The Elusive Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy [Full name]
Part 2 out of 6
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 he had endured.
Yes! it was hate! and hate was of all emotions the one she most despised.
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 the 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 Desiree Candeille
roused within her the last lingering vestige of her slumbering wrath.
False, theatrical and stagy--as Marguerite had originally suspected--she
appeared to have been in league with Chauvelin to bring about this
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 Varietes 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 chaperone 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 forever, when suddenly
a well-known laugh broke in upon her ear, and a lazy, drawly voice said
"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 the 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 usual 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 the 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. "And I mistake not, sir,
you left my father's court somewhat abruptly last year."
"Nay, your Royal Highness," said 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 abominable soup in Calais, had 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 had--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 oft times 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 blood-thirsty ruffians, who had invented a final trap for the
destruction of the bold adventurer, who went by the name of the Scarlet
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 would up to do certain things, but this she could not do;
her will appeared paralysed, her tongue even refused her service.
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 prearranged. 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 gracious
"If your Highness will permit," she said, "Mademoiselle Candeille will
give us some of her charming old French songs at my rout to-morrow."
"By all means! By all means!" said the Prince. "I used to know some in
my childhood 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 humblest, for her mother--so it was said-- had been
kitchen-maid in the household of the Duc de Marny, but Desiree 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 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 overshadow the upper part of her face.
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
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 internal in a dance ... the time to cross a muddy
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.
And Candeille could be extremely amusing, and as Madelon in Moliere's
"Les Precieuses" was quite inimitable.
This, however, was in the olden days, just before Paris went quite mad,
before the Reign of Terror had set in, and ci-devant Louis the King had
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 climax.
Ah! ca non, par example! 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
Moliere or Beaumarchais.
Demoiselle Candeille thought of every English-born 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 a kitten.
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
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,
Deputy Dupont would do anything she asked.
She wanted to act in London, at a theatre called Drury Lane. She wanted
to play Moliere 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 support.
She would be serving her country and her countrymen and incidentally
see something of the world, and amuse herself. She was bored in Paris.
Then she thought of Marguerite St. Just, once of the Maison Moliere,
who had captivated an English milor of enormous wealth. Demoiselle
Candeille had never been of the Maison Moliere; she had been the leading
star of 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 of the
English jeunesse doree to flock and see Moliere played in French, by a
French troupe, whilst Candeille's own compatriots resident in England
had given her but scant support.
One section of these--the aristocrats and emigres--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 doree
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 emigres 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 organizers of all those seditious
gatherings and treasonable unions that caused Mr. Pitt and his colleagues
so much trouble and anxiety.
One by one, Desiree 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 Desiree 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 significant.
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 of London was soon
bruited abroad, and one evening Desiree 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, Desiree 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 Desiree 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 bloodstained hand. No
wonder that during the night which followed the receipt of this
momentous document, Demoiselle Candeille suffered gravely from
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 Francais" in Soho Street, and now fair Desiree 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 Candeilles' 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
She was to sing in one of the most fashionable salons in 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
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 come."
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 Comedie Francaise, a grand pageant and apotheosis
with Citizeness Candeille impersonating the Goddess of Reason, in the
midst of a grand national fete, and the acclamations of excited Paris: and
all in exchange for the enactment of a part--simple and easy--outlined for
her by Chauvelin! ...
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 world, to the poor little kitchen slut.
How wonderful are the vagaries of fortune! Desiree Candeille, the
kitchen-maid's daughter, now wearing her ex-mistress' 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' 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 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 diamond 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 Desiree 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
naively, "but I wonder if she will wear anything as fine as the Marny
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 face.
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 this senses by the powerful emotions of the
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, and 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 Deroulede 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 mighty slow."
"Percy!" she said once more with tender earnestness.
"I know, I know," he said with a slight frown of self-reproach. "La! but I
don't deserve your solicitude. Heavens know 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 to
Juliette looked very young and girlish in a simple white gown, without a
single jewel on her arms or neck. Marguerite regarded her with
"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 Abbe
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 disturb the young girl's
"Dear Abbe Foucquet," said Juliette after a while, "his is the kind of
devotion which I feel sure will never be found under the new regimes 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
Marguerite would have wished to pursue the subject a little further. It
was very pathetic to witness poor Juliette's hopes and confidences, 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, of fraternity and of patriotism. She knew nothing, of course,
of the Abbe Foucquet, but the tender little picture of the devoted old
man, painted by Juliette's words, had appealed strongly to her
Instinct and knowledge of the political aspect of France told her that by
entrusting valuable family jewels to the old Abbe, 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 Mlle. 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
In the meanwhile the two women had reached the first of the long line of
state apartments wherein the brilliant fete 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
elite of London fashionable society began to file past her, exchanging the
elaborate greetings which the stilted mode of the day prescribed to this
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 gaily-plumaged
birds. 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 Desiree 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 slight 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 revolutionary
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 most
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 ballroom.
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 glasshouses, or 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 ballroom 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
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.
Desiree 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 her
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
"This is Mademoiselle Candeille, Juliette dear," she said, affecting the
usual formal introduction, "of the Varietes Theatre of Paris--
Mademoiselle Desiree 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 protegee.
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 and 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, "Desiree
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' whole attitude. An ironical smile played round the
corners of her mouth, her almond-shaped eyes were half-closed,
regarding through dropping lashed 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
Desiree 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
She had suffered from these snubs before, but had never had the chance
of forcing an esclandre, 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 and before
her by the various poverty-stricken but haughty emigres 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
"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 fathers,--
stolen from me by the Revolutionary Government --I contrived to retain
my mother's jewels ... you remember, I told you just now. ... The Abbe
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
preordained: 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. Once glance at 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, Desiree 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 shrug 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 been brought bread and meat for the poor was being greedily
stowed away by shameless 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 my
"Aye! I try not to forget it," rejoined Candeille lightly, "but of a truth you
must admit, Citizeness, that it would require 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 conduct."
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 and well-studied curve, he approached
Mademoiselle Desiree 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
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
destined 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
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 ... Chauvelin?"
"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 of ladies."
"Am I to understand then, Sir Percy," said Chauvelin, "that you are
prepared to apologize to Mademoiselle Candeille for this 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 Mechlin-
"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
Blakeney laughed his usual pleasant, somewhat shy laugh, shook his
powerful frame and looked from his altitude of six feet 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?"
"Sir Percy ..."
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 quarter of an hour: like flies attracted by the light, one
by one, or in small isolated groups, some of Lady Blakeney's quests had
found their way to the room adjoining the royal presence.
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
"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," interrupted 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
"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 a while, 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 roles. 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, palpitation--for what would follow now.
Only here and there the gentle frou-frou of a silk skirt, the rhythmic
flutter of a fan, broke those few seconds' deadly, stony silence.
Yet it was all simple enough. A fracas between two ladies, the gentlemen
interposing, a few words of angry expostulation, 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
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 every 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
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 eye-glass.
"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 ears."
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
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 riveted 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 reassure 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 Desiree Candeille,
who, escorted by one of the gentlemen, had become singularly silent and
In the little room now there only remained a few men. Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes had taken the precaution of closing the door after the ladies had
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
specially 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 prearranged, 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 amidst 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, and did not quite like to trust to this arbitration of the dice-
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.
"Chance! Chance!" repeated the others eagerly.
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 paramount
Therefore he shrugged his shoulders with well-marked indifference, and
"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
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 paradise.
"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 this 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 suggest?"
"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 sea-sick 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, an you will, on the south side of the
"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 threw.
"'Tis yours this time, Monsieur Chauvelin," 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
"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? ... Methought 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 that night."
"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 Chauvelin
"Suit me! Why, sir, nothing could suit me better," rejoined Blakeney
with his pleasant laugh. "Zounds! but I call it marvellous ... demmed
marvellous ... I wonder now," he added blandly, "what made you think of
Everyone laughed at this, a little irrelevantly 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 impassive reserve.
"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 sometime 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
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 so ready to walk.
That remained beyond a doubt! Therefore what mattered details?
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
Blakeney's pleasant voice.
"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 shirtsleeves 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 my 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 fine 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
"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
"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 steel.
"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
"The greatest blackguard 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 satisfied
with the weapons? Which of the two shall be yours, and which mine?"
"Of a truth, Sir Percy ..." murmured Chauvelin, still hesitating.
"Nay, Monsieur," interrupted 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, as you please. .. 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 southern 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 towards
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
The Terrorist seemed uncertain what to do. Though he was one of those
men whom 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 depth 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 this daring mind, to see the man
start, quiver but for the fraction of a second, betray himself by a tremor
of the eyelid. What counterplan was lurking in Percy Blakeney's head, as
he offered to his opponent the two swords which had once belonged to
Did any thought of foul play, of dark and deadly poisonings linger in the
fastidious mind of this accomplished 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 nonchalance 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 advise, 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 laugh, half shy and somewhat inane, then said in tones of
"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 into 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 became
general. Blakeney's light-heartedness had put everyone into 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 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
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
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 apartments.
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
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.
One 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
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's
challenge was anything else but a lure to induce him to go to France,
could not possible 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 counterplan, with which
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 forever.
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
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 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 inspiring tunes of the string band, the elaborate supper and
recherche 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
every one, although more than ordinarily absorbed by her duties towards
her many royal guests.
The dramatic incidents 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
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
straight in the face and to let the tension of her nerves relax.
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 apronstrings. 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 river 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 wild 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 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 thrall.
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 scrunching of the fine gravel under carefully
measured footsteps. She waited a while. The footsteps seemed to draw
nearer, and soon, although the starlit night was very dark, she perceived a
cloaked and hooded figure approaching cautiously toward her.
"Who goes there?" she called suddenly.
The figure paused: then came rapidly forward, and a voice said timidly:
"Ah! Lady Blakeney!"
"Who are you?" asked Marguerite peremptorily.
"It is I ... Desiree 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 someone--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
stagy airs, from the very first moment 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' vehement words found an echo in the depths of her own
heart. How well she knew that 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 quite
"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 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
"Oh!" she said eagerly, "have I not seen that look of hatred in Chauvelin's
cruel 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 and
"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 was all about, and
even now when the Frenchwoman paused, Marguerite said nothing, but
watched her quietly as she took a folded paper from the capacious
pocked of her cloak and then held it out with a look of timidity towards
"My maid need not come with me," said Desiree 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 recognized
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