The Elusive Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy [Full name]
Part 4 out of 6
hospitable port, two hundred pairs of eyes will be fixed upon him, lest he
should wish to quit it again."
"And if there were two thousand, sir," she said impulsively, "they would
not stop his coming or going as he pleased."
"Nay, fair lady," he said, with a smile, "are you then endowing Sir Percy
Blakeney with the attributes which, as popular fancy has it, belong
exclusively to that mysterious English hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel?"
"A truce to your diplomacy, Monsieur Chauvelin," she retorted, goaded
by his sarcasm, "why should we try to fence with one another? What was
the object of your journey to England? of the farce which you enacted in
my house, with the help of the woman Candeille? of that duel and that
challenge, save that you desired to entice Sir Percy Blakeney to France?"
"And also his charming wife," he added with an ironical bow.
She bit her lip, and made no comment.
"Shall we say that I succeeded admirably?" he continued, speaking with
persistent urbanity and calm, "and that I have strong cause to hope that
the elusive Pimpernel will soon be a guest on our friendly shores? ...
There! you see I too have laid down the foils. ... As you say, why should
we fence? Your ladyship is now in Boulogne, soon Sir Percy will come to
try and take you away from us, but believe me, fair lady, that it would
take more than the ingenuity and the daring of the Scarlet Pimpernel
magnified a thousandfold to get him back to England again ... unless ..."
Marguerite held her breath. She felt now as if the whole universe must
stand still during the next supreme moment, until she had heard what
Chauvelin's next words would be.
There was to be an "unless" then? An "either-or" more terrible no doubt
than the one he had formulated before her just a year ago.
Chauvelin, she knew, was past master in the art of putting a knife at his
victim's throat and of giving it just the necessary twist with his cruel and
But she felt quite calm, because her purpose was resolute. There is no
doubt that during this agonizing moment of suspense she was absolutely
firm in her determination to accept any and every condition which
Chauvelin would put before her as the price of her husband's safety. After
all, these conditions, since he placed them before HER, could resolve
themselves into questions of her own life against her husband's.
With that unreasoning impulse which was one of her most salient
characteristics, she never paused to think that, to Chauvelin, her own life
or death were only the means to the great end which he had in view: the
complete annihilation of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
That end could only be reached by Percy Blakeney's death--not by her
Even now as she was watching him with eyes glowing and lips tightly
closed, lest a cry of impatient agony should escape her throat, he,--like a
snail that has shown its slimy horns too soon, and is not ready to face the
enemy as yet,--seemed suddenly to withdraw within his former shell of
careless suavity. The earnestness of his tone vanished, giving place to
light and easy conversation, just as if he were discussing social topics
with a woman of fashion in a Paris drawing-room.
"Nay!" he said pleasantly, "is not your ladyship taking this matter in too
serious a spirit? Of a truth you repeated my innocent word "unless" even
as if I were putting knife at your dainty throat. Yet I meant naught that
need disturb you yet. Have I not said that I am your friend? Let me try
and prove it to you."
"You will find that a difficult task, Monsieur," she said drily.
"Difficult tasks always have had a great fascination for your humble
servant. May I try?"
"Shall we then touch at the root of this delicate matter? Your ladyship, so
I understand, is at this moment under the impression that I desire to
encompass--shall I say?--the death of an English gentleman for whom,
believe me, I have the greatest respect. That is so, is it not?"
"What is so, M. Chauvelin?" she asked almost stupidly, for truly she had
not even begun to grasp his meaning. "I do not understand."
"You think that I am at this moment taking measures for sending the
Scarlet Pimpernel to the guillotine? Eh?"
"Never was so great an error committed by a clever woman. Your
ladyship must believe me when I say that the guillotine is the very last
place in the world where I would wish to see that enigmatic and elusive
"Are you trying to fool me, M. Chauvelin? If so, for what purpose? And
why do you lie to me like that?"
"On my honour, 'tis the truth. The death of Sir Percy Blakeney-- I may
call him that, may I not?--would ill suit the purpose which I have in
"What purpose? You must pardon me, Monsieur Chauvelin," she added
with a quick, impatient sigh, "but of a truth I am getting confused, and
my wits must have become dull in the past few days. I pray to you to add
to your many protestations of friendship a little more clearness in your
speech and, if possible, a little more brevity. What then is the purpose
which you had in view when you enticed my husband to come over to
"My purpose was the destruction of the Scarlet Pimpernel, not the death
of Sir Percy Blakeney. Believe me, I have a great regard for Sir Percy.
He is a most accomplished gentleman, witty, brilliant, an inimitable
dandy. Why should he not grace with his presence the drawing-rooms of
London or of Brighton for many years to come?"
She looked at him with puzzled inquiry. For one moment the thought
flashed through her mind that, after all, Chauvelin might be still in doubt
as to the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. ... But no! that hope was
madness. ... It was preposterous and impossible. ... But then, why? why?
why? ... Oh God! for a little more patience!
"What I have just said may seem a little enigmatic to your ladyship," he
continued blandly, "but surely so clever a woman as yourself, so great a
lady as is the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, will be aware that
there are other means of destroying an enemy than the taking of his life."
"For instance, Monsieur Chauvelin?"
"There is the destruction of his honour," he replied slowly.
A long, bitter laugh, almost hysterical in its loud outburst, broke from the
very depths of Marguerite's convulsed heart.
"The destruction of his honour! ... ha! ha! ha! ha! ... of a truth, Monsieur
Chauvelin, your inventive powers have led you beyond the bounds of
dreamland! ... Ha! ha! ha! ha! ... It is in the land of madness that you are
wandering, sir, when you talk in one breath of Sir Percy Blakeney and the
possible destruction of his honour!"
But he remained apparently quite unruffled, and when her laughter had
somewhat subsided, he said placidly:
Then he rose from his chair, and once more approached her. This time
she did not shrink from him. The suggestion which he had made just
now, this talk of attacking her husband's honour rather than his life,
seemed so wild and preposterous--the conception truly of a mind
unhinged--that she looked upon it as a sign of extreme weakness on his
part, almost as an acknowledgement of impotence.
But she watched him as he moved round the table ore in curiosity now
than in fright. He puzzled her, and she still had a feeling at the back of
her mind that there must be something more definite and more evil
lurking at the back of that tortuous brain.
"Will your ladyship allow me to conduct you to yonder window?" he
said, "the air is cool, and what I have to say can best be done in sight of
yonder sleeping city."
His tone was one of perfect courtesy, even of respectful deference
through which not the slightest trace of sarcasm could be discerned, and
she, still actuated by curiosity and interest, not in any way by fear, quietly
rose to obey him. Though she ignored the hand which he was holding out
towards her, she followed him readily enough as he walked up to the
All through this agonizing and soul-stirring interview she had felt heavily
oppressed by the close atmosphere of the room, rendered nauseous by
the evil smell of the smoky tallow-candles which were left to spread their
grease and smoke abroad unchecked. Once or twice she had gazed
longingly towards the suggestion of pure air outside.
Chauvelin evidently had still much to say to her: the torturing, mental
rack to which she was being subjected had not yet fully done its work. It
still was capable of one or two turns, a twist or so which might succeed
in crushing her pride and her defiance. Well! so be it! she was in the
man's power: had placed herself therein through her own unreasoning
impulse. This interview was but one of the many soul-agonies which she
had been called upon to endure, and if by submitting to it all she could in
a measure mitigate her own faults and be of help to the man she loved,
she would find the sacrifice small and the mental torture easy to bear.
Therefore when Chauvelin beckoned to her to draw near, she went up to
the window, and leaning her head against the deep stone embrasure, she
looked out into the night.
Chapter XXIII The Hostage
Chauvelin, without speaking, extended his hand out towards the city as if
to invite Marguerite to gaze upon it.
She was quite unconscious what hour of the night it might be, but it must
have been late, for the little town, encircled by the stony arms of its forts,
seemed asleep. The moon, now slowly sinking in the west, edged the
towers and spires with filmy lines of silver. To the right Marguerite
caught sight of the frowning Beffroi, which even as she gazed out began
tolling its heavy bell. It sounded like the tocsin, dull and muffled. After
ten strokes it was still.
Ten o'clock! At this hour in far-off England, in fashionable London, the
play was just over, crowds of gaily dressed men and women poured out
of the open gates of the theatres calling loudly for attendant or chaise.
Thence to balls or routs, gaily fluttering like so many butterflies, brilliant
and irresponsible. ...
And in England also, in the beautiful gardens of her Richmond home,
ofttimes at ten o'clock she had wandered alone with Percy, when he was
at home, and the spirit of adventure in him momentarily laid to rest.
Then, when the night was very dark and the air heavy with the scent of
roses and lilies, she lay quiescent in his arms in that little arbour beside
the river. The rhythmic lapping of the waves was the only sound that
stirred the balmy air. He seldom spoke then, for his voice would shake
whenever he uttered a word: but his impenetrable armour of flippancy
was pierced through and he did not speak because his lips were pressed
to hers, and his love had soared beyond the domain of speech.
A shudder of intense mental pain went through her now as she gazed on
the sleeping city, and sweet memories of the past turned to bitterness in
this agonizing present. One by one as the moon gradually disappeared
behind a bank of clouds, the towers of Boulogne were merged in the
gloom. In front of her far, far away, beyond the flat sand dunes, the sea
seemed to be calling to her with a ghostly and melancholy moan.
The window was on the ground floor of the Fort, and gave direct onto
the wide and shady walk which runs along the crest of the city walls;
from where she stood Marguerite was looking straight along the
ramparts, some thirty metres wide at this point, flanked on either side by
the granite balustrade, and adorned with a double row of ancient elms
stunted and twisted into grotesque shapes by the persistent action of the
"These wide ramparts are a peculiarity of this city..." said a voice close to
her ear, "at times of peace they form an agreeable promenade under the
shade of the trees, and a delightful meeting-place for lovers ... or
The sound brought her back to the ugly realities of the present: the rose-
scented garden at Richmond, the lazily flowing river, the tender
memories which for that brief moment had confronted her from out a
happy past, suddenly vanished from her ken. Instead of these the brine-
laden sea-air struck her quivering nostrils, the echo of the old Beffroi
died away in her ear, and now from out one of the streets or open places
of the sleeping city there came the sound of a raucous voice, shooting in
monotonous tones a string of words, the meaning of which failed to
reach her brain.
Not many feet below the window, the southern ramparts of the town
stretched away into the darkness. She felt unaccountably cold suddenly
as she looked down upon them and, with aching eyes, tried to pierce the
gloom. She was shivering in spite of the mildness of this early autumnal
night: her overwrought fancy was peopling the lonely walls with
unearthly shapes strolling along, discussing in spectral language a strange
duel which was to take place here between a noted butcher of men and a
mad Englishman overfond of adventure.
The ghouls seemed to pass and repass along in front of her and to be
laughing audibly because that mad Englishman had been offered his life in
exchange for his honour. They laughed and laughed, no doubt because he
refused the bargain--Englishmen were always eccentric, and in these days
of equality and other devices of a free and glorious revolution, honour
was such a very marketable commodity that it seemed ridiculous to prize
it quite so highly. Then they strolled away again and disappeared, whilst
Marguerite distinctly heard the scrunching of the path beneath their feet.
She leant forward to peer still further into the darkness, for this sound
had seemed so absolutely real, but immediately a detaining hand was
place upon her arm and a sarcastic voice murmured at her elbow:
"The result, fair lady, would only be a broken leg or arm; the height is not
great enough for picturesque suicides, and believe me these ramparts are
only haunted by ghosts."
She drew back as if a viper had stung her; for the moment she had
become oblivious of Chauvelin's presence. However, she would not take
notices of his taunt, and, after a slight pause, he asked her if she could
hear the town crier over in the public streets.
"Yes," she replied.
"What he says at this present moment is of vast importance to your
ladyship," he remarked drily.
"Your ladyship is a precious hostage. We are taking measures to guard
our valuable property securely."
Marguerite thought of the Abbe Foucquet, who no doubt was still quietly
telling his beads, even if in his heart he had begun to wonder what had
become of her. She thought of Francois, who was the breadwinner, and
of Felicite, who was blind.
"Methinks you and your colleagues have done that already," she said.
"Not as completely as we would wish. We know the daring of the Scarlet
Pimpernel. We are not even ashamed to admit that we fear his luck, his
impudence and his marvellous ingenuity. ... Have I not told you that I
have the greatest possible respect for that mysterious English hero. ... An
old priest and two young children might be spirited away by that
enigmatical adventurer, even whilst Lady Blakeney herself is made to
vanish from our sight."
"Ah! I see your ladyship is taking my simple words as a confession of
weakness," he continued, noting the swift sigh of hope which had
involuntarily escaped her lips. "Nay! and it please you, you shall despise
me for it. But a confession of weakness is the first sign of strength. The
Scarlet Pimpernel is still at large, and whilst we guard our hostage
securely, he is bound to fall into our hands."
"Aye! still at large!" she retorted with impulsive defiance. "Think you that
all your bolts and bars, the ingenuity of yourself and your colleagues, the
collaboration of the devil himself, would succeed in outwitting the Scarlet
Pimpernel, now that his purpose will be to try and drag ME from out
She felt hopeful and proud. Now that she had the pure air of heaven in
her lungs, that from afar she could smell the sea, and could feel that
perhaps in a straight line of vision from where she stood, the "Day-
Dream" with Sir Percy on board, might be lying out there in the roads, it
seemed impossible that he should fail in freeing her and those poor
people--an old man and two children--whose lives depended on her own.
But Chauvelin only laughed a dry, sarcastic laugh and said:
"Hm! perhaps not! ... It of course will depend on you and your
personality ... your feelings in such matters ... and whether an English
gentleman likes to save his own skin at the expense of others."
Marguerite shivered as if from cold.
"Ah! I see," resumed Chauvelin quietly, "that your ladyship has not quite
grasped the position. That public crier is a long way off: the words have
lingered on the evening breeze and have failed to reach your brain. Do
you suppose that I and my colleagues do not know that all the ingenuity
of which the Scarlet Pimpernel is capable will now be directed in piloting
Lady Blakeney, and incidentally the Abbe Foucquet with his nephew and
niece, safely across the Channel! Four people! ... Bah! a bagatelle, for
this mighty conspirator, who but lately snatched twenty aristocrats from
the prisons of Lyons. ... Nay! nay! two children and an old man were not
enough to guard our precious hostage, and I was not thinking of either
the Abbe Foucquet or of the two children, when I said that an English
gentleman would not save himself at the expense of others."
"Of whom then were you thinking, Monsieur Chauvelin? Whom else have
you set to guard the prize which you value so highly?"
"The whole city of Boulogne," he replied simply.
"I do not understand."
"Let me make my point clear. My colleague, Citizen Collot d'Herbois,
rode over from Paris yesterday; like myself he is a member of the
Committee of Public Safety whose duty it is to look after the welfare of
France by punishing all those who conspire against her laws and the
liberties of the people. Chief among these conspirators, whom it is our
duty to punish is, of course, that impudent adventurer who calls himself
the Scarlet Pimpernel. He has given the government of France a great
deal of trouble through his attempts--mostly successful, as I have already
admitted,--at frustrating the just vengeance which an oppressed country
has the right to wreak on those who have proved themselves to be tyrants
"Is it necessary to recapitulate all this, Monsieur Chauvelin?" she asked
"I think so," he replied blandly. "You see, my point is this. We feel that in
a measure now the Scarlet Pimpernel is in our power. Within the next
few hours he will land at Boulogne ... Boulogne, where he has agreed to
fight a duel with me ... Boulogne, where Lady Blakeney happens to be at
this present moment ... as you see, Boulogne has a great responsibility to
bear: just now she is to a certain extent the proudest city in France, since
she holds within her gates a hostage for the appearance on our shores of
her country's most bitter enemy. But she must not fall from that high
estate. Her double duty is clear before her: she must guard Lady
Blakeney and capture the Scarlet Pimpernel; if she fail in the former she
must be punished, if she succeed in the latter she shall be rewarded."
He paused and leaned out of the window again, whilst she watched him,
breathless and terrified. She was beginning to understand.
"Hark!" he said, looking straight at her. "Do you hear the crier now? He
is proclaiming the punishment and the reward. He is making it clear to
the citizens of Boulogne that on the day when the Scarlet Pimpernel falls
into the hands of the Committee of Public Safety a general amnesty will
be granted to all natives of Boulogne who are under arrest at the present
time, and a free pardon to all those who, born within these city walls, are
to-day under sentence of death. ... A noble reward, eh? well-deserved
you'll admit. ... Should you wonder then if the whole town of Boulogne
were engaged just now in finding that mysterious hero, and delivering
him into our hands? ... How many mothers, sisters, wives, think you, at
the present moment, would fail to lay hands on the English adventurer, if
a husband's or a son's life or freedom happened to be at stake? ... I have
some records there," he continued, pointing in the direction of the table,
"which tell me that there are five and thirty natives of Boulogne in the
local prisons, a dozen more in the prisons of Paris; of these at least
twenty have been tried already and are condemned to death. Every hour
that the Scarlet Pimpernel succeeds in evading his captors so many deaths
lie at his door. If he succeeds in once more reaching England safely three
score lives mayhap will be the price of his escape. ... Nay! but I see your
ladyship is shivering with cold ..." he added with a dry little laugh, "shall I
close the window? or do you wish to hear what punishment will be meted
out to Boulogne, if on the day that the Scarlet Pimpernel is captured,
Lady Blakeney happens to have left the shelter of these city walls?"
"I pray you proceed, Monsieur," she rejoined with perfect calm.
"The Committee of Public Safety," he resumed, "would look upon this
city as a nest of traitors if on the day that the Scarlet Pimpernel becomes
our prisoner Lady Blakeney herself, the wife of that notorious English
spy, had already quitted Boulogne. The whole town knows by now that
you are in our hands--you, the most precious hostage we can hold for the
ultimate capture of the man whom we all fear and detest. Virtually the
town-crier is at the present moment proclaiming to the inhabitants of this
city: 'We want that man, but we already have his wife, see to it, citizens,
that she does not escape! for if she do, we shall summarily shoot the
breadwinner in every family in the town!'"
A cry of horror escaped Marguerite's parched lips.
"Are you devils then, all of you," she gasped, "that you should think of
"Aye! some of us are devils, no doubt," said Chauvelin drily; "but why
should you honour us in this case with so flattering an epithet? We are
mere men striving to guard our property and mean no harm to the
citizens of Boulogne. We have threatened them, true! but is it not for you
and that elusive Pimpernel to see that the threat is never put into
"You would not do it!" she repeated, horror-stricken.
"Nay! I pray you, fair lady, do not deceive yourself. At present the
proclamation sounds like a mere threat, I'll allow, but let me assure you
that if we fail to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel and if you on the other
hand are spirited out of this fortress by that mysterious adventurer we
shall undoubtedly shoot or guillotine every able-bodied man and woman
in this town."
He had spoken quietly and emphatically, neither with bombast, nor with
rage, and Marguerite saw in his face nothing but a calm and ferocious
determination, the determination of an entire nation embodied in this one
man, to be revenged at any cost. She would not let him see the depth of
her despair, nor would she let him read in her face the unutterable
hopelessness which filled her soul. It were useless to make an appeal to
him: she knew full well that from him she could obtain neither gentleness
"I hope at last I have made the situation quite clear to your ladyship?" he
was asking quite pleasantly now. "See how easy is your position: you
have but to remain quiescent in room No. 6, and if any chance of escape
be offered you ere the Scarlet Pimpernel is captured, you need but to
think of all the families of Boulogne, who would be deprived of their
breadwinner--fathers and sons mostly, but there are girls too, who
support their mothers or sisters; the fish curers of Boulogne are mostly
women, and there are the net-makers and the seamstresses, all would
suffer if your ladyship were no longer to be found in No. 6 room of this
ancient fort, whilst all would be included in the amnesty if the Scarlet
Pimpernel fell into our hands ..."
He gave a low, satisfied chuckle which made Marguerite think of the evil
spirits in hell exulting over the torments of unhappy lost souls.
"I think, Lady Blakeney," he added drily and making her an ironical bow,
"that your humble servant hath outwitted the elusive hero at last."
Quietly he turned on his heel and went back into the room, Marguerite
remaining motionless beside the open window, where the soft, brine-
laden air, the distant murmur of the sea, the occasional cry of a sea-mew,
all seemed to mock her agonizing despair.
The voice of the town-crier came nearer and nearer now: she could hear
the words he spoke quite distinctly: something about "amnesty" and
pardon, the reward for the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the lives of
men, women and children in exchange for his.
Oh! she knew what all that meant! that Percy would not hesitate one
single instant to throw his life into the hands of his enemies, in exchange
for that of others. Others! others! always others! this sigh that had made
her heart ache so often in England, what terrible significance it bore now!
And how he would suffer in his heart and in his pride, because of her
whom he could not even attempt to save since it would mean the death of
others! of others, always of others!
She wondered if he had already landed in Boulogne! Again she
remembered the vision on the landing stage: his massive figure, the
glimpse she had of the loved form, in the midst of the crowd!
The moment he entered the town he would hear the proclamation read,
see it posted up no doubt on every public building, and realize that she
had been foolish enough to follow him, that she was a prisoner and that
he could do nothing to save her.
What would he do? Marguerite at the thought instinctively pressed her
hands to her heart, the agony of it all had become physically painful. She
hoped that perhaps this pain meant approaching death! oh! how easy
would this simple solution be!
The moon peered out from beneath the bank of clouds which had
obscured her for so long; smiling, she drew her pencilled silver lines
along the edge of towers and pinnacles, the frowning Beffroi and those
stony walls which seemed to Marguerite as if they encircled a gigantic
The town-crier had evidently ceased to read the proclamation. One by
one the windows in the public square were lighted up from within. The
citizens of Boulogne wanted to think over the strange events which had
occurred without their knowledge, yet which were apparently to have
such direful or such joyous consequences for them.
A man to be captured! the mysterious English adventurer of whom they
had all heard, but whom nobody had seen. And a woman--his wife-- to be
guarded until the man was safely under lock and key.
Marguerite felt as if she could almost hear them talking it over and
vowing that she should not escape, and that the Scarlet Pimpernel should
soon be captured.
A gentle wind stirred the old gnarled trees on the southern ramparts, a
wind that sounded like the sigh of swiftly dying hope.
What could Percy do now? His hands were tied, and he was inevitably
destined to endure the awful agony of seeing the woman he loved die a
terrible death beside him.
Having captured him, they would not keep him long; no necessity for a
trial, for detention, for formalities of any kind. A summary execution at
dawn on the public place, a roll of drums, a public holiday to mark the
joyful event, and a brave man will have ceased to live, a noble heart have
stilled its beatings forever, whilst a whole nation gloried over the deed.
"Sleep, citizens of Boulogne! all is still!"
The night watchman had replaced the town-crier. All was quiet within the
city walls: the inhabitants could sleep in peace, a beneficent government
was wakeful and guarding their rest.
But many of the windows of the town remained lighted up, and at a little
distance below her, round the corner so that she could not see it, a small
crowd must have collected in front of the gateway which led into the
courtyard of the Gayole Fort. Marguerite could hear a persistent murmur
of voices, mostly angry and threatening, and once there were loud cries
of: "English spies," and "a la lanterne!"
"The citizens of Boulogne are guarding the treasures of France!"
commented Chauvelin drily, as he laughed again, that cruel, mirthless
laugh of his.
Then she roused herself from her torpor: she did not know how long she
had stood beside the open window, but the fear seized her that that man
must have seen and gloated over the agony of her mind. She straightened
her graceful figure, threw back her proud head defiantly, and quietly
walked up to the table, where Chauvelin seemed once more absorbed in
the perusal of his papers.
"Is this interview over?" she asked quietly, and without the slightest
tremor in her voice. "May I go now?"
"As soon as you wish," he replied with gentle irony.
He regarded her with obvious delight, for truly she was beautiful: grand
in this attitude of defiant despair. The man, who had spent the last half-
hour in martyrizing her, gloried over the misery which he had wrought,
and which all her strength of will could not entirely banish from her face.
"Will you believe me, Lady Blakeney?" he added, "that there is no
personal animosity in my heart towards you or your husband? Have I not
told you that I do not wish to compass his death?"
"Yet you propose to send him to the guillotine as soon as you have laid
hands on him."
"I have explained to you the measures which I have taken in order to
make sure that we DO lay hands on the Scarlet Pimpernel. Once he is in
our power, it will rest with him to walk to the guillotine or to embark
with you on board his yacht."
"You propose to place an alternative before Sir Percy Blakeney?"
"To offer him his life?"
"And that of his charming wife."
"In exchange for what?"
"He will refuse, Monsieur."
"We shall see."
Then he touched a handbell which stood on the table, and within a few
seconds the door was opened and the soldier who had led Marguerite
hither, re-entered the room.
The interview was at an end. It had served its purpose. Marguerite knew
now that she must not even think of escape for herself, or hope for safety
for the man she loved. Of Chauvelin's talk of a bargain which would
touch Percy's honour she would not even think: and she was too proud to
ask anything further from him.
Chauvelin stood up and made her a deep bow, as she crossed the room
and finally went out of the door. The little company of soldiers closed in
around her and she was once more led along the dark passages, back to
her own prison cell.
Chapter XXIV : Colleagues
As soon as the door had closed behind Marguerite, there came from
somewhere in the room the sound of a yawn, a grunt and a volley of
The flickering light of the tallow candles had failed to penetrate into all
the corners, and now from out one of these dark depths, a certain
something began to detach itself, and to move forward towards the table
at which Chauvelin had once more resumed his seat.
"Has the damned aristocrat gone at last?" queried a hoarse voice, as a
burly body clad in loose-fitting coat and mud-stained boots and breeches
appeared within the narrow circle of light.
"Yes," replied Chauvelin curtly.
"And a cursed long time you have been with the baggage," grunted the
other surlily. "Another five minutes and I'd have taken the matter in my
"An assumption of authority," commented Chauvelin quietly, "to which
your position here does not entitle you, Citizen Collot."
Collot d'Herbois lounged lazily forward, and presently he threw his ill-
knit figure into the chair lately vacated by Marguerite. His heavy, square
face bore distinct traces of the fatigue endured in the past twenty-four
hours on horseback or in jolting market waggons. His temper too
appeared to have suffered on the way, and, at Chauvelin's curt and
dictatorial replies, he looked as surly as a chained dog.
"You were wasting your breath over that woman," he muttered, bringing
a large and grimy fist heavily down on the table, "and your measures are
not quite so sound as your fondly imagine, Citizen Chauvelin."
"They were mostly of your imagining, Citizen Collot," rejoined the other
quietly, "and of your suggestion."
"I added a touch of strength and determination to your mild milk-and-
water notions, Citizen," snarled Collot spitefully. "I'd have knocked that
intriguing woman's brains out at the very first possible opportunity, had I
been consulted earlier than this."
"Quite regardless of the fact that such violent measures would completely
damn all our chances of success as far as the capture of the Scarlet
Pimpernel is concerned," remarked Chauvelin drily, with a contemptuous
shrug of the shoulders. "Once his wife is dead, the Englishman will never
run his head into the noose which I have so carefully prepared for him."
"So you say, Chauvelin; and therefore I suggested to you certain
measures to prevent the woman escaping which you will find adequate, I
"You need have no fear, Citizen Collot," said Chauvelin curtly, "this
woman will make no attempt at escape now."
"If she does ..." and Collot d'Herbois swore an obscene oath.
"I think she understands that we mean to put our threat in execution."
"Threat? ... It was no empty threat, Citizen. ... Sacre tonnerre! if that
woman escapes now, by all the devils in hell I swear that I'll wield the
guillotine myself and cut off the head of every able-bodied man or
woman in Boulogne, with my own hands."
As he said this his face assumed such an expression of inhuman cruelty,
such a desire to kill, such a savage lust for blood, that instinctively
Chauvelin shuddered and shrank away from his colleague. All through his
career there is no doubt that this man, who was of gentle birth, of gentle
breeding, and who had once been called M. le Marquis de Chauvelin,
must have suffered in his susceptibilities and in his pride when in contact
with the revolutionaries with whom he had chosen to cast his lot. He
could not have thrown off all his old ideas of refinement quite so easily,
as to feel happy in the presence of such men as Collot d'Herbois, or
Marat in his day--men who had become brute beats, more ferocious far
than any wild animal, more scientifically cruel than any feline prowler in
jungle or desert.
One look in Collot's distorted face was sufficient at this moment to
convince Chauvelin that it were useless for him to view the proclamation
against the citizens of Boulogne merely as an idle threat, even if he had
wished to do so. That Marguerite would not, under the circumstances,
attempt to escape, that Sir Percy Blakeney himself would be forced to
give up all thoughts of rescuing her, was a foregone conclusion in
Chauvelin's mind, but if this high-born English gentleman had not
happened to be the selfless hero that he was, if Marguerite Blakeney were
cast in a different, a rougher mould--if, in short, the Scarlet Pimpernel in
the face of the proclamation did succeed in dragging his wife out of the
clutches of the Terrorists, then it was equally certain that Collot
d'Herbois would carry out his rabid and cruel reprisals to the full. And if
in the course of the wholesale butchery of the able-bodied and wage-
earning inhabitants of Boulogne, the headsman should sink worn out,
then would this ferocious sucker of blood put his own hand to the
guillotine, with the same joy and lust which he had felt when he ordered
one hundred and thirty-eight women of Nantes to be stripped naked by
the soldiery before they were flung helter-skelter into the river.
A touch of strength and determination! Aye! Citizen Collot d'Herbois had
plenty of that. Was it he, or Carriere who at Arras commanded mothers
to stand by while their children were being guillotined? And surely it was
Maignet, Collot's friend and colleague, who at Bedouin, because the Red
Flag of the Republic had been mysteriously town down over night, burnt
the entire little village down to the last hovel and guillotined every one of
the three hundred and fifty inhabitants.
And Chauvelin knew all that. Nay, more! he was himself a member of
that so-called government which had countenanced these butcheries, by
giving unlimited powers to men like Collot, like Maignet and Carriere.
He was at one with them in their republican ideas and he believed in the
regeneration and the purification of France, through the medium of the
guillotine, but he propounded his theories and carried out his most
bloodthirsty schemes with physically clean hands and in an immaculately
Even now when Collot d'Herbois lounged before him, with mud-
bespattered legs stretched out before him, with dubious linen at neck and
wrists, and an odour of rank tobacco and stale, cheap wine pervading his
whole personality, the more fastidious man of the world, who had
consorted with the dandies of London and Brighton, winced at the
But it was the joint characteristic of all these men who had turned France
into a vast butchery and charnel-house, that they all feared and hated one
another, even more whole-heartedly than they hated the aristocrats and
so-called traitors whom they sent to the guillotine. Citizen Lebon is said
to have dipped his sword into the blood which flowed from the guillotine,
whilst exclaiming: "Comme je l'aime ce sang coule de traitre!" but he and
Collot and Danton and Robespierre, all of them in fact would have
regarded with more delight still the blood of any one of their colleagues.
At this very moment Collot d'Herbois and Chauvelin would with utmost
satisfaction have denounced, one the other, to the tender mercies of the
Public Prosecutor. Collot made no secret of his hatred for Chauvelin, and
the latter disguised it but thinly under the veneer of contemptuous
"As for that dammed Englishman," added Collot now, after a slight
pause, and with another savage oath, "if 'tis my good fortune to lay hands
on him, I'd shoot him then and there like a mad dog, and rid France once
and forever of this accursed spy."
"And think you, Citizen Collot," rejoined Chauvelin with a shrug of the
shoulders, "that France would be rid of all English adventurers by the
summary death of this one man?"
"He is the ringleader, at any rate ..."
"And has at least nineteen disciples to continue his traditions of
conspiracy and intrigue. None perhaps so ingenuous as himself, none
with the same daring and good luck perhaps, but still a number of ardent
fools only too ready to follow in the footsteps of their chief. Then there's
the halo of martyrdom around the murdered hero, the enthusiasm created
by his noble death ... Nay! nay, Citizen, you have not lived among these
English people, you do not understand them, or you would not talk of
sending their popular hero to an honoured grave."
But Collot d'Herbois only shook his powerful frame like some big, sulky
dog, and spat upon the floor to express his contempt of this wild talk
which seemed to have no real tangible purpose.
"You have not caught your Scarlet Pimpernel yet, Citizen," he said with a
"No, but I will, after sundown to-morrow."
"How do you know?"
"I have ordered the Angelus to be rung at one of the closed churches, and
he agreed to fight a duel with me on the southern ramparts at that hour
and on that day," said Chauvelin simply.
"You take him for a fool?" sneered Collot.
"No, only for a foolhardy adventurer."
"You imagine that with his wife as hostage in our hands, and the whole
city of Boulogne on the lookout for him for the sake of the amnesty, that
the man would be fool enough to walk on those ramparts at a given hour,
for the express purpose of getting himself caught by you and your men?"
"I am quite sure that if we do not lay hands on him before that given
hour, that he will be on the ramparts at the Angelus to-morrow," said
Collot shrugged his broad shoulders.
"Is the man mad?" he asked with an incredulous laugh.
"Yes, I think so," rejoined the other with a smile.
"And having caught your hare," queried Collot, "how do you propose to
"Twelve picked men will be on the ramparts ready to seize him the
moment he appears."
"And to shoot him at sight, I hope."
"Only as a last resource, for the Englishman is powerful and may cause
our half-famished men a good deal of trouble. But I want him alive, if
"Why? a dead lion is safer than a live one any day."
"Oh! we'll kill him right enough, Citizen. I pray you have no fear. I hold a
weapon ready for that meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel, which will be a
thousand times more deadly and more effectual than a chance shot, or
even a guillotine."
"What weapon is that, Citizen Chauvelin?"
Chauvelin leaned forward across the table and rested his chin in his
hands; instinctively Collot too leaned towards him, and both men peered
furtively round them as if wondering if prying eyes happened to be
lurking round. It was Chauvelin's pale eyes which now gleamed with
hatred and with an insatiable lust for revenge at least as powerful as
Collot's lust for blood; the unsteady light of the tallow candles threw
grotesque shadows across his brows, and his mouth was set in such rigid
lines of implacable cruelty that the brutish sot beside him gazed on him
amazed, vaguely scenting here a depth of feeling which was beyond his
power to comprehend. He repeated his question under his breath:
"What weapon do you mean to use against that accursed spy, Citizen
"Dishonour and ridicule!" replied the other quietly.
"In exchange for his life and that of his wife."
"As the woman told you just now ... he will refuse."
"We shall see, Citizen."
"You are mad to think such things, Citizen, and ill serve the Republic by
sparing her bitterest foe."
A long, sarcastic laugh broke from Chauvelin's parted lips.
"Spare him?--spare the Scarlet Pimpernel! ..." he ejaculated. "Nay,
Citizen, you need have no fear of that. But believe me, I have schemes in
my head by which the man whom we all hate will be more truly destroyed
than your guillotine could ever accomplish: schemes, whereby the hero
who is now worshipped in England as a demi-god will suddenly become
an object of loathing and of contempt. ... Ah! I see you understand me
now ... I wish to so cover him with ridicule that the very name of the
small wayside flower will become a term of derision and of scorn. Only
then shall we be rid of these pestilential English spies, only then will the
entire League of the Scarlet Pimpernel become a thing of the past when
its whilom leader, now thought akin to a god, will have found refuge in a
suicide's grave, from the withering contempt of the entire world."
Chauvelin had spoken low, hardly above a whisper, and the echo of his
last words died away in the great, squalid room like a long-drawn-out
sigh. There was dead silence for a while save for the murmur in the wind
outside and from the floor above the measured tread of the sentinel
guarding the precious hostage in No. 6.
Both men were staring straight in front of them. Collot d'Herbois
incredulous, half-contemptuous, did not altogether approve of these
schemes which seemed to him wild and uncanny: he like the direct
simplicity of a summary trial, of the guillotine, or of his own well stage-
managed "Noyades." He did not feel that any ridicule or dishonour would
necessarily paralyze a man in his efforts at intrigue, and would have liked
to set Chauvelin's authority aside, to behead the woman upstairs and then
to take his chances of capturing the man later on.
But the orders of the Committee of Public Safety had been peremptory:
he was to be Chauvelin's help--not his master, and to obey in all things.
He did not dare to take any initiative in the matter, for in that case, if he
failed, the reprisals against him would indeed be terrible.
He was fairly satisfied now that Chauvelin had accepted his suggestion of
summarily sending to the guillotine one member of every family resident
in Boulogne, if Marguerite succeeded in effecting an escape, and, of a
truth, Chauvelin had hailed the fiendish suggestion with delight. The old
abbe with his nephew and niece were undoubtedly not sufficient
deterrents against the daring schemes of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who, as a
matter of fact, could spirit them out of Boulogne just as easily as he
would his own wife.
Collot's plan tied Marguerite to her own prison cell more completely than
any other measure could have done, more so indeed than the originator
thereof knew or believed. ... A man like this d'Herbois --born in the
gutter, imbued with every brutish tradition, which generations of jail-
birds had bequeathed to him,--would not perhaps fully realize the fact
that neither Sir Percy nor Marguerite Blakeney would ever save
themselves at the expense of others. He had merely made the suggestion,
because he felt that Chauvelin's plans were complicated and obscure, and
above all insufficient, and that perhaps after all the English adventurer
and his wife would succeed in once more outwitting him, when there
would remain the grand and bloody compensation of a wholesale
butchery in Boulogne.
But Chauvelin was quite satisfied. He knew that under present
circumstances neither Sir Percy nor Marguerite would make any attempt
to escape. The ex-ambassador had lived in England: he understood the
class to which these two belonged, and was quite convinced that no
attempt would be made on either side to get Lady Blakeney away whilst
the present ferocious order against the bread-winner of every family in
the town held good.
Aye! the measures were sound enough. Chauvelin was easy in his mind
about that. In another twenty-four hours he would hold the man
completely in his power who had so boldly outwitted him last year; to-
night he would sleep in peace: an entire city was guarding the precious
"We'll go to bed now, Citizen," he said to Collot, who, tired and sulky,
was moodily fingering the papers on the table. The scraping sound which
he made thereby grated on Chauvelin's overstrung nerves. He wanted to
be alone, and the sleepy brute's presence here jarred on his own solemn
To his satisfaction, Collot grunted a surly assent. Very leisurely he rose
from his chair, stretched out his loose limbs, shook himself like a shaggy
cur, and without uttering another word he gave his colleague a curt nod,
and slowly lounged out of the room.
Chapter XXV : The Unexpected
Chauvelin heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction when Collot d'Herbois
finally left him to himself. He listened for awhile until the heavy footsteps
died away in the distance, then leaning back in his chair, he gave himself
over to the delights of the present situation.
Marguerite in his power. Sir Percy Blakeney compelled to treat for her
rescue if he did not wish to see her die a miserable death.
"Aye! my elusive hero," he muttered to himself, "methinks that we shall
be able to cry quits at last."
Outside everything had become still. Even the wind in the trees out there
on the ramparts had ceased their melancholy moaning. The man was
alone with his thoughts. He felt secure and at peace, sure of victory,
content to await the events of the next twenty-four hours. The other side
of the door the guard which he had picked out from amongst the more
feeble and ill-fed garrison of the little city for attendance on his own
person were ranged ready to respond to his call.
"Dishonour and ridicule! Derision and scorn!" he murmured, gloating
over the very sound of these words, which expressed all that he hoped to
accomplish, "utter abjections, then perhaps a suicide's grave ..."
He loved the silence around him, for he could murmur these words and
hear them echoing against the bare stone walls like the whisperings of all
the spirits of hate which were waiting to lend him their aid.
How long he had remained thus absorbed in his meditations, he could not
afterwards have said; a minute or two perhaps at most, whilst he leaned
back in his chair with eyes closed, savouring the sweets of his own
thoughts, when suddenly the silence was interrupted by a loud and
pleasant laugh and a drawly voice speaking in merry accents:
"The lud live you, Monsieur Chaubertin, and pray how do you propose to
accomplish all these pleasant things?"
In a moment Chauvelin was on his feet and with eyes dilated, lips parted
in awed bewilderment, he was gazing towards the open window, where
astride upon the sill, one leg inside the room, the other out, and with the
moon shining full on his suit of delicate-coloured cloth, his wide caped
coat and elegant chapeau-bras, sat the imperturbably Sir Percy.
"I heard you muttering such pleasant words, Monsieur," continued
Blakeney calmly, "that the temptation seized me to join in the
conversation. A man talking to himself is ever in a sorry plight ... he is
either a mad man or a fool ..."
He laughed his own quaint and inane laugh and added apologetically:
"Far be if from me, sir, to apply either epithet to you ... demmed bad
form calling another fellow names ... just when he does not quite feel
himself, eh? ... You don't feel quite yourself, I fancy just now ... eh,
Monsieur Chauberin ... er ... beg pardon, Chauvelin ..."
He sat there quite comfortably, one slender hand resting on the
gracefully-fashioned hilt of his sword--the sword of Lorenzo Cenci, --the
other holding up the gold-rimed eyeglass through which he was regarding
his avowed enemy; he was dressed as for a ball, and his perpetually
amiable smile lurked round the corners of his firm lips.
Chauvelin had undoubtedly for the moment lost his presence of mind. He
did not even think of calling to his picked guard, so completely taken
aback was he by this unforeseen move on the part of Sir Percy. Yet,
obviously, he should have been ready for this eventuality. Had he not
caused the town-crier to loudly proclaim throughout the city that if ONE
female prisoner escaped from Fort Gayole the entire able-bodied
population of Boulogne would suffer?
The moment Sir Percy entered the gates of the town, he could not help
but hear the proclamation, and hear at the same time that this one female
prisoner who was so precious a charge, was the wife of the English spy:
the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Moreover, was it not a fact that whenever or wherever the Scarlet
Pimpernel was least expected there and then would he surely appear?
Having once realized that it was his wife who was incarcerated in Fort
Gayole, was it not natural that he would go and prowl around the prison,
and along the avenue on the summit of the southern ramparts, which was
accessible to every passer-by? No doubt he had lain in hiding among the
trees, had perhaps caught snatches of Chauvelin's recent talk with Collot.
Aye! it was all so natural, so simple! Strange that it should have been so
Furious at himself for his momentary stupor, he now made a vigorous
effort to face his impudent enemy with the same sang-froid of which the
latter had so inexhaustible a fund.
He walked quietly towards the window, compelling his nerves to perfect
calm and his mood to indifference. The situation had ceased to astonish
him; already his keen mind had seen its possibilities, its grimness and its
humour, and he was quite prepared to enjoy these to the full.
Sir Percy now was dusting the sleeve of his coat with a lace-edged
handkerchief, but just as Chauvelin was about to come near him, he
stretched out one leg, turning the point of a dainty boot towards the ex-
"Would you like to take hold of me by the leg, Monsieur Chaubertin?" he
said gaily. "'Tis more effectual than a shoulder, and your picked guard of
six stalwart fellows can have the other leg. ... Nay! I pray you, sir, do not
look at me like that. ... I vow that it is myself and not my ghost. ... But if
you still doubt me, I pray you call the guard ... ere I fly out again towards
that fitful moon ..."
"Nay, Sir Percy," said Chauvelin, with a steady voice, "I have no thought
that you will take flight just yet. ... Methinks you desire conversation
with me, or you had not paid me so unexpected a visit."
"Nay, sir, the air is too oppressive for lengthy conversation ... I was
strolling along these ramparts, thinking of our pleasant encounter at the
hour of the Angelus to-morrow ... when this light attracted me. ... feared
I had lost my way and climbed the window to obtain information."
"As to your way to the nearest prison cell, Sir Percy?" queried Chauvelin
"As to anywhere, where I could sit more comfortably than on this
demmed sill. ... It must be very dusty, and I vow 'tis terribly hard ..."
"I presume, Sir Percy, that you did my colleague and myself the honour
of listening to our conversation?"
"An you desired to talk secrets, Monsieur ... er ... Chaubertin ... you
should have shut this window ... and closed this avenue of trees against
the chance passer-by."
"What we said was no secret, Sir Percy. It is all over the town to-night."
"Quite no ... you were only telling the devil your mind ... eh?"
"I had also been having conversation with Lady Blakeney. ... Pray did
you hear any of that, sir?"
But Sir Percy had evidently not heard the question, for he seemed quite
absorbed in the task of removing a speck of dust from his immaculate
"These hats are all the rage in England just now," he said airily, "but they
have had their day, do you not think so, Monsieur? When I return to
town, I shall have to devote my whole mind to the invention of a new
"When will you return to England, Sir Percy?" queried Chauvelin with
"At the turn of the tide to-morrow eve, Monsieur," replied Blakeney.
"In company with Lady Blakeney?"
"Certainly, sir ... and yours if you will honour us with your company."
"If you return to England to-morrow, Sir Percy, Lady Blakeney, I fear
me, cannot accompany you."
"You astonish me, sir," rejoined Blakeney with an exclamation of genuine
and unaffected surprise. "I wonder now what would prevent her?"
"All those whose death would be the result of her flight, if she succeeded
in escaping from Boulogne ..."
But Sir Percy was staring at him, with wide open eyes expressive of
"Dear, dear, dear. ... Lud! but that sounds most unfortunate ..."
"You have not heard of the measures which I have taken to prevent Lady
Blakeney quitting this city without our leave?"
"No, Monsieur Chaubertin ... no ... I have heard nothing ..." rejoined Sir
Percy blandly. "I lead a very retired life when I come abroad and ..."
"Would you wish to hear them now?"
"Quite unnecessary, sir, I assure you ... and the hour is getting late ..."
"Sir Percy, are you aware of the fact that unless you listen to what I have
to say, your wife will be dragged before the Committee of Public Safety
in Paris within the next twenty-four hours?" said Chauvelin firmly.
"What swift horses you must have, sir," quoth Blakeney pleasantly. "Lud!
to think of it! ... I always heard that these demmed French horses would
never beat ours across country."
But Chauvelin now would not allow himself to be ruffled by Sir Percy's
apparent indifference. Keen reader of emotions as he was, he had not
failed to note a distinct change in the drawly voice, a sound of something
hard and trenchant in the flippant laugh, ever since Marguerite's name
was first mentioned. Blakeney's attitude was apparently as careless, as
audacious as before, but Chauvelin's keen eyes had not missed the almost
imperceptible tightening of the jaw and the rapid clenching of one hand
on the sword hilt even whilst the other toyed in graceful idleness with the
filmy Mechlin lace cravat.
Sir Percy's head was well thrown back, and the pale rays of the moon
caught the edge of the clear-cut profile, the low massive brow, the
drooping lids through which the audacious plotter was lazily regarding
the man who held not only his own life, but that of the woman who was
infinitely dear to him, in the hollow of his hand.
"I am afraid, Sir Percy," continued Chauvelin drily, "that you are under
the impression that bolts and bars will yield to your usual good luck, now
that so precious a life is at stake as that of Lady Blakeney."
"I am a greater believer in impressions, Monsieur Chauvelin."
"I told her just now that if she quitted Boulogne ere the Scarlet
Pimpernel is in our hands, we should summarily shoot one member of
every family in the town--the bread-winner."
"A pleasant conceit, Monsieur ... and one that does infinite credit to your
"Lady Blakeney, therefore, we hold safely enough," continued Chauvelin,
who no longer heeded the mocking observations of his enemy; "as for the
Scarlet Pimpernel ..."
"You have but to ring a bell, to raise a voice, and he too will be under
lock and key within the next two minutes, eh? ... Passons, Monsieur ...
you are dying to say something further ... I pray you proceed ... your
engaging countenance is becoming quite interesting in its seriousness."
"What I wish to say to you, Sir Percy, is in the nature of a proposed
"Indeed? ... Monsieur, you are full of surprises ... like a pretty woman. ...
And pray what are the terms of this proposed bargain?"
"Your side of the bargain, Sir Percy, or mine? Which will you hear first?"
"Oh yours, Monsieur ... yours, I pray you. ... Have I not said that you are
like a pretty woman? ... Place aux dames, sir! always!"
"My share of the bargain, sir, is simple enough: Lady Blakeney, escorted
by yourself and any of your friends who might be in this city at the time,
shall leave Boulogne harbour at sunset to-morrow, free and unmolested,
if you on the other hand will do your share ..."
"I don't yet know what my share in this interesting bargain is to be, sir ...
but for the sake of argument let us suppose that I do not carry it out. ...
What then? ..."
"Then, Sir Percy ... putting aside for the moment the question of the
Scarlet Pimpernel altogether ... then, Lady Blakeney will be taken to
Paris, and will be incarcerated in the prison of the Temple lately vacated
by Marie Antoinette--there she will be treated in exactly the same was as
the ex-queen is now being treated in the Conciergerie. ... Do you know
what that means, Sir Percy? ... It does not mean a summary trial and a
speedy death, with the halo and glory of martyrdom thrown in ... it means
days, weeks, nay, months, perhaps, of misery and humiliation ... it means,
that like Marie Antoinette, she will never be allowed solitude for one
single instant of the day or night ... it means the constant proximity of
soldiers, drunk with cruelty and with hate ... the insults, the shame ..."
"You hound! ... you dog! ... you cur! ... do you not see that I must
strangle you for this! ..."
The attack had been so sudden and so violent that Chauvelin had not the
time to utter the slightest call for help. But a second ago, Sir Percy
Blakeney had been sitting on the window-sill, outwardly listening with
perfect calm to what his enemy had to say; now he was at the latter's
throat, pressing with long and slender hands the breath out of the
Frenchman's body, his usually placid face distorted into a mask of hate.
"You cur! ... you cur! ..." he repeated, "am I to kill you or will you unsay
Then suddenly he relaxed his grip. The habits of a lifetime would not be
gainsaid even now. A second ago his face had been livid with rage and
hate, now a quick flush overspread it, as if he were ashamed of this loss
of self-control. He threw the little Frenchman away from him like he
would a beast which had snarled, and passed his hand across his brow.
"Lud forgive me!" he said quaintly, "I had almost lost my temper."
Chauvelin was not slow in recovering himself. He was plucky and alert,
and his hatred for this man was so great that he had actually ceased to
fear him. Now he quietly readjusted his cravat, made a vigorous effort to
re-conquer his breath, and said firmly as soon as he could contrive to
speak at all:
"And if you did strangle me, Sir Percy, you would do yourself no good.
The fate which I have mapped out for Lady Blakeney, would then
irrevocably be hers, for she is in our power and none of my colleagues
are disposed to offer you a means of saving her from it, as I am ready to
Blakeney was now standing in the middle of the room, with his hands
buried in the pockets of his breeches, his manner and attitude once more
calm, debonnair, expressive of lofty self-possession and of absolute
indifference. He came quite close to the meagre little figure of his
exultant enemy, thereby forcing the latter to look up at him.
"Oh! ... ah! ... yes!" he said airily, "I had nigh forgotten ... you were
talking of a bargain ... my share of it ... eh? ... Is it me you want? ... Do
you wish to see me in your Paris prisons? ... I assure you, sir, that the
propinquity of drunken soldiers may disgust me, but it would in no way
disturb the equanimity of my temper."
"I am quite sure of that, Sir Percy--and I can but repeat what I had the
honour of saying to Lady Blakeney just now--I do not desire the death of
so accomplished a gentleman as yourself."
"Strange, Monsieur," retorted Blakeney, with a return of his accustomed
flippancy. "Now I do desire your death very strongly indeed--there would
be so much less vermin on the face of the earth. ... But pardon me--I was
interrupting you. ... Will you be so kind as to proceed?"
Chauvelin had not winced at the insult. His enemy's attitude now left him
completely indifferent. He had seen that self-possessed man of the world,
that dainty and fastidious dandy, in the throes of an overmastering
passion. He had very nearly paid with his life for the joy of having roused
that supercilious and dormant lion. In fact he was ready to welcome any
insults from Sir Percy Blakeney now, since these would be only
additional evidences that the Englishman's temper was not yet under
"I will try to be brief, Sir Percy," he said, setting himself the task of
imitating his antagonist's affected manner. "Will you not sit down? ... We
must try and discuss these matters like two men of the world. ... As for
me, I am always happiest beside a board littered with papers. ... I am not
an athlete, Sir Percy ... and serve my country with my pen rather than
with my fists."
Whilst he spoke he had reached the table and once more took the chair
whereon he had been sitting lately, when he dreamed the dreams which
were so near realization now. He pointed with a graceful gesture to the
other vacant chair, which Blakeney took without a word.
"Ah!" said Chauvelin with a sigh of satisfaction, "I see that we are about
to understand one another. ... I have always felt it was a pity, Sir Percy,
that you and I could not discuss certain matters pleasantly with one
another. ... Now, about this unfortunate incident of Lady Blakeney's
incarceration, I would like you to believe that I had no part in the
arrangements which have been made for her detention in Paris. My
colleagues have arranged it all ... and I have vainly tried to protest against
the rigorous measures which are to be enforced against her in the Temple
prison. ... But these are answering so completely in the case of the ex-
queen, they have so completely broken her spirit and her pride, that my
colleagues felt that they would prove equally useful in order to bring the
Scarlet Pimpernel--through his wife--to an humbler frame of mind."
He paused a moment, distinctly pleased with his peroration, satisfied that
his voice had been without a tremor and his face impassive, and
wondering what effect this somewhat lengthy preamble had upon Sir
Percy, who through it all had remained singularly quiet. Chauvelin was
preparing himself for the next effect which he hoped to produce, and was
vaguely seeking for the best words with which to fully express his
meaning, when he was suddenly startled by a sound as unexpected as it
It was the sound of a loud and prolonged snore. He pushed the candle
aside, which somewhat obstructed his line of vision, and casting a rapid
glance at the enemy, with whose life he was toying even as a cat doth
with that of a mouse, he saw that the aforesaid mouse was calmly and
An impatient oath escaped Chauvelin's lips, and he brought his fist
heavily down on the table, making the metal candlesticks rattle and
causing Sir Percy to open one sleepy eye.
"A thousand pardons, sir," said Blakeney with a slight yawn. "I am so
demmed fatigued, and your preface was unduly long. ... Beastly bad
form, I know, going to sleep during a sermon ... but I haven't had a wink
of sleep all day. ... I pray you to excuse me ..."
"Will you condescend to listen, Sir Percy?" queried Chauvelin
peremptorily, "or shall I call the guard and give up all thoughts of
treating with you?"
"Just whichever you demmed well prefer, sir," rejoined Blakeney
And once more stretching out his long limbs, he buried his hands in the
pockets of his breeches and apparently prepared himself for another quiet
sleep. Chauvelin looked at him for a moment, vaguely wondering what to
do next. He felt strangely irritated at what he firmly believed was mere
affectation on Blakeney's part, and although he was burning with
impatience to place the terms of the proposed bargain before this man,
yet he would have preferred to be interrogated, to deliver his "either-or"
with becoming sternness and decision, rather than to take the initiative in
this discussion, where he should have been calm and indifferent, whilst
his enemy should have been nervous and disturbed.
Sir Percy's attitude had disconcerted him, a touch of the grotesque had
been given to what should have been a tense moment, and it was terribly
galling to the pride of the ex-diplomatist that with this elusive enemy and
in spite of his own preparedness for any eventuality, it was invariably the
unforeseen that happened.
After a moment's reflection, however, he decided upon a fresh course of
action. He rose and crossed the room, keeping as much as possible an
eye upon Sir Percy, but the latter sat placid and dormant and evidently in
no hurry to move. Chauvelin having reached the door, opened it
noiselessly, and to the sergeant in command of his bodyguard who stood
at attention outside, he whispered hurriedly:
"The prisoner from No. 6. ... Let two of the men bring her hither back to
me at once."
Chapter XXVI : The Terms of the Bargain
Less than three minutes later, there came to Chauvelin's expectant ears
the soft sound made by a woman's skirts against the stone floor. During
those three minutes, which had seemed an eternity to his impatience, he
had sat silently watching the slumber--affected or real--of his enemy.
Directly he heard the word: "Halt!" outside the door, he jumped to his
feet. The next moment Marguerite had entered the room.
Hardly had her foot crossed the threshold than Sir Percy rose, quietly and
without haste but evidently fully awake, and turning towards her, made
her a low obeisance.
She, poor woman, had of course caught sight of him at once. His
presence here, Chauvelin's demand for her reappearance, the soldiers in a
small compact group outside the door, all these were unmistakable
proofs that the awful cataclysm had at last occurred.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, Percy Blakeney, her husband, was in the hands of
the Terrorists of France, and though face to face with her now, with an
open window close to him, and an apparently helpless enemy under his
hand, he could not--owing to the fiendish measures taken by Chauvelin--
raise a finger to save himself and her.
Mercifully for her, nature--in the face of this appalling tragedy --deprived
her of the full measure of her senses. She could move and speak and see,
she could hear and in a measure understand what was said, but she was
really an automaton or a sleep-walker, moving and speaking mechanically
and without due comprehension.
Possibly, if she had then and there fully realized all that the future meant,
she would have gone mad with the horror of it all.
"Lady Blakeney," began Chauvelin after he had quickly dismissed the
soldiers from the room, "when you and I parted from one another just
now, I had no idea that I should so soon have the pleasure of a personal
conversation with Sir Percy. ... There is no occasion yet, believe me, for
sorrow or fear. ... Another twenty-four hours at most, and you will be on
board the 'Day-Dream' outward bound for England. Sir Percy himself
might perhaps accompany you; he does not desire that you should
journey to Paris, and I may safely say, that in his mind, he has already
accepted certain little conditions which I have been forced to impose
upon him ere I sign the order for your absolute release."
"Conditions?" she repeated vaguely and stupidly, looking in
bewilderment from one to the other.
"You are tired, m'dear," said Sir Percy quietly, "will you not sit down?"
He held the chair gallantly for her. She tried to read his face, but could
not catch even a flash from beneath the heavy lids which obstinately
veiled his eyes.
"Oh! it is a mere matter of exchanging signatures," continued Chauvelin
in response to her inquiring glance and toying with the papers which were
scattered on the table. "Here you see is the order to allow Sir Percy
Blakeney and his wife, nee Marguerite St. Just, to quit the town of
He held a paper out towards Marguerite, inviting her to look at it. She
caught sight of an official-looking document, bearing the motto and seal
of the Republic of France, and of her own name and Percy's written
thereon in full.
"It is perfectly en regle, I assure you," continued Chauvelin, "and only
awaits my signature."
He now took up another paper which looked like a long closely-written
letter. Marguerite watched his every movement, for instinct told her that
the supreme moment had come. There was a look of almost superhuman
cruelty and malice in the little Frenchman's eyes as he fixed them on the
impassive figure of Sir Percy, the while with slightly trembling hands he
fingered that piece of paper and smoothed out its creases with loving
"I am quite prepared to sign the order for your release, Lady Blakeney,"
he said, keeping his gaze still keenly fixed upon Sir Percy. "When it is
signed you will understand that our measures against the citizens of
Boulogne will no longer hold good, and that on the contrary, the general
amnesty and free pardon will come into force."
"Yes, I understand that," she replied.
"And all that will come to pass, Lady Blakeney, the moment Sir Percy
will write me in his own hand a letter, in accordance with the draft which
I have prepared, and sign it with his name.
"Shall I read it to you?" he asked.
"If you please."
"You will see how simple it all is. ... A mere matter of form. ... I pray you
do not look upon it with terror, but only as the prelude to that general
amnesty and free pardon, which I feel sure will satisfy the philanthropic
heart of the noble Scarlet Pimpernel, since three score at least of the
inhabitants of Boulogne will owe their life and freedom to him."
"I am listening, Monsieur," she said calmly.
"As I have already had the honour of explaining, this little document is in
the form of a letter addressed personally to me and of course in French,"
he said finally, and then he looked down on the paper and began to read:
In consideration of a further sum of one million francs and on the
understanding that this ridiculous charge brought against me of
conspiring against the Republic of France is immediately withdrawn, and
I am allowed to return to England unmolested, I am quite prepared to
acquaint you with the names and whereabouts of certain persons who
under the guise of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel are even now
conspiring to free the woman Marie Antoinette and her son from prison
and to place the latter upon the throne of France. You are quite well
aware that under the pretence of being the leader of a gang of English
adventurers, who never did the Republic of France and her people any
real harm, I have actually been the means of unmasking many a royalist
plot before you, and of bringing many persistent conspirators to the
guillotine. I am surprised that you should cavil at the price I am asking
this time for the very important information with which I am able to
furnish you, whilst you have often paid me similar sums for work which
was a great deal less difficult to do. In order to serve your government
effectually, both in England and in France, I must have a sufficiency of
money, to enable me to live in a costly style befitting a gentleman of my
rank. Were I to alter my mode of life I could not continue to mix in that
same social milieu to which all my friends belong and wherein, as you are
well aware, most of the royalist plots are hatched.
Trusting therefore to receive a favourable reply to my just demands
within the next twenty-four hours, whereupon the names in question shall
be furnished you forthwith,
I have the honour to remain, Citizen,
Your humble and obedient servant,
When he had finished reading, Chauvelin quietly folded the paper up
again, and then only did he look at the man and the woman before him.
Marguerite sat very erect, her head thrown back, her face very pale and
her hands tightly clutched in her lap. She had not stirred whilst Chauvelin
read out the infamous document, with which he desired to brand a brave
man with the ineradicable stigma of dishonour and of shame. After she
heard the first words, she looked up swiftly and questioningly at her
husband, but he stood at some little distance from her, right out of the
flickering circle of yellowish light made by the burning tallow-candle. He
was as rigid as a statue, standing in his usual attitude with legs apart and
hands buried in his breeches pockets.
She could not see his face.
Whatever she may have felt with regard to the letter, as the meaning of it
gradually penetrated into her brain, she was, of course, convinced of one
thing, and that was that never for a moment would Percy dream of
purchasing his life or even hers at such a price. But she would have liked
some sign from him, some look by which she could be guided as to her
immediate conduct: as, however, he gave neither look nor sign, she
preferred to assume an attitude of silent contempt.
But even before Chauvelin had had time to look from one face to the
other, a prolonged and merry laugh echoed across the squalid room.
Sir Percy, with head thrown back, was laughing whole-heartedly.
"A magnificent epistle, sir," he said gaily, "Lud love you, where did you
wield the pen so gracefully? ... I vow that if I signed this interesting
document no one will believe I could have expressed myself with perfect
ease .. and in French too ..."
"Nay, Sir Percy," rejoined Chauvelin drily, "I have thought of all that, and
lest in the future there should be any doubt as to whether your own hand
had or had not penned the whole of this letter, I also make it a condition
that you write out every word of it yourself, and sign it here in this very
room, in the presence of Lady Blakeney, of myself, of my colleagues and
of at least half a dozen other persons whom I will select."
"It is indeed admirably thought out, Monsieur," rejoined Sir Percy, "and
what is to become of the charming epistle, may I ask, after I have written
and signed it? ... Pardon my curiosity. ... I take a natural interest in the
matter ... and truly your ingenuity passes belief ..."
"Oh! the fate of this letter will be as simple as was the writing thereof. ...
A copy of it will be published in our "Gazette de Paris" as a bait for
enterprising English journalists. ... They will not be backward in getting
hold of so much interesting matter. ... Can you not see the attractive
headlines in 'The London Gazette,' Sir Percy? 'The League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel unmasked! A gigantic hoax! The origin of the Blakeney
millions!' ... I believe that journalism in England has reached a high
standard of excellence ... and even the 'Gazette de Paris' is greatly read in
certain towns of your charming country. ... His Royal Highness the
Prince of Wales, and various other influential gentlemen in London, will,
on the other hand, be granted a private view of the original through the
kind offices of certain devoted friends whom we possess in England. ... I
don't think that you need have any fear, Sir Percy, that your caligraphy
will sink into oblivion. It will be our business to see that it obtains the full
measure of publicity which it deserves ..."
He paused a moment, then his manner suddenly changed: the sarcastic
tone died out of his voice, and there came back into his face that look of
hatred and cruelty which Blakeney's persiflage had always the power to
"You may rest assured of one thing, Sir Percy," he said with a harsh
laugh, "that enough mud will be thrown at that erstwhile glorious Scarlet
Pimpernel ... some of it will be bound to stick ..."
"Nay, Monsieur ... er ... Chaubertin," quoth Blakeney lightly, "I have no
doubt that you and your colleagues are past masters in the graceful art of
mud-throwing. ... But pardon me ... er .... I was interrupting you. ...
Continue, Monsieur ... continue, I pray. 'Pon my honour, the matter is
"Nay, sir, after the publication of this diverting epistle, meseems your
honour will ceased to be a marketable commodity."
"Undoubtedly, sir," rejoined Sir Percy, apparently quite unruffled,
"pardon a slip of the tongue ... we are so much the creatures of habit. ...
As you were saying ...?"
"I have but little more to say, sir. ... But lest there should even now be
lurking in your mind a vague hope that, having written this letter, you
could easily in the future deny its authorship, let me tell you this: my
measures are well taken, there will be witnesses to your writing of it. ...
You will sit here in this room, unfettered, uncoerced in any way, and the
money spoken of in the letter will be handed over to you by my
colleague, after a few suitable words spoken by him, and you will take
the money from him, Sir Percy ... and the witnesses will see you take it
after having seen you write the letter ... they will understand that you are
being PAID by the French government for giving information anent
royalist plots in this country and in England ... they will understand that
your identity as the leader of that so-called band is not only known to me
and to my colleague, but that it also covers your real character and
profession as the paid spy of France."
"Marvellous, I call it ... demmed marvellous," quoth Sir Percy blandly.
Chauvelin had paused, half-choked by his own emotion, his hatred and
prospective revenge. He passed his handkerchief over his forehead, which
was streaming with perspiration.
"Warm work, this sort of thing ... eh ... Monsieur ... er ... Chaubertin? ..."
queried his imperturbable enemy.
Marguerite said nothing; the whole thing was too horrible for words, but
she kept her large eyes fixed upon her husband's face ... waiting for that
look, that sign from him which would have eased the agonizing anxiety in
her heart, and which never came.
With a great effort now, Chauvelin pulled himself together and, though
his voice still trembled, he managed to speak with a certain amount of
"Probably, Sir Percy, you know," he said, "that throughout the whole of
France we are inaugurating a series of national fetes, in honour of the
new religion which the people are about to adopt. ... Demoiselle Desiree
Candeille, whom you know, will at these festivals impersonate the
Goddess of Reason, the only deity whom we admit now in France. ... She
has been specially chosen for this honour, owing to the services which
she has rendered us recently ... and as Boulogne happens to be the lucky
city in which we have succeeded in bringing the Scarlet Pimpernel to
justice, the national fete will begin within these city walls, with
Demoiselle Candeille as the thrice-honoured goddess."
"And you will be very merry here in Boulogne, I dare swear ..."
"Aye, merry, sir," said Chauvelin with an involuntary and savage snarl, as
he placed a long claw-like finger upon the momentous paper before him,
"merry, for we here in Boulogne will see that which will fill the heart of
every patriot in France with gladness. ... Nay! 'twas not the death of the
Scarlet Pimpernel we wanted ... not the noble martyrdom of England's
chosen hero ... but his humiliation and defeat ... derision and scorn ...
contumely and contempt. You asked me airily just now, Sir Percy, how I
proposed to accomplish this object ... Well! you know it now--by forcing
you ... aye, forcing--to write and sign a letter and to take money from my
hands which will brand you forever as a liar and informer, and cover you
with the thick and slimy mud of irreclaimable infamy ..."
"Lud! sir," said Sir Percy pleasantly, "what a wonderful command you
have of our language. ... I wish I could speak French half as well ..."
Marguerite had risen like an automaton from her chair. She felt that she
could no longer sit still, she wanted to scream out at the top of her voice,
all the horror she felt for this dastardly plot, which surely must have had
its origin in the brain of devils. She could not understand Percy. This was
one of those awful moments, which she had been destined to experience
once or twice before, when the whole personality of her husband seemed
to become shadowy before her, to slip, as it were, past her
comprehension, leaving her indescribably lonely and wretched, trusting
She thought that long ere this he would have flung back every insult in
his opponent's teeth; she did not know what inducements Chauvelin had
held out in exchange for the infamous letter, what threats he had used.
That her own life and freedom were at stake, was, of course, evident, but
she cared nothing for life, and he should know that certainly she would
care still less if such a price had to be paid for it.
She longed to tell him all that was in her heart, longed to tell him how
little she valued her life, how highly she prized his honour! but how could
she, before this fiend who snarled and sneered in his anticipated triumph,
and surely, surely Percy knew!
And knowing all that, why did he not speak? Why did he not tear that
infamous paper from out that devil's hands and fling it in his face? Yet,
though her loving ear caught every intonation of her husband's voice, she
could not detect the slightest harshness in his airy laugh; his tone was
perfectly natural and he seemed to be, indeed, just as he appeared--vastly
Then she thought that perhaps he would wish her to go now, that he felt
desire to be alone with this man, who had outraged him in everything that
he held most holy and most dear, his honour and his wife ... that perhaps,
knowing that his own temper was no longer under control, he did not
wish her to witness the rough and ready chastisement which he was
intending to meet out to this dastardly intriguer.
Yes! that was it no doubt! Herein she could not be mistaken; she knew
his fastidious notions of what was due and proper in the presence of a
woman, and that even at a moment like this, he would wish the manners
of London drawing-rooms to govern his every action.
Therefore she rose to go, and as she did so, once more tried to read the
expression in his face ... to guess what was passing in his mind.
"Nay, Madam," he said, whilst he bowed gracefully before her, "I fear me
this lengthy conversation hath somewhat fatigued you. ... This merry jest
'twixt my engaging friend and myself should not have been prolonged so
far into the night. ... Monsieur, I pray you, will you not give orders that
her ladyship be escorted back to her room?"
He was still standing outside the circle of light, and Marguerite
instinctively went up to him. For this one second she was oblivious of
Chauvelin's presence, she forgot her well-schooled pride, her firm
determination to be silent and to be brave: she could not longer restrain
the wild beatings of her heart, the agony of her soul, and with sudden
impulse she murmured in a voice broken with intense love and subdued,
He drew back a step further into the gloom: this made her realize the
mistake she had made in allowing her husband's most bitter enemy to get
this brief glimpse into her soul. Chauvelin's thin lips curled with
satisfaction, the brief glimpse had been sufficient for him, the rapidly
whispered name, the broken accent had told him what he had not known
hitherto: namely, that between this man and woman there was a bond far
more powerful that that which usually existed between husband and wife,
and merely made up of chivalry on the one side and trustful reliance on
Marguerite having realized her mistake, ashamed of having betrayed her
feelings even for a moment, threw back her proud head and gave her
exultant foe a look of defiance and of scorn. He responded with one of
pity, not altogether unmixed with deference. There was something almost
unearthly and sublime in this beautiful woman's agonizing despair.
He lowered his head and made her a deep obeisance, lest she should see
the satisfaction and triumph which shone through his pity.
As usual Sir Percy remained quite imperturbable, and now it was he,
who, with characteristic impudence, touched the hand-bell on the table:
"Excuse this intrusion, Monsieur," he said lightly, "her ladyship is
overfatigued and would be best in her room."
Marguerite threw him a grateful look. After all she was only a woman
and was afraid of breaking down. In her mind there was no issue to the
present deadlock save in death. For this she was prepared and had but
one great hope that she could lie in her husband's arms just once again
before she died. Now, since she could not speak to him, scarcely dared to
look into the loved face, she was quite ready to go.
In answer to the bell, the soldier had entered.
"If Lady Blakeney desires to go ..." said Chauvelin.
She nodded and Chauvelin gave the necessary orders: two soldiers stood
at attention ready to escort Marguerite back to her prison cell. As she
went towards the door she came to within a couple of steps from where
her husband was standing, bowing to her as she passed. She stretched out
an icy cold hand towards him, and he, in the most approved London
fashion, with the courtly grace of a perfect English gentleman, took the
little hand in his and stooping very low kissed the delicate finger-tips.
Then only did she notice that the strong, nervy hand which held hers
trembled perceptibly, and that his lips--which for an instant rested on her
fingers--were burning hot.
Chapter XXVII : The Decision
Once more the two men were alone.
As far as Chauvelin was concerned he felt that everything was not yet
settled, and until a moment ago he had been in doubt as to whether Sir
Percy would accept the infamous conditions which had been put before
him, or allow his pride and temper to get the better of him and throw the
deadly insults back into his adversary's teeth.
But now a new secret had been revealed to the astute diplomatist. A
name, softly murmured by a broken-hearted woman, had told him a tale
of love and passion, which he had not even suspected before.
Since he had made this discovery he knew that the ultimate issue was no
longer in doubt. Sir Percy Blakeney, the bold adventurer, ever ready for a
gamble where lives were at stake, might have demurred before he
subscribed to his own dishonour, in order to save his wife from
humiliation and the shame of the terrible fate that had been mapped out
for her. But the same man passionately in love with such a woman as
Marguerite Blakeney would count the world well lost for her sake.
One sudden fear alone had shot through Chauvelin's heart when he stood
face to face with the two people whom he had so deeply and cruelly
wronged, and that was that Blakeney, throwing aside all thought of the
scores of innocent lives that were at stake, might forget everything, risk
everything, dare everything, in order to get his wife away there and then.
For the space of a few seconds Chauvelin had felt that his own life was in
jeopardy, and that the Scarlet Pimpernel would indeed make a desperate
effort to save himself and his wife. But the fear was short-lived:
Marguerite--as he had well foreseen--would never save herself at the
expense of others, and she was tied! tied! tied! That was his triumph and
When Marguerite finally left the room, Sir Percy made no motion to
follow her, but turned once more quietly to his antagonist.
"As you were saying, Monsieur? ..." he queried lightly.
"Oh! there is nothing more to say, Sir Percy," rejoined Chauvelin; "my
conditions are clear to you, are they not? Lady Blakeney's and your own
immediate release in exchange for a letter written to me by your own
hand, and signed here by you--in this room-- in my presence and that of
sundry other persons whom I need not name just now. Also certain
money passing from my hand to yours. Failing the letter, a long,
hideously humiliating sojourn in the Temple prison for your wife, a
prolonged trial and the guillotine as a happy release! ... I would add, the
same thing for yourself, only that I will do you the justice to admit that
you probably do not care."
"Nay! a grave mistake, Monsieur. ... I do care ... vastly care, I assure you
... and would seriously object to ending my life on your demmed
guillotine ... a nasty, uncomfortable thing, I should say ... and I am told
that an inexperienced barber is deputed to cut one's hair. ... Brrr! ... Now,
on the other hand, I like the idea of a national fete ... that pretty wench
Candeille, dressed as a goddess ... the boom of the cannon when your
amnesty comes into force. ... You WILL boom the cannon, will you not,
Monsieur? ... Cannon are demmed noisy, but they are effective
sometimes, do you not think so, Monsieur?"
"Very effective certainly, Sir Percy," sneered Chauvelin, "and we will
certainly boom the cannon from this very fort, an it so please you. ..."
"At what hour, Monsieur, is my letter to be ready?"
"Why! at any hour you please, Sir Percy."
"The 'Day-Dream' could weigh anchor at eight o'clock ... would an hour
before that be convenient to yourself?"
"Certainly, Sir Percy ... if you will honour me by accepting my hospitality
in these uncomfortable quarters until seven o'clock to-morrow eve? ..."
"I thank you, Monsieur ..."
"Then am I to understand, Sir Percy, that ..."
A loud and ringing laugh broke from Blakeney's lips.
"That I accept your bargain, man! ... Zounds! I tell you I accept ... I'll
write the letter, I'll sign it ... an you have our free passes ready for us in
exchange. ... At seven o'clock to-morrow eve, did you say? ... Man! do
not look so astonished. ... The letter, the signature, the money ... all your
witnesses ... have everything ready. ... I accept, I say. ... And now, in the
name of all the evil spirits in hell, let me have some supper and a bed, for
I vow that I am demmed fatigued."
And without more ado Sir Percy once more rang the handbell, laughing
boisterously the while: then suddenly, with quick transition of mood, his
laugh was lost in a gigantic yawn, and throwing his long body onto a
chair, he stretched out his legs, buried his hands in his pockets, and the
next moment was peacefully asleep.
Chapter XXVIII : The Midnight Watch
Boulogne had gone through many phases, in its own languid and sleepy
way, whilst the great upheaval of a gigantic revolution shook other cities
of France to their very foundations.
At first the little town had held somnolently aloof, and whilst Lyons and
Tours conspired and rebelled, whilst Marseilles and Toulon opened their
ports to the English and Dunkirk was ready to surrender to the allied
forces, she had gazed through half-closed eyes at all the turmoil, and then
quietly turned over and gone to sleep again.
Boulogne fished and mended nets, built boats and manufactured boots
with placid content, whilst France murdered her king and butchered her
The initial noise of the great revolution was only wafted on the southerly
breezes from Paris to the little seaport towns of Northern France, and
lost much of its volume and power in this aerial transit: the fisher folk
were too poor to worry about the dethronement of kings: the struggle for
daily existence, the perils and hardships of deep-sea fishing engrossed all
the faculties they possessed.
As for the burghers and merchants of the town, they were at first content
with reading an occasional article in the "Gazette de Paris" or the
"Gazette des Tribunaux," brought hither by one or other of the many
travellers who crossed the city on their way to the harbour. They were
interested in these articles, at times even comfortably horrified at the
doings in Paris, the executions and the tumbrils, but on the whole they
liked the idea that the country was in future to be governed by duly
chosen representatives of the people, rather than be a prey to the
despotism of kings, and they were really quite pleased to see the tricolour
flag hoisted on the old Beffroi, there where the snow-white standard of
the Bourbons had erstwhile flaunted its golden fleur-de-lis in the glare of
the midday sun.
The worthy burgesses of Boulogne were ready to shout: "Vive la
Republique!" with the same cheerful and raucous Normandy accent as
they had lately shouted "Dieu protege le Roi!"
The first awakening from this happy torpor came when that tent was put
up on the landing stage in the harbour. Officials, dressed in shabby
uniforms and wearing tricolour cockades and scarves, were now
quartered in Town Hall, and repaired daily to that roughly erected tent,
accompanied by so many soldiers from the garrison.
There installed, they busied themselves with examining carefully the
passports of all those who desired to leave or enter Boulogne. Fisher-folk
who had dwelt in the city--father and son and grandfather and many
generations before that--and had come and gone in and out of their own
boats as they pleased, were now stopped as they beached their craft and
made to give an account of themselves to these officials from Paris.
It was, of a truth, more than ridiculous, that these strangers should ask of
Jean-Marie who he was, or of Pierre what was his business, or of Desire
Francois whither he was going, when Jean-Marie and Pierre and Desire
Francois had plied their nets in the roads outside Boulogne harbour for
more years than they would care to count.
It also caused no small measure of annoyance that fishermen were
ordered to wear tricolour cockades on their caps. They had no special ill-
feeling against tricolour cockades, but they did not care about them.
Jean-Marie flatly refused to have one pinned on, and being admonished
somewhat severely by one of the Paris officials, he became obstinate
about the whole thing and threw the cockade violently on the ground and
spat upon it, not from any sentiment of anti-republicanism, but just from
a feeling of Norman doggedness.
He was arrested, shut up in Fort Gayole, tried as a traitor and publicly
The consternation in Boulogne was appalling.
The one little spark had found its way to a barrel of blasting powder and
caused a terrible explosion. Within twenty-four hours of Jean-Marie's
execution the whole town was in the throes of the Revolution. What the
death of King Louis, the arrest of Marie Antoinette, the massacres of
September had failed to do, that the arrest and execution of an elderly
fisherman accomplished in a trice.
People began to take sides in politics. Some families realized that they
came from ancient lineage, and that their ancestors had helped to build up
the throne of the Bourbons. Others looked up ancient archives and
remembered past oppressions at the hands of the aristocrats.
Thus some burghers of Boulogne became ardent reactionaries, whilst
others secretly nursed enthusiastic royalist convictions: some were ready
to throw in their lot with the anarchists, to deny the religion of their
fathers, to scorn the priests and close the places of worship; others
adhered strictly still to the usages and practices of the Church.
Arrest became frequent: the guillotine, erected in the Place de la
Senechaussee, had plenty of work to do. Soon the cathedral was closed,
the priests thrown into prison, whilst scores of families hoped to escape a
similar fate by summary flight.
Vague rumours of a band of English adventurers soon reached the little
sea-port town. The Scarlet Pimpernel--English spy or hero, as he was
alternately called--had helped many a family with pronounced royalist
tendencies to escape the fury of the blood-thirsty Terrorists.
Thus gradually the anti-revolutionaries had been weeded out of the city:
some by death and imprisonment, others by flight. Boulogne became the
hotbed of anarchism: the idlers and loafers, inseparable from any town
where there is a garrison and a harbour, practically ruled the city now.
Denunciations were the order of the day. Everyone who owned any
money, or lived with any comfort was accused of being a traitor and
suspected of conspiracy. The fisher folk wandered about the city, surly
and discontented: their trade was at a standstill, but there was a trifle to
be earned by giving information: information which meant the arrest,
ofttimes the death of men, women and even children who had tried to
seek safety in flight, and to denounce whom--as they were trying to hire a
boat anywhere along the coast--meant a good square meal for a starving
Then came the awful cataclysm.
A woman--a stranger--had been arrested and imprisoned in the Fort
Gayole and the town-crier publicly proclaimed that if she escaped from
jail, one member of every family in the town--rich or poor, republican or
royalist, Catholic or free-thinker--would be summarily guillotined.
That member, the bread-winner!
"Why, then, with the Duvals it would be young Francois-Auguste. He
keeps his old mother with his boot-making ..."
"And it would be Marie Lebon, she has her blind father dependent on her
"And old Mother Laferriere, whose grandchildren were left penniless ...
she keeps them from starvation by her wash-tub."
"But Francois-Auguste is a real Republican; he belongs to the Jacobin
"And look at Pierre, who never meets a calotin but he must needs spit on
"Is there no safety anywhere? ... are we to be butchered like so many
Somebody makes the suggestion:
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