The Elusive Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy [Full name]
Part 3 out of 6
Benyon, her husband's confidential valet. Without a moment's hesitation,
she flew among the terrace towards the wing of the house occupied by
Sir Percy. She had not gone far before she discerned his tall figure
walking leisurely along the path which here skirted part of the house.
He had on his large caped coat, which was thrown open in front,
displaying a grey travelling suit of fine cloth; his hands were as usual
buried in the pockets of his breeches, and on his head he wore the folding
chapeau-bras which he habitually affected.
Before she had time to think, or to realize that he was going, before she
could utter one single word, she was in his arms, clinging to him with
passionate intensity, trying in the gloom to catch every expression of his
eyes, every quiver of the face now bent down so close to her.
"Percy, you cannot go ... you cannot go! ..." she pleaded.
She had felt his strong arms closing round her, his lips seeking hers, her
eyes, her hair, her clinging hands, which dragged at his shoulders in a
wild agony of despair.
"If you really loved me, Percy," she murmured, "you would not go, you
would not go ..."
He would not trust himself to speak; it well-nigh seemed as if his sinews
cracked with the violent effort at self-control. Oh! how she loved him,
when she felt in him the passionate lover, the wild, untamed creature that
he was at heart, on whom the frigid courtliness of manner sat but as a
thin veneer. This was his own real personality, and there was little now of
the elegant and accomplished gentleman of fashion, schooled to hold
every emotion in check, to hide every thought, every desire save that for
amusement or for display.
She--feeling her power and his weakness now--gave herself wholly to his
embrace, not grudging one single, passionate caress, yielding her lips to
him, the while she murmured:
"You cannot go ... you cannot ... why should you go? ... It is madness to
leave me ... I cannot let you go ..."
Her arms clung tenderly round him, her voice was warm and faintly
shaken with suppressed tears, and as he wildly murmured: "Don't! for
pity's sake!" she almost felt that her love would be triumphant.
"For pity's sake, I'll go on pleading, Percy!" she whispered. "Oh! my love,
my dear! do not leave me! ... we have scarce had time to savour our
happiness .. we have such arrears of joy to make up. ... Do not go, Percy
... there's so much I want to say to you. ... Nay! you shall not! you shall
not!" she added with sudden vehemence. "Look me straight in the eyes,
my dear, and tell me if you can leave now?"
He did not reply, but, almost roughly, he placed his hand over her tear-
dimmed eyes, which were turned up to his, in an agony of tender appeal.
Thus he blindfolded her with that wild caress. She should not see--no,
not even she!--that for the space of a few seconds stern manhood was
well-nigh vanquished by the magic of her love.
All that was most human in him, all that was weak in this strong and
untamed nature, cried aloud for peace and luxury and idleness: for long
summer afternoons spent in lazy content, for the companionship of
horses and dogs and of flowers, with no thought or cares save those for
the next evening's gavotte, no graver occupation save that of sitting at
And during these few seconds, whilst his hand lay across her eyes, the
lazy, idle fop of fashionable London was fighting a hand-to-hand fight
with the bold leader of a band of adventurers: and his own passionate
love for his wife ranged itself with fervent intensity on the side of his
weaker self. Forgotten were the horrors of the guillotine, the calls of the
innocent, the appeal of the helpless; forgotten the daring adventures, the
excitements, the hair's-breadth escapes; for those few seconds, heavenly
in themselves, he only remembered her--his wife--her beauty and her
tender appeal to him.
She would have pleaded again, for she felt that she was winning in this
fight: her instinct--that unerring instinct of the woman who loves and
feels herself beloved--told her that for the space of an infinitesimal
fraction of time, his iron will was inclined to bend; but he checked her
pleading with a kiss.
Then there came a change.
Like a gigantic wave carried inwards by the tide, his turbulent emotion
seemed suddenly to shatter itself against a rock of self-control. Was it a
call from the boatmen below? a distant scrunching of feet upon the
gravel?--who knows, perhaps only a sigh in the midnight air, a ghostly
summons from the land of dreams that recalled him to himself.
Even as Marguerite was still clinging to him, with the ardent fervour of
her own passion, she felt the rigid tension of his arms relax, the power of
his embrace weaken, the wild love-light become dim in his eyes.
He kissed her fondly, tenderly, and with infinite gentleness smoothed
away the little damp curls from her brow. There was a wistfulness now in
his caress, and in his kiss there was the finality of a long farewell.
"'Tis time I went," he said, "or we shall miss the tide."
These were the first coherent words he had spoken since first she had
met him here in this lonely part of the garden, and his voice was perfectly
steady, conventional and cold. An icy pang shot through Marguerite's
heart. It was as if she had been abruptly wakened from a beautiful dream.
"You are not going, Percy!" she murmured, and her own voice now
sounded hollow and forced. "Oh! if you loved me you would not go!"
"If I love you!"
Nay! in this at least there was no dream! no coldness in his voice when he
repeated those words with such a sigh of tenderness, such a world of
longing, that the bitterness of her great pain vanished, giving place to
tears. He took her hand in his. The passion was momentarily conquered,
forced within his innermost soul, by his own alter ego, that second
personality in him, the cold-blooded and coolly-calculating adventurer
who juggled with his life and tossed it recklessly upon the sea of chance
'twixt a doggerel and a smile. But the tender love lingered on, fighting the
enemy a while longer, the wistful desire was there for her kiss, the tired
longing for the exquisite repose of her embrace.
He took her hand in his, and bent his lips to it, and with the warmth of his
kiss upon it, she felt a moisture like a tear.
"I must go, dear," he said, after a little while.
"Why? Why?" she repeated obstinately. "Am I nothing then? Is my life of
no account? My sorrows? My fears? My misery? Oh!" she added with
vehement bitterness, "why should it always be others? What are others to
you and to me, Percy? ... Are we not happy here? ... Have you not
fulfilled to its uttermost that self-imposed duty to people who can be
nothing to us? ... Is not your life ten thousand times more precious to me
than the lives of ten thousand others?"
Even through the darkness, and because his face was so close to hers, she
could see a quaint little smile playing round the corners of his mouth.
"Nay, m'dear," he said gently, "'tis not ten thousand lives that call to me
to-day ... only one at best. ... Don't you hate to think of that poor little
old cure sitting in the midst of his ruined pride and hopes: the jewels so
confidently entrusted to his care, stolen from him, he waiting, perhaps, in
his little presbytery for the day when those brutes will march him to
prison and to death. ... Nay! I think a little sea voyage and English
country air would suit the Abbe Foucquet, m'dear, and I only mean to ask
him to cross the Channel with me! ..."
"Percy!" she pleaded.
"Oh! I know! I know!" he rejoined with that short deprecatory sigh of
his, which seemed always to close any discussion between them on that
point, "you are thinking of that absurd duel ..." He laughed lightly, good-
humouredly, and his eyes gleamed with merriment.
"La, m'dear!" he said gaily, "will you not reflect a moment? Could I
refuse the challenge before His Royal Highness and the ladies? I couldn't.
... Faith! that was it. ... Just a case of couldn't. ... Fate did it all ... the
quarrel ... my interference ... the challenge. ... HE had planned it all of
course. ... Let us own that he is a brave man, seeing that he and I are not
even yet, for that beating he gave me on the Calais cliffs."
"Yes! he has planned it all," she retorted vehemently. "The quarrel to-
night, your journey to France, your meeting with him face to face at a
given hour and place where he can most readily, most easily close the
death-trap upon you."
This time he broke into a laugh. A good, hearty laugh, full of the joy of
living, of the madness and intoxication of a bold adventure, a laugh that
had not one particle of anxiety or of tremor in it.
"Nay! m'dear!" he said, "but your ladyship is astonishing. ... Close a
death-trap upon your humble servant? ... Nay! the governing citizens of
France will have to be very active and mighty wide-awake ere they
succeed in stealing a march on me. ... Zounds! but we'll give them an
exciting chase this time. ... Nay! little woman, do not fear!" he said with
sudden infinite gentleness, "those demmed murderers have not got me
Oh! how often she had fought with him thus: with him, the adventurer,
the part of his dual nature that was her bitter enemy, and which took him,
the lover, away from her side. She knew so well the finality of it all, the
amazing hold which that unconquerable desire for these mad adventures
had upon him. Impulsive, ardent as she was, Marguerite felt in her very
soul an overwhelming fury against herself for her own weakness, her own
powerlessness in the face of that which forever threatened to ruin her life
and her happiness.
Yes! and his also! for he loved her! he loved her! he loved her! the
thought went on hammering in her mind, for she knew of its great truth!
He loved her and went away! And she, poor, puny weakling, was unable
to hold him back; the tendrils which fastened his soul to hers were not so
tenacious as those which made him cling to suffering humanity, over
there in France, where men and women were in fear of death and torture,
and looked upon the elusive and mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel as a
heaven-born hero sent to save them from their doom. To them at these
times his very heartstrings seemed to turn with unconquerable force, and
when, with all the ardour of her own passion, she tried to play upon the
cords of his love for her, he could not respond, for they--the strangers--
had the stronger claim.
And yet through it all she knew that this love of humanity, this mad
desire to serve and to help, in no way detracted from his love for her.
Nay, it intensified it, made it purer and better, adding to the joy of perfect
intercourse the poetic and subtle fragrance of ever-recurring pain.
But now at last she felt weary of the fight: her heart was aching, bruised
and sore. An infinite fatigue seemed to weigh like lead upon her very
soul. This seemed so different to any other parting, that had perforce
been during the past year. The presence of Chauvelin in her house, the
obvious planning of this departure for France, had filled her with a
foreboding, nay, almost a certitude of a gigantic and deadly cataclysm.
Her senses began to reel; she seemed not to see anything very distinctly:
even the loved form took on a strange and ghostlike shape. He now
looked preternaturally tall, and there was a mist between her and him.
She thought that he spoke to her again, but she was not quite sure, for
his voice sounded like some weird and mysterious echo. A bosquet of
climbing heliotrope close by threw a fragrance into the evening air, which
turned her giddy with its overpowering sweetness.
She closed her eyes, for she felt as if she must die, if she held them open
any longer; and as she closed them it seemed to her as if he folded her in
one last, long, heavenly embrace.
He felt her graceful figure swaying in his arms like a tall and slender lily
bending to the wind. He saw that she was but half-conscious, and
thanked heaven for this kindly solace to his heart-breaking farewell.
There was a sloping, mossy bank close by, there where the marble terrace
yielded to the encroaching shrubbery: a tangle of pale pink monthly roses
made a bower overhead. She was just sufficiently conscious to enable
him to lead her to this soft green couch. There he laid her amongst the
roses, kissed the dear, tired eyes, her hands, her lips, her tiny feet, and
Chapter XVI : The Passport
The rhythmic clapper of oars roused Marguerite from this trance-like
In a moment she was on her feet, all her fatigue gone, her numbness of
soul and body vanished as in a flash. She was fully conscious now!
conscious that he had gone! that according to every probability under
heaven and every machination concocted in hell, he would never return
from France alive, and that she had failed to hear the last words which he
spoke to her, had failed to glean his last look or to savour his final kiss.
Though the night was starlit and balmy it was singularly dark, and vainly
did Marguerite strain her eyes to catch sight of that boat which was
bearing him away so swiftly now: she strained her ears, vaguely hoping to
catch one last, lingering echo of his voice. But all was silence, save that
monotonous clapper, which seemed to beat against her heart like a
rhythmic knell of death.
She could hear the oars distinctly: there were six or eight, she thought:
certainly no fewer. Eight oarsmen probably, which meant the larger boat,
and undoubtedly the longer journey ... not to London only with a view to
posting to Dover, but to Tilbury Fort, where the "Day Dream" would be
in readiness to start with a favourable tide.
Thought was returning to her, slowly and coherently: the pain of the last
farewell was still there, bruising her very senses with its dull and heavy
weight, but it had become numb and dead, leaving her, herself, her heart
and soul, stunned and apathetic, whilst her brain was gradually resuming
And the more she thought it over, the more certain she grew that her
husband was going as far as Tilbury by river and would embark on the
"Day Dream" there. Of course he would go to Boulogne at once. The
duel was to take place there, Candeille had told her that ... adding that
she thought she, Marguerite, would wish to go with him.
To go with him!
Heavens above! was not that the only real, tangible thought in that
whirling chaos which was raging in her mind?
To go with him! Surely there must be some means of reaching him yet!
Fate, Nature, God Himself would never permit so monstrous a thing as
this: that she should be parted from her husband, now when his life was
not only in danger, but forfeited already ... lost ... a precious thing all but
gone from this world.
Percy was going to Boulogne ... she must go too. By posting at once to
Dover, she could get the tidal boat on the morrow and reach the French
coast quite as soon as the "Day Dream." Once at Boulogne, she would
have no difficulty in finding her husband, of that she felt sure. She would
have but to dog Chauvelin's footsteps, find out something of his plans, of
the orders he gave to troops or to spies,--oh! she would find him! of that
she was never for a moment in doubt!
How well she remembered her journey to Calais just a year ago, in
company with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes! Chance had favoured her then, had
enabled her to be of service to her husband if only by distracting
Chauvelin's attention for awhile to herself. Heaven knows! she had but
little hope of being of use to him now: an aching sense was in her that
fate had at last been too strong! that the daring adventurer had staked
once too often, had cast the die and had lost.
In the bosom of her dress she felt the sharp edge of the paper left for her
by Desiree Candeille among the roses in the park. She had picked it up
almost mechanically then, and tucked it away, hardly heeding what she
was doing. Whatever the motive of the French actress had been in placing
the passport at her disposal, Marguerite blessed her in her heart for it. To
the woman she had mistrusted, she would owe the last supreme
happiness of her life.
Her resolution never once wavered. Percy would not take her with him:
that was understandable. She could neither expect it nor think it. But she,
on the other hand, could not stay in England, at Blakeney Manor, whilst
any day, any hour, the death-trap set by Chauvelin for the Scarlet
Pimpernel might be closing upon the man whom she worshipped. She
would go mad if she stayed. As there could be no chance of escape for
Percy now, as he had agreed to meet his deadly enemy face to face at a
given place, and a given hour, she could not be a hindrance to him: and
she knew enough subterfuge, enough machinations and disguises by now,
to escape Chauvelin's observation, unless ... unless Percy wanted her, and
then she would be there.
No! she could not be a hindrance. She had a passport in her pocket,
everything en regle, nobody could harm her, and she could come and go
as she pleased. There were plenty of swift horses in the stables, plenty of
devoted servants to do her bidding quickly and discreetly: moreover, at
moments like these, conventionalities and the possible conjectures and
surmises of others became of infinitesimally small importance. The
household of Blakeney Manor were accustomed to the master's sudden
journeys and absences of several days, presumably on some shooting or
other sporting expeditions, with no one in attendance on him, save
Benyon, his favourite valet. These passed without any comments now!
Bah! let everyone marvel for once at her ladyship's sudden desire to go to
Dover, and let it all be a nine days' wonder; she certainly did not care.
Skirting the house, she reached the stables beyond. One or two men were
astir. To these she gave the necessary orders for her coach and four, then
she found her way back to the house.
Walking along the corridor, she went past the room occupied by Juliette
de Marny. For a moment she hesitated, then she turned and knocked at
Juliette was not yet in bed, for she went to the door herself and opened it.
Obviously she had been quite unable to rest, her hair was falling loosely
over her shoulders, and there was a look of grave anxiety on her young
"Juliette," said Marguerite in a hurried whisper, the moment she had
closed the door behind her and she and the young girl were alone, "I am
going to France to be near my husband. He has gone to meet that fiend in
a duel which is nothing but a trap, set to capture him, and lead him to his
death. I want you to be of help to me, here in my house, in my absence."
"I would give my life for you, Lady Blakeney." said Juliette simply, "is it
not HIS since he save it?"
"It is only a little presence of mind, a little coolness and patience, which I
will ask of you, dear," said Marguerite. "You of course know who your
rescuer was, therefore you will understand my fears. Until to-night, I had
vague doubts as to how much Chauvelin really knew, but now these
doubts have naturally vanished. He and the French Revolutionary
Government know that the Scarlet Pimpernel and Percy Blakeney are one
and the same. The whole scene to-night was prearranged: you and I and
all the spectators, and that woman Candeille--we were all puppets piping
to that devil's tune. The duel, too, was prearranged! ... that woman
wearing your mother's jewels! ... Had you not provoked her, a quarrel
between her and me, or one of my guests would have been forced
somehow ... I wanted to tell you this, lest you should fret, and think that
you were in any way responsible for what has happened. ... You were
not. ... He had arranged it all. ... You were only the tool ... just as I was.
... You must understand and believe that. ... Percy would hate to think
that you felt yourself to blame ... you are not that, in any way. ... The
challenge was bound to come. ... Chauvelin had arranged that it should
come, and if you had failed him as a tool, he soon would have found
another! Do you believe that?"
"I believe that you are an angel of goodness, Lady Blakeney," replied
Juliette, struggling with her tears, "and that you are the only woman in
the world worthy to be his wife."
"But," insisted Marguerite firmly, as the young girl took her cold hand in
her own, and gently fondling it, covered it with grateful kisses, "but if ...
if anything happens ... anon ... you will believe firmly that you were in no
way responsible? ... that you were innocent .. and merely a blind tool? ..."
"God bless you for that!"
"You will believe it?"
"And now for my request," rejoined Lady Blakeney in a more quiet, more
matter-of-fact tone of voice. "You must represent me, here, when I am
gone: explain as casually and as naturally as you can, that I have gone to
join my husband on his yacht for a few days. Lucie, my maid, is devoted
and a tower of secrecy; she will stand between you and the rest of the
household, in concocting some plausible story. To every friend who calls,
to anyone of our world whom you may meet, you must tell the same tale,
and if you note an air of incredulity in anyone, if you hear whispers of
there being some mystery, well! let the world wag its busy tongue--I care
less than naught: it will soon tire of me and my doings, and having torn
my reputation to shreds will quickly leave me in peace. But to Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes," she added earnestly, "tell the whole truth from me. He
will understand and do as he thinks right."
"I will do all you ask, Lady Blakeney, and am proud to think that I shall
be serving you, even in so humble and easy a capacity. When do you
"At once. Good-bye, Juliette."
She bent down to the young girl and kissed her tenderly on the forehead,
then she glided out of the room as rapidly as she had come. Juliette, of
course, did not try to detain her, or to force her help of companionship
on her when obviously she would wish to be alone.
Marguerite quickly reached her room. Her maid Lucie was already
waiting for her. Devoted and silent as she was, one glance at her mistress'
face told her that trouble--grave and imminent-- had reached Blakeney
Marguerite, whilst Lucie undressed her, took up the passport and
carefully perused the personal description of one, Celine Dumont, maid
to Citizeness Desiree Candeille, which was given therein: tall, blue eyes,
light hair, age about twenty-five. It all might have been vaguely meant for
her. She had a dark cloth gown, and long black cloak with hood to come
well over the head. These she now donned, with some thick shoes, and a
dark-coloured handkerchief tied over her head under the hood, so as to
hide the golden glory of her hair.
She was quite calm and in no haste. She made Lucie pack a small hand
valise with some necessaries for the journey, and provided herself
plentifully with money--French and English notes--which she tucked well
away inside her dress.
Then she bade her maid, who was struggling with her tears, a kindly
farewell, and quickly went down to her coach.
Chapter XVII : Boulogne
During the journey Marguerite had not much leisure to think. The
discomforts and petty miseries incidental on cheap travelling had the very
welcome effect of making her forget, for the time being, the soul-
rendering crisis through which she was now passing.
For, of necessity, she had to travel at the cheap rate, among the crowd of
poorer passengers who were herded aft the packet boat, leaning up
against one another, sitting on bundles and packages of all kinds; that
part of the deck, reeking with the smell of tar and sea-water, damp,
squally and stuffy, was an abomination of hideous discomfort to the
dainty, fastidious lady of fashion, yet she almost welcomed the intolerable
propinquity, the cold douches of salt water, which every now and then
wetted her through and through, for it was the consequent sense of
physical wretchedness that helped her to forget the intolerable anguish of
And among these poorer travellers she felt secure from observation. No
one took much notice of her. She looked just like one of the herd, and in
the huddled-up little figure, in the dark bedraggled clothes, no one would
for a moment have recognized the dazzling personality of Lady Blakeney.
Drawing her hood well over her head, she sat in a secluded corner of the
deck, upon the little black valise which contained the few belongings she
had brought with her. Her cloak and dress, now mud-stained and dank
with splashings of salt-water, attracted no one's attention. There was a
keen northeasterly breeze, cold and penetrating, but favourable to a rapid
crossing. Marguerite, who had gone through several hours of weary
travelling by coach, before she had embarked at Dover in the late
afternoon, was unspeakably tired. She had watched the golden sunset out
at sea until her eyes were burning with pain, and as the dazzling crimson
and orange and purple gave place to the soft grey tones of evening, she
descried the round cupola of the church of Our Lady of Boulogne against
the dull background of the sky.
After that her mind became a blank. A sort of torpor fell over her sense:
she was wakeful and yet half-asleep, unconscious of everything around
her, seeing nothing but the distant massive towers of old Boulogne
churches gradually detaching themselves one by one from out the fast
The town seemed like a dream city, a creation of some morbid
imagination, presented to her mind's eye as the city of sorrow and death.
When the boat finally scraped her sides along the rough wooden jetty,
Marguerite felt as if she were forcibly awakened. She was numb and stiff
and thought she must have fallen asleep during the last half hour of the
journey. Everything round her was dark. The sky was overcast, and the
night seemed unusually sombre. Figures were moving all around her,
there was noise and confusion of voices, and a general pushing and
shouting which seemed strangely weird in this gloom. Here among the
poorer passengers, there had not been thought any necessity for a light,
one solitary lantern fixed to a mast only enhanced the intense blackness
of everything around. Now and then a face would come within range of
this meagre streak of yellow light, looking strangely distorted, with great,
elongated shadows across the brow and chin, a grotesque, ghostly
apparition which quickly vanished again, scurrying off like some
frightened gnome, giving place other forms, other figures all equally
grotesque and equally weird.
Marguerite watched them all half stupidly and motionlessly for awhile.
She did not quite know what she ought to do, and did not like to ask any
questions: she was dazed and the darkness blinded her. Then gradually
things began to detach themselves more clearly. On looking straight
before her, she began to discern the landing place, the little wooden
bridge across which the passengers walked one by one from the boat
unto the jetty. The first-class passengers were evidently all alighting now:
the crowd of which Marguerite formed a unit, had been pushed back in a
more compact herd, out of the way for the moment, so that their betters
might get along more comfortably.
Beyond the landing stage a little booth had been erected, a kind of tent,
open in front and lighted up within by a couple of lanthorns. Under this
tent there was a table, behind which sat a man dressed in some sort of
official looking clothes, and wearing the tricolour scarf across his chest.
All the passengers from the boat had apparently to file past this tent.
Marguerite could see them now quite distinctly, the profiles of the
various faces, as they paused for a moment in front of the table, being
brilliantly illuminated by one of the lanterns. Two sentinels wearing the
uniform of the National Guard stood each side of the table. The
passengers one by one took out their passport as they went by, handed it
to the man in the official dress, who examined it carefully, very lengthily,
then signed it and returned the paper to its owner: but at times, he
appeared doubtful, folded the passport and put it down in front of him:
the passenger would protest; Marguerite could not hear what was said,
but she could see that some argument was attempted, quickly dismissed
by a peremptory order from the official. The doubtful passport was
obviously put on one side for further examination, and the unfortunate
owner thereof detained, until he or she had been able to give more
satisfactory references to the representatives of the Committee of Public
Safety, stationed at Boulogne.
This process of examination necessarily took a long time. Marguerite was
getting horribly tired, her feet ached and she scarcely could hold herself
upright: yet she watched all these people mechanically, making absurd
little guesses in her weary mind as to whose passport would find favour
in the eyes of the official, and whose would be found suspect and
Suspect! a terrible word these times! since Merlin's terrible law decreed
now that every man, woman or child, who was suspected by the Republic
of being a traitor was a traitor in fact.
How sorry she felt for those whose passports were detained: who tried to
argue--so needlessly!--and who were finally led off by a soldier, who had
stepped out from somewhere in the dark, and had to await further
examination, probably imprisonment and often death.
As to herself, she felt quite safe: the passport given to her by Chauvelin's
own accomplice was sure to be quite en regle.
Then suddenly her heart seemed to give a sudden leap and then to stop in
its beating for a second or two. In one of the passengers, a man who was
just passing in front of the tent, she had recognized the form and profile
He had no passport to show, but evidently the official knew who he was,
for he stood up and saluted, and listened deferentially whilst the ex-
ambassador apparently gave him a few instructions. It seemed to
Marguerite that these instructions related to two women who were close
behind Chauvelin at the time, and who presently seemed to file past
without going through the usual formalities of showing their passports.
But of this she could not be quite sure. The women were closely hooded
and veiled and her own attention had been completely absorbed by this
sudden appearance of her deadly enemy.
Yet what more natural than that Chauvelin should be here now? His
object accomplished, he had no doubt posted to Dover, just as she had
done. There was no difficulty in that, and a man of his type and
importance would always have unlimited means and money at his
command to accomplish any journey he might desire to undertake.
There was nothing strange or even unexpected in the man's presence
here; and yet somehow it had made the whole, awful reality more
tangible, more wholly unforgettable. Marguerite remembered his abject
words to her, when first she had seen him at the Richmond fete: he said
that he had fallen into disgrace, that, having failed in his service to the
Republic, he had been relegated to a subordinate position, pushed aside
with contumely to make room for better, abler men.
Well! all that was a lie, of course, a cunning method of gaining access
into her house; of that she had already been convinced, when Candeille
provoked the esclandre which led to the challenge.
That on French soil he seemed in anything but a subsidiary position, that
he appeared to rule rather than to obey, could in no way appear to
Marguerite in the nature of surprise.
As the actress had been a willing tool in the cunning hands of Chauvelin,
so were probably all these people around her. Where others cringed in
the face of officialism, the ex-ambassador had stepped forth as a master:
he had shown a badge, spoken a word mayhap, and the man in the tent
who had made other people tremble, stood up deferentially and obeyed
It was all very simple and very obvious: but Marguerite's mind has been
asleep, and it was the sight of the sable-clad little figure which had roused
it from its happy torpor.
In a moment now her brain was active and alert, and presently it seemed
to her as if another figure--taller than those around-- had crossed the
barrier immediately in the wake of Chauvelin. Then she chided herself for
It could not be her husband. Not yet! He had gone by water, and would
scarce be in Boulogne before the morning!
Ah! now at last came the turn of the second-class passengers! There was
a general bousculade and the human bundle began to move. Marguerite
lost sight of the tent and its awe-inspiring appurtenances: she was a mere
unit again in this herd on the move. She too progressed along slowly, one
step at a time; it was wearisome and she was deadly tired. She was
beginning to form plans now that she had arrived in France. All along she
had made up her mind that she would begin by seeking out the Abbe
Foucquet, for he would prove a link 'twixt her husband and herself. She
knew that Percy would communicate with the abbe; had he not told her
that the rescue of the devoted old man from the clutches of the Terrorists
would be one of the chief objects of his journey? It had never occurred to
her what she would do if she found the Abbe Foucquet gone from
"He! la mere! your passport!"
The rough words roused her from her meditations. She had moved
forward, quite mechanically, her mind elsewhere, her thoughts not
following the aim of her feet. Thus she must have crossed the bridge
along with some of the crowd, must have landed on the jetty, and
reached the front of the tent, without really knowing what she was doing.
Ah yes! her passport! She had quite forgotten that! But she had it by her,
quite in order, given to her in a fit of tardy remorse by Demoiselle
Candeille, the intimate friend of one of the most influential members of
the Revolutionary Government of France.
She took the passport from the bosom of her dress and handed it to the
man in the official dress.
"Your name?" he asked peremptorily.
"Celine Dumont," she replied unhesitatingly, for had she not rehearsed all
this in her mind dozens of times, until her tongue could rattle off the
borrowed name as easily as it could her own; "servitor to Citizeness
The man who had very carefully been examining the paper the while,
placed it down on the table deliberately in front of him, and said:
"Celine Dumont! Eh! la mere! what tricks are you up to now?"
"Tricks? I don't understand!" she said quietly, for she was not afraid. The
passport was en regle: she knew she had nothing to fear.
"Oh! but I think you do!" retorted the official with a sneer, "and 'tis a
mighty clever one, I'll allow. Celine Dumont, ma foi! Not badly imagined,
ma petite mere: and all would have passed off splendidly; unfortunately,
Celine Dumont, servitor to Citizeness Desiree Candeille, passed through
these barriers along with her mistress not half an hour ago."
And with long, grimy finger he pointed to an entry in the large book
which lay open before him, and wherein he had apparently been busy
making notes of the various passengers who had filed past him.
Then he looked up with a triumphant leer at the calm face of Marguerite.
She still did not feel really frightened, only puzzled and perturbed; but all
the blood had rushed away from her face, leaving her cheeks ashen white,
and pressing against her heart, until it almost choked her.
"You are making a mistake, Citizen," she said very quietly. "I am
Citizeness Candeille's maid. She gave me the passport herself, just before
I left for England; if you will ask her the question, she will confirm what I
say, and she assured me that it was quite en regle."
But the man only shrugged his shoulders and laughed derisively. The
incident evidently amused him, yet he must have seen many of the same
sort; in the far corner of the tent Marguerite seemed to discern a few
moving forms, soldiers, she thought, for she caught sight of a glint like
that of steel. One or two men stood close behind the official at the desk,
and the sentinels were to the right and left of the tent.
With an instinctive sense of appeal, Marguerite looked round from one
face to the other: but each looked absolutely impassive and stolid, quite
uninterested in this little scene, the exact counterpart of a dozen others,
enacted on this very spot within the last hour.
"He! la! la! petite mere!" said the official in the same tone of easy
persiflage which he had adopted all along, "but we do know how to
concoct a pretty lie, aye! and so circumstantially too! Unfortunately it
was Citizeness Desiree Candeille herself who happened to be standing
just where you are at the present moment, along with her maid, Celine
Dumont, both of whom were specially signed for and recommended as
perfectly trustworthy, by no less a person than Citoyen Chauvelin of the
Committee of Public Safety."
"But I assure you that there is a mistake," pleased Marguerite earnestly,
"'Tis the other woman who lied, I have my passport and ..."
"A truce on this," retorted the man peremptorily. "If everything is as you
say, and if you have nothing to hide, you'll be at liberty to continue your
journey to-morrow, after you have explained yourself before the citizen
governor. Next one now, quick!"
Marguerite tried another protest, just as those others had done, whom
she had watched so mechanically before. But already she knew that that
would be useless, for she had felt that a heavy hand was being placed on
her shoulder, and that she was being roughly led away.
In a flash she had understood and seen the whole sequel of the awful trap
which had all along been destined to engulf her as well as her husband.
What a clumsy, blind fool she had been!
What a miserable antagonist the subtle schemes of a past master of
intrigue as was Chauvelin. To have enticed the Scarlet Pimpernel to
France was a great thing! The challenge was clever, the acceptance of it
by the bold adventurer a forgone conclusion, but the master stroke of the
whole plan was done, when she, the wife, was enticed over too with the
story of Candeille's remorse and the offer of the passport.
Fool! fool that she was!
And how well did Chauvelin know feminine nature! How cleverly he had
divined her thoughts, her feelings, the impulsive way in which she would
act; how easily he had guessed that, knowing her husband's danger, she,
Marguerite, would immediately follow him.
Now the trap had closed on her--and she saw it all, when it was too late.
Percy Blakeney in France! His wife a prisoner! Her freedom and safety in
exchange for his life!
The hopelessness of it all struck her with appalling force, and her sense
reeled with the awful finality of the disaster.
Yet instinct in her still struggled for freedom. Ahead of her, and all
around, beyond the tent and in the far distance there was a provocative
alluring darkness: if she only could get away, only could reach the shelter
of that remote and sombre distance, she would hide, and wait, not
blunder again, oh no! she would be prudent and wary, if only she could
One woman's struggles, against five men! It was pitiable, sublime,
The man in the tent seemed to be watching her with much amusement for
a moment or two, as her whole graceful body stiffened for that absurd
and unequal physical contest. He seemed vastly entertained at the sight of
this good-looking young woman striving to pit her strength against five
sturdy soldiers of the Republic.
"Allons! that will do now!" he said at last roughly. "We have no time to
waste! Get the jade away, and let her cool her temper in No. 6, until the
citizen governor gives further orders.
"Take her away!" he shouted more loudly, banging a grimy fist down on
the table before him, as Marguerite still struggled on with the blind
madness of despair. "Pardi! can none of you rid us of that turbulent
The crowd behind were pushing forward: the guard within the tent were
jeering at those who were striving to drag Marguerite away: these latter
were cursing loudly and volubly, until one of them, tired out, furious and
brutal, raised his heavy fist and with an obscene oath brought it crashing
down upon the unfortunate woman's head.
Perhaps, though it was the work of a savage and cruel creature, the blow
proved more merciful than it had been intended: it had caught Marguerite
full between the eyes; her aching senses, wearied and reeling already,
gave way beneath this terrible violence; her useless struggles ceased, her
arms fell inert by her side: and losing consciousness completely, her
proud, unbendable spirit was spared the humiliating knowledge of her
final removal by the rough soldiers, and of the complete wreckage of her
last, lingering hopes.
Chapter XVIII : No. 6
Consciousness returned very slowly, very painfully.
It was night when last Marguerite had clearly known what was going on
around her; it was daylight before she realized that she still lived, that she
still knew and suffered.
Her head ached intolerably: that was the first conscious sensation which
came to her; then she vaguely perceived a pale ray of sunshine, very hazy
and narrow, which came from somewhere in front of her and struck her
in the face. She kept her eyes tightly shut, for that filmy light caused her
an increase of pain.
She seemed to be lying on her back, and her fingers wandering restlessly
around felt a hard paillasse, beneath their touch, then a rough pillow, and
her own cloak laid over her: thought had not yet returned, only the
sensation of great suffering and of infinite fatigue.
Anon she ventured to open her eyes, and gradually one or two objects
detached themselves from out the haze which still obscured her vision.
Firstly, the narrow aperture--scarcely a window--filled in with tiny
squares of coarse, unwashed glass, through which the rays of the
morning sun were making kindly efforts to penetrate, then the cloud of
dust illumined by those same rays, and made up--so it seemed to the poor
tired brain that strove to perceive--of myriads of abnormally large
molecules, over-abundant, and over-active, for they appeared to be
dancing a kind of wild saraband before Marguerite's aching eyes,
advancing and retreating, forming themselves into groups and taking on
funny shapes of weird masques and grotesque faces which grinned at the
unconscious figure lying helpless on the rough paillasse.
Through and beyond them Marguerite gradually became aware of three
walls of a narrow room, dank and grey, half covered with whitewash and
half with greenish mildew! Yes! and there, opposite to her and
immediately beneath that semblance of a window, was another paillasse,
and on it something dark, that moved.
The words: "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite ou la Mort!" stared out at her
from somewhere beyond those active molecules of dust, but she also saw
just above the other paillasse the vague outline of a dark crucifix.
It seemed a terrible effort to co-ordinate all these things, and to try and
realize what the room was, and what was the meaning of the paillasse,
the narrow window and the stained walls, too much altogether for the
aching head to take in save very slowly, very gradually.
Marguerite was content to wait and to let memory creep back as
reluctantly as it would.
"Do you think, my child, you could drink a little of this now?"
It was a gentle, rather tremulous voice which struck upon her ear. She
opened her eyes, and noticed that the dark something which had
previously been on the opposite paillasse was no longer there, and that
there appeared to be a presence close to her only vaguely defined,
someone kindly and tender who had spoken to her in French, with that
soft sing-song accent peculiar to the Normandy peasants, and who now
seemed to be pressing something cool and soothing to her lips.
"They gave me this for you!" continued the tremulous voice close to her
ear. "I think it would do you good, if you tried to take it."
A hand and arm was thrust underneath the rough pillow, causing her to
raise her head a little. A glass was held to her lips and she drank.
The hand that held the glass was all wrinkled, brown and dry, and
trembled slightly, but the arm which supported her head was firm and
"There! I am sure you feel better now. Close your eyes and try to go to
She did as she was bid, and was ready enough to close her eyes. It
seemed to her presently as if something had been interposed between her
aching head and that trying ray of white September sun.
Perhaps she slept peacefully for a little while after that, for though her
head was still very painful, her mouth and throat felt less parched and
dry. Through this sleep or semblance of sleep, she was conscious of the
same pleasant voice softly droning Paters and Aves close to her ear.
Thus she lay, during the greater part of the day. Not quite fully
conscious, not quite awake to the awful memories which anon would
crowd upon her thick and fast.
From time to time the same kind and trembling hands would with gentle
pressure force a little liquid food through her unwilling lips: some warm
soup, or anon a glass of milk. Beyond the pain in her head, she was
conscious of no physical ill; she felt at perfect peace, and an
extraordinary sense of quiet and repose seemed to pervade this small
room, with its narrow window through which the rays of the sun came
gradually in more golden splendour as the day drew towards noon, and
then they vanished altogether.
The drony voice close beside her acted as a soporific upon her nerves. In
the afternoon she fell into a real and beneficent sleep. ...
But after that, she woke to full consciousness!
Oh! the horror, the folly of it all!
It came back to her with all the inexorable force of an appalling certainty.
She was a prisoner in the hands of those who long ago had sworn to
bring The Scarlet Pimpernel to death!
She! his wife, a hostage in their hands! her freedom and safety offered to
him as the price of his own! Here there was no question of dreams or of
nightmares: no illusions as to the ultimate intentions of her husband's
enemies. It was all a reality, and even now, before she had the strength
fully to grasp the whole nature of this horrible situation, she knew that by
her own act of mad and passionate impulse, she had hopelessly
jeopardized the life of the man she loved.
For with that sublime confidence in him begotten of her love, she never
for a moment doubted which of the two alternatives he would choose,
when once they were placed before him. He would sacrifice himself for
her; he would prefer to die a thousand deaths so long as they set her free.
For herself, her own sufferings, her danger or humiliation she cared
nothing! Nay! at this very moment she was conscious of a wild
passionate desire for death. ... In this sudden onrush of memory and of
thought she wished with all her soul and heart and mind to die here
suddenly, on this hard paillasse, in this lonely and dark prison ... so that
she should be out of the way once and for all ... so that she should NOT
be the hostage to be bartered against his precious life and freedom.
He would suffer acutely, terribly at her loss, because he loved her above
everything else on earth, he would suffer in every fibre of his passionate
and ardent nature, but he would not then have to endure the humiliations,
the awful alternatives, the galling impotence and miserable death, the
relentless "either--or" which his enemies were even now preparing for
And then came a revulsion of feeling. Marguerite's was essentially a
buoyant and active nature, a keen brain which worked and schemed and
planned, rather than one ready to accept the inevitable.
Hardly had these thoughts of despair and of death formulated themselves
in her mind, than with brilliant swiftness, a new train of ideas began to
What if matters were not so hopeless after all?
Already her mind had flown instinctively to thoughts of escape. Had she
the right to despair? She, the wife and intimate companion of the man
who had astonished the world with his daring, his prowess, his amazing
good luck, she to imagine for a moment that in this all-supreme moment
of adventurous life the Scarlet Pimpernel would fail!
Was not English society peopled with men, women and children whom
his ingenuity had rescued from plights quite as seemingly hopeless as her
own, and would not all the resources of that inventive brain be brought to
bear upon this rescue which touched him nearer and more deeply than
any which he had attempted hitherto.
Now Marguerite was chiding herself for her doubts and for her fears.
Already she remembered that amongst the crowd on the landing stage
she had perceived a figure--unusually tall--following in the wake of
Chauvelin and his companions. Awakened hope had already assured her
that she had not been mistaken, that Percy, contrary to her own surmises,
had reached Boulogne last night: he always acted so differently to what
anyone might expect, that it was quite possible that he had crossed over
in the packet-boat after all unbeknown to Marguerite as well as to his
Oh yes! the more she thought about it all, the more sure was she that
Percy was already in Boulogne, and that he knew of her capture and her
What right had she to doubt even for a moment that he would know how
to reach her, how--when the time came--to save himself and her?
A warm glow began to fill her veins, she felt excited and alert, absolutely
unconscious now of pain or fatigue, in this radiant joy of reawakened
She raised herself slightly, leaning on her elbow: she was still very weak
and the slight movement had made her giddy, but soon she would be
strong and well ... she must be strong and well and ready to do his
bidding when the time for escape would have come.
"Ah! you are better, my child, I see ..." said that quaint, tremulous voice
again, with its soft sing-song accent, "but you must not be so
venturesome, you know. The physician said that you had received a cruel
blow. The brain has been rudely shaken ... and you must lie quite still all
to-day, or your poor little head will begin to ache again."
Marguerite turned to look at the speaker, and in spite of her excitement,
of her sorrow and of her anxieties, she could not help smiling at the
whimsical little figure which sat opposite to her, on a very rickety chair,
solemnly striving with slow and measured movement of hand and arm,
and a large supply of breath, to get up a polish on the worn-out surface
of an ancient pair of buckled shoes.
The figure was slender and almost wizened, the thin shoulders round with
an habitual stoop, the lean shanks were encased in a pair of much-darned,
coarse black stockings. It was the figure of an old man, with a gentle,
clear-cut face furrowed by a forest of wrinkles, and surmounted by
scanty white locks above a smooth forehead which looked yellow and
polished like an ancient piece of ivory.
He had looked across at Marguerite as he spoke, and a pair of innately
kind and mild blue eyes were fixed with tender reproach upon her.
Marguerite thought that she had never seen quite so much goodness and
simple-heartedness portrayed on any face before. It literally beamed out
of those pale blue eyes, which seemed quite full of unshed tears.
The old man wore a tattered garment, a miracle of shining cleanliness,
which had once been a soutane of smooth black cloth, but was now a
mass of patches and threadbare at shoulders and knees. He seemed
deeply intent in the task of polishing his shoes, and having delivered
himself of his little admonition, he very solemnly and earnestly resumed
Marguerite's first and most natural instinct had, of course, been one of
dislike and mistrust of anyone who appeared to be in some way on guard
over her. But when she took in every detail of the quaint figure of the old
man, his scrupulous tidiness of apparel, the resigned stoop of his
shoulders, and met in full the gaze of those moist eyes, she felt that the
whole aspect of the man, as he sat there polishing his shoes, was infinitely
pathetic and, in its simplicity, commanding of respect.
"Who are you?" asked Lady Blakeney at last, for the old man after
looking at her with a kind of appealing wonder, seemed to be waiting for
her to speak.
"A priest of the good God, my dear child," replied the old man with a
deep sigh and a shake of his scanty locks, "who is not allowed to serve
his divine Master any longer. A poor old fellow, very harmless and very
helpless, who had been set here to watch over you.
"You must not look upon me as a jailer because of what I say, my child,"
he added with a quaint air of deference and apology. "I am very old and
very small, and only take up a very little room. I can make myself very
scarce; you shall hardly know that I am here. They forced me to it much
against my will. ... But they are strong and I am weak, how could I deny
them since they put me here. After all," he concluded naively, "perhaps it
is the will of le bon Dieu, and He knows best, my child, He knows best."
The shoes evidently refused to respond any further to the old man's
efforts at polishing them. He contemplated them now, with a whimsical
look of regret on his furrowed face, then set them down on the floor and
slipped his stockinged feet into them.
Marguerite was silently watching him, still leaning on her elbow.
Evidently her brain was still numb and fatigued, for she did not seem able
to grasp all that the old man said. She smiled to herself too as she
watched him. How could she look upon him as a jailer? He did not seem
at all like a Jacobin or a Terrorist, there was nothing of the dissatisfied
democrat, of the snarling anarchist ready to lend his hand to any act of
ferocity directed against a so-called aristocrat, about this pathetic little
figure in the ragged soutane and worn shoes.
He seemed singularly bashful too and ill at ease, and loath to meet
Marguerite's great, ardent eyes, which were fixed questioningly upon
"You must forgive me, my daughter," he said shyly, "for concluding my
toilet before you. I had hoped to be quite ready before you woke, but I
had some trouble with my shoes; except for a little water and soap the
prison authorities will not provide us poor captives with any means of
cleanliness and tidiness, and le bon Dieu does love a tidy body as well as
a clean soul.
"But there, there," he added fussily, "I must not continue to gossip like
this. You would like to get up, I know, and refresh your face and hands
with a little water. Oh! you will see how well I have thought it out. I need
not interfere with you at all, and when you make your little bit of toilette,
you will feel quite alone ... just as if the old man was not there."
He began busying himself about the room, dragging the rickety, rush-
bottomed chairs forward. There were four of these in the room, and he
began forming a kind of bulwark with them, placing two side by side,
then piling the two others up above.
"You will see, my child, you will see!" he kept repeating at intervals as
the work of construction progressed. It was no easy matter, for he was of
low stature, and his hands were unsteady from apparently uncontrollable
Marguerite, leaning slightly forward, her chin resting in her hand, was too
puzzled and anxious to grasp the humour of this comical situation. She
certainly did not understand. This old man had in some sort of way, and
for a hitherto unexplained reason, been set as a guard over her; it was not
an unusual device on the part of the inhuman wretches who now ruled
France, to add to the miseries and terrors of captivity, where a woman of
refinement was concerned, the galling outrage of never leaving her alone
for a moment.
That peculiar form of mental torture, surely the invention of brains
rendered mad by their own ferocious cruelty, was even now being
inflicted on the hapless, dethroned Queen of France. Marguerite, in far-
off England, had shuddered when she heard of it, and in her heart had
prayed, as indeed every pure-minded woman did then, that proud,
unfortunate Marie Antoinette might soon find release from such torments
There was evidently some similar intention with regard to Marguerite
herself in the minds of those who now held her prisoner. But this old man
seemed so feeble and so helpless, his very delicacy of thought as he built
up a screen to divide the squalid room in two, proved him to be
singularly inefficient for the task of a watchful jailer.
When the four chairs appeared fairly steady, and in comparatively little
danger of toppling, he dragged the paillasse forward and propped it up
against the chairs. Finally he drew the table along, which held the cracked
ewer and basin, and placed it against this improvised partition: then he
surveyed the whole construction with evident gratification and delight.
"There now!" he said, turning a face beaming with satisfaction to
Marguerite, "I can continue my prayers on the other side of the fortress.
Oh! it is quite safe ..." he added, as with a fearsome hand he touched his
engineering feat with gingerly pride, "and you will be quite private. ... Try
and forget that the old abbe is in the room. ... He does not count ... really
he does not count ... he has ceased to be of any moment these many
months now that Saint Joseph is closed and he may no longer say Mass."
He was obviously prattling on in order to hide his nervous bashfulness.
He ensconced himself behind his own finely constructed bulwark, drew a
breviary from his pocket and having found a narrow ledge on one of the
chairs, on which he could sit, without much danger of bringing the
elaborate screen onto the top of his head, he soon became absorbed in his
Marguerite watched him for a little while longer: he was evidently
endeavouring to make her think that he had become oblivious of her
presence, and his transparent little manoeuvers amused and puzzled her
not a little.
He looked so comical with his fussy and shy ways, yet withal so gentle
and so kindly that she felt completely reassured and quite calm.
She tried to raise herself still further and found the process astonishingly
easy. Her limbs still ached and the violent, intermittent pain in her head
certainly made her feel sick and giddy at times, but otherwise she was not
ill. She sat up on the paillasse, then put her feet to the ground and
presently walked up to the improvised dressing-room and bathed her face
and hands. The rest had done her good, and she felt quite capable of co-
ordinating her thoughts, of moving about without too much pain, and of
preparing herself both mentally and physically for the grave events which
she knew must be imminent.
While she busied herself with her toilet her thoughts dwelt on the one all-
absorbing theme: Percy was in Boulogne, he knew that she was here, in
prison, he would reach her without fail, in fact he might communicate
with her at any moment now, and had without a doubt already evolved a
plan of escape for her, more daring and ingenious than any which he had
conceived hitherto; therefore, she must be ready, and prepared for any
eventuality, she must be strong and eager, in no way despondent, for if he
were here, would he not chide her for her want of faith?
By the time she had smoothed her hair and tidied her dress, Marguerite
caught herself singing quite cheerfully to herself.
So full of buoyant hope was she.
Chapter XIX : The Strength of the Weak
"M. L'Abbe! ..." said Marguerite gravely.
"Yes, mon enfant."
The old man looked up from his breviary, and saw Marguerite's great
earnest eyes fixed with obvious calm and trust upon him. She had
finished her toilet as well as she could, had shaken up and tidied the
paillasse, and was now sitting on the edge of it, her hands clasped
between her knees. There was something which still puzzled her, and
impatient and impulsive as she was, she had watched the abbe as he
calmly went on reading the Latin prayers for the last five minutes, and
now she could contain her questionings no longer.
"You said just now that they set you to watch over me ..."
"So they did, my child, so they did ..." he replied with a sigh, as he
quietly closed his book and slipped it back into his pocket. "Ah! they are
very cunning ... and we must remember that they have the power. No
doubt," added the old man, with his own, quaint philosophy, "no doubt le
bon Dieu meant them to have the power, or they would not have it,
"By 'they' you mean the Terrorists and Anarchists of France, M. L'Abbe.
... The Committee of Public Safety who pillage and murder, outrage
women, and desecrate religion. ... Is that not so?"
"Alas! my child!" he sighed.
"And it is 'they' who have set you to watch over me? ... I confess I don't
She laughed, quite involuntarily indeed, for in spite of the reassurance in
her heart her brain was still in a whirl of passionate anxiety.
"You don't look at all like one of 'them,' M. l'Abbe," she said.
"The good God forbid!" ejaculated the old man, raising protesting hands
up toward the very distant, quite invisible sky. "How could I, a humble
priest of the Lord, range myself with those who would flout and defy
"Yet I am a prisoner of the Republic and you are my jailer, M. l'Abbe."
"Ah, yes!" he sighed. "But I am very helpless. This was my cell. I had
been here with Francois and Felicite, my sister's children, you know.
Innocent lambs, whom those fiends would lead to slaughter. Last night,"
he continued, speaking volubly, "the soldiers came in and dragged
Francois and Felicite out of this room, where, in spite of the danger
before us, in spite of what we suffered, we had contrived to be quite
happy together. I could read the Mass, and the dear children would say
their prayers night and morning at my knee."
He paused awhile. The unshed tears in his mild blue eyes struggled for
freedom now, and one or two flowed slowly down his wrinkled cheek.
Marguerite, though heartsore and full of agonizing sorrow herself, felt
her whole noble soul go out to this kind old man, so pathetic, so high and
simple-minded in his grief.
She said nothing, however, and the Abbe continued after a few seconds'
"When the children had gone, they brought you in here, mon enfant, and
laid you on the paillasse where Felicite used to sleep. You looked very
white, and stricken down, like one of God's lambs attacked by the
ravening wolf. Your eyes were closed and you were blissfully
unconscious. I was taken before the governor of the prison, and he told
me that you would share the cell with me for a time, and that I was to
watch you night and day, because ..."
The old man paused again. Evidently what he had to say was very
difficult to put into words. He groped in his pockets and brought out a
large bandana handkerchief, red and yellow and green, with which he
began to mop his moist forehead. The quaver in his voice and the
trembling of his hands became more apparent and pronounced.
"Yes, M. l'Abbe? Because? ..." queried Marguerite gently.
"They said that if I guarded you well, Felicite and Francois would be set
free," replied the old man after a while, during which he made vigorous
efforts to overcome his nervousness, "and that if you escaped the children
and I would be guillotined the very next day."
There was silence in the little room now. The Abbe was sitting quite still,
clasping his trembling fingers, and Marguerite neither moved nor spoke.
What the old man had just said was very slowly finding its way to the
innermost cells of her brain. Until her mind had thoroughly grasped the
meaning of it all, she could not trust herself to make a single comment.
It was some seconds before she fully understood it all, before she realized
what it meant not only to her, but indirectly to her husband. Until now
she had not been fully conscious of the enormous wave of hope which
almost in spite of herself had risen triumphant above the dull, grey sea of
her former despair; only now when it had been shattered against this
deadly rock of almost superhuman devilry and cunning did she
understand what she had hoped, and what she must now completely
No bolts and bars, no fortified towers or inaccessible fortresses could
prove so effectual a prison for Marguerite Blakeney as the dictum which
morally bound her to her cell.
"If you escape the children and I would be guillotined the very next day."
This meant that even if Percy knew, even if he could reach her, he could
never set her free, since her safety meant death to two innocent children
and to this simple hearted man.
It would require more than the ingenuity of the Scarlet Pimpernel himself
to untie this Gordian knot.
"I don't mind for myself, of course," the old man went on with gentle
philosophy. "I have lived my life. What matters if I die to-morrow, or if I
linger on until my earthly span is legitimately run out? I am ready to go
home whenever my Father calls me. But it is the children, you see. I have
to think of them. Francois is his mother's only son, the bread-winner of
the household, a good lad and studious too, and Felicite has always been
very delicate. She is blind from birth and ..."
"Oh! don't ... for pity's sake, don't ..." moaned Marguerite in an agony of
helplessness. "I understand ... you need not fear for your children, M.
l'Abbe: no harm shall come to them through me."
"It is as the good God wills!" replied the old man quietly.
Then, as Marguerite had once more relapsed into silence, he fumbled for
his beads, and his gentle voice began droning the Paters and Aves
wherein no doubt his childlike heart found peace and solace.
He understood that the poor woman would not wish to speak, he knew
as well as she did the overpowering strength of his helpless appeal. Thus
the minutes sped on, the jailer and the captive, tied to one another by the
strongest bonds that hand of man could forge, had nothing to say to one
another: he, the old priest, imbued with the traditions of his calling, could
pray and resign himself to the will of the Almighty, but she was young
and ardent and passionate, she loved and was beloved, and an impassable
barrier was built up between her and the man she worshipped!
A barrier fashioned by the weak hands of children, one of whom was
delicate and blind. Outside was air and freedom, reunion with her
husband, an agony of happy remorse, a kiss from his dear lips, and
trembling held her back from it all, because of Francois who was the
bread-winner and of Felicite who was blind.
Mechanically now Marguerite rose again, and like an automaton --lifeless
and thoughtless--she began putting the dingy, squalid room to rights. The
Abbe helped her demolish the improvised screen; with the same gentle
delicacy of thought which had caused him to build it up, he refrained
from speaking to her now: he would not intrude himself on her grief and
Later on, she forced herself to speak again, and asked the old man his
"My name is Foucquet," he replied, "Jean Baptiste Marie Foucquet, late
parish priest of the Church of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of
Foucquet! This was l'Abbe Foucquet! the faithful friend and servant of
the de Marny family.
Marguerite gazed at him with great, questioning eyes.
What a wealth of memories crowded in on her mind at sound of that
name! Her beautiful home at Richmond, her brilliant array of servants and
guests, His Royal Highness at her side! life in free, joyous happy
England--how infinitely remote it now seemed. Her ears were filled with
the sound of a voice, drawly and quaint and gentle, a voice and a laugh
half shy, wholly mirthful, and oh! so infinitely dear:
"I think a little sea voyage and English country air would suit the Abbe
Foucquet, m'dear, and I only mean to ask him to cross the Channel with
Oh! the joy and confidence expressed in those words! the daring, the
ambition! the pride! and the soft, languorous air of the old-world garden
round her then, the passion of his embrace! the heavy scent of late roses
and of heliotrope, which caused her to swoon in his arms!
And now a narrow prison cell, and that pathetic, tender little creature
there, with trembling hands and tear-dimmed eyes, the most powerful and
most relentless jailer which the ferocious cunning of her deadly enemies
could possible have devised.
Then she talked to him of Juliette Marny.
The Abbe did not know that Mlle. de Marny had succeeded in reaching
England safely and was overjoyed to hear it.
He recounted to Marguerite the story of the Marny jewels: how he had
put them safely away in the crypt of his little church, until the Assembly
of the Convention had ordered the closing of the churches, and placed
before every minister of le bon Dieu the alternative of apostasy or death.
"With me it has only been prison so far," continued the old man simply,
"but prison has rendered me just as helpless as the guillotine would have
done, for the enemies of le bon Dieu have ransacked the Church of Saint
Joseph and stolen the jewels which I should have guarded with my life."
But it was obvious joy for the Abbe to talk of Juliette Marny's happiness.
Vaguely, in his remote little provincial cure, he had heard of the prowess
and daring of the Scarlet Pimpernel and liked to think that Juliette owed
her safety to him.
"The good God will reward him and those whom he cares for," added
Abbe Foucquet with that earnest belief in divine interference which
seemed so strangely pathetic under these present circumstances.
Marguerite sighed, and for the first time in this terrible soul-stirring crisis
through which she was passing so bravely, she felt a beneficent moisture
in her eyes: the awful tension of her nerves relaxed. She went up to the
old man took his wrinkled hand in hers and falling on her knees beside
him she eased her overburdened heart in a flood of tears.
Chapter XX : Triumph
The day that Citizen Chauvelin's letter was received by the members of
the Committee of Public Safety was indeed one of great rejoicing.
The Moniteur tells us that in the Seance of September 22nd, 1793, or
Vendemiaire 1st of the Year I. it was decreed that sixty prisoners, not
absolutely proved guilty of treason against the Republic--only suspected-
-were to be set free.
Sixty! ... at the mere news of the possible capture of the Scarlet
The Committee was inclined to be magnanimous. Ferocity yielded for the
moment to the elusive joy of anticipatory triumph.
A glorious prize was about to fall into the hands of those who had the
welfare of the people at heart.
Robespierre and his decemvirs rejoiced, and sixty persons had cause to
rejoice with them. So be it! There were plans evolved already as to
national fetes and wholesale pardons when that impudent and
meddlesome Englishman at last got his deserts.
Wholesale pardons which could easily be rescinded afterwards. Even
with those sixty it was a mere respite. Those of le Salut Public only
loosened their hold for a while, were nobly magnanimous for a day, quite
prepared to be doubly ferocious the next.
In the meanwhile let us heartily rejoice!
The Scarlet Pimpernel is in France or will be very soon, and on an
appointed day he will present himself conveniently to the soldiers of the
Republic for capture and for subsequent guillotine. England is at war
with us, there is nothing therefore further to fear from her. We might
hang every Englishman we can lay hands on, and England could do no
more than she is doing at the present moment: bombard our ports, bluster
and threaten, join hands with Flanders, and Austria and Sardinia, and the
devil if she choose.
Allons! vogue la galere! The Scarlet Pimpernel is perhaps on our shores
at this very moment! Our most stinging, most irritating foe is about to be
delivered into our hands.
Citizen Chauvelin's letter is very categorical:
"I guarantee to you, Citizen Robespierre, and to the Members of the
Revolutionary Government who have entrusted me with the delicate
Robespierre's sensuous lips curl into a sarcastic smile. Citizen Chauvelin's
pen was every florid in its style: "entrusted me with the delicate mission,"
is hardly the way to describe an order given under penalty of death.
But let it pass.
"... that four days from this date, at one hour after sunset, the man who
goes by the mysterious name of the Scarlet Pimpernel will be on the
southern ramparts of Boulogne, at the extreme southern corner of the
"Four days from this date ..." and Citizen Chauvelin's letter is dated the
nineteenth of September, 1793.
"Too much of an aristocrat--Monsieur le Marquis Chauvelin ..." sneers
Merlin, the Jacobin. "He does not know that all good citizens had called
that date the 28th Fructidor, Year I. of the Republic."
"No matter," retorts Robespierre with impatient frigidity, "whatever we
may call the day it was forty-eight hours ago, and in forty-eight hours
more than damned Englishman will have run his head into a noose, from
which, an I mistake not, he'll not find it easy to extricate himself."
"And you believe in Citizen Chauvelin's assertion," commented Danton
with a lazy shrug of the shoulders.
"Only because he asks for help from us," quoth Robespierre drily; "he is
sure that the man will be there, but not sure if he can tackle him."
But many were inclined to think that Chauvelin's letter was an idle boast.
They knew nothing of the circumstances which had caused that letter to
be written: they could not conjecture how it was that the ex-ambassador
could be so precise in naming the day and hour when the enemy of
France would be at the mercy of those whom he had outraged and
Nevertheless Citizen Chauvelin asks for help, and help must not be
denied him. There must be no shadow of blame upon the actions of the
Committee of Public Safety.
Chauvelin had been weak once, had allowed the prize to slip through his
fingers; it must not occur again. He has a wonderful head for devising
plans, but he needs a powerful hand to aid him, so that he may not fail
Collot d'Herbois, just home from Lyons and Tours, is the right man in an
emergency like this. Citizen Collot is full of ideas; the inventor of the
"Noyades" is sure to find a means of converting Boulogne into one
gigantic prison out of which the mysterious English adventurer will find it
impossible to escape.
And whilst the deliberations go on, whilst this committee of butchers are
busy slaughtering in imagination the game they have not yet succeeded in
bringing down, there comes another messenger from Citizen Chauvelin.
He must have ridden hard on the other one's heels, and something very
unexpected and very sudden must have occurred to cause the Citizen to
send this second note.
This time it is curt and to the point. Robespierre unfolds it and reads it to
"We have caught the woman--his wife--there may be murder attempted
against my person, send me some one at once who will carry out my
instructions in case of my sudden death."
Robespierre's lips curl in satisfaction, showing a row of yellowish teeth,
long and sharp like the fangs of a wolf. A murmur like unto the snarl of a
pack of hyenas rises round the table, as Chauvelin's letter is handed
Everyone has guessed the importance of this preliminary capture: "the
woman--his wife." Chauvelin evidently thinks much of it, for he
anticipates an attempt against his life, nay! he is quite prepared for it,
ready to sacrifice it for the sake of his revenge.
Who had accused him of weakness?
He only thinks of his duty, not of his life; he does not fear for himself,
only that the fruits of his skill might be jeopardized through assassination.
Well! this English adventurer is capable of any act of desperation to save
his wife and himself, and Citizen Chauvelin must not be left in the lurch.
Thus, Citizen Collot d'Herbois is despatched forthwith to Boulogne to be
a helpmeet and counsellor to Citizen Chauvelin.
Everything that can humanly be devised must be done to keep the woman
secure and to set the trap for that elusive Pimpernel.
Once he is caught the whole of France shall rejoice, and Boulogne, who
had been instrumental in running the quarry to earth, must be specially
privileged on that day.
A general amnesty for all prisoners the day the Scarlet Pimpernel is
captured. A public holiday and a pardon for all natives of Boulogne who
are under sentence of death: they shall be allowed to find their way to the
various English boats--trading and smuggling craft-- that always lie at
anchor in the roads there.
The Committee of Public Safety feel amazingly magnanimous towards
Boulogne; a proclamation embodying the amnesty and the pardon is at
once drawn up and signed by Robespierre and his bloodthirsty Council of
Ten, it is entrusted to Citizen Collot d'Herbois to be read out at every
corner of the ramparts as an inducement to the little town to do its level
best. The Englishman and his wife--captured in Boulogne--will both be
subsequently brought to Paris, formally tried on a charge of conspiring
against the Republic and guillotined as English spies, but Boulogne shall
have the greater glory and shall reap the first and richest reward.
And armed with the magnanimous proclamation, the orders for general
rejoicings and a grand local fete, armed also with any and every power
over the entire city, its municipality, its garrisons, its forts, for himself
and his colleague Chauvelin, Citizen Collot d'Herbois starts for Boulogne
Needless to tell him not to let the grass grow under his horse's hoofs. The
capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, though not absolutely an accomplished
fact, is nevertheless a practical certainty, and no one rejoices over this
great event more than the man who is to be present and see all the fun.
Riding and driving, getting what relays of horses or waggons from
roadside farms that he can, Collot is not likely to waste much time on the
It is 157 miles to Boulogne by road, and Collot, burning with ambition to
be in at the death, rides or drives as no messenger of good tidings has
ever ridden or driven before.
He does not stop to eat, but munches chunks of bread and cheese in the
recess of the lumbering chaise or waggon that bears him along whenever
his limbs refuse him service and he cannot mount a horse.
The chronicles tell us that twenty-four hours after he left Paris, half-
dazed with fatigue, but ferocious and eager still, he is borne to the gates
of Boulogne by an old cart horse requisitioned from some distant farm,
and which falls down, dead, at the Porte Gayole, whilst its rider, with a
last effort, loudly clamours for admittance into the town "in the name of
Chapter XXI : Suspense
In his memorable interview with Robespierre, the day before he left for
England, Chauvelin had asked that absolute power be given him, in order
that he might carry out the plans for the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel,
which he had in his mind. Now that he was back in France he had no
cause to complain that the revolutionary government had grudged him
this power for which he had asked.
Implicit obedience had followed whenever he had commanded.
As soon as he heard that a woman had been arrested in the act of uttering
a passport in the name of Celine Dumont, he guessed at once that
Marguerite Blakeney had, with characteristic impulse, fallen into the trap
which, with the aid of the woman Candeille, he had succeeded in laying
He was not the least surprised at that. He knew human nature, feminine
nature, far too well, ever to have been in doubt for a moment that
Marguerite would follow her husband without calculating either costs or
Ye gods! the irony of it all! Had she not been called the cleverest woman
in Europe at one time? Chauvelin himself had thus acclaimed her, in those
olden days, before she and he became such mortal enemies, and when he
was one of the many satellites that revolved round brilliant Marguerite St.
Just. And to-night, when a sergeant of the town guards brought him news
of her capture, he smiled grimly to himself; the cleverest woman in
Europe had failed to perceive the trap laid temptingly open for her.
Once more she had betrayed her husband into the hands of those who
would not let him escape a second time. And now she had done it with
her eyes open, with loving, passionate heart which ached for self-
sacrifice, and only succeeded in imperilling the loved one more hopelessly
The sergeant was waiting for orders. Citizen Chauvelin had come to
Boulogne, armed with more full and more autocratic powers than any
servant of the new republic had ever been endowed with before. The
governor of the town, the captain of the guard, the fort and municipality
were all as abject slaves before him.
As soon as he had taken possession of the quarters organized for him in
the town hall, he had asked for a list of prisoners who for one cause or
another were being detained pending further investigations.
The list was long and contained many names which were of not the
slightest interest to Chauvelin: he passed them over impatiently.
"To be released at one," he said curtly.
He did not want the guard to be burdened with unnecessary duties, nor
the prisons of the little sea-port town to be inconveniently encumbered.
He wanted room, space, air, the force and intelligence of the entire town
at his command for the one capture which meant life and revenge to him.
"A woman--name unknown--found in possession of a forged passport in
the name of Celine Dumont, maid to the Citizeness Desiree Candeille --
attempted to land--was interrogated and failed to give satisfactory
explanation of herself--detained in room No. 6 of the Gayole prison.
This was one of the last names on the list, the only one of any importance
to Citizen Chauvelin. When he read it he nearly drove his nails into the
palms of his hands, so desperate an effort did he make not to betray
before the sergeant by look or sigh the exultation which he felt.
For a moment he shaded his eyes against the glare of the lamp, but it was
not long before he had formulated a plan and was ready to give his
He asked for a list of prisoners already detained in the various forts. The
name of l'Abbe Foucquet with those of his niece and nephew attracted his
immediate attention. He asked for further information respecting these
people, heard that the boy was a widow's only son, the sole supporter of
his mother's declining years: the girl was ailing, suffering from incipient
phthisis, and was blind.
Pardi! the very thing! L'Abbe himself, the friend of Juliette Marny, the
pathetic personality around which this final adventure of the Scarlet
Pimpernel was intended to revolve! and these two young people! his
sister's children! one of them blind and ill, the other full of vigour and
Citizen Chauvelin had soon made up his mind.
A few quick orders to the sergeant of the guard, and l'Abbe Foucquet,
weak, helpless and gentle, became the relentless jailer who would guard
Marguerite more securely than a whole regiment of loyal soldiers could
Then, having despatched a messenger to the Committee of Public Safety,
Chauvelin laid himself down to rest. Fate had not deceived him. He had
thought and schemed and planned, and events had shaped themselves
exactly as foreseen, and the fact that Marguerite Blakeney was at the
present moment a prisoner in his hands was merely the result of his own
As for the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin could not very well conceive
what he would do under these present circumstances. The duel on the
southern ramparts had of course become a farce, not likely to be enacted
now that Marguerite's life was at stake. The daring adventurer was
caught in a network at last, from which all his ingenuity, all his wit, his
impudence and his amazing luck could never extricate him.
And in Chauvelin's mind there was still something more. Revenge was the
sweetest emotion his bruised and humbled pride could know: he had not
yet tasted its complete intoxicating joy: but every hour now his cup of
delight became more and more full: in a few days it would overflow.
In the meanwhile he was content to wait. The hours sped by and there
was no news yet of that elusive Pimpernel. Of Marguerite he knew
nothing save that she was well guarded; the sentry who passed up and
down outside room No. 6 had heard her voice and that of the Abbe
Foucquet, in the course of the afternoon.
Chauvelin had asked the Committee of Public Safety for aid in his
difficult task, but forty-eight hours at least must elapse before such aid
could reach him. Forty-eight hours, during which the hand of an assassin
might be lurking for him, and might even reach him ere his vengeance
was fully accomplished.
That was the only thought which really troubled him. He did not want to
die before he had seen the Scarlet Pimpernel a withered abject creature,
crushed in fame and honour, too debased to find glorification even in
At this moment he only cared for his life because it was needed for the
complete success of his schemes. No one else he knew would have that
note of personal hatred towards the enemy of France which was
necessary now in order to carry out successfully the plans which he had
Robespierre and all the others only desired the destruction of a man who
had intrigued against the reign of terror which they had established; his
death on the guillotine, even if it were surrounded with the halo of
martyrdom, would have satisfied them completely. Chauvelin looked
further than that. He hated the man! He had suffered humiliation through
him individually. He wished to see him as an object of contempt rather
than of pity. And because of the anticipation of this joy, he was careful of
his life, and throughout those two days which elapsed between the
capture of Marguerite and the arrival of Collot d'Herbois at Boulogne,
Chauvelin never left his quarters at the Hotel de Ville, and requisitioned a
special escort consisting of proved soldiers of the town guard to attend
his every footstep.
On the evening of the 22nd, after the arrival of Citizen Collot in
Boulogne, he gave orders that the woman from No. 6 cell be brought
before him in the ground floor room of the Fort Gayole.
Chapter XXII : Not Death
Two days of agonizing suspense, of alternate hope and despair, had told
heavily on Marguerite Blakeney.
Her courage was still indomitable, her purpose firm and her faith secure,
but she was without the slightest vestige of news, entirely shut off from
the outside world, left to conjecture, to scheme, to expect and to
The Abbe Foucquet had tried in his gentle way to be of comfort to her,
and she in her turn did her very best not to render his position more cruel
than it already was.
A message came to him twice during those forty-eight hours from
Francois and Felicite, a little note scribbled by the boy, or a token sent by
the blind girl, to tell the Abbe that the children were safe and well, that
they would be safe and well so long as the Citizeness with the name
unknown remained closely guarded by him in room No. 6.
When these messages came, the old man would sigh and murmur
something about the good God: and hope, which perhaps had faintly
risen in Marguerite's heart within the last hour or so, would once more
sink back into the abyss of uttermost despair.
Outside the monotonous walk of the sentry sounded like the perpetual
thud of a hammer beating upon her bruised temples.
"What's to be done? My God? what's to be done?"
Where was Percy now?
"How to reach him! ... Oh, God! grant me light!"
The one real terror which she felt was that she would go mad. Nay! that
she was in a measure mad already. For hours now,--or was it days? ... or
years? ... she had heard nothing save that rhythmic walk of the sentinel,
and the kindly, tremulous voice of the Abbe whispering consolations, or
murmuring prayers in her ears, she had seen nothing save that prison
door, of rough deal, painted a dull grey, with great old-fashioned lock,
and hinges rusty with the damp of ages.
She had kept her eyes fixed on that door until they burned and ached
with well-nigh intolerable pain; yet she felt that she could not look
elsewhere, lest she missed the golden moment when the bolts would be
drawn, and that dull, grey door would swing slowly on its rusty hinges.
Surely, surely, that was the commencement of madness!
Yet for Percy's sake, because he might want her, because he might have
need of her courage and of her presence of mind, she tried to keep her
wits about her. But it was difficult! oh! terribly difficult! especially when
the shade of evening began to gather in, and peopled the squalid,
whitewashed room with innumerable threatening ghouls.
Then when the moon came up, a silver ray crept in through the tiny
window and struck full upon that grey door, making it look weird and
spectral like the entrance to a house of ghosts.
Even now as there was a distinct sound of the pushing of bolts and bars,
Marguerite thought that she was the prey of hallucinations. The Abbe
Foucquet was sitting in the remote and darkest corner of the room,
quietly telling his beads. His serene philosophy and gentle placidity could
in no way be disturbed by the opening of shutting of a door, or by the
bearer of good or evil tidings.
The room now seemed strangely gloomy and cavernous, with those deep,
black shadows all around and that white ray of the moon which struck so
weirdly on the door.
Marguerite shuddered with one of those unaccountable premonitions of
something evil about to come, which ofttimes assail those who have a
nervous and passionate temperament.
The door swung slowly open upon its hinges: there was a quick word of
command, and the light of a small oil lamp struck full into the gloom.
Vaguely Marguerite discerned a group of men, soldiers no doubt, for
there was a glint of arms and the suggestion of tricolour cockades and
scarves. One of the men was holding the lamp aloft, another took a few
steps forward into the room. He turned to Marguerite, entirely ignoring
the presence of the old priest, and addressed her peremptorily.
"Your presence is desired by the citizen governor," he said curtly; "stand
up and follow me."
"Whither am I to go?" she asked.
"To where my men will take you. Now then, quick's the word. The
citizen governor does not like to wait."
At a word of command from him, two more soldiers now entered the
room and placed themselves one on each side of Marguerite, who,
knowing that resistance was useless, had already risen and was prepared
The Abbe tried to utter a word of protest and came quickly forward
towards Marguerite, but he was summarily and very roughly pushed
"Now then, calotin," said the first soldier with an oath, "this is none of
your business. Forward! march!" he added, addressing his men, "and you,
Citizeness, will find it wiser to come quietly along and not to attempt any
tricks with me, or the gag and manacles will have to be used."
But Marguerite had no intention of resisting. She was too tired even to
wonder as to what they meant to do with her or whither they were going;
she moved as in a dream and felt a hope within her that she was being led
to death: summary executions were the order of the day, she knew that,
and sighed for this simple solution of the awful problem which had been
harassing her these past two days.
She was being led along a passage, stumbling ever and anon as she
walked, for it was but dimly lighted by the same little oil lamp, which one
of the soldiers was carrying in front, holding it high up above his head:
then they went down a narrow flight of stone steps, until she and her
escort reached a heavy oak door.
A halt was ordered at this point: and the man in command of the little
party pushed the door open and walked in. Marguerite caught sight of a
room beyond, dark and gloomy-looking, as was her own prison cell.
Somewhere on the left there was obviously a window; she could not see
it but guessed that it was there because the moon struck full upon the
floor, ghost-like and spectral, well fitting in with the dream-like state in
which Marguerite felt herself to be.
In the centre of the room she could discern a table with a chair close
beside it, also a couple of tallow candles, which flickered in the draught
caused no doubt by that open window which she could not see.
All these little details impressed themselves on Marguerite's mind, as she
stood there, placidly waiting until she should once more be told to move
along. The table, the chair, that unseen window, trivial objects though
they were, assumed before her overwrought fancy an utterly
disproportionate importance. She caught herself presently counting up
the number of boards visible on the floor, and watching the smoke of the
tallow-candles rising up towards the grimy ceiling.
After a few minutes' weary waiting which seemed endless to Marguerite,
there came a short word of command from within and she was roughly
pushed forward into the room by one of the men. The cool air of a late
September's evening gently fanned her burning temples. She looked
round her and now perceived that someone was sitting at the table, the
other side of the tallow-candles--a man, with head bent over a bundle of
papers and shading his face against the light with his hand.
He rose as she approached, and the flickering flame of the candles played
weirdly upon the slight, sable-clad figure, illumining the keen, ferret-like
face, and throwing fitful gleams across the deep-set eyes and the narrow,
It was Chauvelin.
Mechanically Marguerite took the chair which the soldier drew towards
her, ordering her curtly to sit down. She seemed to have but little power
to move. Though all her faculties had suddenly become preternaturally
alert at sight of this man, whose very life now was spent in doing her the
most grievous wrong that one human being can do to another, yet all
these faculties were forcefully centred in the one mighty effort not to
flinch before him, not to let him see for a moment that she was afraid.
She compelled her eyes to look at him fully and squarely, her lips not to
tremble, her very heart to stop its wild, excited beating. She felt his keen
eyes fixed intently upon her, but more in curiosity than in hatred or
When she had sat down he came round the table and moved towards her.
When he drew quite near, she instinctively recoiled. It had been an almost
imperceptible action on her part and certainly an involuntary one, for she
did not wish to betray a single thought or emotion, until she knew what
he wished to say.
But he had noted her movement--a sort of drawing up and stiffening of
her whole person as he approached. He seemed pleased to see it, for he
smiled sarcastically but with evident satisfaction, and --as if his purpose
was now accomplished--he immediately withdrew and went back to his
former seat on the other side of the table. After that he ordered the
soldiers to go.
"But remain at attention outside, you and your men," he added, "ready to
enter if I call."
It was Marguerite's turn to smile at this obvious sign of a lurking fear on
Chauvelin's part, and a line of sarcasm and contempt curled her full lips.
The soldiers having obeyed and the oak door having closed upon them,
Marguerite was now alone with the man whom she hated and loathed
beyond every living thing on earth.
She wondered when he would begin to speak and why he had sent for
her. But he seemed in no hurry to begin. Still shading his face with his
hand, he was watching her with utmost attention: she, on the other hand,
was looking through and beyond him, with contemptuous indifference, as
if his presence here did not interest her in the least.
She would give him no opening for this conversation which he had
sought and which she felt would prove either purposeless or else deeply
wounding to her heart and to her pride. She sat, therefore, quite still with
the flickering and yellow light fully illumining her delicate face, with its
child-like curves, and delicate features, the noble, straight brow, the great
blue eyes and halo of golden hair.
"My desire to see you here to-night, must seem strange to you, Lady
Blakeney," said Chauvelin at last.
Then, as she did not reply, he continued, speaking quite gently, almost
"There are various matters of grave importance, which the events of the
next twenty-four hours will reveal to your ladyship: and believe me that I
am actuated by motives of pure friendship towards you in this my effort
to mitigate the unpleasantness of such news as you might hear to-morrow
perhaps, by giving you due warning of what its nature might be."
She turned great questioning eyes upon him, and in their expression she
tried to put all the contempt which she felt, all the bitterness, all the
defiance and the pride.
He quietly shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah! I fear me," he said, "that your ladyship, as usual doth me grievous
wrong. It is but natural that you should misjudge me, yet believe me ..."
"A truce on this foolery, M. Chauvelin," she broke in, with sudden
impatient vehemence, "pray leave your protestations of friendship and
courtesy alone, there is no one here to hear them. I pray you proceed
with what you have to say."
"Ah!" It was a sigh of satisfaction on the part of Chauvelin. Her anger
and impatience even at this early stage of the interview proved
sufficiently that her icy restraint was only on the surface.
And Chauvelin always knew how to deal with vehemence. He loved to
play with the emotions of a passionate fellow-creature: it was only the
imperturbably calm of a certain enemy of his that was wont to shake his
own impenetrable armour of reserve.
"As your ladyship desires," he said, with a slight and ironical bow of the
head. "But before proceeding according to your wish, I am compelled to
ask your ladyship just one question."
"And that is?"
"Have you reflected what your present position means to that inimitable
prince of dandies, Sir Percy Blakeney?"
Is it necessary for your present purpose, Monsieur, that you should
mention my husband's name at all?" she asked.
"It is indispensable, fair lady," he replied suavely, "for is not the fate of
your husband so closely intertwined with yours, that his actions will
inevitably be largely influenced by your own."
Marguerite gave a start of surprise, and as Chauvelin had paused she
tried to read what hidden meaning lay behind these last words of his. Was
it his intention then to propose some bargain, one of those terrible
"either-or's" of which he seemed to possess the malignant secret? Oh! if
that was so, if indeed he had sent for her in order to suggest one of those
terrible alternatives of his, then--be it what it may, be it the wildest
conception which the insane brain of a fiend could invent, she would
accept it, so long as the man she loved were given one single chance of
Therefore she turned to her arch-enemy in a more conciliatory spirit now,
and even endeavoured to match her own diplomatic cunning against his.
"I do not understand," she said tentatively. "How can my actions
influence those of my husband? I am a prisoner in Boulogne: he probably
is not aware of that fact yet and ..."
"Sir Percy Blakeney may be in Boulogne at any moment now," he
interrupted quietly. "An I mistake not, few places can offer such great
attractions to that peerless gentleman of fashion than doth this humble
provincial town of France just at this present. ... Hath it not the honour of
harbouring Lady Blakeney within its gates? ... And your ladyship may
indeed believe me when I say that the day that Sir Percy lands in our
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