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Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: Baroness Orczy



CONTENTS:


     I.      PARIS: SEPTEMBER, 1792
     II.     DOVER: "THE FISHERMAN'S REST"
     III.    THE REFUGEES
     IV.     THE LEAGUE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
     V.      MARGUERITE
     VI.     AN EXQUISITE OF '92
     VII.    THE SECRET ORCHARD
     VIII.   THE ACCREDITED AGENT
     IX.     THE OUTRAGE
     X.      IN THE OPERA BOX
     XI.     LORD GRENVILLE'S BALL
     XII.    THE SCRAP OF PAPER
     XIII.   EITHER
     XIV.    ONE O'CLOCK PRECISELY!
     XV.     DOUBT
     XVI.    RICHMOND
     XVII.   FAREWELL
     XVIII.  THE MYSTERIOUS DEVICE
     XIX.    THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
     XX.     THE FRIEND
     XXI.    SUSPENSE
     XXII.   CALAIS
     XXIII.  HOPE
     XXIV.   THE DEATH
     XXV.    THE EAGLE AND THE FOX
     XXVI.   THE JEW
     XXVII.  ON THE TRACK
     XXVIII. THE PERE BLANCHARD'S HUT
     XXIX.   TRAPPED
     XXX.    THE SCHOONER
     XXXI.   THE ESCAPE




CHAPTER I PARIS: SEPTEMBER, 1792



A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in
name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures,
animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The
hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade,
at the very spot where, a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying
monument to the nation's glory and his own vanity.

During the greater part of the day the guillotine had been kept busy at
its ghastly work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries,
of ancient names, and blue blood, had paid toll to her desire for
liberty and for fraternity. The carnage had only ceased at this late
hour of the day because there were other more interesting sights for
the people to witness, a little while before the final closing of the
barricades for the night.

And so the crowd rushed away from the Place de la Greve and made for the
various barricades in order to watch this interesting and amusing sight.

It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! They
were traitors to the people of course, all of them, men, women, and
children, who happened to be descendants of the great men who since the
Crusades had made the glory of France: her old NOBLESSE. Their ancestors
had oppressed the people, had crushed them under the scarlet heels of
their dainty buckled shoes, and now the people had become the rulers
of France and crushed their former masters--not beneath their heel, for
they went shoeless mostly in these days--but a more effectual weight,
the knife of the guillotine.

And daily, hourly, the hideous instrument of torture claimed its many
victims--old men, young women, tiny children until the day when it would
finally demand the head of a King and of a beautiful young Queen.

But this was as it should be: were not the people now the rulers of
France? Every aristocrat was a traitor, as his ancestors had been before
him: for two hundred years now the people had sweated, and toiled,
and starved, to keep a lustful court in lavish extravagance; now the
descendants of those who had helped to make those courts brilliant
had to hide for their lives--to fly, if they wished to avoid the tardy
vengeance of the people.

And they did try to hide, and tried to fly: that was just the fun of
the whole thing. Every afternoon before the gates closed and the market
carts went out in procession by the various barricades, some fool of
an aristo endeavoured to evade the clutches of the Committee of Public
Safety. In various disguises, under various pretexts, they tried to slip
through the barriers, which were so well guarded by citizen soldiers
of the Republic. Men in women's clothes, women in male attire, children
disguised in beggars' rags: there were some of all sorts: CI-DEVANT
counts, marquises, even dukes, who wanted to fly from France, reach
England or some other equally accursed country, and there try to rouse
foreign feelings against the glorious Revolution, or to raise an army
in order to liberate the wretched prisoners in the Temple, who had once
called themselves sovereigns of France.

But they were nearly always caught at the barricades, Sergeant Bibot
especially at the West Gate had a wonderful nose for scenting an aristo
in the most perfect disguise. Then, of course, the fun began. Bibot
would look at his prey as a cat looks upon the mouse, play with him,
sometimes for quite a quarter of an hour, pretend to be hoodwinked by
the disguise, by the wigs and other bits of theatrical make-up which hid
the identity of a CI-DEVANT noble marquise or count.

Oh! Bibot had a keen sense of humour, and it was well worth hanging
round that West Barricade, in order to see him catch an aristo in the
very act of trying to flee from the vengeance of the people.

Sometimes Bibot would let his prey actually out by the gates, allowing
him to think for the space of two minutes at least that he really
had escaped out of Paris, and might even manage to reach the coast of
England in safety, but Bibot would let the unfortunate wretch walk about
ten metres towards the open country, then he would send two men after
him and bring him back, stripped of his disguise.

Oh! that was extremely funny, for as often as not the fugitive would
prove to be a woman, some proud marchioness, who looked terribly comical
when she found herself in Bibot's clutches after all, and knew that
a summary trial would await her the next day and after that, the fond
embrace of Madame la Guillotine.

No wonder that on this fine afternoon in September the crowd round
Bibot's gate was eager and excited. The lust of blood grows with its
satisfaction, there is no satiety: the crowd had seen a hundred noble
heads fall beneath the guillotine to-day, it wanted to make sure that it
would see another hundred fall on the morrow.

Bibot was sitting on an overturned and empty cask close by the gate
of the barricade; a small detachment of citoyen soldiers was under his
command. The work had been very hot lately. Those cursed aristos were
becoming terrified and tried their hardest to slip out of Paris: men,
women and children, whose ancestors, even in remote ages, had served
those traitorous Bourbons, were all traitors themselves and right
food for the guillotine. Every day Bibot had had the satisfaction of
unmasking some fugitive royalists and sending them back to be tried
by the Committee of Public Safety, presided over by that good patriot,
Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville.

Robespierre and Danton both had commended Bibot for his zeal and Bibot
was proud of the fact that he on his own initiative had sent at least
fifty aristos to the guillotine.

But to-day all the sergeants in command at the various barricades
had had special orders. Recently a very great number of aristos had
succeeded in escaping out of France and in reaching England safely.
There were curious rumours about these escapes; they had become very
frequent and singularly daring; the people's minds were becoming
strangely excited about it all. Sergeant Grospierre had been sent to
the guillotine for allowing a whole family of aristos to slip out of the
North Gate under his very nose.

It was asserted that these escapes were organised by a band of
Englishmen, whose daring seemed to be unparalleled, and who, from sheer
desire to meddle in what did not concern them, spent their spare time in
snatching away lawful victims destined for Madame la Guillotine. These
rumours soon grew in extravagance; there was no doubt that this band of
meddlesome Englishmen did exist; moreover, they seemed to be under
the leadership of a man whose pluck and audacity were almost fabulous.
Strange stories were afloat of how he and those aristos whom he rescued
became suddenly invisible as they reached the barricades and escaped out
of the gates by sheer supernatural agency.

No one had seen these mysterious Englishmen; as for their leader, he
was never spoken of, save with a superstitious shudder. Citoyen
Foucquier-Tinville would in the course of the day receive a scrap of
paper from some mysterious source; sometimes he would find it in the
pocket of his coat, at others it would be handed to him by someone in
the crowd, whilst he was on his way to the sitting of the Committee of
Public Safety. The paper always contained a brief notice that the band
of meddlesome Englishmen were at work, and it was always signed with a
device drawn in red--a little star-shaped flower, which we in England
call the Scarlet Pimpernel. Within a few hours of the receipt of this
impudent notice, the citoyens of the Committee of Public Safety would
hear that so many royalists and aristocrats had succeeded in reaching
the coast, and were on their way to England and safety.

The guards at the gates had been doubled, the sergeants in command had
been threatened with death, whilst liberal rewards were offered for the
capture of these daring and impudent Englishmen. There was a sum of five
thousand francs promised to the man who laid hands on the mysterious and
elusive Scarlet Pimpernel.

Everyone felt that Bibot would be that man, and Bibot allowed that
belief to take firm root in everybody's mind; and so, day after day,
people came to watch him at the West Gate, so as to be present when he
laid hands on any fugitive aristo who perhaps might be accompanied by
that mysterious Englishman.

"Bah!" he said to his trusted corporal, "Citoyen Grospierre was a fool!
Had it been me now, at that North Gate last week . . ."

Citoyen Bibot spat on the ground to express his contempt for his
comrade's stupidity.

"How did it happen, citoyen?" asked the corporal.

"Grospierre was at the gate, keeping good watch," began Bibot,
pompously, as the crowd closed in round him, listening eagerly to his
narrative. "We've all heard of this meddlesome Englishman, this accursed
Scarlet Pimpernel. He won't get through MY gate, MORBLEU! unless he
be the devil himself. But Grospierre was a fool. The market carts were
going through the gates; there was one laden with casks, and driven by
an old man, with a boy beside him. Grospierre was a bit drunk, but he
thought himself very clever; he looked into the casks--most of them, at
least--and saw they were empty, and let the cart go through."

A murmur of wrath and contempt went round the group of ill-clad
wretches, who crowded round Citoyen Bibot.

"Half an hour later," continued the sergeant, "up comes a captain of
the guard with a squad of some dozen soldiers with him. 'Has a car gone
through?' he asks of Grospierre, breathlessly. 'Yes,' says Grospierre,
'not half an hour ago.' 'And you have let them escape,' shouts the
captain furiously. 'You'll go to the guillotine for this, citoyen
sergeant! that cart held concealed the CI-DEVANT Duc de Chalis and all
his family!' 'What!' thunders Grospierre, aghast. 'Aye! and the driver
was none other than that cursed Englishman, the Scarlet Pimpernel.'"

A howl of execration greeted this tale. Citoyen Grospierre had paid for
his blunder on the guillotine, but what a fool! oh! what a fool!

Bibot was laughing so much at his own tale that it was some time before
he could continue.

"'After them, my men,' shouts the captain," he said after a while,
"'remember the reward; after them, they cannot have gone far!' And with
that he rushes through the gate followed by his dozen soldiers."

"But it was too late!" shouted the crowd, excitedly.

"They never got them!"

"Curse that Grospierre for his folly!"

"He deserved his fate!"

"Fancy not examining those casks properly!"

But these sallies seemed to amuse Citoyen Bibot exceedingly; he laughed
until his sides ached, and the tears streamed down his cheeks.

"Nay, nay!" he said at last, "those aristos weren't in the cart; the
driver was not the Scarlet Pimpernel!"

"What?"

"No! The captain of the guard was that damned Englishman in disguise,
and everyone of his soldiers aristos!"

The crowd this time said nothing: the story certainly savoured of the
supernatural, and though the Republic had abolished God, it had not
quite succeeded in killing the fear of the supernatural in the hearts of
the people. Truly that Englishman must be the devil himself.

The sun was sinking low down in the west. Bibot prepared himself to
close the gates.

"EN AVANT The carts," he said.

Some dozen covered carts were drawn up in a row, ready to leave town,
in order to fetch the produce from the country close by, for market the
next morning. They were mostly well known to Bibot, as they went through
his gate twice every day on their way to and from the town. He spoke
to one or two of their drivers--mostly women--and was at great pains to
examine the inside of the carts.

"You never know," he would say, "and I'm not going to be caught like
that fool Grospierre."

The women who drove the carts usually spent their day on the Place de la
Greve, beneath the platform of the guillotine, knitting and gossiping,
whilst they watched the rows of tumbrils arriving with the victims the
Reign of Terror claimed every day. It was great fun to see the aristos
arriving for the reception of Madame la Guillotine, and the places close
by the platform were very much sought after. Bibot, during the day,
had been on duty on the Place. He recognized most of the old hats,
"tricotteuses," as they were called, who sat there and knitted, whilst
head after head fell beneath the knife, and they themselves got quite
bespattered with the blood of those cursed aristos.

"He! la mere!" said Bibot to one of these horrible hags, "what have you
got there?"

He had seen her earlier in the day, with her knitting and the whip of
her cart close beside her. Now she had fastened a row of curly locks to
the whip handle, all colours, from gold to silver, fair to dark, and she
stroked them with her huge, bony fingers as she laughed at Bibot.

"I made friends with Madame Guillotine's lover," she said with a coarse
laugh, "he cut these off for me from the heads as they rolled down. He
has promised me some more to-morrow, but I don't know if I shall be at
my usual place."

"Ah! how is that, la mere?" asked Bibot, who, hardened soldier that
he was, could not help shuddering at the awful loathsomeness of this
semblance of a woman, with her ghastly trophy on the handle of her whip.

"My grandson has got the small-pox," she said with a jerk of her thumb
towards the inside of her cart, "some say it's the plague! If it is, I
sha'n't be allowed to come into Paris to-morrow." At the first mention
of the word small-pox, Bibot had stepped hastily backwards, and when the
old hag spoke of the plague, he retreated from her as fast as he could.

"Curse you!" he muttered, whilst the whole crowd hastily avoided the
cart, leaving it standing all alone in the midst of the place.

The old hag laughed.

"Curse you, citoyen, for being a coward," she said. "Bah! what a man to
be afraid of sickness."

"MORBLEU! the plague!"

Everyone was awe-struck and silent, filled with horror for the loathsome
malady, the one thing which still had the power to arouse terror and
disgust in these savage, brutalised creatures.

"Get out with you and with your plague-stricken brood!" shouted Bibot,
hoarsely.

And with another rough laugh and coarse jest, the old hag whipped up her
lean nag and drove her cart out of the gate.

This incident had spoilt the afternoon. The people were terrified of
these two horrible curses, the two maladies which nothing could cure,
and which were the precursors of an awful and lonely death. They hung
about the barricades, silent and sullen for a while, eyeing one another
suspiciously, avoiding each other as if by instinct, lest the plague
lurked already in their midst. Presently, as in the case of Grospierre,
a captain of the guard appeared suddenly. But he was known to Bibot, and
there was no fear of his turning out to be a sly Englishman in disguise.

"A cart, . . ." he shouted breathlessly, even before he had reached the
gates.

"What cart?" asked Bibot, roughly.

"Driven by an old hag. . . . A covered cart . . ."

"There were a dozen . . ."

"An old hag who said her son had the plague?"

"Yes . . ."

"You have not let them go?"

"MORBLEU!" said Bibot, whose purple cheeks had suddenly become white
with fear.

"The cart contained the CI-DEVANT Comtesse de Tourney and her two
children, all of them traitors and condemned to death." "And their
driver?" muttered Bibot, as a superstitious shudder ran down his spine.

"SACRE TONNERRE," said the captain, "but it is feared that it was that
accursed Englishman himself--the Scarlet Pimpernel."




CHAPTER II DOVER: "THE FISHERMAN'S REST"



In the kitchen Sally was extremely busy--saucepans and frying-pans were
standing in rows on the gigantic hearth, the huge stock-pot stood in
a corner, and the jack turned with slow deliberation, and presented
alternately to the glow every side of a noble sirloin of beef. The two
little kitchen-maids bustled around, eager to help, hot and panting,
with cotton sleeves well tucked up above the dimpled elbows, and
giggling over some private jokes of their own, whenever Miss Sally's
back was turned for a moment. And old Jemima, stolid in temper and
solid in bulk, kept up a long and subdued grumble, while she stirred the
stock-pot methodically over the fire.

"What ho! Sally!" came in cheerful if none too melodious accents from
the coffee-room close by.

"Lud bless my soul!" exclaimed Sally, with a good-humoured laugh, "what
be they all wanting now, I wonder!"

"Beer, of course," grumbled Jemima, "you don't 'xpect Jimmy Pitkin to
'ave done with one tankard, do ye?"

"Mr. 'Arry, 'e looked uncommon thirsty too," simpered Martha, one of
the little kitchen-maids; and her beady black eyes twinkled as they met
those of her companion, whereupon both started on a round of short and
suppressed giggles.

Sally looked cross for a moment, and thoughtfully rubbed her hands
against her shapely hips; her palms were itching, evidently, to come in
contact with Martha's rosy cheeks--but inherent good-humour prevailed,
and with a pout and a shrug of the shoulders, she turned her attention
to the fried potatoes.

"What ho, Sally! hey, Sally!"

And a chorus of pewter mugs, tapped with impatient hands against the oak
tables of the coffee-room, accompanied the shouts for mine host's buxom
daughter.

"Sally!" shouted a more persistent voice, "are ye goin' to be all night
with that there beer?"

"I do think father might get the beer for them," muttered Sally,
as Jemima, stolidly and without further comment, took a couple of
foam-crowned jugs from the shelf, and began filling a number of pewter
tankards with some of that home-brewed ale for which "The Fisherman's
Rest" had been famous since that days of King Charles. "'E knows 'ow
busy we are in 'ere."

"Your father is too busy discussing politics with Mr. 'Empseed to worry
'isself about you and the kitchen," grumbled Jemima under her breath.

Sally had gone to the small mirror which hung in a corner of the
kitchen, and was hastily smoothing her hair and setting her frilled cap
at its most becoming angle over her dark curls; then she took up
the tankards by their handles, three in each strong, brown hand, and
laughing, grumbling, blushing, carried them through into the coffee
room.

There, there was certainly no sign of that bustle and activity which
kept four women busy and hot in the glowing kitchen beyond.

The coffee-room of "The Fisherman's Rest" is a show place now at the
beginning of the twentieth century. At the end of the eighteenth, in the
year of grace 1792, it had not yet gained the notoriety and importance
which a hundred additional years and the craze of the age have since
bestowed upon it. Yet it was an old place, even then, for the oak
rafters and beams were already black with age--as were the panelled
seats, with their tall backs, and the long polished tables between,
on which innumerable pewter tankards had left fantastic patterns of
many-sized rings. In the leaded window, high up, a row of pots of
scarlet geraniums and blue larkspur gave the bright note of colour
against the dull background of the oak.

That Mr. Jellyband, landlord of "The Fisherman's Reef" at Dover, was
a prosperous man, was of course clear to the most casual observer. The
pewter on the fine old dressers, the brass above the gigantic hearth,
shone like silver and gold--the red-tiled floor was as brilliant as the
scarlet geranium on the window sill--this meant that his servants were
good and plentiful, that the custom was constant, and of that order
which necessitated the keeping up of the coffee-room to a high standard
of elegance and order.

As Sally came in, laughing through her frowns, and displaying a row
of dazzling white teeth, she was greeted with shouts and chorus of
applause.

"Why, here's Sally! What ho, Sally! Hurrah for pretty Sally!"

"I thought you'd grown deaf in that kitchen of yours," muttered Jimmy
Pitkin, as he passed the back of his hand across his very dry lips.

"All ri'! all ri'!" laughed Sally, as she deposited the freshly-filled
tankards upon the tables, "why, what a 'urry to be sure! And is your
gran'mother a-dyin' an' you wantin' to see the pore soul afore she'm
gone! I never see'd such a mighty rushin'" A chorus of good-humoured
laughter greeted this witticism, which gave the company there present
food for many jokes, for some considerable time. Sally now seemed in
less of a hurry to get back to her pots and pans. A young man with
fair curly hair, and eager, bright blue eyes, was engaging most of her
attention and the whole of her time, whilst broad witticisms anent Jimmy
Pitkin's fictitious grandmother flew from mouth to mouth, mixed with
heavy puffs of pungent tobacco smoke.

Facing the hearth, his legs wide apart, a long clay pipe in his
mouth, stood mine host himself, worthy Mr. Jellyband, landlord of
"The Fisherman's Rest," as his father had before him, aye, and his
grandfather and great-grandfather too, for that matter. Portly in build,
jovial in countenance and somewhat bald of pate, Mr. Jellyband was
indeed a typical rural John Bull of those days--the days when our
prejudiced insularity was at its height, when to an Englishman, be he
lord, yeoman, or peasant, the whole of the continent of Europe was a den
of immorality and the rest of the world an unexploited land of savages
and cannibals.

There he stood, mine worthy host, firm and well set up on his limbs,
smoking his long churchwarden and caring nothing for nobody at home, and
despising everybody abroad. He wore the typical scarlet waistcoat, with
shiny brass buttons, the corduroy breeches, and grey worsted stockings
and smart buckled shoes, that characterised every self-respecting
innkeeper in Great Britain in these days--and while pretty, motherless
Sally had need of four pairs of brown hands to do all the work that
fell on her shapely shoulders, worthy Jellyband discussed the affairs of
nations with his most privileged guests.

The coffee-room indeed, lighted by two well-polished lamps, which hung
from the raftered ceiling, looked cheerful and cosy in the extreme.
Through the dense clouds of tobacco smoke that hung about in every
corner, the faces of Mr. Jellyband's customers appeared red and pleasant
to look at, and on good terms with themselves, their host and all the
world; from every side of the room loud guffaws accompanied pleasant,
if not highly intellectual, conversation--while Sally's repeated giggles
testified to the good use Mr. Harry Waite was making of the short time
she seemed inclined to spare him.

They were mostly fisher-folk who patronised Mr. Jellyband's coffee-room,
but fishermen are known to be very thirsty people; the salt which they
breathe in, when they are on the sea, accounts for their parched throats
when on shore, but "The Fisherman's Rest" was something more than a
rendezvous for these humble folk. The London and Dover coach started
from the hostel daily, and passengers who had come across the Channel,
and those who started for the "grand tour," all became acquainted with
Mr. Jellyband, his French wines and his home-brewed ales.

It was towards the close of September, 1792, and the weather which had
been brilliant and hot throughout the month had suddenly broken up; for
two days torrents of rain had deluged the south of England, doing its
level best to ruin what chances the apples and pears and late plums had
of becoming really fine, self-respecting fruit. Even now it was beating
against the leaded windows, and tumbling down the chimney, making the
cheerful wood fire sizzle in the hearth.

"Lud! did you ever see such a wet September, Mr. Jellyband?" asked Mr.
Hempseed.

He sat in one of the seats inside the hearth, did Mr. Hempseed, for he
was an authority and important personage not only at "The Fisherman's
Rest," where Mr. Jellyband always made a special selection of him as a
foil for political arguments, but throughout the neighborhood, where
his learning and notably his knowledge of the Scriptures was held in
the most profound awe and respect. With one hand buried in the capacious
pockets of his corduroys underneath his elaborately-worked, well-worn
smock, the other holding his long clay pipe, Mr. Hempseed sat there
looking dejectedly across the room at the rivulets of moisture which
trickled down the window panes.

"No," replied Mr. Jellyband, sententiously, "I dunno, Mr. 'Empseed, as I
ever did. An' I've been in these parts nigh on sixty years."

"Aye! you wouldn't rec'llect the first three years of them sixty, Mr.
Jellyband," quietly interposed Mr. Hempseed. "I dunno as I ever see'd an
infant take much note of the weather, leastways not in these parts, an'
_I_'ve lived 'ere nigh on seventy-five years, Mr. Jellyband."

The superiority of this wisdom was so incontestable that for the moment
Mr. Jellyband was not ready with his usual flow of argument.

"It do seem more like April than September, don't it?" continued Mr.
Hempseed, dolefully, as a shower of raindrops fell with a sizzle upon
the fire.

"Aye! that it do," assented the worth host, "but then what can you
'xpect, Mr. 'Empseed, I says, with sich a government as we've got?"

Mr. Hempseed shook his head with an infinity of wisdom, tempered
by deeply-rooted mistrust of the British climate and the British
Government.

"I don't 'xpect nothing, Mr. Jellyband," he said. "Pore folks like us is
of no account up there in Lunnon, I knows that, and it's not often as I
do complain. But when it comes to sich wet weather in September, and all
me fruit a-rottin' and a-dying' like the 'Guptian mother's first born,
and doin' no more good than they did, pore dears, save a lot more Jews,
pedlars and sich, with their oranges and sich like foreign ungodly
fruit, which nobody'd buy if English apples and pears was nicely
swelled. As the Scriptures say--"

"That's quite right, Mr. 'Empseed," retorted Jellyband, "and as I says,
what can you 'xpect? There's all them Frenchy devils over the Channel
yonder a-murderin' their king and nobility, and Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox
and Mr. Burke a-fightin' and a-wranglin' between them, if we Englishmen
should 'low them to go on in their ungodly way. 'Let 'em murder!' says
Mr. Pitt. 'Stop 'em!' says Mr. Burke."

"And let 'em murder, says I, and be demmed to 'em." said Mr. Hempseed,
emphatically, for he had but little liking for his friend Jellyband's
political arguments, wherein he always got out of his depth, and had but
little chance for displaying those pearls of wisdom which had earned for
him so high a reputation in the neighbourhood and so many free tankards
of ale at "The Fisherman's Rest."

"Let 'em murder," he repeated again, "but don't lets 'ave sich rain in
September, for that is agin the law and the Scriptures which says--"

"Lud! Mr. 'Arry, 'ow you made me jump!"

It was unfortunate for Sally and her flirtation that this remark of
hers should have occurred at the precise moment when Mr. Hempseed
was collecting his breath, in order to deliver himself one of those
Scriptural utterances which made him famous, for it brought down upon
her pretty head the full flood of her father's wrath.

"Now then, Sally, me girl, now then!" he said, trying to force a
frown upon his good-humoured face, "stop that fooling with them young
jackanapes and get on with the work."

"The work's gettin' on all ri', father."

But Mr. Jellyband was peremptory. He had other views for his buxom
daughter, his only child, who would in God's good time become the owner
of "The Fisherman's Rest," than to see her married to one of these young
fellows who earned but a precarious livelihood with their net.

"Did ye hear me speak, me girl?" he said in that quiet tone, which no
one inside the inn dared to disobey. "Get on with my Lord Tony's supper,
for, if it ain't the best we can do, and 'e not satisfied, see what
you'll get, that's all."

Reluctantly Sally obeyed.

"Is you 'xpecting special guests then to-night, Mr. Jellyband?" asked
Jimmy Pitkin, in a loyal attempt to divert his host's attention from the
circumstances connected with Sally's exit from the room.

"Aye! that I be," replied Jellyband, "friends of my Lord Tony hisself.
Dukes and duchesses from over the water yonder, whom the young lord and
his friend, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, and other young noblemen have helped
out of the clutches of them murderin' devils."

But this was too much for Mr. Hempseed's querulous philosophy.

"Lud!" he said, "what do they do that for, I wonder? I don't 'old not
with interferin' in other folks' ways. As the Scriptures say--"

"Maybe, Mr. 'Empseed," interrupted Jellyband, with biting sarcasm, "as
you're a personal friend of Mr. Pitt, and as you says along with Mr.
Fox: 'Let 'em murder!' says you."

"Pardon me, Mr. Jellyband," feebly protested Mr. Hempseed, "I dunno as I
ever did."

But Mr. Jellyband had at last succeeded in getting upon his favourite
hobby-horse, and had no intention of dismounting in any hurry.

"Or maybe you've made friends with some of them French chaps 'oo they
do say have come over here o' purpose to make us Englishmen agree with
their murderin' ways."

"I dunno what you mean, Mr. Jellyband," suggested Mr. Hempseed, "all I
know is--"

"All _I_ know is," loudly asserted mine host, "that there was my friend
Peppercorn, 'oo owns the 'Blue-Faced Boar,' an' as true and loyal an
Englishman as you'd see in the land. And now look at 'im!--'E made
friends with some o' them frog-eaters, 'obnobbed with them just as if
they was Englishmen, and not just a lot of immoral, Godforsaking furrin'
spies. Well! and what happened? Peppercorn 'e now ups and talks of
revolutions, and liberty, and down with the aristocrats, just like Mr.
'Empseed over 'ere!"

"Pardon me, Mr. Jellyband," again interposed Mr. Hempseed feebly, "I
dunno as I ever did--"

Mr. Jellyband had appealed to the company in general, who were
listening awe-struck and open-mouthed at the recital of Mr. Peppercorn's
defalcations. At one table two customers--gentlemen apparently by their
clothes--had pushed aside their half-finished game of dominoes, and had
been listening for some time, and evidently with much amusement at
Mr. Jellyband's international opinions. One of them now, with a quiet,
sarcastic smile still lurking round the corners of his mobile mouth,
turned towards the centre of the room where Mr. Jellyband was standing.

"You seem to think, mine honest friend," he said quietly, "that these
Frenchmen,--spies I think you called them--are mighty clever fellows
to have made mincemeat so to speak of your friend Mr. Peppercorn's
opinions. How did they accomplish that now, think you?"

"Lud! sir, I suppose they talked 'im over. Those Frenchies, I've 'eard
it said, 'ave got the gift of gab--and Mr. 'Empseed 'ere will tell you
'ow it is that they just twist some people round their little finger
like."

"Indeed, and is that so, Mr. Hempseed?" inquired the stranger politely.

"Nay, sir!" replied Mr. Hempseed, much irritated, "I dunno as I can give
you the information you require."

"Faith, then," said the stranger, "let us hope, my worthy host, that
these clever spies will not succeed in upsetting your extremely loyal
opinions."

But this was too much for Mr. Jellyband's pleasant equanimity. He burst
into an uproarious fit of laughter, which was soon echoed by those who
happened to be in his debt.

"Hahaha! hohoho! hehehe!" He laughed in every key, did my worthy host,
and laughed until his sided ached, and his eyes streamed. "At me!
hark at that! Did ye 'ear 'im say that they'd be upsettin' my
opinions?--Eh?--Lud love you, sir, but you do say some queer things."

"Well, Mr. Jellyband," said Mr. Hempseed, sententiously, "you know what
the Scriptures say: 'Let 'im 'oo stands take 'eed lest 'e fall.'"

"But then hark'ee Mr. 'Empseed," retorted Jellyband, still holding his
sides with laughter, "the Scriptures didn't know me. Why, I wouldn't so
much as drink a glass of ale with one o' them murderin' Frenchmen, and
nothin' 'd make me change my opinions. Why! I've 'eard it said that them
frog-eaters can't even speak the King's English, so, of course, if any
of 'em tried to speak their God-forsaken lingo to me, why, I should spot
them directly, see!--and forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes."

"Aye! my honest friend," assented the stranger cheerfully, "I see that
you are much too sharp, and a match for any twenty Frenchmen, and here's
to your very good health, my worthy host, if you'll do me the honour to
finish this bottle of mine with me."

"I am sure you're very polite, sir," said Mr. Jellyband, wiping his eyes
which were still streaming with the abundance of his laughter, "and I
don't mind if I do."

The stranger poured out a couple of tankards full of wine, and having
offered one to mine host, he took the other himself.

"Loyal Englishmen as we all are," he said, whilst the same humorous
smile played round the corners of his thin lips--"loyal as we are, we
must admit that this at least is one good thing which comes to us from
France."

"Aye! we'll none of us deny that, sir," assented mine host.

"And here's to the best landlord in England, our worthy host, Mr.
Jellyband," said the stranger in a loud tone of voice.

"Hi, hip, hurrah!" retorted the whole company present. Then there was a
loud clapping of hands, and mugs and tankards made a rattling music
upon the tables to the accompaniment of loud laughter at nothing in
particular, and of Mr. Jellyband's muttered exclamations:

"Just fancy ME bein' talked over by any God-forsaken
furriner!--What?--Lud love you, sir, but you do say some queer things."

To which obvious fact the stranger heartily assented. It was certainly
a preposterous suggestion that anyone could ever upset Mr. Jellyband's
firmly-rooted opinions anent the utter worthlessness of the inhabitants
of the whole continent of Europe.




CHAPTER III THE REFUGEES



Feeling in every part of England certainly ran very high at this time
against the French and their doings. Smugglers and legitimate traders
between the French and the English coasts brought snatches of news from
over the water, which made every honest Englishman's blood boil, and
made him long to have "a good go" at those murderers, who had imprisoned
their king and all his family, subjected the queen and the royal
children to every species of indignity, and were even now loudly
demanding the blood of the whole Bourbon family and of every one of its
adherents.

The execution of the Princesse de Lamballe, Marie Antoinette's young
and charming friend, had filled every one in England with unspeakable
horror, the daily execution of scores of royalists of good family, whose
only sin was their aristocratic name, seemed to cry for vengeance to the
whole of civilised Europe.

Yet, with all that, no one dared to interfere. Burke had exhausted all
his eloquence in trying to induce the British Government to fight the
revolutionary government of France, but Mr. Pitt, with characteristic
prudence, did not feel that this country was fit yet to embark
on another arduous and costly war. It was for Austria to take the
initiative; Austria, whose fairest daughter was even now a dethroned
queen, imprisoned and insulted by a howling mob; surely 'twas not--so
argued Mr. Fox--for the whole of England to take up arms, because one
set of Frenchmen chose to murder another.

As for Mr. Jellyband and his fellow John Bulls, though they looked
upon all foreigners with withering contempt, they were royalist and
anti-revolutionists to a man, and at this present moment were furious
with Pitt for his caution and moderation, although they naturally
understood nothing of the diplomatic reasons which guided that great
man's policy.

By now Sally came running back, very excited and very eager. The joyous
company in the coffee-room had heard nothing of the noise outside, but
she had spied a dripping horse and rider who had stopped at the door
of "The Fisherman's Rest," and while the stable boy ran forward to take
charge of the horse, pretty Miss Sally went to the front door to greet
the welcome visitor. "I think I see'd my Lord Antony's horse out in the
yard, father," she said, as she ran across the coffee-room.

But already the door had been thrown open from outside, and the next
moment an arm, covered in drab cloth and dripping with the heavy rain,
was round pretty Sally's waist, while a hearty voice echoed along the
polished rafters of the coffee-room.

"Aye, and bless your brown eyes for being so sharp, my pretty Sally,"
said the man who had just entered, whilst worthy Mr. Jellyband came
bustling forward, eager, alert and fussy, as became the advent of one of
the most favoured guests of his hostel.

"Lud, I protest, Sally," added Lord Antony, as he deposited a kiss on
Miss Sally's blooming cheeks, "but you are growing prettier and prettier
every time I see you--and my honest friend, Jellyband here, have hard
work to keep the fellows off that slim waist of yours. What say you, Mr.
Waite?"

Mr. Waite--torn between his respect for my lord and his dislike of that
particular type of joke--only replied with a doubtful grunt.

Lord Antony Dewhurst, one of the sons of the Duke of Exeter, was in
those days a very perfect type of a young English gentlemen--tall, well
set-up, broad of shoulders and merry of face, his laughter rang loudly
wherever he went. A good sportsman, a lively companion, a courteous,
well-bred man of the world, with not too much brains to spoil his
temper, he was a universal favourite in London drawing-rooms or in the
coffee-rooms of village inns. At "The Fisherman's Rest" everyone knew
him--for he was fond of a trip across to France, and always spent a
night under worthy Mr. Jellyband's roof on his way there or back.

He nodded to Waite, Pitkin and the others as he at last released Sally's
waist, and crossed over to the hearth to warm and dry himself: as he did
so, he cast a quick, somewhat suspicious glance at the two strangers,
who had quietly resumed their game of dominoes, and for a moment a look
of deep earnestness, even of anxiety, clouded his jovial young face.

But only for a moment; the next he turned to Mr. Hempseed, who was
respectfully touching his forelock.

"Well, Mr. Hempseed, and how is the fruit?"

"Badly, my lord, badly," replied Mr. Hempseed, dolefully, "but what
can you 'xpect with this 'ere government favourin' them rascals over in
France, who would murder their king and all their nobility."

"Odd's life!" retorted Lord Antony; "so they would, honest Hempseed,--at
least those they can get hold of, worse luck! But we have got some
friends coming here to-night, who at any rate have evaded their
clutches."

It almost seemed, when the young man said these words, as if he threw a
defiant look towards the quiet strangers in the corner.

"Thanks to you, my lord, and to your friends, so I've heard it said,"
said Mr. Jellyband.

But in a moment Lord Antony's hand fell warningly on mine host's arm.

"Hush!" he said peremptorily, and instinctively once again looked
towards the strangers.

"Oh! Lud love you, they are all right, my lord," retorted Jellyband;
"don't you be afraid. I wouldn't have spoken, only I knew we were among
friends. That gentleman over there is as true and loyal a subject of
King George as you are yourself, my lord saving your presence. He is
but lately arrived in Dover, and is setting down in business in these
parts."

"In business? Faith, then, it must be as an undertaker, for I vow I
never beheld a more rueful countenance."

"Nay, my lord, I believe that the gentleman is a widower, which no doubt
would account for the melancholy of his bearing--but he is a friend,
nevertheless, I'll vouch for that-and you will own, my lord, that who
should judge of a face better than the landlord of a popular inn--"

"Oh, that's all right, then, if we are among friends," said Lord Antony,
who evidently did not care to discuss the subject with his host. "But,
tell me, you have no one else staying here, have you?"

"No one, my lord, and no one coming, either, leastways--"

"Leastways?"

"No one your lordship would object to, I know."

"Who is it?"

"Well, my lord, Sir Percy Blakeney and his lady will be here presently,
but they ain't a-goin' to stay--"

"Lady Blakeney?" queried Lord Antony, in some astonishment.

"Aye, my lord. Sir Percy's skipper was here just now. He says that my
lady's brother is crossing over to France to-day in the DAY DREAM, which
is Sir Percy's yacht, and Sir Percy and my lady will come with him as
far as here to see the last of him. It don't put you out, do it, my
lord?"

"No, no, it doesn't put me out, friend; nothing will put me out, unless
that supper is not the very best which Miss Sally can cook, and which
has ever been served in 'The Fisherman's Rest.'"

"You need have no fear of that, my lord," said Sally, who all this while
had been busy setting the table for supper. And very gay and inviting
it looked, with a large bunch of brilliantly coloured dahlias in the
centre, and the bright pewter goblets and blue china about.

"How many shall I lay for, my lord?"

"Five places, pretty Sally, but let the supper be enough for ten at
least--our friends will be tired, and, I hope, hungry. As for me, I vow
I could demolish a baron of beef to-night."

"Here they are, I do believe," said Sally excitedly, as a distant
clatter of horses and wheels could now be distinctly heard, drawing
rapidly nearer.

There was a general commotion in the coffee-room. Everyone was curious
to see my Lord Antony's swell friends from over the water. Miss Sally
cast one or two quick glances at the little bit of mirror which hung
on the wall, and worthy Mr. Jellyband bustled out in order to give
the first welcome himself to his distinguished guests. Only the two
strangers in the corner did not participate in the general excitement.
They were calmly finishing their game of dominoes, and did not even look
once towards the door.

"Straight ahead, Comtesse, the door on your right," said a pleasant
voice outside.

"Aye! there they are, all right enough." said Lord Antony, joyfully;
"off with you, my pretty Sally, and see how quick you can dish up the
soup."

The door was thrown wide open, and, preceded by Mr. Jellyband, who was
profuse in his bows and welcomes, a party of four--two ladies and two
gentlemen--entered the coffee-room.

"Welcome! Welcome to old England!" said Lord Antony, effusively, as he
came eagerly forward with both hands outstretched towards the newcomers.

"Ah, you are Lord Antony Dewhurst, I think," said one of the ladies,
speaking with a strong foreign accent.

"At your service, Madame," he replied, as he ceremoniously kissed the
hands of both the ladies, then turned to the men and shook them both
warmly by the hand.

Sally was already helping the ladies to take off their traveling cloaks,
and both turned, with a shiver, towards the brightly-blazing hearth.

There was a general movement among the company in the coffee-room. Sally
had bustled off to her kitchen whilst Jellyband, still profuse with his
respectful salutations, arranged one or two chairs around the fire. Mr.
Hempseed, touching his forelock, was quietly vacating the seat in
the hearth. Everyone was staring curiously, yet deferentially, at the
foreigners.

"Ah, Messieurs! what can I say?" said the elder of the two ladies, as
she stretched a pair of fine, aristocratic hands to the warmth of the
blaze, and looked with unspeakable gratitude first at Lord Antony, then
at one of the young men who had accompanied her party, and who was busy
divesting himself of his heavy, caped coat.

"Only that you are glad to be in England, Comtesse," replied Lord
Antony, "and that you have not suffered too much from your trying
voyage."

"Indeed, indeed, we are glad to be in England," she said, while her
eyes filled with tears, "and we have already forgotten all that we have
suffered."

Her voice was musical and low, and there was a great deal of calm
dignity and of many sufferings nobly endured marked in the handsome,
aristocratic face, with its wealth of snowy-white hair dressed high
above the forehead, after the fashion of the times.

"I hope my friend, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, proved an entertaining
travelling companion, madame?"

"Ah, indeed, Sir Andrew was kindness itself. How could my children and I
ever show enough gratitude to you all, Messieurs?"

Her companion, a dainty, girlish figure, childlike and pathetic in its
look of fatigue and of sorrow, had said nothing as yet, but her eyes,
large, brown, and full of tears, looked up from the fire and sought
those of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, who had drawn near to the hearth and to
her; then, as they met his, which were fixed with unconcealed admiration
upon the sweet face before him, a thought of warmer colour rushed up to
her pale cheeks.

"So this is England," she said, as she looked round with childlike
curiosity at the great hearth, the oak rafters, and the yokels with
their elaborate smocks and jovial, rubicund, British countenances.

"A bit of it, Mademoiselle," replied Sir Andrew, smiling, "but all of
it, at your service."

The young girl blushed again, but this time a bright smile, fleet and
sweet, illumined her dainty face. She said nothing, and Sir Andrew too
was silent, yet those two young people understood one another, as young
people have a way of doing all the world over, and have done since the
world began.

"But, I say, supper!" here broke in Lord Antony's jovial voice, "supper,
honest Jellyband. Where is that pretty wench of yours and the dish of
soup? Zooks, man, while you stand there gaping at the ladies, they will
faint with hunger."

"One moment! one moment, my lord," said Jellyband, as he threw open the
door that led to the kitchen and shouted lustily: "Sally! Hey, Sally
there, are ye ready, my girl?"

Sally was ready, and the next moment she appeared in the doorway
carrying a gigantic tureen, from which rose a cloud of steam and an
abundance of savoury odour.

"Odd's life, supper at last!" ejaculated Lord Antony, merrily, as he
gallantly offered his arm to the Comtesse.

"May I have the honour?" he added ceremoniously, as he led her towards
the supper table.

There was a general bustle in the coffee-room: Mr. Hempseed and most of
the yokels and fisher-folk had gone to make way for "the quality," and
to finish smoking their pipes elsewhere. Only the two strangers stayed
on, quietly and unconcernedly playing their game of dominoes and sipping
their wine; whilst at another table Harry Waite, who was fast losing his
temper, watched pretty Sally bustling round the table.

She looked a very dainty picture of English rural life, and no wonder
that the susceptible young Frenchman could scarce take his eyes off her
pretty face. The Vicomte de Tournay was scarce nineteen, a beardless
boy, on whom terrible tragedies which were being enacted in his own
country had made but little impression. He was elegantly and even
foppishly dressed, and once safely landed in England he was evidently
ready to forget the horrors of the Revolution in the delights of English
life.

"Pardi, if zis is England," he said as he continued to ogle Sally with
marked satisfaction, "I am of it satisfied."

It would be impossible at this point to record the exact exclamation
which escaped through Mr. Harry Waite's clenched teeth. Only respect
for "the quality," and notably for my Lord Antony, kept his marked
disapproval of the young foreigner in check.

"Nay, but this IS England, you abandoned young reprobate," interposed
Lord Antony with a laugh, "and do not, I pray, bring your loose foreign
ways into this most moral country."

Lord Antony had already sat down at the head of the table with the
Comtesse on his right. Jellyband was bustling round, filling glasses and
putting chairs straight. Sally waited, ready to hand round the soup.
Mr. Harry Waite's friends had at last succeeded in taking him out of
the room, for his temper was growing more and more violent under the
Vicomte's obvious admiration for Sally.

"Suzanne," came in stern, commanding accents from the rigid Comtesse.

Suzanne blushed again; she had lost count of time and of place whilst
she had stood beside the fire, allowing the handsome young Englishman's
eyes to dwell upon her sweet face, and his hand, as if unconsciously,
to rest upon hers. Her mother's voice brought her back to reality once
more, and with a submissive "Yes, Mama," she took her place at the
supper table.




CHAPTER IV THE LEAGUE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL



They all looked a merry, even a happy party, as they sat round the
table; Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst, two typical
good-looking, well-born and well-bred Englishmen of that year of grace
1792, and the aristocratic French comtesse with her two children, who
had just escaped from such dire perils, and found a safe retreat at last
on the shores of protecting England.

In the corner the two strangers had apparently finished their game; one
of them arose, and standing with his back to the merry company at the
table, he adjusted with much with much deliberation his large triple
caped coat. As he did so, he gave one quick glance all around him.
Everyone was busy laughing and chatting, and he murmured the words "All
safe!": his companion then, with the alertness borne of long practice,
slipped on to his knees in a moment, and the next had crept noiselessly
under the oak bench. The stranger then, with a loud "Good-night,"
quietly walked out of the coffee-room.

Not one of those at the supper table had noticed this curious and silent
Mammanoeuvre, but when the stranger finally closed the door of the
coffee-room behind him, they all instinctively sighed a sigh of relief.

"Alone, at last!" said Lord Antony, jovially.

Then the young Vicomte de Tournay rose, glass in hand, and with the
graceful affection peculiar to the times, he raised it aloft, and said
in broken English,--

"To His Majesty George Three of England. God bless him for his
hospitality to us all, poor exiles from France."

"His Majesty the King!" echoed Lord Antony and Sir Andrew as they drank
loyally to the toast.

"To His Majesty King Louis of France," added Sir Andrew, with solemnity.
"May God protect him, and give him victory over his enemies."

Everyone rose and drank this toast in silence. The fate of the
unfortunate King of France, then a prisoner of his own people, seemed to
cast a gloom even over Mr. Jellyband's pleasant countenance.

"And to M. le Comte de Tournay de Basserive," said Lord Antony, merrily.
"May we welcome him in England before many days are over."

"Ah, Monsieur," said the Comtesse, as with a slightly trembling hand she
conveyed her glass to her lips, "I scarcely dare to hope."

But already Lord Antony had served out the soup, and for the next few
moments all conversation ceased, while Jellyband and Sally handed round
the plates and everyone began to eat.

"Faith, Madame!" said Lord Antony, after a while, "mine was no idle
toast; seeing yourself, Mademoiselle Suzanne and my friend the Vicomte
safely in England now, surely you must feel reasurred as to the fate of
Monsieur le Comte."

"Ah, Monsieur," replied the Comtesse, with a heavy sigh, "I trust in
God--I can but pray--and hope . . ."

"Aye, Madame!" here interposed Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, "trust in God by all
means, but believe also a little in your English friends, who have sworn
to bring the Count safely across the Channel, even as they have brought
you to-day."

"Indeed, indeed, Monsieur," she replied, "I have the fullest confidence
in you and your friends. Your fame, I assure you, has spread throughout
the whole of France. The way some of my own friends have escaped from
the clutches of that awful revolutionary tribunal was nothing short of a
miracle--and all done by you and your friends--"

"We were but the hands, Madame la Comtesse . . ."

"But my husband, Monsieur," said the Comtesse, whilst unshed tears
seemed to veil her voice, "he is in such deadly peril--I would never
have left him, only . . . there were my children . . . I was torn between
my duty to him, and to them. They refused to go without me . . . and you
and your friends assured me so solemnly that my husband would be safe.
But, oh! now that I am here--amongst you all--in this beautiful, free
England--I think of him, flying for his life, hunted like a poor beast
. . . in such peril . . . Ah! I should not have left him . . . I should not
have left him! . . ."

The poor woman had completely broken down; fatigue, sorrow and emotion
had overmastered her rigid, aristocratic bearing. She was crying gently
to herself, whilst Suzanne ran up to her and tried to kiss away her
tears.

Lord Antony and Sir Andrew had said nothing to interrupt the Comtesse
whilst she was speaking. There was no doubt that they felt deeply for
her; their very silence testified to that--but in every century, and
ever since England has been what it is, an Englishman has always felt
somewhat ashamed of his own emotion and of his own sympathy. And so
the two young men said nothing, and busied themselves in trying to hide
their feelings, only succeeding in looking immeasurably sheepish.

"As for me, Monsieur," said Suzanne, suddenly, as she looked through a
wealth of brown curls across at Sir Andrew, "I trust you absolutely, and
I KNOW that you will bring my dear father safely to England, just as you
brought us to-day."

This was said with so much confidence, such unuttered hope and belief,
that it seemed as if by magic to dry the mother's eyes, and to bring a
smile upon everybody's lips.

"Nay! You shame me, Mademoiselle," replied Sir Andrew; "though my life
is at your service, I have been but a humble tool in the hands of our
great leader, who organised and effected your escape."

He had spoken with so much warmth and vehemence that Suzanne's eyes
fastened upon him in undisguised wonder.

"Your leader, Monsieur?" said the Comtesse, eagerly. "Ah! of course,
you must have a leader. And I did not think of that before! But tell me
where is he? I must go to him at once, and I and my children must throw
ourselves at his feet, and thank him for all that he has done for us."

"Alas, Madame!" said Lord Antony, "that is impossible."

"Impossible?--Why?"

"Because the Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his identity is
only known under the solemn oath of secrecy to his immediate followers."

"The Scarlet Pimpernel?" said Suzanne, with a merry laugh. "Why! what a
droll name! What is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur?"

She looked at Sir Andrew with eager curiosity. The young man's face
had become almost transfigured. His eyes shone with enthusiasm;
hero-worship, love, admiration for his leader seemed literally to glow
upon his face. "The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle," he said at last
"is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the
name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the
world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he
has set himself to do."

"Ah, yes," here interposed the young Vicomte, "I have heard speak of
this Scarlet Pimpernel. A little flower--red?--yes! They say in
Paris that every time a royalist escapes to England that devil,
Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, receives a paper with that
little flower designated in red upon it. . . . Yes?"

"Yes, that is so," assented Lord Antony.

"Then he will have received one such paper to-day?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Oh! I wonder what he will say!" said Suzanne, merrily. "I have heard
that the picture of that little red flower is the only thing that
frightens him."

"Faith, then," said Sir Andrew, "he will have many more opportunities of
studying the shape of that small scarlet flower."

"Ah, monsieur," sighed the Comtesse, "it all sounds like a romance, and
I cannot understand it all."

"Why should you try, Madame?"

"But, tell me, why should your leader--why should you all--spend your
money and risk your lives--for it is your lives you risk, Messieurs,
when you set foot in France--and all for us French men and women, who
are nothing to you?"

"Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport," asserted Lord Antony, with his
jovial, loud and pleasant voice; "we are a nation of sportsmen, you
know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between the
teeth of the hound."

"Ah, no, no, not sport only, Monsieur . . . you have a more noble motive,
I am sure for the good work you do."

"Faith, Madame, I would like you to find it then . . . as for me, I
vow, I love the game, for this is the finest sport I have yet
encountered.--Hair-breath escapes . . . the devil's own risks!--Tally
ho!--and away we go!"

But the Comtesse shook her head, still incredulously. To her it seemed
preposterous that these young men and their great leader, all of them
rich, probably wellborn, and young, should for no other motive than
sport, run the terrible risks, which she knew they were constantly
doing. Their nationality, once they had set foot in France, would be
no safeguard to them. Anyone found harbouring or assisting suspected
royalists would be ruthlessly condemned and summarily executed, whatever
his nationality might be. And this band of young Englishmen had, to her
own knowledge, bearded the implacable and bloodthirsty tribunal of the
Revolution, within the very walls of Paris itself, and had snatched away
condemned victims, almost from the very foot of the guillotine. With a
shudder, she recalled the events of the last few days, her escape from
Paris with her two children, all three of them hidden beneath the hood
of a rickety cart, and lying amidst a heap of turnips and cabbages, not
daring to breathe, whilst the mob howled, "A la lanterne les aristos!"
at the awful West Barricade.

It had all occurred in such a miraculous way; she and her husband had
understood that they had been placed on the list of "suspected persons,"
which meant that their trial and death were but a matter of days--of
hours, perhaps.

Then came the hope of salvation; the mysterious epistle, signed with
the enigmatical scarlet device; the clear, peremptory directions; the
parting from the Comte de Tournay, which had torn the poor wife's heart
in two; the hope of reunion; the flight with her two children; the
covered cart; that awful hag driving it, who looked like some horrible
evil demon, with the ghastly trophy on her whip handle!

The Comtesse looked round at the quaint, old-fashioned English inn, the
peace of this land of civil and religious liberty, and she closed her
eyes to shut out the haunting vision of that West Barricade, and of the
mob retreating panic-stricken when the old hag spoke of the plague.

Every moment under that cart she expected recognition, arrest, herself
and her children tried and condemned, and these young Englishmen, under
the guidance of their brave and mysterious leader, had risked their
lives to save them all, as they had already saved scores of other
innocent people.

And all only for sport? Impossible! Suzanne's eyes as she sought those
of Sir Andrew plainly told him that she thought that HE at any rate
rescued his fellowmen from terrible and unmerited death, through a
higher and nobler motive than his friend would have her believe.

"How many are there in your brave league, Monsieur?" she asked timidly.

"Twenty all told, Mademoiselle," he replied, "one to command, and
nineteen to obey. All of us Englishmen, and all pledged to the same
cause--to obey our leader and to rescue the innocent."

"May God protect you all, Messieurs," said the Comtesse, fervently.

"He had done that so far, Madame."

"It is wonderful to me, wonderful!--That you should all be so brave, so
devoted to your fellowmen--yet you are English!--and in France treachery
is rife--all in the name of liberty and fraternity."

"The women even, in France, have been more bitter against us aristocrats
than the men," said the Vicomte, with a sigh.

"Ah, yes," added the Comtesse, while a look of haughty disdain and
intense bitterness shot through her melancholy eyes, "There was that
woman, Marguerite St. Just for instance. She denounced the Marquis de
St. Cyr and all his family to the awful tribunal of the Terror."

"Marguerite St. Just?" said Lord Antony, as he shot a quick and
apprehensive glance across at Sir Andrew.

"Marguerite St. Just?--Surely . . ."

"Yes!" replied the Comtesse, "surely you know her. She was a leading
actress of the Comedie Francaise, and she married an Englishman lately.
You must know her--"

"Know her?" said Lord Antony. "Know Lady Blakeney--the most fashionable
woman in London--the wife of the richest man in England? Of course, we
all know Lady Blakeney."

"She was a school-fellow of mine at the convent in Paris," interposed
Suzanne, "and we came over to England together to learn your language.
I was very fond of Marguerite, and I cannot believe that she ever did
anything so wicked."

"It certainly seems incredible," said Sir Andrew. "You say that she
actually denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr? Why should she have done such
a thing? Surely there must be some mistake--"

"No mistake is possible, Monsieur," rejoined the Comtesse, coldly.
"Marguerite St. Just's brother is a noted republican. There was some
talk of a family feud between him and my cousin, the Marquis de St. Cyr.
The St. Justs' are quite plebeian, and the republican government employs
many spies. I assure you there is no mistake. . . . You had not heard
this story?"

"Faith, Madame, I did hear some vague rumours of it, but in England no
one would credit it. . . . Sir Percy Blakeney, her husband, is a very
wealthy man, of high social position, the intimate friend of the Prince
of Wales . . . and Lady Blakeney leads both fashion and society in
London."

"That may be, Monsieur, and we shall, of course, lead a very quiet
life in England, but I pray god that while I remain in this beautiful
country, I may never meet Marguerite St. Just."

The proverbial wet-blanket seemed to have fallen over the merry little
company gathered round the table. Suzanne looked sad and silent; Sir
Andrew fidgeted uneasily with his fork, whilst the Comtesse, encased
in the plate-armour of her aristocratic prejudices, sat, rigid and
unbending, in her straight-backed chair. As for Lord Antony, he looked
extremely uncomfortable, and glanced once or twice apprehensively
towards Jellyband, who looked just as uncomfortable as himself.

"At what time do you expect Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney?" he contrived
to whisper unobserved, to mine host.

"Any moment, my lord," whispered Jellyband in reply.

Even as he spoke, a distant clatter was heard of an approaching coach;
louder and louder it grew, one or two shouts became distinguishable,
then the rattle of horses' hoofs on the uneven cobble stones, and the
next moment a stable boy had thrown open the coffee-room door and rushed
in excitedly.

"Sir Percy Blakeney and my lady," he shouted at the top of his voice,
"they're just arriving."

And with more shouting, jingling of harness, and iron hoofs upon the
stones, a magnificent coach, drawn by four superb bays, had halted
outside the porch of "The Fisherman's Rest."




CHAPTER V MARGUERITE



In a moment the pleasant oak-raftered coffee-room of the inn became the
scene of hopeless confusion and discomfort. At the first announcement
made by the stable boy, Lord Antony, with a fashionable oath, had jumped
up from his seat and was now giving many and confused directions to poor
bewildered Jellyband, who seemed at his wits' end what to do.

"For goodness' sake, man," admonished his lordship, "try to keep
Lady Blakeney talking outside for a moment while the ladies withdraw.
Zounds!" he added, with another more emphatic oath, "this is most
unfortunate."

"Quick Sally! the candles!" shouted Jellyband, as hopping about from
one leg to another, he ran hither and thither, adding to the general
discomfort of everybody.

The Comtesse, too, had risen to her feet: rigid and erect, trying to
hide her excitement beneath more becoming SANG-FROID, she repeated
mechanically,--

"I will not see her!--I will not see her!"

Outside, the excitement attendant upon the arrival of very important
guests grew apace.

"Good-day, Sir Percy!--Good-day to your ladyship! Your servant, Sir
Percy!"--was heard in one long, continued chorus, with alternate more
feeble tones of--"Remember the poor blind man! of your charity, lady and
gentleman!"

Then suddenly a singularly sweet voice was heard through all the din.

"Let the poor man be--and give him some supper at my expense."

The voice was low and musical, with a slight sing-song in it, and
a faint SOUPCON of foreign intonation in the pronunciation of the
consonants.

Everyone in the coffee-room heard it and paused instinctively, listening
to it for a moment. Sally was holding the candles by the opposite door,
which led to the bedrooms upstairs, and the Comtesse was in the act of
beating a hasty retreat before that enemy who owned such a sweet musical
voice; Suzanne reluctantly was preparing to follow her mother, while
casting regretful glances towards the door, where she hoped still to see
her dearly-beloved, erstwhile school-fellow.

Then Jellyband threw open the door, still stupidly and blindly hoping to
avert the catastrophe, which he felt was in the air, and the same low,
musical voice said, with a merry laugh and mock consternation,--

"B-r-r-r-r! I am as wet as a herring! DIEU! has anyone ever seen such a
contemptible climate?"

"Suzanne, come with me at once--I wish it," said the Comtesse,
peremptorily.

"Oh! Mama!" pleaded Suzanne.

"My lady . . . er . . . h'm! . . . my lady! . . ." came in feeble accents
from Jellyband, who stood clumsily trying to bar the way.

"PARDIEU, my good man," said Lady Blakeney, with some impatience, "what
are you standing in my way for, dancing about like a turkey with a sore
foot? Let me get to the fire, I am perished with the cold."

And the next moment Lady Blakeney, gently pushing mine host on one side,
had swept into the coffee-room.

There are many portraits and miniatures extant of Marguerite St.
Just--Lady Blakeney as she was then--but it is doubtful if any of these
really do her singular beauty justice. Tall, above the average, with
magnificent presence and regal figure, it is small wonder that even the
Comtesse paused for a moment in involuntary admiration before turning
her back on so fascinating an apparition.

Marguerite Blakeney was then scarcely five-and-twenty, and her beauty
was at its most dazzling stage. The large hat, with its undulating and
waving plumes, threw a soft shadow across the classic brow with the
auerole of auburn hair--free at the moment from any powder; the sweet,
almost childlike mouth, the straight chiselled nose, round chin, and
delicate throat, all seemed set off by the picturesque costume of the
period. The rich blue velvet robe moulded in its every line the graceful
contour of the figure, whilst one tiny hand held, with a dignity all
its own, the tall stick adorned with a large bunch of ribbons which
fashionable ladies of the period had taken to carrying recently.

With a quick glance all around the room, Marguerite Blakeney had taken
stock of every one there. She nodded pleasantly to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes,
whilst extending a hand to Lord Antony.

"Hello! my Lord Tony, why--what are YOU doing here in Dover?" she said
merrily.

Then, without waiting for a reply, she turned and faced the Comtesse and
Suzanne. Her whole face lighted up with additional brightness, as she
stretched out both arms towards the young girl.

"Why! if that isn't my little Suzanne over there. PARDIEU, little
citizeness, how came you to be in England? And Madame too?"

She went up effusive to them both, with not a single touch of
embarrassment in her manner or in her smile. Lord Tony and Sir Andrew
watched the little scene with eager apprehension. English though they
were, they had often been in France, and had mixed sufficiently with the
French to realise the unbending hauteur, the bitter hatred with which
the old NOBLESSE of France viewed all those who had helped to contribute
to their downfall. Armand St. Just, the brother of beautiful Lady
Blakeney--though known to hold moderate and conciliatory views--was
an ardent republican; his feud with the ancient family of St. Cyr--the
rights and wrongs of which no outsider ever knew--had culminated in the
downfall, the almost total extinction of the latter. In France, St.
Just and his party had triumphed, and here in England, face to face with
these three refugees driven from their country, flying for their lives,
bereft of all which centuries of luxury had given them, there stood a
fair scion of those same republican families which had hurled down a
throne, and uprooted an aristocracy whose origin was lost in the dim and
distant vista of bygone centuries.

She stood there before them, in all the unconscious insolence of beauty,
and stretched out her dainty hand to them, as if she would, by that one
act, bridge over the conflict and bloodshed of the past decade.

"Suzanne, I forbid you to speak to that woman," said the Comtesse,
sternly, as she placed a restraining hand upon her daughter's arm.

She had spoken in English, so that all might hear and understand; the
two young English gentlemen was as well as the common innkeeper and
his daughter. The latter literally gasped with horror at this foreign
insolence, this impudence before her ladyship--who was English, now that
she was Sir Percy's wife, and a friend of the Princess of Wales to boot.

As for Lord Antony and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, their very hearts seemed to
stand still with horror at this gratuitous insult. One of them uttered
an exclamation of appeal, the other one of warning, and instinctively
both glanced hurriedly towards the door, whence a slow, drawly, not
unpleasant voice had already been heard.

Alone among those present Marguerite Blakeney and these Comtesse de
Tournay had remained seemingly unmoved. The latter, rigid, erect and
defiant, with one hand still upon her daughter's arm, seemed the very
personification of unbending pride. For the moment Marguerite's sweet
face had become as white as the soft fichu which swathed her throat, and
a very keen observer might have noted that the hand which held the tall,
beribboned stick was clenched, and trembled somewhat.

But this was only momentary; the next instant the delicate eyebrows were
raised slightly, the lips curved sarcastically upwards, the clear blue
eyes looked straight at the rigid Comtesse, and with a slight shrug of
the shoulders--

"Hoity-toity, citizeness," she said gaily, "what fly stings you, pray?"

"We are in England now, Madame," rejoined the Comtesse, coldly, "and I
am at liberty to forbid my daughter to touch your hand in friendship.
Come, Suzanne."

She beckoned to her daughter, and without another look at Marguerite
Blakeney, but with a deep, old-fashioned curtsey to the two young men,
she sailed majestically out of the room.

There was silence in the old inn parlour for a moment, as the rustle of
the Comtesse's skirts died away down the passage. Marguerite, rigid as
a statue followed with hard, set eyes the upright figure, as it
disappeared through the doorway--but as little Suzanne, humble and
obedient, was about to follow her mother, the hard, set expression
suddenly vanished, and a wistful, almost pathetic and childlike look
stole into Lady Blakeney's eyes.

Little Suzanne caught that look; the child's sweet nature went out
to the beautiful woman, scarcely older than herself; filial obedience
vanished before girlish sympathy; at the door she turned, ran back to
Marguerite, and putting her arms round her, kissed her effusively; then
only did she follow her mother, Sally bringing up the rear, with a final
curtsey to my lady.

Suzanne's sweet and dainty impulse had relieved the unpleasant tension.
Sir Andrew's eyes followed the pretty little figure, until it had quite
disappeared, then they met Lady Blakeney's with unassumed merriment.

Marguerite, with dainty affection, had kissed her hand to the ladies, as
they disappeared through the door, then a humorous smile began hovering
round the corners of her mouth.

"So that's it, is it?" she said gaily. "La! Sir Andrew, did you ever see
such an unpleasant person? I hope when I grow old I sha'n't look like
that."

She gathered up her skirts and assuming a majestic gait, stalked towards
the fireplace.

"Suzanne," she said, mimicking the Comtesse's voice, "I forbid you to
speak to that woman!"

The laugh which accompanied this sally sounded perhaps a trifled forced
and hard, but neither Sir Andrew nor Lord Tony were very keen observers.
The mimicry was so perfect, the tone of the voice so accurately
reproduced, that both the young men joined in a hearty cheerful "Bravo!"

"Ah! Lady Blakeney!" added Lord Tony, "how they must miss you at the
Comedie Francaise, and how the Parisians must hate Sir Percy for having
taken you away."

"Lud, man," rejoined Marguerite, with a shrug of her graceful shoulders,
"'tis impossible to hate Sir Percy for anything; his witty sallies would
disarm even Madame la Comtesse herself."

The young Vicomte, who had not elected to follow his mother in her
dignified exit, now made a step forward, ready to champion the Comtesse
should Lady Blakeney aim any further shafts at her. But before he could
utter a preliminary word of protest, a pleasant though distinctly inane
laugh, was heard from outside, and the next moment an unusually tall and
very richly dressed figure appeared in the doorway.




CHAPTER VI AN EXQUISITE OF '92



Sir Percy Blakeney, as the chronicles of the time inform us, was in this
year of grace 1792, still a year or two on the right side of thirty.
Tall, above the average, even for an Englishman, broad-shouldered and
massively built, he would have been called unusually good-looking,
but for a certain lazy expression in his deep-set blue eyes, and that
perpetual inane laugh which seemed to disfigure his strong, clearly-cut
mouth.

It was nearly a year ago now that Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., one of the
richest men in England, leader of all the fashions, and intimate friend
of the Prince of Wales, had astonished fashionable society in London
and Bath by bringing home, from one of his journeys abroad, a beautiful,
fascinating, clever, French wife. He, the sleepiest, dullest, most
British Britisher that had ever set a pretty woman yawning, had secured
a brilliant matrimonial prize for which, as all chroniclers aver, there
had been many competitors.

Marguerite St. Just had first made her DEBUT in artistic Parisian
circles, at the very moment when the greatest social upheaval the
world has ever known was taking place within its very walls. Scarcely
eighteen, lavishly gifted with beauty and talent, chaperoned only by
a young and devoted brother, she had soon gathered round her, in
her charming apartment in the Rue Richelieu, a coterie which was as
brilliant as it was exclusive--exclusive, that is to say, only from one
point of view. Marguerite St. Just was from principle and by conviction
a republican--equality of birth was her motto--inequality of fortune
was in her eyes a mere untoward accident, but the only inequality she
admitted was that of talent. "Money and titles may be hereditary,"
she would say, "but brains are not," and thus her charming salon was
reserved for originality and intellect, for brilliance and wit, for
clever men and talented women, and the entrance into it was soon looked
upon in the world of intellect--which even in those days and in those
troublous times found its pivot in Paris--as the seal to an artistic
career.

Clever men, distinguished men, and even men of exalted station formed a
perpetual and brilliant court round the fascinating young actress of
the Comedie Francaise, and she glided through republican, revolutionary,
bloodthirsty Paris like a shining comet with a trail behind her of all
that was most distinguished, most interesting, in intellectual Europe.

Then the climax came. Some smiled indulgently and called it an artistic
eccentricity, others looked upon it as a wise provision, in view of the
many events which were crowding thick and fast in Paris just then, but
to all, the real motive of that climax remained a puzzle and a mystery.
Anyway, Marguerite St. Just married Sir Percy Blakeney one fine day,
just like that, without any warning to her friends, without a SOIREE DE
CONTRAT or DINER DE FIANCAILLES or other appurtenances of a fashionable
French wedding.

How that stupid, dull Englishman ever came to be admitted within
the intellectual circle which revolved round "the cleverest woman in
Europe," as her friends unanimously called her, no one ventured
to guess--golden key is said to open every door, asserted the more
malignantly inclined.

Enough, she married him, and "the cleverest woman in Europe" had linked
her fate to that "demmed idiot" Blakeney, and not even her most intimate
friends could assign to this strange step any other motive than that of
supreme eccentricity. Those friends who knew, laughed to scorn the idea
that Marguerite St. Just had married a fool for the sake of the worldly
advantages with which he might endow her. They knew, as a matter of
fact, that Marguerite St. Just cared nothing about money, and still less
about a title; moreover, there were at least half a dozen other men in
the cosmopolitan world equally well-born, if not so wealthy as Blakeney,
who would have been only too happy to give Marguerite St. Just any
position she might choose to covet.

As for Sir Percy himself, he was universally voted to be totally
unqualified for the onerous post he had taken upon himself. His chief
qualifications for it seemed to consist in his blind adoration for her,
his great wealth and the high favour in which he stood at the English
court; but London society thought that, taking into consideration his
own intellectual limitations, it would have been wiser on his part had
he bestowed those worldly advantages upon a less brilliant and witty
wife.

Although lately he had been so prominent a figure in fashionable English
society, he had spent most of his early life abroad. His father, the
late Sir Algernon Blakeney, had had the terrible misfortune of seeing
an idolized young wife become hopelessly insane after two years of happy
married life. Percy had just been born when the late Lady Blakeney
fell prey to the terrible malady which in those days was looked upon as
hopelessly incurable and nothing short of a curse of God upon the entire
family. Sir Algernon took his afflicted young wife abroad, and there
presumably Percy was educated, and grew up between an imbecile mother
and a distracted father, until he attained his majority. The death of
his parents following close upon one another left him a free man, and
as Sir Algernon had led a forcibly simple and retired life, the large
Blakeney fortune had increased tenfold.

Sir Percy Blakeney had travelled a great deal abroad, before he brought
home his beautiful, young, French wife. The fashionable circles of the
time were ready to receive them both with open arms; Sir Percy was rich,
his wife was accomplished, the Prince of Wales took a very great liking
to them both. Within six months they were the acknowledged leaders of
fashion and of style. Sir Percy's coats were the talk of the town, his
inanities were quoted, his foolish laugh copied by the gilded youth at
Almack's or the Mall. Everyone knew that he was hopelessly stupid, but
then that was scarcely to be wondered at, seeing that all the Blakeneys
for generations had been notoriously dull, and that his mother died an
imbecile.

Thus society accepted him, petted him, made much of him, since his
horses were the finest in the country, his FETES and wines the most
sought after. As for his marriage with "the cleverest woman in Europe,"
well! the inevitable came with sure and rapid footsteps. No one pitied
him, since his fate was of his own making. There were plenty of young
ladies in England, of high birth and good looks, who would have been
quite willing to help him to spend the Blakeney fortune, whilst
smiling indulgently at his inanities and his good-humoured foolishness.
Moreover, Sir Percy got no pity, because he seemed to require none--he
seemed very proud of his clever wife, and to care little that she took
no pains to disguise that good-natured contempt which she evidently felt
for him, and that she even amused herself by sharpening her ready wits
at his expense.

But then Blakeney was really too stupid to notice the ridicule with
which his wife covered him, and if his matrimonial relations with the
fascinating Parisienne had not turned out all that his hopes and his
dog-like devotion for her had pictured, society could never do more than
vaguely guess at it.

In his beautiful house at Richmond he played second fiddle to his clever
wife with imperturbable BONHOMIE; he lavished jewels and luxuries of
all kinds upon her, which she took with inimitable grace, dispensing the
hospitality of his superb mansion with the same graciousness with which
she had welcomed the intellectual coterie of Paris.

Physically, Sir Percy Blakeney was undeniably handsome--always
excepting the lazy, bored look which was habitual to him. He was always
irreproachable dressed, and wore the exaggerated "Incroyable" fashions,
which had just crept across from Paris to England, with the perfect
good taste innate in an English gentleman. On this special afternoon in
September, in spite of the long journey by coach, in spite of rain and
mud, his coat set irreproachably across his fine shoulders, his hands
looked almost femininely white, as they emerged through billowy frills
of finest Mechline lace: the extravagantly short-waisted satin coat,
wide-lapelled waistcoat, and tight-fitting striped breeches, set off his
massive figure to perfection, and in repose one might have admired so
fine a specimen of English manhood, until the foppish ways, the affected
movements, the perpetual inane laugh, brought one's admiration of Sir
Percy Blakeney to an abrupt close.

He had lolled into the old-fashioned inn parlour, shaking the wet off
his fine overcoat; then putting up a gold-rimmed eye-glass to his lazy
blue eye, he surveyed the company, upon whom an embarrassed silence had
suddenly fallen.

"How do, Tony? How do, Ffoulkes?" he said, recognizing the two young
men and shaking them by the hand. "Zounds, my dear fellow," he added,
smothering a slight yawn, "did you ever see such a beastly day? Demmed
climate this."

With a quaint little laugh, half of embarrassment and half of sarcasm,
Marguerite had turned towards her husband, and was surveying him from
head to foot, with an amused little twinkle in her merry blue eyes.

"La!" said Sir Percy, after a moment or two's silence, as no one offered
any comment, "how sheepish you all look . . . What's up?"

"Oh, nothing, Sir Percy," replied Marguerite, with a certain amount of
gaiety, which, however, sounded somewhat forced, "nothing to disturb
your equanimity--only an insult to your wife."

The laugh which accompanied this remark was evidently intended to
reassure Sir Percy as to the gravity of the incident. It apparently
succeeded in that, for echoing the laugh, he rejoined placidly--

"La, m'dear! you don't say so. Begad! who was the bold man who dared to
tackle you--eh?"

Lord Tony tried to interpose, but had no time to do so, for the young
Vicomte had already quickly stepped forward.

"Monsieur," he said, prefixing his little speech with an elaborate bow,
and speaking in broken English, "my mother, the Comtesse de Tournay de
Basserive, has offenced Madame, who, I see, is your wife. I cannot ask
your pardon for my mother; what she does is right in my eyes. But I am
ready to offer you the usual reparation between men of honour."

The young man drew up his slim stature to its full height and looked
very enthusiastic, very proud, and very hot as he gazed at six foot odd
of gorgeousness, as represented by Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart.

"Lud, Sir Andrew," said Marguerite, with one of her merry infectious
laughs, "look on that pretty picture--the English turkey and the French
bantam."

The simile was quite perfect, and the English turkey looked down with
complete bewilderment upon the dainty little French bantam, which
hovered quite threateningly around him.

"La! sir," said Sir Percy at last, putting up his eye glass and
surveying the young Frenchman with undisguised wonderment, "where, in
the cuckoo's name, did you learn to speak English?"

"Monsieur!" protested the Vicomte, somewhat abashed at the way his
warlike attitude had been taken by the ponderous-looking Englishman.

"I protest 'tis marvellous!" continued Sir Percy, imperturbably, "demmed
marvellous! Don't you think so, Tony--eh? I vow I can't speak the French
lingo like that. What?"

"Nay, I'll vouch for that!" rejoined Marguerite, "Sir Percy has a
British accent you could cut with a knife."

"Monsieur," interposed the Vicomte earnestly, and in still more broken
English, "I fear you have not understand. I offer you the only posseeble
reparation among gentlemen."

"What the devil is that?" asked Sir Percy, blandly.

"My sword, Monsieur," replied the Vicomte, who, though still bewildered,
was beginning to lose his temper.

"You are a sportsman, Lord Tony," said Marguerite, merrily; "ten to one
on the little bantam."

But Sir Percy was staring sleepily at the Vicomte for a moment or two,
through his partly closed heavy lids, then he smothered another yawn,
stretched his long limbs, and turned leisurely away.

"Lud love you, sir," he muttered good-humouredly, "demmit, young man,
what's the good of your sword to me?"

What the Vicomte thought and felt at that moment, when that long-limbed
Englishman treated him with such marked insolence, might fill volumes
of sound reflections. . . . What he said resolved itself into a single
articulate word, for all the others were choked in his throat by his
surging wrath--

"A duel, Monsieur," he stammered.

Once more Blakeney turned, and from his high altitude looked down on the
choleric little man before him; but not even for a second did he seem to
lose his own imperturbable good-humour. He laughed his own pleasant
and inane laugh, and burying his slender, long hands into the capacious
pockets of his overcoat, he said leisurely--"a bloodthirsty young
ruffian, Do you want to make a hole in a law-abiding man? . . . As for
me, sir, I never fight duels," he added, as he placidly sat down and
stretched his long, lazy legs out before him. "Demmed uncomfortable
things, duels, ain't they, Tony?"

Now the Vicomte had no doubt vaguely heard that in England the fashion
of duelling amongst gentlemen had been surpressed by the law with a
very stern hand; still to him, a Frenchman, whose notions of bravery and
honour were based upon a code that had centuries of tradition to back
it, the spectacle of a gentleman actually refusing to fight a duel was a
little short of an enormity. In his mind he vaguely pondered whether
he should strike that long-legged Englishman in the face and call him
a coward, or whether such conduct in a lady's presence might be deemed
ungentlemanly, when Marguerite happily interposed.

"I pray you, Lord Tony," she said in that gentle, sweet, musical voice
of hers, "I pray you play the peacemaker. The child is bursting with
rage, and," she added with a SOUPCON of dry sarcasm, "might do Sir Percy
an injury." She laughed a mocking little laugh, which, however, did
not in the least disturb her husband's placid equanimity. "The British
turkey has had the day," she said. "Sir Percy would provoke all the
saints in the calendar and keep his temper the while."

But already Blakeney, good-humoured as ever, had joined in the laugh
against himself.

"Demmed smart that now, wasn't it?" he said, turning pleasantly to the
Vicomte. "Clever woman my wife, sir. . . . You will find THAT out if
you live long enough in England."

"Sir Percy is right, Vicomte," here interposed Lord Antony, laying a
friendly hand on the young Frenchman's shoulder. "It would hardly be
fitting that you should commence your career in England by provoking him
to a duel."

For a moment longer the Vicomte hesitated, then with a slight shrug
of the shoulders directed against the extraordinary code of honour
prevailing in this fog-ridden island, he said with becoming dignity,--

"Ah, well! if Monsieur is satisfied, I have no griefs. You mi'lor', are
our protector. If I have done wrong, I withdraw myself."

"Aye, do!" rejoined Blakeney, with a long sigh of satisfaction,
"withdraw yourself over there. Demmed excitable little puppy," he added
under his breath, "Faith, Ffoulkes, if that's a specimen of the goods
you and your friends bring over from France, my advice to you is, drop
'em 'mid Channel, my friend, or I shall have to see old Pitt about it,
get him to clap on a prohibitive tariff, and put you in the stocks an
you smuggle."

"La, Sir Percy, your chivalry misguides you," said Marguerite,
coquettishly, "you forget that you yourself have imported one bundle of
goods from France."

Blakeney slowly rose to his feet, and, making a deep and elaborate bow
before his wife, he said with consummate gallantry,--

"I had the pick of the market, Madame, and my taste is unerring."

"More so than your chivalry, I fear," she retorted sarcastically.

"Odd's life, m'dear! be reasonable! Do you think I am going to allow my
body to be made a pincushion of, by every little frog-eater who don't
like the shape of your nose?"

"Lud, Sir Percy!" laughed Lady Blakeney as she bobbed him a quaint and
pretty curtsey, "you need not be afraid! 'Tis not the MEN who dislike
the shape of my nose."

"Afraid be demmed! Do you impugn my bravery, Madame? I don't patronise
the ring for nothing, do I, Tony? I've put up the fists with Red Sam
before now, and--and he didn't get it all his own way either--"

"S'faith, Sir Percy," said Marguerite, with a long and merry laugh, that
went enchoing along the old oak rafters of the parlour, "I would I
had seen you then . . . ha! ha! ha! ha!--you must have looked a pretty
picture . . . and . . . and to be afraid of a little French boy . . . ha!
ha! . . . ha! ha!"

"Ha! ha! ha! he! he! he!" echoed Sir Percy, good-humouredly. "La,
Madame, you honour me! Zooks! Ffoulkes, mark ye that! I have made my
wife laugh!--The cleverest woman in Europe! . . . Odd's fish, we must
have a bowl on that!" and he tapped vigorously on the table near him.
"Hey! Jelly! Quick, man! Here, Jelly!"

Harmony was once more restored. Mr. Jellyband, with a mighty effort,
recovered himself from the many emotions he had experienced within the
last half hour. "A bowl of punch, Jelly, hot and strong, eh?" said
Sir Percy. "The wits that have just made a clever woman laugh must be
whetted! Ha! ha! ha! Hasten, my good Jelly!"

"Nay, there is no time, Sir Percy," interposed Marguerite. "The skipper
will be here directly and my brother must get on board, or the DAY DREAM
will miss the tide."

"Time, m'dear? There is plenty of time for any gentleman to get drunk
and get on board before the turn of the tide."

"I think, your ladyship," said Jellyband, respectfully, "that the young
gentleman is coming along now with Sir Percy's skipper."

"That's right," said Blakeney, "then Armand can join us in the merry
bowl. Think you, Tony," he added, turning towards the Vicomte, "that the
jackanapes of yours will join us in a glass? Tell him that we drink in
token of reconciliation."

"In fact you are all such merry company," said Marguerite, "that I trust
you will forgive me if I bid my brother good-bye in another room."

It would have been bad form to protest. Both Lord Antony and Sir Andrew
felt that Lady Blakeney could not altogether be in tune with them at the
moment. Her love for her brother, Armand St. Just, was deep and touching
in the extreme. He had just spent a few weeks with her in her English
home, and was going back to serve his country, at the moment when death
was the usual reward for the most enduring devotion.

Sir Percy also made no attempt to detain his wife. With that perfect,
somewhat affected gallantry which characterised his every movement, he
opened the coffee-room door for her, and made her the most approved and
elaborate bow, which the fashion of the time dictated, as she sailed
out of the room without bestowing on him more than a passing, slightly
contemptuous glance. Only Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, whose every thought since
he had met Suzanne de Tournay seemed keener, more gentle, more innately
sympathetic, noted the curious look of intense longing, of deep and
hopeless passion, with which the inane and flippant Sir Percy followed
the retreating figure of his brilliant wife.




CHAPTER VII THE SECRET ORCHARD



Once outside the noisy coffee-room, along in the dimly-lighted passage,
Marguerite Blakeney seemed to breathe more freely. She heaved a deep
sigh, like one who had long been oppressed with the heavy weight of
constant self-control, and she allowed a few tears to fall unheeded down
her cheeks.

Outside the rain had ceased, and through the swiftly passing clouds, the
pale rays of an after-storm sun shone upon the beautiful white coast of
Kent and the quaint, irregular houses that clustered round the Admiralty
Pier. Marguerite Blakeney stepped on to the porch and looked out to sea.
Silhouetted against the ever-changing sky, a graceful schooner, with
white sails set, was gently dancing in the breeze. The DAY DREAM it was,
Sir Percy Blakeney's yacht, which was ready to take Armand St. Just back
to France into the very midst of that seething, bloody Revolution which
was overthrowing a monarchy, attacking a religion, destroying a society,
in order to try and rebuild upon the ashes of tradition a new Utopia, of
which a few men dreamed, but which none had the power to establish.

In the distance two figures were approaching "The Fisherman's Rest":
one, an oldish man, with a curious fringe of grey hairs round a rotund
and massive chin, and who walked with that peculiar rolling gait which
invariably betrays the seafaring man: the other, a young, slight figure,
neatly and becomingly dressed in a dark, many caped overcoat; he was
clean-shaved, and his dark hair was taken well back over a clear and
noble forehead.

"Armand!" said Marguerite Blakeney, as soon as she saw him approaching
from the distance, and a happy smile shone on her sweet face, even
through the tears.

A minute or two later brother and sister were locked in each other's
arms, while the old skipper stood respectfully on one side.

"How much time have we got, Briggs?" asked Lady Blakeney, "before M. St.
Just need go on board?"

"We ought to weigh anchor before half an hour, your ladyship," replied
the old man, pulling at his grey forelock.

Linking her arm in his, Marguerite led her brother towards the cliffs.

"Half an hour," she said, looking wistfully out to sea, "half an hour
more and you'll be far from me, Armand! Oh! I can't believe that you are
going, dear! These last few days--whilst Percy has been away, and I've
had you all to myself, have slipped by like a dream."

"I am not going far, sweet one," said the young man gently, "a narrow
channel to cross-a few miles of road--I can soon come back."

"Nay, 'tis not the distance, Armand--but that awful Paris . . . just now
. . ."

They had reached the edge of the cliff. The gentle sea-breeze blew
Marguerite's hair about her face, and sent the ends of her soft lace
fichu waving round her, like a white and supple snake. She tried to
pierce the distance far away, beyond which lay the shores of France:
that relentless and stern France which was exacting her pound of flesh,
the blood-tax from the noblest of her sons.

"Our own beautiful country, Marguerite," said Armand, who seemed to have
divined her thoughts.

"They are going too far, Armand," she said vehemently. "You are a
republican, so am I . . . we have the same thoughts, the same enthusiasm
for liberty and equality . . . but even YOU must think that they are
going too far . . ."

"Hush!--" said Armand, instinctively, as he threw a quick, apprehensive
glance around him.

"Ah! you see: you don't think yourself that it is safe even to speak of
these things--here in England!" She clung to him suddenly with strong,
almost motherly, passion: "Don't go, Armand!" she begged; "don't go
back! What should I do if . . . if . . . if . . ."

Her voice was choked in sobs, her eyes, tender, blue and loving, gazed
appealingly at the young man, who in his turn looked steadfastly into
hers.

"You would in any case be my own brave sister," he said gently, "who
would remember that, when France is in peril, it is not for her sons to
turn their backs on her."

Even as he spoke, that sweet childlike smile crept back into her face,
pathetic in the extreme, for it seemed drowned in tears.

"Oh! Armand!" she said quaintly, "I sometimes wish you had not so many
lofty virtues. . . . I assure you little sins are far less dangerous
and uncomfortable. But you WILL be prudent?" she added earnestly.

"As far as possible . . . I promise you."

"Remember, dear, I have only you . . . to . . . to care for me. . . ."

"Nay, sweet one, you have other interests now. Percy cares for
you . . ."

A look of strange wistfulness crept into her eyes as she murmured,--

"He did . . . once . . ."

"But surely . . ."

"There, there, dear, don't distress yourself on my account. Percy is
very good . . ."

"Nay!" he interrupted energetically, "I will distress myself on your
account, my Margot. Listen, dear, I have not spoken of these things to
you before; something always seemed to stop me when I wished to question
you. But, somehow, I feel as if I could not go away and leave you now
without asking you one question. . . . You need not answer it if you
do not wish," he added, as he noted a sudden hard look, almost of
apprehension, darting through her eyes.

"What is it?" she asked simply.

"Does Sir Percy Blakeney know that . . . I mean, does he know the part
you played in the arrest of the Marquis de St. Cyr?"

She laughed--a mirthless, bitter, contemptuous laugh, which was like a
jarring chord in the music of her voice.

"That I denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr, you mean, to the tribunal that
ultimately sent him and all his family to the guillotine? Yes, he does
know. . . . . I told him after I married him. . . ."

"You told him all the circumstances--which so completely exonerated you
from any blame?"

"It was too late to talk of 'circumstances'; he heard the story from
other sources; my confession came too tardily, it seems. I could no
longer plead extenuating circumstances: I could not demean myself by
trying to explain--"

"And?"

"And now I have the satisfaction, Armand, of knowing that the biggest
fool in England has the most complete contempt for his wife."

She spoke with vehement bitterness this time, and Armand St. Just, who
loved her so dearly, felt that he had placed a somewhat clumsy finger
upon an aching wound.

"But Sir Percy loved you, Margot," he repeated gently.

"Loved me?--Well, Armand, I thought at one time that he did, or I should
not have married him. I daresay," she added, speaking very rapidly, as
if she were about to lay down a heavy burden, which had oppressed her
for months, "I daresay that even you thought-as everybody else did--that
I married Sir Percy because of his wealth--but I assure you, dear,
that it was not so. He seemed to worship me with a curious intensity of
concentrated passion, which went straight to my heart. I had never
loved any one before, as you know, and I was four-and-twenty then--so
I naturally thought that it was not in my nature to love. But it has
always seemed to me that it MUST be HEAVENLY to be loved blindly,
passionately, wholly . . . worshipped, in fact--and the very fact that
Percy was slow and stupid was an attraction for me, as I thought he
would love me all the more. A clever man would naturally have other
interests, an ambitious man other hopes. . . . I thought that a fool
would worship, and think of nothing else. And I was ready to respond,
Armand; I would have allowed myself to be worshipped, and given infinite
tenderness in return. . . ."

She sighed--and there was a world of disillusionment in that sigh.
Armand St. Just had allowed her to speak on without interruption: he
listened to her, whilst allowing his own thoughts to run riot. It
was terrible to see a young and beautiful woman--a girl in all but
name--still standing almost at the threshold of her life, yet bereft
of hope, bereft of illusions, bereft of all those golden and fantastic
dreams, which should have made her youth one long, perpetual holiday.

Yet perhaps--though he loved his sister dearly--perhaps he understood:
he had studied men in many countries, men of all ages, men of every
grade of social and intellectual status, and inwardly he understood what
Marguerite had left unsaid. Granted that Percy Blakeney was dull-witted,
but in his slow-going mind, there would still be room for that
ineradicable pride of a descendant of a long line of English gentlemen.
A Blakeney had died on Bosworth field, another had sacrified life
and fortune for the sake of a treacherous Stuart: and that same
pride--foolish and prejudiced as the republican Armand would call
it--must have been stung to the quick on hearing of the sin which lay
at Lady Blakeney's door. She had been young, misguided, ill-advised
perhaps. Armand knew that: her impulses and imprudence, knew it
still better; but Blakeney was slow-witted, he would not listen to
"circumstances," he only clung to facts, and these had shown him Lady
Blakeney denouncing a fellow man to a tribunal that knew no pardon:
and the contempt he would feel for the deed she had done, however
unwittingly, would kill that same love in him, in which sympathy and
intellectuality could never had a part.

Yet even now, his own sister puzzled him. Life and love have such
strange vagaries. Could it be that with the waning of her husband's
love, Marguerite's heart had awakened with love for him? Strange
extremes meet in love's pathway: this woman, who had had half
intellectual Europe at her feet, might perhaps have set her affections
on a fool. Marguerite was gazing out towards the sunset. Armand could
not see her face, but presently it seemed to him that something which
glittered for a moment in the golden evening light, fell from her eyes
onto her dainty fichu of lace.

But he could not broach that subject with her. He knew her strange,
passionate nature so well, and knew that reserve which lurked behind
her frank, open ways. The had always been together, these two, for their
parents had died when Armand was still a youth, and Marguerite but a
child. He, some eight years her senior, had watched over her until her
marriage; had chaperoned her during those brilliant years spent in the
flat of the Rue de Richelieu, and had seen her enter upon this new life
of hers, here in England, with much sorrow and some foreboding.

This was his first visit to England since her marriage, and the few
months of separation had already seemed to have built up a slight, thin
partition between brother and sister; the same deep, intense love
was still there, on both sides, but each now seemed to have a secret
orchard, into which the other dared not penetrate.

There was much Armand St. Just could not tell his sister; the political
aspect of the revolution in France was changing almost every day; she
might not understand how his own views and sympathies might become
modified, even as the excesses, committed by those who had been his
friends, grew in horror and in intensity. And Marguerite could not speak
to her brother about the secrets of her heart; she hardly understood
them herself, she only knew that, in the midst of luxury, she felt
lonely and unhappy.

And now Armand was going away; she feared for his safety, she longed for
his presence. She would not spoil these last few sadly-sweet moments by
speaking about herself. She led him gently along the cliffs, then down
to the beach; their arms linked in one another's, they had still so much
to say that lay just outside that secret orchard of theirs.




CHAPTER VIII THE ACCREDITED AGENT



The afternoon was rapidly drawing to a close; and a long, chilly English
summer's evening was throwing a misty pall over the green Kentish
landscape.

The DAY DREAM had set sail, and Marguerite Blakeney stood alone on the
edge of the cliff over an hour, watching those white sails, which bore
so swiftly away from her the only being who really cared for her, whom
she dared to love, whom she knew she could trust.

Some little distance away to her left the lights from the coffee-room of
"The Fisherman's Rest" glittered yellow in the gathering mist; from time
to time it seemed to her aching nerves as if she could catch from thence
the sound of merry-making and of jovial talk, or even that perpetual,
senseless laugh of her husband's, which grated continually upon her
sensitive ears.

Sir Percy had had the delicacy to leave her severely alone. She supposed
that, in his own stupid, good-natured way, he may have understood that
she would wish to remain alone, while those white sails disappeared into
the vague horizon, so many miles away. He, whose notions of propriety
and decorum were supersensitive, had not suggested even that an
attendant should remain within call. Marguerite was grateful to her
husband for all this; she always tried to be grateful to him for his
thoughtfulness, which was constant, and for his generosity, which really
was boundless. She tried even at times to curb the sarcastic, bitter
thoughts of him, which made her--in spite of herself--say cruel,
insulting things, which she vaguely hoped would wound him.

Yes! she often wished to wound him, to make him feel that she too held
him in contempt, that she too had forgotten that she had almost loved
him. Loved that inane fop! whose thoughts seemed unable to soar beyond
the tying of a cravat or the new cut of a coat. Bah! And yet! . . . vague
memories, that were sweet and ardent and attuned to this calm summer's
evening, came wafted back to her memory, on the invisible wings of the
light sea-breeze: the tie when first he worshipped her; he seemed so
devoted--a very slave--and there was a certain latent intensity in that
love which had fascinated her.

Then suddenly that love, that devotion, which throughout his courtship
she had looked upon as the slavish fidelity of a dog, seemed to vanish
completely. Twenty-four hours after the simple little ceremony at old
St. Roch, she had told him the story of how, inadvertently, she had
spoken of certain matters connected with the Marquis de St. Cyr before
some men--her friends--who had used this information against the
unfortunate Marquis, and sent him and his family to the guillotine.

She hated the Marquis. Years ago, Armand, her dear brother, loved Angele
de St. Cyr, but St. Just was a plebeian, and the Marquis full of
the pride and arrogant prejudices of his caste. One day Armand, the
respectful, timid lover, ventured on sending a small poem--enthusiastic,
ardent, passionate--to the idol of his dreams. The next night he was
waylaid just outside Paris by the valets of Marquis de St. Cyr, and
ignominiously thrashed--thrashed like a dog within an inch of his
life--because he had dared to raise his eyes to the daughter of the
aristocrat. The incident was one which, in those days, some two years
before the great Revolution, was of almost daily occurrence in France;
incidents of that type, in fact, led to bloody reprisals, which a few
years later sent most of those haughty heads to the guillotine.

Marguerite remembered it all: what her brother must have suffered in
his manhood and his pride must have been appalling; what she suffered
through him and with him she never attempted even to analyse.

Then the day of retribution came. St. Cyr and his kin had found their
masters, in those same plebeians whom they had despised. Armand and
Marguerite, both intellectual, thinking beings, adopted with the
enthusiasm of their years the Utopian doctrines of the Revolution,
while the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family fought inch by inch for the
retention of those privileges which had placed them socially above their
fellow-men. Marguerite, impulsive, thoughtless, not calculating the
purport of her words, still smarting under the terrible insult her
brother had suffered at the Marquis' hands, happened to hear--amongst
her own coterie--that the St. Cyrs were in treasonable correspondence
with Austria, hoping to obtain the Emperor's support to quell the
growing revolution in their own country.

In those days one denunciation was sufficient: Marguerite's few
thoughtless words anent the Marquis de St. Cyr bore fruit within
twenty-four hours. He was arrested. His papers were searched: letters
from the Austrian Emperor, promising to send troops against the Paris
populace, were found in his desk. He was arraigned for treason against
the nation, and sent to the guillotine, whilst his family, his wife and
his sons, shared in this awful fate.

Marguerite, horrified at the terrible consequences of her own
thoughtlessness, was powerless to save the Marquis: his own coterie, the
leaders of the revolutionary movement, all proclaimed her as a heroine:
and when she married Sir Percy Blakeney, she did not perhaps altogether
realise how severely he would look upon the sin, which she had so
inadvertently committed, and which still lay heavily upon her soul. She
made full confession of it to her husband, trusting his blind love for
her, her boundless power over him, to soon make him forget what might
have sounded unpleasant to an English ear.

Certainly at the moment he seemed to take it very quietly; hardly, in
fact, did he appear to understand the meaning of all she said; but what
was more certain still, was that never after that could she detect the
slightest sign of that love, which she once believed had been wholly
hers. Now they had drifted quite apart, and Sir Percy seemed to have
laid aside his love for her, as he would an ill-fitting glove. She tried
to rouse him by sharpening her ready wit against his dull intellect;
endeavouring to excite his jealousy, if she could not rouse his love;
tried to goad him to self-assertion, but all in vain. He remained the
same, always passive, drawling, sleepy, always courteous, invariably a
gentleman: she had all that the world and a wealthy husband can give to
a pretty woman, yet on this beautiful summer's evening, with the white
sails of the DAY DREAM finally hidden by the evening shadows, she felt
more lonely than that poor tramp who plodded his way wearily along the
rugged cliffs.

With another heavy sigh, Marguerite Blakeney turned her back upon the
sea and cliffs, and walked slowly back towards "The Fisherman's Rest."
As she drew near, the sound of revelry, of gay, jovial laughter, grew
louder and more distinct. She could distinguish Sir Andrew Ffoulkes'
pleasant voice, Lord Tony's boisterous guffaws, her husband's
occasional, drawly, sleepy comments; then realising the loneliness of
the road and the fast gathering gloom round her, she quickened her steps
. . . the next moment she perceived a stranger coming rapidly towards
her. Marguerite did not look up: she was not the least nervous, and "The
Fisherman's Rest" was now well within call.

The stranger paused when he saw Marguerite coming quickly towards him,
and just as she was about to slip past him, he said very quietly:

"Citoyenne St. Just."

Marguerite uttered a little cry of astonishment, at thus hearing her
own familiar maiden name uttered so close to her. She looked up at the
stranger, and this time, with a cry of unfeigned pleasure, she put out
both her hands effusively towards him.

"Chauvelin!" she exclaimed.

"Himself, citoyenne, at your service," said the stranger, gallantly
kissing the tips of her fingers.

Marguerite said nothing for a moment or two, as she surveyed with
obvious delight the not very prepossessing little figure before her.
Chauvelin was then nearer forty than thirty--a clever, shrewd-looking
personality, with a curious fox-like expression in the deep, sunken
eyes. He was the same stranger who an hour or two previously had joined
Mr. Jellyband in a friendly glass of wine.

"Chauvelin . . . my friend . . ." said Marguerite, with a pretty little
sigh of satisfaction. "I am mightily pleased to see you."

No doubt poor Marguerite St. Just, lonely in the midst of her grandeur,
and of her starchy friends, was happy to see a face that brought back
memories of that happy time in Paris, when she reigned--a queen--over
the intellectual coterie of the Rue de Richelieu. She did not notice
the sarcastic little smile, however, that hovered round the thin lips of
Chauvelin.

"But tell me," she added merrily, "what in the world, or whom in the
world, are you doing here in England?"

"I might return the subtle compliment, fair lady," he said. "What of
yourself?"

"Oh, I?" she said, with a shrug of the shoulders. "Je m'ennuie, mon ami,
that is all."

They had reached the porch of "The Fisherman's Rest," but Marguerite
seemed loth to go within. The evening air was lovely after the storm,
and she had found a friend who exhaled the breath of Paris, who knew
Armand well, who could talk of all the merry, brilliant friends whom
she had left behind. So she lingered on under the pretty porch, while
through the gaily-lighted dormer-window of the coffee-room sounds of
laughter, of calls for "Sally" and for beer, of tapping of mugs, and
clinking of dice, mingled with Sir Percy Blakeney's inane and mirthless
laugh. Chauvelin stood beside her, his shrewd, pale, yellow eyes fixed
on the pretty face, which looked so sweet and childlike in this soft
English summer twilight.

"You surprise me, citoyenne," he said quietly, as he took a pinch of
snuff.

"Do I now?" she retorted gaily. "Faith, my little Chauvelin, I should
have thought that, with your penetration, you would have guessed that an
atmosphere composed of fogs and virtues would never suit Marguerite St.
Just."

"Dear me! is it as bad as that?" he asked, in mock consternation.

"Quite," she retorted, "and worse."

"Strange! Now, I thought that a pretty woman would have found English
country life peculiarly attractive."

"Yes! so did I," she said with a sigh, "Pretty women," she added
meditatively, "ought to have a good time in England, since all the
pleasant things are forbidden them--the very things they do every day."

"Quite so!"

"You'll hardly believe it, my little Chauvelin," she said earnestly,
"but I often pass a whole day--a whole day--without encountering a
single temptation."

"No wonder," retorted Chauvelin, gallantly, "that the cleverest woman in
Europe is troubled with ENNUI."

She laughed one of her melodious, rippling, childlike laughs.

"It must be pretty bad, mustn't it?" she asked archly, "or I should not
have been so pleased to see you."

"And this within a year of a romantic love match . . . that's just the
difficulty . . ."

"Ah! . . . that idyllic folly," said Chauvelin, with quiet sarcasm, "did
not then survive the lapse of . . . weeks?"

"Idyllic follies never last, my little Chauvelin . . . They come upon us
like the measles . . . and are as easily cured."

Chauvelin took another pinch of snuff: he seemed very much addicted
to that pernicious habit, so prevalent in those days; perhaps, too, he
found the taking of snuff a convenient veil for disguising the quick,
shrewd glances with which he strove to read the very souls of those with
whom he came in contact.

"No wonder," he repeated, with the same gallantry, "that the most active
brain in Europe is troubled with ENNUI."

"I was in hopes that you had a prescription against the malady, my
little Chauvelin."

"How can I hope to succeed in that which Sir Percy Blakeney has failed
to accomplish?"

"Shall we leave Sir Percy out of the question for the present, my dear
friend? she said drily.

"Ah! my dear lady, pardon me, but that is just what we cannot very well
do," said Chauvelin, whilst once again his eyes, keen as those of a
fox on the alert, darted a quick glance at Marguerite. "I have a most
perfect prescription against the worst form of ENNUI, which I would have
been happy to submit to you, but--"

"But what?"

"There IS Sir Percy."

"What has he to do with it?"

"Quite a good deal, I am afraid. The prescription I would offer, fair
lady, is called by a very plebeian name: Work!"

"Work?"

Chauvelin looked at Marguerite long and scrutinisingly. It seemed as
if those keen, pale eyes of his were reading every one of her thoughts.
They were alone together; the evening air was quite still, and their
soft whispers were drowned in the noise which came from the coffee-room.
Still, Chauvelin took as step or two from under the porch, looked
quickly and keenly all round him, then seeing that indeed no one was
within earshot, he once more came back close to Marguerite.

"Will you render France a small service, citoyenne?" he asked, with a
sudden change of manner, which lent his thin, fox-like face a singular
earnestness.

"La, man!" she replied flippantly, "how serious you look all of a
sudden. . . . Indeed I do not know if I WOULD render France a small
service--at any rate, it depends upon the kind of service she--or
you--want."

"Have you ever heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Citoyenne St. Just?"
asked Chauvelin, abruptly.

"Heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel?" she retorted with a long and merry
laugh, "Faith man! we talk of nothing else. . . . We have hats 'a la
Scarlet Pimpernel'; our horses are called 'Scarlet Pimpernel'; at the
Prince of Wales' supper party the other night we had a 'souffle a la
Scarlet Pimpernel.' . . . Lud!" she added gaily, "the other day I ordered
at my milliner's a blue dress trimmed with green, and bless me, if she
did not call that 'a la Scarlet Pimpernel.'"

Chauvelin had not moved while she prattled merrily along; he did not
even attempt to stop her when her musical voice and her childlike laugh
went echoing through the still evening air. But he remained serious and
earnest whilst she laughed, and his voice, clear, incisive, and hard,
was not raised above his breath as he said,--

"Then, as you have heard of that enigmatical personage, citoyenne, you
must also have guessed, and know, that the man who hides his identity
under that strange pseudonym, is the most bitter enemy of our republic,
of France . . . of men like Armand St. Just." "La!" she said, with a
quaint little sigh, "I dare swear he is. . . . France has many bitter
enemies these days."

"But you, citoyenne, are a daughter of France, and should be ready to
help her in a moment of deadly peril."

"My brother Armand devotes his life to France," she retorted proudly;
"as for me, I can do nothing . . . here in England. . . ."

"Yes, you . . ." he urged still more earnestly, whilst his thin fox-like
face seemed suddenly to have grown impressive and full of dignity,
"here, in England, citoyenne . . . you alone can help us. . . .
Listen!--I have been sent over here by the Republican Government as
its representative: I present my credentials to Mr. Pitt in London
to-morrow. One of my duties here is to find out all about this League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, which has become a standing menace to France,
since it is pledged to help our cursed aristocrats--traitors to their
country, and enemies of the people--to escape from the just punishment
which they deserve. You know as well as I do, citoyenne, that once they
are over here, those French EMIGRES try to rouse public feeling against
the Republic . . . They are ready to join issue with any enemy bold
enough to attack France . . . Now, within the last month scores of these
EMIGRES, some only suspected of treason, others actually condemned by
the Tribunal of Public Safety, have succeeded in crossing the Channel.
Their escape in each instance was planned, organized and effected by
this society of young English jackanapes, headed by a man whose brain
seems as resourceful as his identity is mysterious. All the most
strenuous efforts on the part of my spies have failed to discover who
he is; whilst the others are the hands, he is the head, who beneath this
strange anonymity calmly works at the destruction of France. I mean
to strike at that head, and for this I want your help--through him
afterwards I can reach the rest of the gang: he is a young buck in
English society, of that I feel sure. Find that man for me, citoyenne!"
he urged, "find him for France."

Marguerite had listened to Chauvelin's impassioned speech without
uttering a word, scarce making a movement, hardly daring to breathe. She
had told him before that this mysterious hero of romance was the talk of
the smart set to which she belonged; already, before this, her heart
and her imagination had stirred by the thought of the brave man, who,
unknown to fame, had rescued hundreds of lives from a terrible, often
an unmerciful fate. She had but little real sympathy with those haughty
French aristocrats, insolent in their pride of caste, of whom the
Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive was so typical an example; but
republican and liberal-minded though she was from principle, she
hated and loathed the methods which the young Republic had chosen for
establishing itself. She had not been in Paris for some months; the
horrors and bloodshed of the Reign of Terror, culminating in the
September massacres, had only come across the Channel to her as a faint
echo. Robespierre, Danton, Marat, she had not known in their new guise
of bloody judiciaries, merciless wielders of the guillotine. Her very
soul recoiled in horror from these excesses, to which she feared her
brother Armand--moderate republican as he was--might become one day the
holocaust.

Then, when first she heard of this band of young English enthusiasts,
who, for sheer love of their fellowmen, dragged women and children, old
and young men, from a horrible death, her heart had glowed with pride
for them, and now, as Chauvelin spoke, her very soul went out to the
gallant and mysterious leader of the reckless little band, who risked
his life daily, who gave it freely and without ostentation, for the sake
of humanity.

Her eyes were moist when Chauvelin had finished speaking, the lace at
her bosom rose and fell with her quick, excited breathing; she no longer
heard the noise of drinking from the inn, she did not heed her husband's
voice or his inane laugh, her thoughts had gone wandering in search of
the mysterious hero! Ah! there was a man she might have loved, had he
come her way: everything in him appealed to her romantic imagination;
his personality, his strength, his bravery, the loyalty of those
who served under him in that same noble cause, and, above all, that
anonymity which crowned him, as if with a halo of romantic glory.

"Find him for France, citoyenne!"

Chauvelin's voice close to her ear roused her from her dreams. The
mysterious hero had vanished, and, not twenty yards away from her, a man
was drinking and laughing, to whom she had sworn faith and loyalty.

"La! man," she said with a return of her assumed flippancy, "you are
astonishing. Where in the world am I to look for him?"

"You go everywhere, citoyenne," whispered Chauvelin, insinuatingly,
"Lady Blakeney is the pivot of social London, so I am told . . . you see
everything, you HEAR everything."

"Easy, my friend," retorted Marguerite, drawing, herself up to her full
height and looking down, with a slight thought of contempt on the small,
thin figure before her. "Easy! you seem to forget that there are six
feet of Sir Percy Blakeney, and a long line of ancestors to stand
between Lady Blakeney and such a thing as you propose."

"For the sake of France, citoyenne!" reiterated Chauvelin, earnestly.

"Tush, man, you talk nonsense anyway; for even if you did know who this
Scarlet Pimpernel is, you could do nothing to him--an Englishman!"

"I'd take my chance of that," said Chauvelin, with a dry, rasping little
laugh. "At any rate we could send him to the guillotine first to cool
his ardour, then, when there is a diplomatic fuss about it, we can
apologise--humbly--to the British Government, and, if necessary, pay
compensation to the bereaved family."

"What you propose is horrible, Chauvelin," she said, drawing away from
him as from some noisome insect. "Whoever the man may be, he is brave
and noble, and never--do you hear me?--never would I lend a hand to such
villiany."

"You prefer to be insulted by every French aristocrat who comes to this
country?"

Chauvelin had taken sure aim when he shot this tiny shaft. Marguerite's
fresh young cheeks became a thought more pale and she bit her under lip,
for she would not let him see that the shaft had struck home.

"That is beside the question," she said at last with indifference. "I
can defend myself, but I refuse to do any dirty work for you--or for
France. You have other means at your disposal; you must use them, my
friend."

And without another look at Chauvelin, Marguerite Blakeney turned her
back on him and walked straight into the inn.

"That is not your last word, citoyenne," said Chauvelin, as a flood of
light from the passage illumined her elegant, richly-clad figure, "we
meet in London, I hope!"

"We meet in London," she said, speaking over her shoulder at him, "but
that is my last word."

She threw open the coffee-room door and disappeared from his view,
but he remained under the porch for a moment or two, taking a pinch of
snuff. He had received a rebuke and a snub, but his shrewd, fox-like
face looked neither abashed nor disappointed; on the contrary, a curious
smile, half sarcastic and wholly satisfied, played around the corners of
his thin lips.




CHAPTER IX THE OUTRAGE



A beautiful starlit night had followed on the day of incessant rain: a
cool, balmy, late summer's night, essentially English in its suggestion
of moisture and scent of wet earth and dripping leaves.

The magnificent coach, drawn by four of the finest thoroughbreds in
England, had driven off along the London road, with Sir Percy Blakeney
on the box, holding the reins in his slender feminine hands, and beside
him Lady Blakeney wrapped in costly furs. A fifty-mile drive on a
starlit summer's night! Marguerite had hailed the notion of it
with delight. . . . Sir Percy was an enthusiastic whip; his four
thoroughbreds, which had been sent down to Dover a couple of days
before, were just sufficiently fresh and restive to add zest to the
expedition and Marguerite revelled in anticipation of the few hours of
solitude, with the soft night breeze fanning her cheeks, her thoughts
wandering, whither away? She knew from old experience that Sir Percy
would speak little, if at all: he had often driven her on his beautiful
coach for hours at night, from point to point, without making more than
one or two casual remarks upon the weather or the state of the roads. He
was very fond of driving by night, and she had very quickly adopted his
fancy: as she sat next to him hour after hour, admiring the dexterous,
certain way in which he handled the reins, she often wondered what went
on in that slow-going head of his. He never told her, and she had never
cared to ask.

At "The Fisherman's Rest" Mr. Jellyband was going the round, putting
out the lights. His bar customers had all gone, but upstairs in the snug
little bedrooms, Mr. Jellyband had quite a few important guests: the
Comtesse de Tournay, with Suzannne, and the Vicomte, and there were two
more bedrooms ready for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst, if
the two young men should elect to honour the ancient hostelry and stay
the night.

For the moment these two young gallants were comfortably installed
in the coffee-room, before the huge log-fire, which, in spite of the
mildness of the evening, had been allowed to burn merrily.

"I say, Jelly, has everyone gone?" asked Lord Tony, as the worthy
landlord still busied himself clearing away glasses and mugs.

"Everyone, as you see, my lord."

"And all your servants gone to bed?"

"All except the boy on duty in the bar, and," added Mr. Jellyband with a
laugh, "I expect he'll be asleep afore long, the rascal."

"Then we can talk here undisturbed for half an hour?"

"At your service, my lord. . . . I'll leave your candles on the dresser
. . . and your rooms are quite ready . . . I sleep at the top of the house
myself, but if your lordship'll only call loudly enough, I daresay I
shall hear."

"All right, Jelly . . . and . . . I say, put the lamp out--the fire'll
give us all the light we need--and we don't want to attract the
passer-by."

"Al ri', my lord."

Mr. Jellyband did as he was bid--he turned out the quaint old lamp that
hung from the raftered ceiling and blew out all the candles.

"Let's have a bottle of wine, Jelly," suggested Sir Andrew.

"Al ri', sir!"

Jellyband went off to fetch the wine. The room now was quite dark, save
for the circle of ruddy and fitful light formed by the brightly blazing
logs in the hearth.

"Is that all, gentlemen?" asked Jellyband, as he returned with a bottle
of wine and a couple of glasses, which he placed on the table.

"That'll do nicely, thanks, Jelly!" said Lord Tony.

"Good-night, my lord! Good-night, sir!"

"Good-night, Jelly!"

The two young men listened, whilst the heavy tread of Mr. Jellyband was
heard echoing along the passage and staircase. Presently even that sound
died out, and the whole of "The Fisherman's Rest" seemed wrapt in sleep,
save the two young men drinking in silence beside the hearth.

For a while no sound was heard, even in the coffee-room, save the
ticking of the old grandfather's clock and the crackling of the burning
wood.

"All right again this time, Ffoulkes?" asked Lord Antony at last.

Sir Andrew had been dreaming evidently, gazing into the fire, and seeing
therein, no doubt, a pretty, piquant face, with large brown eyes and a
wealth of dark curls round a childish forehead.

"Yes!" he said, still musing, "all right!"

"No hitch?"

"None."

Lord Antony laughed pleasantly as he poured himself out another glass of
wine.

"I need not ask, I suppose, whether you found the journey pleasant this
time?"

"No, friend, you need not ask," replied Sir Andrew, gaily. "It was all
right."

"Then here's to her very good health," said jovial Lord Tony. "She's
a bonnie lass, though she IS a French one. And here's to your
courtship--may it flourish and prosper exceedingly."

He drained his glass to the last drop, then joined his friend beside the
hearth.

"Well! you'll be doing the journey next, Tony, I expect," said Sir
Andrew, rousing himself from his meditations, "you and Hastings,
certainly; and I hope you may have as pleasant a task as I had, and as
charming a travelling companion. You have no idea, Tony. . . ."

"No! I haven't," interrupted his friend pleasantly, "but I'll take your
word for it. And now," he added, whilst a sudden earnestness crept over
his jovial young face, "how about business?" The two young men drew
their chairs closer together, and instinctively, though they were alone,
their voices sank to a whisper.

"I saw the Scarlet Pimpernel alone, for a few moments in Calais," said
Sir Andrew, "a day or two ago. He crossed over to England two days
before we did. He had escorted the party all the way from Paris,
dressed--you'll never credit it!--as an old market woman, and
driving--until they were safely out of the city--the covered cart,
under which the Comtesse de Tournay, Mlle. Suzanne, and the Vicomte lay
concealed among the turnips and cabbages. They, themselves, of course,
never suspected who their driver was. He drove them right through a line
of soldiery and a yelling mob, who were screaming, 'A bas les aristos!'
But the market cart got through along with some others, and the Scarlet
Pimpernel, in shawl, petticoat and hood, yelled 'A bas les aristos!'
louder than anybody. Faith!" added the young man, as his eyes glowed
with enthusiasm for the beloved leader, "that man's a marvel! His cheek
is preposterous, I vow!--and that's what carries him through."

Lord Antony, whose vocabulary was more limited than that of his friend,
could only find an oath or two with which to show his admiration for his
leader.

"He wants you and Hastings to meet him at Calais," said Sir Andrew,
more quietly, "on the 2nd of next month. Let me see! that will be next
Wednesday."

"Yes."

"It is, of course, the case of the Comte de Tournay, this time; a
dangerous task, for the Comte, whose escape from his chateau, after he
had been declared a 'suspect' by the Committee of Public Safety, was a
masterpiece of the Scarlet Pimpernel's ingenuity, is now under sentence
of death. It will be rare sport to get HIM out of France, and you will
have a narrow escape, if you get through at all. St. Just has actually
gone to meet him--of course, no one suspects St. Just as yet; but after
that . . . to get them both out of the country! I'faith, 'twill be a
tough job, and tax even the ingenuity of our chief. I hope I may yet
have orders to be of the party."

"Have you any special instructions for me?"

"Yes! rather more precise ones than usual. It appears that the
Republican Government have sent an accredited agent over to England,
a man named Chauvelin, who is said to be terribly bitter against our
league, and determined to discover the identity of our leader, so that
he may have him kidnapped, the next time he attempts to set foot in
France. This Chauvelin has brought a whole army of spies with him, and
until the chief has sampled the lot, he thinks we should meet as seldom
as possible on the business of the league, and on no account should talk
to each other in public places for a time. When he wants to speak to us,
he will contrive to let us know."

The two young men were both bending over the fire for the blaze had died
down, and only a red glow from the dying embers cast a lurid light on
a narrow semicircle in front of the hearth. The rest of the room lay
buried in complete gloom; Sir Andrew had taken a pocket-book from his
pocket, and drawn therefrom a paper, which he unfolded, and together
they tried to read it by the dim red firelight. So intent were they upon
this, so wrapt up in the cause, the business they had so much at heart,
so precious was this document which came from the very hand of their
adored leader, that they had eyes and ears only for that. They lost
count of the sounds around them, of the dropping of the crisp ash from
the grate, of the monotonous ticking of the clock, of the soft, almost
imperceptible rustle of something on the floor close beside them. A
figure had emerged from under one of the benches; with snake-like,
noiseless movements it crept closer and closer to the two young men, not
breathing, only gliding along the floor, in the inky blackness of the
room.

"You are to read these instructions and commit them to memory," said Sir
Andrew, "then destroy them."

He was about to replace the letter-case into his pocket, when a tiny
slip of paper fluttered from it and fell on to the floor. Lord Antony
stooped and picked it up.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I don't know," replied Sir Andrew.

"It dropped out of your pocket just now. It certainly does not seem to
be with the other paper."

"Strange!--I wonder when it got there? It is from the chief," he added,
glancing at the paper.

Both stooped to try and decipher this last tiny scrap of paper on which
a few words had been hastily scrawled, when suddenly a slight noise
attracted their attention, which seemed to come from the passage beyond.

"What's that?" said both instinctively. Lord Antony crossed the room
towards the door, which he threw open quickly and suddenly; at that very
moment he received a stunning blow between the eyes, which threw him
back violently into the room. Simultaneously the crouching, snake-like
figure in the gloom had jumped up and hurled itself from behind upon the
unsuspecting Sir Andrew, felling him to the ground.

All this occurred within the short space of two or three seconds, and
before either Lord Antony or Sir Andrew had time or chance to utter a
cry or to make the faintest struggle. They were each seized by two
men, a muffler was quickly tied round the mouth of each, and they
were pinioned to one another back to back, their arms, hands, and legs
securely fastened.

One man had in the meanwhile quietly shut the door; he wore a mask and
now stood motionless while the others completed their work.

"All safe, citoyen!" said one of the men, as he took a final survey of
the bonds which secured the two young men.

"Good!" replied the man at the door; "now search their pockets and give
me all the papers you find."

This was promptly and quietly done. The masked man having taken
possession of all the papers, listened for a moment or two if there were
any sound within "The Fisherman's Rest." Evidently satisfied that this
dastardly outrage had remained unheard, he once more opened the door and
pointed peremptorily down the passage. The four men lifted Sir Andrew
and Lord Antony from the ground, and as quietly, as noiselessly as they
had come, they bore the two pinioned young gallants out of the inn and
along the Dover Road into the gloom beyond.

In the coffee-room the masked leader of this daring attempt was quickly
glancing through the stolen papers.

"Not a bad day's work on the whole," he muttered, as he quietly took off
his mask, and his pale, fox-like eyes glittered in the red glow of the
fire. "Not a bad day's work."

He opened one or two letters from Sir Andrew Ffoulkes' pocket-book,
noted the tiny scrap of paper which the two young men had only just had
time to read; but one letter specially, signed Armand St. Just, seemed
to give him strange satisfaction.

"Armand St. Just a traitor after all," he murmured. "Now, fair
Marguerite Blakeney," he added viciously between his clenched teeth, "I
think that you will help me to find the Scarlet Pimpernel."




CHAPTER X IN THE OPERA BOX



It was one of the gala nights at Covent Garden Theatre, the first of the
autumn season in this memorable year of grace 1792.

The house was packed, both in the smart orchestra boxes and in the pit,
as well as in the more plebeian balconies and galleries above. Gluck's
ORPHEUS made a strong appeal to the more intellectual portions of the
house, whilst the fashionable women, the gaily-dressed and brilliant
throng, spoke to the eye of those who cared but little for this "latest
importation from Germany."

Selina Storace had been duly applauded after her grand ARIA by her
numerous admirers; Benjamin Incledon, the acknowledged favourite of the
ladies, had received special gracious recognition from the royal box;
and now the curtain came down after the glorious finale to the second
act, and the audience, which had hung spell-bound on the magic strains
of the great maestro, seemed collectively to breathe a long sigh of
satisfaction, previous to letting loose its hundreds of waggish and
frivolous tongues. In the smart orchestra boxes many well-known faces
were to be seen. Mr. Pitt, overweighted with cares of state, was finding
brief relaxation in to-night's musical treat; the Prince of Wales,
jovial, rotund, somewhat coarse and commonplace in appearance, moved
about from box to box, spending brief quarters of an hour with those of
his more intimate friends.

In Lord Grenville's box, too, a curious, interesting personality
attracted everyone's attention; a thin, small figure with shrewd,
sarcastic face and deep-set eyes, attentive to the music, keenly
critical of the audience, dressed in immaculate black, with dark hair
free from any powder. Lord Grenville--Foreign Secretary of State--paid
him marked, though frigid deference.

Here and there, dotted about among distinctly English types of beauty,
one or two foreign faces stood out in marked contrast: the haughty
aristocratic cast of countenance of the many French royalist EMIGRES
who, persecuted by the relentless, revolutionary faction of their
country, had found a peaceful refuge in England. On these faces sorrow
and care were deeply writ; the women especially paid but little heed,
either to the music or to the brilliant audience; no doubt their
thoughts were far away with husband, brother, son maybe, still in peril,
or lately succumbed to a cruel fate.

Among these the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive, but lately arrived
from France, was a most conspicuous figure: dressed in deep, heavy black
silk, with only a white lace kerchief to relieve the aspect of mourning
about her person, she sat beside Lady Portarles, who was vainly trying
by witty sallies and somewhat broad jokes, to bring a smile to the
Comtesse's sad mouth. Behind her sat little Suzanne and the Vicomte,
both silent and somewhat shy among so many strangers. Suzanne's eyes
seemed wistful; when she first entered the crowded house, she had
looked eagerly all around, scanning every face, scrutinised every box.
Evidently the one face she wished to see was not there, for she settled
herself quietly behind her mother, listened apathetically to the music,
and took no further interest in the audience itself.

"Ah, Lord Grenville," said Lady Portarles, as following a discreet
knock, the clever, interesting head of the Secretary of State appeared
in the doorway of the box, "you could not arrive more _A_ PROPOS. Here
is Madame la Comtesse de Tournay positively dying to hear the latest
news from France."

The distinguished diplomat had come forward and was shaking hands with
the ladies.

"Alas!" he said sadly, "it is of the very worst. The massacres continue;
Paris literally reeks with blood; and the guillotine claims a hundred
victims a day."

Pale and tearful, the Comtesse was leaning back in her chair, listening
horror-struck to this brief and graphic account of what went on in her
own misguided country.

"Ah, monsieur!" she said in broken English, "it is dreadful to hear all
that--and my poor husband still in that awful country. It is terrible
for me to be sitting here, in a theatre, all safe and in peace, whilst
he is in such peril."

"Lud, Madame!" said honest, bluff Lady Portarles, "your sitting in a
convent won't make your husband safe, and you have your children to
consider: they are too young to be dosed with anxiety and premature
mourning."

The Comtesse smiled through her tears at the vehemence of her friend.
Lady Portarles, whose voice and manner would not have misfitted a
jockey, had a heart of gold, and hid the most genuine sympathy and most
gentle kindliness, beneath the somewhat coarse manners affected by some
ladies at that time.

"Besides which, Madame," added Lord Grenville, "did you not tell me
yesterday that the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had pledged their
honour to bring M. le Comte safely across the Channel?"

"Ah, yes!" replied the Comtesse, "and that is my only hope. I saw Lord
Hastings yesterday . . . he reassured me again."

"Then I am sure you need have no fear. What the league have sworn, that
they surely will accomplish. Ah!" added the old diplomat with a sigh,
"if I were but a few years younger . . ."

"La, man!" interrupted honest Lady Portarles, "you are still young
enough to turn your back on that French scarecrow that sits enthroned in
your box to-night."

"I wish I could . . . but your ladyship must remember that in serving
our country we must put prejudices aside. M. Chauvelin is the accredited
agent of his Government . . ."

"Odd's fish, man!" she retorted, "you don't call those bloodthirsty
ruffians over there a government, do you?"

"It has not been thought advisable as yet," said the Minister,
guardedly, "for England to break off diplomatic relations with France,
and we cannot therefore refuse to receive with courtesy the agent she
wishes to send to us."

"Diplomatic relations be demmed, my lord! That sly little fox over
there is nothing but a spy, I'll warrant, and you'll find--an I'm much
mistaken, that he'll concern himself little with such diplomacy, beyond
trying to do mischief to royalist refugees--to our heroic Scarlet
Pimpernel and to the members of that brave little league."

"I am sure," said the Comtesse, pursing up her thin lips, "that if this
Chauvelin wishes to do us mischief, he will find a faithful ally in Lady
Blakeney."

"Bless the woman!" ejaculated Lady Portarles, "did ever anyone see such
perversity? My Lord Grenville, you have the gift of gab, will you please
explain to Madame la Comtesse that she is acting like a fool. In your
position here in England, Madame," she added, turning a wrathful and
resolute face towards the Comtesse, "you cannot afford to put on the
hoity-toity airs you French aristocrats are so fond of. Lady Blakeney
may or may not be in sympathy with those Ruffians in France; she may or
may not have had anything to do with the arrest and condemnation of St.
Cyr, or whatever the man's name is, but she is the leader of fashion
in this country; Sir Percy Blakeney has more money than any half-dozen
other men put together, he is hand and glove with royalty, and your
trying to snub Lady Blakeney will not harm her, but will make you look a
fool. Isn't that so, my Lord?"

But what Lord Grenville thought of this matter, or to what reflections
this comely tirade of Lady Portarles led the Comtesse de Tournay,
remained unspoken, for the curtain had just risen on the third act of
ORPHEUS, and admonishments to silence came from every part of the house.

Lord Grenville took a hasty farewell of the ladies and slipped back into
his box, where M. Chauvelin had sat through this ENTR'ACTE, with his
eternal snuff-box in his hand, and with his keen pale eyes intently
fixed upon a box opposite him, where, with much frou-frou of silken
skirts, much laughter and general stir of curiosity amongst the
audience, Marguerite Blakeney had just entered, accompanied by her
husband, and looking divinely pretty beneath the wealth of her golden,
reddish curls, slightly besprinkled with powder, and tied back at the
nape of her graceful neck with a gigantic black bow. Always dressed in
the very latest vagary of fashion, Marguerite alone among the ladies
that night had discarded the crossover fichu and broad-lapelled
over-dress, which had been in fashion for the last two or three years.
She wore the short-waisted classical-shaped gown, which so soon was
to become the approved mode in every country in Europe. It suited her
graceful, regal figure to perfection, composed as it was of shimmering
stuff which seemed a mass of rich gold embroidery.

As she entered, she leant for a moment out of the box, taking stock of
all those present whom she knew. Many bowed to her as she did so, and
from the royal box there came also a quick and gracious salute.

Chauvelin watched her intently all through the commencement of the third
act, as she sat enthralled with the music, her exquisite little hand
toying with a small jewelled fan, her regal head, her throat, arms and
neck covered with magnificent diamonds and rare gems, the gift of the
adoring husband who sprawled leisurely by her side.

Marguerite was passionately fond of music. ORPHEUS charmed her to-night.
The very joy of living was writ plainly upon the sweet young face, it
sparkled out of the merry blue eyes and lit up the smile that lurked
around the lips. She was after all but five-and-twenty, in the hey day
of youth, the darling of a brilliant throng, adored, FETED, petted,
cherished. Two days ago the DAY DREAM had returned from Calais, bringing
her news that her idolised brother had safely landed, that he thought of
her, and would be prudent for her sake.

What wonder for the moment, and listening to Gluck's impassioned
strains, that she forgot her disillusionments, forgot her vanished
love-dreams, forgot even the lazy, good-humoured nonentity who had made
up for his lack of spiritual attainments by lavishing worldly advantages
upon her.

He had stayed beside her in the box just as long as convention demanded,
making way for His Royal Highness, and for the host of admirers who in
a continued procession came to pay homage to the queen of fashion. Sir
Percy had strolled away, to talk to more congenial friends probably.
Marguerite did not even wonder whither he had gone--she cared so little;
she had had a little court round her, composed of the JEUNESSE DOREE of
London, and had just dismissed them all, wishing to be alone with Gluck
for a brief while.

A discreet knock at the door roused her from her enjoyment.

"Come in," she said with some impatience, without turning to look at the
intruder.

Chauvelin, waiting for his opportunity, noted that she was alone, and
now, without pausing for that impatient "Come in," he quietly slipped
into the box, and the next moment was standing behind Marguerite's
chair.

"A word with you, citoyenne," he said quietly.

Marguerite turned quickly, in alarm, which was not altogether feigned.

"Lud, man! you frightened me," she said with a forced little laugh,
"your presence is entirely inopportune. I want to listen to Gluck, and
have no mind for talking."

"But this is my only opportunity," he said, as quietly, and without
waiting for permission, he drew a chair close behind her--so close
that he could whisper in her ear, without disturbing the audience, and
without being seen, in the dark background of the box. "This is my only
opportunity," he repeated, as he vouchsafed him no reply, "Lady Blakeney
is always so surrounded, so FETED by her court, that a mere old friend
has but very little chance."

"Faith, man!" she said impatiently, "you must seek for another
opportunity then. I am going to Lord Grenville's ball to-night after the
opera. So are you, probably. I'll give you five minutes then. . . ."

"Three minutes in the privacy of this box are quite sufficient for me,"
he rejoined placidly, "and I think that you will be wise to listen to
me, Citoyenne St. Just."

Marguerite instinctively shivered. Chauvelin had not raised his voice
above a whisper; he was now quietly taking a pinch of snuff, yet there
was something in his attitude, something in those pale, foxy eyes, which
seemed to freeze the blood in her veins, as would the sight of some
deadly hitherto unguessed peril. "Is that a threat, citoyen?" she asked
at last.

"Nay, fair lady," he said gallantly, "only an arrow shot into the air."

He paused a moment, like a cat which sees a mouse running heedlessly
by, ready to spring, yet waiting with that feline sense of enjoyment of
mischief about to be done. Then he said quietly--

"Your brother, St. Just, is in peril."

Not a muscle moved in the beautiful face before him. He could only see
it in profile, for Marguerite seemed to be watching the stage intently,
but Chauvelin was a keen observer; he noticed the sudden rigidity of the
eyes, the hardening of the mouth, the sharp, almost paralysed tension of
the beautiful, graceful figure.

"Lud, then," she said with affected merriment, "since 'tis one of your
imaginary plots, you'd best go back to your own seat and leave me enjoy
the music."

And with her hand she began to beat time nervously against the cushion
of the box. Selina Storace was singing the "Che faro" to an audience
that hung spellbound upon the prima donna's lips. Chauvelin did not
move from his seat; he quietly watched that tiny nervous hand, the only
indication that his shaft had indeed struck home.

"Well?" she said suddenly and irrelevantly, and with the same feigned
unconcern.

"Well, citoyenne?" he rejoined placidly.

"About my brother?"

"I have news of him for you which, I think, will interest you, but first
let me explain. . . . May I?"

The question was unnecessary. He felt, though Marguerite still held her
head steadily averted from him, that her every nerve was strained to
hear what he had to say.

"The other day, citoyenne," he said, "I asked for your help. . . .
France needed it, and I thought I could rely on you, but you gave me
your answer. . . . Since then the exigencies of my own affairs and
your own social duties have kept up apart . . . although many things have
happened. . . ."

"To the point, I pray you, citoyen," she said lightly; "the music is
entrancing, and the audience will get impatient of your talk."

"One moment, citoyenne. The day on which I had the honour of meeting
you at Dover, and less than an hour after I had your final answer, I
obtained possession of some papers, which revealed another of those
subtle schemes for the escape of a batch of French aristocrats--that
traitor de Tournay amongst others--all organized by that arch-meddler,
the Scarlet Pimpernel. Some of the threads, too, of this mysterious
organization have come into my hands, but not all, and I want you--nay!
you MUST help me to gather them together."

Marguerite seemed to have listened to him with marked impatience; she
now shrugged her shoulders and said gaily--

"Bah! man. Have I not already told you that I care nought about your
schemes or about the Scarlet Pimpernel. And had you not spoken about my
brother . . ."

"A little patience, I entreat, citoyenne," he continued imperturbably.
"Two gentlemen, Lord Antony Dewhurst and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes were at
'The Fisherman's Rest' at Dover that same night."

"I know. I saw them there."

"They were already known to my spies as members of that accursed league.
It was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes who escorted the Comtesse de Tournay and her
children across the Channel. When the two young men were alone, my spies
forced their way into the coffee-room of the inn, gagged and pinioned
the two gallants, seized their papers, and brought them to me."

In a moment she had guessed the danger. Papers? . . . Had Armand been
imprudent? . . . The very thought struck her with nameless terror. Still
she would not let this man see that she feared; she laughed gaily and
lightly.

"Faith! and your impudence pases belief," she said merrily. "Robbery
and violence!--in England!--in a crowded inn! Your men might have been
caught in the act!"

"What if they had? They are children of France, and have been trained by
your humble servant. Had they been caught they would have gone to jail,
or even to the gallows, without a word of protest or indiscretion; at
any rate it was well worth the risk. A crowded inn is safer for these
little operations than you think, and my men have experience."

"Well? And those papers?" she asked carelessly.

"Unfortunately, though they have given me cognisance of certain names
. . . certain movements . . . enough, I think, to thwart their projected
COUP for the moment, it would only be for the moment, and still leaves
me in ignorance of the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

"La! my friend," she said, with the same assumed flippancy of manner,
"then you are where you were before, aren't you? and you can let me
enjoy the last strophe of the ARIA. Faith!" she added, ostentatiously
smothering an imaginary yawn, "had you not spoken about my
brother . . ."

"I am coming to him now, citoyenne. Among the papers there was a letter
to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, written by your brother, St. Just."

"Well? And?"

"That letter shows him to be not only in sympathy with the enemies of
France, but actually a helper, if not a member, of the League of the
Scarlet Pimpernel."

The blow had been struck at last. All along, Marguerite had been
expecting it; she would not show fear, she was determined to seem
unconcerned, flippant even. She wished, when the shock came, to be
prepared for it, to have all her wits about her--those wits which had
been nicknamed the keenest in Europe. Even now she did not flinch. She
knew that Chauvelin had spoken the truth; the man was too earnest, too
blindly devoted to the misguided cause he had at heart, too proud of his
countrymen, of those makers of revolutions, to stoop to low, purposeless
falsehoods.

That letter of Armand's--foolish, imprudent Armand--was in Chauvelin's
hands. Marguerite knew that as if she had seen the letter with her own
eyes; and Chauvelin would hold that letter for purposes of his own,
until it suited him to destroy it or to make use of it against Armand.
All that she knew, and yet she continued to laugh more gaily, more
loudly than she had done before.

"La, man!" she said, speaking over her shoulder and looking him full and
squarely in the face, "did I not say it was some imaginary plot. . . .
Armand in league with that enigmatic Scarlet Pimpernel! . . . Armand busy
helping those French aristocrats whom he despises! . . . Faith, the tale
does infinite credit to your imagination!"

"Let me make my point clear, citoyenne," said Chauvelin, with the same
unruffled calm, "I must assure you that St. Just is compromised beyond
the slightest hope of pardon."

Inside the orchestra box all was silent for a moment or two. Marguerite
sat, straight upright, rigid and inert, trying to think, trying to face
the situation, to realise what had best be done.

In the house Storace had finished the ARIA, and was even now bowing in
her classic garb, but in approved eighteenth-century fashion, to the
enthusiastic audience, who cheered her to the echo.

"Chauvelin," said Marguerite Blakeney at last, quietly, and without
that touch of bravado which had characterised her attitude all along,
"Chauvelin, my friend, shall we try to understand one another. It seems
that my wits have become rusty by contact with this damp climate. Now,
tell me, you are very anxious to discover the identity of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, isn't that so?"

"France's most bitter enemy, citoyenne . . . all the more dangerous, as
he works in the dark."

"All the more noble, you mean. . . . Well!--and you would now force
me to do some spying work for you in exchange for my brother Armand's
safety?--Is that it?"

"Fie! two very ugly words, fair lady," protested Chauvelin, urbanely.
"There can be no question of force, and the service which I would ask of
you, in the name of France, could never be called by the shocking name
of spying."

"At any rate, that is what it is called over here," she said drily.
"That is your intention, is it not?"

"My intention is, that you yourself win the free pardon for Armand St.
Just by doing me a small service."

"What is it?"

"Only watch for me to-night, Citoyenne St. Just," he said eagerly.
"Listen: among the papers which were found about the person of Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes there was a tiny note. See!" he added, taking a tiny
scrap of paper from his pocket-book and handing it to her.

It was the same scrap of paper which, four days ago, the two young
men had been in the act of reading, at the very moment when they were
attacked by Chauvelin's minions. Marguerite took it mechanically and
stooped to read it. There were only two lines, written in a distorted,
evidently disguised, handwriting; she read them half aloud--

"'Remember we must not meet more often than is strictly necessary. You
have all instructions for the 2nd. If you wish to speak to me again, I
shall be at G.'s ball.'"

"What does it mean?" she asked.

"Look again, citoyenne, and you will understand."

"There is a device here in the corner, a small red flower . . ."

"Yes."

"The Scarlet Pimpernel," she said eagerly, "and G.'s ball means
Grenville's ball. . . . He will be at my Lord Grenville's ball
to-night."

"That is how I interpret the note, citoyenne," concluded Chauvelin,
blandly. "Lord Antony Dewhurst and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, after they were
pinioned and searched by my spies, were carried by my orders to a lonely
house in the Dover Road, which I had rented for the purpose: there they
remained close prisoners until this morning. But having found this tiny
scrap of paper, my intention was that they should be in London, in time
to attend my Lord Grenville's ball. You see, do you not? that they must
have a great deal to say to their chief . . . and thus they will have an
opportunity of speaking to him to-night, just as he directed them to do.
Therefore, this morning, those two young gallants found every bar
and bolt open in that lonely house on the Dover Road, their jailers
disappeared, and two good horses standing ready saddled and tethered in
the yard. I have not seen them yet, but I think we may safely conclude
that they did not draw rein until they reached London. Now you see how
simple it all is, citoyenne!"

"It does seem simple, doesn't it?" she said, with a final bitter attempt
at flippancy, "when you want to kill a chicken . . . you take hold of
it . . . then you wring its neck . . . it's only the chicken who does
not find it quite so simple. Now you hold a knife at my throat, and a
hostage for my obedience. . . . You find it simple. . . . I don't."

"Nay, citoyenne, I offer you a chance of saving the brother you love
from the consequences of his own folly."

Marguerite's face softened, her eyes at last grew moist, as she
murmured, half to herself:

"The only being in the world who has loved me truly and constantly
. . . But what do you want me to do, Chauvelin?" she said, with a world
of despair in her tear-choked voice. "In my present position, it is
well-nigh impossible!"

"Nay, citoyenne," he said drily and relentlessly, not heeding that
despairing, childlike appeal, which might have melted a heart of stone,
"as Lady Blakeney, no one suspects you, and with your help to-night I
may--who knows?--succeed in finally establishing the identity of the
Scarlet Pimpernel. . . . You are going to the ball anon. . . . Watch
for me there, citoyenne, watch and listen. . . . You can tell me if you
hear a chance word or whisper. . . . You can note everyone to whom Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes or Lord Antony Dewhurst will speak. You are absolutely
beyond suspicion now. The Scarlet Pimpernel will be at Lord Grenville's
ball to-night. Find out who he is, and I will pledge the word of France
that your brother shall be safe."

Chauvelin was putting the knife to her throat. Marguerite felt herself
entangled in one of those webs, from which she could hope for no escape.
A precious hostage was being held for her obedience: for she knew that
this man would never make an empty threat. No doubt Armand was already
signalled to the Committee of Public Safety as one of the "suspect";
he would not be allowed to leave France again, and would be ruthlessly
struck, if she refused to obey Chauvelin. For a moment--woman-like--she
still hoped to temporise. She held out her hand to this man, whom she
now feared and hated.

"If I promise to help you in this matter, Chauvelin," she said
pleasantly, "will you give me that letter of St. Just's?"

"If you render me useful service to-night, citoyenne," he replied with a
sarcastic smile, "I will give you that letter . . . to-morrow."

"You do not trust me?"

"I trust you absolutely, dear lady, but St. Just's life is forfeit to
his country . . . it rests with you to redeem it."

"I may be powerless to help you," she pleaded, "were I ever so willing."

"That would be terrible indeed," he said quietly, "for you . . . and for
St. Just."

Marguerite shuddered. She felt that from this man she could expect no
mercy. All-powerful, he held the beloved life in the hollow of his hand.
She knew him too well not to know that, if he failed in gaining his own
ends, he would be pitiless.

She felt cold in spite of the oppressive air of opera-house. The
heart-appealing strains of the music seemed to reach her, as from a
distant land. She drew her costly lace scarf up around her shoulders,
and sat silently watching the brilliant scene, as if in a dream.

For a moment her thoughts wandered away from the loved one who was in
danger, to that other man who also had a claim on her confidence and her
affection. She felt lonely, frightened for Armand's sake; she longed
to seek comfort and advice from someone who would know how to help and
console. Sir Percy Blakeney had loved her once; he was her husband; why
should she stand alone through this terrible ordeal? He had very little
brains, it is true, but he had plenty of muscle: surely, if she provided
the thought, and he the manly energy and pluck, together they could
outwit the astute diplomatist, and save the hostage from his vengeful
hands, without imperilling the life of the noble leader of that gallant
little band of heroes. Sir Percy knew St. Just well--he seemed attached
to him--she was sure that he could help.

Chauvelin was taking no further heed of her. He had said his cruel
"Either--or--" and left her to decide. He, in his turn now, appeared to
be absorbed in the sour-stirring melodies of ORPHEUS, and was beating
time to the music with his sharp, ferret-like head.

A discreet rap at the door roused Marguerite from her thoughts. It
was Sir Percy Blakeney, tall, sleepy, good-humoured, and wearing that
half-shy, half-inane smile, which just now seemed to irritate her every
nerve.

"Er . . . your chair is outside . . . m'dear," he said, with his most
exasperating drawl, "I suppose you will want to go to that demmed ball.
. . . Excuse me--er--Monsieur Chauvelin--I had not observed you. . . ."

He extended two slender, white fingers toward Chauvelin, who had risen
when Sir Percy entered the box.

"Are you coming, m'dear?"

"Hush! Sh! Sh!" came in angry remonstrance from different parts of
the house. "Demmed impudence," commented Sir Percy with a good-natured
smile.

Marguerite sighed impatiently. Her last hope seemed suddenly to have
vanished away. She wrapped her cloak round her and without looking at
her husband:

"I am ready to go," she said, taking his arm. At the door of the box
she turned and looked straight at Chauvelin, who, with his CHAPEAU-BRAS
under his arm, and a curious smile round his thin lips, was preparing to
follow the strangely ill-assorted couple.

"It is only AU REVOIR, Chauvelin," she said pleasantly, "we shall meet
at my Lord Grenville's ball, anon."

And in her eyes the astute Frenchman, read, no doubt, something which
caused him profound satisfaction, for, with a sarcastic smile, he took
a delicate pinch of snuff, then, having dusted his dainty lace jabot, he
rubbed his thin, bony hands contentedly together.




CHAPTER XI LORD GRENVILLE'S BALL



The historic ball given by the then Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs--Lord Grenville--was the most brilliant function of the year.
Though the autumn season had only just begun, everybody who was anybody
had contrived to be in London in time to be present there, and to shine
at this ball, to the best of his or her respective ability.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had promised to be present.
He was coming on presently from the opera. Lord Grenville himself had
listened to the two first acts of ORPHEUS, before preparing to receive
his guests. At ten o'clock--an unusually late hour in those days--the
grand rooms of the Foreign Office, exquisitely decorated with exotic
palms and flowers, were filled to overflowing. One room had been set
apart for dancing, and the dainty strains of the minuet made a soft
accompaniment to the gay chatter, the merry laughter of the numerous and
brilliant company.

In a smaller chamber, facing the top of the fine stairway, the
distinguished host stood ready to receive his guests. Distinguished men,
beautiful women, notabilities from every European country had already
filed past him, had exchanged the elaborate bows and curtsies with him,
which the extravagant fashion of the time demanded, and then, laughing
and talking, had dispersed in the ball, reception, and card rooms
beyond.

Not far from Lord Grenville's elbow, leaning against one of the console
tables, Chauvelin, in his irreproachable black costume, was taking a
quiet survey of the brilliant throng. He noted that Sir Percy and Lady
Blakeney had not yet arrived, and his keen, pale eyes glanced quickly
towards the door every time a new-comer appeared.

He stood somewhat isolated: the envoy of the Revolutionary Government of
France was not likely to be very popular in England, at a time when the
news of the awful September massacres, and of the Reign of Terror and
Anarchy, had just begun to filtrate across the Channel.

In his official capacity he had been received courteously by his English
colleagues: Mr. Pitt had shaken him by the hand; Lord Grenville had
entertained him more than once; but the more intimate circles of London
society ignored him altogether; the women openly turned their backs upon
him; the men who held no official position refused to shake his hand.

But Chauvelin was not the man to trouble himself about these social
amenities, which he called mere incidents in his diplomatic career. He
was blindly enthusiastic for the revolutionary cause, he despised all
social inequalities, and he had a burning love for his own country:
these three sentiments made him supremely indifferent to the snubs he
received in this fog-ridden, loyalist, old-fashioned England.

But, above all, Chauvelin had a purpose at heart. He firmly believed
that the French aristocrat was the most bitter enemy of France; he would
have wished to see every one of them annihilated: he was one of those
who, during this awful Reign of Terror, had been the first to utter the
historic and ferocious desire "that aristocrats might have but one head
between them, so that it might be cut off with a single stroke of the
guillotine." And thus he looked upon every French aristocrat, who
had succeeded in escaping from France, as so much prey of which the
guillotine had been unwarrantably cheated. There is no doubt that those
royalist EMIGRES, once they had managed to cross the frontier, did their
very best to stir up foreign indignation against France. Plots without
end were hatched in England, in Belgium, in Holland, to try and induce
some great power to send troops into revolutionary Paris, to free King
Louis, and to summarily hang the bloodthirsty leaders of that monster
republic.

Small wonder, therefore, that the romantic and mysterious personality of
the Scarlet Pimpernel was a source of bitter hatred to Chauvelin. He and
the few young jackanapes under his command, well furnished with money,
armed with boundless daring, and acute cunning, had succeeded in
rescuing hundreds of aristocrats from France. Nine-tenths of the
EMIGRES, who were FETED at the English court, owed their safety to that
man and to his league.

Chauvelin had sworn to his colleagues in Paris that he would discover
the identity of that meddlesome Englishman, entice him over to France,
and then . . . Chauvelin drew a deep breath of satisfaction at the very
thought of seeing that enigmatic head falling under the knife of the
guillotine, as easily as that of any other man.

Suddenly there was a great stir on the handsome staircase, all
conversation stopped for a moment as the majordomo's voice outside
announced,--

"His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and suite, Sir Percy Blakeney,
Lady Blakeney."

Lord Grenville went quickly to the door to receive his exalted guest.

The Prince of Wales, dressed in a magnificent court suit of
salmon-coloured velvet richly embroidered with gold, entered with
Marguerite Blakeney on his arm; and on his left Sir Percy, in gorgeous
shimmering cream satin, cut in the extravagant "Incroyable" style, his
fair hair free from powder, priceless lace at his neck and wrists, and
the flat CHAPEAU-BRAS under his arm.

After the few conventional words of deferential greeting, Lord Grenville
said to his royal guest,--

"Will your Highness permit me to introduce M. Chauvelin, the accredited
agent of the French Government?"

Chauvelin, immediately the Prince entered, had stepped forward,
expecting this introduction. He bowed very low, whilst the Prince
returned his salute with a curt nod of the head.

"Monsieur," said His Royal Highness coldly, "we will try to forget
the government that sent you, and look upon you merely as our guest--a
private gentleman from France. As such you are welcome, Monsieur."

"Monseigneur," rejoined Chauvelin, bowing once again. "Madame," he
added, bowing ceremoniously before Marguerite.

"Ah! my little Chauvelin!" she said with unconcerned gaiety, and
extending her tiny hand to him. "Monsieur and I are old friends, your
Royal Highness."

"Ah, then," said the Prince, this time very graciously, "you are doubly
welcome, Monsieur."

"There is someone else I would crave permission to present to your Royal
Highness," here interposed Lord Grenville.

"Ah! who is it?" asked the Prince.

"Madame la Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive and her family, who have but
recently come from France."

"By all means!--They are among the lucky ones then!"

Lord Grenville turned in search of the Comtesse, who sat at the further
end of the room.

"Lud love me!" whispered his Royal Highness to Marguerite, as soon as he
had caught sight of the rigid figure of the old lady; "Lud love me! she
looks very virtuous and very melancholy."

"Faith, your Royal Highness," she rejoined with a smile, "virtue is like
precious odours, most fragrant when it is crushed."

"Virtue, alas!" sighed the Prince, "is mostly unbecoming to your
charming sex, Madame."

"Madame la Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive," said Lord Grenville,
introducing the lady.

"This is a pleasure, Madame; my royal father, as you know, is ever glad
to welcome those of your compatriots whom France has driven from her
shores."

"Your Royal Highness is ever gracious," replied the Comtesse with
becoming dignity. Then, indicating her daughter, who stood timidly by
her side: "My daughter Suzanne, Monseigneur," she said.

"Ah! charming!--charming!" said the Prince, "and now allow me, Comtesse,
to introduce you, Lady Blakeney, who honours us with her friendship. You
and she will have much to say to one another, I vow. Every compatriot of
Lady Blakeney's is doubly welcome for her sake . . . her friends are our
friends . . . her enemies, the enemies of England."

Marguerite's blue eyes had twinkled with merriment at this gracious
speech from her exalted friend. The Comtesse de Tournay, who lately had
so flagrantly insulted her, was here receiving a public lesson, at
which Marguerite could not help but rejoice. But the Comtesse, for whom
respect of royalty amounted almost to a religion, was too well-schooled
in courtly etiquette to show the slightest sign of embarrassment, as the
two ladies curtsied ceremoniously to one another.

"His Royal Highness is ever gracious, Madame," said Marguerite,
demurely, and with a wealth of mischief in her twinkling blue eyes,
"but there is no need for his kind of meditation. . . . Your amiable
reception of me at our last meeting still dwells pleasantly in my
memory."

"We poor exiles, Madame," rejoined the Comtesse, frigidly, "show our
gratitude to England by devotion to the wishes of Monseigneur."

"Madame!" said Marguerite, with another ceremonious curtsey.

"Madame," responded the Comtesse with equal dignity.

The Prince in the meanwhile was saying a few gracious words to the young
Vicomte.

"I am happy to know you, Monsieur le Vicomte," he said. "I knew your
father well when he was ambassador in London."

"Ah, Monseigneur!" replied the Vicomte, "I was a leetle boy then . . .
and now I owe the honour of this meeting to our protector, the Scarlet
Pimpernel."

"Hush!" said the Prince, earnestly and quickly, as he indicated
Chauvelin, who had stood a little on one side throughout the whole of
this little scene, watching Marguerite and the Comtesse with an amused,
sarcastic little smile around his thin lips.

"Nay, Monseigneur," he said now, as if in direct response to the
Prince's challenge, "pray do not check this gentleman's display of
gratitude; the name of that interesting red flower is well known to
me--and to France."

The Prince looked at him keenly for a moment or two.

"Faith, then, Monsieur," he said, "perhaps you know more about our
national hero than we do ourselves . . . perchance you know who he is.
. . . See!" he added, turning to the groups round the room, "the ladies
hang upon your lips . . . you would render yourself popular among the
fair sex if you were to gratify their curiosity."

"Ah, Monseigneur," said Chauvelin, significantly, "rumour has it in
France that your Highness could--an you would--give the truest account
of that enigmatical wayside flower."

He looked quickly and keenly at Marguerite as he spoke; but she betrayed
no emotion, and her eyes met his quite fearlessly.

"Nay, man," replied the Prince, "my lips are sealed! and the members of
the league jealously guard the secret of their chief . . . so his fair
adorers have to be content with worshipping a shadow. Here in England,
Monsieur," he added, with wonderful charm and dignity, "we but name
the Scarlet Pimpernel, and every fair cheek is suffused with a blush of
enthusiasm. None have seen him save his faithful lieutenants. We know
not if he be tall or short, fair or dark, handsome or ill-formed; but we
know that he is the bravest gentleman in all the world, and we all feel
a little proud, Monsieur, when we remember that he is an Englishman.

"Ah, Monsieur Chauvelin," added Marguerite, looking almost with defiance
across at the placid, sphinx-like face of the Frenchman, "His Royal
Highness should add that we ladies think of him as of a hero of old . . .
we worship him . . . we wear his badge . . . we tremble for him when he
is in danger, and exult with him in the hour of his victory."

Chauvelin did no more than bow placidly both to the Prince and to
Marguerite; he felt that both speeches were intended--each in their
way--to convey contempt or defiance. The pleasure-loving, idle Prince
he despised: the beautiful woman, who in her golden hair wore a spray
of small red flowers composed of rubies and diamonds--her he held in the
hollow of hand: he could afford to remain silent and to wait events.

A long, jovial, inane laugh broke the sudden silence which had fallen
over everyone. "And we poor husbands," came in slow, affected accents
from gorgeous Sir Percy, "we have to stand by . . . while they worship a
demmed shadow."

Everyone laughed--the Prince more loudly than anyone. The tension
of subdued excitement was relieved, and the next moment everyone was
laughing and chatting merrily as the gay crowd broke up and dispersed in
the adjoining rooms.




CHAPTER XII THE SCRAP OF PAPER



Marguerite suffered intensely. Though she laughed and chatted, though
she was more admired, more surrounded, more FETED than any woman there,
she felt like one condemned to death, living her last day upon this
earth.

Her nerves were in a state of painful tension, which had increased a
hundredfold during that brief hour which she had spent in her husband's
company, between the opera and the ball. The short ray of hope--that she
might find in this good-natured, lazy individual a valuable friend and
adviser--had vanished as quickly as it had come, the moment she found
herself alone with him. The same feeling of good-humoured contempt which
one feels for an animal or a faithful servant, made her turn away with
a smile from the man who should have been her moral support in this
heart-rending crisis through which she was passing: who should have been
her cool-headed adviser, when feminine sympathy and sentiment tossed her
hither and thither, between her love for her brother, who was far away
and in mortal peril, and horror of the awful service which Chauvelin had
exacted from her, in exchange for Armand's safety.

There he stood, the moral support, the cool-headed adviser, surrounded
by a crowd of brainless, empty-headed young fops, who were even now
repeating from mouth to mouth, and with every sign of the keenest
enjoyment, a doggerel quatrain which he had just given forth. Everywhere
the absurd, silly words met her: people seemed to have little else to
speak about, even the Prince had asked her, with a little laugh, whether
she appreciated her husband's latest poetic efforts.

"All done in the tying of a cravat," Sir Percy had declared to his
clique of admirers.

     "We seek him here, we seek him there,
     Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
     Is he in heaven?--Is he in hell?
     That demmed, elusive Pimpernel"

Sir Percy's BON MOT had gone the round of the brilliant reception-rooms.
The Prince was enchanted. He vowed that life without Blakeney would be
but a dreary desert. Then, taking him by the arm, had led him to the
card-room, and engaged him in a long game of hazard.

Sir Percy, whose chief interest in most social gatherings seemed to
centre round the card-table, usually allowed his wife to flirt, dance,
to amuse or bore herself as much as she liked. And to-night, having
delivered himself of his BON MOT, he had left Marguerite surrounded by
a crowd of admirers of all ages, all anxious and willing to help her to
forget that somewhere in the spacious reception rooms, there was a long,
lazy being who had been fool enough to suppose that the cleverest woman
in Europe would settle down to the prosaic bonds of English matrimony.

Her still overwrought nerves, her excitement and agitation, lent
beautiful Marguerite Blakeney much additional charm: escorted by a
veritable bevy of men of all ages and of most nationalities, she called
forth many exclamations of admiration from everyone as she passed.

She would not allow herself any more time to think. Her early, somewhat
Bohemian training had made her something of a fatalist. She felt that
events would shape themselves, that the directing of them was not in her
hands. From Chauvelin she knew that she could expect no mercy. He had
set a price on Armand's head, and left it to her to pay or not, as she
chose.

Later on in the evening she caught sight of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord
Antony Dewhurst, who seemingly had just arrived. She noticed at once
that Sir Andrew immediately made for little Suzanne de Tournay, and that
the two young people soon managed to isolate themselves in one of the
deep embrasures of the mullioned windows, there to carry on a long
conversation, which seemed very earnest and very pleasant on both sides.

Both the young men looked a little haggard and anxious, but otherwise
they were irreproachably dressed, and there was not the slightest sign,
about their courtly demeanour, of the terrible catastrophe, which they
must have felt hovering round them and round their chief.

That the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had no intention of abandoning
its cause, she had gathered through little Suzanne herself, who spoke
openly of the assurance she and her mother had had that the Comte de
Tournay would be rescued from France by the league, within the next few
days. Vaguely she began to wonder, as she looked at the brilliant and
fashionable in the gaily-lighted ball-room, which of these worldly men
round her was the mysterious "Scarlet Pimpernel," who held the threads
of such daring plots, and the fate of valuable lives in his hands.

A burning curiosity seized her to know him: although for months she had
heard of him and had accepted his anonymity, as everyone else in society
had done; but now she longed to know--quite impersonally, quite apart
from Armand, and oh! quite apart from Chauvelin--only for her own sake,
for the sake of the enthusiastic admiration she had always bestowed on
his bravery and cunning.

He was at the ball, of course, somewhere, since Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
and Lord Antony Dewhurst were here, evidently expecting to meet their
chief--and perhaps to get a fresh MOT D'ORDRE from him.

Marguerite looked round at everyone, at the aristocratic high-typed
Norman faces, the squarely-built, fair-haired Saxon, the more gentle,
humorous caste of the Celt, wondering which of these betrayed the power,
the energy, the cunning which had imposed its will and its leadership
upon a number of high-born English gentlemen, among whom rumour asserted
was His Royal Highness himself.

Sir Andrew Ffoulkes? Surely not, with his gentle blue eyes, which were
looking so tenderly and longingly after little Suzanne, who was being
led away from the pleasant TETE-A-TETE by her stern mother. Marguerite
watched him across the room, as he finally turned away with a sigh, and
seemed to stand, aimless and lonely, now that Suzanne's dainty little
figure had disappeared in the crowd.

She watched him as he strolled towards the doorway, which led to a small
boudoir beyond, then paused and leaned against the framework of it,
looking still anxiously all round him.

Marguerite contrived for the moment to evade her present attentive
cavalier, and she skirted the fashionable crowd, drawing nearer to the
doorway, against which Sir Andrew was leaning. Why she wished to get
closer to him, she could not have said: perhaps she was impelled by an
all-powerful fatality, which so often seems to rule the destinies of
men.

Suddenly she stopped: her very heart seemed to stand still, her eyes,
large and excited, flashed for a moment towards that doorway, then as
quickly were turned away again. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was still in the
same listless position by the door, but Marguerite had distinctly seen
that Lord Hastings--a young buck, a friend of her husband's and one of
the Prince's set--had, as he quickly brushed past him, slipped something
into his hand.

For one moment longer--oh! it was the merest flash--Marguerite paused:
the next she had, with admirably played unconcern, resumed her walk
across the room--but this time more quickly towards that doorway whence
Sir Andrew had now disappeared.

All this, from the moment that Marguerite had caught sight of Sir Andrew
leaning against the doorway, until she followed him into the little
boudoir beyond, had occurred in less than a minute. Fate is usually
swift when she deals a blow.

Now Lady Blakeney had suddenly ceased to exist. It was Marguerite
St. Just who was there only: Marguerite St. Just who had passed her
childhood, her early youth, in the protecting arms of her brother
Armand. She had forgotten everything else--her rank, her dignity, her
secret enthusiasms--everything save that Armand stood in peril of
his life, and that there, not twenty feet away from her, in the small
boudoir which was quite deserted, in the very hands of Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, might be the talisman which would save her brother's life.

Barely another thirty seconds had elapsed between the moment when Lord
Hastings slipped the mysterious "something" into Sir Andrew's hand, and
the one when she, in her turn, reached the deserted boudoir. Sir Andrew
was standing with his back to her and close to a table upon which stood
a massive silver candelabra. A slip of paper was in his hand, and he was
in the very act of perusing its contents.

Unperceived, her soft clinging robe making not the slightest sound upon
the heavy carpet, not daring to breathe until she had accomplished her
purpose, Marguerite slipped close behind him. . . . At that moment he
looked round and saw her; she uttered a groan, passed her hand across
her forehead, and murmured faintly:

"The heat in the room was terrible . . . I felt so faint . . . Ah! . . ."

She tottered almost as if she would fall, and Sir Andrew, quickly
recovering himself, and crumpling in his hand the tiny note he had been
reading, was only apparently, just in time to support her.

"You are ill, Lady Blakeney?" he asked with much concern, "Let me . . ."

"No, no, nothing--" she interrupted quickly. "A chair--quick."

She sank into a chair close to the table, and throwing back her head,
closing her eyes.

"There!" she murmured, still faintly; "the giddiness is passing off.
. . . Do not heed me, Sir Andrew; I assure you I already feel better."

At moments like these there is no doubt--and psychologists actually
assert it--that there is in us a sense which has absolutely nothing to
do with the other five: it is not that we see, it is not that we hear
or touch, yet we seem to do all three at once. Marguerite sat there with
her eyes apparently closed. Sir Andrew was immediately behind her,
and on her right was the table with the five-armed candelabra upon it.
Before her mental vision there was absolutely nothing but Armand's face.
Armand, whose life was in the most imminent danger, and who seemed to
be looking at her from a background upon which were dimly painted
the seething crowd of Paris, the bare walls of the Tribunal of Public
Safety, with Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, demanding
Armand's life in the name of the people of France, and the lurid
guillotine with its stained knife waiting for another victim . . .
Armand! . . .

For one moment there was dead silence in the little boudoir. Beyond,
from the brilliant ball-room, the sweet notes of the gavotte, the
frou-frou of rich dresses, the talk and laughter of a large and merry
crowd, came as a strange, weird accompaniment to the drama which was
being enacted here. Sir Andrew had not uttered another word. Then it was
that that extra sense became potent in Marguerite Blakeney. She could
not see, for her two eyes were closed, she could not hear, for the noise
from the ball-room drowned the soft rustle of that momentous scrap of
paper; nevertheless she knew-as if she had both seen and heard--that
Sir Andrew was even now holding the paper to the flame of one of the
candles.

At the exact moment that it began to catch fire, she opened her eyes,
raised her hand and, with two dainty fingers, had taken the burning
scrap of paper from the young man's hand. Then she blew out the flame,
and held the paper to her nostril with perfect unconcern.

"How thoughtful of you, Sir Andrew," she said gaily, "surely 'twas your
grandmother who taught you that the smell of burnt paper was a sovereign
remedy against giddiness."

She sighed with satisfaction, holding the paper tightly between her
jewelled fingers; that talisman which perhaps would save her brother
Armand's life. Sir Andrew was staring at her, too dazed for the moment
to realize what had actually happened; he had been taken so completely
by surprise, that he seemed quite unable to grasp the fact that the slip
of paper, which she held in her dainty hand, was one perhaps on which
the life of his comrade might depend.

Marguerite burst into a long, merry peal of laughter.

"Why do you stare at me like that?" she said playfully. "I assure you
I feel much better; your remedy has proved most effectual. This room is
most delightedly cool," she added, with the same perfect composure,
"and the sound of the gavotte from the ball-room is fascinating and
soothing."

She was prattling on in the most unconcerned and pleasant way, whilst
Sir Andrew, in an agony of mind, was racking his brains as to the
quickest method he could employ to get that bit of paper out of that
beautiful woman's hand. Instinctively, vague and tumultuous thoughts
rushed through his mind: he suddenly remembered her nationality, and
worst of all, recollected that horrible take anent the Marquis de St.
Cyr, which in England no one had credited, for the sake of Sir Percy, as
well as for her own.

"What? Still dreaming and staring?" she said, with a merry laugh, "you
are most ungallant, Sir Andrew; and now I come to think of it, you
seemed more startled than pleased when you saw me just now. I do
believe, after all, that it was not concern for my health, nor yet a
remedy taught you by your grandmother that caused you to burn this tiny
scrap of paper. . . . I vow it must have been your lady love's last
cruel epistle you were trying to destroy. Now confess!" she added,
playfully holding up the scrap of paper, "does this contain her final
CONGE, or a last appeal to kiss and make friends?"

"Whichever it is, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, who was gradually
recovering his self-possession, "this little note is undoubtedly mine,
and . . ." Not caring whether his action was one that would be styled
ill-bred towards a lady, the young man had made a bold dash for the
note; but Marguerite's thoughts flew quicker than his own; her actions
under pressure of this intense excitement, were swifter and more sure.
She was tall and strong; she took a quick step backwards and knocked
over the small Sheraton table which was already top-heavy, and which
fell down with a crash, together with the massive candelabra upon it.

She gave a quick cry of alarm:

"The candles, Sir Andrew--quick!"

There was not much damage done; one or two of the candles had blown
out as the candelabra fell; others had merely sent some grease upon the
valuable carpet; one had ignited the paper shade aver it. Sir Andrew
quickly and dexterously put out the flames and replaced the candelabra
upon the table; but this had taken him a few seconds to do, and those
seconds had been all that Marguerite needed to cast a quick glance at
the paper, and to note its contents--a dozen words in the same distorted
handwriting she had seen before, and bearing the same device--a
star-shaped flower drawn in red ink.

When Sir Andrew once more looked at her, he only saw upon her face alarm
at the untoward accident and relief at its happy issue; whilst the tiny
and momentous note had apparently fluttered to the ground. Eagerly
the young man picked it up, and his face looked much relieved, as his
fingers closed tightly over it.

"For shame, Sir Andrew," she said, shaking her head with a playful
sigh, "making havoc in the heart of some impressionable duchess, whilst
conquering the affections of my sweet little Suzanne. Well, well! I do
believe it was Cupid himself who stood by you, and threatened the entire
Foreign Office with destruction by fire, just on purpose to make me drop
love's message, before it had been polluted by my indiscreet eyes. To
think that, a moment longer, and I might have known the secrets of an
erring duchess."

"You will forgive me, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, now as calm as
she was herself, "if I resume the interesting occupation which you have
interrupted?"

"By all means, Sir Andrew! How should I venture to thwart the love-god
again? Perhaps he would mete out some terrible chastisement against my
presumption. Burn your love-token, by all means!"

Sir Andrew had already twisted the paper into a long spill, and was once
again holding it to the flame of the candle, which had remained alight.
He did not notice the strange smile on the face of his fair VIS-A-VIS,
so intent was he on the work of destruction; perhaps, had he done
so, the look of relief would have faded from his face. He watched the
fateful note, as it curled under the flame. Soon the last fragment fell
on the floor, and he placed his heel upon the ashes.

"And now, Sir Andrew," said Marguerite Blakeney, with the pretty
nonchalance peculiar to herself, and with the most winning of smiles,
"will you venture to excite the jealousy of your fair lady by asking me
to dance the minuet?"




CHAPTER XIII EITHER--OR?



The few words which Marguerite Blakeney had managed to read on the
half-scorched piece of paper, seemed literally to be the words of Fate.
"Start myself tomorrow. . . ." This she had read quite distinctly; then
came a blur caused by the smoke of the candle, which obliterated the
next few words; but, right at the bottom, there was another sentence,
like letters of fire, before her mental vision, "If you wish to speak
to me again I shall be in the supper-room at one o'clock precisely."
The whole was signed with the hastily-scrawled little device--a tiny
star-shaped flower, which had become so familiar to her.

One o'clock precisely! It was now close upon eleven, the last minuet
was being danced, with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and beautiful Lady Blakeney
leading the couples, through its delicate and intricate figures.

Close upon eleven! the hands of the handsome Louis XV. clock upon its
ormolu bracket seemed to move along with maddening rapidity. Two hours
more, and her fate and that of Armand would be sealed. In two hours she
must make up her mind whether she will keep the knowledge so cunningly
gained to herself, and leave her brother to his fate, or whether
she will wilfully betray a brave man, whose life was devoted to his
fellow-men, who was noble, generous, and above all, unsuspecting. It
seemed a horrible thing to do. But then, there was Armand! Armand, too,
was noble and brave, Armand, too, was unsuspecting. And Armand loved
her, would have willingly trusted his life in her hands, and now, when
she could save him from death, she hesitated. Oh! it was monstrous;
her brother's kind, gentle face, so full of love for her, seemed to
be looking reproachfully at her. "You might have saved me, Margot!" he
seemed to say to her, "and you chose the life of a stranger, a man you
do not know, whom you have never seen, and preferred that he should be
safe, whilst you sent me to the guillotine!"

All these conflicting thoughts raged through Marguerite's brain, while,
with a smile upon her lips, she glided through the graceful mazes of the
minuet. She noted--with that acute sense of hers--that she had succeeded
in completely allaying Sir Andrew's fears. Her self-control had
been absolutely perfect--she was a finer actress at this moment, and
throughout the whole of this minuet, than she had ever been upon the
boards of the Comedie Francaise; but then, a beloved brother's life had
not depended upon her histrionic powers.

She was too clever to overdo her part, and made no further allusions to
the supposed BILLET DOUX, which had caused Sir Andrew Ffoulkes such an
agonising five minutes. She watched his anxiety melting away under her
sunny smile, and soon perceived that, whatever doubt may have crossed
his mind at the moment, she had, by the time the last bars of the
minuet had been played, succeeded in completely dispelling it; he never
realised in what a fever of excitement she was, what effort it cost her
to keep up a constant ripple of BANAL conversation.

When the minuet was over, she asked Sir Andrew to take her into the next
room.

"I have promised to go down to supper with His Royal Highness," she
said, "but before we part, tell me . . . am I forgiven?"

"Forgiven?"

"Yes! Confess, I gave you a fright just now. . . . But remember, I am
not an English woman, and I do not look upon the exchanging of BILLET
DOUX as a crime, and I vow I'll not tell my little Suzanne. But now,
tell me, shall I welcome you at my water-party on Wednesday?"

"I am not sure, Lady Blakeney," he replied evasively. "I may have to
leave London to-morrow."

"I would not do that, if I were you," she said earnestly; then seeing
the anxious look reappearing in his eyes, she added gaily; "No one can
throw a ball better than you can, Sir Andrew, we should so miss you on
the bowling-green."

He had led her across the room, to one beyond, where already His Royal
Highness was waiting for the beautiful Lady Blakeney.

"Madame, supper awaits us," said the Prince, offering his arm to
Marguerite, "and I am full of hope. The goddess Fortune has frowned so
persistently on me at hazard, that I look with confidence for the smiles
of the goddess of Beauty."

"Your Highness has been unfortunate at the card tables?" asked
Marguerite, as she took the Prince's arm.

"Aye! most unfortunate. Blakeney, not content with being the richest
among my father's subjects, has also the most outrageous luck. By the
way, where is that inimitable wit? I vow, Madam, that this life would be
but a dreary desert without your smiles and his sallies."




CHAPTER XIV ONE O'CLOCK PRECISELY!



Supper had been extremely gay. All those present declared that never had
Lady Blakeney been more adorable, nor that "demmed idiot" Sir Percy more
amusing.

His Royal Highness had laughed until the tears streamed down his cheeks
at Blakeney's foolish yet funny repartees. His doggerel verse, "We seek
him here, we seek him there," etc., was sung to the tune of "Ho! Merry
Britons!" and to the accompaniment of glasses knocked loudly against
the table. Lord Grenville, moreover, had a most perfect cook--some wags
asserted that he was a scion of the old French NOBLESSE, who having lost
his fortune, had come to seek it in the CUISINE of the Foreign Office.

Marguerite Blakeney was in her most brilliant mood, and surely not a
soul in that crowded supper-room had even an inkling of the terrible
struggle which was raging within her heart.

The clock was ticking so mercilessly on. It was long past midnight,
and even the Prince of Wales was thinking of leaving the supper-table.
Within the next half-hour the destinies of two brave men would be pitted
against one another--the dearly-beloved brother and he, the unknown
hero.

Marguerite had not tried to see Chauvelin during this last hour; she
knew that his keen, fox-like eyes would terrify her at once, and incline
the balance of her decision towards Armand. Whilst she did not see him,
there still lingered in her heart of hearts a vague, undefined hope that
"something" would occur, something big, enormous, epoch-making, which
would shift from her young, weak shoulders this terrible burden of
responsibility, of having to choose between two such cruel alternatives.

But the minutes ticked on with that dull monotony which they invariably
seem to assume when our very nerves ache with their incessant ticking.

After supper, dancing was resumed. His Royal Highness had left, and
there was general talk of departing among the older guests; the young
were indefatigable and had started on a new gavotte, which would fill
the next quarter of an hour.

Marguerite did not feel equal to another dance; there is a limit to the
most enduring of self-control. Escorted by a Cabinet Minister, she had
once more found her way to the tiny boudoir, still the most deserted
among all the rooms. She knew that Chauvelin must be lying in wait
for her somewhere, ready to seize the first possible opportunity for a
TETE-A-TETE. His eyes had met hers for a moment after the 'fore-supper
minuet, and she knew that the keen diplomat, with those searching pale
eyes of his, had divined that her work was accomplished.

Fate had willed it so. Marguerite, torn by the most terrible conflict
heart of woman can ever know, had resigned herself to its decrees.
But Armand must be saved at any cost; he, first of all, for he was her
brother, had been mother, father, friend to her ever since she, a tiny
babe, had lost both her parents. To think of Armand dying a traitor's
death on the guillotine was too horrible even to dwell upon--impossible
in fact. That could never be, never. . . . As for the stranger, the
hero . . . well! there, let Fate decide. Marguerite would redeem her
brother's life at the hands of the relentless enemy, then let that
cunning Scarlet Pimpernel extricate himself after that.

Perhaps--vaguely--Marguerite hoped that the daring plotter, who for so
many months had baffled an army of spies, would still manage to evade
Chauvelin and remain immune to the end.

She thought of all this, as she sat listening to the witty discourse
of the Cabinet Minister, who, no doubt, felt that he had found in Lady
Blakeney a most perfect listener. Suddenly she saw the keen, fox-like
face of Chauvelin peeping through the curtained doorway.

"Lord Fancourt," she said to the Minister, "will you do me a service?"

"I am entirely at your ladyship's service," he replied gallantly.

"Will you see if my husband is still in the card-room? And if he is,
will you tell him that I am very tired, and would be glad to go home
soon."

The commands of a beautiful woman are binding on all mankind, even on
Cabinet Ministers. Lord Fancourt prepared to obey instantly.

"I do not like to leave your ladyship alone," he said.

"Never fear. I shall be quite safe here--and, I think, undisturbed . . .
but I am really tired. You know Sir Percy will drive back to Richmond.
It is a long way, and we shall not--an we do not hurry--get home before
daybreak."

Lord Fancourt had perforce to go.

The moment he had disappeared, Chauvelin slipped into the room, and the
next instant stood calm and impassive by her side.

"You have news for me?" he said.

An icy mantle seemed to have suddenly settled round Marguerite's
shoulders; though her cheeks glowed with fire, she felt chilled and
numbed. Oh, Armand! will you ever know the terrible sacrifice of pride,
of dignity, of womanliness a devoted sister is making for your sake?

"Nothing of importance," she said, staring mechanically before her, "but
it might prove a clue. I contrived--no matter how--to detect Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes in the very act of burning a paper at one of these candles, in
this very room. That paper I succeeded in holding between my fingers
for the space of two minutes, and to cast my eyes on it for that of ten
seconds."

"Time enough to learn its contents?" asked Chauvelin, quietly.

She nodded. Then continued in the same even, mechanical tone of voice--

"In the corner of the paper there was the usual rough device of a small
star-shaped flower. Above it I read two lines, everything else was
scorched and blackened by the flame."

"And what were the two lines?"

Her throat seemed suddenly to have contracted. For an instant she felt
that she could not speak the words, which might send a brave man to his
death.

"It is lucky that the whole paper was not burned," added Chauvelin, with
dry sarcasm, "for it might have fared ill with Armand St. Just. What
were the two lines citoyenne?"

"One was, 'I start myself to-morrow,'" she said quietly, "the other--'If
you wish to speak to me, I shall be in the supper-room at one o'clock
precisely.'"

Chauvelin looked up at the clock just above the mantelpiece.

"Then I have plenty of time," he said placidly.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

She was pale as a statue, her hands were icy cold, her head and heart
throbbed with the awful strain upon her nerves. Oh, this was cruel!
cruel! What had she done to have deserved all this? Her choice was made:
had she done a vile action or one that was sublime? The recording angel,
who writes in the book of gold, alone could give an answer.

"What are you going to do?" she repeated mechanically.

"Oh, nothing for the present. After that it will depend."

"On what?"

"On whom I shall see in the supper-room at one o'clock precisely."

"You will see the Scarlet Pimpernel, of course. But you do not know
him."

"No. But I shall presently."

"Sir Andrew will have warned him."

"I think not. When you parted from him after the minuet he stood
and watched you, for a moment or two, with a look which gave me to
understand that something had happened between you. It was only natural,
was it not? that I should make a shrewd guess as to the nature of that
'something.' I thereupon engaged the young man in a long and
animated conversation--we discussed Herr Gluck's singular success in
London--until a lady claimed his arm for supper."

"Since then?"

"I did not lose sight of him through supper. When we all came upstairs
again, Lady Portarles buttonholed him and started on the subject of
pretty Mlle. Suzanne de Tournay. I knew he would not move until Lady
Portarles had exhausted on the subject, which will not be for another
quarter of an hour at least, and it is five minutes to one now."

He was preparing to go, and went up to the doorway where, drawing
aside the curtain, he stood for a moment pointing out to Marguerite the
distant figure of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in close conversation with Lady
Portarles.

"I think," he said, with a triumphant smile, "that I may safely expect
to find the person I seek in the dining-room, fair lady."

"There may be more than one."

"Whoever is there, as the clock strikes one, will be shadowed by one
of my men; of these, one, or perhaps two, or even three, will leave for
France to-morrow. ONE of these will be the 'Scarlet Pimpernel.'"

"Yes?--And?"

"I also, fair lady, will leave for France to-morrow. The papers found at
Dover upon the person of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes speak of the neighborhood
of Calais, of an inn which I know well, called 'Le Chat Gris,' of a
lonely place somewhere on the coast--the Pere Blanchard's hut--which
I must endeavor to find. All these places are given as the point where
this meddlesome Englishman has bidden the traitor de Tournay and others
to meet his emissaries. But it seems that he has decided not to send his
emissaries, that 'he will start himself to-morrow.' Now, one of these
persons whom I shall see anon in the supper-room, will be journeying
to Calais, and I shall follow that person, until I have tracked him to
where those fugitive aristocrats await him; for that person, fair lady,
will be the man whom I have sought for, for nearly a year, the man whose
energies has outdone me, whose ingenuity has baffled me, whose audacity
has set me wondering--yes! me!--who have seen a trick or two in my
time--the mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel."

"And Armand?" she pleaded.

"Have I ever broken my word? I promise you that the day the Scarlet
Pimpernel and I start for France, I will send you that imprudent letter
of his by special courier. More than that, I will pledge you the word of
France, that the day I lay hands on that meddlesome Englishman, St. Just
will be here in England, safe in the arms of his charming sister."

And with a deep and elaborate bow and another look at the clock,
Chauvelin glided out of the room.

It seemed to Marguerite that through all the noise, all the din of
music, dancing, and laughter, she could hear his cat-like tread, gliding
through the vast reception-rooms; that she could hear him go down the
massive staircase, reach the dining-room and open the door. Fate HAD
decided, had made her speak, had made her do a vile and abominable
thing, for the sake of the brother she loved. She lay back in her
chair, passive and still, seeing the figure of her relentless enemy ever
present before her aching eyes.

When Chauvelin reached the supper-room it was quite deserted. It had
that woebegone, forsaken, tawdry appearance, which reminds one so much
of a ball-dress, the morning after.

Half-empty glasses littered the table, unfolded napkins lay about, the
chairs--turned towards one another in groups of twos and threes--very
close to one another--in the far corners of the room, which spoke of
recent whispered flirtations, over cold game-pie and champagne; there
were sets of three and four chairs, that recalled pleasant, animated
discussions over the latest scandal; there were chairs straight up in a
row that still looked starchy, critical, acid, like antiquated dowager;
there were a few isolated, single chairs, close to the table, that spoke
of gourmands intent on the most RECHERCHE dishes, and others overturned
on the floor, that spoke volumes on the subject of my Lord Grenville's
cellars.

It was a ghostlike replica, in fact, of that fashionable gathering
upstairs; a ghost that haunts every house where balls and good suppers
are given; a picture drawn with white chalk on grey cardboard, dull and
colourless, now that the bright silk dresses and gorgeously embroidered
coats were no longer there to fill in the foreground, and now that the
candles flickered sleepily in their sockets.

Chauvelin smiled benignly, and rubbing his long, thin hands together, he
looked round the deserted supper-room, whence even the last flunkey had
retired in order to join his friends in the hall below. All was silence
in the dimly-lighted room, whilst the sound of the gavotte, the hum
of distant talk and laughter, and the rumble of an occasional coach
outside, only seemed to reach this palace of the Sleeping Beauty as the
murmur of some flitting spooks far away.

It all looked so peaceful, so luxurious, and so still, that the keenest
observer--a veritable prophet--could never have guessed that, at this
present moment, that deserted supper-room was nothing but a trap laid
for the capture of the most cunning and audacious plotter those stirring
times had ever seen.

Chauvelin pondered and tried to peer into the immediate future. What
would this man be like, whom he and the leaders of the whole revolution
had sworn to bring to his death? Everything about him was weird and
mysterious; his personality, which he so cunningly concealed, the power
he wielded over nineteen English gentlemen who seemed to obey his every
command blindly and enthusiastically, the passionate love and submission
he had roused in his little trained band, and, above all, his marvellous
audacity, the boundless impudence which had caused him to beard his most
implacable enemies, within the very walls of Paris.

No wonder that in France the SOBRIQUET of the mysterious Englishman
roused in the people a superstitious shudder. Chauvelin himself as he
gazed round the deserted room, where presently the weird hero would
appear, felt a strange feeling of awe creeping all down his spine.

But his plans were well laid. He felt sure that the Scarlet Pimpernel
had not been warned, and felt equally sure that Marguerite Blakeney had
not played him false. If she had . . . a cruel look, that would have
made her shudder, gleamed in Chauvelin's keen, pale eyes. If she had
played him a trick, Armand St. Just would suffer the extreme penalty.

But no, no! of course she had not played him false!

Fortunately the supper-room was deserted: this would make Chauvelin's
task all the easier, when presently that unsuspecting enigma would enter
it alone. No one was here now save Chauvelin himself.

Stay! as he surveyed with a satisfied smile the solitude of the room,
the cunning agent of the French Government became aware of the peaceful,
monotonous breathing of some one of my Lord Grenville's guests, who, no
doubt, had supped both wisely and well, and was enjoying a quiet sleep,
away from the din of the dancing above.

Chauvelin looked round once more, and there in the corner of a sofa,
in the dark angle of the room, his mouth open, his eyes shut, the sweet
sounds of peaceful slumbers proceedings from his nostrils, reclined the
gorgeously-apparelled, long-limbed husband of the cleverest woman in
Europe.

Chauvelin looked at him as he lay there, placid, unconscious, at peace
with all the world and himself, after the best of suppers, and a smile,
that was almost one of pity, softened for a moment the hard lines of the
Frenchman's face and the sarcastic twinkle of his pale eyes.

Evidently the slumberer, deep in dreamless sleep, would not interfere
with Chauvelin's trap for catching that cunning Scarlet Pimpernel. Again
he rubbed his hands together, and, following the example of Sir Percy
Blakeney, he too, stretched himself out in the corner of another
sofa, shut his eyes, opened his mouth, gave forth sounds of peaceful
breathing, and . . . waited!




CHAPTER XV DOUBT



Marguerite Blakeney had watched the slight sable-clad figure of
Chauvelin, as he worked his way through the ball-room. Then perforce she
had had to wait, while her nerves tingled with excitement.

Listlessly she sat in the small, still deserted boudoir, looking out
through the curtained doorway on the dancing couples beyond: looking
at them, yet seeing nothing, hearing the music, yet conscious of naught
save a feeling of expectancy, of anxious, weary waiting.

Her mind conjured up before her the vision of what was, perhaps at this
very moment, passing downstairs. The half-deserted dining-room, the
fateful hour--Chauvelin on the watch!--then, precise to the moment, the
entrance of a man, he, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the mysterious leader, who
to Marguerite had become almost unreal, so strange, so weird was this
hidden identity.

She wished she were in the supper-room, too, at this moment, watching
him as he entered; she knew that her woman's penetration would at once
recognise in the stranger's face--whoever he might be--that strong
individuality which belongs to a leader of men--to a hero: to the
mighty, high-soaring eagle, whose daring wings were becoming entangled
in the ferret's trap.

Woman-like, she thought of him with unmixed sadness; the irony of that
fate seemed so cruel which allowed the fearless lion to succumb to the
gnawing of a rat! Ah! had Armand's life not been at stake! . . .

"Faith! your ladyship must have thought me very remiss," said a voice
suddenly, close to her elbow. "I had a deal of difficulty in delivering
your message, for I could not find Blakeney anywhere at first . . ."

Marguerite had forgotten all about her husband and her message to
him; his very name, as spoken by Lord Fancourt, sounded strange and
unfamiliar to her, so completely had she in the last five minutes lived
her old life in the Rue de Richelieu again, with Armand always near her
to love and protect her, to guard her from the many subtle intrigues
which were forever raging in Paris in those days.

"I did find him at last," continued Lord Fancourt, "and gave him your
message. He said that he would give orders at once for the horses to be
put to."

"Ah!" she said, still very absently, "you found my husband, and gave him
my message?"

"Yes; he was in the dining-room fast asleep. I could not manage to wake
him up at first."

"Thank you very much," she said mechanically, trying to collect her
thoughts.

"Will your ladyship honour me with the CONTREDANSE until your coach is
ready?" asked Lord Fancourt.

"No, I thank you, my lord, but--and you will forgive me--I really am too
tired, and the heat in the ball-room has become oppressive."

"The conservatory is deliciously cool; let me take you there, and then
get you something. You seem ailing, Lady Blakeney."

"I am only very tired," she repeated wearily, as she allowed Lord
Fancourt to lead her, where subdued lights and green plants lent
coolness to the air. He got her a chair, into which she sank. This long
interval of waiting was intolerable. Why did not Chauvelin come and tell
her the result of his watch?

Lord Fancourt was very attentive. She scarcely heard what he said, and
suddenly startled him by asking abruptly,--

"Lord Fancourt, did you perceive who was in the dining-room just now
besides Sir Percy Blakeney?"

"Only the agent of the French government, M. Chauvelin, equally fast
asleep in another corner," he said. "Why does your ladyship ask?"

"I know not . . . I . . . Did you notice the time when you were there?"

"It must have been about five or ten minutes past one. . . . I wonder
what your ladyship is thinking about," he added, for evidently the fair
lady's thoughts were very far away, and she had not been listening to
his intellectual conversation.

But indeed her thoughts were not very far away: only one storey below,
in this same house, in the dining-room where sat Chauvelin still on the
watch. Had he failed? For one instant that possibility rose before as a
hope--the hope that the Scarlet Pimpernel had been warned by Sir Andrew,
and that Chauvelin's trap had failed to catch his bird; but that hope
soon gave way to fear. Had he failed? But then--Armand!

Lord Fancourt had given up talking since he found that he had no
listener. He wanted an opportunity for slipping away; for sitting
opposite to a lady, however fair, who is evidently not heeding the most
vigorous efforts made for her entertainment, is not exhilarating, even
to a Cabinet Minister.

"Shall I find out if your ladyship's coach is ready," he said at last,
tentatively.

"Oh, thank you . . . thank you . . . if you would be so kind . . . I
fear I am but sorry company . . . but I am really tired . . . and,
perhaps, would be best alone."

But Lord Fancourt went, and still Chauvelin did not come. Oh! what
had happened? She felt Armand's fate trembling in the balance . . . she
feared--now with a deadly fear that Chauvelin HAD failed, and that the
mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel had proved elusive once more; then she knew
that she need hope for no pity, no mercy, from him.

He had pronounced his "Either--or--" and nothing less would content him:
he was very spiteful, and would affect the belief that she had wilfully
misled him, and having failed to trap the eagle once again, his
revengeful mind would be content with the humble prey--Armand!

Yet she had done her best; had strained every nerve for Armand's sake.
She could not bear to think that all had failed. She could not sit
still; she wanted to go and hear the worst at once; she wondered even
that Chauvelin had not come yet, to vent his wrath and satire upon her.

Lord Grenville himself came presently to tell her that her coach was
ready, and that Sir Percy was already waiting for her--ribbons in
hand. Marguerite said "Farewell" to her distinguished host; many of
her friends stopped her, as she crossed the rooms, to talk to her, and
exchange pleasant AU REVOIRS.

The Minister only took final leave of beautiful Lady Blakeney on the
top of the stairs; below, on the landing, a veritable army of gallant
gentlemen were waiting to bid "Good-bye" to the queen of beauty
and fashion, whilst outside, under the massive portico, Sir Percy's
magnificent bays were impatient pawing the ground.

At the top of the stairs, just after she had taken final leave of her
host, she suddenly say Chauvelin; he was coming up the stairs slowly,
and rubbing his thin hands very softly together.

There was a curious look on his mobile face, partly amused and wholly
puzzled, as his keen eyes met Marguerite's they became strangely
sarcastic.

"M. Chauvelin," she said, as he stopped on the top of the stairs, bowing
elaborately before her, "my coach is outside; may I claim your arm?"

As gallant as ever, he offered her his arm and led her downstairs. The
crowd was very great, some of the Minister's guests were departing,
others were leaning against the banisters watching the throng as it
filed up and down the wide staircase.

"Chauvelin," she said at last desperately, "I must know what has
happened."

"What has happened, dear lady?" he said, with affected surprise. "Where?
When?"

"You are torturing me, Chauvelin. I have helped you to-night . . . surely
I have the right to know. What happened in the dining-room at one
o'clock just now?"

She spoke in a whisper, trusting that in the general hubbub of the crowd
her words would remain unheeded by all, save the man at her side.

"Quiet and peace reigned supreme, fair lady; at that hour I was asleep
in one corner of one sofa and Sir Percy Blakeney in another."

"Nobody came into the room at all?"

"Nobody."

"Then we have failed, you and I?"

"Yes! we have failed--perhaps . . ."

"But Armand?" she pleaded.

"Ah! Armand St. Just's chances hang on a thread . . . pray heaven, dear
lady, that that thread may not snap."

"Chauvelin, I worked for you, sincerely, earnestly . . . remember . . ."

"I remember my promise," he said quietly. "The day that the Scarlet
Pimpernel and I meet on French soil, St. Just will be in the arms of his
charming sister."

"Which means that a brave man's blood will be on my hands," she said,
with a shudder.

"His blood, or that of your brother. Surely at the present moment you
must hope, as I do, that the enigmatical Scarlet Pimpernel will start
for Calais to-day--"

"I am only conscious of one hope, citoyen."

"And that is?"

"That Satan, your master, will have need of you elsewhere, before the
sun rises to-day."

"You flatter me, citoyenne."

She had detained him for a while, mid-way down the stairs, trying to get
at the thoughts which lay beyond that thin, fox-like mask. But Chauvelin
remained urbane, sarcastic, mysterious; not a line betrayed to the poor,
anxious woman whether she need fear or whether she dared to hope.

Downstairs on the landing she was soon surrounded. Lady Blakeney never
stepped from any house into her coach, without an escort of fluttering
human moths around the dazzling light of her beauty. But before she
finally turned away from Chauvelin, she held out a tiny hand to him,
with that pretty gesture of childish appeal which was essentially her
own. "Give me some hope, my little Chauvelin," she pleaded.

With perfect gallantry he bowed over that tiny hand, which looked so
dainty and white through the delicately transparent black lace mitten,
and kissing the tips of the rosy fingers:--

"Pray heaven that the thread may not snap," he repeated, with his
enigmatic smile.

And stepping aside, he allowed the moths to flutter more closely round
the candle, and the brilliant throng of the JEUNESSE DOREE, eagerly
attentive to Lady Blakeney's every movement, hid the keen, fox-like face
from her view.




CHAPTER XVI RICHMOND



A few minutes later she was sitting, wrapped in cozy furs, near Sir
Percy Blakeney on the box-seat of his magnificent coach, and the four
splendid bays had thundered down the quiet street.

The night was warm in spite of the gentle breeze which fanned
Marguerite's burning cheeks. Soon London houses were left behind, and
rattling over old Hammersmith Bridge, Sir Percy was driving his bays
rapidly towards Richmond.

The river wound in and out in its pretty delicate curves, looking like
a silver serpent beneath the glittering rays of the moon. Long shadows
from overhanging trees spread occasional deep palls right across the
road. The bays were rushing along at breakneck speed, held but slightly
back by Sir Percy's strong, unerring hands.

These nightly drives after balls and suppers in London were a source
of perpetual delight to Marguerite, and she appreciated her husband's
eccentricity keenly, which caused him to adopt this mode of taking
her home every night, to their beautiful home by the river, instead of
living in a stuffy London house. He loved driving his spirited horses
along the lonely, moonlit roads, and she loved to sit on the box-seat,
with the soft air of an English late summer's night fanning her face
after the hot atmosphere of a ball or supper-party. The drive was not a
long one--less than an hour, sometimes, when the bays were very fresh,
and Sir Percy gave them full rein.

To-night he seemed to have a very devil in his fingers, and the coach
seemed to fly along the road, beside the river. As usual, he did not
speak to her, but stared straight in front of him, the ribbons seeming
to lie quite loosely in his slender, white hands. Marguerite looked at
him tentatively once or twice; she could see his handsome profile, and
one lazy eye, with its straight fine brow and drooping heavy lid.

The face in the moonlight looked singularly earnest, and recalled to
Marguerite's aching heart those happy days of courtship, before he had
become the lazy nincompoop, the effete fop, whose life seemed spent in
card and supper rooms.

But now, in the moonlight, she could not catch the expression of the
lazy blue eyes; she could only see the outline of the firm chin, the
corner of the strong mouth, the well-cut massive shape of the forehead;
truly, nature had meant well by Sir Percy; his faults must all be laid
at the door of that poor, half-crazy mother, and of the distracted
heart-broken father, neither of whom had cared for the young life
which was sprouting up between them, and which, perhaps, their very
carelessness was already beginning to wreck.

Marguerite suddenly felt intense sympathy for her husband. The moral
crisis she had just gone through made her feel indulgent towards the
faults, the delinquencies, of others.

How thoroughly a human being can be buffeted and overmastered by Fate,
had been borne in upon her with appalling force. Had anyone told her a
week ago that she would stoop to spy upon her friends, that she would
betray a brave and unsuspecting man into the hands of a relentless
enemy, she would have laughed the idea to scorn.

Yet she had done these things; anon, perhaps the death of that brave man
would be at her door, just as two years ago the Marquis de St. Cyr had
perished through a thoughtless words of hers; but in that case she was
morally innocent--she had meant no serious harm--fate merely had stepped
in. But this time she had done a thing that obviously was base, had done
it deliberately, for a motive which, perhaps, high moralists would not
even appreciate.

As she felt her husband's strong arm beside her, she also felt how much
more he would dislike and despise her, if he knew of this night's work.
Thus human beings judge of one another, with but little reason, and
no charity. She despised her husband for his inanities and vulgar,
unintellectual occupations; and he, she felt, would despise her still
worse, because she had not been strong enough to do right for right's
sake, and to sacrifice her brother to the dictates of her conscience.

Buried in her thoughts, Marguerite had found this hour in the
breezy summer night all too brief; and it was with a feeling of keen
disappointment, that she suddenly realised that the bays had turned into
the massive gates of her beautiful English home.

Sir Percy Blakeney's house on the river has become a historic one:
palatial in its dimensions, it stands in the midst of exquisitely
laid-out gardens, with a picturesque terrace and frontage to the river.
Built in Tudor days, the old red brick of the walls looks eminently
picturesque in the midst of a bower of green, the beautiful lawn, with
its old sun-dial, adding the true note of harmony to its foregrounds,
and now, on this warm early autumn night, the leaves slightly turned to
russets and gold, the old garden looked singularly poetic and peaceful
in the moonlight.

With unerring precision, Sir Percy had brought the four bays to a
standstill immediately in front of the fine Elizabethan entrance hall;
in spite of the late hour, an army of grooms seemed to have emerged
from the very ground, as the coach had thundered up, and were standing
respectfully round.

Sir Percy jumped down quickly, then helped Marguerite to alight. She
lingered outside a moment, whilst he gave a few orders to one of his
men. She skirted the house, and stepped on to the lawn, looking out
dreamily into the silvery landscape. Nature seemed exquisitely at peace,
in comparison with the tumultuous emotions she had gone through: she
could faintly hear the ripple of the river and the occasional soft and
ghostlike fall of a dead leaf from a tree.

All else was quiet round her. She had heard the horses prancing as they
were being led away to their distant stables, the hurrying of servant's
feet as they had all gone within to rest: the house also was quite
still. In two separate suites of apartments, just above the magnificent
reception-rooms, lights were still burning, they were her rooms, and
his, well divided from each other by the whole width of the house, as
far apart as their own lives had become. Involuntarily she sighed--at
that moment she could really not have told why.

She was suffering from unconquerable heartache. Deeply and achingly
she was sorry for herself. Never had she felt so pitiably lonely, so
bitterly in want of comfort and of sympathy. With another sigh she
turned away from the river towards the house, vaguely wondering if,
after such a night, she could ever find rest and sleep.

Suddenly, before she reached the terrace, she heard a firm step upon the
crisp gravel, and the next moment her husband's figure emerged out of
the shadow. He too, had skirted the house, and was wandering along the
lawn, towards the river. He still wore his heavy driving coat with the
numerous lapels and collars he himself had set in fashion, but he had
thrown it well back, burying his hands as was his wont, in the deep
pockets of his satin breeches: the gorgeous white costume he had worn
at Lord Grenville's ball, with its jabot of priceless lace, looked
strangely ghostly against the dark background of the house.

He apparently did not notice her, for, after a few moments pause, he
presently turned back towards the house, and walked straight up to the
terrace.

"Sir Percy!"

He already had one foot on the lowest of the terrace steps, but at her
voice he started, and paused, then looked searchingly into the shadows
whence she had called to him.

She came forward quickly into the moonlight, and, as soon as he saw
her, he said, with that air of consummate gallantry he always wore when
speaking to her,--

"At your service, Madame!" But his foot was still on the step, and in
his whole attitude there was a remote suggestion, distinctly visible to
her, that he wished to go, and had no desire for a midnight interview.

"The air is deliciously cool," she said, "the moonlight peaceful and
poetic, and the garden inviting. Will you not stay in it awhile; the
hour is not yet late, or is my company so distasteful to you, that you
are in a hurry to rid yourself of it?"

"Nay, Madame," he rejoined placidly, "but 'tis on the other foot the
shoe happens to be, and I'll warrant you'll find the midnight air more
poetic without my company: no doubt the sooner I remove the obstruction
the better your ladyship will like it."

He turned once more to go.

"I protest you mistake me, Sir Percy," she said hurriedly, and drawing a
little closer to him; "the estrangement, which alas! has arisen between
us, was none of my making, remember."

"Begad! you must pardon me there, Madame!" he protested coldly, "my
memory was always of the shortest."

He looked her straight in the eyes, with that lazy non-chalance which
had become second nature to him. She returned his gaze for a moment,
then her eyes softened, as she came up quite close to him, to the foot
of the terrace steps.

"Of the shortest, Sir Percy! Faith! how it must have altered! Was it
three years ago or four that you saw me for one hour in Paris, on
your way to the East? When you came back two years later you had not
forgotten me."

She looked divinely pretty as she stood there in the moonlight, with the
fur-cloak sliding off her beautiful shoulders, the gold embroidery on
her dress shimmering around her, her childlike blue eyes turned up fully
at him.

He stood for a moment, rigid and still, but for the clenching of his
hand against the stone balustrade of the terrace.

"You desired my presence, Madame," he said frigidly. "I take it that it
was not with the view to indulging in tender reminiscences."

His voice certainly was cold and uncompromising: his attitude before
her, stiff and unbending. Womanly decorum would have suggested
Marguerite should return coldness for coldness, and should sweep past
him without another word, only with a curt nod of her head: but womanly
instinct suggested that she should remain--that keen instinct, which
makes a beautiful woman conscious of her powers long to bring to her
knees the one man who pays her no homage. She stretched out her hand to
him.

"Nay, Sir Percy, why not? the present is not so glorious but that I
should not wish to dwell a little in the past."

He bent his tall figure, and taking hold of the extreme tip of the
fingers which she still held out to him, he kissed them ceremoniously.

"I' faith, Madame," he said, "then you will pardon me, if my dull wits
cannot accompany you there."

Once again he attempted to go, once more her voice, sweet, childlike,
almost tender, called him back.

"Sir Percy."

"Your servant, Madame."

"Is it possible that love can die?" she said with sudden, unreasoning
vehemence. "Methought that the passion which you once felt for me would
outlast the span of human life. Is there nothing left of that
love, Percy . . . which might help you . . . to bridge over that sad
estrangement?"

His massive figure seemed, while she spoke thus to him, to stiffen still
more, the strong mouth hardened, a look of relentless obstinacy crept
into the habitually lazy blue eyes.

"With what object, I pray you, Madame?" he asked coldly.

"I do not understand you."

"Yet 'tis simple enough," he said with sudden bitterness, which seemed
literally to surge through his words, though he was making visible
efforts to suppress it, "I humbly put the question to you, for my slow
wits are unable to grasp the cause of this, your ladyship's sudden new
mood. Is it that you have the taste to renew the devilish sport which
you played so successfully last year? Do you wish to see me once more
a love-sick suppliant at your feet, so that you might again have the
pleasure of kicking me aside, like a troublesome lap-dog?"

She had succeeded in rousing him for the moment: and again she looked
straight at him, for it was thus she remembered him a year ago.

"Percy! I entreat you!" she whispered, "can we not bury the past?"

"Pardon me, Madame, but I understood you to say that your desire was to
dwell in it."

"Nay! I spoke not of THAT past, Percy!" she said, while a tone of
tenderness crept into her voice. "Rather did I speak of a time when you
loved me still! and I . . . oh! I was vain and frivolous; your wealth and
position allured me: I married you, hoping in my heart that your great
love for me would beget in me a love for you . . . but, alas! . . ."

The moon had sunk low down behind a bank of clouds. In the east a soft
grey light was beginning to chase away the heavy mantle of the night.
He could only see her graceful outline now, the small queenly head, with
its wealth of reddish golden curls, and the glittering gems forming the
small, star-shaped, red flower which she wore as a diadem in her hair.

"Twenty-four hours after our marriage, Madame, the Marquis de St. Cyr
and all his family perished on the guillotine, and the popular rumour
reached me that it was the wife of Sir Percy Blakeney who helped to send
them there."

"Nay! I myself told you the truth of that odious tale."

"Not till after it had been recounted to me by strangers, with all its
horrible details."

"And you believed them then and there," she said with great vehemence,
"without a proof or question--you believed that I, whom you vowed you
loved more than life, whom you professed you worshipped, that _I_ could
do a thing so base as these STRANGERS chose to recount. You thought I
meant to deceive you about it all--that I ought to have spoken before I
married you: yet, had you listened, I would have told you that up to the
very morning on which St. Cyr went to the guillotine, I was straining
every nerve, using every influence I possessed, to save him and his
family. But my pride sealed my lips, when your love seemed to perish,
as if under the knife of that same guillotine. Yet I would have told you
how I was duped! Aye! I, whom that same popular rumour had endowed with
the sharpest wits in France! I was tricked into doing this thing, by men
who knew how to play upon my love for an only brother, and my desire for
revenge. Was it unnatural?"

Her voice became choked with tears. She paused for a moment or two,
trying to regain some sort of composure. She looked appealingly at him,
almost as if he were her judge. He had allowed her to speak on in her
own vehement, impassioned way, offering no comment, no word of sympathy:
and now, while she paused, trying to swallow down the hot tears that
gushed to her eyes, he waited, impassive and still. The dim, grey light
of early dawn seemed to make his tall form look taller and more rigid.
The lazy, good-natured face looked strangely altered. Marguerite,
excited, as she was, could see that the eyes were no longer languid,
the mouth no longer good-humoured and inane. A curious look of intense
passion seemed to glow from beneath his drooping lids, the mouth was
tightly closed, the lips compressed, as if the will alone held that
surging passion in check.

Marguerite Blakeney was, above all, a woman, with all a woman's
fascinating foibles, all a woman's most lovable sins. She knew in a
moment that for the past few months she had been mistaken: that this
man who stood here before her, cold as a statue, when her musical voice
struck upon his ear, loved her, as he had loved her a year ago: that his
passion might have been dormant, but that it was there, as strong, as
intense, as overwhelming, as when first her lips met his in one long,
maddening kiss. Pride had kept him from her, and, woman-like, she meant
to win back that conquest which had been hers before. Suddenly it seemed
to her that the only happiness life could every hold for her again would
be in feeling that man's kiss once more upon her lips.

"Listen to the tale, Sir Percy," she said, and her voice was low, sweet,
infinitely tender. "Armand was all in all to me! We had no parents, and
brought one another up. He was my little father, and I, his tiny mother;
we loved one another so. Then one day--do you mind me, Sir Percy? the
Marquis de St. Cyr had my brother Armand thrashed--thrashed by his
lacqueys--that brother whom I loved better than all the world! And his
offence? That he, a plebeian, had dared to love the daughter of the
aristocrat; for that he was waylaid and thrashed . . . thrashed like a
dog within an inch of his life! Oh, how I suffered! his humiliation had
eaten into my very soul! When the opportunity occurred, and I was able
to take my revenge, I took it. But I only thought to bring that proud
marquis to trouble and humiliation. He plotted with Austria against his
own country. Chance gave me knowledge of this; I spoke of it, but I did
not know--how could I guess?--they trapped and duped me. When I realised
what I had done, it was too late."

"It is perhaps a little difficult, Madame," said Sir Percy, after
a moment of silence between them, "to go back over the past. I have
confessed to you that my memory is short, but the thought certainly
lingered in my mind that, at the time of the Marquis' death, I entreated
you for an explanation of those same noisome popular rumours. If that
same memory does not, even now, play me a trick, I fancy that you
refused me ALL explanation then, and demanded of my love a humiliating
allegiance it was not prepared to give."

"I wished to test your love for me, and it did not bear the test. You
used to tell me that you drew the very breath of life but for me, and
for love of me."

"And to probe that love, you demanded that I should forfeit mine
honour," he said, whilst gradually his impassiveness seemed to leave
him, his rigidity to relax; "that I should accept without murmur or
question, as a dumb and submissive slave, every action of my
mistress. My heart overflowing with love and passion, I ASKED for no
explanation--I WAITED for one, not doubting--only hoping. Had you
spoken but one word, from you I would have accepted any explanation and
believed it. But you left me without a word, beyond a bald confession of
the actual horrible facts; proudly you returned to your brother's house,
and left me alone . . . for weeks . . . not knowing, now, in whom
to believe, since the shrine, which contained my one illusion, lay
shattered to earth at my feet."

She need not complain now that he was cold and impassive; his very
voice shook with an intensity of passion, which he was making superhuman
efforts to keep in check.

"Aye! the madness of my pride!" she said sadly. "Hardly had I gone,
already I had repented. But when I returned, I found you, oh, so
altered! wearing already that mask of somnolent indifference which you
have never laid aside until . . . until now."

She was so close to him that her soft, loose hair was wafted against
his cheek; her eyes, glowing with tears, maddened him, the music in her
voice sent fire through his veins. But he would not yield to the magic
charm of this woman whom he had so deeply loved, and at whose hands
his pride had suffered so bitterly. He closed his eyes to shut out the
dainty vision of that sweet face, of that snow-white neck and graceful
figure, round which the faint rosy light of dawn was just beginning to
hover playfully.

"Nay, Madame, it is no mask," he said icily; "I swore to you . . . once,
that my life was yours. For months now it has been your plaything . . .
it has served its purpose."

But now she knew that the very coldness was a mask. The trouble, the
sorrow she had gone through last night, suddenly came back into her
mind, but no longer with bitterness, rather with a feeling that this man
who loved her, would help her bear the burden.

"Sir Percy," she said impulsively, "Heaven knows you have been at pains
to make the task, which I had set to myself, difficult to accomplish.
You spoke of my mood just now; well! we will call it that, if you will.
I wished to speak to you . . . because . . . because I was in trouble
. . . and had need . . . of your sympathy."

"It is yours to command, Madame."

"How cold you are!" she sighed. "Faith! I can scarce believe that but
a few months ago one tear in my eye had set you well-nigh crazy. Now I
come to you . . . with a half-broken heart . . . and . . . and . . ."

"I pray you, Madame," he said, whilst his voice shook almost as much as
hers, "in what way can I serve you?"

"Percy!--Armand is in deadly danger. A letter of his . . . rash,
impetuous, as were all his actions, and written to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes,
has fallen into the hands of a fanatic. Armand is hopelessly compromised
. . . to-morrow, perhaps he will be arrested . . . after that the
guillotine . . . unless . . . oh! it is horrible!" . . . she said, with a
sudden wail of anguish, as all the events of the past night came rushing
back to her mind, "horrible! . . . and you do not understand . . . you
cannot . . . and I have no one to whom I can turn . . . for help . . . or
even for sympathy . . ."

Tears now refused to be held back. All her trouble, her struggles, the
awful uncertainty of Armand's fate overwhelmed her. She tottered, ready
to fall, and leaning against the tone balustrade, she buried her face in
her hands and sobbed bitterly.

At first mention of Armand St. Just's name and of the peril in which he
stood, Sir Percy's face had become a shade more pale; and the look of
determination and obstinacy appeared more marked than ever between his
eyes. However, he said nothing for the moment, but watched her, as her
delicate frame was shaken with sobs, watched her until unconsciously his
face softened, and what looked almost like tears seemed to glisten in
his eyes.

"And so," he said with bitter sarcasm, "the murderous dog of the
revolution is turning upon the very hands that fed it? . . . Begad,
Madame," he added very gently, as Marguerite continued to sob
hysterically, "will you dry your tears? . . . I never could bear to see a
pretty woman cry, and I . . ."

Instinctively, with sudden overmastering passion at the sight of her
helplessness and of her grief, he stretched out his arms, and the next,
would have seized her and held her to him, protected from every evil
with his very life, his very heart's blood. . . . But pride had the
better of it in this struggle once again; he restrained himself with a
tremendous effort of will, and said coldly, though still very gently,--

"Will you not turn to me, Madame, and tell me in what way I may have the
honour to serve you?"

She made a violent effort to control herself, and turning her
tear-stained face to him, she once more held out her hand, which he
kissed with the same punctilious gallantry; but Marguerite's fingers,
this time, lingered in his hand for a second or two longer than was
absolutely necessary, and this was because she had felt that his hand
trembled perceptibly and was burning hot, whilst his lips felt as cold
as marble.

"Can you do aught for Armand?" she said sweetly and simply. "You have so
much influence at court . . . so many friends . . ."

"Nay, Madame, should you not seek the influence of your French friend,
M. Chauvelin? His extends, if I mistake not, even as far as the
Republican Government of France."

"I cannot ask him, Percy. . . . Oh! I wish I dared to tell you . . . but
. . . but . . . he has put a price on my brother's head, which . . ."

She would have given worlds if she had felt the courage then to tell him
everything . . . all she had done that night--how she had suffered and
how her hand had been forced. But she dared not give way to that impulse
. . . not now, when she was just beginning to feel that he still loved
her, when she hoped that she could win him back. She dared not make
another confession to him. After all, he might not understand; he might
not sympathise with her struggles and temptation. His love still dormant
might sleep the sleep of death.

Perhaps he divined what was passing in her mind. His whole attitude was
one of intense longing--a veritable prayer for that confidence, which
her foolish pride withheld from him. When she remained silent he sighed,
and said with marked coldness--

"Faith, Madame, since it distresses you, we will not speak of it. . . .
As for Armand, I pray you have no fear. I pledge you my word that he
shall be safe. Now, have I your permission to go? The hour is getting
late, and . . ."

"You will at least accept my gratitude?" she said, as she drew quite
close to him, and speaking with real tenderness.

With a quick, almost involuntary effort he would have taken her then in
his arms, for her eyes were swimming in tears, which he longed to kiss
away; but she had lured him once, just like this, then cast him aside
like an ill-fitting glove. He thought this was but a mood, a caprice,
and he was too proud to lend himself to it once again.

"It is too soon, Madame!" he said quietly; "I have done nothing as yet.
The hour is late, and you must be fatigued. Your women will be waiting
for you upstairs."

He stood aside to allow her to pass. She sighed, a quick sigh of
disappointment. His pride and her beauty had been in direct conflict,
and his pride had remained the conqueror. Perhaps, after all, she had
been deceived just now; what she took to be the light of love in his
eyes might only have been the passion of pride or, who knows, of hatred
instead of love. She stood looking at him for a moment or two longer. He
was again as rigid, as impassive, as before. Pride had conquered, and he
cared naught for her. The grey light of dawn was gradually yielding
to the rosy light of the rising sun. Birds began to twitter; Nature
awakened, smiling in happy response to the warmth of this glorious
October morning. Only between these two hearts there lay a strong,
impassable barrier, built up of pride on both sides, which neither of
them cared to be the first to demolish.

He had bent his tall figure in a low ceremonious bow, as she finally,
with another bitter little sigh, began to mount the terrace steps.

The long train of her gold-embroidered gown swept the dead leaves off
the steps, making a faint harmonious sh--sh--sh as she glided up, with
one hand resting on the balustrade, the rosy light of dawn making an
aureole of gold round her hair, and causing the rubies on her head and
arms to sparkle. She reached the tall glass doors which led into the
house. Before entering, she paused once again to look at him, hoping
against hope to see his arms stretched out to her, and to hear his voice
calling her back. But he had not moved; his massive figure looked the
very personification of unbending pride, of fierce obstinacy.

Hot tears again surged to her eyes, as she would not let him see them,
she turned quickly within, and ran as fast as she could up to her own
rooms.

Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to the
rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made her own
sufferings seem but light and easy to bear--a strong man, overwhelmed
with his own passion and his own despair. Pride had given way at last,
obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless. He was but a man madly,
blindly, passionately in love, and as soon as her light footsteps had
died away within the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in
the very madness of his love he kissed one by one the places where her
small foot had trodden, and the stone balustrade there, where her tiny
hand had rested last.




CHAPTER XVII FAREWELL



When Marguerite reached her room, she found her maid terribly anxious
about her.

"Your ladyship will be so tired," said the poor woman, whose own eyes
were half closed with sleep. "It is past five o'clock."

"Ah, yes, Louise, I daresay I shall be tired presently," said
Marguerite, kindly; "but you are very tired now, so go to bed at once.
I'll get into bed alone."

"But, my lady . . ."

"Now, don't argue, Louise, but go to bed. Give me a wrap, and leave me
alone."

Louise was only too glad to obey. She took off her mistress's gorgeous
ball-dress, and wrapped her up in a soft billowy gown.

"Does your ladyship wish for anything else?" she asked, when that was
done.

"No, nothing more. Put out the lights as you go out."

"Yes, my lady. Good-night, my lady."

"Good-night, Louise."

When the maid was gone, Marguerite drew aside the curtains and threw
open the windows. The garden and the river beyond were flooded with rosy
light. Far away to the east, the rays of the rising sun had changed the
rose into vivid gold. The lawn was deserted now, and Marguerite looked
down upon the terrace where she had stood a few moments ago trying in
vain to win back a man's love, which once had been so wholly hers.

It was strange that through all her troubles, all her anxiety for
Armand, she was mostly conscious at the present moment of a keen and
bitter heartache.

Her very limbs seemed to ache with longing for the love of a man who
had spurned her, who had resisted her tenderness, remained cold to her
appeals, and had not responded to the glow of passion, which had caused
her to feel and hope that those happy olden days in Paris were not all
dead and forgotten.

How strange it all was! She loved him still. And now that she looked
back upon the last few months of misunderstandings and of loneliness,
she realised that she had never ceased to love him; that deep down in
her heart she had always vaguely felt that his foolish inanities, his
empty laugh, his lazy nonchalance were nothing but a mask; that the real
man, strong, passionate, wilful, was there still--the man she had loved,
whose intensity had fascinated her, whose personality attracted her,
since she always felt that behind his apparently slow wits there was
a certain something, which he kept hidden from all the world, and most
especially from her.

A woman's heart is such a complex problem--the owner thereof is often
most incompetent to find the solution of this puzzle.

Did Marguerite Blakeney, "the cleverest woman in Europe," really love a
fool? Was it love that she had felt for him a year ago when she married
him? Was it love she felt for him now that she realised that he still
loved her, but that he would not become her slave, her passionate,
ardent lover once again? Nay! Marguerite herself could not have told
that. Not at this moment at any rate; perhaps her pride had sealed her
mind against a better understanding of her own heart. But this she did
know--that she meant to capture that obstinate heart back again. That
she would conquer once more . . . and then, that she would never lose him
. . . . She would keep him, keep his love, deserve it, and cherish
it; for this much was certain, that there was no longer any happiness
possible for her without that one man's love.

Thus the most contradictory thoughts and emotions rushed madly through
her mind. Absorbed in them, she had allowed time to slip by; perhaps,
tired out with long excitement, she had actually closed her eyes and
sunk into a troubled sleep, wherein quickly fleeting dreams seemed but
the continuation of her anxious thoughts--when suddenly she was roused,
from dream or meditation, by the noise of footsteps outside her door.

Nervously she jumped up and listened; the house itself was as still
as ever; the footsteps had retreated. Through her wide-open window the
brilliant rays of the morning sun were flooding her room with light. She
looked up at the clock; it was half-past six--too early for any of the
household to be already astir.

She certainly must have dropped asleep, quite unconsciously. The noise
of the footsteps, also of hushed subdued voices had awakened her--what
could they be?

Gently, on tip-toe, she crossed the room and opened the door to listen;
not a sound--that peculiar stillness of the early morning when sleep
with all mankind is at its heaviest. But the noise had made her nervous,
and when, suddenly, at her feet, on the very doorstep, she saw something
white lying there--a letter evidently--she hardly dared touch it. It
seemed so ghostlike. It certainly was not there when she came upstairs;
had Louise dropped it? or was some tantalising spook at play, showing
her fairy letters where none existed?

At last she stooped to pick it up, and, amazed, puzzled beyond measure,
she saw that the letter was addressed to herself in her husband's large,
businesslike-looking hand. What could he have to say to her, in the
middle of the night, which could not be put off until the morning?

She tore open the envelope and read:--

"A most unforeseen circumstance forces me to leave for the North
immediately, so I beg your ladyship's pardon if I do not avail myself of
the honour of bidding you good-bye. My business may keep me employed for
about a week, so I shall not have the privilege of being present at
your ladyship's water-party on Wednesday. I remain your ladyship's most
humble and most obedient servant, PERCY BLAKENEY."

Marguerite must suddenly have been imbued with her husband's slowness
of intellect, for she had perforce to read the few simple lines over and
over again, before she could fully grasp their meaning.

She stood on the landing, turning over and over in her hand this curt
and mysterious epistle, her mind a blank, her nerves strained with
agitation and a presentiment she could not very well have explained.

Sir Percy owned considerable property in the North, certainly, and he
had often before gone there alone and stayed away a week at a time; but
it seemed so very strange that circumstances should have arisen between
five and six o'clock in the morning that compelled him to start in this
extreme hurry.

Vainly she tried to shake off an unaccustomed feeling of nervousness:
she was trembling from head to foot. A wild, unconquerable desire
seized her to see her husband again, at once, if only he had not already
started.

Forgetting the fact that she was only very lightly clad in a morning
wrap, and that her hair lay loosely about her shoulders, she flew down
the stairs, right through the hall towards the front door.

It was as usual barred and bolted, for the indoor servants were not yet
up; but her keen ears had detected the sound of voices and the pawing of
a horse's hoof against the flag-stones.

With nervous, trembling fingers Marguerite undid the bolts one by one,
bruising her hands, hurting her nails, for the locks were heavy and
stiff. But she did not care; her whole frame shook with anxiety at the
very thought that she might be too late; that he might have gone without
her seeing him and bidding him "God-speed!"

At last, she had turned the key and thrown open the door. Her ears had
not deceived her. A groom was standing close by holding a couple of
horses; one of these was Sultan, Sir Percy's favourite and swiftest
horse, saddled ready for a journey.

The next moment Sir Percy himself appeared round the further corner
of the house and came quickly towards the horses. He had changed his
gorgeous ball costume, but was as usual irreproachably and richly
apparelled in a suit of fine cloth, with lace jabot and ruffles, high
top-boots, and riding breeches.

Marguerite went forward a few steps. He looked up and saw her. A slight
frown appeared between his eyes.

"You are going?" she said quickly and feverishly. "Whither?"

"As I have had the honour of informing your ladyship, urgent, most
unexpected business calls me to the North this morning," he said, in his
usual cold, drawly manner.

"But . . . your guests to-morrow . . ."

"I have prayed your ladyship to offer my humble excuses to His Royal
Highness. You are such a perfect hostess, I do not think I shall be
missed."

"But surely you might have waited for your journey . . . until after
our water-party . . ." she said, still speaking quickly and nervously.
"Surely this business is not so urgent . . . and you said nothing about
it--just now."

"My business, as I had the honour to tell you, Madame, is as unexpected
as it is urgent. . . . May I therefore crave your permission to go.
. . . Can I do aught for you in town? . . . on my way back?"

"No . . . no . . . thanks . . . nothing . . . But you will be back soon?"

"Very soon."

"Before the end of the week?"

"I cannot say."

He was evidently trying to get away, whilst she was straining every
nerve to keep him back for a moment or two.

"Percy," she said, "will you not tell me why you go to-day? Surely I, as
your wife, have the right to know. You have NOT been called away to the
North. I know it. There were no letters, no couriers from there before
we left for the opera last night, and nothing was waiting for you when
we returned from the ball. . . . You are NOT going to the North, I feel
convinced. . . . There is some mystery . . . and . . ."

"Nay, there is no mystery, Madame," he replied, with a slight tone of
impatience. "My business has to do with Armand . . . there! Now, have I
your leave to depart?"

"With Armand? . . . But you will run no danger?"

"Danger? I? . . . Nay, Madame, your solicitude does me honour. As you
say, I have some influence; my intention is to exert it before it be too
late."

"Will you allow me to thank you at least?"

"Nay, Madame," he said coldly, "there is no need for that. My life is at
your service, and I am already more than repaid."

"And mine will be at yours, Sir Percy, if you will but accept it, in
exchange for what you do for Armand," she said, as, impulsively, she
stretched out both her hands to him. "There! I will not detain you
. . . my thoughts go with you . . . Farewell! . . ."

How lovely she looked in this morning sunlight, with her ardent hair
streaming around her shoulders. He bowed very low and kissed her hand;
she felt the burning kiss and her heart thrilled with joy and hope.

"You will come back?" she said tenderly.

"Very soon!" he replied, looking longingly into her blue eyes.

"Any . . . you will remember? . . ." she asked as her eyes, in response
to his look, gave him an infinity of promise.

"I will always remember, Madame, that you have honoured me by commanding
my services."

The words were cold and formal, but they did not chill her this time.
Her woman's heart had read his, beneath the impassive mask his pride
still forced him to wear.

He bowed to her again, then begged her leave to depart. She stood on one
side whilst he jumped on to Sultan's back, then, as he galloped out of
the gates, she waved him a final "Adieu."

A bend in the road soon hid him from view; his confidential groom had
some difficulty in keeping pace with him, for Sultan flew along in
response to his master's excited mood. Marguerite, with a sigh that was
almost a happy one, turned and went within. She went back to her room,
for suddenly, like a tired child, she felt quite sleepy.

Her heart seemed all at once to be in complete peace, and, though it
still ached with undefined longing, a vague and delicious hope soothed
it as with a balm.

She felt no longer anxious about Armand. The man who had just ridden
away, bent on helping her brother, inspired her with complete confidence
in his strength and in his power. She marvelled at herself for having
ever looked upon him as an inane fool; of course, THAT was a mask worn
to hide the bitter wound she had dealt to his faith and to his love. His
passion would have overmastered him, and he would not let her see how
much he still cared and how deeply he suffered.

But now all would be well: she would crush her own pride, humble it
before him, tell him everything, trust him in everything; and those
happy days would come back, when they used to wander off together in the
forests of Fontainebleau, when they spoke little--for he was always a
silent man--but when she felt that against that strong heart she would
always find rest and happiness.

The more she thought of the events of the past night, the less fear had
she of Chauvelin and his schemes. He had failed to discover the identity
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, of that she felt sure. Both Lord Fancourt
and Chauvelin himself had assured her that no one had been in
the dining-room at one o'clock except the Frenchman himself and
Percy--Yes!--Percy! she might have asked him, had she thought of it!
Anyway, she had no fears that the unknown and brave hero would fall in
Chauvelin's trap; his death at any rate would not be at her door.

Armand certainly was still in danger, but Percy had pledged his word
that Armand would be safe, and somehow, as Marguerite had seen him
riding away, the possibility that he could fail in whatever he undertook
never even remotely crossed her mind. When Armand was safely over in
England she would not allow him to go back to France.

She felt almost happy now, and, drawing the curtains closely together
again to shut out the piercing sun, she went to bed at last, laid
her head upon the pillow, and, like a wearied child, soon fell into a
peaceful and dreamless sleep.




CHAPTER XVIII THE MYSTERIOUS DEVICE



The day was well advanced when Marguerite woke, refreshed by her long
sleep. Louise had brought her some fresh milk and a dish of fruit, and
she partook of this frugal breakfast with hearty appetite.

Thoughts crowded thick and fast in her mind as she munched her grapes;
most of them went galloping away after the tall, erect figure of her
husband, whom she had watched riding out of site more than five hours
ago.

In answer to her eager inquiries, Louise brought back the news that the
groom had come home with Sultan, having left Sir Percy in London. The
groom thought that his master was about to get on board his schooner,
which was lying off just below London Bridge. Sir Percy had ridden thus
far, had then met Briggs, the skipper of the DAY DREAM, and had sent the
groom back to Richmond with Sultan and the empty saddle.

This news puzzled Marguerite more than ever. Where could Sir Percy be
going just now in the DAY DREAM? On Armand's behalf, he had said. Well!
Sir Percy had influential friends everywhere. Perhaps he was going to
Greenwich, or . . . but Marguerite ceased to conjecture; all would be
explained anon: he said that he would come back, and that he would
remember. A long, idle day lay before Marguerite. She was expecting a
visit of her old school-fellow, little Suzanne de Tournay. With all
the merry mischief at her command, she had tendered her request for
Suzanne's company to the Comtesse in the Presence of the Prince of Wales
last night. His Royal Highness had loudly applauded the notion, and
declared that he would give himself the pleasure of calling on the two
ladies in the course of the afternoon. The Comtesse had not dared to
refuse, and then and there was entrapped into a promise to send little
Suzanne to spend a long and happy day at Richmond with her friend.

Marguerite expected her eagerly; she longed for a chat about old
school-days with the child; she felt that she would prefer Suzanne's
company to that of anyone else, and together they would roam through the
fine old garden and rich deer park, or stroll along the river.

But Suzanne had not come yet, and Marguerite being dressed, prepared to
go downstairs. She looked quite a girl this morning in her simple muslin
frock, with a broad blue sash round her slim waist, and the dainty
cross-over fichu into which, at her bosom, she had fastened a few late
crimson roses.

She crossed the landing outside her own suite of apartments, and stood
still for a moment at the head of the fine oak staircase, which led to
the lower floor. On her left were her husband's apartments, a suite of
rooms which she practically never entered.

They consisted of bedroom, dressing and reception room, and at the
extreme end of the landing, of a small study, which, when Sir Percy did
not use it, was always kept locked. His own special and confidential
valet, Frank, had charge of this room. No one was ever allowed to go
inside. My lady had never cared to do so, and the other servants, had,
of course, not dared to break this hard-and-fast rule.

Marguerite had often, with that good-natured contempt which she had
recently adopted towards her husband, chaffed him about this secrecy
which surrounded his private study. Laughingly she had always declared
that he strictly excluded all prying eyes from his sanctum for fear they
should detect how very little "study" went on within its four walls: a
comfortable arm-chair for Sir Percy's sweet slumbers was, no doubt, its
most conspicuous piece of furniture.

Marguerite thought of all this on this bright October morning as she
glanced along the corridor. Frank was evidently busy with his master's
rooms, for most of the doors stood open, that of the study amongst the
others.

A sudden burning, childish curiosity seized her to have a peep at Sir
Percy's sanctum. This restriction, of course, did not apply to her, and
Frank would, of course, not dare to oppose her. Still, she hoped that
the valet would be busy in one of the other rooms, that she might have
that one quick peep in secret, and unmolested.

Gently, on tip-toe, she crossed the landing and, like Blue Beard's wife,
trembling half with excitement and wonder, she paused a moment on the
threshold, strangely perturbed and irresolute.

The door was ajar, and she could not see anything within. She pushed it
open tentatively: there was no sound: Frank was evidently not there, and
she walked boldly in.

At once she was struck by the severe simplicity of everything around
her: the dark and heavy hangings, the massive oak furniture, the one or
two maps on the wall, in no way recalled to her mind the lazy man about
town, the lover of race-courses, the dandified leader of fashion, that
was the outward representation of Sir Percy Blakeney.

There was no sign here, at any rate, of hurried departure. Everything
was in its place, not a scrap of paper littered the floor, not a
cupboard or drawer was left open. The curtains were drawn aside, and
through the open window the fresh morning air was streaming in.

Facing the window, and well into the centre of the room, stood a
ponderous business-like desk, which looked as if it had seen much
service. On the wall to the left of the desk, reaching almost from floor
to ceiling, was a large full-length portrait of a woman, magnificently
framed, exquisitely painted, and signed with the name of Boucher. It was
Percy's mother.

Marguerite knew very little about her, except that she had died abroad,
ailing in body as well as in mind, which Percy was still a lad. She must
have been a very beautiful woman once, when Boucher painted her, and as
Marguerite looked at the portrait, she could not but be struck by the
extraordinary resemblance which must have existed between mother and
son. There was the same low, square forehead, crowned with thick, fair
hair, smooth and heavy; the same deep-set, somewhat lazy blue eyes
beneath firmly marked, straight brows; and in those eyes there was the
same intensity behind that apparent laziness, the same latent passion
which used to light up Percy's face in the olden days before his
marriage, and which Marguerite had again noted, last night at dawn, when
she had come quite close to him, and had allowed a note of tenderness to
creep into her voice.

Marguerite studied the portrait, for it interested her: after that she
turned and looked again at the ponderous desk. It was covered with a
mass of papers, all neatly tied and docketed, which looked like accounts
and receipts arrayed with perfect method. It had never before struck
Marguerite--nor had she, alas! found it worth while to inquire--as to
how Sir Percy, whom all the world had credited with a total lack of
brains, administered the vast fortune which his father had left him.

Since she had entered this neat, orderly room, she had been taken
so much by surprise, that this obvious proof of her husband's strong
business capacities did not cause her more than a passing thought of
wonder. But it also strengthened her in the now certain knowledge that,
with his worldly inanities, his foppish ways, and foolish talk, he was
not only wearing a mask, but was playing a deliberate and studied part.

Marguerite wondered again. Why should he take all this trouble? Why
should he--who was obviously a serious, earnest man--wish to appear
before his fellow-men as an empty-headed nincompoop?

He may have wished to hide his love for a wife who held him in contempt
. . . but surely such an object could have been gained at less sacrifice,
and with far less trouble than constant incessant acting of an unnatural
part.

She looked round her quite aimlessly now: she was horribly puzzled, and
a nameless dread, before all this strange, unaccountable mystery, had
begun to seize upon her. She felt cold and uncomfortable suddenly in
this severe and dark room. There were no pictures on the wall, save the
fine Boucher portrait, only a couple of maps, both of parts of France,
one of the North coast and the other of the environs of Paris. What did
Sir Percy want with those, she wondered.

Her head began to ache, she turned away from this strange Blue Beard's
chamber, which she had entered, and which she did not understand. She
did not wish Frank to find her here, and with a fast look round, she
once more turned to the door. As she did so, her foot knocked against a
small object, which had apparently been lying close to the desk, on the
carpet, and which now went rolling, right across the room.

She stooped to pick it up. It was a solid gold ring, with a flat shield,
on which was engraved a small device.

Marguerite turned it over in her fingers, and then studied the engraving
on the shield. It represented a small star-shaped flower, of a shape she
had seen so distinctly twice before: once at the opera, and once at Lord
Grenville's ball.




CHAPTER XIX THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL



At what particular moment the strange doubt first crept into
Marguerite's mind, she could not herself have said. With the ring
tightly clutched in her hand, she had run out of the room, down the
stairs, and out into the garden, where, in complete seclusion, alone
with the flowers, and the river and the birds, she could look again at
the ring, and study that device more closely.

Stupidly, senselessly, now, sitting beneath the shade of an overhanging
sycamore, she was looking at the plain gold shield, with the star-shaped
little flower engraved upon it.

Bah! It was ridiculous! she was dreaming! her nerves were overwrought,
and she saw signs and mysteries in the most trivial coincidences. Had
not everybody about town recently made a point of affecting the device
of that mysterious and heroic Scarlet Pimpernel?

Did she herself wear it embroidered on her gowns? set in gems and enamel
in her hair? What was there strange in the fact that Sir Percy should
have chosen to use the device as a seal-ring? He might easily have
done that . . . yes . . . quite easily . . . and . . . besides . . . what
connection could there be between her exquisite dandy of a husband,
with his fine clothes and refined, lazy ways, and the daring plotter who
rescued French victims from beneath the very eyes of the leaders of a
bloodthirsty revolution?

Her thoughts were in a whirl--her mind a blank . . . She did not see
anything that was going on around her, and was quite startled when a
fresh young voice called to her across the garden.

"CHERIE!--CHERIE! where are you?" and little Suzanne, fresh as a
rosebud, with eyes dancing with glee, and brown curls fluttering in the
soft morning breeze, came running across the lawn.

"They told me you were in the garden," she went on prattling merrily,
and throwing herself with a pretty, girlish impulse into Marguerite's
arms, "so I ran out to give you a surprise. You did not expect me quite
so soon, did you, my darling little Margot CHERIE?"

Marguerite, who had hastily concealed the ring in the folds of her
kerchief, tried to respond gaily and unconcernedly to the young girl's
impulsiveness.

"Indeed, sweet one," she said with a smile, "it is delightful to have
you all to myself, and for a nice whole long day. . . . You won't be
bored?"

"Oh! bored! Margot, how CAN you say such a wicked thing. Why! when we
were in the dear old convent together, we were always happy when we were
allowed to be alone together."

"And to talk secrets."

The two young girls had linked their arms in one another's and began
wandering round the garden.

"Oh! how lovely your home is, Margot, darling," said little Suzanne,
enthusiastically, "and how happy you must be!"

"Aye, indeed! I ought to be happy--oughtn't I, sweet one?" said
Marguerite, with a wistful little sigh.

"How sadly you say it, CHERIE. . . . Ah, well, I suppose now that you
are a married woman you won't care to talk secrets with me any longer.
Oh! what lots and lots of secrets we used to have at school! Do you
remember?--some we did not even confide to Sister Theresa of the Holy
Angels--though she was such a dear."

"And now you have one all-important secret, eh, little one?" said
Marguerite, merrily, "which you are forthwith going to confide in me.
nay, you need not blush, CHERIE." she added, as she saw Suzanne's pretty
little face crimson with blushes. "Faith, there's naught to be ashamed
of! He is a noble and true man, and one to be proud of as a lover, and
. . . as a husband." "Indeed, CHERIE, I am not ashamed," rejoined
Suzanne, softly; "and it makes me very, very proud to hear you speak so
well of him. I think maman will consent," she added thoughtfully, "and I
shall be--oh! so happy--but, of course, nothing is to be thought of
until papa is safe. . . ."

Marguerite started. Suzanne's father! the Comte de Tournay!--one
of those whose life would be jeopardised if Chauvelin succeeded in
establishing the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

She had understood all along from the Comtesse, and also from one or two
of the members of the league, that their mysterious leader had pledged
his honour to bring the fugitive Comte de Tournay safely out of France.
Whilst little Suzanne--unconscious of all--save her own all-important
little secret, went prattling on. Marguerite's thoughts went back to the
events of the past night.

Armand's peril, Chauvelin's threat, his cruel "Either--or--" which she
had accepted.

And then her own work in the matter, which should have culminated at one
o'clock in Lord Grenville's dining-room, when the relentless agent
of the French Government would finally learn who was this mysterious
Scarlet Pimpernel, who so openly defied an army of spies and placed
himself so boldly, and for mere sport, on the side of the enemies of
France.

Since then she had heard nothing from Chauvelin. She had concluded that
he had failed, and yet, she had not felt anxious about Armand, because
her husband had promised her that Armand would be safe.

But now, suddenly, as Suzanne prattled merrily along, an awful horror
came upon her for what she had done. Chauvelin had told her nothing, it
was true; but she remembered how sarcastic and evil he looked when she
took final leave of him after the ball. Had he discovered something
then? Had he already laid his plans for catching the daring plotter,
red-handed, in France, and sending him to the guillotine without
compunction or delay?

Marguerite turned sick with horror, and her hand convulsively clutched
the ring in her dress.

"You are not listening, CHERIE," said Suzanne, reproachfully, as she
paused in her long, highly interesting narrative.

"Yes, yes, darling--indeed I am," said Marguerite with an effort,
forcing herself to smile. "I love to hear you talking . . . and your
happiness makes me so very glad. . . . Have no fear, we will manage to
propitiate maman. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes is a noble English gentleman; he
has money and position, the Comtesse will not refuse her consent. . . .
But . . . now, little one . . . tell me . . . what is the latest news
about your father?"

"Oh!" said Suzanne with mad glee, "the best we could possibly hear. My
Lord Hastings came to see maman early this morning. He said that all is
now well with dear papa, and we may safely expect him here in England in
less than four days."

"Yes," said Marguerite, whose glowing eyes were fastened on Suzanne's
lips, as she continued merrily:

"Oh, we have no fear now! You don't know, CHERIE, that that great and
noble Scarlet Pimpernel himself has gone to save papa. He has gone,
CHERIE . . . actually gone . . ." added Suzanne excitedly, "He was in
London this morning; he will be in Calais, perhaps, to-morrow . . . where
he will meet papa . . . and then . . . and then . . ."

The blow had fallen. She had expected it all along, though she had tried
for the last half-hour to delude herself and to cheat her fears. He had
gone to Calais, had been in London this morning . . . he . . . the
Scarlet Pimpernel . . . Percy Blakeney . . . her husband . . . whom she had
betrayed last night to Chauvelin.

Percy . . . Percy . . . her husband . . . the Scarlet Pimpernel . . . Oh!
how could she have been so blind? She understood it all now--all at once
. . . that part he played--the mask he wore . . . in order to throw dust
in everybody's eyes.

And all for the sheer sport and devilry of course!--saving men, women
and children from death, as other men destroy and kill animals for the
excitement, the love of the thing. The idle, rich man wanted some aim
in life--he, and the few young bucks he enrolled under his banner, had
amused themselves for months in risking their lives for the sake of an
innocent few.

Perhaps he had meant to tell her when they were first married; and then
the story of the Marquis de St. Cyr had come to his ears, and he had
suddenly turned from her, thinking, no doubt, that she might someday
betray him and his comrades, who had sworn to follow him; and so he had
tricked her, as he tricked all others, whilst hundreds now owed their
lives to him, and many families owed him both life and happiness.

The mask of an inane fop had been a good one, and the part consummately
well played. No wonder that Chauvelin's spies had failed to detect, in
the apparently brainless nincompoop, the man whose reckless daring and
resourceful ingenuity had baffled the keenest French spies, both in
France and in England. Even last night when Chauvelin went to Lord
Grenville's dining-room to seek that daring Scarlet Pimpernel, he only
saw that inane Sir Percy Blakeney fast asleep in a corner of the sofa.

Had his astute mind guessed the secret, then? Here lay the whole awful,
horrible, amazing puzzle. In betraying a nameless stranger to his fate
in order to save her brother, had Marguerite Blakeney sent her husband
to his death?

No! no! no! a thousand times no! Surely Fate could not deal a blow like
that: Nature itself would rise in revolt: her hand, when it held that
tiny scrap of paper last night, would have surely have been struck numb
ere it committed a deed so appalling and so terrible.

"But what is it, CHERIE?" said little Suzanne, now genuinely alarmed,
for Marguerite's colour had become dull and ashen. "Are you ill,
Marguerite? What is it?"

"Nothing, nothing, child," she murmured, as in a dream. "Wait a moment
. . . let me think . . . think! . . . You said . . . the Scarlet
Pimpernel had gone today . . . ?"

"Marguerite, CHERIE, what is it? You frighten me. . . ."

"It is nothing, child, I tell you . . . nothing . . . I must be alone
a minute--and--dear one . . . I may have to curtail our time together
to-day. . . . I may have to go away--you'll understand?"

"I understand that something has happened, CHERIE, and that you want
to be alone. I won't be a hindrance to you. Don't think of me. My maid,
Lucile, has not yet gone . . . we will go back together . . . don't think
of me."

She threw her arms impulsively round Marguerite. Child as she was, she
felt the poignancy of her friend's grief, and with the infinite tact of
her girlish tenderness, she did not try to pry into it, but was ready to
efface herself.

She kissed Marguerite again and again, then walked sadly back across
the lawn. Marguerite did not move, she remained there, thinking . . .
wondering what was to be done.

Just as little Suzanne was about to mount the terrace steps, a groom
came running round the house towards his mistress. He carried a sealed
letter in his hand. Suzanne instinctively turned back; her heart told
her that here perhaps was further ill news for her friend, and she felt
that poor Margot was not in a fit state to bear any more.

The groom stood respectfully beside his mistress, then he handed her the
sealed letter.

"What is that?" asked Marguerite.

"Just come by runner, my lady."

Marguerite took the letter mechanically, and turned it over in her
trembling fingers.

"Who sent it?" she said.

"The runner said, my lady," replied the groom, "that his orders were
to deliver this, and that your ladyship would understand from whom it
came."

Marguerite tore open the envelope. Already her instinct told her what it
contained, and her eyes only glanced at it mechanically.

It was a letter by Armand St. Just to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes--the letter
which Chauvelin's spies had stolen at "The Fisherman's Rest," and which
Chauvelin had held as a rod over her to enforce her obedience.

Now he had kept his word--he had sent her back St. Just's compromising
letter . . . for he was on the track of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Marguerite's senses reeled, her very soul seemed to be leaving her body;
she tottered, and would have fallen but for Suzanne's arm round her
waist. With superhuman effort she regained control over herself--there
was yet much to be done.

"Bring that runner here to me," she said to the servant, with much calm.
"He has not gone?"

"No, my lady."

The groom went, and Marguerite turned to Suzanne.

"And you, child, run within. Tell Lucile to get ready. I fear that I
must send you home, child. And--stay, tell one of the maids to prepare a
travelling dress and cloak for me."

Suzanne made no reply. She kissed Marguerite tenderly and obeyed without
a word; the child was overawed by the terrible, nameless misery in her
friend's face.

A minute later the groom returned, followed by the runner who had
brought the letter.

"Who gave you this packet?" asked Marguerite.

"A gentleman, my lady," replied the man, "at 'The Rose and Thistle' inn
opposite Charing Cross. He said you would understand."

"At 'The Rose and Thistle'? What was he doing?"

"He was waiting for the coach, you ladyship, which he had ordered."

"The coach?"

"Yes, my lady. A special coach he had ordered. I understood from his man
that he was posting straight to Dover."

"That's enough. You may go." Then she turned to the groom: "My coach and
the four swiftest horses in the stables, to be ready at once."

The groom and runner both went quickly off to obey. Marguerite remained
standing for a moment on the lawn quite alone. Her graceful figure
was as rigid as a statue, her eyes were fixed, her hands were tightly
clasped across her breast; her lips moved as they murmured with pathetic
heart-breaking persistence,--

"What's to be done? What's to be done? Where to find him?--Oh, God!
grant me light."

But this was not the moment for remorse and despair. She had
done--unwittingly--an awful and terrible thing--the very worst crime, in
her eyes, that woman ever committed--she saw it in all its horror. Her
very blindness in not having guessed her husband's secret seemed now
to her another deadly sin. She ought to have known! she ought to have
known!

How could she imagine that a man who could love with so much intensity
as Percy Blakeney had loved her from the first--how could such a man
be the brainless idiot he chose to appear? She, at least, ought to have
known that he was wearing a mask, and having found that out, she should
have torn it from his face, whenever they were alone together.

Her love for him had been paltry and weak, easily crushed by her own
pride; and she, too, had worn a mask in assuming a contempt for him,
whilst, as a matter of fact, she completely misunderstood him.

But there was no time now to go over the past. By her own blindness she
had sinned; now she must repay, not by empty remorse, but by prompt and
useful action.

Percy had started for Calais, utterly unconscious of the fact that
his most relentless enemy was on his heels. He had set sail early that
morning from London Bridge. Provided he had a favourable wind, he would
no doubt be in France within twenty-four hours; no doubt he had reckoned
on the wind and chosen this route.

Chauvelin, on the other hand, would post to Dover, charter a vessel
there, and undoubtedly reach Calais much about the same time. Once in
Calais, Percy would meet all those who were eagerly waiting for the
noble and brave Scarlet Pimpernel, who had come to rescue them from
horrible and unmerited death. With Chauvelin's eyes now fixed upon his
every movement, Percy would thus not only be endangering his own life,
but that of Suzanne's father, the old Comte de Tournay, and of those
other fugitives who were waiting for him and trusting in him. There was
also Armand, who had gone to meet de Tournay, secure in the knowledge
that the Scarlet Pimpernel was watching over his safety.

All these lives and that of her husband, lay in Marguerite's hands;
these she must save, if human pluck and ingenuity were equal to the
task.

Unfortunately, she could not do all this quite alone. Once in Calais she
would not know where to find her husband, whilst Chauvelin, in stealing
the papers at Dover, had obtained the whole itinerary. Above every
thing, she wished to warn Percy.

She knew enough about him by now to understand that he would never
abandon those who trusted in him, that he would not turn his back from
danger, and leave the Comte de Tournay to fall into the bloodthirsty
hands that knew of no mercy. But if he were warned, he might form new
plans, be more wary, more prudent. Unconsciously, he might fall into a
cunning trap, but--once warned--he might yet succeed.

And if he failed--if indeed Fate, and Chauvelin, with all the resources
at his command, proved too strong for the daring plotter after all--then
at least she would be there by his side, to comfort, love and cherish,
to cheat death perhaps at the last by making it seem sweet, if they died
both together, locked in each other's arms, with the supreme happiness
of knowing that passion had responded to passion, and that all
misunderstandings were at an end.

Her whole body stiffened as with a great and firm resolution. This she
meant to do, if God gave her wits and strength. Her eyes lost their
fixed look; they glowed with inward fire at the thought of meeting him
again so soon, in the very midst of most deadly perils; they sparkled
with the joy of sharing these dangers with him--of helping him
perhaps--of being with him at the last--if she failed.

The childlike sweet face had become hard and set, the curved mouth was
closed tightly over her clenched teeth. She meant to do or die, with
him and for his sake. A frown, which spoke of an iron will and unbending
resolution, appeared between the two straight brows; already her plans
were formed. She would go and find Sir Andrew Ffoulkes first; he was
Percy's best friend, and Marguerite remembered, with a thrill, with what
blind enthusiasm the young man always spoke of his mysterious leader.

He would help her where she needed help; her coach was ready. A change
of raiment, and a farewell to little Suzanne, and she could be on her
way.

Without haste, but without hesitation, she walked quietly into the
house.




CHAPTER XX THE FRIEND



Less than half an hour later, Marguerite, buried in thoughts, sat inside
her coach, which was bearing her swiftly to London.

She had taken an affectionate farewell of little Suzanne, and seen the
child safely started with her maid, and in her own coach, back to town.
She had sent one courier with a respectful letter of excuse to His Royal
Highness, begging for a postponement of the august visit on account of
pressing and urgent business, and another on ahead to bespeak a fresh
relay of horses at Faversham.

Then she had changed her muslin frock for a dark traveling costume and
mantle, had provided herself with money--which her husband's lavishness
always placed fully at her disposal--and had started on her way.

She did not attempt to delude herself with any vain and futile hopes;
the safety of her brother Armand was to have been conditional on the
imminent capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel. As Chauvelin had sent her
back Armand's compromising letter, there was no doubt that he was quite
satisfied in his own mind that Percy Blakeney was the man whose death he
had sworn to bring about.

No! there was no room for any fond delusions! Percy, the husband whom
she loved with all the ardour which her admiration for his bravery
had kindled, was in immediate, deadly peril, through her hand. She had
betrayed him to his enemy--unwittingly 'tis true--but she HAD betrayed
him, and if Chauvelin succeeded in trapping him, who so far was unaware
of his danger, then his death would be at her door. His death! when with
her very heart's blood, she would have defended him and given willingly
her life for his.

She had ordered her coach to drive her to the "Crown" inn; once there,
she told her coachman to give the horses food and rest. Then she ordered
a chair, and had herself carried to the house in Pall Mall where Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes lived.

Among all Percy's friends who were enrolled under his daring banner,
she felt that she would prefer to confide in Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. He had
always been her friend, and now his love for little Suzanne had brought
him closer to her still. Had he been away from home, gone on the mad
errand with Percy, perhaps, then she would have called on Lord Hastings
or Lord Tony--for she wanted the help of one of these young men, or she
would indeed be powerless to save her husband.

Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, however, was at home, and his servant introduced
her ladyship immediately. She went upstairs to the young man's
comfortable bachelor's chambers, and was shown into a small, though
luxuriously furnished, dining-room. A moment or two later Sir Andrew
himself appeared.

He had evidently been much startled when he heard who his lady visitor
was, for he looked anxiously--even suspiciously--at Marguerite, whilst
performing the elaborate bows before her, which the rigid etiquette of
the time demanded.

Marguerite had laid aside every vestige of nervousness; she was
perfectly calm, and having returned the young man's elaborate salute,
she began very calmly,--

"Sir Andrew, I have no desire to waste valuable time in much talk. You
must take certain things I am going to tell you for granted. These will
be of no importance. What is important is that your leader and comrade,
the Scarlet Pimpernel . . . my husband . . . Percy Blakeney . . . is in
deadly peril."

Had she the remotest doubt of the correctness of her deductions, she
would have had them confirmed now, for Sir Andrew, completely taken by
surprise, had grown very pale, and was quite incapable of making the
slightest attempt at clever parrying.

"No matter how I know this, Sir Andrew," she continued quietly,
"thank God that I do, and that perhaps it is not too late to save him.
Unfortunately, I cannot do this quite alone, and therefore have come to
you for help."

"Lady Blakeney," said the young man, trying to recover himself,
"I . . ."

"Will you hear me first?" she interrupted. "This is how the matter
stands. When the agent of the French Government stole your papers that
night in Dover, he found amongst them certain plans, which you or your
leader meant to carry out for the rescue of the Comte de Tournay and
others. The Scarlet Pimpernel--Percy, my husband--has gone on this
errand himself to-day. Chauvelin knows that the Scarlet Pimpernel
and Percy Blakeney are one and the same person. He will follow him to
Calais, and there will lay hands on him. You know as well as I do the
fate that awaits him at the hands of the Revolutionary Government of
France. No interference from England--from King George himself--would
save him. Robespierre and his gang would see to it that the interference
came too late. But not only that, the much-trusted leader will also have
been unconsciously the means of revealing the hiding-place of the Comte
de Tournay and of all those who, even now, are placing their hopes in
him."

She had spoken quietly, dispassionately, and with firm, unbending
resolution. Her purpose was to make that young man trust and help her,
for she could do nothing without him.

"I do not understand," he repeated, trying to gain time, to think what
was best to be done.

"Aye! but I think you do, Sir Andrew. You must know that I am speaking
the truth. Look these facts straight in the face. Percy has sailed for
Calais, I presume for some lonely part of the coast, and Chauvelin is on
his track. HE has posted for Dover, and will cross the Channel probably
to-night. What do you think will happen?"

The young man was silent.

"Percy will arrive at his destination: unconscious of being followed he
will seek out de Tournay and the others--among these is Armand St. Just
my brother--he will seek them out, one after another, probably, not
knowing that the sharpest eyes in the world are watching his every
movement. When he has thus unconsciously betrayed those who blindly
trust in him, when nothing can be gained from him, and he is ready to
come back to England, with those whom he has gone so bravely to save,
the doors of the trap will close upon him, and he will be sent to end
his noble life upon the guillotine."

Still Sir Andrew was silent.

"You do not trust me," she said passionately. "Oh God! cannot you see
that I am in deadly earnest? Man, man," she added, while, with her tiny
hands she seized the young man suddenly by the shoulders, forcing him
to look straight at her, "tell me, do I look like that vilest thing on
earth--a woman who would betray her own husband?"

"God forbid, Lady Blakeney," said the young man at last, "that I should
attribute such evil motives to you, but . . ." "But what? . . . tell me.
. . . Quick, man! . . . the very seconds are precious!"

"Will you tell me," he asked resolutely, and looking searchingly into
her blue eyes, "whose hand helped to guide M. Chauvelin to the knowledge
which you say he possesses?"

"Mine," she said quietly, "I own it--I will not lie to you, for I wish
you to trust me absolutely. But I had no idea--how COULD I have?--of the
identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel . . . and my brother's safety was to be
my prize if I succeeded."

"In helping Chauvelin to track the Scarlet Pimpernel?"

She nodded.

"It is no use telling you how he forced my hand. Armand is more than a
brother to me, and . . . and . . . how COULD I guess? . . . But we waste
time, Sir Andrew . . . every second is precious . . . in the name of God!
. . . my husband is in peril . . . your friend!--your comrade!--Help me to
save him."

Sir Andrew felt his position to be a very awkward one. The oath he had
taken before his leader and comrade was one of obedience and secrecy;
and yet the beautiful woman, who was asking him to trust her, was
undoubtedly in earnest; his friend and leader was equally undoubtedly in
imminent danger and . . .

"Lady Blakeney," he said at last, "God knows you have perplexed me, so
that I do not know which way my duty lies. Tell me what you wish me to
do. There are nineteen of us ready to lay down our lives for the Scarlet
Pimpernel if he is in danger."

"There is no need for lives just now, my friend," she said drily; "my
wits and four swift horses will serve the necessary purpose. But I must
know where to find him. See," she added, while her eyes filled with
tears, "I have humbled myself before you, I have owned my fault to you;
shall I also confess my weakness?--My husband and I have been estranged,
because he did not trust me, and because I was too blind to understand.
You must confess that the bandage which he put over my eyes was a very
thick one. Is it small wonder that I did not see through it? But last
night, after I led him unwittingly into such deadly peril, it suddenly
fell from my eyes. If you will not help me, Sir Andrew, I would still
strive to save my husband. I would still exert every faculty I possess
for his sake; but I might be powerless, for I might arrive too late,
and nothing would be left for you but lifelong remorse, and . . . and
. . . for me, a broken heart."

"But, Lady Blakeney," said the young man, touched by the gentle
earnestness of this exquisitely beautiful woman, "do you know that what
you propose doing is man's work?--you cannot possibly journey to Calais
alone. You would be running the greatest possible risks to yourself, and
your chances of finding your husband now--where I to direct you ever so
carefully--are infinitely remote.

"Oh, I hope there are risks!" she murmured softly, "I hope there are
dangers, too!--I have so much to atone for. But I fear you are mistaken.
Chauvelin's eyes are fixed upon you all, he will scarce notice me.
Quick, Sir Andrew!--the coach is ready, and there is not a moment to be
lost. . . . I MUST get to him! I MUST!" she repeated with almost savage
energy, "to warn him that that man is on his track. . . . Can't you
see--can't you see, that I MUST get to him . . . even . . . even if it be
too late to save him . . . at least . . . to be by his side . . . at the
least."

"Faith, Madame, you must command me. Gladly would I or any of my
comrades lay down our lives for our husband. If you WILL go
yourself. . . ."

"Nay, friend, do you not see that I would go mad if I let you go without
me." She stretched out her hand to him. "You WILL trust me?"

"I await your orders," he said simply.

"Listen, then. My coach is ready to take me to Dover. Do you follow
me, as swiftly as horses will take you. We meet at nightfall at 'The
Fisherman's Rest.' Chauvelin would avoid it, as he is known there, and I
think it would be the safest. I will gladly accept your escort to Calais
. . . as you say, I might miss Sir Percy were you to direct me ever so
carefully. We'll charter a schooner at Dover and cross over during the
night. Disguised, if you will agree to it, as my lacquey, you will, I
think, escape detection."

"I am entirely at your service, Madame," rejoined the young man
earnestly. "I trust to God that you will sight the DAY DREAM before
we reach Calais. With Chauvelin at his heels, every step the Scarlet
Pimpernel takes on French soil is fraught with danger."

"God grant it, Sir Andrew. But now, farewell. We meet to-night at
Dover! It will be a race between Chauvelin and me across the Channel
to-night--and the prize--the life of the Scarlet Pimpernel."

He kissed her hand, and then escorted her to her chair. A quarter of an
hour later she was back at the "Crown" inn, where her coach and horses
were ready and waiting for her. The next moment they thundered along
the London streets, and then straight on to the Dover road at maddening
speed.

She had no time for despair now. She was up and doing and had no leisure
to think. With Sir Andrew Ffoulkes as her companion and ally, hope had
once again revived in her heart.

God would be merciful. He would not allow so appalling a crime to be
committed, as the death of a brave man, through the hand of a woman who
loved him, and worshipped him, and who would gladly have died for his
sake.

Marguerite's thoughts flew back to him, the mysterious hero, whom she
had always unconsciously loved, when his identity was still unknown to
her. Laughingly, in the olden days, she used to call him the shadowy
king of her heart, and now she had suddenly found that this enigmatic
personality whom she had worshipped, and the man who loved her so
passionately, were one and the same: what wonder that one or two happier
Visions began to force their way before her mind? She vaguely wondered
what she would say to him when first they would stand face to face.

She had had so many anxieties, so much excitement during the past few
hours, that she allowed herself the luxury of nursing these few more
hopeful, brighter thoughts. Gradually the rumble of the coach wheels,
with its incessant monotony, acted soothingly on her nerves: her
eyes, aching with fatigue and many shed and unshed tears, closed
involuntarily, and she fell into a troubled sleep.




CHAPTER XXI SUSPENSE



It was late into the night when she at last reached "The Fisherman's
Rest." She had done the whole journey in less than eight hours, thanks
to innumerable changes of horses at the various coaching stations,
for which she always paid lavishly, thus obtaining the very best and
swiftest that could be had.

Her coachman, too, had been indefatigable; the promise of special and
rich reward had no doubt helped to keep him up, and he had literally
burned the ground beneath his mistress' coach wheels.

The arrival of Lady Blakeney in the middle of the night caused a
considerable flutter at "The Fisherman's Rest." Sally jumped hastily out
of bed, and Mr. Jellyband was at great pains how to make his important
guest comfortable.

Both of these good folk were far too well drilled in the manners
appertaining to innkeepers, to exhibit the slightest surprise at Lady
Blakeney's arrival, alone, at this extraordinary hour. No doubt they
thought all the more, but Marguerite was far too absorbed in the
importance--the deadly earnestness--of her journey, to stop and ponder
over trifles of that sort.

The coffee-room--the scene lately of the dastardly outrage on two
English gentlemen--was quite deserted. Mr. Jellyband hastily relit the
lamp, rekindled a cheerful bit of fire in the great hearth, and then
wheeled a comfortable chair by it, into which Marguerite gratefully
sank.

"Will your ladyship stay the night?" asked pretty Miss Sally, who was
already busy laying a snow-white cloth on the table, preparatory to
providing a simple supper for her ladyship.

"No! not the whole night," replied Marguerite. "At any rate, I shall not
want any room but this, if I can have it to myself for an hour or two."

"It is at your ladyship's service," said honest Jellyband, whose
rubicund face was set in its tightest folds, lest it should betray
before "the quality" that boundless astonishment which the very worthy
fellow had begun to feel.

"I shall be crossing over at the first turn of the tide," said
Marguerite, "and in the first schooner I can get. But my coachman and
men will stay the night, and probably several days longer, so I hope you
will make them comfortable."

"Yes, my lady; I'll look after them. Shall Sally bring your ladyship
some supper?"

"Yes, please. Put something cold on the table, and as soon as Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes comes, show him in here."

"Yes, my lady."

Honest Jellyband's face now expressed distress in spite of himself. He
had great regard for Sir Percy Blakeney, and did not like to see his
lady running away with young Sir Andrew. Of course, it was no business
of his, and Mr. Jellyband was no gossip. Still, in his heart,
he recollected that her ladyship was after all only one of them
"furriners"; what wonder that she was immoral like the rest of them?

"Don't sit up, honest Jellyband," continued Marguerite kindly, "nor you
either, Mistress Sally. Sir Andrew may be late."

Jellyband was only too willing that Sally should go to bed. He was
beginning not to like these goings-on at all. Still, Lady Blakeney would
pay handsomely for the accommodation, and it certainly was no business
of his.

Sally arranged a simple supper of cold meat, wine, and fruit on the
table, then with a respectful curtsey, she retired, wondering in her
little mind why her ladyship looked so serious, when she was about to
elope with her gallant.

Then commenced a period of weary waiting for Marguerite. She knew that
Sir Andrew--who would have to provide himself with clothes befitting a
lacquey--could not possibly reach Dover for at least a couple of hours.
He was a splendid horseman of course, and would make light in such an
emergency of the seventy odd miles between London and Dover. He would,
too, literally burn the ground beneath his horse's hoofs, but he might
not always get very good remounts, and in any case, he could not have
started from London until at least an hour after she did.

She had seen nothing of Chauvelin on the road. Her coachman, whom she
questioned, had not seen anyone answering the description his mistress
gave him of the wizened figure of the little Frenchman.

Evidently, therefore, he had been ahead of her all the time. She had not
dared to question the people at the various inns, where they had stopped
to change horses. She feared that Chauvelin had spies all along the
route, who might overhear her questions, then outdistance her and warn
her enemy of her approach.

Now she wondered at what inn he might be stopping, or whether he had had
the good luck of chartering a vessel already, and was now himself on
the way to France. That thought gripped her at the heart as with an iron
vice. If indeed she should not be too late already!

The loneliness of the room overwhelmed her; everything within was so
horribly still; the ticking of the grandfather's clock--dreadfully slow
and measured--was the only sound which broke this awful loneliness.

Marguerite had need of all her energy, all her steadfastness of purpose,
to keep up her courage through this weary midnight waiting.

Everyone else in the house but herself must have been asleep. She had
heard Sally go upstairs. Mr. Jellyband had gone to see to her coachman
and men, and then had returned and taken up a position under the porch
outside, just where Marguerite had first met Chauvelin about a week
ago. He evidently meant to wait up for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, but was
soon overcome by sweet slumbers, for presently--in addition to the slow
ticking of the clock--Marguerite could hear the monotonous and dulcet
tones of the worthy fellow's breathing.

For some time now, she had realised that the beautiful warm October's
day, so happily begun, had turned into a rough and cold night. She had
felt very chilly, and was glad of the cheerful blaze in the hearth: but
gradually, as time wore on, the weather became more rough, and the sound
of the great breakers against the Admiralty Pier, though some distance
from the inn, came to her as the noise of muffled thunder.

The wind was becoming boisterous, rattling the leaded windows and the
massive doors of the old-fashioned house: it shook the trees outside and
roared down the vast chimney. Marguerite wondered if the wind would be
favourable for her journey. She had no fear of the storm, and would have
braved worse risks sooner than delay the crossing by an hour.

A sudden commotion outside roused her from her meditations. Evidently
it was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, just arrived in mad haste, for she heard
his horse's hoofs thundering on the flag-stones outside, then Mr.
Jellyband's sleepy, yet cheerful tones bidding him welcome.

For a moment, then, the awkwardness of her position struck Marguerite;
alone at this hour, in a place where she was well known, and having made
an assignation with a young cavalier equally well known, and who arrived
in disguise! What food for gossip to those mischievously inclined.

The idea struck Marguerite chiefly from its humorous side: there was
such quaint contrast between the seriousness of her errand, and the
construction which would naturally be put on her actions by honest Mr.
Jellyband, that, for the first time since many hours, a little smile
began playing round the corners of her childlike mouth, and when,
presently, Sir Andrew, almost unrecognisable in his lacquey-like garb,
entered the coffee-room, she was able to greet him with quite a merry
laugh.

"Faith! Monsieur, my lacquey," she said, "I am satisfied with your
appearance!"

Mr. Jellyband had followed Sir Andrew, looking strangely perplexed. The
young gallant's disguise had confirmed his worst suspicions. Without a
smile upon his jovial face, he drew the cork from the bottle of wine,
set the chairs ready, and prepared to wait.

"Thanks, honest friend," said Marguerite, who was still smiling at the
thought of what the worthy fellow must be thinking at that very moment,
"we shall require nothing more; and here's for all the trouble you have
been put to on our account."

She handed two or three gold pieces to Jellyband, who took them
respectfully, and with becoming gratitude.

"Stay, Lady Blakeney," interposed Sir Andrew, as Jellyband was about
to retire, "I am afraid we shall require something more of my friend
Jelly's hospitality. I am sorry to say we cannot cross over to-night."

"Not cross over to-night?" she repeated in amazement. "But we must, Sir
Andrew, we must! There can be no question of cannot, and whatever it may
cost, we must get a vessel to-night."

But the young man shook his head sadly.

"I am afraid it is not a question of cost, Lady Blakeney. There is a
nasty storm blowing from France, the wind is dead against us, we cannot
possibly sail until it has changed."

Marguerite became deadly pale. She had not foreseen this. Nature herself
was playing her a horrible, cruel trick. Percy was in danger, and she
could not go to him, because the wind happened to blow from the coast of
France.

"But we must go!--we must!" she repeated with strange, persistent
energy, "you know, we must go!--can't you find a way?"

"I have been down to the shore already," he said, "and had a talk to one
or two skippers. It is quite impossible to set sail to-night, so
every sailor assured me. No one," he added, looking significantly at
Marguerite, "NO ONE could possibly put out of Dover to-night."

Marguerite at once understood what he meant. NO ONE included Chauvelin
as well as herself. She nodded pleasantly to Jellyband.

"Well, then, I must resign myself," she said to him. "Have you a room
for me?"

"Oh, yes, your ladyship. A nice, bright, airy room. I'll see to it at
once. . . . And there is another one for Sir Andrew--both quite ready."

"That's brave now, mine honest Jelly," said Sir Andrew, gaily, and
clapping his worth host vigorously on the back. "You unlock both those
rooms, and leave our candles here on the dresser. I vow you are dead
with sleep, and her ladyship must have some supper before she retires.
There, have no fear, friend of the rueful countenance, her ladyship's
visit, though at this unusual hour, is a great honour to thy house, and
Sir Percy Blakeney will reward thee doubly, if thou seest well to her
privacy and comfort."

Sir Andrew had no doubt guessed the many conflicting doubts and fears
which raged in honest Jellyband's head; and, as he was a gallant
gentleman, he tried by this brave hint to allay some of the worthy
innkeeper's suspicions. He had the satisfaction of seeing that he
had partially succeeded. Jellyband's rubicund countenance brightened
somewhat, at the mention of Sir Percy's name.

"I'll go and see to it at once, sir," he said with alacrity, and with
less frigidity in his manner. "Has her ladyship everything she wants for
supper?"

"Everything, thanks, honest friend, and as I am famished and dead with
fatigue, I pray you see to the rooms."

"Now tell me," she said eagerly, as soon as Jellyband had gone from the
room, "tell me all your news."

"There is nothing else much to tell you, Lady Blakeney," replied the
young man. "The storm makes it quite impossible for any vessel to put
out of Dover this tide. But, what seems to you at first a terrible
calamity is really a blessing in disguise. If we cannot cross over to
France to-night, Chauvelin is in the same quandary.

"He may have left before the storm broke out."

"God grant he may," said Sir Andrew, merrily, "for very likely then
he'll have been driven out of his course! Who knows? He may now even be
lying at the bottom of the sea, for there is a furious storm raging, and
it will fare ill with all small craft which happen to be out. But I fear
me we cannot build our hopes upon the shipwreck of that cunning devil,
and of all his murderous plans. The sailors I spoke to, all assured me
that no schooner had put out of Dover for several hours: on the other
hand, I ascertained that a stranger had arrived by coach this afternoon,
and had, like myself, made some inquiries about crossing over to France.

"Then Chauvelin is still in Dover?"

"Undoubtedly. Shall I go waylay him and run my sword through him? That
were indeed the quickest way out of the difficulty."

"Nay! Sir Andrew, do not jest! Alas! I have often since last night
caught myself wishing for that fiend's death. But what you suggest is
impossible! The laws of this country do not permit of murder! It is only
in our beautiful France that wholesale slaughter is done lawfully, in
the name of Liberty and of brotherly love."

Sir Andrew had persuaded her to sit down to the table, to partake of
some supper and to drink a little wine. This enforced rest of at least
twelve hours, until the next tide, was sure to be terribly difficult to
bear in the state of intense excitement in which she was. Obedient in
these small matters like a child, Marguerite tried to eat and drink.

Sir Andrew, with that profound sympathy born in all those who are in
love, made her almost happy by talking to her about her husband. He
recounted to her some of the daring escapes the brave Scarlet Pimpernel
had contrived for the poor French fugitives, whom a relentless and
bloody revolution was driving out of their country. He made her eyes
glow with enthusiasm by telling her of his bravery, his ingenuity, his
resourcefulness, when it meant snatching the lives of men, women, and
even children from beneath the very edge of that murderous, ever-ready
guillotine.

He even made her smile quite merrily by telling her of the Scarlet
Pimpernel's quaint and many disguises, through which he had baffled the
strictest watch set against him at the barricades of Paris. This last
time, the escape of the Comtesse de Tournay and her children had been a
veritable masterpiece--Blakeney disguised as a hideous old market-woman,
in filthy cap and straggling grey locks, was a sight fit to make the
gods laugh.

Marguerite laughed heartily as Sir Andrew tried to describe Blakeney's
appearance, whose gravest difficulty always consisted in his great
height, which in France made disguise doubly difficult.

Thus an hour wore on. There were many more to spend in enforced
inactivity in Dover. Marguerite rose from the table with an impatient
sigh. She looked forward with dread to the night in the bed upstairs,
with terribly anxious thoughts to keep her company, and the howling of
the storm to help chase sleep away.

She wondered where Percy was now. The DAY DREAM was a strong, well-built
sea-going yacht. Sir Andrew had expressed the opinion that no doubt
she had got in the lee of the wind before the storm broke out, or else
perhaps had not ventured into the open at all, but was lying quietly at
Gravesend.

Briggs was an expert skipper, and Sir Percy handled a schooner as well
as any master mariner. There was no danger for them from the storm.

It was long past midnight when at last Marguerite retired to rest. As
she had feared, sleep sedulously avoided her eyes. Her thoughts were of
the blackest during these long, weary hours, whilst that incessant storm
raged which was keeping her away from Percy. The sound of the distant
breakers made her heart ache with melancholy. She was in the mood when
the sea has a saddening effect upon the nerves. It is only when we are
very happy, that we can bear to gaze merrily upon the vast and limitless
expanse of water, rolling on and on with such persistent, irritating
monotony, to the accompaniment of our thoughts, whether grave or gay.
When they are gay, the waves echo their gaiety; but when they are sad,
then every breaker, as it rolls, seems to bring additional sadness, and
to speak to us of hopelessness and of the pettiness of all our joys.




CHAPTER XXII CALAIS



The weariest nights, the longest days, sooner or later must perforce
come to an end.

Marguerite had spent over fifteen hours in such acute mental torture as
well-nigh drove her crazy. After a sleepless night, she rose early, wild
with excitement, dying to start on her journey, terrified lest further
obstacles lay in her way. She rose before anyone else in the house
was astir, so frightened was she, lest she should miss the one golden
opportunity of making a start.

When she came downstairs, she found Sir Andrew Ffoulkes sitting in the
coffee-room. He had been out half an hour earlier, and had gone to the
Admiralty Pier, only to find that neither the French packet nor any
privately chartered vessel could put out of Dover yet. The storm was
then at its fullest, and the tide was on the turn. If the wind did not
abate or change, they would perforce have to wait another ten or twelve
hours until the next tide, before a start could be made. And the storm
had not abated, the wind had not changed, and the tide was rapidly
drawing out.

Marguerite felt the sickness of despair when she heard this melancholy
news. Only the most firm resolution kept her from totally breaking down,
and thus adding to the young man's anxiety, which evidently had become
very keen.

Though he tried to hide it, Marguerite could see that Sir Andrew
was just as anxious as she was to reach his comrade and friend. This
enforced inactivity was terrible to them both.

How they spend that wearisome day at Dover, Marguerite could never
afterwards say. She was in terror of showing herself, lest Chauvelin's
spies happened to be about, so she had a private sitting-room, and
she and Sir Andrew sat there hour after hour, trying to take, at long
intervals, some perfunctory meals, which little Sally would bring them,
with nothing to do but to think, to conjecture, and only occasionally to
hope.

The storm had abated just too late; the tide was by then too far out to
allow a vessel to put off to sea. The wind had changed, and was settling
down to a comfortable north-westerly breeze--a veritable godsend for a
speedy passage across to France.

And there those two waited, wondering if the hour would ever come when
they could finally make a start. There had been one happy interval in
this long weary day, and that was when Sir Andrew went down once again
to the pier, and presently came back to tell Marguerite that he had
chartered a quick schooner, whose skipper was ready to put to sea the
moment the tide was favourable.

From that moment the hours seemed less wearisome; there was less
hopelessness in the waiting; and at last, at five o'clock in the
afternoon, Marguerite, closely veiled and followed by Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, who, in the guise of her lacquey, was carrying a number of
impedimenta, found her way down to the pier.

Once on board, the keen, fresh sea-air revived her, the breeze was just
strong enough to nicely swell the sails of the FOAM CREST, as she cut
her way merrily towards the open.

The sunset was glorious after the storm, and Marguerite, as she watched
the white cliffs of Dover gradually disappearing from view, felt more at
peace and once more almost hopeful.

Sir Andrew was full of kind attentions, and she felt how lucky she had
been to have him by her side in this, her great trouble.

Gradually the grey coast of France began to emerge from the
fast-gathering evening mists. One or two lights could be seen
flickering, and the spires of several churches to rise out of the
surrounding haze.

Half an hour later Marguerite had landed upon French shore. She was
back in that country where at this very moment men slaughtered their
fellow-creatures by the hundreds, and sent innocent women and children
in thousands to the block.

The very aspect of the country and its people, even in this remote
sea-coast town, spoke of that seething revolution, three hundred miles
away, in beautiful Paris, now rendered hideous by the constant flow of
the blood of her noblest sons, by the wailing of the widows, and the
cries of fatherless children.

The men all wore red caps--in various stages of cleanliness--but all
with the tricolor cockade pinned on the left-side. Marguerite noticed
with a shudder that, instead of the laughing, merry countenance habitual
to her own countrymen, their faces now invariably wore a look of sly
distrust.

Every man nowadays was a spy upon his fellows: the most innocent
word uttered in jest might at any time be brought up as a proof of
aristocratic tendencies, or of treachery against the people. Even the
women went about with a curious look of fear and of hate lurking in
their brown eyes; and all watched Marguerite as she stepped on shore,
followed by Sir Andrew, and murmured as she passed along: "SACRES
ARISTOS!" or else "SACRES ANGLAIS!"

Otherwise their presence excited no further comment. Calais, even in
those days, was in constant business communication with England, and
English merchants were often seen on this coast. It was well known that
in view of the heavy duties in England, a vast deal of French wines
and brandies were smuggled across. This pleased the French BOURGEOIS
immensely; he liked to see the English Government and the English king,
both of whom he hated, cheated out of their revenues; and an English
smuggler was always a welcome guest at the tumble-down taverns of Calais
and Boulogne.

So, perhaps, as Sir Andrew gradually directed Marguerite through the
tortuous streets of Calais, many of the population, who turned with an
oath to look at the strangers clad in English fashion, thought that
they were bent on purchasing dutiable articles for their own fog-ridden
country, and gave them no more than a passing thought.

Marguerite, however, wondered how her husband's tall, massive figure
could have passed through Calais unobserved: she marvelled what disguise
he assumed to do his noble work, without exciting too much attention.

Without exchanging more than a few words, Sir Andrew was leading her
right across the town, to the other side from that where they had
landed, and the way towards Cap Gris Nez. The streets were narrow,
tortuous, and mostly evil-smelling, with a mixture of stale fish and
damp cellar odours. There had been heavy rain here during the storm
last night, and sometimes Marguerite sank ankle-deep in the mud, for the
roads were not lighted save by the occasional glimmer from a lamp inside
a house.

But she did not heed any of these petty discomforts: "We may meet
Blakeney at the 'Chat Gris,'" Sir Andrew had said, when they landed, and
she was walking as if on a carpet of rose-leaves, for she was going to
meet him almost at once.

At last they reached their destination. Sir Andrew evidently knew the
road, for he had walked unerringly in the dark, and had not asked his
way from anyone. It was too dark then for Marguerite to notice the
outside aspect of this house. The "Chat Gris," as Sir Andrew had called
it, was evidently a small wayside inn on the outskirts of Calais, and on
the way to Gris Nez. It lay some little distance from the coast, for the
sound of the sea seemed to come from afar.

Sir Andrew knocked at the door with the knob of his cane, and from
within Marguerite heard a sort of grunt and the muttering of a number of
oaths. Sir Andrew knocked again, this time more peremptorily: more
oaths were heard, and then shuffling steps seemed to draw near the door.
Presently this was thrown open, and Marguerite found herself on the
threshold of the most dilapidated, most squalid room she had ever seen
in all her life.

The paper, such as it was, was hanging from the walls in strips; there
did not seem to be a single piece of furniture in the room that could,
by the wildest stretch of imagination, be called "whole." Most of the
chairs had broken backs, others had no seats to them, one corner of the
table was propped up with a bundle of faggots, there where the fourth
leg had been broken.

In one corner of the room there was a huge hearth, over which hung a
stock-pot, with a not altogether unpalatable odour of hot soup emanating
therefrom. On one side of the room, high up in the wall, there was a
species of loft, before which hung a tattered blue-and-white checked
curtain. A rickety set of steps led up to this loft.

On the great bare walls, with their colourless paper, all stained
with varied filth, there were chalked up at intervals in great bold
characters, the words: "Liberte--Egalite--Fraternite."

The whole of this sordid abode was dimly lighted by an evil-smelling
oil-lamp, which hung from the rickety rafters of the ceiling. It all
looked so horribly squalid, so dirty and uninviting, that Marguerite
hardly dared to cross the threshold.

Sir Andrew, however, had stepped unhesitatingly forward.

"English travellers, citoyen!" he said boldly, and speaking in French.

The individual who had come to the door in response to Sir Andrew's
knock, and who, presumably, was the owner of this squalid abode, was an
elderly, heavily built peasant, dressed in a dirty blue blouse, heavy
sabots, from which wisps of straw protruded all round, shabby blue
trousers, and the inevitable red cap with the tricolour cockade, that
proclaimed his momentary political views. He carried a short wooden
pipe, from which the odour of rank tobacco emanated. He looked with some
suspicion and a great deal of contempt at the two travellers, muttering
"SACRRRES ANGLAIS!" and spat upon the ground to further show his
independence of spirit, but, nevertheless, he stood aside to let them
enter, no doubt well aware that these same SACCRES ANGLAIS always had
well-filled purses.

"Oh, lud!" said Marguerite, as she advanced into the room, holding her
handkerchief to her dainty nose, "what a dreadful hole! Are you sure
this is the place?"

"Aye! 'this the place, sure enough," replied the young man as, with his
lace-edged, fashionable handkerchief, he dusted a chair for Marguerite
to sit on; "but I vow I never saw a more villainous hole."

"Faith!" she said, looking round with some curiosity and a great deal of
horror at the dilapidated walls, the broken chairs, the rickety table,
"it certainly does not look inviting."

The landlord of the "Chat Gris"--by name, Brogard--had taken no further
notice of his guests; he concluded that presently they would order
supper, and in the meanwhile it was not for a free citizen to show
deference, or even courtesy, to anyone, however smartly they might be
dressed.

By the hearth sat a huddled-up figure clad, seemingly, mostly in rags:
that figure was apparently a woman, although even that would have been
hard to distinguish, except for the cap, which had once been white,
and for what looked like the semblance of a petticoat. She was sitting
mumbling to herself, and from time to time stirring the brew in her
stock-pot.

"Hey, my friend!" said Sir Andrew at last, "we should like some supper.
. . . The citoyenne there," he added, "is concocting some delicious
soup, I'll warrant, and my mistress has not tasted food for several
hours."

It took Brogard some few minutes to consider the question. A free
citizen does not respond too readily to the wishes of those who happen
to require something of him.

"SACRRRES ARISTOS!" he murmured, and once more spat upon the ground.

Then he went very slowly up to a dresser which stood in a corner of
the room; from this he took an old pewter soup-tureen and slowly,
and without a word, he handed it to his better-half, who, in the same
silence, began filling the tureen with the soup out of her stock-pot.

Marguerite had watched all these preparations with absolute horror; were
it not for the earnestness of her purpose, she would incontinently have
fled from this abode of dirt and evil smells.

"Faith! our host and hostess are not cheerful people," said Sir Andrew,
seeing the look of horror on Marguerite's face. "I would I could offer
you a more hearty and more appetising meal . . . but I think you will
find the soup eatable and the wine good; these people wallow in dirt,
but live well as a rule."

"Nay! I pray you, Sir Andrew," she said gently, "be not anxious about
me. My mind is scarce inclined to dwell on thoughts of supper."

Brogard was slowly pursuing his gruesome preparations; he had placed
a couple of spoons, also two glasses on the table, both of which Sir
Andrew took the precaution of wiping carefully.

Brogard had also produced a bottle of wine and some bread, and
Marguerite made an effort to draw her chair to the table and to make
some pretence at eating. Sir Andrew, as befitting his ROLE of lacquey,
stood behind her chair.

"Nay, Madame, I pray you," he said, seeing that Marguerite seemed quite
unable to eat, "I beg of you to try and swallow some food--remember you
have need of all your strength."

The soup certainly was not bad; it smelt and tasted good. Marguerite
might have enjoyed it, but for the horrible surroundings. She broke the
bread, however, and drank some of the wine.

"Nay, Sir Andrew," she said, "I do not like to see you standing. You
have need of food just as much as I have. This creature will only think
that I am an eccentric Englishwoman eloping with her lacquey, if you'll
sit down and partake of this semblance of supper beside me."

Indeed, Brogard having placed what was strictly necessary upon the
table, seemed not to trouble himself any further about his guests. The
Mere Brogard had quietly shuffled out of the room, and the man stood
and lounged about, smoking his evil-smelling pipe, sometimes under
Marguerite's very nose, as any free-born citizen who was anybody's equal
should do.

"Confound the brute!" said Sir Andrew, with native British wrath,
as Brogard leant up against the table, smoking and looking down
superciliously at these two SACRRRES ANGLAIS.

"In Heaven's name, man," admonished Marguerite, hurriedly, seeing that
Sir Andrew, with British-born instinct, was ominously clenching his
fist, "remember that you are in France, and that in this year of grace
this is the temper of the people."

"I'd like to scrag the brute!" muttered Sir Andrew, savagely.

He had taken Marguerite's advice and sat next to her at table, and they
were both making noble efforts to deceive one another, by pretending to
eat and drink.

"I pray you," said Marguerite, "keep the creature in a good temper, so
that he may answer the questions we must put to him."

"I'll do my best, but, begad! I'd sooner scrag him than question him.
Hey! my friend," he said pleasantly in French, and tapping Brogard
lightly on the shoulder, "do you see many of our quality along these
parts? Many English travellers, I mean?"

Brogard looked round at him, over his near shoulder, puffed away at his
pipe for a moment or two as he was in no hurry, then muttered,--

"Heu!--sometimes!"

"Ah!" said Sir Andrew, carelessly, "English travellers always know
where they can get good wine, eh! my friend?--Now, tell me, my lady was
desiring to know if by any chance you happen to have seen a great friend
of hers, an English gentleman, who often comes to Calais on business; he
is tall, and recently was on his way to Paris--my lady hoped to have met
him in Calais."

Marguerite tried not to look at Brogard, lest she should betray before
him the burning anxiety with which she waited for his reply. But a
free-born French citizen is never in any hurry to answer questions:
Brogard took his time, then he said very slowly,--

"Tall Englishman?--To-day!--Yes."

"Yes, to-day," muttered Brogard, sullenly. Then he quietly took Sir
Andrew's hat from a chair close by, put it on his own head, tugged at
his dirty blouse, and generally tried to express in pantomime that
the individual in question wore very fine clothes. "SACRRE ARISTO!" he
muttered, "that tall Englishman!"

Marguerite could scarce repress a scream.

"It's Sir Percy right enough," she murmured, "and not even in disguise!"

She smiled, in the midst of all her anxiety and through her gathering
tears, at the thought of "the ruling passion strong in death"; of Percy
running into the wildest, maddest dangers, with the latest-cut coat upon
his back, and the laces of his jabot unruffled.

"Oh! the foolhardiness of it!" she sighed. "Quick, Sir Andrew! ask the
man when he went."

"Ah yes, my friend," said Sir Andrew, addressing Brogard, with the same
assumption of carelessness, "my lord always wears beautiful clothes;
the tall Englishman you saw, was certainly my lady's friend. And he has
gone, you say?"

"He went . . . yes . . . but he's coming back . . . here--he ordered supper
. . ."

Sir Andrew put his hand with a quick gesture of warning upon
Marguerite's arm; it came none too sone, for the next moment her wild,
mad joy would have betrayed her. He was safe and well, was coming back
here presently, she would see him in a few moments perhaps. . . . Oh!
the wildness of her joy seemed almost more than she could bear.

"Here!" she said to Brogard, who seemed suddenly to have been
transformed in her eyes into some heaven-born messenger of bliss.
"Here!--did you say the English gentleman was coming back here?"

The heaven-born messenger of bliss spat upon the floor, to express his
contempt for all and sundry ARISTOS, who chose to haunt the "Chat Gris."

"Heu!" he muttered, "he ordered supper--he will come back . . . SACRRE
ANGLAIS!" he added, by way of protest against all this fuss for a mere
Englishman.

"But where is he now?--Do you know?" she asked eagerly, placing her
dainty white hand upon the dirty sleeve of his blue blouse.

"He went to get a horse and cart," said Brogard, laconically, as with a
surly gesture, he shook off from his arm that pretty hand which princes
had been proud to kiss.

"At what time did he go?"

But Brogard had evidently had enough of these questionings. He did
not think that it was fitting for a citizen--who was the equal of
anybody--to be thus catechised by these SACRRES ARISTOS, even though
they were rich English ones. It was distinctly more fitting to his
newborn dignity to be as rude as possible; it was a sure sign of
servility to meekly reply to civil questions.

"I don't know," he said surlily. "I have said enough, VOYONS, LES
ARISTOS! . . . He came to-day. He ordered supper. He went out.--He'll
come back. VOILA!"

And with this parting assertion of his rights as a citizen and a free
man, to be as rude as he well pleased, Brogard shuffled out of the room,
banging the door after him.




CHAPTER XXIII HOPE



"Faith, Madame!" said Sir Andrew, seeing that Marguerite seemed desirous
to call her surly host back again, "I think we'd better leave him alone.
We shall not get anything more out of him, and we might arouse his
suspicions. One never knows what spies may be lurking around these
God-forsaken places."

"What care I?" she replied lightly, "now I know that my husband is safe,
and that I shall see him almost directly!"

"Hush!" he said in genuine alarm, for she had talked quite loudly, in
the fulness of her glee, "the very walls have ears in France, these
days."

He rose quickly from the table, and walked round the bare, squalid
room, listening attentively at the door, through which Brogard has just
disappeared, and whence only muttered oaths and shuffling footsteps
could be heard. He also ran up the rickety steps that led to the attic,
to assure himself that there were no spies of Chauvelin's about the
place.

"Are we alone, Monsieur, my lacquey?" said Marguerite, gaily, as the
young man once more sat down beside her. "May we talk?"

"As cautiously as possible!" he entreated.

"Faith, man! but you wear a glum face! As for me, I could dance with
joy! Surely there is no longer any cause for fear. Our boat is on the
beach, the FOAM CREST not two miles out at sea, and my husband will be
here, under this very roof, within the next half hour perhaps. Sure!
there is naught to hinder us. Chauvelin and his gang have not yet
arrived."

"Nay, madam! that I fear we do not know."

"What do you mean?"

"He was at Dover at the same time that we were."

"Held up by the same storm, which kept us from starting."

"Exactly. But--I did not speak of it before, for I feared to alarm
you--I saw him on the beach not five minutes before we embarked.
At least, I swore to myself at the time that it was himself; he was
disguised as a CURE, so that Satan, his own guardian, would scarce have
known him. But I heard him then, bargaining for a vessel to take him
swiftly to Calais; and he must have set sail less than an hour after we
did."

Marguerite's face had quickly lost its look of joy. The terrible danger
in which Percy stood, now that he was actually on French soil, became
suddenly and horribly clear to her. Chauvelin was close upon his heels;
here in Calais, the astute diplomatist was all-powerful; a word from him
and Percy could be tracked and arrested and . . .

Every drop of blood seemed to freeze in her veins; not even during the
moments of her wildest anguish in England had she so completely realised
the imminence of the peril in which her husband stood. Chauvelin had
sworn to bring the Scarlet Pimpernel to the guillotine, and now the
daring plotter, whose anonymity hitherto had been his safeguard, stood
revealed through her own hand, to his most bitter, most relentless
enemy.

Chauvelin--when he waylaid Lord Tony and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in the
coffee-room of "The Fisherman's Rest"--had obtained possession of all
the plans of this latest expedition. Armand St. Just, the Comte de
Tournay and other fugitive royalists were to have met the Scarlet
Pimpernel--or rather, as it had been originally arranged, two of his
emissaries--on this day, the 2nd of October, at a place evidently known
to the league, and vaguely alluded to as the "Pere Blanchard's hut."

Armand, whose connection with the Scarlet Pimpernel and disavowal of
the brutal policy of the Reign of Terror was still unknown to his
countryman, had left England a little more than a week ago, carrying
with him the necessary instructions, which would enable him to meet the
other fugitives and to convey them to this place of safety.

This much Marguerite had fully understood from the first, and Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes had confirmed her surmises. She knew, too, that when Sir Percy
realized that his own plans and his directions to his lieutenants had
been stolen by Chauvelin, it was too late to communicate with Armand, or
to send fresh instructions to the fugitives.

They would, of necessity, be at the appointed time and place, not
knowing how grave was the danger which now awaited their brave rescuer.

Blakeney, who as usual had planned and organized the whole expedition,
would not allow any of his younger comrades to run the risk of almost
certain capture. Hence his hurried note to them at Lord Grenville's
ball--"Start myself to-morrow--alone."

And now with his identity known to his most bitter enemy, his every step
would be dogged, the moment he set foot in France. He would be tracked
by Chauvelin's emissaries, followed until he reached that mysterious hut
where the fugitives were waiting for him, and there the trap would be
closed on him and on them.

There was but one hour--the hour's start which Marguerite and Sir Andrew
had of their enemy--in which to warn Percy of the imminence of his
danger, and to persuade him to give up the foolhardy expedition, which
could only end in his own death.

But there WAS that one hour.

"Chauvelin knows of this inn, from the papers he stole," said Sir
Andrew, earnestly, "and on landing will make straight for it."

"He has not landed yet," she said, "we have an hour's start on him, and
Percy will be here directly. We shall be mid-Channel ere Chauvelin has
realised that we have slipped through his fingers."

She spoke excitedly and eagerly, wishing to infuse into her young friend
some of that buoyant hope which still clung to her heart. But he shook
his head sadly.

"Silent again, Sir Andrew?" she said with some impatience. "Why do you
shake your head and look so glum?"

"Faith, Madame," he replied, "'tis only because in making your
rose-coloured plans, you are forgetting the most important factor."

"What in the world do you mean?--I am forgetting nothing. . . . What
factor do you mean?" she added with more impatience.

"It stands six foot odd high," replied Sir Andrew, quietly, "and hath
name Percy Blakeney."

"I don't understand," she murmured.

"Do you think that Blakeney would leave Calais without having
accomplished what he set out to do?"

"You mean . . . ?"

"There's the old Comte de Tournay . . ."

"The Comte . . . ?" she murmured.

"And St. Just . . . and others . . ."

"My brother!" she said with a heart-broken sob of anguish. "Heaven help
me, but I fear I had forgotten." "Fugitives as they are, these men at
this moment await with perfect confidence and unshaken faith the arrival
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who has pledged his honour to take them safely
across the Channel."

Indeed, she had forgotten! With the sublime selfishness of a woman who
loves with her whole heart, she had in the last twenty-four hours had
no thought save for him. His precious, noble life, his danger--he, the
loved one, the brave hero, he alone dwelt in her mind.

"My brother!" she murmured, as one by one the heavy tears gathered
in her eyes, as memory came back to her of Armand, the companion and
darling of her childhood, the man for whom she had committed the deadly
sin, which had so hopelessly imperilled her brave husband's life.

"Sir Percy Blakeney would not be the trusted, honoured leader of a score
of English gentlemen," said Sir Andrew, proudly, "if he abandoned
those who placed their trust in him. As for breaking his word, the very
thought is preposterous!"

There was silence for a moment or two. Marguerite had buried her face
in her hands, and was letting the tears slowly trickle through her
trembling fingers. The young man said nothing; his heart ached for this
beautiful woman in her awful grief. All along he had felt the terrible
IMPASSE in which her own rash act had plunged them all. He knew his
friend and leader so well, with his reckless daring, his mad bravery,
his worship of his own word of honour. Sir Andrew knew that Blakeney
would brave any danger, run the wildest risks sooner than break it, and
with Chauvelin at his very heels, would make a final attempt, however
desperate, to rescue those who trusted in him.

"Faith, Sir Andrew," said Marguerite at last, making brave efforts
to dry her tears, "you are right, and I would not now shame myself by
trying to dissuade him from doing his duty. As you say, I should plead
in vain. God grant him strength and ability," she added fervently and
resolutely, "to outwit his pursuers. He will not refuse to take you with
him, perhaps, when he starts on his noble work; between you, you will
have cunning as well as valour! God guard you both! In the meanwhile I
think we should lose no time. I still believe that his safety depends
upon his knowing that Chauvelin is on his track."

"Undoubtedly. He has wonderful resources at his command. As soon as he
is aware of his danger he will exercise more caution: his ingenuity is a
veritable miracle."

"Then, what say you to a voyage of reconnaissance in the village whilst
I wait here against his coming!--You might come across Percy's track
and thus save valuable time. If you find him, tell him to beware!--his
bitterest enemy is on his heels!"

"But this is such a villainous hole for you to wait in."

"Nay, that I do not mind!--But you might ask our surly host if he could
let me wait in another room, where I could be safer from the prying eyes
of any chance traveller. Offer him some ready money, so that he should
not fail to give me word the moment the tall Englishman returns."

She spike quite calmly, even cheerfully now, thinking out her plans,
ready for the worst if need be; she would show no more weakness, she
would prove herself worthy of him, who was about to give his life for
the sake of his fellow-men.

Sir Andrew obeyed her without further comment. Instinctively he felt
that hers now was the stronger mind; he was willing to give himself over
to her guidance, to become the hand, whilst she was the directing hand.

He went to the door of the inner room, through which Brogard and his
wife had disappeared before, and knocked; as usual, he was answered by a
salvo of muttered oaths.

"Hey! friend Brogard!" said the man peremptorily, "my lady friend would
wish to rest here awhile. Could you give her the use of another room?
She would wish to be alone."

He took some money out of his pocket, and allowed it to jingle
significantly in his hand. Brogard had opened the door, and listened,
with his usual surly apathy, to the young man's request. At the sight of
the gold, however, his lazy attitude relaxed slightly; he took his pipe
from his mouth and shuffled into the room.

He then pointed over his shoulder at the attic up in the wall.

"She can wait up there!" he said with a grunt. "It's comfortable, and I
have no other room."

"Nothing could be better," said Marguerite in English; she at once
realised the advantages such a position hidden from view would give her.
"Give him the money, Sir Andrew; I shall be quite happy up there, and
can see everything without being seen."

She nodded to Brogard, who condescended to go up to the attic, and to
shake up the straw that lay on the floor.

"May I entreat you, madam, to do nothing rash," said Sir Andrew, as
Marguerite prepared in her turn to ascend the rickety flight of steps.
"Remember this place is infested with spies. Do not, I beg of you,
reveal yourself to Sir Percy, unless you are absolutely certain that you
are alone with him."

Even as he spoke, he felt how unnecessary was this caution: Marguerite
was as calm, as clear-headed as any man. There was no fear of her doing
anything that was rash.

"Nay," she said with a slight attempt at cheerfulness, "that I can
faithfully promise you. I would not jeopardise my husband's life, nor
yet his plans, by speaking to him before strangers. Have no fear, I will
watch my opportunity, and serve him in the manner I think he needs it
most."

Brogard had come down the steps again, and Marguerite was ready to go up
to her safe retreat.

"I dare not kiss your hand, madam," said Sir Andrew, as she began to
mount the steps, "since I am your lacquey, but I pray you be of good
cheer. If I do not come across Blakeney in half an hour, I shall return,
expecting to find him here."

"Yes, that will be best. We can afford to wait for half an hour.
Chauvelin cannot possibly be here before that. God grant that either you
or I may have seen Percy by then. Good luck to you, friend! Have no fear
for me."

Lightly she mounted the rickety wooden steps that led to the attic.
Brogard was taking no further heed of her. She could make herself
comfortable there or not as she chose. Sir Andrew watched her until she
had reached the curtains across, and the young man noted that she was
singularly well placed there, for seeing and hearing, whilst remaining
unobserved.

He had paid Brogard well; the surly old innkeeper would have no object
in betraying her. Then Sir Andrew prepared to go. At the door he turned
once again and looked up at the loft. Through the ragged curtains
Marguerite's sweet face was peeping down at him, and the young man
rejoiced to see that it looked serene, and even gently smiling. With a
final nod of farewell to her, he walked out into the night.




CHAPTER XXIV THE DEATH-TRAP



The next quarter of an hour went by swiftly and noiselessly. In the room
downstairs, Brogard had for a while busied himself with clearing the
table, and re-arranging it for another guest.

It was because she watched these preparations that Marguerite found the
time slipping by more pleasantly. It was for Percy that this semblance
of supper was being got ready. Evidently Brogard had a certain amount
of respect for the tall Englishman, as he seemed to take some trouble in
making the place look a trifle less uninviting than it had done before.

He even produced, from some hidden recess in the old dresser, what
actually looked like a table-cloth; and when he spread it out, and saw
it was full of holes, he shook his head dubiously for a while, then
was at much pains so to spread it over the table as to hide most of its
blemishes.

Then he got out a serviette, also old and ragged, but possessing some
measure of cleanliness, and with this he carefully wiped the glasses,
spoons and plates, which he put on the table.

Marguerite could not help smiling to herself as she watched all these
preparations, which Brogard accomplished to an accompaniment of muttered
oaths. Clearly the great height and bulk of the Englishman, or perhaps
the weight of his fist, had overawed this free-born citizen of France,
or he would never have been at such trouble for any SACRRE ARISTO.

When the table was set--such as it was--Brogard surveyed it with evident
satisfaction. He then dusted one of the chairs with the corner of his
blouse, gave a stir to the stock-pot, threw a fresh bundle of faggots on
to the fire, and slouched out of the room.

Marguerite was left alone with her reflections. She had spread her
travelling cloak over the straw, and was sitting fairly comfortably, as
the straw was fresh, and the evil odours from below came up to her only
in a modified form.

But, momentarily, she was almost happy; happy because, when she peeped
through the tattered curtains, she could see a rickety chair, a torn
table-cloth, a glass, a plate and a spoon; that was all. But those mute
and ugly things seemed to say to her that they were waiting for Percy;
that soon, very soon, he would be here, that the squalid room being
still empty, they would be alone together.

That thought was so heavenly, that Marguerite closed her eyes in order
to shut out everything but that. In a few minutes she would be alone
with him; she would run down the ladder, and let him see her; then he
would take her in his arms, and she would let him see that, after that,
she would gladly die for him, and with him, for earth could hold no
greater happiness than that.

And then what would happen? She could not even remotely conjecture.
She knew, of course, that Sir Andrew was right, that Percy would
do everything he had set out to accomplish; that she--now she was
here--could do nothing, beyond warning him to be cautious, since
Chauvelin himself was on his track. After having cautioned him, she
would perforce have to see him go off upon the terrible and daring
mission; she could not even with a word or look, attempt to keep him
back. She would have to obey, whatever he told her to do, even perhaps
have to efface herself, and wait, in indescribable agony, whilst he,
perhaps, went to his death.

But even that seemed less terrible to bear than the thought that he
should never know how much she loved him--that at any rate would be
spared her; the squalid room itself, which seemed to be waiting for him,
told her that he would be here soon.

Suddenly her over-sensitive ears caught the sound of distant footsteps
drawing near; her heart gave a wild leap of joy! Was it Percy at last?
No! the step did not seem quite as long, nor quite as firm as his; she
also thought that she could hear two distinct sets of footsteps. Yes!
that was it! two men were coming this way. Two strangers perhaps, to get
a drink, or . . .

But she had not time to conjecture, for presently there was a peremptory
call at the door, and the next moment it was violently open from the
outside, whilst a rough, commanding voice shouted,--

"Hey! Citoyen Brogard! Hola!"

Marguerite could not see the newcomers, but, through a hole in one of
the curtains, she could observe one portion of the room below.

She heard Brogard's shuffling footsteps, as he came out of the inner
room, muttering his usual string of oaths. On seeing the strangers,
however, he paused in the middle of the room, well within range of
Marguerite's vision, looked at them, with even more withering contempt
than he had bestowed upon his former guests, and muttered, "SACRRREE
SOUTANE!"

Marguerite's heart seemed all at once to stop beating; her eyes, large
and dilated, had fastened on one of the newcomers, who, at this point,
had taken a quick step forward towards Brogard. He was dressed in the
soutane, broad-brimmed hat and buckled shoes habitual to the French
CURE, but as he stood opposite the innkeeper, he threw open his soutane
for a moment, displaying the tri-colour scarf of officialism, which
sight immediately had the effect of transforming Brogard's attitude of
contempt, into one of cringing obsequiousness.

It was the sight of this French CURE, which seemed to freeze the very
blood in Marguerite's veins. She could not see his face, which was
shaded by his broad-brimmed hat, but she recognized the thin, bony
hands, the slight stoop, the whole gait of the man! It was Chauvelin!

The horror of the situation struck her as with a physical blow; the
awful disappointment, the dread of what was to come, made her very
senses reel, and she needed almost superhuman effort, not to fall
senseless beneath it all.

"A plate of soup and a bottle of wine," said Chauvelin imperiously to
Brogard, "then clear out of here--understand? I want to be alone."

Silently, and without any muttering this time, Brogard obeyed. Chauvelin
sat down at the table, which had been prepared for the tall Englishman,
and the innkeeper busied himself obsequiously round him, dishing up the
soup and pouring out the wine. The man who had entered with Chauvelin
and whom Marguerite could not see, stood waiting close by the door.

At a brusque sign from Chauvelin, Brogard had hurried back to the inner
room, and the former now beckoned to the man who had accompanied him.

In him Marguerite at once recognised Desgas, Chauvelin's secretary and
confidential factotum, whom she had often seen in Paris, in days gone
by. He crossed the room, and for a moment or two listened attentively at
the Brogards' door. "Not listening?" asked Chauvelin, curtly.

"No, citoyen."

For a moment Marguerite dreaded lest Chauvelin should order Desgas to
search the place; what would happen if she were to be discovered, she
hardly dared to imagine. Fortunately, however, Chauvelin seemed more
impatient to talk to his secretary than afraid of spies, for he called
Desgas quickly back to his side.

"The English schooner?" he asked.

"She was lost sight of at sundown, citoyen," replied Desgas, "but was
then making west, towards Cap Gris Nez."

"Ah!--good!--" muttered Chauvelin, "and now, about Captain Jutley?--what
did he say?"

"He assured me that all the orders you sent him last week have been
implicitly obeyed. All the roads which converge to this place have been
patrolled night and day ever since: and the beach and cliffs have been
most rigorously searched and guarded."

"Does he know where this 'Pere Blanchard's' hut is?"

"No, citoyen, nobody seems to know of it by that name. There are any
amount of fisherman's huts all along the course . . . but . . ."

"That'll do. Now about tonight?" interrupted Chauvelin, impatiently.

"The roads and the beach are patrolled as usual, citoyen, and Captain
Jutley awaits further orders."

"Go back to him at once, then. Tell him to send reinforcements to
the various patrols; and especially to those along the beach--you
understand?"

Chauvelin spoke curtly and to the point, and every word he uttered
struck at Marguerite's heart like the death-knell of her fondest hopes.

"The men," he continued, "are to keep the sharpest possible look-out for
any stranger who may be walking, riding, or driving, along the road or
the beach, more especially for a tall stranger, whom I need not describe
further, as probably he will be disguised; but he cannot very well
conceal his height, except by stooping. You understand?"

"Perfectly, citoyen," replied Desgas.

"As soon as any of the men have sighted a stranger, two of them are to
keep him in view. The man who loses sight of the tall stranger, after he
is once seen, will pay for his negligence with his life; but one man is
to ride straight back here and report to me. Is that clear?"

"Absolutely clear, citoyen."

"Very well, then. Go and see Jutley at once. See the reinforcements
start off for the patrol duty, then ask the captain to let you have a
half-a-dozen more men and bring them here with you. You can be back in
ten minutes. Go--"

Desgas saluted and went to the door.

As Marguerite, sick with horror, listened to Chauvelin's directions
to his underling, the whole of the plan for the capture of the Scarlet
Pimpernel became appallingly clear to her. Chauvelin wished that the
fugitives should be left in false security waiting in their hidden
retreat until Percy joined them. Then the daring plotter was to be
surrounded and caught red-handed, in the very act of aiding and abetting
royalists, who were traitors to the republic. Thus, if his capture were
noised abroad, even the British Government could not legally protest in
his favour; having plotted with the enemies of the French Government,
France had the right to put him to death.

Escape for him and them would be impossible. All the roads patrolled
and watched, the trap well set, the net, wide at present, but drawing
together tighter and tighter, until it closed upon the daring plotter,
whose superhuman cunning even could not rescue him from its meshes now.

Desgas was about to go, but Chauvelin once more called him back.
Marguerite vaguely wondered what further devilish plans he could have
formed, in order to entrap one brave man, alone, against two-score of
others. She looked at him as he turned to speak to Desgas; she could
just see his face beneath the broad-brimmed, CURES'S hat. There was at
that moment so much deadly hatred, such fiendish malice in the thin face
and pale, small eyes, that Marguerite's last hope died in her heart, for
she felt that from this man she could expect no mercy.

"I had forgotten," repeated Chauvelin, with a weird chuckle, as he
rubbed his bony, talon-like hands one against the other, with a gesture
of fiendish satisfaction. "The tall stranger may show fight. In any
case no shooting, remember, except as a last resort. I want that tall
stranger alive . . . if possible."

He laughed, as Dante has told us that the devils laugh at the sight of
the torture of the damned. Marguerite had thought that by now she had
lived through the whole gamut of horror and anguish that human heart
could bear; yet now, when Desgas left the house, and she remained alone
in this lonely, squalid room, with that fiend for company, she felt
as if all that she had suffered was nothing compared with this. He
continued to laugh and chuckle to himself for awhile, rubbing his hands
together in anticipation of his triumph.

His plans were well laid, and he might well triumph! Not a loophole
was left, through which the bravest, the most cunning man might escape.
Every road guarded, every corner watched, and in that lonely hut
somewhere on the coast, a small band of fugitives waiting for their
rescuer, and leading him to his death--nay! to worse than death. That
fiend there, in a holy man's garb, was too much of a devil to allow a
brave man to die the quick, sudden death of a soldier at the post of
duty.

He, above all, longed to have the cunning enemy, who had so long baffled
him, helpless in his power; he wished to gloat over him, to enjoy his
downfall, to inflict upon him what moral and mental torture a deadly
hatred alone can devise. The brave eagle, captured, and with noble wings
clipped, was doomed to endure the gnawing of the rat. And she, his wife,
who loved him, and who had brought him to this, could do nothing to help
him.

Nothing, save to hope for death by his side, and for one brief moment
in which to tell him that her love--whole, true and passionate--was
entirely his.

Chauvelin was now sitting close to the table; he had taken off his
hat, and Marguerite could just see the outline of his thin profile and
pointed chin, as he bent over his meagre supper. He was evidently quite
contented, and awaited evens with perfect calm; he even seemed to enjoy
Brogard's unsavoury fare. Marguerite wondered how so much hatred could
lurk in one human being against another.

Suddenly, as she watched Chauvelin, a sound caught her ear, which
turned her very heart to stone. And yet that sound was not calculated
to inspire anyone with horror, for it was merely the cheerful sound of a
gay, fresh voice singing lustily, "God save the King!"




CHAPTER XXV THE EAGLE AND THE FOX



Marguerite's breath stopped short; she seemed to feel her very life
standing still momentarily whilst she listened to that voice and to that
song. In the singer she had recognised her husband. Chauvelin, too, had
heard it, for he darted a quick glance towards the door, then hurriedly
took up his broad-brimmed hat and clapped it over his head.

The voice drew nearer; for one brief second the wild desire seized
Marguerite to rush down the steps and fly across the room, to stop that
song at any cost, to beg the cheerful singer to fly--fly for his life,
before it be too late. She checked the impulse just in time. Chauvelin
would stop her before she reached the door, and, moreover, she had no
idea if he had any soldiers posted within his call. Her impetuous act
might prove the death-signal of the man she would have died to save.

"Long reign over us, God save the King!"

sang the voice more lustily than ever. The next moment the door was
thrown open and there was dead silence for a second or so.

Marguerite could not see the door; she held her breath, trying to
imagine what was happening.

Percy Blakeney on entering had, of course, at once caught sight of the
CURE at the table; his hesitation lasted less than five seconds, the
next moment, Marguerite saw his tall figure crossing the room, whilst he
called in a loud, cheerful voice,--

"Hello, there! no one about? Where's that fool Brogard?"

He wore the magnificent coat and riding-suit which he had on when
Marguerite last saw him at Richmond, so many hours ago. As usual, his
get-up was absolutely irreproachable, the fine Mechlin lace at his
neck and wrists were immaculate and white, his fair hair was carefully
brushed, and he carried his eyeglass with his usual affected gesture. In
fact, at this moment, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., might have been on his
way to a garden-party at the Prince of Wales', instead of deliberately,
cold-bloodedly running his head in a trap, set for him by his deadliest
enemy.

He stood for a moment in the middle of the room, whilst Marguerite,
absolutely paralysed with horror, seemed unable even to breathe.

Every moment she expected that Chauvelin would give a signal, that the
place would fill with soldiers, that she would rush down and help Percy
to sell his life dearly. As he stood there, suavely unconscious, she
very nearly screamed out to him,--

"Fly, Percy!--'tis your deadly enemy!--fly before it be too late!"

But she had not time even to do that, for the next moment Blakeney
quietly walked to the table, and, jovially clapped the CURE on the back,
said in his own drawly, affected way,--

"Odds's fish! . . . er . . . M. Chauvelin. . . . I vow I never thought of
meeting you here."

Chauvelin, who had been in the very act of conveying soup to his mouth,
fairly choked. His thin face became absolutely purple, and a violent fit
of coughing saved this cunning representative of France from betraying
the most boundless surprise he had ever experienced. There was no doubt
that this bold move on the part of the enemy had been wholly unexpected,
as far as he was concerned: and the daring impudence of it completely
nonplussed him for the moment.

Obviously he had not taken the precaution of having the inn surrounded
with soldiers. Blakeney had evidently guessed that much, and no doubt
his resourceful brain had already formed some plan by which he could
turn this unexpected interview to account.

Marguerite up in the loft had not moved. She had made a solemn promise
to Sir Andrew not to speak to her husband before strangers, and she
had sufficient self-control not to throw herself unreasoningly and
impulsively across his plans. To sit still and watch these two men
together was a terrible trial of fortitude. Marguerite had heard
Chauvelin give the orders for the patrolling of all the roads. She
knew that if Percy now left the "Chat Gris"--in whatever direction he
happened to go--he could not go far without being sighted by some of
Captain Jutley's men on patrol. On the other hand, if he stayed, then
Desgas would have time to come back with the dozen men Chauvelin had
specially ordered.

The trap was closing in, and Marguerite could do nothing but watch and
wonder. The two men looked such a strange contrast, and of the two it
was Chauvelin who exhibited a slight touch of fear. Marguerite knew him
well enough to guess what was passing in his mind. He had no fear for
his own person, although he certainly was alone in a lonely inn with a
man who was powerfully built, and who was daring and reckless beyond
the bounds of probability. She knew that Chauvelin would willingly have
braved perilous encounters for the sake of the cause he had at heart,
but what he did fear was that this impudent Englishman would, by
knocking him down, double his own chances of escape; his underlings
might not succeed so sell in capturing the Scarlet Pimpernel, when not
directed by the cunning hand and the shrewd brain, which had deadly hate
for an incentive.

Evidently, however, the representative of the French Government had
nothing to fear for the moment, at the hands of his powerful adversary.
Blakeney, with his most inane laugh and pleasant good-nature, was
solemnly patting him on the back.

"I am so demmed sorry . . ." he was saying cheerfully, "so very sorry
. . . I seem to have upset you . . . eating soup, too . . . nasty, awkward
thing, soup . . . er . . . Begad!--a friend of mine died once . . .
er . . . choked . . . just like you . . . with a spoonful of soup."

And he smiled shyly, good-humouredly, down at Chauvelin.

"Odd's life!" he continued, as soon as the latter had somewhat recovered
himself, "beastly hole this . . . ain't it now? La! you don't mind?" he
added, apologetically, as he sat down on a chair close to the table and
drew the soup tureen towards him. "That fool Brogard seems to be asleep
or something."

There was a second plate on the table, and he calmly helped himself to
soup, then poured himself out a glass of wine.

For a moment Marguerite wondered what Chauvelin would do. His disguise
was so good that perhaps he meant, on recovering himself, to deny his
identity: but Chauvelin was too astute to make such an obviously false
and childish move, and already he too had stretched out his hand and
said pleasantly,--

"I am indeed charmed to see you Sir Percy. You must excuse me--h'm--I
thought you the other side of the Channel. Sudden surprise almost took
my breath away."

"La!" said Sir Percy, with a good-humoured grin, "it did that quite,
didn't it--er--M.--er--Chaubertin?"

"Pardon me--Chauvelin."

"I beg pardon--a thousand times. Yes--Chauvelin of course. . . .
Er . . . I never could cotton to foreign names. . . ."

He was calmly eating his soup, laughing with pleasant good-humour, as
if he had come all the way to Calais for the express purpose of enjoying
supper at this filthy inn, in the company of his arch-enemy.

For the moment Marguerite wondered why Percy did not knock the little
Frenchman down then and there--and no doubt something of the sort must
have darted through his mind, for every now and then his lazy eyes
seemed to flash ominously, as they rested on the slight figure of
Chauvelin, who had now quite recovered himself and was also calmly
eating his soup.

But the keen brain, which had planned and carried through so many daring
plots, was too far-seeing to take unnecessary risks. This place, after
all, might be infested with spies; the innkeeper might be in Chauvelin's
pay. One call on Chauvelin's part might bring twenty men about
Blakeney's ears for aught he knew, and he might be caught and trapped
before he could help, or, at least, warn the fugitives. This he would
not risk; he meant to help the others, to get THEM safely away; for he
had pledged his word to them, and his word he WOULD keep. And whilst
he ate and chatted, he thought and planned, whilst, up in the loft,
the poor, anxious woman racked her brain as to what she should do, and
endured agonies of longing to rush down to him, yet not daring to move
for fear of upsetting his plans.

"I didn't know," Blakeney was saying jovially, "that you . . .
er . . . were in holy orders."

"I . . . er . . . hem . . ." stammered Chauvelin. The calm impudence of
his antagonist had evidently thrown him off his usual balance.

"But, la! I should have known you anywhere," continued Sir Percy,
placidly, as he poured himself out another glass of wine, "although the
wig and hat have changed you a bit."

"Do you think so?"

"Lud! they alter a man so . . . but . . . begad! I hope you don't mind my
having made the remark? . . . Demmed bad form making remarks. . . . I
hope you don't mind?"

"No, no, not at all--hem! I hope Lady Blakeney is well," said Chauvelin,
hurriedly changing the topic of conversation.

Blakeney, with much deliberation, finished his plate of soup, drank
his glass of wine, and, momentarily, it seemed to Marguerite as if he
glanced all round the room. "Quite well, thank you," he said at last,
drily. There was a pause, during which Marguerite could watch these two
antagonists who, evidently in their minds, were measuring themselves
against one another. She could see Percy almost full face where he
sat at the table not ten yards from where she herself was crouching,
puzzled, not knowing what to do, or what she should think. She had quite
controlled her impulse now of rushing down hand disclosing herself to
her husband. A man capable of acting a part, in the way he was doing
at the present moment, did not need a woman's word to warn him to be
cautious.

Marguerite indulged in the luxury, dear to every tender woman's heart,
of looking at the man she loved. She looked through the tattered
curtain, across at the handsome face of her husband, in whose lazy blue
eyes, and behind whose inane smile, she could now so plainly see the
strength, energy, and resourcefulness which had caused the Scarlet
Pimpernel to be reverenced and trusted by his followers. "There are
nineteen of us ready to lay down our lives for your husband, Lady
Blakeney," Sir Andrew had said to her; and as she looked at the
forehead, low, but square and broad, the eyes, blue, yet deep-set and
intense, the whole aspect of the man, of indomitable energy, hiding,
behind a perfectly acted comedy, his almost superhuman strength of
will and marvellous ingenuity, she understood the fascination which he
exercised over his followers, for had he not also cast his spells over
her heart and her imagination?

Chauvelin, who was trying to conceal his impatience beneath his usual
urbane manner, took a quick look at his watch. Desgas should not be
long: another two or three minutes, and this impudent Englishman would
be secure in the keeping of half a dozen of Captain Jutley's most
trusted men.

"You are on your way to Paris, Sir Percy?" he asked carelessly.

"Odd's life, no," replied Blakeney, with a laugh. "Only as far as
Lille--not Paris for me . . . beastly uncomfortable place Paris, just now
. . . eh, Monsieur Chaubertin . . . beg pardon . . . Chauvelin!"

"Not for an English gentleman like yourself, Sir Percy," rejoined
Chauvelin, sarcastically, "who takes no interest in the conflict that is
raging there."

"La! you see it's no business of mine, and our demmed government is all
on your side of the business. Old Pitt daren't say 'Bo' to a goose. You
are in a hurry, sir," he added, as Chauvelin once again took out his
watch; "an appointment, perhaps. . . . I pray you take no heed of me.
. . . My time's my own."

He rose from the table and dragged a chair to the hearth. Once more
Marguerite was terribly tempted to go to him, for time was getting on;
Desgas might be back at any moment with his men. Percy did not know that
and . . . oh! how horrible it all was--and how helpless she felt.

"I am in no hurry," continued Percy, pleasantly, "but, la! I don't want
to spend any more time than I can help in this God-forsaken hole! But,
begad! sir," he added, as Chauvelin had surreptitiously looked at his
watch for the third time, "that watch of yours won't go any faster for
all the looking you give it. You are expecting a friend, maybe?"

"Aye--a friend!"

"Not a lady--I trust, Monsieur l'Abbe," laughed Blakeney; "surely the
holy church does not allow? . . . eh? . . . what! But, I say, come by the
fire . . . it's getting demmed cold."

He kicked the fire with the heel of his boot, making the logs blaze in
the old hearth. He seemed in no hurry to go, and apparently was quite
unconscious of his immediate danger. He dragged another chair to the
fire, and Chauvelin, whose impatience was by now quite beyond control,
sat down beside the hearth, in such a way as to command a view of the
door. Desgas had been gone nearly a quarter of an hour. It was quite
plane to Marguerite's aching senses that as soon as he arrived,
Chauvelin would abandon all his other plans with regard to the
fugitives, and capture this impudent Scarlet Pimpernel at once.

"Hey, M. Chauvelin," the latter was saying arily, "tell me, I pray
you, is your friend pretty? Demmed smart these little French women
sometimes--what? But I protest I need not ask," he added, as he
carelessly strode back towards the supper-table. "In matters of taste
the Church has never been backward. . . . Eh?"

But Chauvelin was not listening. His every faculty was now concentrated
on that door through which presently Desgas would enter. Marguerite's
thoughts, too, were centered there, for her ears had suddenly caught,
through the stillness of the night, the sound of numerous and measured
treads some distance away.

It was Desgas and his men. Another three minutes and they would be here!
Another three minutes and the awful thing would have occurred: the brave
eagle would have fallen in the ferret's trap! She would have moved
now and screamed, but she dared not; for whilst she heard the soldiers
approaching, she was looking at Percy and watching his every movement.
He was standing by the table whereon the remnants of the supper, plates,
glasses, spoons, salt and pepper-pots were scattered pell-mell. His
back was turned to Chauvelin and he was still prattling along in his own
affected and inane way, but from his pocket he had taken his snuff-box,
and quickly and suddenly he emptied the contents of the pepper-pot into
it.

Then he again turned with an inane laugh to Chauvelin,--

"Eh? Did you speak, sir?"

Chauvelin had been too intent on listening to the sound of those
approaching footsteps, to notice what his cunning adversary had been
doing. He now pulled himself together, trying to look unconcerned in the
very midst of his anticipated triumph. "No," he said presently, "that
is--as you were saying, Sir Percy--?"

"I was saying," said Blakeney, going up to Chauvelin, by the fire, "that
the Jew in Piccadilly has sold me better snuff this time than I have
ever tasted. Will you honour me, Monsieur l'Abbe?"

He stood close to Chauvelin in his own careless, DEBONNAIRE way, holding
out his snuff-box to his arch-enemy.

Chauvelin, who, as he told Marguerite once, had seen a trick or two
in his day, had never dreamed of this one. With one ear fixed on those
fast-approaching footsteps, one eye turned to that door where Desgas
and his men would presently appear, lulled into false security by the
impudent Englishman's airy manner, he never even remotely guessed the
trick which was being played upon him.

He took a pinch of snuff.

Only he, who has ever by accident sniffed vigorously a dose of pepper,
can have the faintest conception of the hopeless condition in which such
a sniff would reduce any human being.

Chauvelin felt as if his head would burst--sneeze after sneeze seemed
nearly to choke him; he was blind, deaf, and dumb for the moment, and
during that moment Blakeney quietly, without the slightest haste, took
up his hat, took some money out of his pocket, which he left on the
table, then calmly stalked out of the room!




CHAPTER XXVI THE JEW



It took Marguerite some time to collect her scattered senses; the whole
of this last short episode had taken place in less than a minute, and
Desgas and the soldiers were still about two hundred yards away from the
"Chat Gris."

When she realised what had happened, a curious mixture of joy and wonder
filled her heart. It all was so neat, so ingenious. Chauvelin was still
absolutely helpless, far more so than he could even have been under a
blow from the fist, for now he could neither see, nor hear, nor speak,
whilst his cunning adversary had quietly slipped through his fingers.

Blakeney was gone, obviously to try and join the fugitives at the Pere
Blanchard's hut. For the moment, true, Chauvelin was helpless; for the
moment the daring Scarlet Pimpernel had not been caught by Desgas and
his men. But all the roads and the beach were patrolled. Every place was
watched, and every stranger kept in sight. How far could Percy go, thus
arrayed in his gorgeous clothes, without being sighted and followed? Now
she blamed herself terribly for not having gone down to him sooner, and
given him that word of warning and of love which, perhaps, after all,
he needed. He could not know of the orders which Chauvelin had given for
his capture, and even now, perhaps . . .

But before all these horrible thoughts had taken concrete form in her
brain, she heard the grounding of arms outside, close to the door, and
Desgas' voice shouting "Halt!" to his men.

Chauvelin had partially recovered; his sneezing had become less violent,
and he had struggled to his feet. He managed to reach the door just as
Desgas' knock was heard on the outside.

Chauvelin threw open the door, and before his secretary could say a
word, he had managed to stammer between two sneezes--

"The tall stranger--quick!--did any of you see him?"

"Where, citoyen?" asked Desgas, in surprise.

"Here, man! through that door! not five minutes ago."

"We saw nothing, citoyen! The moon is not yet up, and . . ."

"And you are just five minutes too late, my friend," said Chauvelin,
with concentrated fury.

"Citoyen . . . I . . ."

"You did what I ordered you to do," said Chauvelin, with impatience.
"I know that, but you were a precious long time about it. Fortunately,
there's not much harm done, or it had fared ill with you, Citoyen
Desgas."

Desgas turned a little pale. There was so much rage and hatred in his
superior's whole attitude.

"The tall stranger, citoyen--" he stammered.

"Was here, in this room, five minutes ago, having supper at that table.
Damn his impudence! For obvious reasons, I dared not tackle him alone.
Brogard is too big a fool, and that cursed Englishman appears to have
the strength of a bullock, and so he slipped away under your very nose."

"He cannot go far without being sighted, citoyen."

"Ah?"

"Captain Jutley sent forty men as reinforcements for the patrol duty:
twenty went down to the beach. He again assured me that the watch had
been constant all day, and that no stranger could possibly get to the
beach, or reach a boat, without being sighted."

"That's good.--Do the men know their work?" "They have had very clear
orders, citoyen: and I myself spoke to those who were about to start.
They are to shadow--as secretly as possible--any stranger they may see,
especially if he be tall, or stoop as if her would disguise his height."

"In no case to detain such a person, of course," said Chauvelin,
eagerly. "That impudent Scarlet Pimpernel would slip through clumsy
fingers. We must let him get to the Pere Blanchard's hut now; there
surround and capture him."

"The men understand that, citoyen, and also that, as soon as a tall
stranger has been sighted, he must be shadowed, whilst one man is to
turn straight back and report to you."

"That is right," said Chauvelin, rubbing his hands, well pleased.

"I have further news for you, citoyen."

"What is it?"

"A tall Englishman had a long conversation about three-quarters of an
hour ago with a Jew, Reuben by name, who lives not ten paces from here."

"Yes--and?" queried Chauvelin, impatiently.

"The conversation was all about a horse and cart, which the tall
Englishman wished to hire, and which was to have been ready for him by
eleven o'clock."

"It is past that now. Where does that Reuben live?"

"A few minutes' walk from this door."

"Send one of the men to find out if the stranger has driven off in
Reuben's cart."

"Yes, citoyen."

Desgas went to give the necessary orders to one of the men. Not a word
of this conversation between him and Chauvelin had escaped Marguerite,
and every word they had spoken seemed to strike at her heart, with
terrible hopelessness and dark foreboding.

She had come all this way, and with such high hopes and firm
determination to help her husband, and so far she had been able to do
nothing, but to watch, with a heart breaking with anguish, the meshes of
the deadly net closing round the daring Scarlet Pimpernel.

He could not now advance many steps, without spying eyes to track and
denounce him. Her own helplessness struck her with the terrible sense of
utter disappointment. The possibility of being the slightest use to her
husband had become almost NIL, and her only hope rested in being allowed
to share his fate, whatever it might ultimately be.

For the moment, even her chance of ever seeing the man she loved again,
had become a remote one. Still, she was determined to keep a close watch
over his enemy, and a vague hope filled her heart, that whilst she kept
Chauvelin in sight, Percy's fate might still be hanging in the balance.

Desgas left Chauvelin moodily pacing up and down the room, whilst he
himself waited outside for the return of the man whom he had sent in
search of Reuben. Thus several minutes went by. Chauvelin was evidently
devoured with impatience. Apparently he trusted no one: this last trick
played upon him by the daring Scarlet Pimpernel had made him suddenly
doubtful of success, unless he himself was there to watch, direct and
superintend the capture of this impudent Englishman.

About five minutes later, Desgas returned, followed by an elderly Jew,
in a dirty, threadbare gaberdine, worn greasy across the shoulders. His
red hair, which he wore after the fashion of the Polish Jews, with the
corkscrew curls each side of his face, was plentifully sprinkled with
grey--a general coating of grime, about his cheeks and his chin, gave
him a peculiarly dirty and loathsome appearance. He had the habitual
stoop, those of his race affected in mock humility in past centuries,
before the dawn of equality and freedom in matters of faith, and he
walked behind Desgas with the peculiar shuffling gait which has remained
the characteristic of the Jew trader in continental Europe to this day.

Chauvelin, who had all the Frenchman's prejudice against the despised
race, motioned to the fellow to keep at a respectful distance. The group
of the three men were standing just underneath the hanging oil-lamp, and
Marguerite had a clear view of them all.

"Is this the man?" asked Chauvelin.

"No, citoyen," replied Desgas, "Reuben could not be found, so presumably
his cart has gone with the stranger; but this man here seems to know
something, which he is willing to sell for a consideration."

"Ah!" said Chauvelin, turning away with disgust from the loathsome
specimen of humanity before him.

The Jew, with characteristic patience, stood humbly on one side, leaning
on the knotted staff, his greasy, broad-brimmed hat casting a deep
shadow over his grimy face, waiting for the noble Excellency to deign to
put some questions to him.

"The citoyen tells me," said Chauvelin peremptorily to him, "that you
know something of my friend, the tall Englishman, whom I desire to meet
. . . MORBLEU! keep your distance, man," he added hurriedly, as the Jew
took a quick and eager step forward.

"Yes, your Excellency," replied the Jew, who spoke the language with
that peculiar lisp which denotes Eastern origin, "I and Reuben Goldstein
met a tall Englishman, on the road, close by here this evening."

"Did you speak to him?"

"He spoke to us, your Excellency. He wanted to know if he could hire
a horse and cart to go down along the St. Martin road, to a place he
wanted to reach to-night."

"What did you say?"

"I did not say anything," said the Jew in an injured tone, "Reuben
Goldstein, that accursed traitor, that son of Belial . . ."

"Cut that short, man," interrupted Chauvelin, roughly, "and go on with
your story."

"He took the words out of my mouth, your Excellency: when I was about to
offer the wealthy Englishman my horse and cart, to take him wheresoever
he chose, Reuben had already spoken, and offered his half-starved nag,
and his broken-down cart."

"And what did the Englishman do?"

"He listened to Reuben Goldstein, your Excellency, and put his hand
in his pocket then and there, and took out a handful of gold, which he
showed to that descendant of Beelzebub, telling him that all that would
be his, if the horse and cart were ready for him by eleven o'clock."

"And, of course, the horse and cart were ready?"

"Well! they were ready for him in a manner, so to speak, your
Excellency. Reuben's nag was lame as usual; she refused to budge at
first. It was only after a time and with plenty of kicks, that she at
last could be made to move," said the Jew with a malicious chuckle.

"Then they started?"

"Yes, they started about five minutes ago. I was disgusted with that
stranger's folly. An Englishman too!--He ought to have known Reuben's
nag was not fit to drive."

"But if he had no choice?"

"No choice, your Excellency?" protested the Jew, in a rasping voice,
"did I not repeat to him a dozen times, that my horse and cart would
take him quicker, and more comfortably than Reuben's bag of bones. He
would not listen. Reuben is such a liar, and has such insinuating ways.
The stranger was deceived. If he was in a hurry, he would have had
better value for his money by taking my cart."

"You have a horse and cart too, then?" asked Chauvelin, peremptorily.

"Aye! that I have, your Excellency, and if your Excellency wants to
drive . . ."

"Do you happen to know which way my friend went in Reuben Goldstein's
cart?"

Thoughtfully the Jew rubbed his dirty chin. Marguerite's heart was
beating well-nigh to bursting. She had heard the peremptory question;
she looked anxiously at the Jew, but could not read his face beneath the
shadow of his broad-brimmed hat. Vaguely she felt somehow as if he held
Percy's fate in his long dirty hands.

There was a long pause, whilst Chauvelin frowned impatiently at the
stooping figure before him: at last the Jew slowly put his hand in his
breast pocket, and drew out from its capacious depths a number of silver
coins. He gazed at them thoughtfully, then remarked, in a quiet tone of
voice,--

"This is what the tall stranger gave me, when he drove away with Reuben,
for holding my tongue about him, and his doings."

Chauvelin shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"How much is there there?" he asked.

"Twenty francs, your Excellency," replied the Jew, "and I have been an
honest man all my life."

Chauvelin without further comment took a few pieces of gold out of his
own pocket, and leaving them in the palm of his hand, he allowed them to
jingle as he held them out towards the Jew.

"How many gold pieces are there in the palm of my hand?" he asked
quietly.

Evidently he had no desire to terrorize the man, but to conciliate him,
for his own purposes, for his manner was pleasant and suave. No doubt
he feared that threats of the guillotine, and various other persuasive
methods of that type, might addle the old man's brains, and that he
would be more likely to be useful through greed of gain, than through
terror of death.

The eyes of the Jew shot a quick, keen glance at the gold in his
interlocutor's hand.

"At least five, I should say, your Excellency," he replied obsequiously.

"Enough, do you think, to loosen that honest tongue of yours?"

"What does your Excellency wish to know?"

"Whether your horse and cart can take me to where I can find my friend
the tall stranger, who has driven off in Reuben Goldstein's cart?"

"My horse and cart can take your Honour there, where you please."

"To a place called the Pere Blanchard's hut?"

"Your Honour has guessed?" said the Jew in astonishment.

"You know the place?"

"Which road leads to it?"

"The St. Martin Road, your Honour, then a footpath from there to the
cliffs."

"You know the road?" repeated Chauvelin, roughly.

"Every stone, every blade of grass, your Honour," replied the Jew
quietly.

Chauvelin without another word threw the five pieces of gold one by one
before the Jew, who knelt down, and on his hands and knees struggled to
collect them. One rolled away, and he had some trouble to get it, for
it had lodged underneath the dresser. Chauvelin quietly waited while the
old man scrambled on the floor, to find the piece of gold.

When the Jew was again on his feet, Chauvelin said,--

"How soon can your horse and cart be ready?"

"They are ready now, your Honour."

"Where?"

"Not ten meters from this door. Will your Excellency deign to look."

"I don't want to see it. How far can you drive me in it?"

"As far as the Pere Blanchard's hut, your Honour, and further than
Reuben's nag took your friend. I am sure that, not two leagues from
here, we shall come across that wily Reuben, his nag, his cart and the
tall stranger all in a heap in the middle of the road."

"How far is the nearest village from here?"

"On the road which the Englishman took, Miquelon is the nearest village,
not two leagues from here."

"There he could get fresh conveyance, if he wanted to go further?"

"He could--if he ever got so far."

"Can you?"

"Will your Excellency try?" said the Jew simply.

"That is my intention," said Chauvelin very quietly, "but remember, if
you have deceived me, I shall tell off two of my most stalwart soldiers
to give you such a beating, that your breath will perhaps leave your
ugly body for ever. But if we find my friend the tall Englishman, either
on the road or at the Pere Blanchard's hut, there will be ten more gold
pieces for you. Do you accept the bargain?"

The Jew again thoughtfully rubbed his chin. He looked at the money in
his hand, then at this stern interlocutor, and at Desgas, who had stood
silently behind him all this while. After a moment's pause, he said
deliberately,--

"I accept."

"Go and wait outside then," said Chauvelin, "and remember to stick to
your bargain, or by Heaven, I will keep to mine."

With a final, most abject and cringing bow, the old Jew shuffled out of
the room. Chauvelin seemed pleased with his interview, for he rubbed
his hands together, with that usual gesture of his, of malignant
satisfaction.

"My coat and boots," he said to Desgas at last.

Desgas went to the door, and apparently gave the necessary orders, for
presently a soldier entered, carrying Chauvelin's coat, boots, and hat.

He took off his soutane, beneath which he was wearing close-fitting
breeches and a cloth waistcoat, and began changing his attire.

"You, citoyen, in the meanwhile," he said to Desgas, "go back to Captain
Jutley as fast as you can, and tell him to let you have another dozen
men, and bring them with you along the St. Martin Road, where I daresay
you will soon overtake the Jew's cart with myself in it. There will be
hot work presently, if I mistake not, in the Pere Blanchard's hut. We
shall corner our game there, I'll warrant, for this impudent Scarlet
Pimpernel has had the audacity--or the stupidity, I hardly know
which--to adhere to his original plans. He has gone to meet de Tournay,
St. Just and the other traitors, which for the moment, I thought,
perhaps, he did not intend to do. When we find them, there will be a
band of desperate men at bay. Some of our men will, I presume, be put
HORS DE COMBAT. These royalists are good swordsmen, and the Englishman
is devilish cunning, and looks very powerful. Still, we shall be five
against one at least. You can follow the cart closely with your men, all
along the St. Martin Road, through Miquelon. The Englishman is ahead of
us, and not likely to look behind him."

Whilst he gave these curt and concise orders, he had completed his
change of attire. The priest's costume had been laid aside, and he was
once more dressed in his usual dark, tight-fitting clothes. At last he
took up his hat.

"I shall have an interesting prisoner to deliver into your hands," he
said with a chuckle, as with unwonted familiarity he took Desgas' arm,
and led him towards the door. "We won't kill him outright, eh, friend
Desgas? The Pere Blanchard's hut is--an I mistake not--a lonely spot
upon the beach, and our men will enjoy a bit of rough sport there with
the wounded fox. Choose your men well, friend Desgas . . . of the
sort who would enjoy that type of sport--eh? We must see that Scarlet
Pimpernel wither a bit--what?--shrink and tremble, eh? . . . before we
finally . . ." He made an expressive gesture, whilst he laughed a low,
evil laugh, which filled Marguerite's soul with sickening horror.

"Choose your men well, Citoyen Desgas," he said once more, as he led his
secretary finally out of the room.




CHAPTER XXVII ON THE TRACK



Never for a moment did Marguerite Blakeney hesitate. The last sounds
outside the "Chat Gris" had died away in the night. She had heard Desgas
giving orders to his men, and then starting off towards the fort, to get
a reinforcement of a dozen more men: six were not thought sufficient to
capture the cunning Englishman, whose resourceful brain was even more
dangerous than his valour and his strength.

Then a few minutes later, she heard the Jew's husky voice again,
evidently shouting to his nag, then the rumble of wheels, and noise of a
rickety cart bumping over the rough road.

Inside the inn, everything was still. Brogard and his wife, terrified of
Chauvelin, had given no sign of life; they hoped to be forgotten, and
at any rate to remain unperceived: Marguerite could not even hear their
usual volleys of muttered oaths.

She waited a moment or two longer, then she quietly slipped down the
broken stairs, wrapped her dark cloak closely round her and slipped out
of the inn.

The night was fairly dark, sufficiently so at any rate to hide her dark
figure from view, whilst her keen ears kept count of the sound of the
cart going on ahead. She hoped by keeping well within the shadow of the
ditches which lined the road, that she would not be seen by Desgas' men,
when they approached, or by the patrols, which she concluded were still
on duty.

Thus she started to do this, the last stage of her weary journey, alone,
at night, and on foot. Nearly three leagues to Miquelon, and then on to
the Pere Blanchard's hut, wherever that fatal spot might be, probably
over rough roads: she cared not.

The Jew's nag could not get on very fast, and though she was wary with
mental fatigue and nerve strain, she knew that she could easily keep
up with it, on a hilly road, where the poor beast, who was sure to be
half-starved, would have to be allowed long and frequent rests. The road
lay some distance from the sea, bordered on either side by shrubs and
stunted trees, sparsely covered with meagre foliage, all turning away
from the North, with their branches looking in the semi-darkness, like
stiff, ghostly hair, blown by a perpetual wind.

Fortunately, the moon showed no desire to peep between the clouds, and
Marguerite hugging the edge of the road, and keeping close to the low
line of shrubs, was fairly safe from view. Everything around her was so
still: only from far, very far away, there came like a long soft moan,
the sound of the distant sea.

The air was keen and full of brine; after that enforced period of
inactivity, inside the evil-smelling, squalid inn, Marguerite would
have enjoyed the sweet scent of this autumnal night, and the distant
melancholy rumble of the autumnal night, and the distant melancholy
rumble of the waves; she would have revelled in the calm and stillness
of this lonely spot, a calm, broken only at intervals by the strident
and mournful cry of some distant gull, and by the creaking of
the wheels, some way down the road: she would have loved the cool
atmosphere, the peaceful immensity of Nature, in this lonely part of the
coast: but her heart was too full of cruel foreboding, of a great ache
and longing for a being who had become infinitely dear to her.

Her feet slipped on the grassy bank, for she thought it safest not to
walk near the centre of the road, and she found it difficult to keep up
a sharp pace along the muddy incline. She even thought it best not to
keep too near to the cart; everything was so still, that the rumble of
the wheels could not fail to be a safe guide.

The loneliness was absolute. Already the few dim lights of Calais lay
far behind, and on this road there was not a sign of human habitation,
not even the hut of a fisherman or of a woodcutter anywhere near; far
away on her right was the edge of the cliff, below it the rough beach,
against which the incoming tide was dashing itself with its constant,
distant murmur. And ahead the rumble of the wheels, bearing an
implacable enemy to his triumph.

Marguerite wondered at what particular spot, on this lonely coast, Percy
could be at this moment. Not very far surely, for he had had less than a
quarter of an hour's start of Chauvelin. She wondered if he knew that
in this cool, ocean-scented bit of France, there lurked many spies, all
eager to sight his tall figure, to track him to where his unsuspecting
friends waited for him, and then, to close the net over him and them.

Chauvelin, on ahead, jolted and jostled in the Jew's vehicle, was
nursing comfortable thoughts. He rubbed his hands together, with
content, as he thought of the web which he had woven, and through which
that ubiquitous and daring Englishman could not hope to escape. As the
time went on, and the old Jew drove him leisurely but surely along the
dark road, he felt more and more eager for the grand finale of this
exciting chase after the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel. The capture of
the audacious plotter would be the finest leaf in Citoyen Chauvelin's
wreath of glory. Caught, red-handed, on the spot, in the very act of
aiding and abetting the traitors against the Republic of France, the
Englishman could claim no protection from his own country. Chauvelin
had, in any case, fully made up his mind that all intervention should
come too late.

Never for a moment did the slightest remorse enter his heart, as to the
terrible position in which he had placed the unfortunate wife, who had
unconsciously betrayed her husband. As a matter of fact, Chauvelin had
ceased even to think of her: she had been a useful tool, that was all.

The Jew's lean nag did little more than walk. She was going along at a
slow jog trot, and her driver had to give her long and frequent halts.

"Are we a long way yet from Miquelon?" asked Chauvelin from time to
time.

"Not very far, your Honour," was the uniform placid reply.

"We have not yet come across your friend and mine, lying in a heap in
the roadway," was Chauvelin's sarcastic comment.

"Patience, noble Excellency," rejoined the son of Moses, "they are ahead
of us. I can see the imprint of the cart wheels, driven by that traitor,
that son of the Amalekite."

"You are sure of the road?"

"As sure as I am of the presence of those ten gold pieces in the noble
Excellency's pockets, which I trust will presently be mine."

"As soon as I have shaken hands with my friend the tall stranger, they
will certainly be yours."

"Hark, what was that?" said the Jew suddenly.

Through the stillness, which had been absolute, there could now be heard
distinctly the sound of horses' hoofs on the muddy road.

"They are soldiers," he added in an awed whisper.

"Stop a moment, I want to hear," said Chauvelin.

Marguerite had also heard the sound of galloping hoofs, coming towards
the cart and towards herself. For some time she had been on the alert
thinking that Desgas and his squad would soon overtake them, but these
came from the opposite direction, presumably from Miquelon. The darkness
lent her sufficient cover. She had perceived that the cart had stopped,
and with utmost caution, treading noiselessly on the soft road, she
crept a little nearer.

Her heart was beating fast, she was trembling in every limb; already she
had guessed what news these mounted men would bring. "Every stranger on
these roads or on the beach must be shadowed, especially if he be tall
or stoops as if he would disguise his height; when sighted a mounted
messenger must at once ride back and report." Those had been Chauvelin's
orders. Had then the tall stranger been sighted, and was this the
mounted messenger, come to bring the great news, that the hunted hare
had run its head into the noose at last?

Marguerite, realizing that the cart had come to a standstill, managed
to slip nearer to it in the darkness; she crept close up, hoping to get
within earshot, to hear what the messenger had to say.

She heard the quick words of challenge--

"Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite!" then Chauvelin's quick query:--

"What news?"

Two men on horseback had halted beside the vehicle.

Marguerite could see them silhouetted against the midnight sky. She
could hear their voices, and the snorting of their horses, and now,
behind her, some little distance off, the regular and measured tread of
a body of advancing men: Desgas and his soldiers.

There had been a long pause, during which, no doubt, Chauvelin satisfied
the men as to his identity, for presently, questions and answers
followed each other in quick succession.

"You have seen the stranger?" asked Chauvelin, eagerly.

"No, citoyen, we have seen no tall stranger; we came by the edge of the
cliff."

"Then?"

"Less than a quarter of a league beyond Miquelon, we came across a rough
construction of wood, which looked like the hut of a fisherman, where he
might keep his tools and nets. When we first sighted it, it seemed to be
empty, and, at first we thought that there was nothing suspicious about,
until we saw some smoke issuing through an aperture at the side. I
dismounted and crept close to it. It was then empty, but in one corner
of the hut, there was a charcoal fire, and a couple of stools were
also in the hut. I consulted with my comrades, and we decided that they
should take cover with the horses, well out of sight, and that I should
remain on the watch, which I did."

"Well! and did you see anything?"

"About half an hour later, I heard voices, citoyen, and presently, two
men came along towards the edge of the cliff; they seemed to me to have
come from the Lille Road. One was young, the other quite old. They were
talking in a whisper, to one another, and I could not hear what they
said." One was young, and the other quite old. Marguerite's aching heart
almost stopped beating as she listened: was the young one Armand?--her
brother?--and the old one de Tournay--were they the two fugitives who,
unconsciously, were used as a decoy, to entrap their fearless and noble
rescuer.

"The two men presently went into the hut," continued the soldier, whilst
Marguerite's aching nerves seemed to catch the sound of Chauvelin's
triumphant chuckle, "and I crept nearer to it then. The hut is very
roughly built, and I caught snatches of their conversation."

"Yes?--Quick!--What did you hear?"

"The old man asked the young one if he were sure that was right place.
'Oh, yes,' he replied, ''tis the place sure enough,' and by the light of
the charcoal fire he showed to his companion a paper, which he carried.
'Here is the plan,' he said, 'which he gave me before I left London. We
were to adhere strictly to that plan, unless I had contrary orders, and
I have had none. Here is the road we followed, see . . . here the fork
. . . here we cut across the St. Martin Road . . . and here is the footpath
which brought us to the edge of the cliff.' I must have made a slight
noise then, for the young man came to the door of the hut, and peered
anxiously all round him. When he again joined his companion, they
whispered so low, that I could no longer hear them."

"Well?--and?" asked Chauvelin, impatiently.

"There were six of us altogether, patrolling that part of the beach,
so we consulted together, and thought it best that four should remain
behind and keep the hut in sight, and I and my comrade rode back at once
to make report of what we had seen."

"You saw nothing of the tall stranger?"

"Nothing, citoyen."

"If your comrades see him, what would they do?"

"Not lose sight of him for a moment, and if he showed signs of
escape, or any boat came in sight, they would close in on him, and,
if necessary, they would shoot: the firing would bring the rest of the
patrol to the spot. In any case they would not let the stranger go."

"Aye! but I did not want the stranger hurt--not just yet," murmured
Chauvelin, savagely, "but there, you've done your best. The Fates grant
that I may not be too late. . . ."

"We met half a dozen men just now, who have been patrolling this road
for several hours."

"Well?"

"They have seen no stranger either." "Yet he is on ahead somewhere, in
a cart or else . . . Here! there is not a moment to lose. How far is that
hut from here?"

"About a couple of leagues, citoyen."

"You can find it again?--at once?--without hesitation?"

"I have absolutely no doubt, citoyen."

"The footpath, to the edge of the cliff?--Even in the dark?"

"It is not a dark night, citoyen, and I know I can find my way,"
repeated the soldier firmly.

"Fall in behind then. Let your comrade take both your horses back to
Calais. You won't want them. Keep beside the cart, and direct the Jew to
drive straight ahead; then stop him, within a quarter of a league of the
footpath; see that he takes the most direct road."

Whilst Chauvelin spoke, Desgas and his men were fast approaching, and
Marguerite could hear their footsteps within a hundred yards behind her
now. She thought it unsafe to stay where she was, and unnecessary too,
as she had heard enough. She seemed suddenly to have lost all faculty
even for suffering: her heart, her nerves, her brain seemed to have
become numb after all these hours of ceaseless anguish, culminating in
this awful despair.

For now there was absolutely not the faintest hope. Within two short
leagues of this spot, the fugitives were waiting for their brave
deliverer. He was on his way, somewhere on this lonely road, and
presently he would join them; then the well-laid trap would close, two
dozen men, led by one whose hatred was as deadly as his cunning was
malicious, would close round the small band of fugitives, and their
daring leader. They would all be captured. Armand, according to
Chauvelin's pledged word would be restored to her, but her husband,
Percy, whom with every breath she drew she seemed to love and worship
more and more, he would fall into the hands of a remorseless enemy, who
had no pity for a brave heart, no admiration for the courage of a noble
soul, who would show nothing but hatred for the cunning antagonist, who
had baffled him so long.

She heard the soldier giving a few brief directions to the Jew, then
she retired quickly to the edge of the road, and cowered behind some low
shrubs, whilst Desgas and his men came up.

All fell in noiselessly behind the cart, and slowly they all started
down the dark road. Marguerite waited until she reckoned that they were
well outside the range of earshot, then, she too in the darkness, which
suddenly seemed to have become more intense, crept noiselessly along.




CHAPTER XXVIII THE PERE BLANCHARD'S HUT



As in a dream, Marguerite followed on; the web was drawing more and more
tightly every moment round the beloved life, which had become dearer
than all. To see her husband once again, to tell him how she had
suffered, how much she had wronged, and how little understood him, had
become now her only aim. She had abandoned all hope of saving him: she
saw him gradually hemmed in on all sides, and, in despair, she gazed
round her into the darkness, and wondered whence he would presently
come, to fall into the death-trap which his relentless enemy had
prepared for him.

The distant roar of the waves now made her shudder; the occasional
dismal cry of an owl, or a sea-gull, filled her with unspeakable horror.
She thought of the ravenous beasts--in human shape--who lay in wait for
their prey, and destroyed them, as mercilessly as any hungry wolf,
for the satisfaction of their own appetite of hate. Marguerite was not
afraid of the darkness, she only feared that man, on ahead, who was
sitting at the bottom of a rough wooden cart, nursing thoughts of
vengeance, which would have made the very demons in hell chuckle with
delight.

Her feet were sore. Her knees shook under her, from sheer bodily
fatigue. For days now she had lived in a wild turmoil of excitement;
she had not had a quiet rest for three nights; now, she had walked on
a slippery road for nearly two hours, and yet her determination never
swerved for a moment. She would see her husband, tell him all, and, if
he was ready to forgive the crime, which she had committed in her blind
ignorance, she would yet have the happiness of dying by his side.

She must have walked on almost in a trance, instinct alone keeping her
up, and guiding her in the wake of the enemy, when suddenly her ears,
attuned to the slightest sound, by that same blind instinct, told her
that the cart had stopped, and that the soldiers had halted. They had
come to their destination. No doubt on the right, somewhere close ahead,
was the footpath that led to the edge of the cliff and to the hut.

Heedless of any risks, she crept up quite close up to where Chauvelin
stood, surrounded by his little troop: he had descended from the cart,
and was giving some orders to the men. These she wanted to hear: what
little chance she yet had, of being useful to Percy, consisted in
hearing absolutely every word of his enemy's plans.

The spot where all the party had halted must have lain some eight
hundred meters from the coast; the sound of the sea came only very
faintly, as from a distance. Chauvelin and Desgas, followed by the
soldiers, had turned off sharply to the right of the road, apparently
on to the footpath, which led to the cliffs. The Jew had remained on the
road, with his cart and nag.

Marguerite, with infinite caution, and literally crawling on her hands
and knees, had also turned off to the right: to accomplish this she had
to creep through the rough, low shrubs, trying to make as little noise
as possible as she went along, tearing her face and hands against
the dry twigs, intent only upon hearing without being seen or heard.
Fortunately--as is usual in this part of France--the footpath was
bordered by a low rough hedge, beyond which was a dry ditch, filled with
coarse grass. In this Marguerite managed to find shelter; she was quite
hidden from view, yet could contrive to get within three yards of where
Chauvelin stood, giving orders to his men.

"Now," he was saying in a low and peremptory whisper, "where is the Pere
Blanchard's hut?"

"About eight hundred meters from here, along the footpath," said the
soldier who had lately been directing the party, "and half-way down the
cliff."

"Very good. You shall lead us. Before we begin to descend the cliff, you
shall creep down to the hut, as noiselessly as possible, and ascertain
if the traitor royalists are there? Do you understand?"

"I understand, citoyen."

"Now listen very attentively, all of you," continued Chauvelin,
impressively, and addressing the soldiers collectively, "for after this
we may not be able to exchange another word, so remember every syllable
I utter, as if your very lives depended on your memory. Perhaps they
do," he added drily.

"We listen, citoyen," said Desgas, "and a soldier of the Republic never
forgets an order."

"You, who have crept up to the hut, will try to peep inside. If an
Englishman is there with those traitors, a man who is tall above the
average, or who stoops as if he would disguise his height, then give
a sharp, quick whistle as a signal to your comrades. All of you," he
added, once more speaking to the soldiers collectively, "then quickly
surround and rush into the hut, and each seize one of the men there,
before they have time to draw their firearms; if any of them struggle,
shoot at their legs or arms, but on no account kill the tall man. Do you
understand?"

"We understand, citoyen."

"The man who is tall above the average is probably also strong above the
average; it will take four or five of you at least to overpower him."

There was a little pause, then Chauvelin continued,--

"If the royalist traitors are still alone, which is more than likely to
be the case, then warn your comrades who are lying in wait there, and
all of you creep and take cover behind the rocks and boulders round the
hut, and wait there, in dead silence, until the tall Englishman arrives;
then only rush the hut, when he is safely within its doors. But remember
that you must be as silent as the wolf is at night, when he prowls
around the pens. I do not wish those royalists to be on the alert--the
firing of a pistol, a shriek or call on their part would be sufficient,
perhaps, to warn the tall personage to keep clear of the cliffs, and of
the hut, and," he added emphatically, "it is the tall Englishman whom it
is your duty to capture tonight."

"You shall be implicitly obeyed, citoyen."

"Then get along as noiselessly as possible, and I will follow you."

"What about the Jew, citoyen?" asked Desgas, as silently like noiseless
shadows, one by one the soldiers began to creep along the rough and
narrow footpath.

"Ah, yes; I had forgotten about the Jew," said Chauvelin, and, turning
towards the Jew, he called him peremptorily.

"Here, you . . . Aaron, Moses, Abraham, or whatever your confounded name
may be," he said to the old man, who had quietly stood beside his lean
nag, as far away from the soldiers as possible.

"Benjamin Rosenbaum, so it please your Honour," he replied humbly.

"It does not please me to hear your voice, but it does please me to give
you certain orders, which you will find it wise to obey."

"So it please your Honour . . ."

"Hold your confounded tongue. You shall stay here, do you hear? with
your horse and cart until our return. You are on no account to utter
the faintest sound, or to even breathe louder than you can help; nor are
you, on any consideration whatever, to leave your post, until I give you
orders to do so. Do you understand?"

"But your Honour--" protested the Jew pitiably.

"There is no question of 'but' or of any argument," said Chauvelin, in a
tone that made the timid old man tremble from heat to foot. "If, when
I return, I do not find you here, I most solemnly assure you that,
wherever you may try to hide yourself, I can find you, and that
punishment swift, sure and terrible, will sooner or later overtake you.
Do you hear me?"

"But your Excellency . . ."

"I said, do you hear me?"

The soldiers had all crept away; the three men stood alone together
in the dark and lonely road, with Marguerite there, behind the hedge,
listening to Chauvelin's orders, as she would to her own death sentence.

"I heard your Honour," protested the Jew again, while he tried to draw
nearer to Chauvelin, "and I swear by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I
would obey your Honour most absolutely, and that I would not move from
this place until your Honour once more deigned to shed the light of your
countenance upon your humble servant; but remember, your Honour, I am
a poor man; my nerves are not as strong as those of a young soldier. If
midnight marauders should come prowling round this lonely road, I
might scream or run in my fright! And is my life to be forfeit, is some
terrible punishment to come on my poor old head for that which I cannot
help?"

The Jew seemed in real distress; he was shaking from head to foot.
Clearly he was not the man to be left by himself on this lonely road.
The man spoke truly; he might unwittingly, in sheer terror, utter the
shriek that might prove a warning to the wily Scarlet Pimpernel.

Chauvelin reflected for a moment.

"Will your horse and cart be safe alone, here, do you think?" he asked
roughly.

"I fancy, citoyen," here interposed Desgas, "that they will be safer
without that dirty, cowardly Jew than with him. There seems no doubt
that, if he gets scared, he will either make a bolt of it, or shriek his
head off."

"But what am I to do with the brute?"

"Will you send him back to Calais, citoyen?"

"No, for we shall want him to drive back the wounded presently," said
Chauvelin, with grim significance.

There was a pause again--Desgas waiting for the decision of his chief,
and the old Jew whining beside his nag.

"Well, you lazy, lumbering old coward," said Chauvelin at last, "you
had better shuffle along behind us. Here, Citoyen Desgas, tie this
handkerchief tightly round the fellow's mouth."

Chauvelin handed a scarf to Desgas, who solemnly began winding it round
the Jew's mouth. Meekly Benjamin Rosenbaum allowed himself to be gagged;
he, evidently, preferred this uncomfortable state to that of being left
alone, on the dark St. Martin Road. Then the three men fell in line.

"Quick!" said Chauvelin, impatiently, "we have already wasted much
valuable time."

And the firm footsteps of Chauvelin and Desgas, the shuffling gait of
the old Jew, soon died away along the footpath.

Marguerite had not lost a single one of Chauvelin's words of command.
Her every nerve was strained to completely grasp the situation first,
then to make a final appeal to those wits which had so often been called
the sharpest in Europe, and which alone might be of service now.

Certainly the situation was desperate enough; a tiny band of
unsuspecting men, quietly awaiting the arrival of their rescuer, who
was equally unconscious of the trap laid for them all. It seemed so
horrible, this net, as it were drawn in a circle, at dead of night, on a
lonely beach, round a few defenceless men, defenceless because they were
tricked and unsuspecting; of these one was the husband she idolised,
another the brother she loved. She vaguely wondered who the others were,
who were also calmly waiting for the Scarlet Pimpernel, while death
lurked behind every boulder of the cliffs.

For the moment she could do nothing but follow the soldiers and
Chauvelin. She feared to lose her way, or she would have rushed
forward and found that wooden hut, and perhaps been in time to warn the
fugitives and their brave deliverer yet.

For a second, the thought flashed through her mind of uttering the
piercing shrieks, which Chauvelin seemed to dread, as a possible warning
to the Scarlet Pimpernel and his friends--in the wild hope that they
would hear, and have yet time to escape before it was too late. But she
did not know if her shrieks would reach the ears of the doomed men.
Her effort might be premature, and she would never be allowed to make
another. Her mouth would be securely gagged, like that of the Jew, and
she, a helpless prisoner in the hands of Chauvelin's men.

Like a ghost she flitted noiselessly behind that hedge: she had taken
her shoes off, and her stockings were by now torn off her feet. She felt
neither soreness nor weariness; indomitable will to reach her husband
in spite of adverse Fate, and of a cunning enemy, killed all sense of
bodily pain within her, and rendered her instincts doubly acute.

She heard nothing save the soft and measured footsteps of Percy's
enemies on in front; she saw nothing but--in her mind's eye--that wooden
hut, and he, her husband, walking blindly to his doom.

Suddenly, those same keen instincts within her made her pause in her mad
haste, and cower still further within the shadow of the hedge. The moon,
which had proved a friend to her by remaining hidden behind a bank of
clouds, now emerged in all the glory of an early autumn night, and in a
moment flooded the weird and lonely landscape with a rush of brilliant
light.

There, not two hundred metres ahead, was the edge of the cliff, and
below, stretching far away to free and happy England, the sea rolled on
smoothly and peaceably. Marguerite's gaze rested for an instant on the
brilliant, silvery waters; and as she gazed, her heart, which had been
numb with pain for all these hours, seemed to soften and distend, and
her eyes filled with hot tears: not three miles away, with white sails
set, a graceful schooner lay in wait.

Marguerite had guessed rather than recognized her. It was the DAY DREAM,
Percy's favourite yacht, and all her crew of British sailors: her
white sails, glistening in the moonlight, seemed to convey a message
to Marguerite of joy and hope, which yet she feared could never be. She
waited there, out at sea, waited for her master, like a beautiful white
bird all ready to take flight, and he would never reach her, never
see her smooth deck again, never gaze any more on the white cliffs of
England, the land of liberty and of hope.

The sight of the schooner seemed to infuse into the poor, wearied woman
the superhuman strength of despair. There was the edge of the cliff, and
some way below was the hut, where presently, her husband would meet his
death. But the moon was out: she could see her way now: she would see
the hut from a distance, run to it, rouse them all, warn them at any
rate to be prepared and to sell their lives dearly, rather than be
caught like so many rats in a hole.

She stumbled on behind the hedge in the low, thick grass of the ditch.
She must have run on very fast, and had outdistanced Chauvelin and
Desgas, for presently she reached the edge of the cliff, and heard their
footsteps distinctly behind her. But only a very few yards away, and now
the moonlight was full upon her, her figure must have been distinctly
silhouetted against the silvery background of the sea.

Only for a moment, though; the next she had cowered, like some animal
doubled up within itself. She peeped down the great rugged cliffs--the
descent would be easy enough, as they were not precipitous, and the
great boulders afforded plenty of foothold. Suddenly, as she grazed,
she saw at some little distance on her left, and about midway down the
cliffs, a rough wooden construction, through the wall of which a tiny
red light glimmered like a beacon. Her very heart seemed to stand still,
the eagerness of joy was so great that it felt like an awful pain.

She could not gauge how distant the hut was, but without hesitation
she began the steep descent, creeping from boulder to boulder, caring
nothing for the enemy behind, or for the soldiers, who evidently had all
taken cover since the tall Englishman had not yet appeared.

On she pressed, forgetting the deadly foe on her track, running,
stumbling, foot-sore, half-dazed, but still on . . . When, suddenly, a
crevice, or stone, or slippery bit of rock, threw her violently to the
ground. She struggled again to her feet, and started running forward
once more to give them that timely warning, to beg them to flee before
he came, and to tell him to keep away--away from this death-trap--away
from this awful doom. But now she realised that other steps, quicker
than her own, were already close at her heels. The next instant a
hand dragged at her skirt, and she was down on her knees again, whilst
something was wound round her mouth to prevent her uttering a scream.

Bewildered, half frantic with the bitterness of disappointment, she
looked round her helplessly, and, bending down quite close to her, she
saw through the mist, which seemed to gather round her, a pair of keen,
malicious eyes, which appeared to her excited brain to have a weird,
supernatural green light in them. She lay in the shadow of a great
boulder; Chauvelin could not see her features, but he passed his thin,
white fingers over her face.

"A woman!" he whispered, "by all the Saints in the calendar."

"We cannot let her loose, that's certain," he muttered to himself. "I
wonder now . . ."

Suddenly he paused, after a few moment of deadly silence, he gave forth
a long, low, curious chuckle, while once again Marguerite felt, with a
horrible shudder, his thin fingers wandering over her face.

"Dear me! dear me!" he whispered, with affected gallantry, "this is
indeed a charming surprise," and Marguerite felt her resistless hand
raised to Chauvelin's thin, mocking lips.

The situation was indeed grotesque, had it not been at the same time
so fearfully tragic: the poor, weary woman, broken in spirit, and half
frantic with the bitterness of her disappointment, receiving on her
knees the BANAL gallantries of her deadly enemy.

Her senses were leaving her; half choked with the tight grip round her
mouth, she had no strength to move or to utter the faintest sound. The
excitement which all along had kept up her delicate body seemed at once
to have subsided, and the feeling of blank despair to have completely
paralyzed her brain and nerves.

Chauvelin must have given some directions, which she was too dazed to
hear, for she felt herself lifted from off her feet: the bandage round
her mouth was made more secure, and a pair of strong arms carried her
towards that tiny, red light, on ahead, which she had looked upon as a
beacon and the last faint glimmer of hope.




CHAPTER XXIX TRAPPED



She did not know how long she was thus carried along, she had lost
all notion of time and space, and for a few seconds tired nature,
mercifully, deprived her of consciousness.

When she once more realised her state, she felt that she was placed with
some degree of comfort upon a man's coat, with her back resting against
a fragment of rock. The moon was hidden again behind some clouds, and
the darkness seemed in comparison more intense. The sea was roaring some
two hundred feet below her, and on looking all round she could no longer
see any vestige of the tiny glimmer of red light.

That the end of the journey had been reached, she gathered from the fact
that she heard rapid questions and answers spoken in a whisper quite
close to her.

"There are four men in there, citoyen; they are sitting by the fire, and
seem to be waiting quietly."

"The hour?"

"Nearly two o'clock."

"The tide?"

"Coming in quickly."

"The schooner?"

"Obviously an English one, lying some three kilometers out. But we
cannot see her boat."

"Have the men taken cover?"

"Yes, citoyen."

"They will not blunder?"

"They will not stir until the tall Englishman comes, then they will
surround and overpower the five men."

"Right. And the lady?"

"Still dazed, I fancy. She's close beside you, citoyen."

"And the Jew?"

"He's gagged, and his legs strapped together. He cannot move or scream."

"Good. Then have your gun ready, in case you want it. Get close to the
hut and leave me to look after the lady."

Desgas evidently obeyed, for Marguerite heard him creeping away along
the stony cliff, then she felt that a pair of warm, thin, talon-like
hands took hold of both her own, and held them in a grip of steel.

"Before that handkerchief is removed from your pretty mouth, fair lady,"
whispered Chauvelin close to her ear, "I think it right to give you one
small word of warning. What has procured me the honour of being followed
across the Channel by so charming a companion, I cannot, of course,
conceive, but, if I mistake it not, the purpose of this flattering
attention is not one that would commend itself to my vanity and I think
that I am right in surmising, moreover, that the first sound which your
pretty lips would utter, as soon as the cruel gag is removed, would be
one that would prove a warning to the cunning fox, which I have been at
such pains to track to his lair."

He paused a moment, while the steel-like grasp seemed to tighten round
her waist; then he resumed in the same hurried whisper:--

"Inside that hut, if again I am not mistaken, your brother, Armand St.
Just, waits with that traitor de Tournay, and two other men unknown to
you, for the arrival of the mysterious rescuer, whose identity has for
so long puzzled our Committee of Public Safety--the audacious Scarlet
Pimpernel. No doubt if you scream, if there is a scuffle here, if shots
are fired, it is more than likely that the same long legs that brought
this scarlet enigma here, will as quickly take him to some place of
safety. The purpose then, for which I have travelled all these miles,
will remain unaccomplished. On the other hand it only rests with
yourself that your brother--Armand--shall be free to go off with you
to-night if you like, to England, or any other place of safety."

Marguerite could not utter a sound, as the handkerchief was would very
tightly round her mouth, but Chauvelin was peering through the darkness
very closely into her face; no doubt too her hand gave a responsive
appeal to his last suggestion, for presently he continued:--

"What I want you to do to ensure Armand's safety is a very simple thing,
dear lady."

"What is it?" Marguerite's hand seemed to convey to his, in response.

"To remain--on this spot, without uttering a sound, until I give you
leave to speak. Ah! but I think you will obey," he added, with that
funny dry chuckle of his as Marguerite's whole figure seemed to stiffen,
in defiance of this order, "for let me tell you that if you scream, nay!
if you utter one sound, or attempt to move from here, my men--there are
thirty of them about--will seize St. Just, de Tournay, and their two
friends, and shoot them here--by my orders--before your eyes."

Marguerite had listened to her implacable enemy's speech with
ever-increasing terror. Numbed with physical pain, she yet had
sufficient mental vitality in her to realize the full horror of this
terrible "either--or" he was once more putting before her; "either--or"
ten thousand times more appalling and horrible, that the one he had
suggested to her that fatal night at the ball.

This time it meant that she should keep still, and allow the husband she
worshipped to walk unconsciously to his death, or that she should,
by trying to give him a word of warning, which perhaps might even be
unavailing, actually give the signal for her own brother's death, and
that of three other unsuspecting men.

She could not see Chauvelin, but she could almost feel those keen, pale
eyes of his fixed maliciously upon her helpless form, and his hurried,
whispered words reached her ear, as the death-knell of her last faint,
lingering hope.

"Nay, fair lady," he added urbanely, "you can have no interest in anyone
save in St. Just, and all you need do for his safety is to remain where
you are, and to keep silent. My men have strict orders to spare him in
every way. As for that enigmatic Scarlet Pimpernel, what is he to you?
Believe me, no warning from you could possibly save him. And now dear
lady, let me remove this unpleasant coercion, which has been placed
before your pretty mouth. You see I wish you to be perfectly free, in
the choice which you are about to make."

Her thoughts in a whirl, her temples aching, her nerves paralyzed,
her body numb with pain, Marguerite sat there, in the darkness which
surrounded her as with a pall. From where she sat she could not see the
sea, but she heard the incessant mournful murmur of the incoming tide,
which spoke of her dead hopes, her lost love, the husband she had with
her own hand betrayed, and sent to his death.

Chauvelin removed he handkerchief from her mouth. She certainly did not
scream: at that moment, she had no strength to do anything but barely to
hold herself upright, and to force herself to think.

Oh! think! think! think! of what she should do. The minutes flew on;
in this awful stillness she could not tell how fast or how slowly; she
heard nothing, she saw nothing: she did not feel the sweet-smelling
autumn air, scented with the briny odour of the sea, she no longer heard
the murmur of the waves, the occasional rattling of a pebble, as it
rolled down some steep incline. More and more unreal did the whole
situation seem. It was impossible that she, Marguerite Blakeney, the
queen of London society, should actually be sitting here on this bit
of lonely coast, in the middle of the night, side by side with a most
bitter enemy; and oh! it was not possible that somewhere, not many
hundred feet away perhaps, from where she stood, the being she had once
despised, but who now, in every moment of this weird, dreamlike
life, became more and more dear--it was not possible that HE was
unconsciously, even now walking to his doom, whilst she did nothing to
save him.

Why did she not with unearthly screams, that would re-echo from one end
of the lonely beach to the other, send out a warning to him to desist,
to retrace his steps, for death lurked here whilst he advanced? Once or
twice the screams rose to her throat--as if my instinct: then, before
her eyes there stood the awful alternative: her brother and those three
men shot before her eyes, practically by her orders: she their murderer.

Oh! that fiend in human shape, next to her, knew human--female--nature
well. He had played upon her feelings as a skilful musician plays upon
an instrument. He had gauged her very thoughts to a nicety.

She could not give that signal--for she was weak, and she was a woman.
How could she deliberately order Armand to be shot before her eyes, to
have his dear blood upon her head, he dying perhaps with a curse on her,
upon his lips. And little Suzanne's father, too! he, and old man; and
the others!--oh! it was all too, too horrible.

Wait! wait! wait! how long? The early morning hours sped on, and yet
it was not dawn: the sea continued its incessant mournful murmur, the
autumnal breeze sighed gently in the night: the lonely beach was silent,
even as the grave.

Suddenly from somewhere, not very far away, a cheerful, strong voice was
heard singing "God save the King!"




CHAPTER XXX THE SCHOONER



Marguerite's aching heart stood still. She felt, more than she heard,
the men on the watch preparing for the fight. Her senses told her that
each, with sword in hand, was crouching, ready for the spring.

The voice came nearer and nearer; in the vast immensity of these lonely
cliffs, with the loud murmur of the sea below, it was impossible to say
how near, or how far, nor yet from which direction came that cheerful
singer, who sang to God to save his King, whilst he himself was in such
deadly danger. Faint at first, the voice grew louder and louder; from
time to time a small pebble detached itself apparently from beneath the
firm tread of the singer, and went rolling down the rocky cliffs to the
beach below.

Marguerite as she heard, felt that her very life was slipping away, as
if when that voice drew nearer, when that singer became entrapped . . .

She distinctly heard the click of Desgas' gun close to her. . . .

No! no! no! no! Oh, God in heaven! this cannot be! let Armand's blood
then be on her own head! let her be branded as his murderer! let even
he, whom she loved, despise and loathe her for this, but God! oh God!
save him at any cost!

With a wild shriek, she sprang to her feet, and darted round the rock,
against which she had been cowering; she saw the little red gleam
through the chinks of the hut; she ran up to it and fell against its
wooden walls, which she began to hammer with clenched fists in an almost
maniacal frenzy, while she shouted,--

"Armand! Armand! for God's sake fire! your leader is near! he is coming!
he is betrayed! Armand! Armand! fire in Heaven's name!"

She was seized and thrown to the ground. She lay there moaning, bruised,
not caring, but still half-sobbing, half-shrieking,--

"Percy, my husband, for God's sake fly! Armand! Armand! why don't you
fire?"

"One of you stop that woman screaming," hissed Chauvelin, who hardly
could refrain from striking her.

Something was thrown over her face; she could not breathe, and perforce
she was silent.

The bold singer, too, had become silent, warned, no doubt, of his
impending danger by Marguerite's frantic shrieks. The men had sprung
to their feet, there was no need for further silence on their part; the
very cliffs echoed the poor, heart-broken woman's screams.

Chauvelin, with a muttered oath, which boded no good to her, who had
dared to upset his most cherished plans, had hastily shouted the word of
command,--

"Into it, my men, and let no one escape from that hut alive!"

The moon had once more emerged from between the clouds: the darkness on
the cliffs had gone, giving place once more to brilliant, silvery light.
Some of the soldiers had rushed to the rough, wooden door of the hut,
whilst one of them kept guard over Marguerite.

The door was partially open; on of the soldiers pushed it further, but
within all was darkness, the charcoal fire only lighting with a dim, red
light the furthest corner of the hut. The soldiers paused automatically
at the door, like machines waiting for further orders.

Chauvelin, who was prepared for a violent onslaught from within, and
for a vigorous resistance from the four fugitives, under cover of the
darkness, was for the moment paralyzed with astonishment when he saw the
soldiers standing there at attention, like sentries on guard, whilst not
a sound proceeded from the hut.

Filled with strange, anxious foreboding, he, too, went to the door of
the hut, and peering into the gloom, he asked quickly,--

"What is the meaning of this?"

"I think, citoyen, that there is no one there now," replied one of the
soldiers imperturbably.

"You have not let those four men go?" thundered Chauvelin, menacingly.
"I ordered you to let no man escape alive!--Quick, after them all of
you! Quick, in every direction!"

The men, obedient as machines, rushed down the rocky incline towards
the beach, some going off to right and left, as fast as their feet could
carry them.

"You and your men will pay with your lives for this blunder, citoyen
sergeant," said Chauvelin viciously to the sergeant who had been in
charge of the men; "and you, too, citoyen," he added turning with a
snarl to Desgas, "for disobeying my orders."

"You ordered us to wait, citoyen, until the tall Englishman arrived
and joined the four men in the hut. No one came," said the sergeant
sullenly.

"But I ordered you just now, when the woman screamed, to rush in and let
no one escape."

"But, citoyen, the four men who were there before had been gone some
time, I think . . ."

"You think?--You? . . ." said Chauvelin, almost choking with fury, "and
you let them go . . ."

"You ordered us to wait, citoyen," protested the sergeant, "and to
implicitly obey your commands on pain of death. We waited."

"I heard the men creep out of the hut, not many minutes after we took
cover, and long before the woman screamed," he added, as Chauvelin
seemed still quite speechless with rage.

"Hark!" said Desgas suddenly.

In the distance the sound of repeated firing was heard. Chauvelin tried
to peer along the beach below, but as luck would have it, the fitful
moon once more hid her light behind a bank of clouds, and he could see
nothing.

"One of you go into the hut and strike a light," he stammered at last.

Stolidly the sergeant obeyed: he went up to the charcoal fire and lit
the small lantern he carried in his belt; it was evident that the hut
was quite empty.

"Which way did they go?" asked Chauvelin.

"I could not tell, citoyen," said the sergeant; "they went straight down
the cliff first, then disappeared behind some boulders."

"Hush! what was that?"

All three men listened attentively. In the far, very far distance, could
be heard faintly echoing and already dying away, the quick, sharp splash
of half a dozen oars. Chauvelin took out his handkerchief and wiped the
perspiration from his forehead.

"The schooner's boat!" was all he gasped.

Evidently Armand St. Just and his three companions had managed to creep
along the side of the cliffs, whilst the men, like true soldiers of the
well-drilled Republican army, had with blind obedience, and in fear of
their own lives, implicitly obeyed Chauvelin's orders--to wait for the
tall Englishman, who was the important capture.

They had no doubt reached one of the creeks which jut far out to see
on this coast at intervals; behind this, the boat of the DAY DREAM must
have been on the lookout for them, and they were by now safely on board
the British schooner.

As if to confirm this last supposition, the dull boom of a gun was heard
from out at sea.

"The schooner, citoyen," said Desgas, quietly; "she's off."

It needed all Chauvelin's nerve and presence of mind not to give way to
a useless and undignified access of rage. There was no doubt now, that
once again, that accursed British head had completely outwitted him.
How he had contrived to reach the hut, without being seen by one of
the thirty soldiers who guarded the spot, was more than Chauvelin could
conceive. That he had done so before the thirty men had arrived on the
cliff was, of course, fairly clear, but how he had come over in Reuben
Goldstein's cart, all the way from Calais, without being sighted by the
various patrols on duty was impossible of explanation. It really seemed
as if some potent Fate watched over that daring Scarlet Pimpernel, and
his astute enemy almost felt a superstitious shudder pass through him,
as he looked round at the towering cliffs, and the loneliness of this
outlying coast.

But surely this was reality! and the year of grace 1792: there were no
fairies and hobgoblins about. Chauvelin and his thirty men had all heard
with their own ears that accursed voice singing "God save the King,"
fully twenty minutes AFTER they had all taken cover around the hut; by
that time the four fugitives must have reached the creek, and got into
the boat, and the nearest creek was more than a mile from the hut.

Where had that daring singer got to? Unless Satan himself had lent him
wings, he could not have covered that mile on a rocky cliff in the space
of two minutes; and only two minutes had elapsed between his song and
the sound of the boat's oars away at sea. He must have remained behind,
and was even now hiding somewhere about the cliffs; the patrols were
still about, he would still be sighted, no doubt. Chauvelin felt hopeful
once again.

One or two of the men, who had run after the fugitives, were now slowly
working their way up the cliff: one of them reached Chauvelin's side, at
the very moment that this hope arose in the astute diplomatist's heart.

"We were too late, citoyen," the soldier said, "we reached the beach
just before the moon was hidden by that bank of clouds. The boat had
undoubtedly been on the look-out behind that first creek, a mile off,
but she had shoved off some time ago, when we got to the beach, and was
already some way out to sea. We fired after her, but of course, it was
no good. She was making straight and quickly for the schooner. We saw
her very clearly in the moonlight."

"Yes," said Chauvelin, with eager impatience, "she had shoved off some
time ago, you said, and the nearest creek is a mile further on."

"Yes, citoyen! I ran all the way, straight to the beach, though I
guessed the boat would have waited somewhere near the creek, as the tide
would reach there earliest. The boat must have shoved off some minutes
before the woman began to scream."

"Bring the light in here!" he commanded eagerly, as he once more entered
the hut.

The sergeant brought his lantern, and together the two men explored
the little place: with a rapid glance Chauvelin noted its contents: the
cauldron placed close under an aperture in the wall, and containing the
last few dying embers of burned charcoal, a couple of stools, overturned
as if in the haste of sudden departure, then the fisherman's tools
and his nets lying in one corner, and beside them, something small and
white.

"Pick that up," said Chauvelin to the sergeant, pointing to this white
scrap, "and bring it to me."

It was a crumpled piece of paper, evidently forgotten there by the
fugitives, in their hurry to get away. The sergeant, much awed by the
citoyen's obvious rage and impatience, picked the paper up and handed it
respectfully to Chauvelin.

"Read it, sergeant," said the latter curtly.

"It is almost illegible, citoyen . . . a fearful scrawl . . ."

"I ordered you to read it," repeated Chauvelin, viciously.

The sergeant, by the light of his lantern, began deciphering the few
hastily scrawled words.

"I cannot quite reach you, without risking your lives and endangering
the success of your rescue. When you receive this, wait two minutes,
then creep out of the hut one by one, turn to your left sharply, and
creep cautiously down the cliff; keep to the left all the time, till you
reach the first rock, which you see jutting far out to sea--behind it
in the creek the boat is on the look-out for you--give a long, sharp
whistle--she will come up--get into her--my men will row you to the
schooner, and thence to England and safety--once on board the DAY DREAM
send the boat back for me, tell my men that I shall be at the creek,
which is in a direct line opposite the 'Chat Gris' near Calais. They
know it. I shall be there as soon as possible--they must wait for me
at a safe distance out at sea, till they hear the usual signal. Do not
delay--and obey these instructions implicitly."

"Then there is the signature, citoyen," added the sergeant, as he handed
the paper back to Chauvelin.

But the latter had not waited an instant. One phrase of the momentous
scrawl had caught his ear. "I shall be at the creek which is in a direct
line opposite the 'Chat Gris' near Calais": that phrase might yet mean
victory for him. "Which of you knows this coast well?" he shouted to his
men who now one by one all returned from their fruitless run, and were
all assembled once more round the hut.

"I do, citoyen," said one of them, "I was born in Calais, and know every
stone of these cliffs."

"There is a creek in a direct line from the 'Chat Gris'?"

"There is, citoyen. I know it well."

"The Englishman is hoping to reach that creek. He does NOT know every
stone of these cliffs, he may go there by the longest way round, and
in any case he will proceed cautiously for fear of the patrols. At any
rate, there is a chance to get him yet. A thousand francs to each man
who gets to that creek before that long-legged Englishman."

"I know of a short cut across the cliffs," said the soldier, and with an
enthusiastic shout, he rushed forward, followed closely by his comrades.

Within a few minutes their running footsteps had died away in the
distance. Chauvelin listened to them for a moment; the promise of the
reward was lending spurs to the soldiers of the Republic. The gleam of
hate and anticipated triumph was once more apparent on his face.

Close to him Desgas still stood mute and impassive, waiting for further
orders, whilst two soldiers were kneeling beside the prostrate form of
Marguerite. Chauvelin gave his secretary a vicious look. His well-laid
plan had failed, its sequel was problematical; there was still a great
chance now that the Scarlet Pimpernel might yet escape, and Chauvelin,
with that unreasoning fury, which sometimes assails a strong nature, was
longing to vent his rage on somebody.

The soldiers were holding Marguerite pinioned to the ground, though,
she, poor soul, was not making the faintest struggle. Overwrought nature
had at last peremptorily asserted herself, and she lay there in a
dead swoon: her eyes circled by deep purple lines, that told of long,
sleepless nights, her hair matted and damp round her forehead, her lips
parted in a sharp curve that spoke of physical pain.

The cleverest woman in Europe, the elegant and fashionable Lady
Blakeney, who had dazzled London society with her beauty, her wit and
her extravagances, presented a very pathetic picture of tired-out,
suffering womanhood, which would have appealed to any, but the hard,
vengeful heart of her baffled enemy.

"It is no use mounting guard over a woman who is half dead," he said
spitefully to the soldiers, "when you have allowed five men who were
very much alive to escape."

Obediently the soldiers rose to their feet.

"You'd better try and find that footpath again for me, and that
broken-down cart we left on the road."

Then suddenly a bright idea seemed to strike him.

"Ah! by-the-bye! where is the Jew?"

"Close by here, citoyen," said Desgas; "I gagged him and tied his legs
together as you commanded."

From the immediate vicinity, a plaintive moan reached Chauvelin's ears.
He followed his secretary, who led the way to the other side of the hut,
where, fallen into an absolute heap of dejection, with his legs tightly
pinioned together and his mouth gagged, lay the unfortunate descendant
of Israel.

His face in the silvery light of the moon looked positively ghastly with
terror: his eyes were wide open and almost glassy, and his whole
body was trembling, as if with ague, while a piteous wail escaped his
bloodless lips. The rope which had originally been wound round his
shoulders and arms had evidently given way, for it lay in a tangle about
his body, but he seemed quite unconscious of this, for he had not made
the slightest attempt to move from the place where Desgas had originally
put him: like a terrified chicken which looks upon a line of white
chalk, drawn on a table, as on a string which paralyzes its movements.

"Bring the cowardly brute here," commanded Chauvelin.

He certainly felt exceedingly vicious, and since he had no reasonable
grounds for venting his ill-humour on the soldiers who had but too
punctually obeyed his orders, he felt that the son of the despised race
would prove an excellent butt. With true French contempt of the Jew,
which has survived the lapse of centuries even to this day, he would not
go too near him, but said with biting sarcasm, as the wretched old man
was brought in full light of the moon by the two soldiers,--

"I suppose now, that being a Jew, you have a good memory for bargains?"

"Answer!" he again commanded, as the Jew with trembling lips seemed too
frightened to speak.

"Yes, your Honour," stammered the poor wretch.

"You remember, then, the one you and I made together in Calais, when you
undertook to overtake Reuben Goldstein, his nag and my friend the tall
stranger? Eh?"

"B . . . b . . . but . . . your Honour . . ."

"There is no 'but.' I said, do you remember?"

"Y . . . y . . . y . . . yes . . . your Honour!" "What was the bargain?"

There was dead silence. The unfortunate man looked round at the great
cliffs, the moon above, the stolid faces of the soldiers, and even at
the poor, prostate, inanimate woman close by, but said nothing.

"Will you speak?" thundered Chauvelin, menacingly.

He did try, poor wretch, but, obviously, he could not. There was no
doubt, however, that he knew what to expect from the stern man before
him.

"Your Honour . . ." he ventured imploringly.

"Since your terror seems to have paralyzed your tongue," said Chauvelin
sarcastically, "I must needs refresh your memory. It was agreed between
us, that if we overtook my friend the tall stranger, before he reached
this place, you were to have ten pieces of gold."

A low moan escaped from the Jew's trembling lips.

"But," added Chauvelin, with slow emphasis, "if you deceived me in your
promise, you were to have a sound beating, one that would teach you not
to tell lies."

"I did not, your Honour; I swear it by Abraham . . ."

"And by all the other patriarchs, I know. Unfortunately, they are still
in Hades, I believe, according to your creed, and cannot help you much
in your present trouble. Now, you did not fulful your share of the
bargain, but I am ready to fulfil mine. Here," he added, turning to the
soldiers, "the buckle-end of your two belts to this confounded Jew."

As the soldiers obediently unbuckled their heavy leather belts, the
Jew set up a howl that surely would have been enough to bring all the
patriarchs out of Hades and elsewhere, to defend their descendant from
the brutality of this French official.

"I think I can rely on you, citoyen soldiers," laughed Chauvelin,
maliciously, "to give this old liar the best and soundest beating he has
ever experienced. But don't kill him," he added drily.

"We will obey, citoyen," replied the soldiers as imperturbably as ever.

He did not wait to see his orders carried out: he knew that he could
trust these soldiers--who were still smarting under his rebuke--not to
mince matters, when given a free hand to belabour a third party.

"When that lumbering coward has had his punishment," he said to Desgas,
"the men can guide us as far as the cart, and one of them can drive us
in it back to Calais. The Jew and the woman can look after each other,"
he added roughly, "until we can send somebody for them in the morning.
They can't run away very far, in their present condition, and we cannot
be troubled with them just now."

Chauvelin had not given up all hope. His men, he knew, were spurred
on by the hope of the reward. That enigmatic and audacious Scarlet
Pimpernel, alone and with thirty men at his heels, could not reasonably
be expected to escape a second time.

But he felt less sure now: the Englishman's audacity had baffled him
once, whilst the wooden-headed stupidity of the soldiers, and the
interference of a woman had turned his hand, which held all the trumps,
into a losing one. If Marguerite had not taken up his time, if the
soldiers had had a grain of intelligence, if . . . it was a long "if,"
and Chauvelin stood for a moment quite still, and enrolled thirty odd
people in one long, overwhelming anathema. Nature, poetic, silent,
balmy, the bright moon, the calm, silvery sea spoke of beauty and of
rest, and Chauvelin cursed nature, cursed man and woman, and above all,
he cursed all long-legged, meddlesome British enigmas with one gigantic
curse.

The howls of the Jew behind him, undergoing his punishment sent a balm
through his heart, overburdened as it was with revengeful malice. He
smiled. It eased his mind to think that some human being at least was,
like himself, not altogether at peace with mankind.

He turned and took a last look at the lonely bit of coast, where stood
the wooden hut, now bathed in moonlight, the scene of the greatest
discomfiture ever experienced by a leading member of the Committee of
Public Safety.

Against a rock, on a hard bed of stone, lay the unconscious figure of
Marguerite Blakeney, while some few paces further on, the unfortunate
Jew was receiving on his broad back the blows of two stout leather
belts, wielded by the stolid arms of two sturdy soldiers of the
Republic. The howls of Benjamin Rosenbaum were fit to make the dead rise
from their graves. They must have wakened all the gulls from sleep, and
made them look down with great interest at the doings of the lords of
the creation.

"That will do," commanded Chauvelin, as the Jew's moans became more
feeble, and the poor wretch seemed to have fainted away, "we don't want
to kill him."

Obediently the soldiers buckled on their belts, one of them viciously
kicking the Jew to one side.

"Leave him there," said Chauvelin, "and lead the way now quickly to the
cart. I'll follow."

He walked up to where Marguerite lay, and looked down into her face. She
had evidently recovered consciousness, and was making feeble efforts to
raise herself. Her large, blue eyes were looking at the moonlit scene
round her with a scared and terrified look; they rested with a mixture
of horror and pity on the Jew, whose luckless fate and wild howls had
been the first signs that struck her, with her returning senses; then
she caught sight of Chauvelin, in his neat, dark clothes, which seemed
hardly crumpled after the stirring events of the last few hours. He was
smiling sarcastically, and his pale eyes peered down at her with a look
of intense malice.

With mock gallantry, he stooped and raised her icy-cold hand to his
lips, which sent a thrill of indescribable loathing through Marguerite's
weary frame.

"I much regret, fair lady," he said in his most suave tones, "that
circumstances, over which I have no control, compel me to leave you here
for the moment. But I go away, secure in the knowledge that I do not
leave you unprotected. Our friend Benjamin here, though a trifle the
worse for wear at the present moment, will prove a gallant defender of
your fair person, I have no doubt. At dawn I will send an escort for
you; until then, I feel sure that you will find him devoted, though
perhaps a trifle slow."

Marguerite only had the strength to turn her head away. Her heart was
broken with cruel anguish. One awful thought had returned to her mind,
together with gathering consciousness: "What had become of Percy?--What
of Armand?"

She knew nothing of what had happened after she heard the cheerful song,
"God save the King," which she believed to be the signal of death.

"I, myself," concluded Chauvelin, "must now very reluctantly leave you.
AU REVOIR, fair lady. We meet, I hope, soon in London. Shall I see
you at the Prince of Wales garden party?--No?--Ah, well, AU
REVOIR!--Remember me, I pray, to Sir Percy Blakeney."

And, with a last ironical smile and bow, he once more kissed her hand,
and disappeared down the footpath in the wake of the soldiers, and
followed by the imperturbable Desgas.




CHAPTER XXXI THE ESCAPE



Marguerite listened--half-dazed as she was--to the fast-retreating, firm
footsteps of the four men.

All nature was so still that she, lying with her ear close to the
ground, could distinctly trace the sound of their tread, as they
ultimately turned into the road, and presently the faint echo of the old
cart-wheels, the halting gait of the lean nag, told her that her enemy
was a quarter of a league away. How long she lay there she knew not. She
had lost count of time; dreamily she looked up at the moonlit sky, and
listened to the monotonous roll of the waves.

The invigorating scent of the sea was nectar to her wearied body, the
immensity of the lonely cliffs was silent and dreamlike. Her brain
only remained conscious of its ceaseless, its intolerable torture of
uncertainty.

She did not know!--

She did not know whether Percy was even now, at this moment, in the
hands of the soldiers of the Republic, enduring--as she had done
herself--the gibes and jeers of his malicious enemy. She did not know,
on the other hand, whether Armand's lifeless body did not lie there, in
the hut, whilst Percy had escaped, only to hear that his wife's hands
had guided the human bloodhounds to the murder of Armand and his
friends.

The physical pain of utter weariness was so great, that she hoped
confidently her tired body could rest here for ever, after all the
turmoil, the passion, and the intrigues of the last few days--here,
beneath that clear sky, within sound of the sea, and with this balmy
autumn breeze whispering to her a last lullaby. All was so solitary,
so silent, like unto dreamland. Even the last faint echo of the distant
cart had long ago died away, afar.

Suddenly . . . a sound . . . the strangest, undoubtedly, that these lonely
cliffs of France had ever heard, broke the silent solemnity of the
shore.

So strange a sound was it that the gentle breeze ceased to murmur,
the tiny pebbles to roll down the steep incline! So strange, that
Marguerite, wearied, overwrought as she was, thought that the beneficial
unconsciousness of the approach of death was playing her half-sleeping
senses a weird and elusive trick.

It was the sound of a good, solid, absolutely British "Damn!"

The sea gulls in their nests awoke and looked round in astonishment; a
distant and solitary owl set up a midnight hoot, the tall cliffs frowned
down majestically at the strange, unheard-of sacrilege.

Marguerite did not trust her ears. Half-raising herself on her hands,
she strained every sense to see or hear, to know the meaning of this
very earthly sound.

All was still again for the space of a few seconds; the same silence
once more fell upon the great and lonely vastness.

Then Marguerite, who had listened as in a trance, who felt she must be
dreaming with that cool, magnetic moonlight overhead, heard again; and
this time her heart stood still, her eyes large and dilated, looked
round her, not daring to trust her other sense.

"Odd's life! but I wish those demmed fellows had not hit quite so hard!"

This time it was quite unmistakable, only one particular pair of
essentially British lips could have uttered those words, in sleepy,
drawly, affected tones.

"Damn!" repeated those same British lips, emphatically. "Zounds! but I'm
as weak as a rat!"

In a moment Marguerite was on her feet.

Was she dreaming? Were those great, stony cliffs the gates of paradise?
Was the fragrant breath of the breeze suddenly caused by the flutter of
angels' wings, bringing tidings of unearthly joys to her, after all her
suffering, or--faint and ill--was she the prey of delirium?

She listened again, and once again she heard the same very earthly
sounds of good, honest British language, not the least akin to
whisperings from paradise or flutter of angels' wings.

She looked round her eagerly at the tall cliffs, the lonely hut, the
great stretch of rocky beach. Somewhere there, above or below her,
behind a boulder or inside a crevice, but still hidden from her longing,
feverish eyes, must be the owner of that voice, which once used to
irritate her, but now would make her the happiest woman in Europe, if
only she could locate it.

"Percy! Percy!" she shrieked hysterically, tortured between doubt and
hope, "I am here! Come to me! Where are you? Percy! Percy! . . ."

"It's all very well calling me, m'dear!" said the same sleepy, drawly
voice, "but odd's life, I cannot come to you: those demmed frog-eaters
have trussed me like a goose on a spit, and I am weak as a mouse . . . I
cannot get away."

And still Marguerite did not understand. She did not realise for at
least another ten seconds whence came that voice, so drawly, so dear,
but alas! with a strange accent of weakness and of suffering. There was
no one within sight . . . except by that rock . . . Great God! . . . the
Jew! . . . Was she mad or dreaming? . . .

His back was against the pale moonlight, he was half crouching, trying
vainly to raise himself with his arms tightly pinioned. Marguerite ran
up to him, took his head in both her hands . . . and look straight into
a pair of blue eyes, good-natured, even a trifle amused--shining out of
the weird and distorted mask of the Jew.

"Percy! . . . Percy! . . . my husband!" she gasped, faint with the fulness
of her joy. "Thank God! Thank God!"

"La! m'dear," he rejoined good-humouredly, "we will both do that anon,
an you think you can loosen these demmed ropes, and release me from my
inelegant attitude."

She had no knife, her fingers were numb and weak, but she worked away
with her teeth, while great welcome tears poured from her eyes, onto
those poor, pinioned hands.

"Odd's life!" he said, when at last, after frantic efforts on her part,
the ropes seemed at last to be giving way, "but I marvel whether it has
ever happened before, that an English gentleman allowed himself to be
licked by a demmed foreigner, and made no attempt to give as good as he
got."

It was very obvious that he was exhausted from sheer physical pain, and
when at last the rope gave way, he fell in a heap against the rock.

Marguerite looked helplessly round her.

"Oh! for a drop of water on this awful beach!" she cried in agony,
seeing that he was ready to faint again.

"Nay, m'dear," he murmured with his good-humoured smile, "personally I
should prefer a drop of good French brandy! an you'll dive in the pocket
of this dirty old garment, you'll find my flask. . . . I am demmed if I
can move."

When he had drunk some brandy, he forced Marguerite to do likewise.

"La! that's better now! Eh! little woman?" he said, with a sigh of
satisfaction. "Heigh-ho! but this is a queer rig-up for Sir Percy
Blakeney, Bart., to be found in by his lady, and no mistake. Begad!" he
added, passing his hand over his chin, "I haven't been shaved for nearly
twenty hours: I must look a disgusting object. As for these curls . . ."

And laughingly he took off the disfiguring wig and curls, and stretched
out his long limbs, which were cramped from many hours' stooping. Then
he bent forward and looked long and searchingly into his wife's blue
eyes.

"Percy," she whispered, while a deep blush suffused her delicate cheeks
and neck, "if you only knew . . ."

"I do know, dear . . . everything," he said with infinite gentleness.

"And can you ever forgive?"

"I have naught to forgive, sweetheart; your heroism, your devotion,
which I, alas! so little deserved, have more than atoned for that
unfortunate episode at the ball."

"Then you knew? . . ." she whispered, "all the time . . ."

"Yes!" he replied tenderly, "I knew . . . all the time. . . . But,
begad! had I but known what a noble heart yours was, my Margot, I should
have trusted you, as you deserved to be trusted, and you would not have
had to undergo the terrible sufferings of the past few hours, in order
to run after a husband, who has done so much that needs forgiveness."

They were sitting side by side, leaning up against a rock, and he had
rested his aching head on her shoulder. She certainly now deserved the
name of "the happiest woman in Europe."

"It is a case of the blind leading the lame, sweetheart, is it not?" he
said with his good-natured smile of old. "Odd's life! but I do not know
which are the more sore, my shoulders or your little feet."

He bent forward to kiss them, for they peeped out through her torn
stockings, and bore pathetic witness to her endurance and devotion.

"But Armand . . ." she said with sudden terror and remorse, as in the
midst of her happiness the image of the beloved brother, for whose sake
she had so deeply sinned, rose now before her mind.

"Oh! have no fear for Armand, sweetheart," he said tenderly, "did I not
pledge you my word that he should be safe? He with de Tournay and the
others are even now on board the DAY DREAM."

"But how?" she gasped, "I do not understand."

"Yet, 'tis simple enough, m'dear," he said with that funny, half-shy,
half-inane laugh of his, "you see! when I found that that brute
Chauvelin meant to stick to me like a leech, I thought the best thing I
could do, as I could not shake him off, was to take him along with me.
I had to get to Armand and the others somehow, and all the roads were
patrolled, and every one on the look-out for your humble servant. I knew
that when I slipped through Chauvelin's fingers at the 'Chat Gris,' that
he would lie in wait for me here, whichever way I took. I wanted to keep
an eye on him and his doings, and a British head is as good as a French
one any day."

Indeed it had proved to be infinitely better, and Marguerite's heart was
filled with joy and marvel, as he continued to recount to her the daring
manner in which he had snatched the fugitives away, right from under
Chauvelin's very nose.

"Dressed as the dirty old Jew," he said gaily, "I knew I should not be
recognized. I had met Reuben Goldstein in Calais earlier in the evening.
For a few gold pieces he supplied me with this rig-out, and undertook to
bury himself out of sight of everybody, whilst he lent me his cart and
nag."

"But if Chauvelin had discovered you," she gasped excitedly, "your
disguise was good . . . but he is so sharp."

"Odd's fish!" he rejoined quietly, "then certainly the game would have
been up. I could but take the risk. I know human nature pretty well by
now," he added, with a note of sadness in his cheery, young voice, "and
I know these Frenchmen out and out. They so loathe a Jew, that they
never come nearer than a couple of yards of him, and begad! I fancy that
I contrived to make myself look about as loathsome an object as it is
possible to conceive."

"Yes!--and then?" she asked eagerly.

"Zooks!--then I carried out my little plan: that is to say, at first
I only determined to leave everything to chance, but when I heard
Chauvelin giving his orders to the soldiers, I thought that Fate and I
were going to work together after all. I reckoned on the blind obedience
of the soldiers. Chauvelin had ordered them on pain of death not to
stir until the tall Englishman came. Desgas had thrown me down in a heap
quite close to the hut; the soldiers took no notice of the Jew, who had
driven Citoyen Chauvelin to this spot. I managed to free my hands from
the ropes, with which the brute had trussed me; I always carry pencil
and paper with me wherever I go, and I hastily scrawled a few important
instructions on a scrap of paper; then I looked about me. I crawled up
to the hut, under the very noses of the soldiers, who lay under cover
without stirring, just as Chauvelin had ordered them to do, then I
dropped my little note into the hut through a chink in the wall, and
waited. In this note I told the fugitives to walk noiselessly out of
the hut, creep down the cliffs, keep to the left until they came to the
first creek, to give a certain signal, when the boat of the DAY DREAM,
which lay in wait not far out to sea, would pick them up. They obeyed
implicitly, fortunately for them and for me. The soldiers who saw them
were equally obedient to Chauvelin's orders. They did not stir! I waited
for nearly half an hour; when I knew that the fugitives were safe I gave
the signal, which caused so much stir."

And that was the whole story. It seemed so simple! and Marguerite could
be marvel at the wonderful ingenuity, the boundless pluck and audacity
which had evolved and helped to carry out this daring plan.

"But those brutes struck you!" she gasped in horror, at the bare
recollection of the fearful indignity.

"Well! that could not be helped," he said gently, "whilst my little
wife's fate was so uncertain, I had to remain here by her side. Odd's
life!" he added merrily, "never fear! Chauvelin will lose nothing by
waiting, I warrant! Wait till I get him back to England!--La! he shall
pay for the thrashing he gave me with compound interest, I promise you."

Marguerite laughed. It was so good to be beside him, to hear his cheery
voice, to watch that good-humoured twinkle in his blue eyes, as he
stretched out his strong arms, in longing for that foe, and anticipation
of his well-deserved punishment.

Suddenly, however, she started: the happy blush left her cheek, the
light of joy died out of her eyes: she had heard a stealthy footfall
overhead, and a stone had rolled down from the top of the cliffs right
down to the beach below.

"What's that?" she whispered in horror and alarm.

"Oh! nothing, m'dear," he muttered with a pleasant laugh, "only a trifle
you happened to have forgotten . . . my friend, Ffoulkes . . ."

"Sir Andrew!" she gasped.

Indeed, she had wholly forgotten the devoted friend and companion,
who had trusted and stood by her during all these hours of anxiety and
suffering. She remembered him how, tardily and with a pang of remorse.

"Aye! you had forgotten him, hadn't you, m'dear?" said Sir Percy
merrily. "Fortunately, I met him, not far from the 'Chat Gris.' before
I had that interesting supper party, with my friend Chauvelin. . . .
Odd's life! but I have a score to settle with that young reprobate!--but
in the meanwhile, I told him of a very long, very circuitous road which
Chauvelin's men would never suspect, just about the time when we are
ready for him, eh, little woman?"

"And he obeyed?" asked Marguerite, in utter astonishment.

"Without word or question. See, here he comes. He was not in the way
when I did not want him, and now he arrives in the nick of time. Ah!
he will make pretty little Suzanne a most admirable and methodical
husband."

In the meanwhile Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had cautiously worked his way down
the cliffs: he stopped once or twice, pausing to listen for whispered
words, which would guide him to Blakeney's hiding-place.

"Blakeney!" he ventured to say at last cautiously, "Blakeney! are you
there?"

The next moment he rounded the rock against which Sir Percy and
Marguerite were leaning, and seeing the weird figure still clad in the
Jew's long gaberdine, he paused in sudden, complete bewilderment.

But already Blakeney had struggled to his feet.

"Here I am, friend," he said with his funny, inane laugh, "all alive!
though I do look a begad scarecrow in these demmed things."

"Zooks!" ejaculated Sir Andrew in boundless astonishment as he
recognized his leader, "of all the . . ."

The young man had seen Marguerite, and happily checked the forcible
language that rose to his lips, at sight of the exquisite Sir Percy in
this weird and dirty garb.

"Yes!" said Blakeney, calmly, "of all the . . . hem! . . . My friend!--I
have not yet had time to ask you what you were doing in France, when
I ordered you to remain in London? Insubordination? What? Wait till my
shoulders are less sore, and, by Gad, see the punishment you'll get."

"Odd's fish! I'll bear it," said Sir Andrew with a merry laugh, "seeing
that you are alive to give it. . . . Would you have had me allow Lady
Blakeney to do the journey alone? But, in the name of heaven, man, where
did you get these extraordinary clothes?" "Lud! they are a bit quaint,
ain't they?" laughed Sir Percy, jovially, "But, odd's fish!" he added,
with sudden earnestness and authority, "now you are here, Ffoulkes, we
must lose no more time: that brute Chauvelin may send some one to look
after us."

Marguerite was so happy, she could have stayed here for ever, hearing
his voice, asking a hundred questions. But at mention of Chauvelin's
name she started in quick alarm, afraid for the dear life she would have
died to save.

"But how can we get back?" she gasped; "the roads are full of soldiers
between here and Calais, and . . ."

"We are not going back to Calais, sweetheart," he said, "but just the
other side of Gris Nez, not half a league from here. The boat of the DAY
DREAM will meet us there."

"The boat of the DAY DREAM?"

"Yes!" he said, with a merry laugh; "another little trick of mine. I
should have told you before that when I slipped that note into the hut,
I also added another for Armand, which I directed him to leave behind,
and which has sent Chauvelin and his men running full tilt back to
the 'Chat Gris' after me; but the first little note contained my real
instructions, including those to old Briggs. He had my orders to go out
further to sea, and then towards the west. When well out of sight of
Calais, he will send the galley to a little creek he and I know of, just
beyond Gris Nez. The men will look out for me--we have a preconcerted
signal, and we will all be safely aboard, whilst Chauvelin and his
men solemnly sit and watch the creek which is 'just opposite the "Chat
Gris."'"

"The other side of Gris Nez? But I . . . I cannot walk, Percy," she
moaned helplessly as, trying to struggle to her tired feet, she found
herself unable even to stand.

"I will carry you, dear," he said simply; "the blind leading the lame,
you know."

Sir Andrew was ready, too, to help with the precious burden, but Sir
Percy would not entrust his beloved to any arms but his own.

"When you and she are both safely on board the DAY DREAM," he said to
his young comrade, "and I feel that Mlle. Suzanne's eyes will not greet
me in England with reproachful looks, then it will be my turn to rest."

And his arms, still vigorous in spite of fatigue and suffering, closed
round Marguerite's poor, weary body, and lifted her as gently as if she
had been a feather.

Then, as Sir Andrew discreetly kept out of earshot, there were many
things said, or rather whispered, which even the autumn breeze did not
catch, for it had gone to rest.

All his fatigue was forgotten; his shoulders must have been very sore,
for the soldiers had hit hard, but the man's muscles seemed made of
steel, and his energy was almost supernatural. It was a weary tramp,
half a league along the stony side of the cliffs, but never for a moment
did his courage give way or his muscles yield to fatigue. On he tramped,
with firm footstep, his vigorous arms encircling the precious burden,
and . . . no doubt, as she lay, quiet and happy, at times lulled to
momentary drowsiness, at others watching, through the slowly gathering
morning light, the pleasant face with the lazy, drooping blue eyes, ever
cheerful, ever illumined with a good-humoured smile, she whispered many
things, which helped to shorten the weary road, and acted as a soothing
balsam to his aching sinews.

The many-hued light of dawn was breaking in the east, when at last they
reached the creek beyond Gris Nez. The galley lay in wait: in answer to
a signal from Sir Percy, she drew near, and two sturdy British sailors
had the honour of carrying my lady into the boat.

Half an hour later, they were on board the DAY DREAM. The crew, who of
necessity were in their master's secrets, and who were devoted to
him heart and soul, were not surprised to see him arriving in so
extraordinary a disguise.

Armand St. Just and the other fugitives were eagerly awaiting the advent
of their brave rescuer; he would not stay to hear the expressions of
their gratitude, but found the way to his private cabin as quickly as he
could, leaving Marguerite quite happy in the arms of her brother.

Everything on board the DAY DREAM was fitted with that exquisite luxury,
so dear to Sir Percy Blakeney's heart, and by the time they all landed
at Dover he had found time to get into some of the sumptuous clothes
which he loved, and of which he always kept a supply on board his yacht.

The difficulty was to provide Marguerite with a pair of shoes, and great
was the little middy's joy when my lady found that she could put foot on
English shore in his best pair.

The rest is silence!--silence and joy for those who had endured so much
suffering, yet found at last a great and lasting happiness.

But it is on record that at the brilliant wedding of Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, Bart., with Mlle. Suzanne de Tournay de Basserive, a function
at which H. R. H. the Prince of Wales and all the ELITE of fashionable
society were present, the most beautiful woman there was unquestionably
Lady Blakeney, whilst the clothes of Sir Percy Blakeney wore were the
talk of the JEUNESSE DOREE of London for many days.

It is also a fact that M. Chauvelin, the accredited agent of the French
Republican Government, was not present at that or any other social
function in London, after that memorable evening at Lord Grenville's
ball.



THE END





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