of timidity
towards Lady Blakeney.
"My maid need not come with me," said Désirée Candeille humbly; "I
would far rather travel alone... this is her passport, and... Oh! you
need not take it out of my hand," she added in tones of bitter
self-deprecation, as Marguerite made no sign of taking the paper from
her. "See! I will leave it here among the roses! You mistrust me now
... it is only natural.... presently, perhaps, calmer reflection will
come you will see that my purpose now is selfless that I only wish to
serve you and him."
She stooped and placed the folded paper in the midst of a great
clump of centifolium roses, and then without another word she turned
and went her way. For a few moments, whilst Marguerite still stood
there, puzzled and vaguely moved, she could hear the gentle frou-frou
of the other woman's skirts against the soft sand of the path, and then
a long-drawn sigh that sounded like a sob.
Then all was still again. The gentle midnight breeze caressed the
tops of the ancient oaks and elms behind her, drawing murmurs from
their dying leaves like unto the whisperings of ghosts.
Marguerite shuddered with a slight sense of cold. Before her,
amongst the dark clump of leaves and the roses invisible in the gloom,
there fluttered with a curious, melancholy flapping, the folded paper
placed there by Candeille. She watched it for awhile, as, disturbed by
the wind, it seemed ready to take its flight towards the river. Anon it
fell to the ground, and Marguerite, with sudden overpowering impulse,
stooped and picked it up. Then clutching it nervously in her hand, she
walked rapidly back towards the house.
Chapter XV— Farewell
As she neared the terrace, she became conscious of several forms
moving about at the foot of the steps, some few feet below where she
was standing. Soon she saw the glimmer of lanthorns, heard whispering
voices, and the lapping of the water against the side of a boat.
Anon a figure, laden with cloaks and sundry packages passed down
the steps close beside her. Even in the darkness Marguerite recognised
Benyon, her husband's confidential valet. Without a moment's
hesitation, she flew along the terrace towards the wing of the house
occupied by Sir Percy. She had not gone far before she discerned his
tall figure walking leisurely along the path which here skirted part of
He had on his large caped coat, which was thrown open in front,
displaying a grey travelling suit of fine cloth; his hands were as
usual buried in the pockets of his breeches, and on his head he wore
the folding chapeau-bras which he habitually affected.
Before she had time to think, or to realise that he was going,
before she could utter one single word, she was in his arms, clinging
to him with passionate intensity, trying in the gloom to catch every
expression of his eyes, every quiver of the face now bent down so close
"Percy, you cannot go... you cannot go!..." she pleaded.
She had felt his strong arms closing round her, his lips seeking
hers, her eyes, her hair, her clinging hands, which dragged at his
shoulders in a wild agony of despair.
"If you really loved me, Percy," she murmured, "you would not go,
you would not go..."
He would not trust himself to speak; it well-night seemed as if his
sinews cracked with the violent effort at self-control. Oh! how she
loved him, when she felt in him the passionate lover, the wild, untamed
creature that he was at heart, on whom the frigid courtliness of manner
sat but as a thin veneer. This was his own real personality, and there
was little now of the elegant and accomplished gentleman of fashion,
schooled to hold every emotion in check, to hide every thought, every
desire save that for amusement or for display.
She -feeling her power and his weakness now- gave herself wholly to
his embrace, not grudging one single, passionate caress, yielding her
lips to him, the while she murmured:
"You cannot go... you cannot ...why should you go?... It is madness
to leave me... I cannot let you go..."
Her arms clung tenderly round him, her voice was warm and faintly
shaken with suppressed tears, and as he wildly murmured: "Don't! for
pity's sake!" she almost felt that her love would be triumphant.
"For pity's sake, I'll go on pleading, Percy!" she whispered; "oh!
my love, my dear! do not leave me!...we have scarce had time to savour
our happiness... we have such arrears of joy to make up... Do not go,
Percy... there's so much I want to say to you.... Nay! you shall not!
you shall not!"she added with sudden vehemence. "Look me straight in
the eyes, my dear, and tell me if you can leave me now?"
He did not reply, but, almost roughly, he placed his hand over her
tear-dimmed eyes, which were turned up to his in an agony of tender
appeal. Thus he blindfolded her with that wild caress. She should not
see -no, not eve she!- that for the space of a few seconds stern
manhood was well-nigh vanquished by the magic of her love.
All that was most human in him, all that was weak in this strong
and untamed nature, cried aloud for peace and luxury and idleness: for
long summer afternoons spent in lazy content, for the companionship of
horses and dogs and of flowers, with no thought or cares save those for
the next evening's gavotte, no graver occupation save that of sitting
at her feet.
And during these few seconds, whilst his hand lay across her eyes,
the lazy, idle fop of fashionable London was fighting a hand-to-hand
fight with the bold leader of a band of adventurers: and his own
passionate love for his wife ranged itself with fervent intensity on
the side of his weaker self. Forgotten were the horrors of the
guillotine, the calls of the innocent, the appeal of the helpless,
forgotten the daring adventures, the excitements, the hair's-breadth
escapes: for those few seconds, heavenly in themselves, he only
remembered her-his wife- her beauty and her tender appeal to him.
She would have pleaded again, for she felt that she was winning in
this fight: her instinct -that unerring instinct of the woman who loves
and feels herself beloved- told her that for the space of an
infinitesimal fraction of time, his iron will was inclinded to bend;
but he checked her pleading with a kiss.
Then there came the change.
Like a gigantic wave carried inwards by the tide, his turbulent
emotion seemed suddenly to shatter itself against a rock of
self-control. Was it a call from the boatmen below? a distant
scrunching of feet upon the gravel?-who knows, perhaps only a sigh in
the midnight air, a ghostly summons from the land of dreams that
recalled him to himself.
Even as Marguerite was still clinging to him, with the ardent
fervour of her own passion, she felt the rigid tension of his arms
relax, the power of his embrace weaken, the wild love-light become dim
in his eyes.
He kissed her fondly, tenderly, and with infinite gentleness
smoothed away the little damp curls from her brow. There was a
wistfulness now in his caress, and in his kiss there was the finality
of a long farewell.
"'Tis time I went," he said, "or we shall miss the tide."
These were the first coherent words he had spoken since first she
had met him here in this lonely part of the garden, and his voice was
perfectly steady, conventional, and cold. An icy pang shot through
Marguerite's heart. It was as if she had been abruptly wakened from a
"You are not going, Percy!" she murmured, and her own voice now
sounded hollow and forced. "Oh! if you loved me you would not go!"
"If I loved you!"
Nay! in this at least there was no dream! No coldness in his voice
when he repeated those words with such a sigh of tenderness, such a
world of longing, that the bitterness of her great pain vanished,
giving place to tears. He took her hand in his. The passion was
momentarily conquered, forced within his innermost soul, by his own
alter ego, that second personality in him, the cold-blooded and
cooly-calculating adventurer who juggled with his life and tossed it
recklessly upon the sea of chance 'twixt a doggrel and a smile. But the
tender love lingered on, fighting the enemy a while longer, the wistful
desire was there for her kiss, the tired longing for the exquisite
repose of her embrace.
He took her hand in his, and bent his lips to it, and with the
warmth of his kiss upon it, she felt a moisture like a tear.
"I must go, dear," he said after a little while.
"Why? Why?" she repeated obstinately. "Am I nothing, then? Is my
life of no account? My sorrows? My fears? My misery? Oh!" she added,
with vehement bitterness, "why should it always be others? What are
others to you and to me, Percy?...Are we not happy here? ....Have you
not fulfilled to its uttermost that self-imposed duty to people who can
be nothing to us? ... Is not your life ten thousand times more precious
to me than the lives of ten thousand others?"
Even through the darkness, and because his face was so close to
hers, she could see a quaint little smile playing round the corners of
"Nay, m'dear," he said gently," 'tis not ten thousand lives that
call to me to-day... only one at best ...Don't you hate to think of
that poor little old curé sitting in the midst of his ruined pride and
hopes: the jewels so confidently entrusted to his care stolen from him,
he waiting, perhaps, in his little presbytery for the day when those
brutes will march him to prison and to death ... Nay! I think a little
sea voyage and English country air would suit the Abbé Foucquet,
m'dear, and I only mean to ask him to cross the Channel with me?..."
"Percy!" she pleaded.
"Oh! I know! I know!" he rejoined with that short deprecatory sigh
of his, which seemed always to close any discussion between them on
that point, "you are thinking of that absurd duel..." He laughed
lightly, good-humouredly, and his eyes gleamed with merriment.
"La, m'dear!" he said gaily, "will you not reflect a moment? Could
I refuse the challenge before His Royal Highness and the ladies? I
couldn't... Faith! that ws it... Just a case of couldn't ...Fate did it
all... the quarrel... my interference, the challenge... He had
planned it all, of course ... Let us own that he is a brave man, seeing
that he and I are not even yet for that beating he gave me on the
"Yes! he has planned it all," she retorted vehemently. "The quarrel
to-night, your journey to France, your meeting with him face to face at
a given hour and place where he can most readily, most easily close the
death-trap upon you."
This time he broke into a laugh. A good, hearty laugh, full of the
joy of living, of the madness and intoxication of a bold adventure, a
laugh that had not one particle of anxiety or of tremor in it.
"Nay! m'dear!" he said, "but your ladyship is astonishing ... Close
a death-trap upon your humble servant? ... Nay! the governing citizens
of France will have to be very active and mighty wide-awake ere they
succeed in stealing a march on me... Zounds! but we'll give them an
exciting chase this time... Nay, little woman, do not fear!" he said
with sudden infinite gentleness; "those demmed murderers have not got
Oh! how often she had fought with him thus: with him, the
adventurer, the part of his dual nature that was her bitter enemy, and
which took him, the lover, away from her side. She knew so well the
finality of it all, the amazing hold which that unconquerable desire
for these mad adventurers had upon him. Impulsive, ardent as she was,
Marguerite felt in her very soul an overwhelming fury against herself
for her own weakness, her own powerlessness in the face of that which
for ever threatened to ruin her life and her happiness.
Yes! and his also! for he loved her! he loved her! he loved her!
The thought went on hammering in her mind, for she knew of its great
truth. He loved her and went away! And she, poor, puny weakling, was
unable to hold him back; the tendrils which fastened his soul to hers
were not so tenacious as those which made him cling to suffering
humanity, over there in France, where men and women were in fear of
death and torture, and looked upon the elusive and mysterious Scarlet
Pimpernel as a heaven-bor hero sent to save them from their doom. To
them at these times his very heart-strings seemed to turn with
unconquerable force, and when, with all the ardour of her own passion,
she tried to play upon the cords of his love for her, he could not
respond, for they -the strangers- had the stronger claim.
And yet through it all she knew that this love of humanity, this
mad desire to serve and to help, in no way detracted from his love for
her. Nay, it intensified it, made it purer and better, adding to the
joy of perfect intercourse the poetic and subtle fragrance of
But now at last she felt weary of the fight: her heart was aching,
bruised and sore. An infinite fatigue seemed to weight like lead upon
her very soul. This seemed so different to any other parting, that had
perforce been during the past year. The presence of Chauvelin in her
house, the obvious planning of this departure for France, ahd filled
her with a foreboding, nay, almost a certitude of a gigantic and deadly
Her senses began to reel; she seemed not to see anything very
distinctly: even the loved form took on a strange and ghost-like shape.
He now looked preternaturally tall, and there was a mist between her
She thought that he spoke to her again, but she was not quite sure,
for his voice sounded like some weird and mysterious echo. A bouquet of
climbing heliotrope close by threw a fragrance into the evening air,
which turned her giddy with its overpowering sweetness.
She closed her eyes, for she felt as if she must die, if she held
them open any longer; and as she closed them it seemed to her as if he
folded her in one last, long, heavenly embrace.
He felt her graceful figure swaying in his arms like a tall and
slender lily bending to the wind. He saw that she was but
half-conscious, and thanked heaven for this kindly solace to this
There was a sloping, mossy bank close by, there where the marble
terrance yielded to the encroaching shrubbery: a tangle of pale pink
monthly roses made a bower overhead. She was just sufficiently
conscious to enable him to lead her to this soft green couch. There he
laid her amongst the roses, kissed the dear, tired eyes, her hands, her
lips, her tiny feet, and went.
Chapter XVI— The Passport
The rhythmic clapper of oars roused Marguerite from this trance-like
In a moment she was on her feet, all her fatigue gone, her numbness
of soul and body vanished as in a flash. She was fully conscious
now!-conscious that he had gone!-that, according to every probability
under heaven and every machination concocted in hell, he would never
return from France alive, and that she had failed to hear the last
words which he spoke to her, had failed to glean his last look or to
savour his final kiss.
Though the night was starlit and balmy, it was singularly dark, and
vainly did Marguerite strain her eyes to catch sight of that boat which
was bearing him away so swiftly now: she strained her ears, vaguely
hoping to catch one last, lingering echo of his voice. But all was
silence, save that monotonous clapper, which seemed to beat against her
heart like a rhythmic knell of death.
She could hear the oars distinctly: there were six or eight she
thought: certainly no fewer. Eight oarsmen probably, which meant the
larger boat, and undoubtedly the longer journey. . . not to London
only, with a view to posting to Dover, but to Tilbury Fort where the Day Dream would be in readiness to start with a favourable tide.
Thought was returning to her, slowly and coherently: the pain of the
last farewell was still there, bruising her very senses with its dull
and heavy weight; but it had become numb and dead, leaving her,
herself, her heart and soul, stunned and apathetic, whilst her brain
was gradually resuming its activity.
And the more she thought it over, the more certain she grew that her
husband was going as far as Tilbury by river, and would embark on the Day Dream there. Of course, he would go to Boulogne at once. The
duel was to take place there, Candeille had told her that . . . adding
that she thought, she, Marguerite would wish to go with him.
To go with him!
Heavens above! was not that the only real, tangible, thought in that
whirling chaos which was raging in her mind?
To go with him! Surely there must be some means of reaching him yet!
Fate, Nature, God Himself would never permit so monstrous a thing as
this: that she should be parted from her husband, now when his life was
not only in danger, but forfeit already. . . lost. . . a precious thing
all but gone from this world.
Percy was going to Boulogne . . . she must go too. By posting at
once to Dover, she could get the tidal boat on the morrow and reach the
French coast quite as soon as the Day Dream. Once at Boulogne,
she would have no difficulty in finding her husband, of that she felt
sure. She would have but to dog Chauvelin's footsteps, find out
something of his plans, of the orders he gave to troops or to spies-
oh! she would find him!- of that she was never for a moment in doubt!
How well she remembered her journey to Calais just a year ago, in
company with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes! Chance had favoured her then, had
enabled her to be of service to her husband, if only by distracting
Chauvelin's attention for awhile to herself. Heaven knows! she had but
little hope of being of use to him now: an aching sense was in her that
fate had at last been too strong!- that the daring adventurer had
staked once too often, had cast the die and had lost.
In the bosom of her dress she felt the sharp edge of the paper left
for her by Désirée Candeille among the roses in the park. She had
picked it up almost mechanically then, and tucked it away, hardly
heeding what she was doing. Whatever the motive of the French actress
had been in placing the passport at her disposal, Marguerite blessed
her in her heart for it. To the woman she had mistrusted, she would owe
the last supreme happiness of her life.
Her resolution never once wavered. Percy would not take her with
him: that was understandable. She could neither expect it nor think it.
But she, on the other hand, could not stay in England, at Blakeney
Manor, whilst any day, any hour, the death-trap set by Chauvelin for
the Scarlet Pimpernel might be closing upon the man whom she
worshipped. She would go mad if she stayed. As there could be no chance
of escape for Percy now, as he had agreed to meet his deadly enemy face
to face at a given place, and a given hour, she could not be a
hindrance to him: and she knew enough subterfuges, enough machinations
and disguises by now, to escape Chauvelin's observation, unless. . .
unless Percy wanted her, and then she would be there.
No! she could not be a hindrance. She had a passport in her pocket,
everything en règle, nobody could harm her, and she could come and go
as she pleased. There were plenty of swift horses in the stables,
plenty of devoted servants to do her bidding quickly and discreetly:
moreover, at moments like these, conventionalities and the possible
conjectures and surmises of others became of infinitesimally small
importance. The household of Blakeney Manor were accustomed to the
master's sudden journeys and absences of several days, presumably on
some shooting or other sporting expeditions, with no one in attendance
on him, save Benyon, his favourite valet. These passed without any
comments now! Bah! let everyone marvel for once at her ladyship's
sudden desire to go to Dover, and let it all be a nine days' wonder;
she certainly did not care. Skirting the house, she reached the stables
beyond. One or two men were still astir. To these she gave the
necessary orders for her coach and four, then she found her way back to
Walking along the corridor, she went past the room occupied by
Juliette de Marny. For a moment she hesitated, then she turned and
knocked at the door.
Juliette was not yet in bed, for she went to the door herself and
opened it. Obviously she had been quite unable to rest, her hair was
falling loosely over her shoulders, and there was a look of grave
anxiety on her young face.
"Juliette," said Marguerite in a hurried whisper, the moment she had
closed the door behind her and she and the young girl were alone, "I am
going to France to be near my husband. He has gone to meet that fiend
in a duel which is nothing but a trap, set to capture him and lead him
to his death. I want you to be of help to me, here in my house, in my
"I would give my life for you, Lady Blakeney," said Juliette simply,
"is it not his since he saved it?"
"It is only a little presence of mind, a little coolness and
patience, which I will ask of you, dear," said Marguerite. "You, of
course, know who your rescuer was, therefore you will understand my
fears. Until to-night I had vague doubts as to how much Chauvelin
really knew, but now these doubts have naturally vanished. He and the
French Revolutionary Government know that the Scarlet Pimpernel and
Percy Blakeney are one and the same. The whole scene to-night was
pre-arranged: you and I and all the other spectators, and that woman
Candeille- we were all puppets piping to that devil's tune. The duel,
too, was pre-arranged!. . . that woman wearing your mother's jewels!. .
. Had you not provoked her, a quarrel between her and me, or one of my
guests, would have been forced somehow. . . I wanted to tell you this,
lest you should fret, and think that you were in any way responsible
for what has happened. . . You were not. . . He had arranged it all . .
. You were only the tool. . . just as I was. . . You must understand
and believe that. . . Percy would hate to think that you felt yourself
to blame. . . You are not that, in anyway. . . The challenge was bound
to come. . . Chauvelin had arranged that it should come, and if you had
failed him as a tool he soon would have found another! Do you believe
"I believe that you are an angel of goodness, Lady Blakeney,"
replied Juliette, struggling with her tears, "and that you are the only
woman in the world worthy to be his wife."
"But," insisted Marguerite firmly, as the young girl took her cold
hand in her own, and, gently fondling it, covered it with grateful
kisses, "but if. . . if anything happens. . . anon. . . you will
believe firmly that you were in no way responsible?. . . that you were
innocent. . . and merely a blind tool?. . ."
"God bless you for that!"
"You will believe it?"
"And now for my request," rejoined Lady Blakeney in a more quiet,
more matter-of-fact tone of voice.
"You must represent me, here, when I am gone: explain as casually
and as naturally as you can that I have gone to join my husband on his
yacht for a few days. Lucie, my maid, is devoted, and a tower of
secrecy; she will stand between you and the rest of the household in
concocting soe plausible story. To every friend who calls, to anyone of
our world whom you may meet, you must tell the same tale, and if you
not an air of incredulity in anyone, if you hear whispers of there
being some mystery-well! let the world wag its buy tongue- I care less
than nought: it will soon tire of me and my doings, and having torn my
reputation to shreds, will quickly leave me in peace. But to Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes," she added earnestly, "tell the whole truth from me. He will
understand and do as he thinks right."
"I will do all you ask, Lady Blakeney, and am proud to think that I
shall be serving you, even in so humble and easy a capacity. When do
"At once. Good-bye, Juliette."
She bent down to the young girl and kissed her tenderly on the
forehead, then she glided out of the room as rapidly as she had come.
Juliette, of course, did not try to detain her, or to force her help or
companionship on her when, obviously, she would wish to be alone.
Marguerite quickly reached her room. Her maid Lucie was already
waiting for her. Devoted and silent as she was, one glance at her
mistress' face told her that trouble -grave and imminent- had reached
Marguerite, whilst Lucie undressed her, took up the passport and
carefully perused the personal description of one Céline Dumont, maid
to Citzeness Désirée Candeille, which was given therein: tall, blue
eyes, light hair, age about twenty-five. It all might have been vaguely
meant for her. She had a dark cloth gown, and long black cloak with
hood to come well over the head. These she now donned, with some thick
shoes, and a dark-coloured handkerchief tied over her head under the
head, so as to hide the golden glory of her hair.
She was quite calm and in no haste. She made Lucie pack a small hand
valise with some necessaries for the journey, and provided herself
plentifully with money -French and English notes- which she tucked well
away inside her dress.
Then she bade her maid, who was struggling with her tears, a kindly
farewell, and quickly went down to her coach.
Chapter XVII— Boulogne
During the journey Marguerite had not much leisure to think. The
discomforts and petty miseries incidental on cheap travelling had the
very welcome effect of making her forget, for the time being, the
soul-rending crisis through which she was now passing.
For, of necessity, she had to travel at the cheap rate, among the
crowd of poorer passengers who were herded aft the packet boat, leaning
up against one another, sitting on bundles and packages of all kinds;
that part of the deck, reeking with the smell of tar and sea-water,
damp, squally, and stuffy, was an abomination of hideous discomfort to
the dainty fastidious lady of fashion, yet she almost welcomed the
intolerable propinquity, the cold douches of salt water, which every
now and then wetted her through and through, for it was the consequent
sense of physical wretchedness that helped her to forget the
intolerable anguish in her mind.
And among these poorer travellers she felt secure from obersvation.
No one took much notice of her. She looked just like one of the herd,
and in the huddled-up little figure in the dark, bedraggled clothes, no
one would for a moment have recognised the dazzling personality of Lady
Drawing her hood well over her head, she sat in a secluded corner of
the deck, upon the little black valise which contained the few
belongings she had brought with her. Her cloak and dress, now
mud-stained and dank with splashings of salt water, attracted no one's
attention. There was a keen north-easterly breeze, cold and
penetrating, but favourable to a rapid crossing. Marguerite, who had
gone through several hours of weary travelling by coach before she
embarked at Dover in the late afternoon, was unspeakably tired. She had
watched the golden sunset out at sea until her eyes were burning with
pain, and as the dazzling crimson and orange and purple gave place to
the soft grey tones of evening, she descried the round cupola of the
church of Our Lady of Boulogne against the dull background of the sky.
After that her mind became a blank. A sort of torpor fell over her
sense: she was wakeful and yet half-asleep, unconscious of everything
around her, seeing nothing but the distant massive towers of old
Boulogne churches gradually detaching themselves one by one from out
the fast-gathering gloom.
The town seemed like a dream city, a creation of some morbid
imagination, presented to her mind's eye as the city of sorrow and of
When the boat finally scraped her sides along the rough wooden
jetty, Marguerite felt as if she were being forcibly awakened. She was
numb and stiff and thought she must have fallen asleep during the last
half-hour of the journey.
Everything round her was dark. The sky was overcast, and the night
seemed unusually sombre. Figures were moving all round her; there was
noise and confusion of voices, and a general pushing and shouting,
which seemed strangely weird in this gloom. Here, among the poorer
passengers, there had not been thought any necessity for a light: one
solitary lantern fixed to a mast only enhanced the intense blackness of
everything around. Now and then a face would come within range of this
meagre streak of yellow light, looking strangely distorted, with great,
elongated shadows across the brow and chin, a grotesque, ghostly
apparition, which quickly vanished again, scurrying off like some
frightened gnome, giving place to other forms, other figures, all
equally grotesque and equally weird.
Marguerite watched them all half-stupidly and motionlessly for
awhile. She did not quite know what she ought to do, and did not like
to ask any questions: she was dazed and the darkness blinded her. Then
gradually things began to detach themselves more clearly. On looking
straight before her, she began to discern the landing-place, the little
wooden bridge across which the passengers walked, one by one, from the
boat on to the jetty. The first-class passengers were evidently
alighting now: the crowd, of which Marguerite formed a unit, had been
pushed back in a more compact herd, out of the way for the moment so
that their betters might get along more comfortably.
Beyond the landing-stage a little booth had been erected, a kind of
tent, open in front and lighted up within by a couple of lanthorns.
Under this tent there was a table, behind which sat a man dressed in
some sort of official-looking clothes, and wearing the tricolour scarf
across his chest.
All the passengers from the boat had apparently to file past this
tent. Marguerite could see them now quite distinctly, the profiles of
the various faces, as they paused for a moment in front of the table,
being brilliantly illuminated by one of the lanterns. Two sentinels,
wearing the uniform of the National Guard, stood each side of the
table. The passengers, one by one, took out their passport as they went
by, handed it to the man in the official dress, who examined it
carefully, very lengthily, then signed it, and returned the paper to
its owner: but at times he appeared doubtful, folded the passport, and
put it down in front of him: the passenger would protest; Marguerite
could not hear what was said, but she could see that some argument was
attempted, quickly dismissed by a peremptory order from the official.
The doubtful passport was obviously put on one side for further
examination, and the unfortunate owner therof detained, until he or she
had been able to give more satisfactory references to the
representatives of the Committee of Public Safety stationed at Boulogne.
This process of examination necessarily took a long time. Marguerite
was getting horribly tired, her feet ached, and she scarcely could hold
herself upright: yet she watched all these people mechanically, making
absurd little guesses in her weary mind as to whose passport would find
favour in the eyes of the official and whose would be found suspect and
Suspect! a terrible word these times! since Merlin's terrible law
decreed now that every man, woman, or child, who was suspected by the
Republic of being a traitor, was a traitor in fact.
How sorry she felt for those whose passports were detained: who
tried to argue -so needlessly!- and who were finally led off by a
soldier, who had stepped out from somewhere in the dark, and had to
await further examination, probably imprisonment, and often death.
As to herself, she felt quite safe: the passport given to her by
Chauvelin's own accomplice was sure to be quite en règle.
Then suddenly her heart seemed to give a sudden leap and then to
stop in its beating for a second or two. In one of the passengers, a
man who was just passing in front of the tent, she had recognised the
form and profile of Chauvelin.
He had no passport to show, but evidently the official knew who he
was, for he stood up and saluted, and listened deferentially whilst the
ex-ambassador apparently gave him a few instructions. It seemed to
Marguerite that these instructions related to two women who were close
behind Chauvelin at the time, and who presently seemed to file past
without going through the usual formalities of showing their passports.
But of this she could not be quite sure. The women were closely hooded
and veiled, and her own attention had been completely absorbed by this
sudden appearance of her deadly enemy.
Yet what more natural than that Chauvelin should be here now. His
object accomplished, he had no doubt posted to Dover, just as she had
done. There was no difficulty in that, and a man of his type and
importance would always have unlimited means and money at his command
to accomplish any journey he might desire to undertake.
There was nothing strange or even unexpected in the man's presence
here; and yet somehow it had made the whole, awful reality more
tangible, more wholly unforgetable. Marguerite remembered his abject
words to her, when first she had seen him at the Richmond fête: he said
that he had fallen into disgrace, that, having failed in his service to
the Republic, he had been relegated to a subordinate position, pushed
aside with contumely to make room for better, abler men.
Well! all that was a lie, of course, a cunning method of gaining
access into her house; of that she had already been convinced, when
Candeille provoked the esclandre which led to the challenge.
That on French soil he seemed in anything but a subsidiary position,
that he appeared to rule rather than to obey, could in no way appear to
Marguerite in the nature of surprise.
As the actress had been a willing tool in the cunning hands of
Chauvelin, so were probably all these people around her. When others
cringed in the face of officialism, the ex-ambassador had stepped forth
as a master: he had shown a badge, spoken a word mayhap, and the man in
the tent, who had made other people tremble, stood up deferentially and
obeyed all commands.
It was all very simple and very obvious: but Marguerite's mind had
been asleep, adn it was the sight of the sable-clad little figure which
had roused it from its happy torpor.
In a moment now her brain was active and alert, and presently it
seemed to her as if another figure -taller than those around- had
crossed the barrier immediately in the wake of Chauvelin. Then she
chided herself for her fancies!
It could not be her husband. Not yet! He had gone by water, and
would scarce be in Boulogne before the morning!
Ah! now at last came the turn of the second-class passengers! There
was a general bousculade, and the human bundle began to move.
Marguerite lost sight of the tent and its awe-inspiring appurtenances:
she was a mere unit again in this herd on the move. She, too,
progressed along slowly, one step at a time; it was wearisome and she
was deadly tired. She was beginning to form plans now that she had
arrived in France. All along she had made up her mind that she would
begin by seeking out the Abbé Foucquet, for he would prove a link
'twixt her husband and herself. She knew that Percy would communicate
with the abbé; had he not told her that the rescue of the devoted old
man from the clutches of the Terrorists would be one of the chief
objects of his journey? It had never occured to her what she would do
if she found the Abbé Foucquet gone from Boulogne.
"Hé! la mère! your passport!"
The rough words roused her from her meditations. She had moved
forward, quite mechanically, her mind elsewhere, her thoughts not
following the aim of her feet. Thus she must have crossed the bridge
along with some of the crowd, must have landed on the jetty and reached
the front of the tent, without really knowing what she was doing.
Ah, yes! her passport! She had quite forgotten that! But she had it
by her, quite in order, given to her in a fit of tardy remorse by
Demoiselle Candeille, the intimate friend of one of the most
influential members of the Revolutionary Government of France.
She took the passport from the bosom of her dress and handed it to
the man in the official dress.
"Your name?" he asked peremptorily.
"Céline Dumont," she replied unhesitatingly, for had she not
rehearsed all this in her mind dozens of times, until her tongue could
rattle off the borrowed name as easily as it could her own; "servitor
to Citizeness Désirée Candeille!"
The man, who had vry carefully been examining the paper the while,
placed it down on the table deliberately in front of him, and said:
"Céline Dumont! Eh! la mère! what tricks are you up to now?"
"Tricks? I don't understand!" she sadi quietly, for she was not
afraid. The passport was en règle: she knew she had nothing to fear.
"Oh! but I think you do!" retorted the official with a sneer; "and
'tis a mighty clever one, I'll allow. Céline Dumont, ma foi! Not badly
imagined, ma petite mère: and all would have passed off splendidly;
unfortunately, Céline Dumont, servitor to Citizeness Candeille, passed
through these barriers along with her mistress not half an hour ago."
And with long, grimy fingers he pointed to an entry in the large
book which lay open before him, and wherein he had apparently been busy
making notes of the various passengers who had filed past him.
Then he looked up with a triumphant leer at the calm face of
Marguerite. She still did not feel really frightened, only puzzled and
perturbed; but all the blood had rushed away from her face, leaving her
cheeks ashen white, and pressing against her heart, until it almost
"You are making a mistake, citizen," she said very quietly. "I am
Citizeness Candeille's maid. She gave me the passport herself, just
before I left England; if you will ask her the question, she will
confirm what I say, and she assured me that it was quite en règle."
But the man only shrugged his shoulders and laughed derisively. The
incident evidently amused him, yet he must have seen so many of the
same sort; in the far corner of the tent Marguerite seemed to discern a
few moving forms, soldiers, she thought, for she caught sight of a
glint like that of steel. One or two men stood close behind the
official at the desk, and the sentinels were to the right and left of
With an instinctive sense of appeal, Marguerite looked round from
one face to the other: but each looked absolutely impassive and stolid,
quite uninterested in this little scene, the exact counterpart of a
dozen others, enacted on this very spot within the last hour.
"Hé! là! là! petite mère!" said the official in the same tone of
easy persiflage which he had adopted all along; "but we do know how to
concoct a pretty lie, aye! - and so circumstantially too! Unfortunately
it was Citizeness Désirée Candeille herself who happened to be standing
just where you are at the present moment, along with her maid, Céline
Dumont, both of whom were specially signed for and recommended as
perfectly trustworthy by no less a person than Citoyen Chauvelin of the
Committee of Public Safety."
"But I assure you that there is a mistake," pleaded Marguerite
earnestly. "'Tis the other woman who lied; I have my passport and. . . "
"A truce on this," retorted the man peremptorily. "If everything is
as you say, and if you have nothing to hide, you'll be at liberty to
continue your journey to-morrow, after you have explained yourself
before the Citizen Governor. Next one now, quick!"
Marguerite tried another protest, just as those others had done,
whom she had watched so mechanically before. But already she knew that
that would be useless, for she felt that a heavy hand was being placed
on her shoulder, and that she was being roughly led away.
In a flash she had understood and seen the whole sequel of the awful
trap, which had all along been destined to engulg her as well as her
What a clumsy, blind fool she had been!
What a miserable antagonist to the subtle schemes of a past master
of intrigue as was Chauvelin. To have enticed the Scarlet Pimpernel to
France was a great thing! The challenge was clever, the acceptance of
it by the bold adventurer a foregone conclusion, but the master stroke
of the whole plan was done, when she, the wife, was enticed over, too,
with the story of Candeille's remorse and the offer of the passport.
Fool! fool that she was!
And how well did Chauvelin know feminine nature! How cleverly he had
divined her thoughts, her feelings, the impulsive way in which she
would act; how easily he had guessed that, knowing her husband's
danger, she, Marguerite, would immediately follow him.
Now the trap had closed on her - and she saw it all, when it was too
Percy Blakeney in France! his wife a prisoner! her freedom and
safety in exchange for his life!
The hopelessness of it all struck her with appalling force, and her
senses reeled with the awful finality of the disaster.
Yet instinct in her still struggled for freedom. Ahead of her, and
all around her, beyond the tent and in the far distance, there was a
provocative, alluring darkness: if she only could get away, only could
reach the shelter of that remote and sombre distance, she would hide,
and wait, not blunder again - oh no! she would be prudent and wary, if
only she could get away!
One woman's struggles against five men! It was pitiable, sublime,
The man in the tent seemed to be watching her with much amusement
for a moment or two, as her whole, graceful body stiffened for that
absurd and unequal physical contest. He seemed vastly entertained at
the sight of this good-looking young woman striving to pit her strength
against five sturdy soldiers of the Republic.
"Allons! that will do, now!" he said at last, roughly. "We have no
time to waste! Get the jade away, and let her cool her temper in No. 6,
until the Citizen Governor gives further orders."
"Take her away!" he shouted more loudly, banging a grimy fist down
on the table before him, as Marguerite still struggled on with the
blind madness of despair. "Pardi! can none of you rid us of that
The crowd behind were pushing forward: the guard within the tent
were jeering at those who were striving to drag Marguerite away: these
latter were cursing loudly and volubly, until one of them, tired out,
furious and brutal, raised his heavy fist and with an obscene oath
brought it crashing down upon the unfortunate woman's head.
Perhaps, though it was the work of a savage and cruel creature, the
blow proved more merciful than it had been intended: it had caught
Marguerite full between the eyes; her aching senses, wearied and
reeling already, gave way beneath this terrible violence; her useless
struggles ceased, her arms fell inert by her side, and losing
consciousness completely, her proud unbendable spirit was spared the
humiliating knowledge of hr final removal by the rough soldiers, and of
the complete wreckage of her last, lingering hopes.
Chapter XVIII— No. 6
Consciousness returned very slowly, very painfully.
It was night when last Marguerite had clearly known what was going
on around her; it was day-light before she realised that she still
lived, that she still knew and suffered.
Her head ached intolerably: that was the first conscious sensation
which came to her; then she vaguely perceived a pale ray of sunshine,
very hazy and narrow, which came from somewhere in front of her, and
struck her in the face. She kept her eyes tightly shut, for that filmy
light caused her an increase of pain.
She seemed to be lying on her back, and her fingers wandering
restlessly around felt a hard paillasse beneath their touch, then a
rough pillow, and her own cloak laid over her: thought had not yet
returned, only the sensation of great suffering and of infinite fatigue.
Anon she ventured to open her eyes, and gradually one or two objects
detached themselves from out the haze which still obscured her vision.
Firstly, the narrow aperture - scarecly a window - filled in with
tiny squares of coarse, unwashed glass, through which the rays of the
morning sun were making kindly efforts to penetrate, then the cloud of
dust illumined by those same rays and made up- so it seemed to the poor
tired brain that strove to perceive- of myriads of abnormally large
molecules, over-abundant, and over-active, for they appeared to be
dancing a kind of wild saraband before Marguerite's aching eyes,
advancing and retreating, forming themselves into group and taking on
funny shapes of weird masques and grotesque faces, which grinned at the
unconscious figure lying helpless on the rough paillase.
Through and beyond them Marguerite gradually became aware of three
walls of a narrow room, dank and grey, half covered with whitewash and
half with greenish mildew! Yes! and there, opposite to her and
immediately beneath that semblance of a window was another paillasse,
and on it something dark, that moved.
The words: "Liberté, Egalité, Frternité ou la Mort!" stared out at
her from somewhere beyond those active molecules of dust, but she also
saw just above the other paillasse the vague outline of a dark crucifix.
It seemed a terrible effort to co-ordinate all these things, and to
try and realise what the room was, and what was the meaning of the
paillasse, the narrow window and the stained walls, too much altogether
for the aching head to take in save very slowly, very gradually.
Marguerite was content to wait and to let memory creep back as
reluctantly as it would.
"Do you think, my child, you could drink a little of this now?"
It was a gentle, rather tremulous voice which struck upon her ear.
She opened her eyes, and noticed that the dark something which had
previously been on the opposite paillasse was no longer there, and that
there appeared to be a presence close to her only vaguely defined,
someone kindly and tender who had spoken to her in French, with that
soft sing-song accent peculiar to the Normandy peasants, and who now
seemed to be presseing something cool and soothing to her lips.
"They gave me this for you!" continued the tremulous voice close to
her ear; "I think it would do you good, if you tried to take it."
A hand and arm were thrust underneath the rough pillow, causing her
to raise her head a little. A glass was held to her lips and she drank.
The hand that held the glass was all wrinkled, brown and dry, and
trembled slightly, but the arm which supported her head was firm and
"There! I am sure you feel better now. Close your eyes again and try
to go to sleep."
She did as she was bid, and was ready enough to close her eyes. It
seemed to her presently as if something had been interposed between her
head and that trying ray of white September sun.
Perhaps she slept peacefully for a little while after that, for
though her head was still very painful, her mouth and throat felt less
parched and dry. Through this sleep, or semblance of sleep, she was
conscious of the same pleasant voice softly droning Paters and Aves
close to her ear.
Thus she lay during the greater part of that day. Not quite fully
conscious, not quite awake to the awful memories which anon would crowd
upon her thick and fast.
From time to time the same kind and trembling hand would with gentle
pressure force a little liquid food through her unwilling lips: some
warm soup, or anon a glass of milk. Beyond the pain in her head, she
was conscious of no physical ill; she felt at perfect peace, and an
extraordinary sense of quiet and repose seemed to pervade this small
room, with its narrow window, through which the rays of the sun came
gradually in more golden splendour as the day drew towards noon, and
then they vanished altogether.
The drony voice close beside her acted as a soporific upon her
nerves. In the afternoon she fell into a real and beneficent sleep. . .
But after that she woke to full consciousness!
Oh! the horror, the foly of it all!
It came back to her with all the inexorable force of an appalling
She was a prisoner in the hands of those who long ago had sworn to
bring the Scarlet Pimpernel to death!
She! his wife, a hostage in their hands! her freedom and safety
offered to him as the price of his own! Here there was no question of
dreams or of nightmares: no illusions as to the ultimate intentions of
her husband's enemies. It was all a reality, and even now, before she
had the strength fully to grasp the whole nature of this horrible
situation, she knew that, by her own act of mad and passionate impulse,
she had hopelessly jeopardised the life of the man she loved.
For with that sublime confidence in him begotten of her love, she
never for a moment doubted which of the two alternatives he would
choose, when once they were placed before him. He would sacrifice
himself for her; he would prefer to die a thousand deaths so long as
they set her free.
For herself, her own sufferings, her danger or humiliation she cared
nothing! Nay! at this very moment she was conscious of a wild,
passionate desire for death. . . . In this sudden onrush of memory and
of thought she wished with all her soul and heart and mind to die here
suddenly, on this hard paillasse, in this lonely and dark prison. . .
so that she should be out of the way once and for all. . . so that she
should not be the hostage to be bartered against his precious
life and freedom.
He would suffer acutely, terribly at her loss, because he loved her
above everything else on earth; he would suffer in every fibre of his
passionate and ardent nature, but he would not then have to endure the
humiliations, the awful alternatives, the galling impotence and
miserable death, the relentless "either-or" which his enemies were even
now preparing for him.
And then came a revulsion of feeling. Marguerite's was essentially a
buoyant and active nature, a keen brain which worked and schemed and
planned, rather than one ready to accept the inevitable.
Hardly had these thoughts of despair and of death formulated
themselves in her mind, than, with brilliant swiftness, a new train of
ideas began to take root.
What if matters were not so hopeless after all?
Already her mind had flown instinctively to thoughts of escape. Had
she the right to despair? She, the wife and intimate companion of the
man who had astonished the world with his daring, his prowess, his
amazing good-luck, she to imagine for a moment that in this all-supreme
moment of his adventurous life the Scarlet Pimpernel would fail!
Was not English society peopled with men, women, and children whom
his ingenuity had rescued from plights quite as seemingly hopeless as
was her own, and would not all the resources of that inventive brain be
brought to bear upon this rescue which touched him nearer and more
deeply than any which he had attempted hitherto?
Now Marguerite was chiding herself for her doubts and for her fears.
Already she remembered that admist the crowd on the landing stage she
had perceived a figure -unusually tall- following in the wake of
Chauvelin and his companions. Awakened hope had already assured her
that she had not been mistaken, that Percy, contrary to her own
surmises, had reached Boulogne last night: he always acted so
differently to what anyone might expect, that it was quite possible
that he had crossed over in the packet-boat after all, unbeknown to
Marguerite as well as to his enemies.
Oh yes! the more she thought about it all, the more sure was she
that Percy was already in Boulogne, and that he knew of her capture and
What right had she to doubt, even for a moment, that he would know
how to reach her, how- when the time came- to save himself and her?
A warm glow began to fill her veins, she felt excited and alert,
absolutely unconscious now of pain or fatigue, in this radiant joy of
She raised herself slightly, leaning on her elbow: she was still
very weak, an the slight movement had made her giddy, but soon she
would be strong and well . . . she must be strong and well and ready to
do his bidding, when the time for escape will have come.
"Ah! you are better, my child, I see. . . " said that quaint,
tremulous voice again, with its soft sing-song accent. "But you must
not be so venturesome, you know. The physician said that you had
received a cruel blow. The brain has been rudely shaken. . . and you
must lie quite still to-day, or your poor little head will begin to
Marguerite turned to look at the speaker, and, in spite of her
excitement, of her sorrow, and of her anxieties, she could not help
smiling at the whimsical little figure which sat opposite to her, on a
very rickety chair, solemnly striving with slow and measured movement
of hand and arm, and a large supply of breath, to get up a polish on
the worn-out surface of an ancient pair of buckled shoes.
The figure was slender and almost wizened, the thin shoulders round
with an habitual stoop, the lean shanks were encased in a pair of
much-darned, coarse black stockings. It was the figure of an old man,
with a gentle, clear-cut face furrowed by a forest of wrinkles, and
surmounted by scanty white locks above a smooth forehead, which looked
yellow and polished like an ancient piece of ivory.
He had looked across at Marguerite as he spoke, and a pair of
innately kind and mild blue eyes were fixed with tender reproach upon
her. Marguerite thought that she had never seen quite so much goodness
and simple-heartedness portrayed on any face before. It literally
beamed out of those pale blue eyes, which seemed quite full of unshed
The old man wore a tattered garment, a miracle of shining
cleanliness, which had once been a soutane of smooth black cloth, but
was now a mass of patches and threadbare at shoulders and knees. He
seemed deeply intent in the task of polishing his shoes, and having
delivered himself of his little admonition, he very solemnly and
earnestly resumed his work.
Marguerite's first and most natural instinct had, of course, been
one of dislike and mistrust of any one who appeared to be in some way
on guard over her. But when she took in every detail of the quaint
figure of the old man, his scrupulous tidiness of apparel, the resigned
stoop of his shoulders, and met in full the gaze of those moist eyes,
she felt that the whole aspect of the man, as he sat there polishing
his shoes, was infintely pathetic, and, in its simplicity, commanding
"Who are you?" asked Lady Blakeney at last, for the old man, after
looking at her with a kind of appealing wonder, seemed to be waiting
for her to speak.
"A priest of the good God, my dear child," replied the old man with
a deep sigh and a shake of his scanty locks, "who is not alowed to
serve his divine Master any longer. A poor old fellow, very harmless
and very helpless, who has been set here to watch over you."
"You must not look upon me as a jailer because of what I say, my
child," he added with a quaint air of deference and apology. "I am very
old and very small, and only take up a very little room. I can make
myself very scarce, you shall hardly know that I am here. . . They
forced me to it, much against my will . . . But they are strong and I
am weak, how could I deny them since they put me here? After all," he
concluded naïvely, "perhaps it is the will of le bon Dieu, and He knows
best, my child, He knows best."
The shoes evidently refused to respond any further to the old man's
efforts at polishing them. He contemplated them now, with a whimsical
look of regret on his furrowed face, then set them down on the floor
and slipped his stockinged feet into them.
Marguerite was silently watching him, still leaning on her elbow.
Evidently her brain was still numb and fatigued, for she did not seem
able to grasp all that the old man said. She smiled to herself, too, as
she watched him. How could she look upon him as a jailer? He did not
seem at all like a Jacobin or a Terrorist, there was nothing of the
dissatisfied democrat, of the snarling anarchist ready to lend his hand
to any act of ferocity directed against a so-called aristocrat, about
this pathetic little figure in the ragged soutane and worn shoes.
He seemed singularly bashful, too, and ill at east, and loth to meet
Marguerite's great, ardent eyes, which were fixed questioningly upon
"You must forgive me, my daughter," he said shyly, "for concluding
my toilet before you. I had hoped to be quite ready before you woke,
but I had some trouble with my shoes; except for a little water and
soap, the prison authorities will not provide us poor captives with any
means of cleanliness and tidiness, and le bon Dieu does love a tidy
body as well as a clean soul."
"But there, there," he added fussily, "I must not continue to gossip
like this. You would like to get up, I know, and refresh your face and
hands with a little water. Oh! you will see how well I have thought it
out. I need not interfere with you at all, and when you make your
little bit of toilette, you will feel quite alone . . . just as if the
old man was not there."
He began busying himself about the room, dragging the rickety,
rush-bottomed chairs forward. There were four of these in the room, and
he began forming a kind of bulwark with them, placing two side by side,
then piling the two others up above.
"You will see, my child, you will see!" he kept repeating at
intervals as the work of construction progressed. It was no easy
matter, for he was of low stature, and his hands were unsteady from
apparently uncontrollable nervousness.
Marguerite leaning slightly forward, her chin resting in her hand,
was too puzzled and anxious to grasp the humour of this comical
situation. She certainly did not understand. This old man had in some
sort of way, and for a hitherto unexplained reason, been set as a guard
over her; it was not an unusual device on the part of the inhuman
wretches who now ruled over France to add to the miseries and terrors
of captivity where a woman of refinement was concerned, the galling
outrage of never leaving her alone for a moment.
That peculiar form of mental torture, surely the invention of brains
rendered mad by their own ferocious cruelty, was even now being
inflicted on the hapless, dethroned Queen of France. Marguerite, in
far-off England, had shuddered when she heard of it, and in her heart
had prayed, as indeed every pure-minded woman did then, that proud,
unfortunate Marie Antoinette might soon find release from such torments
There was evidently some similar intention with regard to Marguerite
herself in the minds of those who now held her prisoner. But this old
man seemed so feeble and so helpless, his very delicacy of thought as
he built up a screen to divide the squalid room into two, proved him to
be singularly inefficient for the task of a watchful jailer.
When the four chairs appeared fairly steady, and in comparatively
little danger of toppling, he dragged the paillasse forward and propped
it up against the chairs. Finally he drew the table along, which held
the cracked ewer and basin, and placed it against this improvised
partition: then he surveyed the whole construction with evident
gratification and delight.
"There now!" he said, turning a face beaming with satisfaction to
Marguerite, "I can continue my prayers on the other side of the
fortress. Oh! it is quite safe. . ." he added, as with a fearsom hand
he touched his engineering feat with gingerly pride, "and you will be
quite private. . . Try and forget that the old abbé is in the room. . .
He does not count. . . really he does not count. . . he has ceased to
be of any moments these many months, now that Saint Joseph is closed,
and he may no longer say Mass."
He was obviously prattling on in order to hide his nervous
bashfulness. He ensconced himself behind his own finely constructed
bulwark, drew a breviary from his pocket, and having found a narrow
ledge on one of the chairs, on which he could sit, without much danger
of bringing the elaborate screen on to the top of his head, he soon
became absorbed in his orisons.
Marguerite watched him for a little while longer: he was evidently
endeavouring to make her think that he had become oblivious of her
presence, and his transparent little manoeuvres amused and puzzled her
not a little.
He looked so comical with his fussy and shy ways, yet withal so
gentle, and so kindly that she felt completely reassured and quite calm.
She tried to raise herself still further, and found the process
astonishingly easy. Her limbs still ached, and the violent,
intermittent pain in her head certainly made her feel sick and giddy at
times, but otherwise she was not ill. She sat up on the paillasse, then
put her feet to the ground, and presently walked up to the improvised
dressing-room and bathed her face and hands. The rest had done her
good, and she felt quite capable of co-ordinating her thoughts, of
moving about without too much pain and of preparing herself both
mentally and physically for the grave events which she knew must be
While she busied herself with her toilet her thoughts dwelt on the
one all-absorbing theme: Percy was in Boulogne; he would reach her
without fail; in fact, he might communicate with her at any moment now,
and had without a doubt already evolved a plan of escape for her, more
daring and ingenious than any which he had conceived hitherto;
therefore, she must be ready, and prepared for any eventuality, she
must be strong and eager, in no way despondent, for if he were here,
would he not chide her for her want of faith.
By the time she had smoothed her hair and tidied her dress,
Marguerite caught herself singing quite cheerfully.
So full of buoyant hope was she.
Chapter XIX— The Strength of the
"M. L'Abbé!. . ." said Marguerite gravely.
"Yes, mon enfant."
The old man looked up from his breviary and saw Marguerite's great
earnest eyes fixed with obvious calm and trust upon him. She had
finished her toilet as well as she could, had shaken up and tidied the
paillasse, and was now sitting on the edge of it, her hands clasped
between her knees. There was something which still puzzled her, and,
impatient and impulsive as she was, she had watched the abbé as he
calmly went on reading the Latin prayers for the last five minutes, and
now she could contain her questionings no longer.
"You said just now that they set you to watch over me. . ."
"So they did, my child, so they did. . " he replied with a sigh, as
he quietly closed his book and slipped it back into his pocket. "Ah!
they are very cunning . . . and we must remember that they have the
power. No doubt," added the old man, with his own quaint philosophy,
"no doubt le bon Dieu meant them to have the power, or they would not
have it, would they?"
"By 'they' you mean the Terrorists and anarchists of France, M.
l'Abbé. . . The Committee of Public Safety who pillage and murder,
outrage women, and desecrate religion. . . Is that not so?"
"Alas! my child!" he sighed.
"And it is 'they' who have set you to watch over me?. . . I confess
I don't understand. . . "
She laughed, quite involuntarily indeed, for, in spite of the
reassurance in her heart, her brain was still in a whirl of passionate
"You don't look at all like one of 'them,' M. l'Abbé," she said.
"The good God forbid!" ejaculated the old man, raising protesting
hands up towards the very distant, quite invisible sky. "How could I, a
humble priest of the Lord, range myself with those who would flout and
"Yet I am a prisoner of the Republic and you are my jailer, M.
"Ah, yes!" he sighed. "But I am very helpless. This was my cell. I
had been here with François and Félicité, my sister's children, you
know. Innocent lambs, whom those fiends would lead to slaughter. Last
night," he continued, speaking volubly, "the soldiers came in and
dragged François and Félicité out of this room, where, in spite of the
danger before us, in spite of what we suffered, we had contrived to be
quite happy together. I could read the Mass, and the dear children
would say their prayers night and morning at my knee."
He paused awhile. The unshed tears in his mild, blue eyes struggled
for freedom now, and one or two flowed slowly down his wrinkled cheeks.
Marguerite, though heart-sore and full of agonising sorrow herself,
felt her whole noble soul go out to this kind old man, so pathetic, so
high and simple-minded in his grief.
She said nothing, however, and the abbé continued, after a few
"When the children had gone, they brought you in here, mon enfant,
and laid you on the paillasse where Félicité used to sleep. You looked
very white, and stricken down, like one of God's lambs attacked by the
ravening wolf. Your eyes were closed and you were blissfully
unconscious. I was taken before the governor of the prison, and he told
me that you would share the cell with me for a time, and that I was to
watch you night and day, because. . ."
The old man paused again. Evidently what he had to say was very
difficult to put into words. He groped in his pockets and brought out a
large bandana handkerchief, red and yellow and gree, with which he
began to mop his moist forehead. The quaver in his voice and the
trembling of his hands became more apparent and pronounced.
"Yes, M. l'Abbé? Because?. . ." queried Marguerite gently.
"They said that if I guarded you well, Félicité and François would
be set free," replied the old man after a while, during which he made
vigorous efforts to overcome his nervousness, "and that if you escaped
the children and I would be guillotined the very next day."
There was silence in the little room now. The abbé was sitting quite
still, clasping his trembling fingers, and Marguerite neither moved nor
spoke. What the old man had just said was very slowly finding its way
to the innermost cells of her brain. Until her mind had thoroughly
grasped the meaning of it all, she could not trust herself to make a
It was some seconds before she fully understood it all, before she
realised what it meant not only to her, but indirectly to her husband.
Until now she had not been fully conscious of the enormous wave of hope
which almost in spite of herself and risen triumphant above the dull,
gray sea of her former despair; only now, when it had been shattered
against this deadly rock of almost superhuman devilry and cunning, did
she understand what she had hoped, and what she must now completely
No bolts and bars, no fortified towers or inaccessible fortresses
could prove so effectual a prison for Marguerite Blakeney as the dictum
which morally bound her to her cell.
"If you escape, the children and I would be guillotined the very
This meant that even if Percy knew, even if he could reach her, he
could never set her free, since her safety meant death to two innocent
children and to this simple-hearted man.
It would require more than the ingenuity of the Scarlet Pimpernel
himself to untie this Gordian knot.
"I don't mind for myself, of course," the old man went on with
gentle philosophy. "I have lived my life. What matters if I die
to-morrow, or if I linger on until my earthly span is legitimately run
out. I am ready to go home whenever my Father calls me. But it is the
children, you see. I have to think of them. François is his mother's
only son, the bread-winner of the household, a good lad and studious,
too, and Félicité has always been very delicate. She is blind from
birth, and. . . "
"Oh! don't . . . for pity's sake, don't. . ." moaned Marguerite in
an agony of helplessness. "I understand. . . you need not fear for your
children, M. l'Abbé: no harm shall come to them through me."
"It is as the good God wills!" replied the old man quietly.
Then, as Marguerite had once more relapsed into silence, he fumbled
for his beads, and his gentle voice began droning the Paters and Aves,
wherein no doubt his childlike heart found peace and solace.
He understood that the poor woman would not wish to speak, he knew
as well as she did the overpowering strength of his helpless appeal.
Thus the minutes sped on, the jailer and the captive tied to one
another by the strongest bonds that hand of man can forge, had nothing
to say to one another: he, the old priest, imbued with the traditions
of his calling, could pray and resign himself to the will of the
Almighty, but she was young and ardent and passionate, she loved and
was beloved, and an impassable barrier was built up between her and the
man she worshipped!
A barrier fashioned by the weak hands of children, one of who was
delicate and blind. Outside was air and freedom, re-union with her
husband, an agony of happy remorse, a kiss from his dear lips, and
trembling hands held her back from it all, because of François who was
the bread-winner and of Félicité who was blind.
Mechanically, now, Marguerite rose again, and like an automaton
-lifeless and thoughtless - she began putting the dingy and squalid
room to rights. The abbé helped her to demolish the improvised screen;
with the same gentle delicacy of thought which had caused him to build
it up, he refrained from speaking to her now: he would not intrude
himself on her grief and her despair.
Later on, she forced herself to speak again, and asked the old man
"My name is Foucquet," he replied. "Jean Baptiste Marie Foucquet,
late parish priest of the Church of S. Joseph, the patron saint of
Foucquet! This was l'Abbé Foucquet! the faithful friend and servant
of the de Marny family.
Marguerite gazed at him with great, questioning eyes.
What a wealth of memories crowded in on her mind at sound of that
name! Her beautiful home at Richmond, her brilliant array of servants
and guests, His Royal Highness at her side! life in free, joyous, happy
England -how infinitely remote it now seemed. Her ears were filled with
the sound of a voice, drawly and quaint and gentle, a voice and a laugh
half shy, wholly mirthful, and oh! so infinitely dear:
"I think a little sea voyage and English country air would suit the
Abbé Foucquet, m'dear, and I only mean to ask him to cross the Channel
with me. . . "
Oh! the joy and confidence expressed in those words! the daring! the
ambition! the pride! and the soft, languorous air of the old-world
garden round her then, the passion of his embrace! the heavy scent of
late roses and of heliotrope, which caused her to swoon in his arms!
And now a narrow prison cell, and that pathetic, tender little
creature there, with trembling hands and tear-dimmed eyes, the most
powerful and most relentless jailer which the ferocious cunning of her
deadly enemies could possibly have devised.
Then she talked to him of Juliette Marny.
The abbé did not know that Mlle. de Marny had succeeded in reaching
England safely, and was overjoyed to hear it.
He recounted to Marguerite the story of the Marny jewels: how he had
put them safely away in the crypt of his little church, until the
Assembly of the Convention had ordered the closing of the churches, and
placed before every minister of le bon Dieu the alternative of apostasy
"With me it has only been prison so far," continued the old man
simply, "but prison has rendered me just as helpless as the guillotine
would have done, for the enemies of le bon Dieu have ransacked the
church of Saint Joseph and stolen the jewels which I should have
guarded with my life."
But it was obvious joy for the abbé to tal of Juliette Marny's
happiness. Vaguely, in his remote little provincial cure, he had heard
of the prowess and daring of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and liked to think
that Juliette owed her safety to him.
"The good God will reward him and those whom he cares for," added
Abbé Foucquet with that earnest belief in divine interference which
seemed so strangely pathetic under these present circumstances.
Marguerite sighed, and for the first time in this terrible
soul-stirring crisis through which she was passing so bravely, she felt
a beneficent moisture in her eyes: the awful tension of her nerves
relaxed. She went up to the old man, took his wrinkled hand in hers,
and falling on her knees beside him, she eased her overburdened heart
in a flood of tears.
Chapter XX— Triumph
The day that Citizen Chauvelin's letter was received by the members
of the Committee of Public Safety was, indeed, one of great rejoicing.
The "Moniteur" tells us that in the Séance of September 22nd, 1793,
or Vendémiaire 1st of the Year I., it was decreed that sixty prisoners,
not absolutely proved guilty of treason against the Republic -only
suspected- were to be set free.
Sixty! . .at the mere news of the possible capture of the Scarlet
The Committee was inclined to be magnanimous. Ferocity yielded for
the moment to the elusive joy of anticipatory triumph.
A glorious prize was about to fall into the hands of those who had
the welfare of the people at heart.
Robespierre and his decemvirs rejoiced, and sixty persons had cause
to rejoice with them. So be it! There were plans evolved already as to
national fêtes and wholesale pardons, when that impudent and meddlesome
Englishman at last got his deserts.
Wholesale pardons which could easily be rescinded afterwards. Even
with those sixty it was a mere respite. Those of le Salut Public only
loosened their hold for awhile, were nobly magnanimous for a day, quite
prepared to be doubly ferocious the next.
In the meanwhile let us heartily rejoice.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is in France, or will be very soon, and on an
appointed day he will present himself conveniently to the soldiers of
the Republic for capture and for subsequent guillotine. England is at
war with us, there is nothing, therefore, further to fear from her. We
might hang every Englishman we can lay hands on, and England could do
no more than she is doing at the present moment: bombard our ports
bluster and threaten, join hands with Flanders, and Austria, and
Sardinia, and the devil if she choose.
Allons! vogue la galère! The Scarlet Pimpernel is, perhaps, on our
shores at this very moment! Our most stinging, most irritating foe is
about to be delivered into our hands.
Citizen Chauvelin's letter is very categorical:
"I guarantee to you, Citizen Robespierre, and to the Members of
the Revolutionary Government, who have entrusted me with the delicate
mission. . ."
Robespierre's sensuous lips curl into a sarcastic smile. Citizen
Chauvelin's pen was ever florid in its style: "entrusted me with the
delicate mission," is hardly the way to describe an order given
under penalty of death.
But let it pass!
". . .that four days from this date, at one hour after sunset,
the man who goes by the mysterious name of the Scarlet Pimpernel will
be on the southern ramparts of Boulogne, at the extreme southern corner
of the town."
"Four days from this date" . . . and Citizen Chauvelin's
letter is dated the nineteenth of September, 1793.
"Too much of an aristocrat -Monsieur le Marquis Chauvelin. . ."
sneers Merlin, the Jacobin. "He does not know that all good citizens
had called that date the 28th Fructidor, Year I of the Republic."
"No matter," retorts Robespierre, with impatient frigidity,
"whatever we may call the day, it was forty-eight hours ago, and in
forty-eight hours more that damned Englishman will have run his head
into a noose, from which, an I mistake not, he'll not find it easy to
"And you believe in Citizen Chauvelin's assertion," commented
Danton, with a lazy shrug of the shoulders.
"Only because he asks for help from us," quoth Robespierre drily;
"he is sure that the man will be there, but not sure if he can tackle
But many were inclined to think that Chauvelin's letter was an idle
boast. They knew nothing of the circumstances which had caused that
letter to be written: they could not conjecture how it was that the
ex-ambassador could be so precise in naming the day and hour when the
enemy of France would be at the mercy of those whom he had outraged and
Nevertheless, Citizen Chauvelin asks for help, and help must not be
denied him. There must be no shadow of blame upon the actions of the
Committee of Public Safety.
Chauvelin had been weak once, had allowed the prize to slip through
his fingers; it must not occur again. He has a wonderful head for
devising plans, but he needs a powerful hand to aid him, so that he may
not fail again.
Collot d'Herbois, just home from Lyons and Tours, is the right man
in an emergency like this. Citizen Collot is full of ideas; the
inventor of the "Noyades" is sure to find a means of converting
Boulogne into one gigantic prison, out of which the mysterious English
adventurer will find it impossible to escape.
And whilst the deliberations go on, whilst this Committee of
butchers is busy slaughtering in imagination the game which it has not
yet succeeded in bringing down, there comes another messenger from
He must have ridden hard on the other one's heels, and something
very unexpected and very sudden must have occurred to cause the citizen
to send this second note.
This time it is curt and to the point. Robespierre unfolds it and
reads it to his colleagues.
"We have caught the woman - his wife - there may be murder
attempted against my person, send me some one at once, who will carry
out my instructions in case of my sudden death."
Robespierre's lips curl in satisfaction, showing a row of yellowish
teeth, long and sharp like the fangs of a wolf. A murmur like unto the
snarl of a pack of hyenas rises round the table, as Chauvelin's letter
is handed round.
Every one has guessed the importance of this preliminary capture:
"the woman - his wife." Chauvelin evidently thinks much of it, for he
anticipates an attempt against his life, nay! he is quite prepared for
it, ready to sacrifice it for the sake of his revenge.
Who had accused him of weakness?
He only thinks of his duty, not of his life, he does not fear for
himself, only that the fruits of his skill might be jeopardised through
Well! this English adventurer is capable of any act of desperation
to save his wife and himself, and Citizen Chauvelin must not be let in
Thus, Citizen Collot d'Herbois is despatched forthwith to Boulogne
to be a helpmeet and counsellor to Citizen Chauvelin.
Everything that can humanly be devised must be done to keep the
woman secure and to set the trap for that elusive Pimpernel.
Once he is caught the whole of France shall rejoice, and Boulogne,
who has been instrumental in running the quarry to earth, must be
specially privileged on that day.
A general amnesty for all prisoners the day the Scarlet Pimpernel is
captured. A public holiday and a pardon for all natives of Boulogne who
are under sentence of death: they shall be allowed to find their way to
the various English boats - trading and smuggling craft - that always
lie at anchor in the roads there.
The Committee of Public Safety feel amazingly magnanimous towards
Boulogne; a proclamation embodying the amnesty and the pardon is at
once drawn up and signed by Robespierre and his bloodthirsty Council of
Ten; it is entrusted to Citizen Collot d'Herbois to be read out at
every corner of the ramparts as an inducement to the little town to do
its level best. The Englishman and his wife -captured in Boulogne -
will both be subsequently brought to Paris, formally tried on a charge
of conspiring against the Republic, and guillotined as English spies,
but Boulogne shall have the greater glory and shall reap the first and
And armed with the magnanimous proclamation, the orders for general
rejoicings and a grand local fête, armed also with any and every power
over the entire city, its municipality, its garrison, its forts, for
himself and his colleague Chauvelin, Citizen Collot d'Herbois starts
for Boulogne forthwith.
Needless to tell him not to let the grass grow under his horse's
hoofs. The capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, though not absolutely an
accomplished fact, is nevertheless, a practical certainty, and no one
rejoices over this great even more than the man who is to be present
and see all the fun.
Riding and driving, getting what relays of horses or waggons from
roadside farms that he can, Collot is not like to waste much time on
It is 157 miles to Boulogne by road, and Collot, burning with
ambition to be in at the death, rides or drives as no messenger of good
tidings has ever ridden or driven before.
He does not stop to eat, but munches chunks of bread and cheese in
the recess of the lumbering chaise or waggon that bears him along
whenever his limbs refuse him service and he cannot mount a horse.
The chronicles tell us that twenty-four hours after he left Paris,
half-dazed with fatigue, but ferocious and eager still, he is borne to
the gates of Boulogne by an old cart horse requisitioned from some
distant farm, and which falls down dead at the Porte Gayole, whilst its
rider, with a last effort, loudly clamours for admittance into the town
"in the name of the Republic."
Chapter XXI— Suspence
In his memorable interview with Robespierre, the day before he left
for England, Chauvelin had asked that absolute power be given him, in
order that he might carry out the plans for the capture of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, which he had in his mind. Now that he was back in France he
had no cause to complain that the Revolutionary Government had grudged
him this power for which he had asked.
Implicit obedience had followed whenever he had commanded.
As soon as he heard that a woman had been arrested in the act of
uttering a passport in the name of Céline Dumont, he guessed at once
that Marguerite Blakeney had, with characteristic impulse, fallen into
the trap which, with the aid of the woman Candeille, he had succeeded
in laying for her.
He was not the least surprised at that. He knew human nature,
feminine nature, far too well, ever to have been in doubt for a moment
that Marguerite would follow her husband without calculating either
costs or risks.
Ye gods! the irony of it all! Had she not been called the cleverest
woman in Europe at one time? Chauvelin himself had thus acclaimed her,
in those olden days, before she and he became such mortal enemies, and
when he was one of the many satellites that revolved round brilliant
Marguerite St. Just. And to-night, when a sergeant of the town guard
brought him news of her capture, he smiled grimly to himself: "the
cleverest woman in Europe" had failed to perceive the trap laid
temptingly open for her.
Once more she had betrayed her husband into the hands of those who
would not let him escape a second time. And now she had done it with
her eyes open, with loving, passionate heart, which ached for
self-sacrifice, and only succeeded in imperilling the loved one more
hopelessly than before.
The sergeant was waiting for orders. Citizen Chauvelin had come to
Boulogne, armed with more full and more autocratic powers than any
servant of th new republic had ever been endowed with before. The
governor of the town, the captain of the guard, the fort and
municipality were all as abject slaves before him.
As soon as he had taken possession of the quarters organised for him
in the town hall, he had asked for a list of prisoners who for one
cause or another were being detained pending further investigations.
The list was long, and contained many names which were of not the
slightest interest to Chauvelin: he passed them over impatiently.
"To be released at once," he said curtly.
He did not want the guard to be burdened with unnecessary duties,
nor the prisons of the little seaport town to be inconveniently
encumbered. He wanted room, space, air, the force and intelligence of
the entire town at his command for the one capture which meant life and
revenge to him.
"A woman - name unknown - found in possession of a forged passport
in the name of Céline Dumont, maid to the Citizeness Désirée Candeille
- attempted to land - was interrogated and failed to give satisfactory
explanation of herself - detained in room No. 6 of the Gayole Prison."
This was one of the last names on the list, the only one of any
importance to Citizen Chauvelin. When he read it he nearly drove his
nails into the palms of his hands, so desperate an effort did he make
not to betray before the sergeant, by look or sigh, the exultation
which he felt.
For a moment he shaded his eyes against the glare of the lamp, but
it was not long before he had forumlated a plan and was ready to give
He asked for a list of prisoners already detained in the various
forts. The name of l'Abbé Foucquet, with those of this niece and
nephew, attracted his immediate attention. He asked for further
information respecting these people, heard that the boy was a widow's
only son, the sole supporter of his mother's declining years; the girl
was ailing, suffering from incipient phthisis, and was blind.
Pardi! the very thing! L'Abbé himself, the friend of Juliette Marny,
the pathetic personality around which this final adventure of the
Scarlet Pimpernel was intended to revolve! and these two young people!
his sister's children! one of them blind and ill, the other full of
vigour and manhood.
Citizen Chauvelin had soon made up his mind.
A few quick orders to the sergeant of the guard, and l'Abbé
Foucquet, weak, helpless and gentle, became the relentless jailer who
would guard Marguerite more securely than a whole regiment of loyal
soldiers could have done.
Then, having despatched a messenger to the Committee of Public
Safety, Chauvelin laid himself down to rest. Fate had not deceived him.
He had thought and schemed and planned, and events had shaped
themselves exactly as he had foreseen, and the fact that Marguerite
Blakeney was at the present moment a prisoner in his own hands was
merely the result of his own calculations.
As for the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin could not very well conceive
what he would do under these present circumstances. The duel on the
southern ramparts had, of course, become a farce, not likely to be
enacted, now that Marguerite's life was at stake. The daring adventurer
was caught in a network at last, from which all his ingenuity, all his
wit, his impudence, and his amazing luck could never extricate him.
And in Chauvelin's mind there was still something more. Revenge was
the sweetest emotion his bruised and humbled pride could know: he had
not yet tasted its complete intoxicating joy: but every hour now his
cup of delight became more and more full: in a few days it would
In the meanwhile he was content to wait. The hours sped by and there
was no news yet of that elusive Pimpernel. Of Marguerite he knew
nothing save that she was well guarded; the sentry who passed up and
down outside room No. 6 had heard her voice and that of the Abbé
Foucquet in the course of the afternoon.
Chauvelin had asked the Committee of Public Safety for aid in his
difficult task, but forty-eight hours at least must elapse before such
aid could reach him. Forty-eight hours during which the hand of an
assassin might be lurking for him, and might even reach him ere his
vengeance was fully accomplished.
That was the only thought which really troubled him. He did not want
to die before he had seen the Scarlet Pimpernel a withered, abject
creature, crushed in fame and honour, too debased to find glorification
even in death.
At this moment he only cared for his life because it was needed for
the complete success of his schemes. No one else he knew would have
that note of personal hatred towards the enemy of France which was
necessary now in order to carry out successfully the plans which he had
Robespierre and all the others only desired the destruction of a man
who had intrigued against the reign of terror which they had
established; his death on the guillotine, even if it were surrounded
with the halo of martyrdom, would have satisfied them completely.
Chauvelin looked further than that. He hated the man! he had suffered
humiliation through him individually. He wished to see him as an object
of contempt rather than of pity. And because of the anticipation of
this joy, he was careful of his life, and throughout those two days
which elapsed between the capture of Marguerite and the arrival of
Collot d'Herbois at Boulogne, Chauvelin never left his quarters at the
Hôtel de Ville, and requisitioned a special escort consisting of proved
soldiers of the town guard to attend his every footstep.
On the evening of the 22nd, after the arrival of Citizen Collot in
Boulogne, he gave orders that the woman from No. 6 cell be brought
before him in the ground floor room of the Fort Gayole.
Chapter XXII— Not Death
Two days of agonising suspense, of alternate hope and despair, had
told heavily on Marguerite Blakeney.
Her courage was still indomitable, her purpose firm and her faith
secure, but she was without the slightest vestige of news, entirely
shut off from the outside world, left to conjecture, to scheme, to
expect and to despond alone.
The Abbé Foucquet had tried in his gentle way to be of comfort to
her, and she in her turn did her very best not to render his position
more cruel than it already was.
A message came to him twice during those forty-eight hours from
François and Félicité, a little note scribbled by the boy, or a token
sent by the blind girl, to tell the abbé that the children were safe
and well: that they would be safe and well so long as the citizeness
with the name unknown remained closely guarded by him in room No. 6.
When these messages came, the old man would sigh and murmur
something about the good God: and hope, which perhaps had faintly risen
in Marguerite's heart within the last hour or so, would once more sink
back into the abyss of uttermost despair.
Outside the monotonous walk of the sentry sounded like the perpetual
thud of a hammer beating upon her bruised temple.
"What's to be done? My God! what's to be done?"
Where was Percy now?
"How to reach him!. . . . Oh, God! grant me light!"
The one real terror which she felt was that she would go mad. Nay!
that she was in a measure mad already. For hours now - or was it days?
. . . or years? . . . she had heard nothing save that rhythmic walk of
the sentinel, and the kindly, tremulous voice of the abbé whispering
consolations, or murmuring prayers in her ears, she had seen nothing
save that prison door of rough deal, painted a dull gray, with great
old-fashioned lock, and hinges rusty with the damp of ages.
She had kept her eyes fixed on that door until they burned and ached
with well-night intolerable pain; yet she felt that she could not look
elsewhere, lest she missed the golden moment when the bolts would be
drawn, and that dull, gray door would swing slowly on its rusty hinges.
Surely, surely, that was the commencement of madness!
Yet for Percy's sake, because he might want her, because he might
have need of her courage and of her presence of mind, she tried to keep
her wits about her. But it was difficult! oh! terribly difficult!
especially when the shades of evening began to gather in, and peopled
the squalid, white-washed room with innumerable, threatening ghouls.
Then when the moon came up, a silver ray crept in through the tiny
window and struck full upon that gray door, making it look weird and
spectral, like the entrance to a house of ghosts.
Even now, as there was a distinct sound of the pushing of bolts and
bars, Marguerite thought that she was the prey of hallucinations. The
Abbé Foucquet was sitting in the remote and darkest corner of the room,
quietly telling his beads. His serene philosophy and gentle placidity
could in no way be disturbed by the opening or shutting of a door, or
by the bearer of good or evil tidings.
The room now seemed strangely gloomy and cavernous, with those deep,
black shadows all around and that white ray of the moon which struck so
weirdly on the door.
Marguerite shuddered with one of those unaccountable premonitions of
something evil about to come, which ofttimes assail those who have a
nervous and passionate temperament.
The door swung slowly open upon its hinges: there was a quick word
of command, and the light of a small oil lamp struck full into the
gloom. Vaguely Marguerite discerned a group of men, soldirs no doubt,
for there was the glint of arms and the suggestion of tricolour
cockades and scarves. One of the men was holding the lamp aloft,
another took a few steps forward into the room. He turned to
Marguerite, entirely ignoring the presence of the old priest, and
addressing her peremptorily.
"Your presence is desired by the citizen governor," he said curtly;
"stand up and follow me."
"Whither am I to go?" she asked.
"To where my men will take you. Now then, quick's the word. The
citizen governor does not like to wait."
At a word of command from him, two more soldiers now entered the
room and placed themselves one on each side of Marguerite, who, knowing
that resistance was useless, had already risen and was prepared to go.
The abbé tried to utter a word of protest, and came quickly forward
towards Marguerite, but he was summarily and very roughly pushed aside.
"Now then, calotin," said the first soldier with an oath, "this is
none of your business. Forward! march!" he added, addressing his men,
"and you, citizeness, will find it wiser to come quietly along and not
to attempt any tricks with me, or the gag and manacles will have to be
But Marguerite had no intention of resisting. She was too tired even
to wonder as to what they meant to do with her or whither they were
going; she moved as in a dream and felt a hope within her that she was
being led to death: summary executions were the order of the day, she
knew that, and sighed for this simple solution of the awful problem
which had been harassing her these past two days.
She was being led along a passage, stumbling ever and anon as she
walked, for it was but dimly lighted by the same little oil lamp, which
one of the soldiers was carrying in front, holding it high up above his
head: then they went down a narrow flight of stone steps, until she and
her escort reached a heavy oak door.
A halt was ordered at this point: and the man in command of the
little party pushed the door open and walked in. Marguerite caught
sight of a room beyond, dark and gloomy-looking, as was her own prison
cell. Somewhere on the left there was obviously a window; she could not
see it, but guessed that it was there because the moon struck full upon
the floor, ghostlike and spectral, well fitting in with the dreamlike
state in which Marguerite felt herself to be.
In the centre of the room she could discern a table with a chair
close beside it, also a couple of tallow-candles, which flickered in
the draught caused, no doubt, by that open window which she could not
All these little details impressed themselves on Marguerite's mind,
as she stood there, placidly waiting until she should once more to be
told to move along. The table, the chair, that unseen window, trivial
objects though they were, assumed before her over-wrought fancy an
utterly disproportionate importance. She caught herself presently
counting up the number of boards visible on the floor, and watching the
smoke of the tallow-candles rising up towards the grimy ceiling.
After a few minutes' weary waiting, which seemed endless to
Marguerite, there came a short word of command from within, and she was
roughly pushed forward into the room by one of the men. The cool air of
a late September's evening gently fanned her burning temples. She
looked round her, and now perceived that some one was sitting at the
table, the other side of the tallow-candles -a man, with head bent over
a bundle of papers and shading his face against the light with his hand.
He rose as she approached, and the flickering flame of the candles
played weirdly upon the slight, sable-clad figure, illumining the keen,
ferret-like face, and throwing fitful gleams across the deep-set eyes
and the narrow, cruel mouth.
It was Chauvelin.
Mechanically Marguerite took the chair which the soldier drew
towards her, ordering her curtly to sit down. She seemed to have but
little power to move. Though all her faculties had suddenly become
preternaturally alert at sight of this man, whose very life now was
spent in doing her the most grievous wrong that one human being can do
to another, yet all these faculties were forcefully centred in the one
mighty effort not to flinch before him, not to let him see for a moment
that she was afraid.
She compelled her eyes to look at him fully and squarely, her lips
not to tremble, her very heart to stop its wild, excited beating. She
felt his keen eyes fixed intently upon her, but more in curiosity than
in hatred or satisfied vengeance.
When she had sat down he came round the table and moved towards her.
When he drew quite near, she instinctively recoiled. It had been an
almost imperceptible action on her part, and certainly an involuntary
one, for she did not wish to betray a single thought or emotion, until
she knew what he wished to say.
But he had noted her movement - a sort of drawing up and stiffening
of her whole person as he approached. He seemed pleased to see it, for
he smiled sarcastically, but with evident satisfaction, and - as if his
purpose was now accomplished - he immediately withdrew and went back to
his former seat on the other side of the table.
After that he ordered the soldiers to go.
"But remain at attention outside, you and your men," he added,
"ready to enter if I call."
It was Marguerite's turn to smile at this obvious sign of a lurking
fear on Chauvelin's part, and a line of sarcasm and contempt curled her
The soldiers having obeyed, and the oak door having closed upon
them, Marguerite was now alone with the man whom she hated and loathed
beyond every living thing on earth.
She wondered when he would begin to speak and why he had sent for
her. But he seemed in no hurry to begin. Still shading his face with
his hand, he was watching her with utmost attention: she, on the other
hand, was looking through and beyond him, with contemptuous
indifference, as if his presence here did not interest her in the least.
She would give him no opening for this conversation which he had
sought, and which she felt would prove either purposeless or else
deeply wounding to her heart and to her pride. She sat, therefore,
quite still with the flickering and yellow light fully illumining her
delicate face, with its childlike curves, and delicate features, the
noble, straight brow, the great blue eyes and halo of golden hair.
"My desire to see you here to-night must seem strange to you, Lady
Blakeney," said Chauvelin at last.
Then, as she did not reply, he continued, speaking quite gently,
"There are various matters of grave importance, which the events of
the next twenty-four hours will reveal to your ladyship, and believe me
that I am actuated by motives of pure friendship towards you in this my
effort to mitigate the unpleasantness of such news as you might hear
to-morrow perhaps, by giving you due warning of what its nature might
She turned great questioning eyes upon him, and in their expression
she tried to put all the contempt which she felt, all the bitterness,
all the defiance and the pride.
He quietly shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah! I fear me," he said, "that your ladyship, as usual, doth me
grievous wrong. It is but natural that you should misjudge me, yet,
believe me. . ."
"A truce on this foolery, M. Chauvelin," she broke in, with sudden
impatient vehemence, "pray, leave your protestations of friendship and
courtesy alone, there is no one here to hear them. I pray you proceed
with what you have to say."
"Ah!" It was a sigh of satisfaction on the part of Chauvelin. Her
anger and impatience, even at this early stage of the interview, proved
sufficiently that her icy restraint was only on the surface.
And Chauvelin always knew how to deal with vehemence. He loved to
play with the emotions of a passionate fellow-creature: it was only the
imperturbable calm of a certain enemy of his that was wont to shake his
own impenetrable armour of reserve.
"As your ladyship desires," he said, with a slight and ironical bow
of the head. "But before proceeding according to your wish, I am
compelled to ask your ladyship just one question."
"And that is?"
"Have you reflected what your present position means to that
inimitable prince of dandies, Sir Percy Blakeney?"
"Is it necessary for your present purpose, Monsieur, that you should
mention my husband's name at all?" she asked.
"It is indispensable, fair lady," he replied suavely, "for is not
the fate of your husband so closely intertwined with yours, that his
actions will inevitably be largely influenced by your own?"
Marguerite gave a start of surprise, and as Chauvelin had paused
she tried to read what hidden meaning lay behind these last words of
his. Was it his intention then to propose some bargain, one of those
terrible "either-ors" of which he seemed to possess the malignant
secret? Oh! if that was so; if, indeed he had sent for her in order to
suggest one of those terrible alternatives of his, then - be it what it
may, be it the wildest conception which the insane brain of a fiend
could invent, she would accept it, so long as the man she loved were
given one single chance of escape.
Therefore she turned to her arch-enemy in a more conciliatory spirit
now, and even endeavoured to match her own diplomatic cunning against
"I do not understand," she said tentatively. "How can my actions
influence those of my husband? I am a prisoner in Boulogne; he probably
is not aware of that fact yet, and. . ."
"Sir Percy Blakeney may be in Boulogne at any moment now," he
interrupted quietly. "An I mistake not, few places can offer such great
attractions to that peerless gentleman of fashion than doth this humble
provincial town of France just at this present. . . .Hath it not the
honour of harbouring Lady Blakeney within its gates?. . . And your
ladyship may indeed believe me when I say, that the day that Sir Percy
lands in our hospitable port, two hundred pairs of eyes will be fixed
upon him, lest he should wish to quit it again."
"And if there were two thousand, sir," she said impulsively, "they
would not stop his coming or going as he pleased."
"Nay, fair lady," he said, with a smile, "are you then endowing Sir
Percy Blakeney with the attributes which, as popular fancy has it,
belong exclusively to that mysterious English hero, the Scarlet
"A truce to your diplomacy, Monsieur Chauvelin," she retorted,
goaded by his sarcasm; "why should we try to fence with one another?
What was the object of your journey to England? of the farce which you
enacted in my house, with the help of the woman Candeille? of that duel
and that challenge, save that you desired to entice Sir Percy Blakeney
"And also his charming wife," he added, with an ironical bow.
She bit her lip and made no comment.
"Shall we say that I succeeded admirably?" he continued, speaking
with persistant urbanity and calm "and that I have strong cause to hope
that that elusive Pimpernel will soon be a guest on our friendly
shores?. . . There! you see, I, too, have laid down the foils. . . As
you say, why should we fence? Your ladyship is now in Boulogne, soon
Sir Percy will come to try and take you away from us, but, believe me,
fair lady, that it would take more than the ingenuity and the daring of
the Scarlet Pimpernel magnified a thousandfold to get him back to
England again. . . unless. . ."
"Unless?. . ."
Marguerite held her breath. She felt now as if the whole universe
must stand still during the next supreme moment, until she heard what
Chauvelin's next words would be.
There was to be an "unless" then? An "either-or" more terrible, no
doubt, than the one he had formulated before her just a year ago.
Chauvelin, she knew, was pastmaster in the art of putting a knife at
his victim's throat, and giving it just the necessary twist with his
cruel and relentless "unless"!
But she felt quite calm, because her purpose was resolute. There is
no doubt that during this agonising moment of suspence she was
absolutely firm in her determination to accept any and every condition,
which Chauvelin would put before her as the price of her husband's
safety. After all, these conditions, since he placed them before her
, could but resolve themselves into questions of her own life as
against her husband's.
With that unreasoning impulse, which was one of her most salient
characteristics, she never paused to think that, to Chauvelin, her own
life or death were only the means to the great end which he had in
view: the complete annihilation of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
That end could only be reached by Percy Blakeney's death - not by
Even now, as she was watching him with eyes glowing and lips tightly
closed, lest a cry of impatient agony should escape her throat, he,
like a snail that has shown its slimy horns too soon, and is not ready
to face the enemy as yet, seemed suddenly to withdraw within his former
shell of careless suavity. The earnestness of his tone vanished, giving
place to light and easy conversation, just as if he were discussing
social topics with a woman of fashion in a Paris drawing-room.
"Nay!" he said pleasantly, "is not your ladyship taking this matter
in too serious a spirit? Of a truth, you repeated my innocent word
'unless,' even as if I were putting a knife at your dainty throat. Yet
I meant naught that need disturb you yet. Have I not said that I am
your friend? Let me try and prove it to you."
"You will find it a difficult task, Monsieur," she said drily.
"Difficult tasks always have had a great fascination for your humble
servant. May I try?"
"Shall we then touch at the root of this delicate matter? Your
ladyship, so I understand, is at this moment under the impression that
I desire to encompass - shall I say? the death of an English gentleman
for whom, believe me, I have the greatest respect. That is so, is it
"What is so, M. Chauvelin?" she asked almost stupidly, for truly she
had not even begun to grasp his meaning. "I do not understand."
"You think that I am at this moment taking measures for sending the
Scarlet Pimpernel to the guillotine? Eh?"
"Never was so great an error committed by a clever woman. Your
ladyship must believe me when I say that the guillotine is the very
last place in the world where I would wish to see that enigmatic and
"Are you trying to fool me, M. Chauvelin? If so, for what purpose?
And why do you lie to me like that?"
"On my honour, 'tis the truth. The death of Sir Percy Blakeney - I
may call him that, may I not - would ill suit the purpose which I have
"What purpose? You must pardon me, Monsieur Chauvelin," she added
with a quick, impatient sigh, " but of a truth, I am getting confused,
and my wits must have become dull in the past few days. I pray you to
add to your many protestations of friendship a little more clearness in
your speech, and, if possible, a little more brevity. What, then, is
the purpose which you had in view when you enticed my husband to come
over to France?"
"My purpose was the destruction of the Scarlet Pimpernel, not the
death of Sir Percy Blakeney. Believe me, I have a great regard for Sir
Percy. He is a most accomplished gentleman, witty, brilliant, an
inimitable dandy. Why should he not grace with his presence the
drawing-rooms of London or of Brighton for many years to come?"
She looked at him with puzzled inquiry. For one moment the thought
flashed through her mind that, after all, Chauvelin might be still in
doubt as to the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel . . . But no! that
hope was madness. . . It was preposterous and impossible. . . But then,
why? why? why?. . . Oh, God! for a little more patience!
"What I have just said may seem a little enigmatic to your
ladyship," he continued blandly, "but surely so clever a woman as
yourself, so great a lady as is the wife Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet,
will be aware that there are other means of destroying an enemy than
the taking of his life."
"For instance, Monsieur Chuavelin?"
"There is the destruction of his honour," he replied slowly.
A long, bitter laugh, almost hysterical in its loud outburst, broke
from the very depths of Marguerite's convulsed heart.
"The destruction of his honour! . . . ha! ha! ha! ha! . . . of a
truth, Monsieur Chauvelin, your inventive powers have led you beyond
the bounds of dreamland! . . . Ha! ha! ha! ha! . . . It is in the land
of madness that you are wandering, sir, when you talk in one breath of
Sir Percy Blakeney and the possible destruction of his honour!"
But he remained apparently quite unruffled, and when her laughter
had somewhat subsided, he said placidly:
"Perhaps!. . ."
Then he rose from his chair, and once more approached her. This
time she did not shrink from him. The suggestion which he had made just
now, this talk of attacking her husband's honour rather than his life
seemed so wild and preposterous - the conception truly of a mind
unhinged - that she looked upon it as a sign of extreme weakness on his
part, almost as an acknowledgement of impotence.
But she watched him as he moved round the table more in curiosity
now than in fright. He puzzled her, and she still had a feeling at the
back of her mind that there must be something more definite and more
evil lurking at the back of that tortuous brain.
"Will your ladyship allow me to conduct you to yonder window?" he
said, "the air is cool, and what I have to say can best be done in
sight of yonder sleeping city."
His tone was one of perfect courtesy, even of respectful deference,
through which not the slightest trace of sarcasm could be discerned,
and she, still actuated by curiosity and interest, not in any way by
fear, quietly rose to obey him. Though she ignored the hand which he
was holding out towards her, she followed him readily enough as he
walked up to the window.
All through this agonising and soul-stirring interview she had felt
heavily oppressed by the close atmosphere of the room, rendered
nauseous by the evil smell of the smoky tallow-candles, which were left
to spread their grease and smoke abroad unchecked. Once or twice she
had gazed longingly towards the suggestion of pure air outside.
Chauvelin evidently had still much to say to her: the torturing,
mental rack to which she was being subjected had not yet fully done its
work. It still was capable of one or two turns, a twist or so which
might succeed in crushing her pride an her defiance. Well! so be it!
she was in the man's power: had placed herself therein through her own
unreasoning impulse. This interview was but one of the many
soul-agonies which she had been called upon to endure, and, if by
submitting to it all she could in a measure mitigate her own faults and
be of help to the man she loved, she would find the sacrifice small and
the mental torture easy to bear.
Therefore, when Chauvelin beckoned to her to draw near, she went up
to the window, and leaning her head against the deep stone embrasure,
she looked out into the night.
Chapter XXIII— The Hostage
Chauvelin, without speaking, extended his hand out towards the city,
as if to invite Marguerite to gaze upon it.
She was quite unconscious what hour of the night it might be, but it
must have been late, for the little town, encircled by the stony arms
of its forts, seemed asleep. The moon, now slowly sinking in the west,
edged the towers and spires with filmy lines of silver. To the right
Marguerite caught sight of the frowning Beffroi, which even as she
gazed out began tolling its heavy bell. It sounded like the tocsin,
dull and muffled. After ten strokes it was still.
Ten o'clock! At this hour, in far-off England, in fashionable
London, the play was just over, crowds of gaily-dressed men and women
poured out of the open gates of the theatres, calling loudly for
attendant or chaise. Thence to balls or routs, gaily fluttering like so
many butterflies, brilliant and irresponsible. . .
And in England also, in the beautiful gardens of her Richmond home,
ofttimes at ten o'clock she had wandered alone with Percy, when he was
at home, and the spirit of adventure in him was momentarily laid to
rest. Then, when the night was very dark and the air heavy with the
scent of roses and lilies, she lay quiescent in his arms in that little
arbour beside the river. The rhythmic lapping of the waves was the only
sound that stirred the balmy air. He seldom spoke then, for his voice
would shake whenever he uttered a word: but his impenetrable armour of
flippancy was pierced through, and he did not speak because his lips
were pressed to hers, and his love had soared beyond the domain of
A shudder of intense mental pain went through her now, as she gazed
on the sleeping city, and sweet memories of the past turned bitterness
in this agonising present. One by one, as the moon gradually
disappeared behind a bank of clouds, the towers of Boulogne were merged
in the gloom. In front of her, far far away, beyond the flat sand
dunes, the sea seemed to be calling to her with a ghostly and
The window was on the ground floor of the fort, and gave direct on
to the wide and shady walk which runs along the crest of the city
walls; from where she stood Marguerite was looking straight along the
ramparts, some thirty mètres wide at this point, flanked on either side
by the granite balustrade, and adorned with a double row of ancient
elms, stunted and twisted into grotesque shapes by the persistent
action of the wind.
"These wide ramparts are a peculiarity of this city. . ." said a
voice close to her ear. "At times of peace they form an agreeable
promenade under the shade of the trees, and a delightful meeting-place
for lovers. . . or enemies. . ."
The sound brought her back to the ugly realities of the present: the
rose-scented garden at Richmond, the lazily flowing river, the tender
memories which for that brief moment had confronted her from out a
happy past, suddenly vanished from her ken. Instead of these the
brine-laden sea air struck her quivering nostrils, the echo of the old
Beffroi died away in her ear, and now, from out one of the streets or
open places of the sleeping city, there came the sound of a raucous
voice, shouting in monotonous tones a string of words, the meaning of
which failed to reach her brain.
Not many feet below the window the southern ramparts of the town
stretched away into the darkness. She felt unaccountably cold,
suddenly, as she looked down upon them, and, with aching eyes, tried to
pierce the gloom. She was shivering, in spite of the mildness of this
early autumnal night: her overwrought fancy was peopling the lonely
wall with unearthly shapes, strolling along, discussing in spectral
language a strange duel which was to take place here between a noted
butcher of men and a mad Englishman overfond of adventure.
The ghouls seemed to pass and repass along in front of her and to be
laughing audibly because that mad Englishman had been offered his life
in exchange for his honour. They laughed and laughed, no doubt because
he refused the bargain - Englishmen were always eccentric, and in these
days of equality and other devices of a free and glorious Revolution,
honour was such a very marketable commodity that it seemed ridiculous
to prize it quite so highly. Then they strolled away again and
disappeared, whilst Marguerite distinctly heard the scrunching of the
path beneath their feet. She leant forward to peer still further into
the darkness, for this sound had seemed so absolutely real, but
immediately a detaining hand was placed upon her arm and a sarcastic
voice murmured at her elbow:
"The result, fair lady, would only be a broken leg or arm; the
height is not great enough for picturesque suicides, and, believe me,
these ramparts are only haunted by ghosts."
She drew back as if a viper had stung her: for the moment she had
become oblivious of Chauvelin's presence. However, she would not take
notice of his taunt, and after a slight pause, he asked her if she
could hear the town crier over in the public streets.
"Yes," she replied.
"What he says at the present moment is of vast importance to your
ladyship," he remarked drily.
"Your ladyship is a precious hostage. We are taking measures to
guard our valuable property securely."
Marguerite thought of the Abbé Foucquet, who no doubt was still
quietly telling his beads, even if in his heart he had begun to wonder
what had become of her. She thought of François, who was the
breadwinner, and of Félicité, who was blind.
"Methinks you and your colleagues have done that already," she said.
"Not as competely as we would wish. We know the daring of the
Scarlet Pimpernel. We are not even ashamed to admit that we fear his
luck, his impudence, and his marvellous ingenuity. . . Have I not told
you that I have the greatest possible respect for that mysterious
English hero. . . An old priest and two young children might be
spirited away by that enigmatical adventurer, even whilst Lady Blakeney
herself is made to vanish from our sight."
"Ah! I see your ladyship is taking my simple words as a confession
of weakness," he continued, noting the swift sigh of hope which had
involuntarily escaped her lips. "Nay! an it please you, you shall
despise me for it. But a confession of weakness is the first sign of
strength. The Scarlet Pimpernel is still at large, whilst we guard our
hostage securely; he is bound to fall into our hands."
"Aye! still at large!" she retorted with impulsive defiance. "Think
you that all your bolts and bars, the ingenuity of yourself and your
colleagues, the collaboration of the devil himself, would succeed in
outwitting the Scarlet Pimpernel, now that his purpose will be to try
and drag me from out your clutches?"
She felt hopeful and proud. Now that she had the pure air of heaven
in her lungs, that from afar she could smell the sea, and could feel
that perhaps in a straight line of vision from where she stood the Day
Dream, with Sir Percy on board, might be lying out there in the roads,
it seemed impossible that he should fail in freeing her and those poor
people -an old man and two children - whose lives depended on her own.
But Chauvelin only laughed a dry, sarcastic laugh, and said:
"Hm! perhaps not! . . . It, of course, will depend on you and your
personality. . . your feelings in such matters. . . and whether an
English gentleman likes to save his own skin at the expense of others."
Marguerite shivered as if from cold.
"Ah! I see," resumed Chauvelin quietly, "that your ladyship has not
quite grasped the position. That public crier is a long way off: the
words have lingered on the evening breeze and have failed to reach your
brain. Do you suppose that I and my colleagues do not know that all the
ingenuity of which the Scarlet Pimpernel is capable will now be
directed in piloting Lady Blakeney, and incidentally the Abbé Foucquet
with his nephew and niece, safely across the Channel? Four people! . .
. Bah! a bagatelle for this mighty conspirator, who but lately snatched
twenty aristocrats from the prisons of Lyons. . . Nay! nay! two
children and an old man were not enough to guard our precious hostage,
and I was not thinking of either the Abbé Foucquet or the two children,
when I said that an English gentleman would not save himself at the
expense of others."
"Of whom, then, were you thinking, Monsieur Chauvelin? Whom else
have you set to guard the prize which you value so highly?"
"The whole city of Boulogne," he replied simply.
"I do not understand."
"Let me make my point clear. My colleague, Citizen Collot d'Herbois,
rode over from Paris yesterday; like myself, he is a member of the
Committee of Public Safety, whose duty it is to look after the welfare
of France by punishing all those who conspire against her laws and the
liberties of the people. Chief among these conspirators, whom it is our
duty to punish is, of course, that impudent adventurer who calls
himself the Scarlet Pimpernel. He has given the Government of France a
great deal of trouble through his attempts - mostly successful, as I
have already admitted- at frustrating the just vengeance which an
oppressed country has the right to wreak on those who have proved
themselves to be tyrants and traitors."
"Is it necessary to recapitulate all this, Monsieur Chauvelin?" she
"I think so," he replied blandly. "You see, my point is this. We
feel that in a measure now the Scarlet Pimpernel is in our power.
Within the next few hours he will land at Boulogne. . . Boulogne, where
he has agreed to fight a duel with me . . Boulogne, where Lady Blakeney
happens to be at this present moment. . . as you see, Boulogne has a
grave responsibility to bear: just now she is to a certain extent the
proudest city in France since she holds within her gates a hostage for
the appearance on our shores of her country's most bitter enemy. But
she must not fall from that high estate. Her double duty is clear
before her: she must guard Lady Blakeney and capture the Scarlet
Pimpernel; if she fail in the former she must be punished, if she
succeed in the latter she shall be rewarded."
He paused and leaned out of the window again, whilst she watched
him, breathless and terrified. She was beginning to understand.
"Hark!" he said, looking straight at her. "Do you hear the crier
now? He is proclaiming the punishment and the reward. He is making it
clear to the citizens of Boulogne that on the day when the Scarlet
Pimpernel falls into the hands of the Committee of Public Safety a
general amnesty will be granted to all natives of Boulogne who are
under arrest at the present time, and a free pardon to all those who,
born within these city walls, are to-day under sentence of death. . . A
noble reward, eh? Well deserved, you'll admit? . . . Should you wonder,
then, if the whole town of Boulogne were engaged just now in finding
that mysterious hero and delivering him into our hands? . . . How many
mothers, sisters, wives, think you, at the present moment, would fail
to lay hands on the English adventurer, if a husband's or son's life or
freedom happened to be at stake? . . . I have some records here," he
continued, pointing in the direction of the table, "which tell me that
there are five-and-thirty natives of Boulogne in the local prisons, a
dozen more in the prisons in Paris; of these at least twenty have been
tried and are condemned to death. Every hour that the Scarlet Pimpernel
succeeds in evading his captors, so many deaths lie at his door. If he
succeeds in once more reaching England safely, three-score lives mayhap
will be the price of his escape. . . Nay! but I see your ladyship is
shivering with cold . . ." he added, with a dry little laugh. "Shall I
close the window? or do you wish to hear what punishment will be meted
out to Boulogne, if, on the day that the Scarlet Pimpernel is captured,
Lady Blakeney happens to have left the shelter of these city walls?"
"I pray you proceed, Monsieur," she rejoined with perfect calm.
"The Committee of Public Safety," he resumed, "would look upon this
city as a nest of traitors, if on the day that the Scarlet Pimpernel
becomes our prisoner Lady Blakeney herself, the wife of that notorious
English spy, had already quitted Boulogne. The whole town knows by now
that you are in our hands — you, the most precious hostage we can hold
for the ultimate capture of the man whom we all fear and detest.
Virtually the town crier is at the present moment proclaiming to the
inhabitants of this city: 'We want the man, but we already have his
wife; see to it, citizens, that she does not escape! For if she do, we
shall summarily shoot the breadwinner in every family in the town!'"
A cry of horror escaped Marguerite's parched lips.
"Are you devils, then, all of you," she gasped, "that you should
think of such things?"
"Aye! some of us are devils, no doubt," said Chauvelin drily; "but
why should you honour us in this case with so flattering an epithet? We
are mere men, striving to guard our property, and mean no harm to the
citizens of Boulogne. We have threatened them, true! but is it not for
you and that elusive Pimpernel to see that the threat is never put into
"You would not do it!" she repeated, horror-stricken.
'Nay! I pray you, fair lady, do not deceive yourself. At present the
proclamation sounds like a mere threat, I'll allow, but let me assure
you that if we fail to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel, and if you, on
the other hand, are spirited out of this fortress by that mysterious
adventurer, we shall undoubtedly shoot or guillotine every able-bodied
man and woman in this town."
He had spoken quietly and emphatically, neither with bombast nor
with rage, and Marguerite saw in his face nothing but a calm and
ferocious determination of an entire nation embodied in this one man,
to be revenged at any cost. She would not let him see the depth of her
despair, nor would she let him read in her face the unutterable
hopelessness which filled her soul. It were useless to make an appeal
to him: she knew full well that from his she could obtain neither
gentleness nor mercy.
"I hope that at last I have made the situation quite clear to your
ladyship?" he was asking quite pleasantly now. "See how easy is your
position: you have but to remain quiescent in room No. 6, and if any
chance of escape be offered you ere the Scarlet Pimpernel is captured,
you need but to think of all the families in Boulogne, who would be
deprived of their breadwinner -fathers and sons mostly, but there are
girls, too, who support their mothers or sisters: the fish-curers of
Boulogne are mostly women, and there are the net-makers and the
seamstresses: all would suffer if your ladyship were no longer to be
found in No. 6 room of this ancient fort; whilst all would be included
in the amnesty if the Scarlet Pimpernel fell into our hands. . . "
He gave a low, satisfied chuckle, which made Marguerite think of the
evil spirits in hell exulting over the torments of unhappy lost souls.
"I think, Lady Blakeney," he added drily, and making her an ironical
bow, "that your humble servant hath outwitted the elusive hero at last."
Quietly he turned on his heel and went back into the room,
Marguerite remaining motionless beside the open window, where the soft,
brine-laden air, the distant murmur of the sea, the occasional cry of a
sea-mew, all seemed to mock her agonising despair.
The voice of the town crier came nearer and nearer now: she could
here the words he spoke quite distinctly: something about "amnesty" and
pardon, the reward for the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the lives
of men, women and children in exchange for his.
Oh! she knew what all that meant! - that Percy would not hesitate
one single instant to throw his life into the hands of his enemies, in
exchange for that of others. Others! others! always others! the sigh
that had made her heart ache so often in England, what terrible
significance it bore now.
And how he would suffer in his heart and in his pride, because of
her whom he could not even attempt to save, since it would mean the
death of others! - of others, always of others!
She wondered if he had already landed in Boulogne! Again she
remembered the vision on the landing-stage: his massive figure, the
glimpse she had of the loved form, in the midst of the crowd!
The moment he entered the town he would hear the proclamation read,
see it posted up no doubt on every public building, and realise that
she had been foolish enough to follow him, that she was a prisoner, and
that he could do nothing to save her.
What would he do? Marugerite, at the thought, instinctively pressed
her hands to her heart: the agony of it all had become physically
painful. She hoped that perhaps this pain meant approaching death! Oh!
how easy would this simple solution be!
The moon peered out from beneath the bank of clouds which had
obscured her for so long; smiling, she drew her pencilled silver lines
along the edges of towers and pinnacles, the frowning Beffroi, and
those stony walls which seemed to Marguerite as if they encircled a
The town crier had evidently ceased to read the proclamation. One by
one the windows in the public square were lighted up from within. The
citizens of Boulogne wanted to think over the strange events which had
occured without their knowledge, yet which were apparently to have such
direful or such joyous consequences for them.
A man to be captured! - the mysterious English adventurer of whom
they had all heard, but whom nobody had seen. And a woman - his wife -
to be guarded until the man was safely under lock and key!
Marguerite felt as if she could almost hear them talking it over and
vowing that she should not escape, and that the Scarlet Pimpernel
should soon be captured.
A gentle wind stirred the old gnarled trees on the southern
ramparts, a wind that sounded like the sigh of swiftly dying hope.
What could Percy do now? His hands were tied, and he was inevitably
destined to endure the awful agony of seeing the woman he loved die a
terrible death beside him.
Having captured him, they would not keep him long: no necessity for
a trial, for detention, for formalities of any kind. A summary
execution at dawn on the public place, a roll of drums, a public
holiday to mark the joyful event, and a brave man will have ceased to
live, a noble heart have stilled its beatings for ever, whilst a whole
nation gloried over the deed.
"Sleep, citizens of Boulogne! all is still!"
The night watchman had replaced the town crier. All was quiet within
the city walls: the inhabitants could sleep in peace, a beneficent
Government was wakeful and guarding their rest.
But many of the windows in the town remained lighted up, and at a
little distance below her, round the corner so that she could not see
it, a small crowd must have collected in front of the gateway which led
into the courtyard of the Gayole Fort. Marguerite could hear a
persistent murmur of voices, mostly angry and threatening, and once
there were loud cries of: "English spies," and "à la lanterne!"
"The citizens of Boulogne are guarding the treasures of France!"
commented Chauvelin drily, as he laughed again, that cruel, mirthless
laugh of his.
Then she roused herself from her torpor: she did not know how long
she had stood beside the open window, but the fear seized her that that
man must have seen and gloated over the agony of her mind. She
straightened her graceful figure, threw back her proud head defiantly,
and quietly walked up to the table, where Chauvelin seemed once more
absorbed in the perusal of his papers.
"Is this interview over?" she asked quietly, and without the
slightest tremor in her voice. "May I go now?"
"As soon as you wish," he replied with gentle irony.
He regarded her with obvious delight, for truly she was beautiful:
grand in this attitude of defiant despair. The man, who had spent the
last half-hour in martyrising her, gloried over the misery which he had
wrought, and which all her strength of will could not entirely banish
from her face.
"Will you believe me, Lady Blakeney," he added, "that there is no
personal animosity in my heart towards you or your husband? Have I not
told you that I do not wish to compass his death?"
"Yet you propose to send him to the guillotine as soon as you have
laid hands on him."
"I have explained to you the measures which I have taken in order to
make sure that we do lay hands on the Scarlet Pimpernel. Once he is in
our power, it will rest with him to walk to the guillotine or to embark
with you on board his yacht."
"You propose to place an alternative before Sir Percy Blakeney?"
"To offer him his life?"
"And that of his charming wife."
"In exchange for what?"
"He will refuse, Monsieur."
"We shall see."
Then he touched a handbell which stood on the table, and within a
few seconds the door was opened and the soldier who had led Marguerite
hither re-entered the room.
The interview was at an end. It had served its purpose. Marguerite
knew now that she must not even think of escape for herself, or hope
for safety for the man she loved. Of Chauvelin's talk of a bargain
which would touch Percy's honour she would not even think: and she was
too proud to ask anything further from him.
Chauvelin stood up and made her a deep bow, as she crossed the room
and finally went out of the door. The little company of soldiers closed
in around her, and she was once more led along the dark passages, back
to her own prison cell.
Chapter XXIV— Colleagues
As soon as the door had closed behind Marguerite there came from
somewhere in the room the sound of a yawn, a grunt, and a volley of
The flickering light of the tallow candles had failed to penetrate
into all the corners, and now from out one of these dark depths a
certain something began to detach itself, and to move forward towards
the table at which Chauvelin had once more resumed his seat.
"Has that damned aristocrat gone at last?" queried a hoarse voice,
as a burly body, clad in loose-fitting coat and mud-stained boots and
breeches, appeared within the narrow circle of light.
"Yes," replied Chauvelin, curtly.
"And a cursed long time you have been with the baggage," grunted the
other surlily. "Another five minutes and I'd have taken the matter in
my own hands."
"An assumption of authority," commented Chauvelin, quietly, "to
which your position here does not entitle you, Citizen Collot."
Collot d'Herbois lounged lazily forward, and presently he threw his
ill-knit figure into the chair lately vacated by Marguerite. His heavy,
square face bore distinct traces of the fatigue endured in the past
twenty-four hours on horseback or in jolting market wagons. His temper,
too, appeared to have suffered on the way, and at Chauvelin's curt and
dictatorial replies he looked as surly as a chained dog.
"You were wasting your breath over that woman," he muttered,
bringing a large and grimy fist heavily down on the table, "and your
measures are not quite so sound as you fondly imagine, Citizen
"They were mostly of your imagining, Citizen Collot," rejoined the
other quietly, "and of your suggestion."
"I added a touch of strength and determination to your mild,
milk-and-water notions, citizen," snarled Collot spitefully. "I'd have
knocked that intriguing woman's brains out at the very first possible
opportunity had I been consulted earlier than this."
"Quite regardless of the fact that such violent measures would
completely damn all our chances of success as far as the capture of the
Scarlet Pimpernel is concerned," remarked Chauvelin, drily, with a
contemptuous shrug of the shoulders. "Once his wife is dead, the
Englishman will never run his head into the noose which I have so
carefully prepared for him."
"So you say, citizen; and therefore I suggested to you certain
measures to prevent the woman escaping which you will find adequate, I
"You need have no fear, Citizen Collot," said Chauvelin curtly;
"this woman will make no attempt to escape now."
"If she does. . ." and Collot d'Herbois swore an obscene oath.
"I think she understands that we mean to put our threat in
"Threat? . . . It was no empty threat, citizen. . . Sacré tonnerre!
if that woman escapes now, by all the devils in hell I swear that I'll
wield the guillotine myself and cut off the head of every able-bodied
man or woman in Boulogne with my own hands."
As he said this his face assumed such an expression of inhuman
cruelty, such a desire to kill, such a savage lust for blood that
instinctively Chauvelin shuddered and shrank away from his colleague.
All through his career there is no doubt that this man, who was of
gentle birth, of gentle breeding, and who had once been called M. le
Marquis de Chauvelin, must have suffered in his susceptibilities and in
his pride when in contact with the revolutionaries with whom he had
chosen to cast his lot. He could not have thrown off all his old ideas
of refinement quite so easily as to feel happy in the presence of such
men as Collot d'Herbois, or Marat in his day - men who had become brute
beasts, more ferocious far than any wild animal; more scientifically
cruel than any feline prowler in jungle or desert.
One look in Collot's distorted face was sufficient at this moment to
convince Chauvelin that it were useless for him to view the
proclamation against the citizens of Boulogne merely as an idle threat,
even if he had wished to do so. That Marguerite would not under the
circumstances attempt to escape, that Sir Percy Blakeney himself would
be forced to give up all thoughts of rescuing her, was a foregone
conclusion in Chauvelin's mind, but if this high-born English gentleman
had not happened to be the selfless hero that he was, if Marguerite
Blakeney were cast in a different, a rougher mould - if, in short, the
Scarlet Pimpernel, in the face of the proclamation did succeed in
dragging his wife out of the clutches of the Terrorists, then it was
equally certain that Collot d'Herbois would carry out his rabid and
cruel reprisals to the full. And if, in the course of the wholesale
butchery of the able-bodied and wage-earning inhabitants of Boulogne,
the headsman should sink worn out, then would this ferocious sucker of
blood put his own hand to the guillotine, with the same joy and lust
which he had felt when he ordered one hundred and thirty-eight women of
Nantes to be stripped naked by the soldiery before they were flung
helter-skelter into the river.
A touch of strength and determination! Aye! Citizen Collot d'Herbois
had plenty of that. Was it he, or Carrière, who at Arras commanded
mothers to stand by while their children were being guillotined? And
surely it was Maignet, Collot's friend and colleague, who at Bedouin,
because the Red Flag of the Republic has been mysteriously torn down
over night, burnt the entire little village down to the last hovel and
guillotined every one of the three hundred and fifty inhabitants?
And Chauvelin knew all that. Nay, more! he was himself a member of
that so-called government which had countenanced these butcheries by
giving unlimited powers to men like Collot, like Maignet and Carrière.
He was at one with them in their Republican ideas, and he believed in
the regeneration and purification of France through the medium of the
guillotine, but he propounded his theories and carried out his most
bloodthirsty schemes with physically clean hands and in an
Even now, when Collot d'Herbois lounged before him, with
mud-bespattered legs stretched out before him, with dubious linen at
neck and wrists, and an odour of rank tobacco and stale, cheap, wine
pervading his whole personality, the more fastidious man of the world,
who had consorted with the dandies of London and Brighton, winced at
the enforced proximity.
But it was the joint characteristic of all these men who had turned
France into a vast butchery and charnel-house, that they all feared and
hated one another, even more whole-heartedly than they hated the
aristocrats and so-called traitors whom they sent to the guillotine.
Citizen Lebon is said to have dipped his sword into the blood which
flowed from the guillotine, whilst exclaiming: "Comme je l'aime ce sang
coulé de traître!" but he and Collot and Danton and Robespierre, all of
them in fact, would have regarded with more delight still the blood of
any one of their colleagues.
At this very moment Collot d'Herbois and Chauvelin would with utmost
satisfaction have denounced, one the other, to the tender mercies of
the Public Prosecutor. Collot made no secret of his hatred for
Chauvelin, and the latter disguised it but thinly under the veneer of
"As for that damned Englishman," added Collot now, after a slight
pause, and with another savage oath, "if 'tis my good fortune to lay
hands on him, I'd shoot him then and there like a mad dog, and rid
France once and for ever of this accursed spy."
"And think you, Citizen Collot," rejoined Chauvelin, with a shrug of
the shoulders, "that France would be rid of all English adventurers by
the summary death of this one man?"
"He is the ringleader, at any rate. . ."
"And has at least nineteen disciples to continue his traditions of
conspiracy and intrigue. None, perhaps, so ingenious as himself, none
with the same daring and good luck perhaps, but still a number of
ardent fools only too ready to follow in the footsteps of their chief.
Then there's the halo of martyrdom around the murdered hero, the
enthusiasm created by his noble death. . . Nay! nay, citizen, you have
not lived among these English people, you do not understand them, or
you would not talk of sending their popular hero to an honoured grave."
But Collot d'Herbois only shook his powerful frame like some big,
sulky dog, and spat upon the floor to express his contempt of this wild
talk, which seemed to have no real tangible purpose.
"You have not caught your Scarlet Pimpernel yet, citizen," he said
with a snort.
"No, but I will after sundown to-morrow."
"How do you know?"
"I have ordered the Angelus to be rung at one of the closed
churches, and he agreed to fight a duel with me on the southern
ramparts at that hour and on that day," said Chauvelin simply.
"You take him for a fool?" sneered Collot.
"No, only for a foolhardy adventurer."
"You imagine that with his wife as hostage in our hands, and the
whole city of Boulogne on the look out for him for the sake of the
amnesty, the man would be fool enough to walk on those ramparts at a
given hour for the express purpose of getting himself caught by you and
"I am quite sure that if we do not lay hands on him before that
given hour he will be on the ramparts at the Angelus to-morrow," said
Collot shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Is the man mad?" he asked with an incredulous laugh.
"Yes, I think so," rejoined the other with a smile.
"And having caught your hare," queried Collot, "how do you propose
to cook him?"
"Twelve picked men will be on the ramparts ready to seize him the
moment he appears."
"And to shoot him at sight, I hope."
"Only as a last resource, for the Englishman is powerful, and may
cause our half-famished men a good deal of trouble. But I want him
alive if possible. . ."
"Why? A dead lion is safer than a live one any day."
"Oh! we'll kill him right enough, citizen. I pray you have no fear.
I hold a weapon ready for that meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel which will
be a thousand times more deadly and more effectual than a chance shot,
or even the guillotine."
"What weapon is that, Citizen Chauvelin?"
Chauvelin leaned forward across the table and rested his chin on his
hands; instinctively Collot, too, leaned towards him, and both men
peered furtively round them, as if wondering if prying ears happened to
be lurking round. It was Chauvelin's pale eyes which now gleamed with
hatred and with an insatiable lust for revenge at least as powerful as
Collot's lust for blood; the unsteady light of the tallow candles threw
grotesque shadows across his brows, and his mouth was set in such rigid
lines of implacable cruelty that the brutish sot beside him gazed on
him amazed, vaguely scenting here a depth of feeling which was beyond
his power to comprehend. He repeated his question under his breath:
"What weapon do you mean to use against that accursed spy, Citizen
"Dishonour and ridicule!" replied the other quietly.
"In exchange for his life and that of his wife."
"As the woman told you just now. . . he will refuse."
"We shall see, citizen."
"You are mad to think such things, citizen, and ill serve the
Republic by sparing her bitterest foe."
A long, sarcastic laugh broke from Chauvelin's parted lips.
"Spare him?- Spare the Scarlet Pimpernel! . . ." he ejaculated.
"Nay, citizen, you need have no fear of that. But, believe me, I have
schemes in my head by which the man, whom we all hate, will be more
truly destroyed than your guillotine could ever accomplish; schemes
whereby the hero who is now worshipped in England as a demi-god will
suddenly become an object of loathing and of contempt. . . Ah! I see
you understand me now . . . I wish to so cover him with ridicule that
the very name of the small wayside flower will become a term of
derision and of scorn. Only then shall we be rid of these pestilential
English spies, only then will the entire League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel become a thing of the past when its whilom leader, now
thought akin to a god, will have found refuge in a suicide's grae from
the withering contempt of the entire world."
Chauvelin had spoken low, hardly above a whisper, and the echo of
his last words died away in the great, squalid room like a long drawn
out sigh. There was dead silence for awhile save for the murmur of the
wind outside and from the floor above the measured tread of the
sentinel guarding the precious hostage in No. 6.
Both men were staring straight in front of them. Collot d'Herbois,
incredulous, half-contemptuous, did not altogether approve of these
schemes, which seemed to him wild and uncanny; he liked the direct
simplicity of a summary trial, of the guillotine, or of his own well
stage-managed "Noyades." He did not feel that any ridicule or dishonour
would necessarily paralyse a man in his efforts at intrigue, and would
have liked to set Chauvelin's authority aside, to behead the woman
upstairs and then to take his chance of capturing the man later on.
But the orders of the Committee of Public Safety had been
peremptory: he was to be Chauvelin's help, not his master, and to obey
him in all things. He did not dare to take any initiative in the
matter, for in that case, if he failed, the reprisals against him would
indeed be terrible.
He was fairly satisfied now that Chauvelin had accepted his
suggestion of summarily sending to the guillotine one member of every
family resident in Boulogne if Marguerite succeeded in effecting an
escape, and, of a truth, Chauvelin had hailed the fiendish suggestion
with delight. The old abbé, with his nephew and niece, were undoubtedly
not sufficient deterrents against the daring schemes of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, who, as a matter of fact, could spirit them out of Boulogne
just as easily as he would his own wife.
Collot's plan tied Marguerite to her own prison cell more completely
than any other measure could have done, more so, indeed, than the
originator thereof knew or believed. . . A man like this d'Herbois-
born in the gutter, imbued with every brutish tradition which
generations of jail-birds had bequeathed to him- would not, perhaps,
fully realise the fact that neither Sir Percy nor Marguerite Blakeney
would ever save themselves at the expense of others. He had merely made
the suggestion, because he felt that Chauvelin's plans were complicated
and obscure, and, above all, insufficient, and that perhaps after all
the English adventurer and his wife would succeed in once more
outwitting him, when there would remain the grand and bloody
compensation of a wholesale butchery in Boulogne.
But Chauvelin was quite satisfied. He knew that under present
circumstances neither Sir Percy nor Marguerite would make any attempt
at escape. The ex-ambassador had lived in England; he understood the
classt to which these two belonged, and was quite convinced that no
attempt would be made on either side to get Lady Blakeney away, whilst
the present ferocious order against the breadwinner of every family in
the town held good.
Aye! the measures were sound enough. Chauvelin was easy in his mind
about that. In another twenty-four hours he would hold the man
completely in his power who had so boldly outwitted him last year;
to-night he would sleep in peace - an entire city was guarding the
"We'll go to bed now, citizen," he said to Collot, who, tired and
sulky, was moodily fingering the papers on the table. The scraping
sound which he made thereby grated on Chauvelin's overstrung nerves. He
wanted to be alone, and the sleepy brute's presence here jarred on his
own solemn mood.
To his satisfaction, Collot grunted a surly assent. Very leisurely
he rose from his chair, stretched out his loose limbs, shook himself
like a shaggy cur, and, without uttering another word, he gave his
colleague a curt nod and slowly lounged out of the room.
Chapter XXV— The Unexpected
Chauvelin heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction when Collot d'Herbois
finally left him to himself. He listened for awhile until the heavy
footsteps died away in the distance, then leaning back in his chair, he
gave himself over to the delights of the present situation.
Marguerite was in his power. Sir Percy Blakeney compelled to treat
for her rescue if he did not wish to see her die a miserable death.
"Aye! my elusive hero," he muttered to himself, "methinks that we
shall be able to cry quits at last."
Outside everything had become still. Even the wind in the trees out
there on the ramparts had ceased their melancholy moaning. The man was
alone with his thoughts. He felt secure and at peace, sure of victory,
content to await the events of the next twenty-four hours. The other
side of the door, the guard, which he had picked out from the amongst
the more feeble and ill-fed garrison of the little city for attendance
on his own person, were ranged ready to respond to his call.
"Dishonour and ridicule! Derision and scorn!" he murmured, gloating
over the very sound of these words, which expressed all that he hoped
to accomplish, "utter abjection, then perhaps a suicide's grave. . ."
He loved the silence around him, for he could murmur these words and
hear them echoing against the bare stone walls like the whisperings of
all the spirits of hate which were waiting to lend him their aid.
How long he had remained thus absorbed in his meditations he could
not afterwards have said; a minute or two perhaps at most, whilst he
leaned back in his chair with eyes closed, savouring the sweets of his
own thoughts, when suddenly the silence was interrupted by a loud and
pleasant laugh and a drawly voice speaking in merry accents:
"The Lud love you, Monsieur Chaubertin! and pray how do you propose
to accomplish all these pleasant things?"
In a moment Chauvelin was on his feet, and with eyes dilated, lips
parted in awed bewilderment, he was gazing towards the open window,
where, astride upon the sill, one leg inside the room, the other out,
and with the moon shining full on his suit of delicate-coloured cloth,
his wide-caped coat and elegant chapeau-bras, sat the imperturbable Sir
"I heard you muttering such pleasant words, Monsieur," continued
Blakeney calmly, "that the temptation seized me to join in the
conversation. A man talking to himself is ever in a sorry plight. . .
he is either a madman or a fool. . ."
He laughed his own quaint and inane laugh, and added, apologetically:
"Far be it from me, sir, to apply either epithet to you. . . demmed
bad form calling another fellow names. . . just when he does not quite
feel himself, eh?. . . You don't feel quite yourself, I fancy, just
now. . . eh, Monsieur Chaubertin. . . er . . . beg pardon, Chauvelin? .
He sat there quite comfortably, one slender hand resting on the
gracefully fashioned hilt of his sword - the sword of Lorenzo Cenci-
the other holding up the gold-rimmed eyeglass, through which he was
regarding his avowed enemy; he was dressed as for a ball, and his
perpetually amiable smile lurked round the corners of his firm lips.
Chauvelin had undoubtedly for the moment lost his presence of mind.
He did not think of calling to his picked guard, so completely taken
aback was he by this unforeseen move on the part of Sir Percy. Yet,
obviously, he should have been ready for this eventuality. Had he not
caused the town crier to loudly proclaim throughout the city that if one female prisoner escaped from Fort Gayole the entire able-bodied
population of Boulogne would suffer?
The moment Sir Percy entered the gates of the town, he could not
help but hear the proclamation, and hear at the same time that this one
female prisoner who was so precious a charge was the wife of the
English spy, the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Moreover, was it not a fact that whenever or wherever the Scarlet
Pimpernel was least expected, there and then would he surely appear?
Having once realised that it was his wife who was incarcerated in Fort
Gayole, was it not natural that he would go and prowl around the
prison, and along the avenue on the summit of the southern ramparts,
which was accessible to every passer-by? No doubt he had laid in hiding
among the trees, had perhaps caught snatches of Chauvelin's recent talk
Aye! it was all so natural, so simple! Strange that it should have
been so unexpected!
Furious at himself for his momentary stupor, he now made a vigorous
effort to face his impudent enemy with the same sang-froid of which the
latter had so inexhaustible a fund.
He walked quietly towards the window, compelling his nerves to
perfect calm and his mood to indifference. The situation had ceased to
astonish him; already his keen mind had seen its possibilities, its
grimness, and its humour, and he was quite prepared to enjoy these to
Sir Percy now was dusting the sleeve of his coat with a lace-edged
handkerchief, but just as Chauvelin was about to come near him, he
stretched out one leg, turning the point of a dainty boot towards the
"Would you like to take hold of me by the leg, Monsieur Chaubertin?"
he said gaily. "'Tis more effectual than a shoulder, and your picked
guard of six stalwart fellows can have the other leg. . . Nay! I pray
you, sir, do not look at me like that. . . . I vow that it is myself
and not my ghost. . . But if you still doubt me, I pray you call the
guard . . . ere I fly out again towards the fitful moon. . . ."
"Nay, Sir Percy," said Chauvelin, with a steady voice, "I have no
thought that you will take flight just yet. . . Methinks you desire
conversation with me, or you had not paid me so unexpected a visit."
"Nay, sir, the air is too oppressive for lengthy conversation. . . I
was strolling along these ramparts, thinking of our pleasant encounter
at the hour of the Angelus to-morrow. . . when this light attracted me.
. . I feared I had lost my way, and climbed the window to obtain
"As to your way to the nearest prison cell, Sir Percy?" queried
"As to anywhere, where I could sit more comfortably than on this
demmed sill. . . . It must be very dusty, and I vow 'tis terribly hard.
. . "
"I presume, Sir Percy, that you did my colleague and myself the
honour of listening to our conversation?"
"An you desired to talk secrets, Monsieur. . . er. . . Chaubertin. .
. you should have shut this window. . . and closed this avenue of trees
against the chance passer-by."
"What we said was no secret, Sir Percy. It is all over the town
"Quite so. . .you were only telling the devil your mind. . . eh?"
"I had also been having conversation with Lady Blakeney. . . Did you
hear any of that, sir?"
But Sir Percy had evidently not heard this question, for he seemed
quite absorbed in the task of removing a speck of dust from his
"These hats are all the rage in England just now," he said airily,
"but they have had their day, do you not think so, Monsieur? When I
return to town, I shall have to devote my whole mind to the invention
of a new headgear. . ."
"When will you return to England, Sir Percy?" queried Chauvelin with
"At the turn of the tide to-morrow eve, Monsieur," replied Blakeney.
"In company with Lady Blakeney?"
"Certainly, sir. . . and yours, if you will honour us with your
"If you return to England to-morrow, Sir Percy, Lady Blakeney, I
fear me, cannot accompany you."
"You astonish me, sir," rejoined Blakeney, with an exclamation of
genuine and unaffected surprise. "I wonder, now, what would prevent
"All those whose death would be the result of her flight, if she
succeeded in escaping from Boulogne. . ."
But Sir Percy was staring at him, with wide open eyes, expressive of
"Dear, dear, dear. . . Lud! but that sounds most unfortunate. . ."
"You have not heard of the measures which I have taken to prevent
Lady Blakeney quitting this city without our leave?"
"No, Monsieur Chaubertin. . .no. . .I have heard nothing. . . ."
rejoined Sir Percy blandly. "I lead a very retired life when I come
abroad, and. . ."
"Would you wish to hear them now?"
"Quite unnecessary, sir, I assure you. . . and the hour is getting
"Sir Percy, are you aware of the fact that unless you listen to what
I have to say, your wife will be dragged before the Committee of Public
Safety in Paris within the next twenty-four hours?" said Chauvelin
"What swift horses you must have, sir," quoth Blakeney pleasantly.
"Lud! to think of it! . . . I always heard that these demmed French
horses would never beat ours across country."
But Chauvelin now would not allow himself to be ruffled by Sir
Percy's apparent indifference. Keen reader of emotions as he was, he
had not failed to note a distant change in the drawly voice, a sound of
something hard and trenchant in the flippant laugh, ever since
Marguerite's name was first mentioned. Blakeney's attitude was
apparently as careless, as audacious as before, but Chauvelin's keen
eyes had not missed the almost imperceptible tightening of the jaw and
the rapid clenching of one hand on the sword hilt, even whilst the
other toyed in graceful idleness with the filmy Mechlin lace cravat.
Sir Percy's head was well thrown back, and the pale rays of the moon
caught the edge of the clear-cut profile, the low massive brow, the
drooping lids through which the audacious plotter was lazily regarding
the man who held not only his own life, but that of the woman was was
infinitely dear to him, in the hollow of his hand.
"I am afraid, Sir Percy," continued Chauvelin drily, "that you are
under the impression that bolts and bars will yield to your usual good
luck, now that so precious a life is at stake as that of Lady Blakeney."
"I am a great believer in impressions, Monsieur Chauvelin."
"I told her just now that if she quitted Boulogne ere the Scarlet
Pimpernel is in our hands, we should summarily shoot one member of
every family in the town - the bread-winner."
"A pleasant conceit, Monsieur. . . and one that does infinite credit
to your inventive faculties."
"Lady Blakeney, therefore, we hold safely enough," continued
Chauvelin, who no longer heeded the mocking observations of his enemy,
"as for the Scarlet Pimpernel. . ."
"You have but to ring a bell, to raise a voice, and he, too, will be
under lock and key within the next two minutes, eh?. . . Passons,
Monsieur. . . you are dying to say something further. . . I pray you
proceed. . . your engaging countenance is becoming quite interesting in
"What I wish to say to you, Sir Percy, is in the nature of a
"Indeed? . . . Monsieur, you are full of surprises. . . like a
pretty woman. . . And pray, what are the terms of this proposed
"Your side of the bargain, Sir Percy, or mine? Which will you hear
"Oh, yours, Monsieur . . . yours, I pray you. . . Have I not said
that you are like a pretty woman? . . . Place aux dames, sir! always!"
"My share of the bargain, sir, is simple enough: Lady Blakeney,
escorted by yourself and any of your friends who might be in the city
at the time, shall leave Boulogne harbour at sunset to-morrow, free and
unmolested, if you on the other hand will do your share . . . "
"I don't yet know what my share in this interesting bargain is to
be, sir. . . but, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that I do
not carry it out. . . What then? . . "
"Then, Sir Percy. . . putting aside for the moment the question of
the Scarlet Pimpernel altogether. . . then, Lady Blakeney will be taken
to Paris, and will be incarcerated in the prison of the Temple, lately
vacated by Marie Antoinette -there she will be treated in exactly the
same way as the ex-queen is now being treated in the Conciergerie. . .
. Do you know what that means, Sir Percy?. . . .It does not mean a
summary trial and a speedy death, with the halo and glory of martyrdom
thrown in. . . it means days, weeks, nay, months, perhaps, of misery
and humiliation . . . it means, that, like Marie Antoinette, she will
never be allowed solitude for one single instant of the day or night. .
. it means the constant proximity of soldiers, drunk with cruelty and
with hate. . . the insults, the shame. . ."
"You hound! . . . you dog! . . . you cur! . . . do you not see that
I must strangle you for this? . . ."
That attack had been so sudden and so violent that Chauvelin had not
the time to utter the slightest call for help. But a second ago, Sir
Percy Blakeney had been sitting on the window-sill, outwardly listening
with perfect calm to what his enemy had to say; now, he was at the
latter's throat, pressing with long and slender hands the breath out of
the Frenchman's body, his usually placid face distorted into a mask of
"You cur! . . . you cur! . . ." he repeated; "am I to kill you, or
will you unsay those words?"
Then, suddenly, he relaxed his grip. The habits of a lifetime would
not be gainsaid even now. A second ago his face had been livid with
rage and hate, now a quick flush overspread it, as if he were ashamed
of this loss of self-control. He threw the little Frenchman away from
him like he would a beast which had snarled, and passed his hand across
"Lud forgive me!" he said quaintly, "I had almost lost my temper."
Chauvelin was not slow in recovering himself. He was plucky and
alert, and his hatred for this man was so great that he had actually
ceased to fear him. Now he quietly readjusted his cravat, made a
vigorous effort to reconquer his breath, and said, firmly, as soon as
he could contrive to speak at all:
"And if you did strangle me, Sir Percy, you would do yourself no
good. The fate which I have mapped out for Lady Blakeney would then
irrevocably be hers, for she is in our power, and none of my colleagues
are disposed to offer you a means of saving her from it, as I am ready
Blakeney was now standing in the middle of the room, with his hands
buried in the pockets of his breeches, his manner and attitude once
more calm, debonnair, expressive of lofty self-possession and of
absolute indifference. He came quite close to the meagre, little figure
of his exultant enemy, thereby forcing the latter to look up at him.
"Oh! . . . ah! . . yes!" he said airily, "I had nigh forgotten . . .
you were talking of a bargain . . . my share of it . . . eh? . . . Is
it me you want? . . . Do you wish to see me in your Paris prisons? . .
. I assure you, sir, that the propinquinty of drunken soldiers may
disgust me, but it would in no way disturb the equanimity of my temper."
"I am quite sure of that, Sir Percy - and I can but repeat what I
had the honour of saying to Lady Blakeney just now - I do not desire
the death of so accomplished a gentleman as yourself."
"Strange, Monsieur," retorted Blakeney, with a return of his
accustomed flippancy. "Now I do desire your death very strongly indeed
- there would be so much less vermin on the face of the earth. . . .
But pardon me - I was interrupting you. . . Will you be so kind as to
Chauvelin had not winced at the insult. His enemy's attitude now
left him completely indifferent. He had seen that self-possessed man of
the world, that dainty and fastidious dandy, in the throes of an
overmastering passion. He had very nearly paid with his life for the
joy of having roused that supercilious and dormant lion. In fact, he
was ready to welcome any insults from Sir Percy Blakeney now, since
these would be only additional evidences that the Englishman's temper
was not yet under control.
"I will try to be brief, Sir Percy," he said, setting himself the
task of imitating his antagonist's affected manner. "Will you not sit
down? . . . We must try and discuss these matters like two men of the
world. . . . As for me, I am always happiest beside a board littered
with papers . . . I am not an athlete, Sir Percy . . . and serve my
country with my pen rather than with my fists."
Whist he spoke he had reached the table, and once more took the
chair whereon he had been sitting lately, when he dreamed the dreams
which were so near realisation now. He pointed with a graceful gesture
to the other vacant chair, which Blakeney took without a word.
"Ah!" said Chauvelin, with a sigh of satisfaction, "I see that we
are about to understand one another. . . . I have always felt that it
was a pity, Sir Percy, that you and I could not discuss certain matters
pleasantly with one another . . . Now, about this unfortunate incident
of Lady Blakeney's incarceration, I would like you to believe that I
had no part in the arrangements which have been made for her detention
in Paris. My colleagues have arranged it all . . . and I have vainly
tried to protest against the rigorous measures which are to be enforced
against her in the Temple prison. . . . But these are answering so
admirably in the case of the ex-queen, they have so completely broken
her spirit and her pride, that my colleagues felt that they would prove
equally useful in order to bring the Scarlet Pimpernel - through his
wife - to an humbler frame of mind."
He paused a moment, distinctly pleased with his preoration,
satisfied that his voice had been without a tremor and his face
impassive, and wondering what effect this somewhat lengthy preamble had
upon Sir Percy, who through it all had remained singularly quiet.
Chauvelin was preparing himself for the next effect which he hoped to
produce, and was vaguely seeking for the best words with which to fully
express his meaning, when he was suddenly startled by a sound as
unexpected as it was disconcerting.
It was the sound of a loud and prolonged snore. He pushed the candle
aside, which somewhat obstructed his line of vision, and casting a
rapid glance at the enemy, with whose life he was toying, even as a cat
doth with that of a mouse, he saw that the aforesaid mouse was calmly
and unmistakably asleep.
An impatient oath escaped Chauvelin's lips, and he brought his fist
heavily down on the table, making the metal candlesticks rattle and
causing Sir Percy to open one sleep eye.
"A thousand pardons, sir," said Blakeney, with a slight yawn. "I am
so demmed fatigued, and your preface was unduly long . . . Beastly bad
form, I know, going to sleep during a sermon . . . but I haven't had a
wink of sleep all day. . . I pray you to excuse me . . ."
"Will you condescend to listen, Sir Percy?" queried Chauvelin
peremptorily, "or shall I call the guard and give up all thoughts of
treating with you?"
"Just which ever you demmed well prefer, sir," rejoined Blakeney
And once more stretching out his long limbs, he buried his hands in
the pockets of his breeches and apparently prepared himself for another
quiet sleep. Chauvelin looked at him for a moment, vaguely wondering
what to do next. He felt strangely irritated at what he firmly believed
was mere affectation on Blakeney's part, and although he was burning
with impatience to place the terms of the proposed bargain before this
man, yet he would have preferred to be interrogated, to deliver his
"either-or" with becoming sterness and decision, rather than to take
the initiative in this discussion, where he should have been calm and
indifferent, whilst his enemy should have been nervous and disturbed.
Sir Percy's attitude had disconcerted him, a touch of the grotesque
had been given to what should have been a tense moment, and it was
terribly galling to the pride of the ex-diplomatist that with this
elusive enemy, and in spite of his own preparedness for any
eventuality, it was invariably the unforeseen that happened.
After a moment's reflection, however, he decided upon a fresh course
of action. He rose and crossed the room, keeping as much as possible an
eye upon Sir Percy, but the latter sat placid and dormant, and
evidently in no hurry to move. Chauvelin, having reached the door,
opened it noiselessly, and to the sergeant in command of his bodyguard
who stood at attention outside, he whispered hurriedly:
"The prisoner from No. 6 . . . Let two of the men bring her hither
back to me at once."
Chapter XXVI— The Terms of the
Less than three minutes later, there came to Chauvelin's expectant
ears the soft sound made by a woman's skirts against the stone floor.
During those three minutes, which had seemed an eternity to his
impatience, he had sat silently watching the slumber -affected or real
- of his enemy.
Directly he heard the word "Halt!" outside the door, he jumped to
his feet. The next moment Marguerite had entered the room.
Hardly had her foot crossed the threshold than Sir Percy rose,
quietly and without haste but evidently fully awake, and, turning
towards her, made her a low obeisance.
She, poor woman, had, of course, caught sight of him at once. His
presence here, Chauvelin's demand for her reappearance, the soldiers in
a small, compact group outside the door -all these were unmistakable
proofs that the awful cataclysm had at last occurred.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Percy Blakeney, her husband, was in the hands
of the Terrorists of France, and, though face to face with her now,
with an open window close to him, and an apparently helpless enemy
under his hand, he could not -owing to the fiendish measures taken by
Chauvelin -raise a finger to save himself or her.
Mercifully for her, nature -in the face of this appalling tragedy
-deprived her of the full measure of her senses. She could move and
speak and see, she could hear and in a measure understand what was
said, but she was really an automaton or a sleepwalker, moving and
speaking mechanically and without due comprehension.
Possibly, if she had then and there fully realised all that the
future meant, she would have gone mad with the horror of it all.
"Lady Blakeney," began Chauvelin after he had quickly dismissed the
soldiers from the room, "when you and I parted from one another just
now, I had no idea that I should so soon have the pleasure of a
personal conversation with Sir Percy . . . There is no occasion yet,
believe me, for sorrow or for fear. . . . Another twenty-four hours at
most, and you will be on board the Day Dream outward bound for
England. Sir Percy himself might perhaps accompany you, he does not
desire that you should journey to Paris, and I may safely say that, in
his mind, he has already accepted certain little conditions which I
have been forced to impose upon him, ere I sign the order for your
"Conditions?" she repeated vaguely and stupidly, looking in
bewilderment from one to the other.
"You are tired, m'dear," said Sir Percy quietly; "will you not sit
He held the chair gallantly for her. She tried to read his face, but
could not catch even a flash from beneath the heavy lids which
obstinately veiled his eyes.
"Oh! it is a mere matter of exchanging signatures," continued
Chauvelin, in response to her inquiring glance, and toying with the
papers which were scattered on the table. "Here, you see, is the order
to allow Sir Percy Blakeney and his wife, née Marguerite St. Just, to
quit the town of Boulogne unmolested."
He held a paper out towards Marguerite, inviting her to look at it.
She caught sight of an official-looking document, bearing the motto and
seal of the Republic of France, and of her own name and Percy's written
thereon in full.
"It is perfectly on règle, I assure you," continued Chauvelin, "and
only awaits my signature."
He now took up another paper, which looked like a long,
closely-written letter. Marguerite watched his every movement, for
instinct told her that the supreme moment had come. There was a look of
almost superhuman cruelty and malice in the little Frenchman's eyes as
he fixed them on the impassive figure of Sir Percy, the while, with
slightly trembling hands, he fingered that piece of paper and smoothed
out its creases with loving care.
"I am quite prepared to sign the order for your release, Lady
Blakeney," he said, keeping his gaze still keenly fixed upon Sir Percy.
"When it is signed, you will understand that our measures against the
citizens of Boulogne will no longer hold good, and that, on the
contrary, the general amnesty and free pardon will come into force."
"Yes, I understand that," she replied.
"And all that will come to pass, Lady Blakeney, the moment Sir Percy
will write me in his own hand a letter, in accordance with the draft
which I have prepared, and sign it with his name."
"Shall I read it to you?" he asked.
"If you please."
"You will see how simple it all is. . . A mere matter of form. . . I
pray you, do not look upon it with terror, but only as the prelude to
that general amnesty and free pardon, which I feel sure will satisfy
the philanthropic heart of the noble Scarlet Pimpernel, since
three-score at least of the inhabitants of Boulogne will owe their life
and freedom to him."
"I am listening, Monsieur," she said calmly.
"As I have already had the honour of explaining, this little
document is in the form of a letter addressed personally to me, and, of
course, in French," he said finally; then he looked down on the paper
and began to read:
Citizen Chauvelin, —In consideration of a further sum of one
million francs, and on the understanding that this ridiculous charge
brought against me of conspiring against the Republic of France is
immediately withdrawn, and I am allowed to return to England
unmolested, I am quite prepared to acquaint you with the names and
whereabouts of certain persons who, under the guise of the League of
the Scarlet Pimpernel, are even now conspiring to free the woman Marie
Antoinette and her son from prison, and to place the latter upon the
throne of France. You are quite well aware that under the pretence of
being the leader of a gang of English adventurers, who never did the
Republic of France and her people any real harm, I have actually been
the means of unmasking many a Royalist plot before you, and of
bringing many persistent conspirators to the guillotine. I am
surprised that you should cavil at the price I am asking this time
for the very important information with which I am able to furnish
you, whilst you have often paid me similar sums for work which was a
great deal less difficult to do. In order to serve your Government
effectually, both in England and in France, I must have a sufficiency
of money, to enable me to live in a costly style befitting a gentleman
of my rank. Were I to alter my mode of life I could not continue to
mix in that same social milieu to which all my friends belong, and
wherein, as you are well aware, most of the Royalist plots are hatched.
Trusting, therefore, to receive a favourable reply to my just
demands within the next twenty-four hours, whereupon the names in
question shall be furnished you forthwith, -I have the honour to
remain, citizen, your humble and obedient servant.
When he had finished reading, Chauvelin quietly folded the paper up
again, and then only did he look at the man and the woman before him.
Marguerite sat very erect, her head thrown back, her face very pale,
and her hands tightly clutched in her lap. She had not stirred whilst
Chauvelin read out the infamous document, with which he desired to
brand a brave man with the ineradicable stigma of dishonour and of
shame. After she heard the first words, she looked up swiftly and
questioningly at her husband, but he stood at some little distance from
her, right out of the flickering circle of yellowish light made by the
burning tallow candles. He was as rigid as a statue, standing in his
usual attitude, with legs apart and hands buried in his breeches
She could not see his face.
Whatever she may have felt with regard to the letter, as the meaning
of it gradually penetrated into her brain, she was, of course,
convinced of one thing, and that was that never for a moment would
Percy dream of purchasing his life or even hers at such a price. But
she would have liked some sign from him, some look by which she could
be guided as to her immediate conduct: as, however, he gave neither
look nor sign, she preferred to assume an attitude of silent contempt.
But even before Chauvelin had had time to look from one face to the
other, a prolonged and merry laugh echoed across the squalid room.
Sir Percy, with head thrown back, was laughing whole-heartedly.
"A magnificent epistle, sir," he said gaily. "Lud love you, where
did you learn to wield the pen so gracefully? . . . I vow that if I
signed this interesting document, no one would believe I could have
expressed myself with such perfect ease . . . and in French, too. . ."
"Nay, Sir Percy," rejoined Chauvelin drily, "I have thought of all
that, and lest in the future there should be any doubt as to whether
your own hand had or had not penned the whole of this letter, I also
make it a condition that you write out every word of it yourself, and
sign it here in this very room, in the presence of Lady Blakeney, of
myself, of my colleague, and of at least half a dozen other persons
whom I will select."
"It is indeed admirably thought out, Monsieur," rejoined Sir Percy,
"and what is to become of the charming epistle, may I ask, after I have
written and signed it?. . . . Pardon my curiosity. . . I take a natural
interest in the matter . . . and truly your ingenuity passes belief. .
"Oh! the fate of this letter will be as simple as was the writing
thereof. . . A copy of it will be published in our Gazette de Paris
, as a bait for enterprising English journalists. . . They will not be
backward in getting hold of so much interesting matter . . . .Can you
not see the attractive headlines in The London Gazette, Sir
Percy? 'The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel unmasked! A gigantic hoax!
The origin of the Blakeney millions!' . . . I believe that journalism
in England has reached a high standard of excellence . . . and even the Gazette de Paris is greatly read in certain towns of your charming
country. . . His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and various other
influential gentlemen in London, will, on the other hand, be granted a
private view of the original, through the kind offices of certain
devoted friends whom we possess in England . . . I don't think that you
need have any fear, Sir Percy, that your caligraphy will sink into
oblivion. It will be our business to see that it obtains the full
measure of publicity which it deserves. . . "
He paused a moment, then his manner suddenly changed: the sarcastic
tone died out of his voice, and there came back into his face that look
of hatred and cruelty which Blakeney's persiflage had always the power
"You may rest assured of one thing, Sir Percy," he said with a harsh
laugh, "that enough mud will be thrown at that erstwhile glorious
Scarlet Pimpernel. . . some of it will be bound to stick. . ."
"Nay, Monsieur . . . er. . . Chaubertin," quoth Blakeney lightly, "I
have no doubt that you and your colleagues are past masters in the
graceful art of mud-throwing . . . But pardon me. . . .er . . . I was
interrupting you . . . Continue, Monsieur . . . continue, I pray. 'Pon
my honour, the matter is vastly diverting."
"Nay, sir. After the publication of this diverting epistle, meseems
your honour will cease to be a marketable commodity."
"Undoubtedly, sir," rejoined Sir Percy, apparently quite unruffled;
"pardon a slip of the tongue. . . we are so much the creatures of habit
. . . As you were saying . . . ?"
"I have but little more to say, sir. . . But lest there should even
now be lurking in your mind a vague hope that, having written this
letter, you could easily in the future deny its authorship, let me tell
you this: my measures are well taken: there will be witnesses to your
writing of it. . . You will sit here in this room, unfettered,
uncoerced in any way. . . and the money spoken of in the letter will be
handed over to you by my colleague, after a few suitable words spoken
by him, and you will take the money from him, Sir Percy. . . and the
witnesses will see you take it, after having seen you write the letter
. . . they will understand that you are being paid by the French
Government for giving information anent Royalist plots in this country
and in England . . .they will understand that your identity as the
leader of the so-called band is not only known to me and to my
colleague, but that it also covers your real character and profession
as the paid spy of France."
"Marvellous, I call it . . . demmed marvellous," quoth Sir Percy
Chauvelin had paused, half-choked by his own emotion, his hatred,
and prospective revenge. He passed his handkerchief over his forehead,
which was streaming with perspiration.
"Warm work, this sort of thing . . . eh . . Monsieur . . . er . . .
Chaubertin? . . ." queried his imperturbable enemy.
Marguerite said nothing; the whole thing was too horrible for words;
but she kept her large eyes fixed upon her husband's face. . . waiting
for that look, that sign from him which would have eased the agonising
anxiety in her heart, and which never came.
With a great effort now, Chauvelin pulled himself together, and
though his voice still trembled, he managed to speak with a certain
amount of calm:
"Probably, Sir Percy, you know," he said, "that throughout the whole
of France we are inaugurating a series of national fêtes, in honour of
the new religion which the people are about to adopt . . . Demoiselle
Désirée Candeille, whom you know, will at these festivals impersonate
the Goddess of Reason, the only deity whom we admit now in France . . .
She has been specially chosen for this honour, owing to the services
which she has rendered us recently . . . and as Boulogne happens to be
the lucky city in which we have succeeded in bringing the Scarlet
Pimpernel to justice, the national fête will begin within these city
walls, with Demoiselle Candeille as the thrice-honoured goddess."
"And you will be very merry here in Boulogne, I dare swear . . ."
"Aye, merry, sir," said Chauvelin with an involuntary and savage
snarl, as he place a long, claw-like finger upon the momentous paper
before him, "merry, for we here in Boulogne will see that which will
fill the heart of every patriot in France with gladness . . . Nay!
'twas not the death of the Scarlet Pimpernel we wanted . . . not the
noble martyrdom of England's chosen hero . . . but his humiliation and
defeat . . . derision and scorn . . contumely and contempt. You asked
me airily just now, Sir Percy, how I proposed to accomplish this object
. . . Well! you know it now -by forcing you . . . aye, forcing -
to write and sign a letter, and to take money from my hands which will
brand you for ever as a liar and an informer, and cover you with thick
and slimy mud of irreclaimable infamy. . ."
"Lud! sir," said Sir Percy pleasantly, "what a wonderful command you
have our language . . . I wish I could speak French half as well . . ."
Marguerite had risen like an automaton from her chair. She felt that
she could no longer sit still; she wanted to scream out at the top of
her voice all the horror she felt for this dastardly plot, which surely
must have had its origin in the brain of devils. She could not
understand Percy. This was one of those awful moments, which she had
been destined to experience once or twice before, when the whole
personality of her husband seemed to become shadowy before her, to
slip, as it were, past her comprehension, leaving her indescribably
lonely and wretched, trusting, yet terrified.
She thought that long ere this he would have flung back every insult
in his opponent's teeth; she did not know what inducements Chauvelin
had held out in exchange for the infamous letter, what threats he had
used. That her own life and freedom were at stake was, of course,
evident; but she cared nothing for life, and he should know that
certainly she would care still less, if such a price had to be paid for
She longed to tell him all that was in her heart, longed to tell him
how little she valued her life, how highly she prized his honour! But
how could she, before this fiend, who snarled and sneered in his
anticipated triumph? And surely, surely Percy knew!
And, knowing all that, why did he not speak? Why did he not tear
that infamous paper from out that devil's hands and fling it in his
face? Yet, though her loving ear caught every intonation of her
husband's voice, she could not detect the slightest harshness in his
airy laugh; his tone was perfectly natural, and he seemed to be, indeed
- just as he appeared - vastly amused.
Then she thought that perhaps he would wish her to go now, that he
felt a desire to be alone with this man, who had outraged him in
everything that he held most holy and most dear -his honour and his
wife . . . that perhaps, knowing that his own temper was no longer
under control, he did not wish her to witness the rough-and-ready
chastisement which he was intending to mete out to this dastardly
Yes! that was it, no doubt! Herein she could not be mistaken; she
knew his fastidious notions of what was due and proper in the presence
of a woman, and that even at a moment like this he would wish the
manners of London drawing-rooms to govern his every action.
Therefore she rose to go, and as she did so, once more tried to read
the expression in his face . . . to guess what was passing in his mind.
"Nay, madam," he said, whilst he bowed gracefully before her, "I
fear me this lengthy conversation hath somewhat fatigued you . . . This
merry jest 'twixt my engaging friend and myself should not have been
prolonged so far into the night l. . . Monsieur, I pray you, will you
not give orders that her ladyship be escorted back to her room?"
He was still standing outside the circle of light, and Marguerite
instinctively went up to him. For this one second she was oblivious of
Chauvelin's presence, she forgot her well-schooled pride, her firm
determination to be silent and to be brave: she could not longer
restrain the wild beatings of her heart, the agony of her soul, and
with sudden impulse she murmured, in a voice broken with intense love
and subdued, passionate appeal:
He drew back a step further into the gloom: this made her realise
the mistake she had made in allowing her husband's most bitter enemy to
get this brief glimpse into her soul. Chauvelin's thin lips curled with
satisfaction, the brief glimpse had been sufficient for him, the
rapidly whispered name, the broken accent had told him what he had not
known hitherto, namely, that between this man and woman there was a
bond far more powerful than that which usually existed between husband
and wife, and merely made up of chivalry on the one side and trustful
reliance on the other.
Marguerite, having realised her mistake, ashamed of having betrayed
her feelings even for a moment, threw back her proud head and gave her
exultant foe a look of defiance and of scorn. He responded with one of
pity, not altogether unmixed with deference. There was something almost
unearthly and sublime in this beautiful woman's agonising despair.
He lowered his head and made her a deep obeisance, lest she should
see the satisfaction and triumph which shone through his pity.
As usual, Sir Percy remained quite imperturbable, and now it was he
who, with characteristic impudence, touched the handbell on the table:
"Excuse this intrusion, Monsieur," he said lightly; "her ladyship is
over-fatigued and would be best in her room."
Marguerite threw him a grateful look. After all, she was only a
woman and was afraid of breaking down. In her mind there was no issue
to the present deadlock save death. For this she was prepared, and had
but one great hope, that she could lie in her husband's arms just once
again before she died. Now, since she could not speak to him, scarcely
dared to look into the loved face, she was quite ready to go.
In answer to the bell, the soldier had entered.
"If Lady Blakeney desires to go . . ." said Chauvelin.
She nodded, and Chauvelin gave the necessary orders: two soldiers
stood at attention ready to escort Marguerite back to her prison cell.
As she went towards the door she came to within a couple of steps from
where her husband was standing, bowing to her as she passed.
She stretched out an icy cold hand towards him, and he, in the most
approved London fashion, with the courtly grace of a perfect English
gentleman, took the little hand in his and, stooping very low, kissed
the delicate finger-tips.
Then only did she notice that the strong, nervy hand which held hers
trembled perceptibly, and that his lips -which for an instant rested on
her fingers -were burning hot.
Chapter XXVII— The Decision
Once more the two men were alone.
As far as Chauvelin was concerned he felt that everything was not
yet settled, and until a moment ago he had been in doubt as to whether
Sir Percy would accept the infamous conditions which had been put
before him, or allow his pride and temper to get the better of him and
throw the deadly insults back into his adversary's teeth.
But now a new secret had been revealed to the astute diplomatist. A
name, softly murmured by a broke-hearted woman, had told him a tale of
love and passion which he had not even suspected before.
Since he had made this discovery he knew that the ultimate issue was
no longer in doubt. Sir Percy Blakeney, the bold adventurer, ever ready
for a gamble where lives were at stake, might have demurred before he
subscribed to his own dishonour in order to save his wife from
humiliation and the shame of the terrible fate that had been mapped out
for her. But the same man passionately in love with such a woman as
Marguerite Blakeney would count the world well lost for her sake.
One sudden fear alone had shot through Chauvelin's heart when he
stood face to face with the two people whom he had so deeply and
cruelly wronged, and that was that Blakeney, throwing aside all thought
of the scores of innocent lives that were at stake, might forget
everything, risk everything, dare everything in order to get his wife
away there and then.
For the space of a few seconds Chauvelin had felt that his own life
was in jeopardy, and that the Scarlet Pimpernel would indeed make a
desperate effort to save himself and his wife. But the fear was short
lived; Marguerite -as he had well forseen -would never save herself at
the expense of others, and she was tied! tied! tied! That was his
triumph and his joy!
When Marguerite finally left the room Sir Percy made no motion to
follow her, but turned once more quietly to his antagonist.
"As you were saying, Monsieur? . . ." he queried lightly.
"Oh! there is nothing more to say, Sir Percy," rejoined Chauvelin;
"my conditions are clear to you, are they not? Lady Blakeney's and your
own immediate release in exchange for a letter written to me by your
own hand, and signed here by you -in this room- in my presence and that
of sundry other persons whom I need not name just now. Also certain
money passing from my hand to yours. Failing the letter, a long,
hideously humiliating sojourn in the Temple prison for your wife, a
prolonged trial and the guillotine as a happy release! . . . I would
add the same thing for yourself, only that I will do you the justice to
admit that you probably do not care."
"Nay! a grave mistake, Monsieur . . . I do care . . . vastly care, I
assure you . . . and would seriously object to ending my life on your
demmed guillotine . . a nasty, uncomfortable thing, I should say . . .
and I am told that an inexperienced barber is deputed to cut one's hair
. . . Brrr! . . . Now, on the other hand, I like the idea of a national
fête . . . that pretty wench, Candeille, dressed as a goddess . . . the
boom of the cannon when your amnesty comes into force . . . You will
boom the cannon, will you not, Monsieur? . . . Cannons are demmed
noisy, but they are effective sometimes, do you not think so, Monsieur?"
"Very effective certainly, Sir Percy," sneered Chauvelin; "and we
will certainly boom the cannon from this very fort, an it so please you
. . ."
"At what hour, Monsieur, is my letter to be ready?"
"Why! at any hour you please, Sir Percy."
"The Day Dream could weight anchor at eight o'clock . . .
would an hour before that be convenient to yourself?"
"Certainly, Sir Percy . . . if you will honour me by accepting my
hospitality in these uncomfortable quarters until seven o'clock
to-morrow eve? . . . "
"I thank you, Monsieur . . ."
"Then am I to understand, Sir Percy, that . . ."
A loud and ringing laugh broke from Blakeney's lips.
"That I accept your bargain, man! . . . Zounds! I tell you I accept
. . . I'll write the letter, I'll sign it . . . an you have our free
passes ready for us in exchange . . . At seven o'clock to-morrow eve,
did you say? . . . Man! do not look so astonished . . . The letter, the
signature, the money . . . all your witnesses . . . have everything
ready . . . I accept, I say . . . And now, in the name of all the evil
spirits in hell let me have some supper and a bed, for I vow that I am
And without more ado Sir Percy once more rang the handbell, laughing
boisterously the while; then suddenly, with quick transition of mood,
his laugh was lost in a gigantic yawn, and throwing his long, body on
to a chair, he stretched out his legs, buried his hands in his pockets,
and the next moment was peacefully asleep.
Chapter XXVIII— The Midnight Watch
Boulogne had gone through many phases, in its own languid and sleepy
way, whilst the great upheaval of a gigantic revolution shook other
cities of France to their very foundations.
At first the little town had held somnolently aloof, and whilst
Lyons and Tours conspired and rebelled, whilst Marseilles and Toulon
opened their ports to the English, and Dunkirk was ready to surrender
to the allied forces, she had gazed through half-closed eyes at all the
turmoil, and then quietly turned over and gone to sleep again.
Boulogne fished and mended nets, built boats, and manufactured boots
with placid content, whilst France murdered her king and butchered her
The initial noise of the great revolution was only wafted on the
southerly breezes from Paris to the little sea-port towns of northern
France, and lost much of its volume and power in this aerial transit:
the fisher-folk were too poor to worry about the dethronement of kings:
the struggle for daily existence, the perils and hardships of deep-sea
fishing engrossed all the faculties they possessed.
As for the burghers and merchants of the town, they were at first
content with reading an occasional article in the Gazette de Paris
or the Gazette des Tribunaux, brought hither by one or other of
the many travellers who crossed the city on their way to the harbour.
They were interested in these articles, at times even comfortably
horrified at the doings in Paris, the executions and the tumbrils, but
on the whole they liked the idea that the country was in future to be
governed by duly chosen representatives of the people, rather than by a
prey to the despotism of kings, and they were really quite pleased to
see the tricolour flag hoisted on the old Beffroi, there where the
snow-white standard of the Bourbons had erstwhile flaunted its golden
fleur de lys in the glare of the midday sun.
The worthy burgesses of Boulogne were ready to shout: "Vive la
République!" with the same cheerful and raucous Normandy accent as they
had lately shouted "Dieu protège le Roy!"
The first awakening from this happy torpor came when that tent was
put up on the landing stage in the harbour. Officials, dressed in
shabby uniforms and wearing tricolour cockades and scarves, were now
quartered in the Town Hall, and repaired daily to that roughly-erected
tent, accompanied by so many soldiers from the garrison.
There installed, they busied themselves with examining carefully the
passports of all those who had dwelt in the city -father and son and
grandfather, and many generations before that, and had come and gone in
and out of their own boats as they pleased, were now stopped as they
beached their craft and made to give an account of themselves to these
officials from Paris.
It was, of a truth, more than ridiculous, that these strangers
should ask of Jean-Marie who he was, or of Pierre what was his
business, or of Désiré François whither he was going, when Jean-Marie
and Pierre and Désiré François had plied their nets in the roads
outside Boulogne harbour for more years than they would care to count.
It also caused no small measure of annoyance that fishermen were
ordered to wear tricolour cockades on their caps. They had no special
ill-feeling against tricolour cockades, but they did not care about
them. Jean-Marie flatly refused to have one pinned on, and being
admonished somewhat severely by one of the Paris officals, he became
obstinate about the whole thing, and threw the cockade violently on the
ground and spat upon it, not from any sentiment of anti-Republicanism,
but just from a feeling of Norman doggedness.
He was arrested, shut up in Fort Gayole, tried as a traitor, and
The consternation in Boulogne was appalling.
The one little spark had found its way to a barrel of blasting
powder, and caused a terrible explosion. Within twenty-four hours of
Jean-Marie's execution the whole town was in the throes of the
Revolution. What the death of King Louis, the arrest of Marie
Antoinette, the massacres of September had failed to do, that the
arrest and execution of an elderly fisherman accomplished in a trice.
People began to take sides in politics. Some families realised that
they came from ancient lineage, and that their ancestors had helped to
build up the throne of the Bourbons. Others looked up ancient archives,
and remembered past oppressions at the hands of the aristocrats.
Thus some burghers of Boulogne became ardent reactionaries, whilst
others secretly nursed enthusiastic royalist convictions: some were
ready to throw in their lot with the anarchists, to deny the religion
of their fathers, to scorn the priests and close the places of worsh,
others adhered strictly still to the usages and practices of the Church.
Arrests became frequent: the guillotine, erected in the Place de la
Sénéchaussée, had plenty of work to do. Soon the cathedral was closed,
the priests thrown into prison, whilst scores of families hoped to
escape a similar fate by summary flight.
Vague rumours of a band of English adventurers soon reached the
little sea-port town. The Scarlet Pimpernel -English spy or hero, as he
was alternately called - had helped many a family with pronounced
royalist tendencies to escape the fury of the blood-thirsty Terrorists.
Thus gradually the anti-revolutionaries had been weeded out of the
city: some by death and imprisonment, others by flight. Boulogne became
the hotbed of anarchism: the idlers and loafers inseparable from any
town where there is a garrison and a harbour, practically ruled the
city now. Denunciations were the order of the day. Every one who owned
any money, or lived with any comfort, was accused of being a traitor
and suspected of conspiracy. The fisher-folk wandered about the city,
surly and discontented: their trade was at a standstill, but there was
a trifle to be earned by giving information: information which meant
the arrest, ofttimes the death, of men, women, and even children who
had tried to seek safety in flight, and to denounce whom -as they were
trying to hire a boat anywhere along the coast -meant a good square
meal for a starving family.
Then came the awful cataclysm.
A woman -a stranger- had been arrested and imprisoned in the Fort
Gayole, and the town-crier publicly proclaimed that if she escaped from
jail, one member of every family in the town -rich or poor, republican
or royalist, Catholic or freethinker -would be summarily guillotined.
That member, the bread-winner!
"Why, then, with the Duvals it would be young François-Auguste. He
keeps his old mother with his boot-making. . ."
"And it would be Marie Lebon; she has her blind father dependent on
"And old Mother Laferrière, whose grandchildren were left penniless.
. . she keeps them from starvation by her wash-tub."
"But François-Auguste is a real Republican; he belongs to the
"And look at Pierre, who never meets a calotin but he must needs
spit on him."
"Is there no safety anywhere? . . . are we to be butchered like so
much cattle? . . ."
Somebody makes the suggestion:
"It is a threat . . . they would not dare! . . ."
"Would not dare?"
'Tis old André Lemoine who has spoken, and he spits vigorously on
the ground. André Lemoine has been a soldier, he was in the Vendée. He
was wounded at Tours . . . and he knows!
"Would not dare?" . . . he says in a whisper. "I tell you, friends,
that there's nothing the present Government would not dare. There was
the Plaine Saint Mauve. . . Did you ever hear about that? . . . little
children fusilladed by the score . . . little ones, I say, and women
with babies at their breasts . . . weren't they innocent? . . Five
hundred innocent people butchered in La Vendée . . . until the headsman
sank -worn out . . . I could tell worse than that . . . for I know . .
. There's nothing they would not dare! . . ."
Consternation was so great that the matter could not even be
"We'll go to Gayole and see this woman, at any rate."
Angry, sullen crowds assembled in the streets. The proclamation had
been read just as the men were leaving the public-houses, preparing to
go home for the night.
They brought the news to the women, who, at home, were setting the
soup and bread on the table for their husband's supper. There was no
thought of going to bed or of sleeping that night. The bread-winner in
every family, and all those dependent on him for daily sustenance were
trembling for their lives.
Resistance to the barbarous order would have been worse than
useless, nor did the thought of it enter the heads of these humble and
ignorant fisher-folk, wearied out with the miserable struggle for
existence. There was not sufficient spirit left in this half-starved
population of a small provincial city to suggest open rebellion. A
regiment of soldiers come up from the south was quartered in the
Château, and the natives of Boulogne could not have mustered more than
a score of disused blunderbuss between them.
Then they remembered tales which André Lemoine had told, the fate of
Lyons, razed to the ground, or Toulon burnt to ashes, and they did not
But brothers, fathers, sons, trooped out towards Gayole, in order to
have a good look at the frowning pile, which held the hostage for their
safety. It looked dark and gloomy enough, save for one window which
gave on the southern ramparts. This window was wide open, and a feeble
light flickered from the room beyond, as as the men stood about, gazing
at the walls in sulky silence, they suddenly caught the sound of a loud
laugh proceeding from within, and of a pleasant voice speaking quite
gaily in a language which they did not understand, but which sounded
Against the heavy oaken gateway, leading to the courtyard of the
prison, the proclamation, written on stout parchment, had been pinned
up. Beside it hung a tiny lantern, the dim light of which flickered in
the evening breeze, and brought at times into sudden relief the bold
writing and heavy signature, which stood out, stern and grim, against
the yellowish background of the paper, like black signs of approaching
Facing the gateway and the proclamation, the crowd of men took its
stand. The moon, from behind them, cast fitful, silvery glances at the
weary heads bent in anxiety and watchful expectancy: on old heads and
young heads, dark, curly heads, and heads grizzled with age, on backs
bent with toil, and hands rough and gnarled like seasoned timber.
All night the men stood and watched.
Sentinels from the town guard were stationed at the gates, but these
might prove inattentive or insufficient; they had not the same price at
stake, so the entire able-bodied population of Boulogne watched the
gloomy prison that night, lest anyone escaped by wall or window.
They were guarding the precious hostage, whose safety was the
stipulation for their own.
There was dead silence among them, and dead silence all around, save
for that monotonous tok-tok-tok of the parchment flapping in the
breeze. The moon, who all along had been capricious and chary on her
light, made a final retreat behind a gathering bank of clouds, and the
crowd, the soldiers, and the great grim wall were all equally wrapped
Only the little lantern on the gateway now made a ruddy patch of
light, and tinged that fluttering parchment with the colour of blood.
Every now and then an isolated figure would detach itself from out the
watching throng, and go up to the heavy, oaken door, in order to gaze
at the proclamation. Then the light of the lantern illumined a dark
head or a grey one, for a moment or two: black or white locks were
stirred gently in the wind, and a sigh of puzzlement and disappointment
would be distinctly heard.
At times a group of three or four would stand there for awhile, not
speaking, only sighing and casting eager, questioning glances at one
another, whilst trying vainly to find some hopeful word, some turn of
phrase or meaning that would be less direful, in that grim and
ferocious proclamation. Then a rough word from the sentinel, a push
from the butt-end of a bayonet would disperse the little group and send
the men, sullen and silent, back into the crowd.
Thus they watched for hours whilst the bell of the Beffroi tolled
all the hours of that tedious night. A thin rain began to fall in the
small hours of the morning, a wetting soaking drizzle which chilled the
weary watchers to the bone.
But they did not care.
"We must not sleep, for the woman might escape."
Some of them squatted down in the muddy road, the luckier ones
managed to lean their backs against the slimy walls.
Twice before the hour of midnight they heard that same quaint merry
laugh proceeding from the lighted room, through the open window. Once
it sounded very loud and very prolonged, as if in response to a
Anon the heavy gateway of the Gayole was opened from within, and
half a dozen soldiers came walking out of the courtyard. They were
dressed in the uniform of the town guard, but had evidently been picked
out of the rank and file, for all six were exceptionally tall and
stalwart, and towered above the sentinel, who saluted and presented
arms as they marched out of the gate.
In the midst of them walked a slight, dark figure, clad entirely in
black, save for the tricolour scarf round his waist.
The crowd of watchers gazed on the little party with
"Who is it?" whispered some of the men.
"The citizen governor," suggested one.
"The new public executioner," ventured another.
"No! no!" quoth Pierre Maxime, the doyen of Boulogne fishermen, and
a great authority on every matter, public or private, within the town,
"no, no, he is the man who has come down from Paris, the friend of
Robespierre. He makes the law now, the citizen governor even must obey
him. 'Tis he who made the law that if the woman up yonder should escape
. . ."
"Hush! . . . sh! . . sh! . . ." came in frightened accents from the
"Hush, Pierre Maxime! . . . the citizen might hear thee," whispered
the man who stood closest to the old fisherman, "the citizen might hear
thee, and think that we rebelled . . ."
"What are these people doing here?" queried Chauvelin, as he passed
out into the street.
"They are watching the prison, citizen," replied the sentinel, whom
he had thus addressed, "lest the female prisoner should attempt to
With a satisfied smile, Chauvelin turned towards the Town Hall,
closely surrounded by his escort. The crowd watched him and the
soldiers as they quickly disappeared in the gloom, then they resumed
the stolid, wearisome vigil of the night.
The old Beffroi now tolled the midnight hour, the one solitary light
in the old fort was extinguished, and after that the frowning pile
remained dark and still.
Chapter XXIX— The National Fête
"Citizens of Boulogne, awake!"
They had not slept, only some of them had fallen into drowsy
somnolence, heavy and nerve-racking, worse, indeed, than any
Within the houses the women, too, had kept the tedious vigil,
listening for every sound, dreading every bit of news which the wind
might waft in through the small, open windows.
If one prisoner escaped, every family in Boulogne would be deprived
of the breadwinner. Therefore the women wept, and tried to remember
those Paters and Aves which the tyranny of liberty, fraternity, and
equality had ordered them to forget.
Broken rosaries were fetched out from neglected corners, and knees
stiff with endless, thankless toil were bent once more in prayer.
"Oh, God! Good God! Do not allow that woman to flee!"
"Holy Virgin! Mother of God! make that she should not escape!"
Some of the women went out in the early dawn to take hot soup or
coffee to their men, who were watching outside the prison.
"Has anything been seen?"
"Have ye seen the woman?"
"Which room is she in?"
"Why won't they let us see her?"
"Are you sure she hath not already escaped?"
Questions and surmises went round in muffled whispers as the
steaming cans were passed round. No one had a definite answer to give,
although Désiré Melun declared that he had, once during the night,
caught sight of a woman's face at one of the windows above: but as he
could not describe the woman's face, nor locate with any degree of
precision the particular window at which she was supposed to have
appeared, it was unanimously decided that Désiré must have been
"Citizens of Boulogne, awake!"
The cry came first from the Town Hall, and therefore from behind the
crowd of men and women, whose faces had been so resolutely set for all
these past hours towards the Gayole Prison.
They were all awake! but too tired and cramped to move as yet, and
to turn in the direction whence arose that cry.
"Citizens of Boulogne, awake!"
It was just the voice of Auguste Moleaux, the town crier of
Boulogne, who, bell in hand, was trudging his way along the Rue
Daumont, closely followed by two fellows of the municipal guard.
Auguste was in the very midst of the sullen crowd before the men
ever troubled about his presence here, but now, with many a vigorous
"Allons donc!" and "Voyez-moi ça, fais donc place, voyons!" he elbowed
hiw way through the throng.
He was neither tired nor cramped, he served the Republic in comfort
and ease, and had slept soundly on his paillasse in the little garret
allotted to him in the Town Hall.
The crowd parted in silence to allow him to pass. Auguste was lean
and powerful, the scanty and meagre food doled out to him by a paternal
Government had increased his muscular strength whilst reducing his fat.
He had very hard elbows, and soon he managed, by dint of pushing and
cursing, to reach the gateway of Gayole.
"Voyons! enlevez-moi ça," he commanded in stentorian tones, pointing
to the proclamation.
The fellows of the municipal guard fell to and tore the parchment
away from the door, whilst the crowd looked on with stupid amazement.
What did it all mean?
Then Auguste Moleaux turned and faced the men.
"Mes enfants," he said, "my little cabbages! wake up! The Government
of the Republic has decreed that to-day is to be a day of gaiety and
"Gaiety? . . . Public rejoicings, forsooth, when the breadwinner of
every family . . ."
"Hush! Hush! Be silent all of you," quoth Auguste impatiently. "You
do not understand! . . . All that is at an end . . . There is no fear
that the woman shall escape . . . You are all to dance and rejoice . .
. The Scarlet Pimpernel has been captured in Boulogne -last night. . ."
"Qui ça the Scarlet Pimpernel?"
"Mais! 'tis that mysterious English adventurer who rescued people
from the guillotine!"
"A hero? quoi?"
"No! no! only an English spy, a friend of aristocrats . . . he would
have cared nothing for the breadwinners of Boulogne . . ."
"He would not have raised a finger to save them."
"Who knows?" sighed a feminine voice. "Perhaps he came to Boulogne
to help them."
"And he has been caught, anyway," concluded Auguste Moleaux
sententiously; "And, my little cabbages, remember this, that so great
is the pleasure of the all-powerful Committee of Public Safety at his
capture, that because he has been caught in Boulogne, therefore
Boulogne is to be specially rewarded!"
"Holy Virgin, who'd have thought it?"
"Sh. . . Jeannette, dost not know that there's no Holy Virgin now?"
"And dost know, Auguste, how we are to be rewarded?"
It is a difficult matter for the human mind to turn very quickly
from despair to hope, and the fishermen of Boulogne had not yet grasped
the fact that they were to make merry, and that thoughts of anxiety
must be abondoned for those of gaiety.
Auguste Moleux took out a parchment from the capacious pocket of his
coat; he put on his most solemn air of officialdom, and, pointing with
extended forefinger to the parchment, he said:
"A general amnesty to all natives of Boulogne who are under arrest
at the present moment: a free pardon to all natives of Boulogne who are
under sentence of death: permission to all natives of Boulogne to quit
the town with their families, to embark on any vessel they please, in
or out of the harbour, and to go whithersoever they choose, without
passports, formalities, or questions of any kind."
Dead silence followed this announcement. Hope was just beginning to
crowd anxiety and sullenness out of the way.
"Then poor André Legrand will be pardoned," whispered a voice
suddenly; "he was to have been guillotined to-day."
"And Denise Latour! She was innocent enough, the gentle pigeon."
"And they'll let poor Abbé Foucquet out of prison, too."
"And poor Félicité, who is blind!"
"M. l'Abbé would be wise to leave Boulogne, with the children."
"He will, too: thou canst be sure of that!"
"It is not good to be a priest just now!"
"Bah! calotins are best dead than alive."
But some in the crowd were silent; others whispered eagerly:
"Thinkest thou it would be safer for us to get out of the country
whilst we can?" said one of the men in a muffled tone, and clutching
nervously at a woman's wrist.
"Aye! aye! it might leak out about that boat we procured for . . ."
"Sh. . . I was thinking of that . . ."
"We can go to my Aunt Lebrun in Belgium. . . "
Others talked in whispers of England, or the New Land across the
seas: they were those who had something to hide -money received from
refugee aristocrats, boats sold to would-be émigrés, information
withheld, denunciations shirked: the amnesty would not last long, 'twas
best to safely out of the way.
"In the meanwhile, my cabbages," quoth Auguste sententiously, "are
you not grateful to Citizen Robespierre, who has sent this order
specially down from Paris?"
"Aye! aye!" assented the crowd cheerfully.
"Hurrah for Citizen Robespierre!"
"Vive la République!"
"And you will enjoy yourselves to-day?"
"That we will!"
"Aye! with music and dancing."
Out there, far away, beyond the harbour, the grey light of dawn was
yielding to the crimson glow of morning. The rain had ceased, and
heavy, slaty clouds parted here and there, displaying glints of
delicate turquoise sky and tiny ethereal vapours, in the dim and remote
distance of infinity, flecked with touches of rose and gold.
The towers and pinnacles of old Boulogne detached themselves, one by
one, from the misty gloom of night. The old bell of the Beffroi tolled
the hour of six. Soon the massive cupola of Notre Dame was clothed in
purple hues, and the gilt cross on S. Joseph threw back across the
square a blinding ray of gold.
The town sparrows began to twitter, and from far out at sea, in the
direction of Dunkirk, there came the muffled boom of cannon.
"And remember, my pigeons," admonished Auguste Moleaux solemnly,
"that in this order which Robespierre has sent from Paris it also says
that from to-day onwards le bon Dieu has ceased to be!"
Many faces were turned towards the east just then, for the rising
sun, tearing with one gigantic sweep the bank of clouds asunder, now
displayed his magnificence in a gorgeous immensity of flaming crimson.
The sea, in response, turned to liquid fire beneath the glow, whilst
the whole sky was irradiated with the first blush of morning.
Le bon Dieu has ceased to be!!!
"There is only one religion in France now," explained Auguste
Moleaux, "the religion of Reason! We are all citizens!! We are all free
and all able to think for ourselves. Citizen Robespierre has decreed
that there is no good God. Le bon Dieu was a tyrant and an aristocrat,
and, like all tyrants and aristocrats, He has been deposed. There is no
good God, there is no Holy Virgin, and no Saints -only Reason, who is a
goddess, and whom we all honour."
And the townsfolk of Boulogne, with eyes still fixed on the gorgeous
east, shouted with sullen obedience:
"Hurrah for the Goddess of Reason!"
"Hurrah for Robespierre!"
Only the women, trying to escape the town crier's prying eyes, or
the soldier's stern gaze, hastily crossed themselves behind their
husband's backs, terrified lest le bon Dieu had, after all, not
altogether ceased to exist at the bidding of Citizen Robespierre.
Thus the worthy natives of Boulogne, forgetting their anxieties and
fears, were ready enough to enjoy the national fête ordained for them
by the Committee of Public Safety, in honour of the capture of the
Scarlet Pimpernel. They were even willing to accept this new religion
which Robespierre had invented: a religion which was only a mockery,
with an actress to represent its supreme deity.
Mais que voulez-vous? Boulogne had long ago ceased to have faith in
God: the terrors of the Revolution, which culminated in that agonising
watch of last night, had smothered all thoughts of worship and of
The Scarlet Pimpernel must indeed be a dangerous spy, that his
arrest should cause so much joy in Paris!
Even Boulogne had learned by experience that the Committee of Public
Safety did not readily give up a prey, once its vulture-like claws had
closed upon it. The proportion of condemnations as against acquittals
was as a hundred to one.
But because this one man was taken, scores to-day were to be set
In the evening, at a given hour -seven o'clock had Auguste Moleaux,
the town crier, understood -the boom of the cannon would be heard, the
gates of the town would be opened, the harbour would become a free port.
The inhabitants of Boulogne were ready to shout:
"Vive the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
Whatever he was - hero or spy - he was undoubtedly the primary cause
of all their joy.
By the time Auguste Moleux had cried out the news throughout the
town, and pinned the new proclamation of mercy up on every public
building, all traces of fatigue and anxiety had vanished. In spite of
the fact that wearisome vigils had been kept in every home that night,
and that hundreds of men and women had stood about for hours in the
vicinity of the Gayole Fort, no sooner was the joyful news known than
all lassitude was forgotten, and everyone set to with right merry will
to make a great fête-day a complete success.
There is in every native of Normandy, be he peasant or gentleman, an
infinite capacity for enjoyment, and at the same time a marvellous
faculty for co-ordinating and systematising his pleasures.
In a trice the surly crowds had vanished. Instead of these, there
were groups of gaily visaged men pleasantly chattering outside every
eating and drinking place in the town. The national holiday had come
upon these people quite unawares, so the early part of it had to be
spent in thinking out a satisfactory programme for it. Sipping their
beer or coffee, or munching their cherries à l'eau-de-vie, the
townsfolk of Boulogne, so lately threatened with death, were quietly
There was to be a grand muster on the Place de la Sénéchaussée, then
a torchlight and lanthornlight march right round the ramparts,
culminating in a gigantic assembly outside the Town Hall, where the
Citizen Chauvelin, representing the Committee of Public Safety, would
receive an address of welcome from the entire population of Boulogne.
The procession was to be in costume! There were to be Pierrots and
Pierrettes, Harlequins and English clowns, aristocrats and goddesses!
All day the women and girls were busy contriving travesties of all
sorts, and the little tumble-down shops in the Rue du Château and the
Rue Frédéric Sauvage -kept chiefly by Jews and English traders- were
ransacked for old bits of finery, and for remnants of costumes, worn in
the days when Boulogne was still a gay city and carnivals were held
And then, of course, there would be the Goddess of Reason, in her
triumphal car! -the apotheosis of the new religion, which was to make
everybody happy, rich and free.
Forgotten were the anxieties of the night, the fears of death, the
great and glorious Revolution, which for this one day would cease her
perpetual demand for the toll of blood.
Nothing was remembered save the pleasures and joy of the moment, and
at times the name of that Englishman -spy, hero, or adventurer - the
cause of all this bounty: the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Chapter XXX— The Procession
The grandfathers of the present generation of Boulonnese remembered
the great day of the National Fête, when all Boulogne, for twenty-four
hours, went crazy with joy. So many families had fathers, brothers,
sons, languishing in prison under some charge of treason, real or
imaginary, so many had dear ones for whom this memorable day of
September, 1793, was one of never-to-be-forgotten relief and
The weather all day had been exceptionally fine. After that glorious
sunrise the sky had remained all day clad in its gorgeous mantle of
blue, and the sun had continued to smile benignly on the many varied
doings of this gay little seaport town. When it began to sink slowly
towards the West a few little fluffy clouds appeared on the horizon,
and from a distance, although the sky remained clear and blue, the sea
looked quite dark and slaty against the brilliancy of the firmament.
Gradually, as the splendour of the sunset gave place to the delicate
purple and grey tints of evening, the little fluffy clouds merged
themselves into denser masses, and these, too, soon became absorbed in
the great, billowy banks which the south-westerly wind was blowing
By the time that the last grey streak of dusk vanished in the West,
the whole sky looked heavy with clouds, and the evening set in,
threatening and dark.
But this by no means mitigated the anticipation of pleasure to come.
On the contrary, the fast-gathering gloom was hailed with delight,
since it would surely help to show off the coloured lights of the
lanthorns and give additional value to the glow of the torches.
Of a truth 'twas a motley throng which began to assemble on the
Place de la Sénéchaussée, just as the old bell of the Beffroi tolled
the hour of six. Men, women, and children in ragged finery, Pierrots
with neck frills and floured faces, hideous masks of impossible beasts
roughly besmeared with crude colours. There were gaily-coloured
dominoes, blue, green, pink, and purple; harlequins combining all the
colours of the rainbow in one tight-fitting garment, and Columbines
with short, tarlatan skirts, beneath which peeped bare feet and ankles.
There were judges' perruques, and soldiers' helmets of past
generations, tall Normandy caps adorned with hundreds of streaming
ribbons and powdered headgear which recalled the glories of Versailles.
Everything was torn and dirty, the dominoes were in rags, the
Pierrot frills, mostly made up of paper, already hung in strips over
the wearers' shoulders. But what mattered that?
The crowd pushed and jolted, shouted and laughed, the girls screamed
as the men snatched a kiss here and there from willing or unwilling
lips, or stole an arm round a gaily-accoutred waist. The spirit of old
King Carnival was in the evening air -a spirit just awakened from a
long Rip Van Winkle-like sleep.
In the centre of the Place stood the guillotine, grim and guant,
with long, thin arms stretched out towards the sky, the last glimmer of
waning light striking the triangular knife, there, where it was not
rusty with stains of blood.
For weeks now Madame Guillotine had been much occupied plying her
gruesome trade; she now stood there in the gloom, passive and
immovable, seeming to wait placidly for the end of this holiday, ready
to begin her work again on the morrow. She towered above these
merrymakers, hoisted up on the platform whereon many an innocent foot
had trodden, the tattered basket beside her, into which many an
innocent head had rolled.
What cared they to-night for Madame Guillotine and the horrors of
which she told? A crowd of Pierrots with floured faces and tattered
neck-frills had just swarmed up the wooden steps, shouting and
laughing, chasing each other round and round on the platform, until one
of them lost his footing and fell into the basket, covering himself
with bran and staining his clothes with blood.
"Ah, vogue la galère! We must be merry tonight!"
And all these people, who for weeks past had been staring death and
the guillotine in the face, had denounced each other with savage
callousness in order to save themselves, or hidden for days in dark
cellars to escape apprehension, now laughed and danced and shrieked
with gladness in a sudden, hysterical outburst of joy.
Close beside the guillotine stood the triumphal car of the Goddess
of Reason, the special feature of this great national fête. It was only
a rough market cart, painted by an unpractised hand with bright,
crimson paint, and adorned with huge clusters of autumn-tinted leaves,
and the scarlet berries of mountain ash and rowan, culled from the town
gardens, or the country side outside the city walls.
In the cart the goddess reclined on a crimson-draped seat, she
herself swathed in white, and wearing a gorgeous necklace around her
neck. Désirée Candeille, a little pale, a little apprehensive of all
this noise, had obeyed the final dictates of her taskmaster. She had
been the means of bringing the Scarlet Pimpernel to France and
vengeance, she was to be honoured therefore above every other woman in
She sat in the car, vaguely thinking over the events of the past few
days, whilst watching the throng of rowdy merrymakers seething around
her. She thought of the noble-hearted, proud woman whom she had helped
to bring from her beautiful English home to sorrow and humiliation in a
dank, French prison; she thought of the gallant English gentleman, with
his pleasant voice and courtly, debonnair manners.
Chauvelin had roughly told her, only this morning, that both were
now under arrest as English spies, and that their fate no longer
concerned her. Later on the governor of the city had come to tell her
that Citizen Chauvelin desired her to take part in the procession and
the national fête, as the Goddess of Reason, and that the people of
Boulogne were ready to welcome her as such. This had pleased
Candeille's vanity, and all day, whilst arranging the finery which she
meant to wear for the occasion, she had ceased to think of England and
of Lady Blakeney.
But now, when she arrived on the Place de la Sénéchaussée, and
mounting her car, found herself on a level with the platform of the
guillotine, her memory flew back to England, to the lavish hospitality
of Blakeney Manor, Marguerite's gentle voice, the pleasing grace of Sir
Percy's manners, and she shuddered a little when that cruel glint of
evening light caused the knife of the guillotine to glisten from out
But anon her reflections were suddenly interrupted by loud and
prolonged shouts of joy. A whole throng of Pierrots had swarmed into
the Place from every side, carrying lighted torches and tall staves, on
which were hung lanthorns with many-coloured lights.
The procession was ready to start. A stentorian voice shouted out in
"En avant, la grosse caisse!"
A man now, portly and gorgeous in scarlet and blue, detached himself
from out the crowd. His head was hidden beneath the monstrous mask of a
cardboard lion, roughly painted in brown and yellow, with crimson for
the widely-open jaws and the corners of the eyes to make them seem
ferocious and bloodshot. His coat was of bright crimson cloth, with
cuts and slashings in it, through which bunches of bright blue paper
were made to protrude, in imitation of the costume of mediaeval times.
He had blue stockings on and bright scarlet slippers, and behind him
floated a large strip of scarlet flannel, on which moons and suns and
stars of gold had been showered in plenty.
Upon his portly figure in front he was supporting the big drum,
which was securely strapped round his shoulders and tarred cordages,
the spoil of some fishing vessel.
There was a merciful slit in the jaw of the cardboard lion, through
which the portly drummer puffed and spluttered as he shouted lustily:
And wielding the heavy drumstick with a powerful arm, he brought it
crashing down against the side of the mighty instrument.
"Hurrah! Hurrah! en avant les trompettes!"
A fanfare of brass instruments followed, lustily blown by twelve
young men in motley coats of green, and tall, peaked hats adorned with
The drummer had begun to march, closely followed by the trumpeters.
Behind them a bevy of Columbines in many-coloured tarlatan skirts and
hair flying wildly in the breeze, giggling, pushing, exchanging ribald
jokes with the men behind, and getting kissed or slapped for their
Then the triumphal car of the goddess, with Demoiselle Candeille
standing straight up in it, a tall, gold wand in one hand, the other
resting in a mass of scarlet berries. All round the car,
helter-skelter, tumbling, pushing, came Pierrots and Pierrettes
carrying lanthorns, and Harlequins bearing the torches.
And after the car the long line of more sober folk, the older
fishermen, the women in caps and many-hued skirts, the serious
townsfolk who had scorned the travesty, yet would not be left out of
the procession. They all began to march, to the tune of those noisy
brass trumpets which were thundering forth snatches from the
Above the sky became more heavy with clouds. Anon a few drops of
rain began to fall, making the torches sizzle and splutter, and scatter
grease and tar around, and wetting the light-covered shoulders of
tarlatan-clad Columbines. But no one cared! The glow of so much
merrymaking kept the blood warm and the skin dry.
The flour all came off the Pierrots' faces, the blue paper slashings
of the drummer-in-chief hung in pulpy lumps against his gorgeous
scarlet cloak. The trumpeters' feathers became streaky and bedraggled.
But in the name of that good God who had ceased to exist, who in
this world or out of it cared if it rained, or thundered and stormed!
This was a national holiday, for an English spy was captured, and all
natives of Boulogne were free of the guillotine to-night.
The revellers were making the circuit of the town, with lanthorns
fluttering in the wind, and flickering torches held up aloft illumining
laughing faces red with the glow of a drunken joy, young faces that
only enjoyed the moment's pleasure, serious ones that withheld a frown
at thought of the morrow. The fitful light played on the grotesque
masques of beasts and reptiles, on the diamond necklace of a very
earthly goddess, on God's glorious spoils from gardens and
country-side, on smothered anxiety and repressed cruelty.
The crowd had turned its back on the guillotine, and the trumpets
now changed the inspiriting tune of the "Marseillaise" to the ribald
vulgarity of the "Ca ira!"
Everyone yelled and shouted. Girls with flowing hair produced
broomsticks, and, astride on these, broke from the ranks and danced a
mad and obscene saraband, a dance of witches in the weird glow of
sizzling torches, to the accompaniment of raucous laughter and of
Thus the procession passed on, a sight to gladden the eyes of those
who had desired to smother all thought of the Infinite, of Eternity and
of God in the minds of those to whom they had nothing to offer in
return. A threat of death yesterday, misery, starvation, and squalor!
All the hideousness of a destroying anarchy, that had nothing to give
save a national fête, a tinsel goddess, some shallow laughter and
momentary intoxication; a travesty of clothes and of religion, and a
dance on the ashes of the past.
And there along the ramparts, where the massive walls of the city
encircled the frowning prisons of Gayole and the old Château, dark
groups were crouching, huddled together in compact masses, which, in
the gloom, seemed to vibrate with fear. Like hunted quarry seeking for
shelter, sombre figures flattened themselves in the angles of the dank
walls, as the noisy carousers drew nigh. Then as the torches and
lanthorns detached themselves from out the evening shadows, hand would
clutch hand and hearts would beat with agonised suspense, whilst the
dark and shapeless forms would try to appear smaller, flatter, less
noticeable than before.
And when the crowd had passed noisily along, leaving behind it a
trail of torn finery, of glittering tinsel and of scarlet berries, when
the boom of the big drum and the grating noise of the brass trumpets
had somewhat died away, wan faces, pale with anxiety, would peer from
out the darkness, and nervous hands would grasp with trembling fingers
the small bundles of poor belongings tied up hastily in view of flight.
At seven o'clock, so 'twas said, the cannon would boom from the old
Beffroi. The guard would throw open the prison gates, and those who had
something or somebody to hide, and those who had a great deal to fear,
would be free to go withersoever they chose.
And mothers, sisters, sweethearts stood watching by the gates, for
loved ones to-night would be set free, all along of the capture of that
English spy, the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Chapter XXXI— Final Dispositions
To Chauvelin the day had been one of restless inquietude and nervous
Collot d'Herbois harassed him with questions and complaints
intermixed with threats but thinly veiled. At his suggestion, Gayole
had been transformed into a fully-manned, well-garrisoned fortress.
Troops were to be seen everywhere, on the stairs and in the passages,
the guard-rooms and offices: picked men from the municipal guard, and
the company which had been sent down from Paris some time ago.
Chauvelin had not resisted these orders given by his colleague. He
knew quite well that Marguerite would make no attempt at escape, but he
had long ago given up all hope of persuading a man of the type of
Collot d'Herbois that a woman of her temperament would never think of
saving her own life at the expense of others, and that Sir Percy
Blakeney, in spite of his adoration for his wife, would sooner see her
die before him, than allow the lives of innocent men and women to be
the price of hers.
Collot was one of those brutish sots -not by any means infrequent
among the Terrorists of that time- who, born in the gutter, still loved
to wallow in his native element, and who measured all his
fellow-creatures by the same standard which he had always found good
enough for himself. In this man there was neither the enthusiastic
patriotism of a Chauvelin, nor the ardent selfishness of a Danton. He
served the revolution and fostered the anarchical spirit of the times
only because these brought him a competence and a notoriety which an
orderly and fastidious government would obviously have never offered
History shows no more despicable personality than that of Collot
d'Herbois, one of the most hideous products of that utopian Revolution,
whose grandly conceived theories of a universal levelling of mankind
only succeeded in dragging into prominence a number of half-brutish
creatures who, revelling in their own abasement, would otherwise have
remained content in inglorious obscurity.
Chauvelin tolerated and half-feared Collot, knowing full well that
if now the Scarlet Pimpernel escaped from his hands, he would expect no
mercy from his colleagues.
The scheme by which he hoped to destroy not only the heroic leader
but the entire League, by bringing opprobrium and ridicule upon them,
was wonderfully subtle in its refined cruelty, and Chauvelin, knowing
by now something of Sir Percy Blakeney's curiously blended character,
was never for a moment in doubt but that he would write the infamous
letter, save his wife by sacrificing his honour, and then seek oblivion
and peace in suicide.
With so much disgrace, so much mud cast upon their chief, the League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel would cease to be. That had been
Chauvelin's plan all along. For this end he had schemed and thought and
planned, from the moment that Robespierre had given him the opportunity
of redeeming his failure of last year. He had built up the edifice of
his intrigue, bit by bit, from the introduction of his tool, Candeille,
to Marguerite at the Richmond gala, to the arrest of Lady Blakeney in
Boulogne. All that remained for him to see now would be the attitude of
Sir Percy Blakeney to-night, when, in exchange for the stipulated
letter, he would see his wife set free.
All day Chauvelin had wondered how it would all go off. He had
stage-managed everything, but he did not know how the chief actor would
play his part.
From time to time, when his feeling of restlessness became quite
unendurable, the ex-ambassador would wander round Fort Gayole, and on
some hastily conceived pretext demand to see one or the other of his
prisoners. Marguerite, however, observed complete silence in his
presence: she acknowledged his greeting with a slight inclination of
the head, and in reply to certain perfunctory queries of his -which he
put to her in order to justify his appearance - she either nodded or
gave curt monosyllabic answers through partially-opened lips.
"I trust that everything is arranged for your comfort, Lady
"I thank you, sir."
"You will be rejoining the
Day Dream to-night. Can I send a
messenger over to the yacht for you?"
"I thank you. No."
"Sir Percy is well. He is fast asleep, and hath not asked for your
ladyship. Shall I let him know that you are well?"
A nod of acquiescence from Marguerite, and Chauvelin's string of
queries was at an end. He marvelled at her quietude, and thought that
she should have been as restless as himself.
Later on in the day, and egged on by Collot d'Herbois and by his own
fears, he had caused Marguerite to be removed from room No. 6.
This change he heralded by another brief visit to her, and his
attitude this time was one of deferential apology.
"A matter of expediency, Lady Blakeney," he explained, "and I trust
that the change will be for your comfort."
Again the same curt nod of acquiescence on her part, and a brief:
"As you command, Monsieur!"
But when he had gone, she turned with a sudden, passionate outburst
towards the Abbé Foucquet, her faithful companion through the past
long, weary hours. She fell on her knees beside him and sobbed in an
agony of grief.
"Oh! if I could only know . . . if I could only see him! . . . for a
minute! . . a second! . . . if only I could know! . . ."
She felt as if the awful uncertainty would drive her mad.
If she could only know! If she could only know what he meant to do!
"The good God knows!" said the old man, with his usual, simple
philosophy, "and perhaps it is all for the best."
The room which Chauvelin had now destined for Marguerite, was one
which gave from the larger one, wherein last night he had had his
momentous interview with her and with Sir Percy.
It was small, square and dark, with no window in it: only a small
ventilating hole high up in the wall and heavily grated. Chauvelin, who
desired to prove to her that there was no wish on his part to add
physical discomfort to her mental tortures, had given orders that the
little place should be made as habitable as possible. A thick, soft
carpet had been laid on the ground; there was an easy chair and a
comfortable-looking couch with a couple of pillows and a rug upon it,
and oh, marvel! on the round central table, a vase with a huge bunch of
many-coloured dahlias, which seemed to throw a note as if of gladness
into this strange and gloomy little room.
At the furthest corner, too, a construction of iron uprights and
crossway bars had been hastily contrived and fitted with curtains,
forming a small recess, behind which was a tidy washstand, fine clean
towels, and plenty of fresh water. Evidently the shops of Boulogne had
been commandeered in order to render Marguerite's sojourn here
But as the place was innocent of window, so was it innocent of
doors, The one that gave into the large room had been taken out of its
hinges, leaving only the frame, on each side of which stood a man from
the municipal guard with fixed bayonet.
Chauvelin himself had conducted Marguerite to her new prison. She
followed him- silent and apathetic- with not a trace of that awful
torrent of emotion which had overwhelmed her but half-an-hour ago, when
she had fallen on her knees beside the old priest and sobbed her heart
out in a passionate fit of weeping. Even the sight of the soldiers left
her outwardly indifferent. As she stepped across the threshold she
noticed that the door itself had been taken away: then she gave another
quick glance at the soldiers, whose presence there would control her
The though of Queen Marie Antoinette in the Conciergerie prison with
the daily, hourly humiliation and shame which this constant watch
imposed upon her womanly pride and modesty, flashed suddenly across
Marguerite's mind, and a deep blush of horror rapidly suffused her pale
cheeks, whilst an almost imperceptible shudder shook her delicate frame.
Perhaps, as in a flash, she had at this moment received an inkling
of what the nature of that terrible "either-or" might be with which
Chauvelin was trying to force an English gentleman to dishonour. Sir
Percy Blakeney's wife had been threatened with Marie Antoinette's fate.
"You see, Madame," said her cruel enemy's unctuous voice close to
her ear, "that we have tried our humble best to make your brief sojourn
here as agreeable as possible. May I express a hope that you will be
quite comfortable in this room, until the time when Sir Percy will be
ready to accompany you to the Day-Dream."
"I thank you, sir," she replied quietly.
"And if there is anything you require, I pray you to call. I shall
be in the next room all day and entirely at your service."
A young orderly now entered bearing a small collation -eggs, bread,
milk and wine -which he set on the central table. Chauvelin bowed low
before Marguerite and withdrew. Anon he ordered the two sentinels to
stand the other side of the doorway, against the wall on his own room,
and well out of sight of Marguerite, so that, as she moved about her
own narrow prison, if she ate or slept, she might have the illusion
that she was unwatched.
The sight of the soldiers had had the desired effect on her.
Chauvelin had seen her shudder, and knew that she understood or that
she guessed. He was now satisfied, and really had no wish to harass her
Moreover, there was always the proclamation, which threatened the
bread-winners of Boulogne with death, if Marguerite Blakeney escaped,
and which would be in full force until Sir Percy had written, signed,
and delivered into Chauvelin's hands, the letter which was to be the
signal for the general amnesty.
Chauvelin had indeed cause to be satisfied with his measures. There
was no fear that his prisoners would attempt to escape.
Even Collot d'Herbois had to admit that everything was well done. He
had read the draft of the proposed letter, and was satisfied with its
contents. Gradually now into his loutish brain there had filtrated the
conviction that Citizen Chauvelin was right, that that accursed Scarlet
Pimpernel and his brood of English spies would be more effectually
annihilated by all the dishonour and ridicule which such a letter
written by the mysterious hero would heap upon them all, than they
could ever be through the relentless work of the guillotine. His only
anxiety now was whether the Englishman would write that letter.
"Bah! he'll do it," he would say whenever he thought the whole
matter over. "Sacré tonnerre! but 'tis an easy means to save his own
"You would sign such a letter without hesitation, eh, Citizen
Collot?" said Chauvelin, with well-concealed sarcasm, on one occasion,
when his colleague discussed the all-absorbing topic with him; "you
would show no hesitation, if your life were at stake, and you were
given the choice between writing that letter, and . . . the guillotine?"
"Parbleu!" responded Collot with conviction.
"More especially," continued Chauvelin drily, "if a million francs
were promised you as well?"
"Sacré Anglais!" swore Collot angrily, "you don't propose giving
him that money, do you?"
"We'll place it ready to his hand, at any rate, so that it should
appear as if he had actually taken it."
Collot looked up at his colleague in ungrudging admiration.
Chauvelin had, indeed, left nothing undone, had thought everything out
in this strangely conceived scheme for the destruction of the enemy of
"But in the name of all the dwellers in hell, citizen," admonished
Collot, "guard that letter well, once it is in your hands."
"I'll do better than that," said Chauvelin, "I will hand it over to
you, Citizen Collot, and you shall ride with it to Paris at once."
"To-night!" assented Collot, with a shout of triumph, as he brought
his grimy fist-crashing down on the table, "I'll have a horse ready
saddled at this very gate, and an escort of mounted men. . . we'll ride
like hell's own furies and not pause to breathe until that letter is in
Citizen Robepsierre's hands."
"Well though on, citizen," said Chauvelin approvingly. "I pray you
give the necessary orders, that the horses be ready saddled, and the
men booted and spurred, and waiting at the Gayole gate at seven o'clock
"I wish the letter were written and safely in our hands by now."
"Nay! the Englishman will have it ready by this evening, never fear.
The tide is high at half-past seven, and he will be in haste for his
wife to be aboard his yacht, ere the turn, even if he . . ."
He paused, savouring the thoughts which had suddenly flashed across
his mind, and a look of intense hatred and cruel satisfaction for a
moment chased away the studied impassiveness of his face.
"What do you mean, citizen?" queried Collot anxiously; "even if he .
. .what? . . ."
"Oh! nothing, nothing! I was only trying to make vague guesses as to
what the Englishman will do after he has written the letter,"
quoth Chauvelin reflectively.
"Morbleu! he'll return to his own accursed country . . glad enough
to have escaped with his skin . . . I suppose," added Collot with
sudden anxiety, "you have no fear that he will refuse at the last
moment to write that letter?"
The two men were sitting in the large room, out of which opened the
one which was now occupied by Marguerite. They were talking at the
further end of it, close to the window, and though Chauvelin had mostly
spoken in a whisper, Collot had ofttimes shouted, and the ex-ambassador
was wondering how much Marguerite had heard.
Now at Collot's anxious query he gave a quick, furtive glance in the
direction of the further room wherein she sat, so silent and so still,
that it seemed almost as if she must be sleeping.
"You don't think that the Englishman will refuse to write the
letter?" insisted Collot with angry impatience.
"No!" replied Chauvelin quietly.
"But if he does?" persisted the other.
"If he does, I send the woman to Paris to-night and have him hanged
as a spy in this prison yard without further formality or trial . . ."
replied Chauvelin firmly; "so either way, you see, citizen," he added
in a whisper, "the Scarlet Pimpernel is done for . . . But I think that
he will write the letter."
"Parbleu! so do I! . . ." rejoined Collot, with a harsh laugh.
Chapter XXXII— The Letter
Later on, when his colleague left him in order to see to the horses
and to his escort for the night, Chauvelin called Sergeant Hébert, his
old and trusted familiar, to him and gave him some final orders.
"The Angelus must be rung at the proper hour, friend Hébert," he
began with a grim smile.
"The Angelus, Citizen?" quoth the sergeant, with complete
stupefaction; "'tis months now since it has been rung. It was forbidden
by a decree of the Convention, and I doubt me if any of our men would
know how to set about it."
Chauvelin's eyes were fixed before him in apparent vacancy, while
the same grim smile still hovered round his thin lips. Something of
that irresponsible spirit of adventure which was the mainspring of all
Sir Percy Blakeney's actions must for the moment have pervaded the mind
of his deadly enemy.
Chauvelin had thought out this idea of having the Angelus run
to-night, and was thoroughly pleased with the notion. This was the day
when the duel was to have been fought; seven o'clock would have been
the very hour, and the sound of the Angelus to have been the signal for
the combat, and there was something very satisfying in the thought that
that same Angelus should be rung as a signal that the Scarlet Pimpernel
was withered and broken at last.
In answer to Hébert's look of bewilderment, Chauvelin said quietly:
"We must have some signal between ourselves and the guard at the
different gates, also with the harbour officials: at a given moment the
general amnesty must take effect and the harbour become a free port I
have a fancy that the signal shall be the ringing of the Angelus: the
cannons at the gates and the harbour can boom in response; then the
prisons can be thrown open and prisoners can either participate in the
evening fête or leave the city immediately, as they choose. The
Committee of Public Safety has promised the amnesty: it will carry out
its promises to the full, and when Citizen Collot d'Herbois arrives in
Paris with the joyful news, all natives of Boulogne in the prisons
there will participate in the free pardon too."
"I understand all that, Citizen," said Hébert, still somewhat
bewildered, "but not the Angelus."
"A fancy, friend Hébert; and I mean to have it."
"But who is to ring it, Citizen?"
"Morbleu! haven't you one calotin left in Boulogne whom you can
press into doing this service?"
"Aye! calotins enough! There's the Abbé Foucquet in this very
building . . . in No. 6 cell . . ."
"Sacré tonnerre!" ejaculated Chauvelin exultantly, "the very man! I
know his dossier well! Once he is free, he will make straightway for
England . . . he and his family . . . and will help to spread the
glorious news of the dishonour and disgraces of the much-vaunted
Scarlet Pimpernel! . . . The very man, friend Hébert! . . .Let him be
stationed here . . . to see the letter written . . . to see the money
handed over -for we will go through with that farce- and make him
understand that the moment I give him the order, he can run over to his
old church, S. Joseph, and ring the Angelus . . . The old fool will be
delighted . . . more especially when he knows that he will thereby be
giving the very signal which will set his own sister's children free .
. . You understand? . . ."
"I understand, citizen."
"And you can make the old calotin understand?"
"I think so, citizen . . . You want him in this room . . . At what
"A quarter before seven."
"Yes. I'll bring him along myself, and stand over him, lest he plays
"Oh! he'll not trouble you," sneered Chauvelin. "He'll be deeply
interested in the proceedings. The woman will be here, too, remember,"
he added with a jerky movement of the hand in the direction of
Marguerite's room; "the two might be made to stand together, with four
of your fellows round them."
"I understand, citizen. Are any of us to escort the Citizen Foucquet
when he goes to S. Joseph?"
"Aye! two men had best go with him. There will be a crowd in the
streets by then . . . How far is it from here to the church?"
"Less than five minutes."
"Good. See to it that the doors are opened and the bell-ropes easy
"It shall be seen to, citizen. How many men will you have inside
this room to-night?"
"Let the walls be lined with men whom you can trust. I anticipate
neither trouble nor resistance. The whole thing is a simple formality,
to which the Englishman has already intimated his readiness to submit.
If he changes his mind at the last moment, there will be no Angelus
rung, no booming of the cannons or opening of the prison doors: there
will be no amnesty, and no free pardon. The woman will be at once
conveyed to Paris, and . . . But he'll not change his mind, friend
Hébert," he concluded in suddenly altered tones, and speaking quite
lightly, "he'll not change his mind."
The conversation between Chauvelin and his familiar had been carried
on in whispers: not that the Terrorist cared whether Marguerite
overheard or not, but whispering had become a habit with this man,
whose tortuous ways and subtle intrigues did not lend themselves to
discussion in a loud voice.
Chauvelin was sitting at the central table, just where he had been
last night when Sir Percy Blakeney's sudden advent broke in on his
meditations. The table had been cleared of the litter of multitudinous
papers which had encumbered it before. On it now there were only a
couple of heavy pewter candlesticks, with the tallow candles fixed
ready in them, a leather pad, an ink well, a sand box, and two or three
quill pens: everything disposed, in fact, for the writing and signing
of the letter.
Already in imagination Chauvelin saw his impudent enemy, the bold
and daring adventurer, standing there beside that table and putting his
name to the consummation of his own infamy. The mental picture thus
evoked brought a gleam of cruel satisfaction and of satiated lust into
the keen, ferret-like face, and a smile of intense joy lit up the
narrow, pale-coloured eyes.
He looked round the room where the great scene would be enacted: two
soldiers were standing on guard outside Marguerite's prison, two more
at attention near the door which gave on the passage: his own
half-dozen picked men were waiting his commands in the corridor.
Presently the whole room would be lined with troops, himself, and
Collot standing with eyes fixed on the principal actor of the drama!
Hébert with specially selected troopers, standing on guard over
No, no! he had left nothing to chance this time; and down below the
horses would be ready saddled, that were to convey Collot and the
precious document to Paris.
No! nothing was left to chance, and in either case he was bound to
win. Sir Percy Blakeney would either write the letter, in order to save
his wife, and heap dishonour on himself, or he would shrink from the
terrible ordeal at the last moment and let Chauvelin and the Committee
of Public Safety work their will with her and him.
"In any case, the pillory as a spy and summary hanging for you, my
friend," concluded Chauvelin in his mind, "and for you wife . . .Bah!
once you are out of the way, even she will cease to matter."
He left Hébert on guard in the room. An irresistible desire seized
him to go and have a look at his discomfited enemy, and from the
latter's attitude make a shrewd guess as to what he meant to do
Sir Percy had been given a room on one of the upper floors of the
old prison. He had in no way been closely guarded, and the room itself
had been made as comfortable as may be. He had seemed quite happy and
contented when he had been conducted hither by Chauvelin the evening
"I hope you quite understand, Sir Percy, that you are my guest here
to-night," Chauvelin had said suavely, "but that you are free to come
and go just as you please."
"Lud love you, sir," Sir Percy had replied gaily, "but I verily
believe that I am!"
"It is only Lady Blakeney whom we have cause to watch until
to-morrow," added Chauvelin with quiet significance. "Is not that so,
But Sir Percy seemed whenever his wife's name was mentioned to lapse
into irresistible somnolence. He yawned now with his usual affectation,
and asked at what hour gentlemen in France were wont to breakfast.
Since then Chauvelin had not seen him. He had repeatedly asked how
the English prisoner was faring, and whether he seemed to be sleeping
and eating heartily. The orderly in charge invariably reported that the
Englishman seemed well, but did not eat much. On the other hand, he had
ordered, and lavishly paid for, measure after measure of brandy and
bottle after bottle of wine.
"Hm! How strange these Englishmen are!" mused Chauvelin. "This
so-called hero is nothing but a wine-sodden brute, who seeks to nerve
himself for a trying ordeal by drowning his faculties in brandy . .
Perhaps, after all, he doesn't care! . . ."
But the wish to have a look at that strangely complex creature
-hero, adventurer, or mere lucky fool -was irresistible, and Chauvelin
in the later part of the afternoon went up to the room which had been
allotted to Sir Percy Blakeney.
He never moved now without his escort, and this time also two of his
favourite bodyguard accompanied him to the upper floor. He knocked at
the door, but received no answer; after a second or two he bade his men
wait in the corridor, and gently turning the latch, he walked in.
There was an odour of brandy in the air, on the table two or three
empty bottles of wine and a glass half-filled with cognac testified to
the truth of what the orderly had said, whilst sprawling across the
camp bedstead, which obviously was too small for his long limbs, his
head thrown back his mouth open for a vigorous snore, lay the
imperturbable Sir Percy, fast asleep.
Chauvelin went up to the bedstead and looked down upon the reclining
figure of the man who had oft been called the most dangerous enemy of
Of a truth, a fine figure of a man, Chauvelin was ready enough to
admit that: the long, hard limbs, the wide chest, and slender, white
hands- all bespoke the man of birth, breeding, and energy: the face,
too, looked strong and clearly cut in repose, now that the perpetually
inane smile did not play round the firm lips, nor the lazy, indolent
expression mar the seriousness of the straight brow. For one moment -it
was a mere flash - Chauvelin felt almost sorry that so interesting a
career should be thus ignominiously brought to a close.
The Terrorist felt that if his own future, his own honour and
integrity were about to be so hopelessly crushed, he would have
wandered up and down this narrow room like a caged beast, eating out
his heart with self-reproach and remorse, and racking his nerves and
brain for an issue out of the terrible alternative which meant
dishonour or death.
But this man drank and slept.
"Perhaps he does not care!"
And as if in answer to Chauvelin's puzzled musings, a deep snore
escaped the sleeping adventurer's parted lips.
Chauvelin sighed, perplexed and troubled. He looked round the little
room, then went up to a small side table which stood against the wall,
and on which were two or three quill pens and an ink well, also some
loosely scattered sheets of paper. These he turned over with a careless
hand, and presently came across a closely-written page:
"Citizen Chauvelin: -In consideration of a further sum of one
million francs . . ."
It was the beginning of the letter! . . . only a few words so far .
. with several corrections of misspelt words. . . and a line left out
here and there, which confused the meaning . . a beginning made by the
unsteady hand of that drunken fool . . an attempt only at present . . .
But still . . . a beginning.
Close by was the draft of it as written out by Chauvelin, and which
Sir Percy had evidently begun to copy.
He had made up his mind, then. . . He meant to subscribe with his
own hand to his lasting dishonour . . . and, meaning it, he slept!
Chauvelin felt the paper trembling in his hand. He felt strangely
agitated and nervous, now that the issue was so near . . . so sure! . .
"There's no demmed hurry for that, is there . . . er . . Monsieur .
.Chaubertin? . ." came from the slowly wakening Sir Percy in somewhat
thick, heavy accents, accompanied by a prolonged yawn. "I haven't got
the demmed thing quite ready . . ."
Chauvelin had been so startled that the paper dropped from his hand.
He stooped to pick it up.
"Nay! why should you be so scared, sir?" continued Sir Percy lazily.
"Did you think I was drunk? . . . I assure you, sir, on my honour, I am
not so drunk as you think I am."
"I have no doubt, Sir Percy," replied Chauvelin ironically, "that
you have all your marvellous faculties entirely at your command . . . I
must apologise for disturbing your papers," he added, replacing the
half-written page on the table; "I thought, perhaps, that if the letter
was quite ready. . ."
"It will be, sir . . it wil be . . . for I am not drunk, I assure
you . . . and can write with a steady hand . . . and do honour to my
signature . . ."
"When will you have the letter ready, Sir Percy?"
"The Day Dream must leave the harbour at the turn of the
tide," quoth Sir Percy thickly. "It'll be demmed well time by then . .
. won't it, sir? . . ."
"About sundown, Sir Percy . . . not later . . ."
"About sundown . . . not later . ." muttered Blakeney, as he once
more stretched his long limbs along the narrow bed.
He gave a loud and hearty yawn.
"I'll not fail you . . ." he murmured, as he closed his eyes and
gave a final struggle to get his head at a comfortable angle; "the
letter will be written in my best cali. . . . calig . . .Lud! but I'm
not so drunk as you think I am . . ."
But as if to belie his own oft-repeated assertion, hardly was the
last word out of his mouth, than his stertorous and even breathing
proclaimed the fact that he was once more fast asleep.
With a shrug of the shoulders and a look of unutterable contempt at
his broken-down enemy, Chauvelin turned on his heel and went out of the
But outside in the corridor he called the orderly to him, and gave
strict commands that no more wine or brandy was to be served to the
Englishman under any circumstances whatever.
"He has two hours in which to sleep off the effects of all that
brandy which he has consumed," he mused as he finally went back to his
own quarters, "and by that time he will be able to write with a steady
Chapter XXXIII— The English Spy
And now at last the shades of evening were drawing in thick and
fast. Within the walls of Fort Gayole the last rays of the setting sun
had long ago ceased to shed their dying radiance, and through the thick
stone embrasures and the dusty panes of glass the grey light of dusk
soon failed to penetrate.
In the large ground-floor room, with its window opened upon the wide
promenade of the southern ramparts, a silence reigned which was
oppressive. The air was heavy with the fumes of the two tallow candles
on the table, which smoked persistently.
Against the walls a row of figures in dark blue uniforms with
scarlet facings, drab breeches, and heavy riding boots, silent and
immovable, with fixed bayonets, like so many automatons lining the room
all round; at some little distance from the central table and out of
the immediate circle of light, a small group composed of five soldiers
in the same blue and scarlet uniforms. One of these was Sergeant
Hébert. In the centre of this group two persons were sitting: a woman
and an old man.
The Abbé Foucquet had been brought down from his prison cell a few
minutes ago, and told to watch what would go on around him, after which
he would be allowed to go to his old church, S. Joseph, and ring the
Angelus once more before he and his family left Boulogne for ever.
The Angelus would be the signal for the opening of all the prison
gates in the town. Everyone to-night could come and go as they pleased,
and having rung the Angelus, the abbé would be at liberty to join
François and Félicité and their old mother, his sister, outside the
purlieus of the town.
The Abbé Foucquet did not quite understand all this, which was very
rapidly and roughly explained to him. It was such a very little while
ago that he had expected to see the innocent children mounting up those
awful steps which lead to the guillotine, whilst he himself was looking
death quite near in the face, that all this talk of amnesty and of
pardon had not quite fully reached his brain.
But he was quite content that it had all been ordained by le bon
Dieu, and very happy at the thought of ringing the dearly-loved Angelus
in his own old church once again. So when he was peremptorily pushed
into the room and found himself close to Marguerite, with four or five
soldiers standing round them, he quietly pulled his old rosary from his
pocket and began murmuring gentle Paters and Aves under his breath.
Beside him sat Marguerite, rigid as a statue, her cloak thrown over
her shoulders, so that its hood might hide her face. She could not now
have said how that awful day had passed, how she had managed to survive
the terrible, nerve-racking suspense, the agonising doubt as to what
was going to happen. But above all, what she had found most unendurable
was the torturing thought that in this same grim and frowning building
her husband was there . . . somewhere . . . how far or how near she
could not say . . . but she knew that she was parted from him, and
perhaps would not see him again, not even at the hour of death.
That Percy would never write that infamous letter and
she knew. That he might write it in order to save her she feared was
possible, whilst the look of triumph on Chauvelin's face had aroused
her most agonising terrors.
When she was summarily ordered to go into the next room she realised
at once that all hope now was more than futile. The walls lined with
troops, the attitude of her enemies, and, above all, that table with
paper, ink, and pens ready, as it were, for the accomplishment of the
hideous and monstrous deed, all made her very heart numb, as if it were
held within the chill embrace of death.
"If the woman moves, speaks, or screams gag her at once!" said
Collot roughly the moment she sat down, and Sergeant Hébert stood over
her, gag and cloth in hand, whilst two soldiers placed heavy hands on
But she neither moved, nor spoke, not even presently when a loud and
cheerful voice came echoing from a distant corridor, and anon the door
opened and her husband came in, accompanied by Chauvelin.
The ex-ambassador was very obviously in a state of acute nervous
tension, his hands were tightly clasped behind his back, and his
movements were curiously irresponsible and jerky. But Sir Percy
Blakeney looked a picture of calm unconcern: the lace bow at his throat
was tied with scrupulous care, his eyeglass upheld at quite the correct
angle, and his delicate-coloured caped coat was thrown back
sufficiently to afford a glimpse of the dainty cloth suit and
exquisitely embroidered waistcoat beneath.
He was the perfect presentation of a London dandy, and might have
been entering a royal drawing-room in company with an honoured guest.
Marguerite's eyes were riveted on him as he came well within the circle
of light projected by the candles, but not even with that acute sixth
sense of a passionate and loving woman could she detect the slightest
tremor in the aristocratic hand which held the gold-rimmed eye-glass,
nor the faintest quiver of the firmly-moulded lips.
This had occurred just as the bell of the old Beffroi chimed
three-quarters after six. Now it was close on seven, and in the centre
of the room, and with his face and figure well lighted up by the
candles, at the table, pen in hand, sat Sir Percy writing.
At his elbow, just behind him, stood Chauvelin on the one side and
Collot d'Herbois on the other, both watching with fixed and burning
eyes the writing of that letter.
Sir Percy seemed in no hurry. He wrote slowly and deliberately,
carefully copying the draft of the letter which was propped up in front
of him. The spelling of some of the French words seemed to have
troubled him at first, for when he began he made many facetious and
self-deprecatory remarks anent his own want of education, and
carelessness in youth in acquiring the gentle art of speaking so
elegant a language.
Presently, however, he appeared more at his ease, or perhaps less
inclined to talk, since he only received curt, monosyllabic answers to
his pleasant sallies. Five minutes had gone by without any other sound,
save the spasmodic creak of Sir Percy's pen upon the paper, the while
Chauvelin and Collot watched every word he wrote.
But gradually from afar there had risen in the stillness of evening
a distant, rolling noise like that of surf breaking against the cliffs.
Nearer and louder it grew, and as it increased in volume, so it gained
now in diversity. The monotonous roll like far-off thunder was just as
continuous as before, but now shriller notes broke out from amongst the
more remote sounds, a loud laugh seemed ever and anon to pierce the
distance and to rise above the persistent hubbub, which became the mere
accompaniment to these isolated tones.
The merrymakers of Boulogne having started from the Place de la
Sénéchaussée, were making the round of the town by the wide avenue
which tops the ramparts. They were coming past the Fort Gayole,
shouting, singing, brass trumpets in front, big drum ahead, drenched,
hot, and hoarse, but supremely happy.
Sir Percy looked up for a moment as the noise drew nearer, then
turned to Chauvelin, and, pointing to the letter, he said:
"I have nearly finished!"
The suspence in the smoke-laden atmosphere of this room was becoming
unendurable, and four hearts at least were beating wildly with
overpowering anxiety. Marguerite's eyes were fixed with tender
intensity on the man she so passionately loved. She did not understand
his actions or his motives, but she felt a wild longing in her to drink
in every line of that loved face, as if with this last long look she
was bidding an eternal farewell to all hopes of future earthly
The old priest had ceased to tell his beads. Feeling in his kindly
heart the echo of the appalling tragedy which was being enacted before
him, he had put out a fatherly, tentative hand towards Marguerite, and
given her icy fingers a comforting pressure.
And in the hearts of Chauvelin and his colleague there was satisfied
revenge, eager, exultant triumph, and that terrible nerve-tension which
immediately precedes the long-expected climax.
But who can say what went on within the heart of that bold
adventurer about to be brought to the lowest depths of humiliation
which it is in the power of man to endure? What behind that smooth,
unruffled brow still bent laboriously over the page of writing?
The crowd was now on the Place Daumont; some of the foremost in the
ranks were ascending the stone steps which lead to the southern
ramparts. The noise had become incessant; Pierrots and Pierrettes,
Harlequins and Columbines had worked themselves up into a veritable
intoxication of shouts and laughter.
Now, as they all swarmed up the steps and caught sight of the open
window, almost on a level with the ground, and of the large,
dimly-lighted room, they gave forth one terrific and voluminous
"Hurrah!" for the paternal government up in Paris, who had given them
cause for all this joy. Then they recollected how the amnesty, the
pardon, the national fête, this brilliant procession had come about,
and somebody in the crowd shouted:
"Allons! let us have a look at that English spy. . . ."
"Let us see the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
"Yes! yes! let us see what he is like!"
They shouted and stamped and swarmed round the open window, swinging
their lanthorns and demanding, in a loud tone of voice, that the
English spy be shown to them.
Faces, wet with rain and perspiration, tried to peep in at the
window. Collot gave brief orders to the soldiers to close the shutters
at once and to push away the crowd, but the crowd would not be pushed.
It would not be gainsaid, and when the soldiers tried to close the
window twenty angry fists broke the panes of glass.
"I can't finish this writing in your lingo, Sir, whilst this demmed
row is going on," said Sir Percy placidly.
"You have not much more to write, Sir Percy," urged Chauvelin, with
nervous impatience; "I pray you finish the matter now, and get you gone
from out this city."
"Send that demmed lot away then," rejoined Sir Percy, calmly.
"They won't go . . . They want to see you . . ."
Sir Percy paused a moment, pen in hand, as if in deep reflection.
"They want to see me," he said, with a laugh. "Why, demn it all . .
. then, why not let 'em? . . ."
And with a few rapid strokes of the pen he quickly finished the
letter, adding his signature with a bold flourish, whilst the crowd,
pushing, jostling, shouting and cursing the soldiers, still loudly
demanded to see the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Chauvelin felt as if his heart would veritably burst with the
wildness of is beating.
Then Sir Percy, with one hand lightly pressed on the letter, pushed
his chair away, and with his pleasant ringing voice, said once again:
"Well! demn it . . . let 'em see me! . . ."
With that he sprang to his feet and up to his full height, and as he
did so he seized the two massive pewter candlesticks, one in each hand,
and with powerful arms well outstretched he held them high above his
"The letter . . ." murmured Chauvelin, in a hoarse whisper.
But even as he was quickly reaching out a hand, which shook with the
intensity of his excitement, towards the letter on the table, Blakeney,
with one loud and sudden shout, threw the heavy candlesticks on to the
floor. They rattled down with a terrific crash, the lights were
extinguished, and the whole room was immediately plunged in utter
The crowd gave a wild yell of fear: they had only caught sight for
one instance of that gigantic figure- which, with arms outstretched,
had seemed supernaturally tall- weirdly illumined by the flickering
light of the tallow candles, and the next moment disappearing into
utter darkness before their very gaze. Overcome with sudden
superstitious fear, Pierrots and Pierrettes, drummer and trumpeters,
turned and fled in every direction.
Within the room all was wild confusion. The soldiers had heard a cry:
"La fenétre! La fenétre!"
Who gave it no one knew, no one could afterwards recollect; certain
it is that with one accord the majority of the men made a rush for the
open window, driven thither partly by the wild instinct of the chase
after an escaping enemy, and partly by the same superstitious terror
which had caused the crowd to flee. They clambered over the sill and
dropped down on to the ramparts below, then started in wild pursuit.
But when the crash came, Chauvelin had given one frantic shout:
"The letter!!! . . . Collot! . . . A moi . . . In his hand . . . The
letter! . . ."
There was a sound of a heavy thud, of a terrible scuffle there on
the floor in the darkness, and then a yell of victory from Collot
"I have the letter! A Paris!"
"Victory!" echoed Chauvelin, exultant and panting, "victory!! The
Angelus, friend Hébert! Take the calotin to ring the Angelus!!!"
It was instinct which caused Collot d'Herbois to find the door; he
tore it open, letting in a feeble ray of light from the corridor. He
stood in the doorway one moment, his slouchy, ungainly form distinctly
outlined against the lighter background beyond, a look of exultant and
malicious triumph, of deadly hate and cruelty distinctly imprinted on
his face, and with upraised hand wildly flourishing the precious
document, the brand of dishonour for the enemy of France.
"A Paris!" shouted Chauvelin to him excitedly. "Into Robespierre's
hands . . . The letter! . . ."
Then he fell back panting, exhausted on the nearest chair.
Collot, without looking again behind him, called wildly for the men
who were to escort him to Paris. They were picked troopers, stalwart
veterans from the old municipal guard. They had not broken their ranks
throughout the turmoil, and fell into line in perfect order as they
followed Citizen Collot out of the room.
Less than five minutes later there was the noise of stamping and
champing of bits in the courtyard below, a shout from Collot, and the
sound of a cavalcade galloping at break-neck speed toward the distant
Chapter XXXIV— The Angelus
And gradually all noises died away around the old Fort Gayole. The
shouts and laughter of the merrymakers, who had quickly recovered from
their fright, now came only as the muffled rumble of a distant storm,
broken here and there by the shrill note of a girl's loud laughter, or
a vigorous fanfare from the brass trumpets.
The room where so much turmoil had taken place, where so many hearts
had beaten with torrent-like emotions, where the awesome tragedy of
revenge and hate, of love and passion had been consummated, was now
silent and at peace.
The soldiers had gone: some in pursuit of the revellers, some with
Collot d'Herbois, others with Hébert and the calotin who was to ring
Chauvelin, overcome with the intensity of his exultation and the
agony of the suspense which he had endured, sat, vaguely dreaming,
hardly conscious, but wholly happy and content. Fearless, too, for his
triumph was complete, and he cared not now if he lived or died.
He had lived long enough to see the complete annihilation and
dishonour of his enemy.
What had happened to Sir Percy Blakeney now, what to Marguerite, he
neither knew nor cared. No doubt the Englishman had picked himself up
and got away through the window or the door: he would be anxious to get
his wife out of the town as quickly as possible. The Angelus would ring
directly, the gates would be opened, the harbour made free to everyone.
. . .
And Collot was a league outside Boulogne by now . . . a league
nearer to Paris.
So what mattered the humble wayside English flower, the damaged and
withered Scarlet Pimpernel? . . . .
A slight noise suddenly caused him to start. He had been dreaming,
no doubt, having fallen into some kind of torpor, akin to sleep, after
the deadly and restless fatigue of the past four days. He certainly had
been unconscious of everything around him, of time and of place. But
now he felt fully awake.
And again he heard that slight noise, as if something or someone was
moving in the room.
He tried to peer into the darkness, but could distinguish nothing.
He rose and went to the door. It was still open, and close behind it,
against the wall, a small oil lamp was fixed, which lip up the corridor.
Chauvelin detached the lamp and came back with it into the room.
Just as he did so there came to his ears the first sound of the little
church bell ringing the Angelus.
He stepped into the room, holding the lamp high above his head; its
feeble rays fell full upon the brilliant figure of Sir Percy Blakeney.
He was smiling pleasantly, bowing slightly towards Chauvelin, and in
his hand he held the sheathed sword, the blade of which had been
fashioned in Toledo for Lorenzo Cenci, and the fellow of which was
lying now -Chauvelin himself knew not where.
"The day and the hour, Monsieur, I think," said Sir Percy with
courtly grace, "when you and I are to cross swords together; those are
the southern ramparts, meseems. Will you precede, sir? and I will
At sight of this man, of his impudence, and of his daring, Chauvelin
felt like an icy grip on his heart. His cheeks became ashen white, his
thin lips closed with a snap, and the hand which held the lamp aloft
trembled visibly. Sir Percy stood before him, still smiling, and with a
graceful gesture pointing towards the ramparts.
From the church of Saint Joseph the gentle, melancholy tones of the
Angelus sounding the second Ave Maria came faintly echoing in the
With a violent effort Chauvelin forced himself to self-control, and
tried to shake off the strange feeling of obsession which had
overwhelmed him in presence of this extraordinary man. He walked quite
quietly up to the table and placed the lamp upon it. As in a flash
recollection had come back to him . . . the past few minutes! . . . the
letter! and Collot well on his way to Paris!
Bah! he had nothing to fear now, save perhaps death at the hand of
this adventurer, turned assassin in his misery and humiliation!
"A truce on this folly, Sir Percy," he said roughly. "As you well
know, I had never any intention of fighting you with these poisoned
swords of yours, and . . ."
"I knew that, M. Chauvelin . . . But do
you know that I have
the intention of killing you now . . . as you stand . . . like a dog! .
And, throwing down the sword with one of those uncontrolled
outbursts of almost animal passion which for one instant revealed the
real, inner man, he went up to Chauvelin, and, towering above him like
a great avenging giant, he savoured for one second the joy of looking
down on that puny, slender figure which he could crush with sheer brute
force with one blow from his powerful hands.
But Chauvelin at this moment was beyond fear.
"And if you killed me now, Sir Percy," he said quietly, and looking
the man whom he so hated fully in the eyes, "you could not destroy that
letter which my colleague is taking to Paris at this very moment."
As he had anticipated, his words seemed to change Sir Percy's mood
in an instant. The passion in the handsome, aristocratic face faded in
a trice, the hard lines round the jaw and lips relaxed, the fire of
revenge died out from the lazy blue eyes, and the next moment a long,
loud, merry laugh raised the dormant echoes of the old fort.
"Nay, Monsieur Chaubertin," said Sir Percy gaily, "but this is
marvellous . . . demmed marvellous . . . do you hear that, m'dear? . .
. Gadzooks! but 'tis the best joke I have heard this past twelve months
. . . Monsieur here thinks . . . Lud! but I shall die of laughing. . .
. Monsieur here thinks . . . that 'twas that demmed letter which went
to Paris . . . and that an English gentleman lay scuffling on the floor
and allowed a letter to be filched from him . . ."
"Sir Percy!" . . . gasped Chauvelin, as an awful thought seemed
suddenly to flash across his fevered brain.
"Lud, sir, you are astonishing!" said Sir Percy, taking a very much
crumpled sheet of paper from the capacious pocket of his elegant caped
coat and holding it close to Chauvelin's horror-stricken gaze. "This
is the letter which I wrote at that table yonder, in order to gain
time and in order to fool you . . . But by the Lord, you are a bigger
demmed fool than ever I took you to be, if you thought it would serve
any other purpose save that of my hitting you in the face with it."
And with a quick and violent gesture he struck Chauvelin full in the
face with the paper.
"You would like to know, Monsieur Chaubertin, would you not . . ."
he added pleasantly, "what letter it is that your friend Citizen Collot
is taking in such hot haste to Paris for you? . . . Well! the letter is
not long, and 'tis written in verse . . . I wrote it myself upstairs
to-day, whilst you thought me sodden with brandy and three-parts
asleep. But brandy is easily flung out of the window. . . Did you think
I drank it all? . . . . Nay! as you remember, I told you that I was not
so drunk as you thought? . . . Aye! the letter is writ in English
verse, Monsieur, and it reads thus:
"We seek him here! we seek him there!
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
Is he in heaven? is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel?"
"A neat rhyme, I fancy, Monsieur, and one which will, if rightly
translated, greatly please your friend and ruler, Citizen Robespierre .
. . Your colleague, Citizen Collot is well on his way to Paris with it
by now . . . No, no, Monsieur . . . as you rightly said just now . . .
I really could not kill you . . . God having blessed me with the saving
sense of humour . . ."
Even as he spoke the third Ave Maria of the Angelus died away on the
evening air. From the harbour and the Old Chateau there came the loud
boom of the cannon.
The hour of the opening of the gates, of the general amnesty and
free harbour, was announced throughout Boulogne.
Chauvelin was livid with rage, fear, and baffled revenge. He made a
sudden rush for the door in a blind desire to call for help, but Sir
Percy had toyed long enough with his prey. The hour was speeding on:
Hébert and some of the soldiers might return, and it was time to think
of safety and of flight. Quick as a hunted panther, he had interposed
his tall figure between his enemy and the latter's chance of calling
for aid, then, seizing the little man by the shoulders, he pushed him
back into that portion of the room where Marguerite and the Abbé
Foucquet had been lately sitting.
The gag, with cloth and cord, which had been intended for a woman,
were lying on the ground close by, just where Hébert had dropped them
when he marched the old abbé off to the church.
With quick and dexterous hands, Sir Percy soon reduced Chauvelin to
an impotent and silent bundle. The ex-ambassador, after four days of
harrowing nerve-tension, followed by so awful a climax, was weakened
physically and mentally, whilst Blakeney, powerful, athletic, and
always absolutely unperturbed, was fresh in body and spirit. He had
slept calmly all the afternoon, having quietly thought out all his
plans, left nothing to chance, and acted methodically and quickly, and
invariably with perfect repose.
Having fully assured himself that the cords were well fastened, the
gag secure, and Chauvelin completely helpless, he took the now inert
mass up in his arms and carried it into the adjoining room, where
Marguerite for twelve hours had endured a terrible martyrdom.
He laid his enemy's helpless form upon the couch, and for one moment
looked down on it with a strange feeling of pity, quite unmixed with
contempt. The light from the lamp in the further room struck vaguely
upon the prostrate figure of Chauvelin. He seemed to have lost
consciousness, for the eyes were closed, only the hands, which were
tied securely to his body, had a spasmodic, nervous twitch in them.
With a good-natured shrug of the shoulders, the imperturbable Sir
Percy turned to go, but just before he did so, he took a scrap of paper
from his waistcoat pocket and slipped it between Chauvelin's trembling
fingers. On the paper were scribbled the four lines of verse which in
the next four-and-twenty hours Robespierre himself and his colleague
Then Blakeney finally went out of the room.
Chapter XXXV— Marguerite
As he re-entered the large room, she was standing beside the table,
with one dainty hand resting against the back of the chair, her whole
graceful figure bent forward as if in an agony of ardent expectation.
Never for an instant, in that supreme moment when his precious life
was at stake, did she waver in courage or presence of mind. From the
time that he jumped up and took the candlesticks in his hands, her
sixth sense showed her as in a flash what he meant to do and how he
would wish her to act.
When the room was plunged in darkness she stood absolutely still;
when she heard the scuffle on the floor she never trembled, for her
passionate heart had already told her that he never meant to deliver
that infamous letter into his enemies' hands. Then, when there was a
general scramble, when the soldiers rushed away, when the room became
empty and Chauvelin alone remained, she shrank quietly into the darkest
corner of the room, hardly breathing, only waiting . . . waiting for a
sign from him!
She could not see him, but she felt the loved presence there,
somewhere close to her, and she knew that he would wish her to wait . .
. She watched him silently. . . ready to help if he called . . .
equally ready to remain still and to wait.
Only when the helpless body of her deadly enemy was well out of the
way did she come from out the darkness, and now she stood with the full
light of the lamp illumining her ruddy golden hair, the delicate blush
on her cheek, the flame of love dancing in her glorious eyes.
Thus he saw her as he re-entered the room, and for one second he
paused at the door, for the joy of seeing her there seemed greater than
he could bear.
Forgotten was the agony of mind which he had endured, the
humiliations and the dangers which still threatened: he only remembered
that she loved him and that he worshipped her.
The next moment she lay clasped in his arms. All was still around
them, save for the gentle patter-patter of the rain on the trees of the
ramparts: and from very far away the echo of laughter and music from
the distant revellers.
And then the cry of the sea-mew, thrice repeated, from just beneath
Blakeney and Marguerite awoke from their brief dream: once more the
passionate lover gave place to the man of action.
"'Tis Tony, an I mistake not," he said hurriedly, as with loving
fingers, still slightly trembling with suppressed passion, he
re-adjusted the hood over her head.
"Lord Tony?" she murmured.
"Aye! with Hastings and one or two others. I told them to be ready
for us to-night, as soon as the place was quiet."
"You were so sure of success, then, Percy?" she asked in wonderment.
"So sure," he replied simply.
Then he led her to the window and lifted her on to the sill. It was
not high from the ground, and two pairs of willing arms were there
ready to help her down.
Then he, too, followed, and quietly the little party turned to walk
towards the gate. The ramparts themselves now looked strangely still
and silent: the merrymakers were far away, only one or two passers-by
hurried swiftly past here and there, carrying bundles, evidently bent
on making use of that welcome permission to leave this dangerous soil.
The little party walked on in silence, Marguerite's small hand
resting on her husband's arm. Anon they came upon a group of soldiers
who were standing somewhat perfunctorily and irresolutely close by the
open gate of the fort.
"Tiens c'est l'Anglais!" said one.
"Morbleu! he is on his way back to England," commented another
The gates of Boulogne had been thrown open to everyone when the
Angelus was run and the cannon boomed. The general amnesty had been
proclaimed, everyone had the right to come and go as they pleased, the
sentinels had been ordered to challenge no one and to let everybody
No one knew that the great and glorious plans for the complete
annihilation of the Scarlet Pimpernel and his League had come to
naught, that Collot was taking a mighty hoax to Paris, and that the man
who had thought out and nearly carried through the most fiendishly
cruel plan ever conceived for the destruction of an enemy, lay
helpless, bound and gagged, within his own stronghold.
And so the little party, consisting of Sir Percy and Marguerite,
Lord Anthony Dewhurst and my lord Hastings, passed unchallenged through
the gates of Boulogne.
Outside the precincts of the town they met my lord Everingham and
Sir Philip Glynde, who had met the Abbé Foucquet outside his little
church and escorted him safely out of the city, whilst François and
Félicité, with their old mother, had been under the charge of other
members of the League.
"We were all in the procession, dressed up in all sorts of ragged
finery, until the last moment," explained Lord Tony to Marguerite, as
the entire party now quickly made its way to the harbour. "We did not
know what was going to happen. . . All we knew was that we should be
wanted about this time - the hour when the duel was to have been fought
- and somewhere near here on the southern ramparts. . . and we always
have strict orders to mix with any crowd if there happens to be one.
When we saw Blakeney raise the candlesticks, we guessed what was
coming, and we each went to our respective posts. It was all quite
The young man spoke gaily and lightly, but through the easy banter
of his tone there pierced the enthusiasm and pride of the soldier in
the glory and daring of his chief.
Between the city walls and the harbour there was much bustle and
agitation. The English packet boat would lift anchor at the turn of the
tide, and as everyone was free to get aboard without leave or passport,
there were a very large number of passengers, bound for the land of
Two boats from the Day Dream were waiting in readiness for Sir Percy
and my lady, and those whom they would bring with them.
Silently the party embarked, and as the boats pushed off and the
sailors from Sir Percy's yacht bent to their oars, the old Abbé
Foucquet began gently droning a Pater and Ave, to the accompaniment of
He accepted joy, happiness, and safety with the same gentle
philosophy as he would have accepted death, but Marguerite's keen and
loving ears caught at the end of each Pater a gently murmured request
to le bon Dieu to bless and protect our English rescuer.
* * * * * *
Only once did Marguerite make allusion to that terrible time, which
had become the past.
They were wandering together down the chestnut alley in the
beautiful garden at Richmond. It was evening, and the air was heavy
with the rich odour of wet earth, of belated roses, and dying
mignonette. She had paused in the alley and placed a trembling hand
upon his arm, whilst raising her eyes, filled with tears of tender
passion, up to his face.
"Percy," she murmured, "have you forgiven?"
"That awful evening in Boulogne . . . what that fiend demanded. . .
his awful 'either-or' . . . I brought it all upon you . . . it was all
"Nay, my dear, for that 'tis I should thank you . . . "
"Aye," he said, whilst in the fast-gathering dusk she could only
just perceive the sudden hardening of his face, the look of wild
passion in his eyes; "but for that evening in Boulogne, but for that
alternative which that devil placed before me, I might never have known
how much you meant to me."
Even the recollection of all the sorrow, the anxiety, the torturing
humiliations of that night seemed completely to change him: the voice
became trenchant, the hands were tightly clenched. But Marguerite drew
nearer to him, her two hands were on his breast, she murmured gently:
"And now? . . ."
He folded her in his arms with an agony of joy, and said earnestly:
"Now I know."