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Title: The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel
Author: Emmuska Orczy
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Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel
Emmuska Orczy




CHAPTER ONE - "FIE, SIR PERCY!"

I

"You really are impossible, Sir Percy! Here are we ladies raving, simply
raving, about this latest exploit of the gallant Scarlet Pimpernel, and
you do naught but belittle his prowess. Lady Blakeney, I entreat, will
you not add your voice to our chorus of praise, and drown Sir Percy's
scoffing in an ocean of eulogy?"

Lady Alicia Nugget was very arch. She tapped Sir Percy's arm with her
fan. She put up a jewelled finger and shook it at him with a great air
of severity in her fine dark eyes. She turned an entreating glance on
Marguerite Blakeney, and as that lady appeared engrossed in conversation
with His Grace of Flint, Lady Alicia turned the battery of her glances
on His Royal Highness.

"Your Highness," she said appealingly.

The Prince laughed good-humouredly.

"Oh!" he said, "do not ask me to inculcate hero-worship into this mauvis
sujet. If you ladies cannot convert him to your views, how can I...a
mere man...?"

And His Highness shrugged his shoulders. There were few entertainments
he enjoyed more than seeing his friend Sir Percy Blakeney badgered by
the ladies on the subject of their popular and mysterious hero, the
Scarlet Pimpernel.

"Your Highness," Lady Alicia retorted with the pertness of a spoilt
child of Society. "Your Highness can command Sir Percy to give us a
true--a true--account of how that wonderful Scarlet Pimpernel snatched
Monsieur le Comte de Tournon-d'Agenay with Madame la Comtesse and their
three children out of the clutches of those abominable murderers in
Paris, and drove them triumphantly to Boulogne, where they embarked on
board an English ship and were ultimately safely landed in Dover. Sir
Percy vows that he knows all the facts..."

"And so I do, dear lady," Sir Percy now put in, with just a soupçon of
impatience in his pleasant voice, "but, as I've already had the
privilege to tell you, the facts are hardly worth retailing."

"The facts, Sir Percy," commanded the imperious beauty, "or we'll all
think you are jealous."

"As usual you would be right, dear lady," Sir Percy rejoined blandly;
"are not ladies always right in their estimate of us poor men? I am
jealous of that demmed, elusive personage who monopolizes the thoughts
and the conversation of these galaxies of beauty who would otherwise
devote themselves exclusively to us. What says Your Highness? Will you
deign to ban for this one night at least every reference to that begad
shadow?"

"Not till we've had the facts," Lady Alicia protested.

"The facts! The facts!" the ladies cried in an insistent chorus.

"You'll have to do it, Blakeney," His Highness declared.

"Unless Sir Andrew Ffoulkes would oblige us with the tale," Marguerite
Blakeney said, turning suddenly from His Grace of Flint, in order to
give her lord an enigmatic smile, "he too knows the facts, I believe,
and is an excellent raconteur."

"God forbid!" Sir Percy Blakeney exclaimed, with mock concern. "Once you
start Ffoulkes on one of his interminable stories...Moreover," he added
seriously, "Ffoulkes always get the facts wrong. He would tell you, for
instance, that the demmed Pimpernel rescued those unfortunate
Tournon-d'Agenays single-handed; now I happen to know for a fact that
three of the bravest English gentlemen the world has ever known did all
the work whilst he merely..."

"Well?" Lady Alicia queried eagerly. "What did that noble and gallant
Scarlet Pimpernel merely do?"

"He merely climbed to the box-seat of the chaise which was conveying the
Comte de Tournon-d'Agenay and his family under escort to Paris. And the
chaise had been held up by three of the bravest..."

"Never mind about three of the bravest English gentlemen at the moment,"
Lady Alicia broke in impatiently, "you shall sing their praises to us
anon. But if you do not tell us the whole story at once, we'll call on
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes without further hesitation. Your Highness...!" she
pleaded once more.

"My fair one," His Highness rejoined with a laugh, "I think that we
shall probably get a truer account of this latest prowess of the Scarlet
Pimpernel from Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. It was a happy thought of Lady
Blakeney's," he added with a knowing smile directed at Marguerite, "and
I for one do command our friend Ffoulkes forthwith to satisfy our
curiosity."

In vain did Sir Percy protest. In vain did he cast surreptitious yet
reproachful glances at his royal friend and at his beautiful wife. His
Highness had commanded and the ladies, curious and eager, were like
beautiful peacocks, spreading out their multi-coloured silks and satins,
so as to look their best whilst Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, an avowed admirer
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, was being hunted for through the crowded
reception-rooms, so that he might comply with His Highness's commands.

The latest prowess of the Scarlet Pimpernel! The magic words flitted on
the perfume-laden atmosphere from room to room, and ladies broke off
their flirtations, men forsook the gaming tables, for it was murmured
that young Ffoulkes had first-hand information as to how the popular
English hero had snatched M. le Comte de Tournon-d'Agenay and all his
family out of the clutches of those murdering revolutionaries over in
Paris.

In a moment Sir Andrew Ffoulkes found himself the centre of attraction.
His Royal Highness bade him sit beside him on the sofa, and all around
him silks were rustling, fans were waving, whilst half a hundred pairs
of bright eyes were fixed eagerly upon him. Sir Andrew caught a glance
from Marguerite Blakeney's luminous eyes, and a smile of encouragement
from her perfect lips. He was indeed in his element; a worshipper of his
beloved chief, he was called upon to sing the praises of the man whom he
admired and loved best in all the world. Had the bevy of beauties around
him known that he was recounting his own prowess as well as that of his
leader and friend, they could not have hung more eagerly on his lips.

In the hubbub attendant on settling down, so as to hear Sir Andrew's
narrative, even the popular Sir Percy Blakeney was momentarily
forgotten. The idol of London Society, he nevertheless had to be set
aside for the moment in favour of the mysterious hero who, as elusive as
a shadow, was still the chief topic of conversation in the salons of two
continents.

The ladies would have it that Sir Percy was jealous of the popularity of
the Scarlet Pimpernel. Certain it is that as soon as Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
had started to obey His Highness's commands by embarking on his
narrative, Sir Percy retired to the sheltered alcove at the further end
of the room and stretched out his long limbs upon a downy sofa, and
promptly went to sleep.

"Is it a fact, my dear Ffoulkes," His Highness had asked, "that the
gallant Scarlet Pimpernel and his lieutenants actually held up the
chaise in which the Comte de Tournon-d'Agenay and his family were being
conveyed to Paris?"

"An absolute fact, Your Highness," Sir Andrew Ffoulkes replied, while a
long drawn-out "Ah!" of excitement went the round of the brilliant
company. "I have the story from Madame la Comtesse herself. The Scarlet
Pimpernel, in the company of three of his followers, all of them
disguised as footpads, did at the pistol-point hold up the chaise which
was conveying the prisoners from their chateau of Agenay, where they had
been summarily arrested, to Paris. It occurred on the very crest of that
steep bit of road which intersects the forest between Mezieres and
Epone. The church clock at Mantes had struck seven when the chaise had
rattled over the cobblestones of that city, so it must have been past
eight o'clock when the attack was made. Inside the vehicle M. de
Tournon-d'Agenay with his wife, his young son and two daughters, sat
huddled up, half-numbed with terror. They had no idea who had denounced
them, and on what charge they had been arrested, but they knew well
enough what fate awaited them in Paris. The revolutionary wolves are
fairly on the war-path just now. Robespierre and his satellites feel
that their power is on the wane. They are hitting out to right and left,
preaching the theory that moderation and human kindness are but the sign
of weakness and want of patriotism. To prove their love for France,
lovely France, whose white robes are stained with the blood of her
innocent children, and to show their zeal in her cause, they commit the
most dastardly crimes."

"And those poor Tournon-d'Agenays?" one of the ladies asked with a
sympathetic sigh.

"Madame la Comtesse assured me," Sir Andrew replied, "that her husband,
and in fact all the family, had kept clear of politics during these, the
worst times of the revolution. Though all of them are devoted royalists,
they kept all show of loyalty hidden in their hearts. Only one thing had
they forgotten to do and that was to take down from the wall in Madame's
boudoir a small miniature of their unfortunate Queen."

"And for this they were arrested?"

"They were innocent of everything else. In the early dawn after their
summary arrest they were dragged out of their home and were being
conveyed for trial to Paris, where their chances of coming out alive
were about equal to those of a rabbit when chased by a terrier."

"And that was when the gallant Scarlet Pimpernel interposed?" Lady
Alicia put in with a sigh. "He knew M. le Tournon-d'Agenay and his
family were being taken to Paris."

"I believe he had had an inkling of what was in the wind some time
before the arrest. It is wonderful how closely he is always in touch
with those who one day may need his help. But I believe that at the last
moment plans had to be formulated in a hurry. Fortunately, chance on
this occasion chose to favour those plans. Day had broken without a
gleam of sunshine; a thin drizzle was falling, and there was a sharp
head wind on, which fretted the horses and forced the driver to keep his
head down, with his broad-brimmed hat pulled well over his eyes. Nature,
as you see, was helping all she could. The whole thing would undoubtedly
have been more difficult had the morning been clear and fine. As it was,
one can imagine the surprise attack. Vague forms looming suddenly out of
the mist, and the sharp report of a pistol, twice in quick succession.
The horses, who, sweating and panting, had fallen into a foot-pace,
dragging the heavy coach up the steep incline, through the squelching
mud of the road, came to a violent and sudden halt on the very crest of
the hill at the first report. At the second they reared and plunged
wildly. The shouts of the officer in charge of the escort did, as a
matter of fact, so I understand, add to the confusion. The whole thing
was, I am assured, a matter of a couple of minutes. It was surprise and
swiftness that won the upper hand, for the rescue party was outnumbered
three to one. Had there been the slightest hesitation, the slightest
slackening of quick action, the attack would of a certainty have failed.
But during those few minutes of confusion, and under cover of the mist
and the vague greyness of the morning, the Scarlet Pimpernel and his
followers, down on their knees in the squelching mud, were not merely
fighting, you understand? No! They were chiefly engaged in cutting the
saddle girths under the bellies of eight fidgety and plunging horses,
and cracking their pistols in order to keep up the confusion. Not an
easy task, you will admit, though 'tis a form of attack well-known in
the East, so I understand. At any rate, those had been the chief's
orders, and they had to be carried out. For my part, I imagine that
superstitious terror had upset the nerves of that small squad of
Revolutionary guard. Hemmed in by the thicket on either side of the
road, the men had not sufficient elbow-room for a good fight. No man
likes being attacked by a foe whom he cannot well see, and in the melee
that ensued the men were hindered from using their somewhat clumsy
sabres too freely for fear of injuring their comrades' mounts, if not
their own; and all they could do was to strive to calm their horses and,
through the din, to hear the words of command uttered by their
lieutenant.

"And all the while," Sir Andrew went on, admist breathless silence on
the part of his hearers, "I pray you picture to yourselves the
confusion; the cracking of pistols, the horses snorting, the lieutenant
shouting, the prisoners screaming. Then, at a given moment, the Scarlet
Pimpernel scrambled up the box-seat of the chaise. As no doubt all of
you ladies know by now, he was the most wonderful hand with horses. In
one instant he had snatched the reins out of the bewildered Jehu's
hands, and with word of mouth and click of tongue had soothed the poor
beasts' nerves. And suddenly he gave the order: 'Ca va!' which was the
signal agreed on between himself and his followers. For them it meant a
scramble for cover under the veil of mist and rain, whilst he, the
gallant chief, whipped up the team which plunged down the road now at
break-neck speed."

"Of course, the guard, and above all the lieutenant, grasped the
situation soon enough, and immediately gave chase. But they were not
trick-riders any of them, and with severed saddle-girths could not go
far. Be that as it may, the Scarlet Pimpernel drove his team without a
halt as far as Molay, where he had arranged for relays. Once well away
from the immediate influence of Paris, with all its terrors and
tyrannical measures, the means of escape for the prisoners became
comparatively easy, thanks primarily to the indomitable pluck of their
rescuer and also to a long purse. And that, ladies and noble lords," Sir
Andrew concluded, "is all I can tell you of the latest exploit of our
hero. The story is exactly as I had it from Madame la Comtesse de
Tournon-d'Agenay, whose only sorrow, now that she and those she loves
are safe at last in England, is that she never once caught a glimpse of
her rescuer. He proved as elusive to her as to all of us, and we find
ourselves repeating the delightful doggerel invented on that evasive
personage by our prince of dandies, Sir Percy Blakeney."

"Marvellous!" "Enchanting!" "Palpitating!" "I nearly fainted with
excitement, my dear!" These were some of the ejaculations uttered by
dainty, well-rouged lips while the men, more or less, were silent,
pondering, vaguely longing to shake the enigmatical hero once at least
by the hand.

His Highness was questioning Sir Andrew Ffoulkes more closely about
certain details connected with the story. It was softly whispered, and
not for the first time either, that His Highness could, and he would,
solve the riddle of the identity of that mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel.

Dainty, sweet, and gracious as usual, Lady Ffoulkes, née Suzanne de
Tournay, had edged up to Lady Blakeney, and the two young wives of such
gallant men held one another for one instant closely by the hand, a
token of mutual understanding, of pride and of happiness.

One of two of the ladies were trying to recall the exact words of the
famous doggerel, which, it was averred, had on more than one occasion
given those revolutionary wolves over in Paris a wholesome scare:

"We seek him here.
We seek him there!"

"How does it go, my dear?" Lady Alicia sighed. "I vow I have forgotten."

Then she looked in dainty puzzlement about her. "Sir Percy!" she
exclaimed. "Where is the immortal author of the deathless rhyme?"

"Sir Percy! Where is Sir Percy?"

And the call was like the chirruping of birds on a sunny spring morning.
It stilled all further chattering for the moment.

"Where is Sir Percy?" And silence alone echoed, "Where?"

Until a real material sound came in response. A long drawn-out sound
that caused the ladies to snigger and the men to laugh. It was the sound
of a loud and prolonged snore. The groups of gay Society butterflies,
men and women, parted disclosing the alcove at the further end of the
room, where on the sofa, with handsome head resting against
rose-coloured cushion, Sir Percy Blakeney was fast asleep.

II

But in Paris the news of the invasion of the ci-devant Comte et Comtesse
de Tournon-d'Agenay with their son and two daughters was received in a
very different spirit. Members of the Committees of Public Safety and of
General Security, both official and unofficial, professional and
amateur, were more irate than they cared to admit. Everyone was blaming
everyone else, and the unfortunate lieutenant who had been in command of
the escort was already on his way to Toulon, carrying orders to young
Captain Bonaparte to put him in the thickest of the fight, so that he
might, by especial bravery, redeem his tarnished honour.

Citoyen Lauzet, Chief of Section in the rural division of the department
Seine et Oise, was most particularly worried by the incident which, it
must be remembered, occurred in his district. The hand of the well-known
English spy, known throughout France as the League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, could obviously be traced in the daring and impudent attack
on an armed escort, and the subsequent driving of the chaise through
three hundred kilometres of country where only shameless bribery and
unparalleled audacity could have saved them from being traced, followed,
and brought to justice. Citoyen Lauzet, a faithful servant of the State,
felt that the situation was altogether beyond his capacity for dealing
with; those English spies were so different to the ordinary traitors and
aristos whom one suspected, arrested and sent to the guillotine all in
the turn of a hand. But how was one to deal with men whom one had never
seen and was never likely to see, if rumour spoke correctly? Citoyen
Lauzet scratched his bald pate and perspired freely in his endeavour to
find a solution to his difficulty, but he found none.

It was in the midst of his perturbations that he bethought him of his
friend Armand Chauvelin. Now Lauzet was quite aware of the fact that
that same friend of his was under a cloud just now; that he had lost
that high position he once held on the Committee of Public Safety, for
reasons which had never been made public. Nevertheless, Lauzet had
reasons for knowing that in the matter of tracking down spies Armand
Chauvelin had few, if any, equals; and he also knew that for some
unexplained cause Chauvelin would give several years of his life, and
everything he possessed in the world, to get his long, thin fingers
round the throat of that enigmatical personage known as the Scarlet
Pimpernel.

And so in his difficulty, Citoyen Lauzet sent an urgent message to his
friend Chauvelin to come at once to Mantes if possible--a request which
delighted Chauvelin with which he forthwith complied. And thus, three
days after the sensational rescue of the Tournon-d'Agenay family, those
two men--Lauzet and Chauvelin--both intent on the capture of one of the
most bitter enemies of the revolutionary government of France, were
sitting together in the office of the rural commissariat at Mantes.
Lauzet had very quickly put his friend in possession of the facts
connected with the impudent escapade, and Chauvelin, over an excellent
glass of Fine, had put his undoubted gifts and subtle brain at the
service of the official.

"Now listen to me, my dear Lauzet," he said after a prolonged silence,
during which the Chief of Section had been able to trace on his friend's
face the inner workings of a master-mind concentrated on one
all-engrossing object. "Listen to me. I need not tell you, I think, that
I have had some experience of that audacious Scarlet Pimpernel and his
gang; popular rumour will have told you that. It will also have told
you, no doubt, that in all my endeavours for the capture of that
detestable spy, I was invariably foiled by persistent ill-luck on the
one side, and the man's boundless impudence on the other. It is because
I did fail to lay the audacious rascal by the heels that you see me now,
a disgraced and disappointed man, after half a lifetime devoted to the
service of my country. But, in the lexicon of our glorious revolution,
my good Lauzet, there is no such word as fail; and many there are who
deem me lucky because my head still happens to be on my shoulders, after
certain episodes at Calais, Boulogne, or Paris of which you have, I
doubt not, heard more than one garbled version."

Lauzet nodded his bald head in sympathy. He also passed a moist, hot
finger around the turn of his cravat. This allusion to failure in
connection with the desired capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel had started
an unpleasant train of thought.

"I've only told you all this, my good Lauzet," Chauvelin went on, with a
sarcastic curl of his thin lips, "in order to make you realize the value
which, in spite of my avowed failures, the Committee of Public Safety
still set upon my advice. They have disgraced me, it is true, but only
outwardly. And this they have only done in order to leave me a wider
scope for my activities, particularly in connection with the tracking
down of spies. As an actual member of the Committee I was obviously an
important personage whose every movement was in the public eye; now, as
an outwardly obscure agent, I come and go in secret. I can lay plans. I
can help and I can advise without arousing attention. Above all, I can
remain the guiding head prepared to use such patriots as you are
yourself, in the great cause which we all have at heart, the bringing to
justice of a band of English spies, together with their elusive chief,
the Scarlet Pimpernel."

"Well spoken, friend Chauvelin," Citoyen Lauzet rejoined, with a tone of
perplexity in his husky voice, "and, believe me, it was because I had a
true inkling of what you've just said that, in my anxiety, I begged you
to come and give me the benefit of your experience. Now tell me," he
went on eagerly, "how do you advise me to proceed?"

Chauvelin, before he replied to this direct question, had another drink
of Fine. Then he smacked his lips, set down his glass, and finally said
with slow deliberation:

"To begin with, my good Lauzet, try and bethink yourself of some family
in your district whose position, shall we say, approaches most nearly to
that of the ci-devant Tournon-d'Agenays before their arrest. That is to
say, what you want is a family who at one time professed loyalty to
tyrants and who keeps up some kind of cult--however inoffensive--for the
Bourbon dynasty. That family should consist of at least one women or,
better still, one or two young children, or even an old man or an
imbecile. Anything, in fact, to arouse specially that old-fashioned
weakness which, for want of a better word, we will call sympathy. Now
can you think of a family of that kind living anywhere in your
district?"

Lauzet pondered for a moment or two.

"I don't for the moment," he said slowly, "but when I look through the
files I dare say I might..."

"You must," Chauvelin broke in decisively. "That kind of brood swarms in
every district. All you have to do is to open your eyes. Anyway, having
settled on a family, which will become our tool for the object we have
in view, you will order a summary perquisition to be made by your
gendarmerie in their house. You will cause the head of the family to be
brought before you and you will interrogate him first, and detain him
under suspicion. A second perquisition will then not come amiss; in fact
you will have it bruited all over the neighbourhood that this particular
family has been denounced as 'suspect' and that their arrest and
subsequent trial in Paris, on a charge of treason, is only a matter of
days. You understand?"

"I do," Lauzet replied, in a tone that sounded decidedly perplexed and
unconvinced. "But..."

"There is no but about it," Chauvelin retorted brusquely. "You have
asked my help and I give you my orders. All you have to do is to obey
and not to argue. Is that clear?"

"Quite, quite clear, my good friend," Lauzet hastened to assure him. "In
fact, I already have someone in my mind" "Which is all to the good,"
Chauvelin broke in curtly. "On the balance of your zeal your reward will
presently be weighed. Now listen further to me. Having followed my
instructions as to perquisitions and so on, you will arrange as
sensational an arrest of your family as you can. The more it is talked
about in the neighbourhood the better for our purpose. You understand?"

"I do, I do," Lauzet said eagerly. "I see your whole shceme now. You
want to induce the English spies to exert themselves on behalf of this
family, so that..."

"Exactly! Therefore the more sympathy you can evoke for them the better;
a pretty girl, an invalid, a cripple; anything like that will arouse the
so-called chivalry of those spies. Then, having effected your arrest,
you arrange to convey the family to Paris, and do so, apparently under
rather feeble escort, say not more than four men. You will choose for
your purpose the early dawn of a day when a thick mist lies over the
land, or when a driving rain or tearing wind makes observation
difficult."

"But"

"Not more than four men, remember," Chauvelin reiterated with slow
emphasis, "as visible escort."

"I understand."

"Instead of the usual chaise for conveying your prisoners to Paris, you
will use the local diligence and, having disposed of the prisoners
inside the vehicle, you will have it further packed with half a dozen or
more picked men from your local gendarmerie, armed with pistols; and you
will take a leaf out of the Scarlet Pimpernel's own book, because that
half-dozen picked men will be disguised as other aristos in distress,
women, cripples, old men or what you will. You can then go even further
in your trickery, and arrange a break-down for your diligence in the
loneliest bit of road in the forest of Mezieres, and choose the twilight
for your mise-en-scene. Then..."

But Lauzet could no longer restrain his enthusiasm.

"Oh, then! I see it all!" he exclaimed eagerly. "The band of English
spies will have been on the watch for the diligence. They will attack
it, thinking that it is but feebly gaurded. But this time we shall be
ready for them and..."

But suddenly his enthusiasm failed. His round, fat face lost its glow of
excitement, and his small, round eyes stared in comic perplexity at his
friend.

"But suppose," he murmured, "they think better of it, and allow the
diligence to proceed in peace. Or suppose that they are engaged in the
nefarious deeds in some other department of France."

"Then," Chauvelin rejoined coolly, "all you'd have to do would be to
continue your journey to Paris and set your family down in the
Conciergerie, ready to await trial and the inevitable guillotine. No
harm will have been done. There'll be a family of traitors less in your
district, anyway, and you must begin the setting of your comedy all over
again. Sooner or later, if you set your trap in the way I have outlined
for you, that cursed Scarlet Pimpernel will fall into it. Sooner or
later," he reiterated emphatically, "I am sure of it. My only regret is
that I didn't think of this plan before now. It has been vaguely moving
in my mind, ever since I heard of the escape of the Tournon-d'Agenays,
and I wish to Heaven I had matured it then and there; we could have got
that Scarlet Pimpernel as easily as possible. However, there's nothing
lost, and all I can do now, my friend, is to wish you success. If you
succeed you are a made man. And you will succeed," Chauvelin concluded,
rising and holding out his hand to his colleague, "if you follow my
instructions to the last letter."

"You may be sure I'll do that," Lauzet said with earnest emphasis.

And the two sleuth-hounds shook hands on their project, and drank a
glass of Fine to its success. But before Chauvelin finally took leave of
his friend, he turned to him with renewed earnestess and solemnity.

"And above all, my good Lauzet," he said slowly, "remember that in all
this your watchword must be: 'Silence and discretion'. Breathe but a
word of your intentions to a living soul, and you are bound to fail. The
English spies have their spies who serve them well. They have a long
purse which will alternatively purchase help from their friends and
treachery from ours. Breathe not of your project to any living soul,
friend Lauzet, of your head will pay the price for your indiscretion."

Lauzet was only too ready to give the required promise, and the two
friends then parted on a note of mutual confidence and esteem.

III

A fortnight later the whole of the little city of Moisson was in a
ferment owing to the arrest of one of its most respected tradesmen.
Citizen Deseze who, anyone would have thought, was absolutely above
suspicion, had been put to the indignity of a summary perquisition in
his house. He had protested--as was only natural under the
circumstances--and in consequence of this very moderate protest he had
been dragged before the Chief of Section at Mantes and had had to submit
to a most rigorous and most humiliating interrogatory. Nay more! He was
detained for two whole days, while his invalid wife and pretty little
daughter were wellnigh distraught with anxiety.

Then on the top of that, there followed another perquisition: just as if
anyone could suspect the Deseze family of treason against their country.
They certainly had never been very hotly in favour of the extreme
measures taken by the revolutionary government--such as the execution of
the erstwhile King and of Marie-Antoinette, ci-devant Queen of
France--but Citizen Deseze had always abstained from politics. He had
been wont to say that God, not man, ruled the destinies of countries,
and that no doubt what was happening these days in France occurred by
the will of God, or they could never occur at all. He for his part was
content to sell good vintage wines from Macon or Nuits, just as his
father had done before him, and his grandfather before that, for the
house of Deseze, wine merchants of Moisson in the department of Seine et
Oise, had been established for three generations and more, and had
always been a pattern of commercial integrity and lofty patriotism.

And now these perquisitions! these detentions! and finally the arrest,
not only of good Citizen Deseze himself, but of his invalid wife and
pretty little daughter. If one dared, one would protest, call a meeting,
anything. It was almost unbelievable, so unexpected was it. What had the
Deseze family done? No one knew. Inquiries at the commissariat of the
section elicited no information. There were vague rumours that the poor
invalid citizeness had always remained very pious. She had been taught
piety by her parents, no doubt, and had been brought up in a convent
school besides. But what would you? Piety was reckoned a sin these days,
and who would dare protest?

The servants at the substantial house inhabited by the Deseze family
were speechless with tears. The perquisitions, and then the arrest, had
come as a thunderbolt. And now they were all under orders to quit the
house, for it would be shut and ultimately sold for the benefit of the
State. Oh, these were terrible times! The same tragedy had occurred not
far away from Moisson in the case of the Tournon-d'Agenays, whom no one
was allowed to call Comte and Comtesse these days. They too had been
summarily arrested, and were being dragged to Paris for their trial
when, by some unforseen miracle, they had been rescued and conveyed in
safety to England. No one knew how, nor who the gallant rescuers were;
but rumours were rife and some were very wild. The superstitious
believed in direct Divine interference, though they dared not say this
openly; but in their hearts they prayed that God might interfere in the
same way on behalf of good Citizen Deseze and his family.

Poor Hector Deseze himself had not much hope on that score. He was a
pious man, it is true, but his piety consisted in resignation to the
will of God. Nor would he have cared much if God had only chosen to
strike at him; it was the fate of his invalid wife that wrung his heart,
and the future of his young daughter that terrified him. He had known
the Citizen Commissary practically all his life. Lauzet was not a bad
man, really. Perhaps he had got his head rather turned through his rapid
accession from his original situation as packer in the Deseze house of
business, with a bed underneath the counter in the back shop, to that of
Chief of Section in the rural division of the department of Seine et
Oise, with an official residence in Mantes, a highly important post,
considering its proximity to Paris. But all the same Lauzet was not a
bad man, and must have kept some gratitude in his heart for all the
kindness shown to him by the Deseze family when he was a lad in their
employ.

But in spite of every appeal Lauzet remained stony-hearted. "If I did
anything for you, Citizen, on my own responsibility," he said to Deseze
during the course of an interrogatory, "I should not only lose my
position, but probably my head into the bargain. I have no ill-will
towards you, but I am not prepared to take such a risk on your behalf."

"But my poor wife," Deseze protested, putting his pride in his pocket
and stooping to appeal to the man who had once been a menial in his pay.
"She is almost bedridden now and has not long to live. Could you not
exercise some benevolent authority for her sake?"

Lauzet shook his head. "Impossible," he said decisively.

"And my daughter," moaned the distracted father, "my little Madeleine is
not yet thirteen. What will be her fate? My God, Lauzet! Have you no
bowels of compassion? Have not you got a daughter of your own?"

"I have," Lauzet retorted curtly, "and therefore I have taken special
care to keep on the right side of the government and never to express an
opinion on anything that is done for the good of the State. And I should
advise you, Citizen Deseze, to do likewise, so that you may earn for
yourself and your family some measure of mercy for your transgressions."

And with this grandiloquent phrase, Lauzet indicated that the interview
was now at an end. He also ordered the prisoner to be taken back to
Moisson, and there to be kept in the cells until the following day, when
arrangements would be complete for conveying the Deseze family under
escort to Paris.

IV

The following day was market-day in Moisson, and at first Lauzet had
been doubtful whether it would not be best to wait another twenty-four
hours before carrying through his friend Chauvelin's project. The dawn,
however, broke with ideal conditions for it: a leaden sky, a tearing
wind, and torrents of rain, alternating with a thin drizzle. On the
whole, Nature had ranged herself on the side of all those who worked
their nefarious deeds under cover of semi-darkness. Lauzet, gazing out
on the mournful, autumnal aspect of weather and sky, felt that if the
Scarlet Pimpernel did indeed meditate mischief he would choose such a
day as this.

Thus it was that in the early dawn of this market-day the citizens of
Moisson had a sad scene to witness. Soon after seven o'clock a small
crowd collected round the big old-fashioned diligence which had drawn up
outside the Deseze house in the Rue des Pipots. To right and left of the
behicle were soldiers on horseback, two on each side, mounting guard,
and the man who held the reins was also in the uniform of the rural
gendarmarie. Everyone in the city knew this man. Charles-Marie was his
name, and he had begun life as a baker's assistant-a weak,
anaemic-looking youth, who had been sent out of the Army because he was
no use as a fighting man, so timorous and slow-witted was he.

Lately he had obtained a position as ostler at the posting inn in Mantes
because, it seems, he did know something about horses; but why he should
have been chosen to drive the diligence to Paris to-day, nobody could
conjecture. He must have had a friend in high places to be so exalted
above his capabilities. Anyway, there he sat on the box, looking neither
to right nor left, but straight between the ears of his off-leader, and
not a word would he say in response to the questions, the jeers and the
taunts which came to him from his friends in the crowd.

Soon, however, excitement centred round the portecochere of the Deseze
house. It had suddenly been thrown wide open, and in the doorway
appeared poor Citizeness Deseze escorted by two officers of gendarmerie,
and closely followed by Madeleine, her little daughter, also under
guard. It was pitiable to see the poor invalid, who could scarcely stand
on her half-paralysed limbs, thus being dragged away from her home where
she had lived as a happy wife and mother for close on a quarter of a
century. A murmur of sympathy for the two women and of execration for
the brutality of this arrest rose from the crowd. But it was quickly
enough suppressed. Who would dare to murmur openly these days, when
spies of the revolutionary government lurked at every street corner?

Hostile glances, however, were shot at Citizen Lauzet, who had come over
that morning from Mantes and now stood by, somewhat detached from the
crowd, watching the proceedings in the company of his friend Chauvelin.

"Is this in accordance with your idea?" he asked in a whisper when,
presently, Chauvelin completed a quick and comprehensive examination of
the diligence.

Chauvelin's only reply was a curt and peremptory "Hush", and a furtive
glance about him to see that there were no likely eavesdroppers within
hearing. He knew from experience that the famous League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel also had spies lurking in every corner; spies not so numerous
perhaps as those in the pay of the Committee of Public Safety, but a
great deal more astute, and he also knew-none better-that the case of
the Deseze family was just one that would appeal to the sporting or
chivalrous instincts of that band of English adventurers.

But he was satisfied with the mise-en-scene organized, under his
supervision, by Chief of Section Lauzet. Prominence had been given all
over the department to the arrest of the Deseze family, to the worth and
integrity of its head, the sickness of the wife, the charm and modesty
of the daughter. Half a dozen picked men of the gendarmerie of Mantes,
armed to the teeth, would join the diligence at Mantes, but they would
ride inside disguised as passengers, whilst it was left for anybody to
see that the coach was travelling under a feeble guard of four men, an
officer and three troopers, and was driven by a lout who was known to
have no fight in him.

Lauzet had been inspired when he chose this day; a typical day in late
October, with that pitiless rain lashed by a south-easterly wind that
would score the roads and fret the horses. Down in the forest, the
diligence would have to go almost at foot-pace, for the outline of every
tree on the roadside would be blurred, and objects would loom like
ghosts out of the mist.

Yes! the scene was well set for the comedy invented by Chauvelin for the
capture of his arch enemy. It only remained for the principal actors to
play their roles to his satisfaction. Already the female prisoners had
been hustled into the diligence amidst the sighs and tears of their
sympathizers in the crowd. Poor Madame Deseze had sunk half-fainting
with exhaustion into the arms of her young daughter, and the two women
sat huddled in the extreme corner of the vehicle, more dead than alive.
And now, amidst much jolting and creaking, some shouting and cursing,
too, with cracking of whip and jingling of spurs, the awkward, lumbering
diligence was started on its way. Some two hundred metres further on, it
came to a halt once more, outside the commissariat, and here the male
prisoner, Citizen Deseze himself, was made to join his family in the
airless, creaking vehicle. Resigned to his own fate, he set himself the
task of making the painful journey as endurable as may be to his invalid
wife. Hardly realizing yet the extent of their misfortune and the
imminence of their doom, the three victims of Lauzet's cupidity and
Chauvelin's vengeance suffered their martyrdom in silence and with
resignation.

The final start from Moisson had been made at eight o'clock. By this
time, the small city was filling with the neighbouring farmers and
drovers, with their cattle and their carts and vehicles of every kind,
all tending either to the Place du Marche, or to the various taverns for
refreshment. Lauzet, accompanied by Chauvelin, had ridden back to
Mantes. Just before nine o'clock the diligence rattled over the
cobblestones of that city, and a halt was called at the posting inn. It
was part of the programme to spend some hours in Mantes, where the extra
men of the gendarmerie would be picked up, and only to make a fresh
start when the shades of evening were beginning to draw in. It was not
to be supposed that the English brigands would launch their attack in
broad daylight, and the weather did not look as if it were going to
mend.

Chauvelin, of course, was there, seeing to every arrangement, with his
friend Lauzet close at his elbow. He had himself picked out the six men
of the gendarmerie who were to ride in disguise inside the diligence; he
had inspected their disguises, added an artistic or realistic touch here
and there before he pronounced them to be good.

Finally he turned to the young officer who was in command of the party.

"Now," he said very earnestly to him, "you know just what you are going
to do? You realize the importance of the mission which is being
entrusted to you?"

The officer nodded in reply. He was a young man and ambitious. The task
which had been allotted to him had fired his enthusiasm. Indeed, in
these days, the capture of that elusive English spy known as the Scarlet
Pimpernel was a goal for which every young officer of gendarmerie was
wont to strive; not only because of the substantial moetary reward in
prospect, but because of the glory attached to the destruction of so
bitter an enemy of revolutionary France.

"I will tell you, Citizen," the young man said to Chauvelin, "how I have
finally laid my plans, and you shall tell me if you approve. About a
kilometre and half before the road emerges out of the wood, the ground
rises gradually, and there are one or two sharp bends in the road until
it reaches the crest of the hill. That part of the forest if very
lonely, and at a point just before the ground begins to rise I intend to
push my mount on for a metre or two ahead of the men, and pretend to
examine the leaders of the team. After a while I will call 'Halt,' and
make as if I thought there was something wrong with the traces. The
driver is such a lout that he and I will embark on a long argument as to
what he should do to remedy the defect, and in the course of the
argument I will contrive to slip a small piece of flint which I have in
my pocket under the hoof of one of the coach horses."

"You don't think one of your men will see you doing that-and perhaps
wonder?"

"Oh, I can be careful. It is done in a moment. Then we shall get on the
road again, and five minutes later that same coach-horse will be dead
lame. Another halt for examination this time near the crest of the hill.
The lout of a driver will never discover what is amiss. I shall make as
if the hurt was serious, and set myself the task of tending it. I
thought then, subject to your approval, of ordering the troopers to
dismount. I have provided them with good wine and certain special
rations in their knapsacks. At a word from me they will rest by the
roadside, seemingly heedless and unconcerned, but really very wide-awake
and keen on the scent. The diligence will the while be at a standstill,
with doors shut and curtains closley drawn, but the six men whom we have
stowed inside the coach are keen on their work, well-armed and, like
hungry wolves, eager to get their teeth into the enemies of France. They
will be on the alert, their hands on their pistols, ready to spring up
and out of the coach at the first sign of an attack. Now what think you
of that setting, Citizen?" the young officer concluded, "for luring the
English spies into a fight? Their methods are usually furtive, but this
time they will have to meet us in hand-to-hand combat, and, if they fall
into our trap, I know that we can deal with them."

"I can but pronounce your plan admirable, Citizen Captain," Chauvelin
replied approvingly. "You have my best wishes for your success. In the
meanwhile Citizen Lauzet and I will be anxiously waiting for news. We'll
make a start soon after you, and strike the bridle-path through the
forest. This gives us a short cut which will bring us to Epone just in
time to hear your news. If you have been attacked, send me a courier
thither as soon as you have the English spies securely bound and gagged
inside the coach."

"I'll not fail you, Citizen," the young Captain rejoined eagerly.

Lauzet, who stood by, anxious and silent, whilst this colloquy was going
on, shrugged his shoulders with a show of philosophy.

"And at worst," he said, "if that meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel should
think prudence the better part of valour, if he should scent a trap and
carefully avoid it, we would always have the satisfaction of sending the
Deseze family to the guillotine."

"The English spies," Chauvelin rejoined dryly, "will not scent a trap,
nor will they give up the attempt to rescue the Deseze family. This is
just a case to rouse their ire against us, and if it prove successful,
one to flatter their vanity and redound to their credit in their own
country. No," he went on thoughtfully, "I have no fear that the Scarlet
Pimpernel will evade us this time. He will attack, I know. The only
question is, when he does are we sufficiently prepared to defeat him?"

"With the half-dozen excellent men whom I have picked up here in
Mantes," the young officer retorted, "I shall have nine under my
command, and we are prepared for the attack. It is the English spies who
will be surprised, we who will hold the advantage, even as to numbers,
for the Scarlet Pimpernel can only work with two or three followers and
we shall outnumber them three to one."

"Then good luck attend you, Citizen Captain," Chauvelin said at last.
"You are in a fair way of rendering your country a signal service; see
that you let not fame and fortune evade you in the end. Remember that
you will have to deal with one of the most astute as well as most daring
adventurers of our times, who has baffled men that were cleverer and, at
least, as ambitious as yourself. Stay," the Terrorist added, and placed
his thin, claw-like hand as if in warning on the other man's arm. "It is
impossible, even for me who knows him as he is and who has seen him in
scores of disguises, to give you any accurate description of his
personality; but one thing you can bear in mind is that he is tall above
the average; tall, even for an Englishman, and his height is the one
thing about him that he cannot disguise. So beware of every man who is
taller than yourself, Citizen Captain; however innocent he may appear,
take the precaution to detain him. Mistrust every tall man, for one of
them is of a surety the Scarlet Pimpernel."

He fianlly reminded the young Captain to send him a courier with the
welcome news as soon as possible. "Citizen Lauzet and I," he concluded,
"will ride by the bridle-path and await you at Epone. I shall be
devoured with anxiety until I hear from you."

V

The men were not nervous, not at first. They were merely excited, knowng
what awaited them, both during the journey and afterwards by way of
reward. If they were successful there would be for every man engaged in
the undertaking a sufficiency to provide for himself and his family for
the rest of his life. The capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel! Half a dozen
magic words in truth, and they had spurred Citizen Captain Raffet and
his squad with boundless enthusiasm. They felt no discomfort either from
tearing wind or driving rain. With eyes fixed before them they rode on,
striving to pierce the mist-laden distance where the enemy of France was
even now lurking, intent on that adventure which would be his last.

It was long past five o'clock when the diligence with its escort reached
the edge of the forest. What little daylight there had been all
afternoon was already beginning to wane; the sky was of a leaden colour,
heavily laden with rain-clouds, save 'way behind in the west, where a
few fiery, crimson streaks cut through the clouds like sharp incisions,
there, where the setting sun still lingered in the autumn sky.

The men now were keenly on the alert, their eyes searching the dim light
that glimmered through the forest trees, their ears attuned to the
slightest sound that rose above the patter of their horses' hoofs, or
the grinding of the coach wheels over the muddy road. The forest between
Mezieres and Epone is four kilometre long; the road which intersects it
plunges down into the valley and then rises up again with one or two
sharp bends to the crest of the hill, after which, within the space of
two hundred yards the forest trees quickly become sparse, and the open
country lies spread out like a map with, on the right, the ribbon of the
Seine winding its way along to St. Germain and Paris.

It was in the forest that the enemy would lurk. Out in the open he would
find no cover, and could be sighted a couple of kilometres all round and
more, if he attempted one of his audacious tricks. The light, which
became more and more fitful as the sun sank lower in the west, made
observation difficult; the thicket to right and left of the road looked
like a dark, impenetrable wall, from behind which, mayhap, dozens of
pairs of eyes were peering, ready to attack. The men who were riding by
the side of the coach felt queer sensations at the roots of their hair;
their hands, moist and hot, clung convulsively to the reins, and the
glances which they cast about them became furtive and laden with fear.

But those who were inside the diligence had no superstitious terrors to
contend with. The aristos were huddled up together in the far corner of
the vehicle, and the men had spread themselves out, three a side, as
comfortably as they could. A couple of bottles of excellent wine had
been a welcome supplement to their rations, and put additional heart
into them. One of them had produced a pack of greasy, well-worn cards
from his pocket with which to while away the time.

A quarter of an hour later the Captain in command called a halt; the
jolting vehicle came to a standstill with a jerk, and there was much
scrambling and creaking and jingling, while the driver got down from his
seat to see what was amiss. Nothing much apparently, for a minute or two
later the diligence was once more on its way. Soon there was an
appreciable slackening of speed, then a halt. More shouting and
swearing, creaking and scrambling. The men inside marvelled what was
amiss. It was as much as their life was worth to put their heads out of
the window, or even to draw one of the tattered blinds to one side in
order to peep. But they quickly put cards and wine away; it was better
to be prepared for the word of command which might come now at any
moment. They strained their ears to listen, and one by one, a word or
two, a movement, a sound, told them what was happening. Their comrades
outside were ordered to dismount, to take it easy, to sit down by the
roadside and rest. It seems one of the draught-horses had gone lame. The
men who were inside sighed with a longing for rest, too, a desire to
stretch their cramped limbs, but they did not murmur. They were waiting
for the word of command that would release them from their inactivity.
Until then there was nothing to do but to wait. No doubt this halt by
the roadside was just a part of the great scheme for luring the English
adventurers to the attack. Grimly and in silence the six picked men
inside the coach drew their pistols from their wallets, saw that they
were primed and in order, and then laid them across their knees with
their fingers on the triggers, in readiness for the Englishmen when they
came.

VI

It was not everybody at Moisson who sympathized with the Deseze family
when they were arrested. There were all the envious, the dissatisfied,
the ambitious, as well as the ragtag-and-bobtail of the district who had
linked their fortunes with the revolutionary government and who looked
for their own advancement by loudly proclaiming their loyalty to its
decrees. For such as these the Deseze family, with their well-known
integrity, their wealth and unostentatious piety, were just a set of
aristos whom the principles of the glorious revolution condemned as
traitors to the State and to the people.

And on market-days Moisson was always full of such people; they were
noisy and they were aggressive, and while the sympathizers with the
Deseze family, after they had waved a last farewell towards the fast
disappearing diligence, went quietly about their business or returned
silently to their homes, the others thought this a good opportunity for
airing some of those sentiments which would be reported in influential
quarters if any government spy happened to be within earshot.

In spite of the persistent bad weather men congregated in and about the
market-place during the intervals of business, and lustily discussed the
chief event of the day. There was much talk of Citizen Lauzet whom
everyone had known as a young out-at-elbows ragamuffin in the employ of
Hector Deseze, and who now had power of life and death over the very man
who had been his master. Be it noted that Lauzet appeared to have very
few friends among the crowd of drovers and shepherds and the farmers who
came in with their produce from the outlying homesteads. With
advancement in life had come arrogance in the man and a perpetual desire
to assert his authority over those with whom he had fraternized in the
past. Those, however, who had their homes in the immediate neighbourhood
of Mantes dared not say much, for Lauzet was feared almost as much as he
was detested, but the strangers who had come into Moisson with their
cattle and their produce were free enough with their tongue. Rumour had
gone far afield about this arrest of the Deseze family, and many there
were who asserted that mysterious undercurrents were at work in this
affair; undercurrents that would draw Citizen Lauzet up on the crest of
a tidal wave to the giddy heights of incredible fortune.

Nay more! There were many who positively asserted that in some
unexplainable way the whole of the Deseze affair was connected with the
capture of the English spy known throughout France as the Scarlet
Pimpernel. This spy had been at work in the district some time; everyone
knew that it was he who had dragged those ci-devant traitors and
aristos, the Tournon-d'Agenays, out of Citizen Lauzet's clutches, and
Citizen Lauzet was now having his revenge. He would capture the Scarlet
Pimpernel, catch him in the very act of trying to effect the escape of
the Deseze family, and thus earn the reward of ten thousand livres
offered to any man who would lay that enemy of France by the heels.

Lucky Lauzet! Thus to have the means of earning a sum of money
sufficient to keep a man and his family in affluence for the rest of
their lives. And besides the money there would be glory too! Who could
gauge the height to which a man might rise if he brought about the
capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel? Well, Lauzet would do it! Lucky
Lauzet! He would certainly do it, asserted some; those sort of men
always have all the luck! There were even those who asserted that the
Scarlet Pimpernel was already captured and that Lauzet had got him.
Lucky, lucky Lauzet!

"You don't suppose," one man declared, "that anything would be known of
the affair unless it was already accomplished? Lauzet is not one to talk
till after a thing is done. No! No! Believe me, my friends, Lauzet has
already got his ten thousand livres in his pocket!"

He was a wizened, little old man from over Lanoy way, and now he
dolefully shook his head.

"And to think," he went on, "that I might have laid that English spy by
the heels myself, if I had had a bit of luck like Lauzet."

A shout of derision greeted this astounding assertion.

"You papa Sargon?" one of the crowd ejaculated with a loud laugh. "You,
laying the English spy by the heels? That is the best joke I've heard
for many a day. Will you tell us how that came about?"

And papa Sargon told the tale how he and his wife had a visit from a
squad of soldiers who told him that they were after a band of English
spies who were known to be in that district. The soldiers asked for a
night's shelter as they were weary after a long day's ride. Papa Sargon
remained convinced in his own mind that for the better part of a night
he had harboured the most bitter enemies of his country, and if he had
only guessed who those supposed soldiers were, he might have informed
the local commissary of police, and earned ten thousand livres for
himself. Now this story would not perhaps have been altogether
convincing to unprejudiced ears, but such as it was, and with everything
that had occurred in Moisson these past few days, it aroused
considerable excitement. It went to prove that the Scarlet Pimpernel was
not nearly so mysterious or so astute as rumour credited him to be,
since he almost fell a victim to papa Sargon. It also went to prove to
the satisfaction of the company present that Citizen Lauzet had been
sharper than papa Sargon and, having come across the Scarlet Pimpernel
through some lucky accident, he had laid hands on him and was even now
conveying him to Paris, where a grateful government would hand him over
the promised reward of ten thousand livres.

This notion, which gradually filtrated into the minds of the company,
did not tend to make Citizen Lauzet any more popular; and when presently
most of that same company adjourned to Leon's for refreshment, there
were some among the younger men who wanted to know why they should not
have their share in those ten thousand livres. The Scarlet Pimpernel,
they argued with more enthusiasm than logic, had been captured in their
district. The Deseze family who were in some way connected with the
capture were citizens of Moisson; why should not they, citizens of
Moisson too, finger a part of the reward?

It was all very wild and very illogical, and it would have been
impossible for anyone to say definitely who was the prime mover in the
ensuing resolution which, by the way, was carried unanimously, that a
deputation should set out forthwith for Mantes to interview Citizen
Lauzet and demand in the name of justice, and for the benefit of
Moisson, some share in the money prize granted by the government for the
capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Subsequently, both papa Sargon and a
drover from Aincourt were held to be chiefly to blame, but as papa
Sargon very properly remarked, neither he nor the stranger from Aincourt
stood to gain anything by the wild-goose chase, so why should they have
instigated it?

Be that as it may, soon after the midday meal, half a score of young
stalwarts climbed into the cart of the drover from Aincourt, and the
party, full of enthusiasm and of Leon's excellent red wine, set out for
Mantes. They had provided themselves with a miscellaneous collection of
arms; those who possessed guns brought them along, then they borrowed a
couple of pistols from Leon and two more from old Mitau who had been a
soldier in his day. Some of them had sabres, others took sickles or
scythes which might be useful; one man had a saw, another took a
wood-chopper. All these things would be very useful should there be a
fight over this affiar, and most of them hoped that there would be a
fight.

The first disappointment came on arrival to Mantes. Here at the
Commissariat they were informed that Citizen Lauzet had been gone these
past two hours. He had ridden away in the company of his friend who had
come fron Paris some two days previously. The general idea prevalent at
the Commissariat was that the two men had ridden away in the direction
of Paris.

The second disappointment, a corollary of the first, was that the
diligence with prisoners and escort had started on its way less than
half an hour ago. It seemed in very truth as if the plot thickened.
Lauzet and his friend from Paris gone, the diligence gone! No one paused
to reflect how this could possibly mean anything in the nature of a
plot, but by this time spirits were inflamed. Unaccountably inflamed.
Everyone was so poor these days; money was so terribly hard to earn;
work was so grinding, remuneration so small, that now that the idea of
the capture of the English spy with its attendant reward had seized hold
of the imagination of these young hotheads, they clung to it
tenaciously, grimly, certain that if they acted quickly and wisely, and
if no one else got in the way, they would succeed in gaining the golden
prize. A competence! Just think of it! And with nothing to do for it but
an exciting adventure. And here was Lauzet interfering! Snatching the
prize for himself! Lauzet, who already drew a large salary from the
State for very little work.

All this had been talked over, sworn over, discussed, commented at great
length all the way between Moisson and Mantes, in the rickety cart
driven by the drover from Aincourt. He was a wise man, that drover. His
advise was both sound and bold. "Why," he asked pertinently, "should a
man like Citizen Lauzet get everything he wants? I say it is because he
has a friend over in Paris who comes along and helps him. Because he has
money and influence. What? Was there ever anything seen quite so unjust?
Where is the English spy, my friend? I ask you. He is in this district.
Our district. And what I say is that what's in our district belongs to
us. Remember there's ten thousand livres waiting for every man who takes
a hand in the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Ten thousand livres! and
Citizen Lauzet with that stranger from Paris is even at this hour riding
away with it in his pocket."

He spoke a great many more equally eloquent words, for he had a gift of
speech, had this drover from Aincourt. A rough fellow, it is true, but
one with his heart in the right place, and born in the district, too;
anyone could tell that by the contemptuous way with which he spoke of
any stranger born outside this corner of Seine et Oise. To the man who
had sat next to him on the way from Moisson to Mantes he had confided
the story of his life; told him that at thirteen years of age he had
been pressed into service on board one of the ci-devant tyrant's ships,
that the ship had been captured by English corsairs, and he had been a
galley slave until he succeeded in breaking his chains and swimming to
shore while the English sloop lay off Ushant. No wonder he hated the
whole foul brood of the English. He was their slave for nigh on twenty
years. And always he harked back on the golden prize which, he declared,
would not be shared up. Each and every man who took a hand in the
capture of the English spy would receive his ten thousand livres.

He was listened to with great attention, was the drover. And his words
presently carried all the more weight because something very strange
came to light. It appeared that the diligence from Moisson with
prisoners and escort had made a half of several hours in Mantes. The
party only made a fresh start in the late afternoon. That was strange
enough in all conscience. What did it mean but that Lauzet was courting
the darkness for his schemes? But there was something more mysterious
still. While the diligence stood before the posting inn ready to start,
horses pawing and champing, the driver on his box, whip in hand, the
four troopers who were on guard to right and left of the vehicle would
not allow anyone to come within measurable distance of it. Be it noted
that all the blinds of the coach were drawn so that it was impossible to
get a peep at the inside. But two young men, strangers to the
neighbourhood, who had since come forward, eager to tell their story,
more venturesome than others, had crept under the horses' bellies and
tried to peer into the interior of the coach. They were almost
immediately driven away with blows and curses by the troopers, but not
before they had vaguely perceived that there were more than just the
prisoners inside the diligence. The prisoners were all huddled up in the
furthest corner of the vehicle, but there were others. The young men who
had had a peep, despite the blows from the troopers, had seen three or
four men at least. They might have been ordinary travellers who had
picked up the diligence at Mantes. But in that case, why all this
secrecy? Why the drawn blinds, the start in the late afternoon so that
the shades of evening would actually be drawing in when the diligence
and its escort ploughed its way through the muddy road of the forest
between Mezieres and Epone? Why a feeble escort of only four men when,
of late, and when the ci-devant Tournon-d'Agenays were being conveyed to
Paris, as many as eight or ten picked troopers of the National Guard had
ridden beside the diligence? Indeed, the drover from Aincourt was right.
Indubitably right. Citizen Lauzet and his friend from Paris had entered
into a plot, a dastardly, cowardly plot to cheat the citizens of Moisson
of their just share in the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel. There was
no doubt that the Scarlet Pimpernel was already captured, and that
Lauzet was having him conveyed in secret to Paris. The escort might
appear feeble, but there were men inside the diligence who held the
English spy, bound hand and foot between them, with a cocked pistol at
his head. Why! The two young strangers who had succeeded in getting a
peep at the inside of the diligence quite thought, from the description
everyone had of him, that one of the men whom they glimpsed was in very
truth the Scarlet Pimpernel.

"He was so tall," they said, "so tall that he had to sit almost bend
double, otherwise his head would have knocked against the roof of the
coach." They were almost prepared to swear also that this tall man's
hands were tied together with ropes.

After that, as the drover from Aincourt very properly said, any man
would be a fool who doubted Lauzet's treachery and cupidity. It was
resolved to proceed immediately in his wake, to seize him wherever he
might be, him and any man who had helped him in his treachery. Aye, if
he had an army to protect him, he would find that the men of Moisson and
Mantes were not to be flouted and cheated with impunity. The drover from
Aincourt was bribed to take the party in his cart as far as Mezieres. He
demurred a little at first; seemed to turn crusty and impervious to
threats. Eventually he was offered one hundred livres out of every man's
share if the English spy was captured, and one livre if he was not.

"Eh bien," he said at last in token of consent, and they all scrambled
back into the cart.

VII

Captain Raffet had given the order to dismount and the troopers sat by
the roadside under the trees, making a pretence to rest. Each man,
however, had his sabre ready to his hand, and each had seen to the
priming of his pistol, while the Captain himself obstensibly busied
himself with examining the fetlock of the mare who had gone lame. The
wind had gone down and the torrential rain had ceased, but there was a
thin mist-like drizzle that soaked through the men's clothing and
chilled them to the bone. The tension had become acute. With nerves on
edge the men, those who were in the open as well as those who were
cooped up inside the diligence, could do nothing but wait while the time
dragged on and the woods was full of sounds; of the crackling of twigs,
the fall of rain-laden leaves, the scrunching of earth under tiny,
furtive, feet scurrying away through the undergrowth. The great, awkward
diligence loomed out of the mist like some gigantic spectral erection,
peopled by forms that breathed and lived and hardly emitted a sound.
Only very occasionally from the interior there came the painful moan,
quickly suppressed, from the poor invalid's parched throat.

And all at once something more tangible: a patter of feet, a call, a
voice half-drowned in the gathering mist. It came way down the road,
from the direction of Mézieres. The men sat up, alert, quivering with
excitement, their eyes straining to pierce the thicket, since the sharp
bend in the road hid the oncomers from view. The order was to feign
inattention, to wait for the attack, lest the wily enemy, scenting a
trap, scampered away to safety. And the men waited, very much like
greyhounds held in leash, quivering with eagerness, their hot, moist
hands grasping sabre and pistol, the while Captain Raffet, as keenly
alert as they, carried on a desultory conversation with the driver about
the mare's injured fetlock. Vague forms began to detach themselves out
of the mist, coming round the bend; soon they gained volume and
substance. The voice still calling gained power and clarity. It was as
much as Captain Raffet could do, by muttered word and glance of eye, to
keep those human greyhounds of his in check. With the Scarlet Pimpernel
perhaps in sight they were straining on the leash to its breaking-point.

It was at the very moment that, throwing all prudence to the wind, the
men suddenly raised themselves upon their knees, and were on the point
of springing to their feet, unable to contain their excitement any
longer, that Charles-Marie, the loony driver, who had once been a
baker's assistant, exclaimed joyfully, "Pardi! If it isn't Citizen
Plante home from market already." And the next instant the oncoming
figure revealed itself as that of an old man, walking along with the aid
of a tall stick, and calling at times to his dog or to the half-dozen
sheep he was driving before him.

Citizen Plante was not of a gregarious disposition, nor of an
inquisitive one apparently, for he passed by without a word or glance of
curiosity directed at the troopers or at the vehicle. All that he did
was to nod to the driver as he went by, whilst the men gazed at him,
wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as if he had been a spectre. And like a
spectre he seemed to glide past them and out of sight. A minute or two
later the twilight and the mist had swallowed him up with his sheep and
his dog, and had smothered his monotonous calls in the veils of the
night.

A groan of disappointment and impatience rose from the parched throats
of the men. The passage of old Plante and his sheep had exasperated
their nerves. A moment ago they had felt chilled and cramped; now their
blood was up, their bodies were in a sweat with the violence of their
disappointment. Already Plante and his sheep were far away. That
silence, so full of sounds, had once more descended upon the forest.
Again the men waited with eyes and ears strained, their nerves a-tingle,
their breathing hard and stertorous. And once more there fell upon their
straining ears the sound of human life coming from the direction of
Mézieres. This time it was the sound of cart-wheels creaking through the
mud, and of ill-adjusted harness jingling with the movement of
wearily-plodding horses. There was also from time to time the sound of
distant voices, a harsh call or uproarious laugh suddenly stilled as if
in responce to a peremptory warning. Nothing in truth to suggest the
furtive methods of the English adventurers it seemed more like a party
of farmers coming home from market.

The troopers were on the alert, of course, but not quite so keenly
perhaps as they were before their disappointment over Citizen Plante's
passage across the scene. But a minute or two later a quick word from
their Captain brought them sharply to attention. The cart had obviously
come to a halt, but a lusty shout now rang through the stillness of the
night, and there was a general sound of scampering and of running,
mingled with calls of excitement and encouragement. A few minutes of
tense expectation, then suddenly round a bend a band of ten or a dozen
men came into view, armed with miscellaneous weapons. At sight of the
diligence they gave a wild shout of triumph, brandished their weapons
and rushed to the attack.

"Attention, citizen soldiers," Raffet commanded hastily. "Do not shoot
unless you are obliged. But if you must, shoot low. We must have some of
those English spies alive if we can."

Hardly were the words out of his mouth than, with a renewed shout of
triumph, the band of young ruffians threw themselves like a pack of
enraged puppies on the soldiers, whilst others made straight for the
diligence. But before they had gone within twenty metres of it the
Captain gave the quick word of command that brought the men of the
gendarmerie out of the coach, pistols in hand, ready for the fight.

The attacking party, however, held no laggards either. Egged on by the
drover of Aincourt and still shouting wildly, they rushed on the men of
the gendarmerie as they scrambled out of the coach. Numbers being about
equal on either side, the men coming out one by one were at a great
disadvantage. Almost as soon as they had set foot to the ground they
were fallen on with fist or sabre, and soon the confusion was complete.

"What the devil's game is this?" Raffet shouted hoarsely, for in an
instant he found himself at grips, not with the mysterious Scarlet
Pimpernel, but with Gaspard, the son of the butcher at Moisson, whom he
had known ever since they had been ragamuffins together. And Gaspard was
as strong as some of the bullocks his father was wont to kill. Before
Raffet could recover from the surprise of this wholly unexpected turn of
events Gaspard had brought his heavy fist crashing down on his whilom
friend's skull.

"It means," Gaspard shouted, mad with fury, "that thou'rt a traitor and
that I'll teach thee to help cheat thy friends."

Nor could Raffet argue after that. He had need of all his faculties to
defend himself against this young ox. He had drawn his pistol, true, but
Gaspard's iron-like hand had closed around his wrist and the fight soon
degenerated to fisticuffs. The troopers fared no better, either. Though
they had been prepared for an attack, they were not prepared for this
furious onslaught made upon them by their friends. Name of a dog! What
did it all mean? For they were all friends, these madmen, every one of
them; young men from Moisson and Lanoy and Mantes. There was François
the mercer of the Rue Grande, and Jacques whose father kept he tavern at
the sign of the Black Swan, and Paul whose mother was the best
washerwoman in Mantes. And words flew round to the accompaniment of
thumping blows.

"Jacques, art thou mad or drunk?"

"Achille! Thy father will beat thee for this escapade."

"Name of a name, but you'll all get something for this night's work."

And all the while blows were raining fast and furious. There was no lust
to kill, only wild enthusiasm for a fight, a desire to be avenged on
friends who had aided that rascal Lauzet to cheat the men of the
district out of the golden prize.

"Give up the English spies or I'll squeeze the breath out of thy
throat." This from Gaspard the butcher's son who had felled his friend
Raffet to the ground and rolled over and over in the mud with him, the
two men snarling at one another and biting and scratching like a couple
of angry dogs.

Had they all gone mad, these men of Moisson? The issue of the struggle
might have remained longer in the balance had not Raffet just then freed
his right hand from the iron grip of Gaspard and discharged his pistol
into his whilom comrade's leg. Gaspard rolled over on to his back with a
groan and a curse.

"Traitor. Thou hast murdered me," he cried, while the blood flowed
freely out of his thigh.

But the one pistol-shot had the effect of sobering the combatants. The
aggressors ahd pistols, too, and sabres, but in their excitement had
forgotten how to use them. The sudden report, however, brought the
soldiers back to a sense of discipline, wakened them, as it were, from
their surprise, and in a moment gave them a decided advantage over the
undisciplined attacking party. This wild fisticuffs could not go on. It
was unworthy of the soldiers of the Republic. They were being attacked
by a band of irresponsible young jackanapes whom the devil himself must
for the nonce have deprived of reason, but it remained for the picked
men of the rural gendarmerie to teach them that such madness could not
remain unpunished, and friend or foe, he who attacks a soldier of the
Republic must suffer for his wantonness. Far be it from the chronicler
of these events to pretend that all these thoughts did surge clearly in
the heads of the troopers. What is a fact is that from the moment their
Captain discharged a pistol into Gaspard's thigh, they became masters of
the situation. The fight between soldiers and citizens assumed its just
proportions; there were a few pistol-shots, some sabre thrusts, a good
deal of groaning and cursing, while more than one stalwart besides
Gaspard rolled over in the mud.

The fight had lasted less than ten minutes. When the first rush on the
diligence was made, the twilight was already fading into dusk. Now when
the last shot had been fired and the last of the hotheads had cried for
mercy, dusk was slowly yielding to the darkness of the night. Raffet
called the soldiers to attention. They were still panting with
excitement, some of them were dizzy from the blows dealt freely on their
skulls; one or two showed a bunged eye or a bleeding lip, but none of
them were seriously hurt. The hotheads from Moisson and Mantes had not
fared quite so well. Some of them had received a charge of shot in lef,
arm or shoulder, and were lying groaning or half-conscious on the
ground; those hwo had escaped with minor hurts were on their knees, held
down by the heavy hand of a trooper. They did not in truth represent an
edifying spectacle, with their faces streaming with blood and
perspiration, their clothes torn, their shirtsleeves hanging in rags,
their hair wet and lank, hanging before their eyes. Raffet ordered them
to be mustered up; his sharp glance ran over them as they stood or
crouched together in a line.

"I ought to have the lot of you summarily shot," Raffet said sternly to
them after he had inspected his men and seen that victory had not cost
them dear. "Yes, shot," he reiterated, "for interfering with the
soldiers of the Republic in the exercise of their duty; and I will do
it, too," he went on after a moment's pause, "unless you tell me now the
meaning of this abominable escapade."

"You know it well, Citizen Raffet," Paul the washerwoman's son said,
still breathless with excitement and with a savage oath, "when you
joined hands with that traitor Lauzet to cheat us all of what was our
due."

"Joined hands with Lauzet? What the devil do you mean?" Raffet queried
frowning. "In what did I join hands with Lauzet?"

"In capturing the English spy and getting the reward for yourselves when
it rightly belonged to us."

"The reward," Raffet retorted dryly, "will be for whosoever may be lucky
to get the English spy. For the moment I imagine that if he meant to
attack us to-night your folly has scared him. The noise you made would
keep any brigand out of the way."

"No use lying to us, Raffet," one of the others retorted somewhat
incoherently. It was François who spoke this time, the mercer from the
Rue Grande, and he had always been noted for his eloquence. "You raised
your hands against us citizens of the Republic who came here to avenge
an unpardonable wrong. And let me tell you that 'tis you who will suffer
for this night's work-"

"Ah ça!" Raffet broke in savagely, for his temper was still up. "How
long are you going to talk in riddles? In truth it's the devil that has
deprived you of your senses. What's all this talk about the English spy?
Who told you we were after him? And why should you hinder us from doing
our duty?"

"We know," François retorted, striving to appear calm and full of
dignity, "that not only were you after the English spy, but we know that
you captured him in our district and that you have got him in the
diligence yonder and are conveying him to Paris, where you and your
friends will share ten thousand livres which by rights should have
belonged to us men of the district where the spies were caputred."

"What gibberish is this? I tell you that not only have we not got the
English spy, but owing to your senseless folly, we are not likely to get
him now."

"I say that the English spy is in your diligence," François exclaimed,
and pointed dramatically at the old vehicle which stood like a huge,
solid mass, heavier and darker than the surrounding gloom. "Some of us
have seen him, I tell you." And his companions, even those who were in
the sorriest plight, nodded in assent.

But Raffet swallowed his temper now. What was the use of arguing with
these fools? He would have thought it beneath his dignity to five them
ocular demonstration that the diligence now only held three miserable
aristos. But the trouble was what to do with this crowd. Raffet counted
them over. There were eight of them, and four of these were helpless
with wounds in the legs. Somehow at the first rush Raffet thought there
had been more like a dozen young ruffians and he had a distinct
recollection of a big, clumsy fellow who seemed the prime mover in this
senseless escapade. But no doubt he as well as one or two others had had
the good sense to take to their heels, and Raffet had certainly no
intention of scouring the woods for them. On the other hand, he had
every intention of seeing those that remained well punished for their
folly. He did not wish to drag them along with him to Epone. It was
another four kilometres and more and the first part of the journey would
still be through the forest; with the gathering darkness the
coach-horses would have to be led by men carrying lanterns.

Pondering a moment over the future of his prisoners, Raffet had a sudden
inspiration.

"Who drove the cart that brought you all hither?" he demanded.

"A man from Lanoy," Paul, the washerwoman's son, replied.

"Then he shall take you back to Mantes the way you came."

"You would not dare-" One of the others protested.

Raffet, however, had already turned to his corporal of gendarmerie.

"Citizen Corporal," he said, "take these rascals as far as the cart
which brought them thither. It must have come to a halt somewhere near
the bottom of the hill. Let two of your men go with them to Mantes and
there hand them over to the deputy commissary. Order the owner of the
cart to drive them on pain of severe punishmnet if he refuses. Take one
of the lanthorns with you. It will be needed as the road will be pitch
dark before they are well on their way. And stay! You have some stout
cord inside the diligence. We were going to use it on the English spy.
Now it will serve to bind these rogues together two by two, lest they
try some more of their tricks on you. Those who are hurt can lie in the
botton of the cart."

"Citizen Raffet," François, the mercer, raised his voice in final
impotent protest. "You will answer to the State for this outrage on her
citizens."

Bu Raffet was no longer in a mind to listen. The corporal had sent one
of the men to find the length of rope which was inside the diligence and
was to have served for binding up the English spies, and now it would be
used on a lot of jackanapes on their homeward journey to Mantes.
Protests and curses were indeed in vain, and the soldiers, whose tempers
had not yet cooled down, were none too gentle with the rope. Raffet, in
the meanwhile, had called one of the men of the gendarmerie to him.
"Ride, Citizen Soldier," he commanded, "as fast you can to Epone. You
will find the Citizen Commissary and his friend from Paris at the
posting inn. Tell them just what has occured and that I am sending the
pack of miscreants back to Mantes for punishment. Tell them also that
this senseless piece of folly has not left us unprepared for attack by
the English spies, though we have not much more hope in that direction
now. We shall be on the road again in a quarter of an hour, but will
have to walk the horses pratically all the way, so do not expect to be
in Epone for another two hours at least."

Then at last did comparative silence fall upon the scene, where a brief
while ago deafening shouts and tumultous melée had roused the woodland
echoes. Only the prisoners now were heard groaning and cursing. The
courier had ridden away bearing the unwelcome news to Lauzet and his
friend from Paris; the men who were not busy with the prisoners were
looking to their horses or their accoutrements, while Raffet stood by,
observant and grim. And suddenly, right out of the darkness there came
the sound of agonizing calls for help.

"What was that?" Raffet queried straining his ears to listen.

"Help," came from the distance. And then again, "Help! Ho," and "Curse
you, why don't you come?" And with it all the now familiar sound of men
fighting and shouting. Not so very far away either. A couple of hundred
metres, perhaps, just the other side of the bend. Were it not for the
thicket and darkness, a man could cut his way through to where those
shouts came from in a couple of minutes.

"Help! Help!"

One of the prisoners broke into a harsh laugh. "It's Citizen Lauzet,
I'll wager," he said, "and his friend from Paris."

"Citizen Lauzet?" Raffet exclaimed. "What in hell do you mean?"

"Well," Paul, the washerwoman's son, replied still laughing and
forgetting his sorry plight in the excellence of the joke. "We found
those two ambling on the bridle-path, on their way to Epone, ready no
doubt to seize the largest share of reward for the capture of the
Scarlet Pimpernel."

"Great God!"

"And so we seized them both," François, the mercer, rejoined, "and did
to htem what you are doing now to us; gave them a good hiding, then
bound them together with ropes and threw them in the bottom of the
cart."

"Name of a dog"

"And no doubt," came a high-pitched voice from among the group of
prisoners, "the English spies have found them and..."

"Malediction!" But Raffet got no further. Astonishment not unmixed with
terror rendered him speechless. The Scarlet Pimpernel. Ye Gods! And the
Chief of Section and his friend at the mercy of that fiend. Even now his
straining ears seemed to perceive through these calls for help a
triumphant battle-cry in a barbaric tongue.

"Here," he cried to the troopers. "Two of you are sufficient to bring
these rascals along; and you, corporal, and two men come with me.
Citizen Lauzet and his friend are being murdered even now."

He hurried down the road followed by the corporal and two men of the
gendarmerie, whilst those that were left behind saw to it that the
perpetrators of all this additional outrage and of all this pother were
duly garrotted and started on their way.

To them Raffet shouted a final: "Three of you remain to guard the
prisoners and make ready for an immediate start when we return." Then he
disappeared round the bend in the road.

VIII

The shouting had ceased as Raffet and his troops hurried along. Indeed,
at first he might have thought that his ears had deceived him, had not
that agonized call for help still risen insistently through the gloom.
He searched the darkness, and suddenly a sight greeted him by the
roadside which caused his hair to stand up on his head. At first this
seemed nothing but a bundle lying half-in and half-out of the ditch in
the mud, with the drip-drip from the trees making a slimy puddle around
it. It was from this bundle that the calls for help and the curses
proceeded.

It was appalling, almost unbelievable, for there were the Chief of
Section in the rural division of the department of Seine et Oise,
Citizen Lauzet, and his friend from Paris whom Captain Raffet knew as
Citizen Chauvelin, a man who stood very high in the estimation of the
government, and they were lying in a muddy puddle in the ditch like a
pair of calves tied together for market. Raffet might have disbelieved
his eyes had it not been for the language which Citizen Lauzet used all
the while that the rope which bound him was being cut by the corporal.

"Thank the Lord," Raffet exclaimed fervently, "that you are safe."

"I'll have 'em flayed alive, the rascals," Lauzet exclaimed in a voice
rendered feeble and hoarse with much shouting, as well as rage. "The
guillotine is too mild a death for such miscreants. They attacked me,
Citizen Captain, would you believe it? Me! Chief of Section in the rural
gendarmerie. Have you ever heard of such an outrage? They shouted at us
from behind. My friend and I were riding along quite slowly, and we had
just turned into the bridle-path from the road. We heard the cart and
all the shouting, but we thought that they were just a pack of drunken
oafs returning from market. So we paid them no heed, not even when anon
we heard that on the road the cart had drawn up and, chancing to glance
back at the moment, I saw these louts jumping helter-skelter out of the
cart. And the next moment they were on us, the lot of them. Ten or a
dozen of them they were, the rogues."

"The miserable scoundrels," Raffet exclaimed fervently.

"They dragged us out of our saddles," Lauzet continued, "they beat us
about the head..."

"Name of a name..."

"And all the while they kept on shouting, 'Traitor! Traitor! Give up the
English spy to us.' In vain did we try and protest. They would not hear
us, and what could we do against a dozen of them? Then finally they
bound us with ropes, wound our cravats about our mouths so that we could
scarcely breathe, and listed us into that jolting cart, where we lay
more dead than alive while it was driven by a lout at breakneck speed.

"Have no fear, Citizen," Raffet put in forcefully. "Their punishment
shall be exemplary."

"I have no fear," Lauzet retorted dryly, "for I'll see to their
punishment myself. The scamps, the limbs of Satan! But I'll teach them.
There we lay, Citizen Captain, at the bottom of the cart, my friend
Citizen Chauvelin, who wore the tricolour scarf of office round his
middle, and I, chief commissary of the district, and those ruffians
dared to wipe their shoes on us. So we drove for a kilometre and a half
through the forest. Then presently the cart drew up and all those louts
jumped down like a pack of puppies and ran away up the hill with shouts
that would wake the dead. The last I remember, for in the jolting and my
cramped position I had partly lost consciousness, was that my friend and
I were lifted out of the cart as unceremoniously as we had been thrust
into it. We were carried up the road some little way and then thrown
into the ditch by the roadside, in the mud, just where you ultimately
found us, and our cravats were loosened from round our mouths.
Immediately we started screaming for help, but there was such a din
going on up the road, that we felt the sound of our voices could not
possibly reach you. Fortunately, in the end, you did hear us, or maybe
we should have perished of cold and inanition."

"Malediction," Raffet swore viciously. "And you might have been attacked
by those cursed English spies while you lay helpless here. We thought we
heard them, and their battle-cry, and hurried to your assistance."

He turned and shook his fist with another savage oath at the gang of
prisoners which had just come into view. Sobered and chastened, they
allowed themselves quite meekly to be dragged along by a couple of
soldiers. Some of them were able to walk, and were made to do so with
the aid of vigorous kicks if they flagged, whilst the others, those who
had sustained wounds or were otherwise helpless, had been hoisted up,
none too gently, on the shoulers of their comrades in misfortune.
Altogether, they looked a sorry lot. Raffet smiled grimly at sight of
them whilst Lauzet fell to cursing and anathematizing them viciously.

Chauvelin alone showed no emotion. As soon as the rope that held him had
been severed, he had sat up on a broken tree-stump, staring straight out
before him into the mist, and meditatively stroking his sore wrists and
arms. It seemed as if some secret thought had the power to keep his
wrath and indignation in check. Nor did he as much as glance up when the
procession of soldiers and prisoners came into view. Before his
semi-consciousness there floated a vague vision which he was striving to
capture. When first those abominable louts had thrust him and Lauzet in
the bottom of the cart, and he lay there bound and gagged, nursing his
stupendous wrath and hopes of revenge, he had become aware that the
driver, who still sat aloft just above him, had suddenly turned and,
leaning over, had peered into his face. It had only been a very brief
glance; the next moment the man was sitting up quite straight again, and
all that Chauvelin saw of him was his back, with the great breadth of
shoulders and general look of power and tenacity. But it was the brief
vision of that glance that Chauvelin now was striving to re-capture. The
blue-grey eyes with their heavy lids that could not be disguised, and
the mocking glance which had seemed to him like rasping metal against
his exacerbated nerves. And suddenly he called to Raffet: "The driver
and the cart, where are they?"

The Captain's sharp eyes searched the mist that was rising in the
valley.

"Down at the bottom of the hill," he said. "The driver seems to be on
the box. I shall want him to drive these rascals back to Mantes."

"Send him to me at once," Chauvelin broke in curtly.

Raffet gave the necessary orders, although inwardly he chafed at this
new delay. The prisoners slowly continued their way, and Chauvelin
waited, expectant. For what? He could not have told you. He certainly
did not expect to be brought face to face with his old enemy. And yet
But whatever vague hopes he might have entertained were dissipated soon
enough by an exclamation from Raffet.

"Charles-Marie! What in a dog's name are you doing here?"

And a weak, querulous voice rose in reply. "He told me I was to run
along and drive the cart back to Mantes for him. He..."

"He?" queried Raffet sharply. "Who?"

"I don't know, Citizen Captain," replied Charles-Marie.

"Who ordered you to leave the diligence and your horses?"

"I don't know, Citizen Captain," protested the unfortunate
Charles-Marie. "It's God's truth. I don't know."

"You must know why you're not sitting on the box of the diligence."

"Yes. I know that, for I scrambled down as soon as I saw Gaspard fall on
you, Citizen Captain."

"Why did you scramble down?"

"Because the horses were restive. At the first pistol-shot they started
rearing and I had a mighty task to hold them. Fortunately, someone came
and gave me a hand with them."

"What do you mean by 'someone came'? Who was it?"

"He was a drover from Aincourt, Citizen Captain, and so he knew all
about horses, and how could I keep four terrifed horses quiet, all by
myself?"

"You miserable fool."

"All very well, Citizen Captain, but I never was a fighting man, and I
don't like those pistol-shots all about me. One of them might have
caught me, I say, and it was only right I should find cover somehwere,
lest indeed I be hit by mistake."

"You abominable coward," Raffet rejoined savagely.

"But all that does not explain how you got here."

"Well, Citizen, it was like this. The drover from Aincourt saw that I
was not altogther happy, and he said to me, 'There'll be more fighting
presently when the English spies come to attack.' I said nothing at
first. All I could do was to groan for, as I say, I'm not a fighting
man. I went out of the Army because I was too ill to fight, and my
mother..."

"Never mind about your mother now. What happened after that?"

"He said to me: 'You go and get on the seat of the cart which is up the
road. It is my cart. You can drive it back to Mantes and leave it and my
horses at the posting inn where they know me. I'll look after these
horses for you, and when the fighting's over I'll drive the diligence to
Paris. No one will be any the wiser and I don't mind a bit of a fight. I
can do a bit of fighting myself.' Well," Charles-Marie went on
dolefully, "there didn't seem much harm in that. I could see he knew all
about horses from the way he handled them; but I'm no fighting man, and
when I was engaged to drive the diligence from Moisson to Paris, I was
not told that there would be any fighting."

"So you turned your back on the diligence, like a coward, and crept
along here..."

"I didn't creep, Citizen. I followed you when..."

"Pardi!" Raffet broke in with an oath. "Another of you that will not
escape punishment. If I had my way the guillotine would be busy in
Mantes for days to come."

There was nothing for it now but to allow Charles-Marie to drive the
cart back to Mantes, since its owner had probably seized an opportunity
by now of taking to his heels. Poor Raffet was worn out with the
excitement of the past half-hour, and bewildered with all the mystery
that confronted him at every turn. Vaguely he felt that something
sinister lurked behind this last incident recited to him by
Charles-Marie, but for the moment he did not connect it with the
possible maoeuvres of the English spies. He thought that chapter of the
day's book of adventures closed. It would be an extraordinary piece of
luck, indeed, if in the end they should still come across the Scarlet
Pimpernel.

Anyway, for the moment, the most important thing was to see the cartload
of prisoners on its way, and to this Raffet devoted his attention. He
walked down as far as the cart, saw the prisoners stowed in,
Charles-Marie on the box with a trooper beside him to see that he did
his work properly, another in the cart to watch over the prisoners, and
a third to the horses' heads with a lighted lantern. After that, what
happened to the pack of miscreants Raffet cared less than nothing; in
the end they would not escape punishment, whether they reached Mantes
this night, or spent the hours of darkness in the forest. They were
securely bound now; wounded of hale they lay huddled up in the cart,
their spirit broken, and with hardly a groan left in them. Raffet gave
the order to start. With much creaking and grinding the wheels ploughed
their way through the mud; it would take a couple of hours to cover the
three kilometres back as far as Mantes. Raffet stood for a moment or two
watching the veil of darkness which gradually engulfed the cart, the
horses and their human load. Just for a minute longer the fitful glimmer
of the lanthorn shone through the trees and for awhile the voice of the
man who carried it was heard encouraging the horses or urging them on.

Then only did Raffet bethink himself of the citizen from Paris who had
given him the order to bring the driver of the cart to him. Quickly he
turned on his heel and walked up the road again. The corporal and the
troopers were there waiting for him, but Citizen Lauzet and his friend
from Paris had gone.

IX

Indeed, Chauvelin had not waited to hear the whole of Charles-Marie's
tale. Throughout all the adventures which had befallen him this day, he
had seen the hand of his enemy, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Now he no longer
had any doubt. Almost at the first words uttered by Charles-Marie he had
jumped to his feet, all the stiffness gone out of his bones; and despite
the darkness, the mud and the rain, he turned and ran up the slushy
road, round the bend beyond which he had heard the fight a quarter of an
hour ago. To Lauzet he had shouted a curt, "Come," and Lauzet had
followed, obedient, understanding, like a dog, only vaguely scenting
danger to himself, danger more serious than any that had threatened him
during this eventful day.

Chauvelin ran through the darkness with Lauzet at his heels. The road
appeared endless and black, the silence full of portent. Only the drip
from the trees broke the silence; only the leaden greyness of the close
of evening faintly pierced the darkness where the trees grew sparse on
the edge of the wood. Depsite the cold and rawness of the mist, he was
in a bath of perspiration; though his veins were on fire, his teeth
chattered with the cold. Lauzet, behind him, was panting like an
apoplectic seal. The sticky mud clung to the men's shoes; their limbs
still stiff from hours of confinement begrudged them every service. Soon
Lauzet fell with a groan by the roadside. But Chauvelin did not five in.
Through the darkness he had perceived things that moved; through the
silence he had heard sounds that spurred him to fresh effort. Stumbling,
half-dazed, he went round the bend of the road; then he, too, fell
exhausted by the roadside, exhausted and trembling as with ague. The
scene which greeted his aching eyes had finally unnerved him. There, on
the crest of the hill, he saw three horses tethered to neighbouring
trees, three soldiers with their hats pulled down over their eyes. Of
the diligence there was not a sign. Chauvelin stared and stared at this
scene. He had not strength enough to rise, though his every nerve ached
to go up to one of these pinioned figures by the trees and to ask what
had happened.

Thus Raffet found him five or ten minutes later. He came with his
soldiers and a lantern or two. On their way they had met with Lauzet and
had brought him along with them. Chauvelin could not do more at first
than point with trembling finger straight out before him, and Raffet and
the men swinging their lanterns came on the spectacle of the three men
and the three horses tied to the forest trees, the animals calm as
horses are wont to be when Nature and men are silent around them; the
men inert and half-conscious, smothered under their own hats. Raffet and
his troopers soon released them, but it took them some time to recover
their breath.

"Question them, Citizen Captain," Chauvelin commanded feebly.

The men's statements, however, were somewhat vague. It seems that after
their comrades had gove off, some with their Captain, others with the
prisoners, the three who were left behind busied themselves at first
with their horses, examining the saddle-girths and so on, when one of
them spied something moving underneath the diligence.

"It was getting dark by that time," the man explained. "However, I
called to my mates, and we stooped to see what it was. We were very much
surprised, you may be sure, to see two pairs of feet in ragged shoes. We
seized hold of them and pulled. The feet were attched to two pairs of
legs in tattered stocking and breeches. Finally there emerged from
underneath the diligence two ragamuffins with mud up to their eyes and
their clothing in rags.

"We questioned them," the soldier went on to say, "and gathered from
them that they were just what they appeared to be, two young jackanapes
who had joined those other hotheads at Mantes where the whole thing was
planned, intending to have a little fun. Soon, however, they got scared.
Fearing the consequences of their escapade, they had crawled under the
diligence, hoping there to lie perdu until they could comfortably take
to their heels."

"They were a sorry-looking pair," another soldier put in. "We put them
down for two poltroons, not worth powder and shot, and were just
wondering what we should do with them when suddenly, without the
slightest warning, they turned on us like a couple of demons. Not they
only, for a third fellow seemed to have sprung out of the earth behind
us, and come to their aid. A giant he was."

"A giant," Raffet exclaimed, for he had suddenly remembered Citizen
Chauvelin's warning about the English spy, who was tall above the
average.

"Aye! A giant, with the strenth of an ox. I can only speak for myself,
but all I know is that in an instant I felt an arm around my throat like
a band of steel and I was hurled to the ground with a man on top of me.
I was held down and bound with ropes, and my cravat was thrust into my
mouth so that I could not shout for help. The next thing I remember was
that I was lifted from the ground as if I were a bundle of straw, and I
was tied to yonder tree, and finally my hat was pulled down over my
eyes, my cravat wound round my mouth so that I just could breathe and no
more; and there I remained until you, Citizen Captain, came and set me
free."

The other two men had the same tale to tell. All three harked on the
giant whose size and strenth they vowed were supernatural.

"He had eyes of flame, Citizen," one of them said.

"His hair emitted sparks as it stood up around his head," declared
another.

"The devils," murmured Lauzet with a shudder.

"After them," excalimed the enthusiastic young Captain. "We have three
horses, and that awkward diligence can't have got far."

"You haven't looked at the horses, have you, Citizen Raffet?" Chauvelin
remarked dryly.

"There's nothing wrong with them, is there?" Raffet retorted and turned
to look at the animals. The next moment a savage oath broke from his
lips.

"The saddles," he exclaimed. "They're gone."

"And the bridles too, I think," Chauvelin retorted slowly. "Unless some
of you are circus riders, I don't quite see what you can do. But you did
not suppose, Citizen Captain, that those English devils would leave you
the means of running after them, did you?"

No one said anything for the moment. There was indeed, nothing to say.
Reproaches and vituperations would come later, punishment, too, perhaps.
The soldiers and their Captain hung their heads, brooding and ashamed.

"They have a good start, curse 'em," Lauzet muttered presently.

"What could we do against those limbs of Satan?" Raffet rejoined glumly.

"You should have stayed, Citizen Captain, to guard the coach," Chauvelin
retorted with a snarl.

"We heard you call for help, Citizen," Raffet protested glumly, "and one
man told us what a plight you were in. We thought you were being
attacked by the English spies--murdered perhaps. It was our duty to come
to your assistance."

Indeed it was a sense of fatality that had fallen over these men; they
felt numb, unable to think, hardly able to move.

"Epone is not more than four kilometres, Citizen," Raffet at last
ventured, "and we have the lanterns."

And so the procession started trudging down the incline in the darkness
and the rain, Chauvelin and Lauzet, Raffet and his corporal with a
couple of troopers carrying the lanterns. Two hours later they reached
Epone hungry, tired, spattered with mud up to their chins. Nothing had
been seen or heard of the diligence on the way. At the posting inn the
party found Raffet's courier waiting for them. He had been perplexed at
not finding anyone to whom he could deliver the message, but whiled away
the time of waiting in the coffee-room, where mine host plied him with
excellent wine which had the effect of loosening his tongue.

He thought he was doing no harm by recounting at full length the
adventures that had befallen him and his comrades. Thus the story was
all over the district by the time the labourers of Epone had gone to
their work the following morning, and the Chief of Section in the
department of Sein et Oise, Citizen Lauzet, became the laughing-stock of
the countryside, together with his wonderful friend from Paris. Late
that same day, a horseless diligence which at first appeared deserted
and derelict was discovered half a dozen kilometres to the north of the
forest of Mézieres in the mud of the stream that runs southward into the
Seine. A group of labourers going to their work were the first to see
it. It had been dragged into the stream and left axle-deep in the water
behind a clump of tall reeds. The labourers reported their find to a
patrol of Raffet's troopers whom he had sent out to scour the
countryside. The wheels had sunk deep into the mire, and it was only
after a great deal of exertion that labourers and soldiers together
succeeded in dragging the coach over the flat bank upon firm land.

In the interior they found three saddles and bridles, and two pairs of
ragged shoes.

"Truly fate has been against us," Lauzet sighed dolefully when he heard
of the find. "Satan alone knows where the English spies and the
prisoners are at this hour."

"Well on their way to England," Chauvelin remarked. "I know 'em. With
their long purse and their impudence they'll work their way to the
coast, aided by fools and traitors. Such fools and traitors," he added
under his breath, "as helped them last night in their latest adventure."

X

Little Madeleine Deseze was very shy. She had been brought by her father
to pay her respects to Monseigneur le Prince de Galles, because maman
was too ill to accompany her.

His Royal Highness had the child beside him on the sofa, and was
questioning her about her adventures on that awful day when she and papa
and maman were being taken to Paris in the diligence, and believed that
they were destined to perish on the guillotine.

"I don't remember much, Monseigneur," Madeline said shyly. "Maman and I
were too frightened to notice anything. There was so much shouting and
fighting. It was terrible."

"Shall I tell you what happened, little one?" His Royal Highness was
pleased to say.

"Your Highness, steaming punch is served in the yellow drawing-room," a
pleasant voice interposed, with the assurance of privilege.

"Fie, Sir Percy," exclaimed Lady Alicia Nugget, "would you spoil His
Highness's story?"

"Rather that than let good punch spoil with cooling, dear lady," Sir
Percy retorted with a smile.

"Seize him and garrotte him," His Highness broke in with a laugh, "as
our gallant hero and his friends seized and garrotted a Chief of
Section, whatever that may be, and his powerful friend from Paris."

"Seize him! Garrotte him," cried many a pair of charmingly-rouged lips.

The next moment Sir Percy Blakeney, that prince of dandies, saw himself
fettered by a number of lovely arms, while gay voices chirruping like
birds cried: "The story, You Highness, we entreat. He cannot interrupt
now."

"I have the story from one who knows," His Highness resumed with a
smile, "and our little friend Madeleine shall hear it. It was thus: Our
gallant Scarlet Pimpernel, in one of his happiest disguises as a drover
from Aincourt, did with the aid of two of his followers egg on a number
of young louts into the belief that they were being cheated out of the
reward due to them for the capture of the noted English adventurers in
their district. Full of enthusiasm and excellent wine they came on the
Chief of Section who, I imagine, answers to our Chief Constable of a
County, together with a gentleman from Paris who some of us have known
in the past. Well, the young louts, eager for the fray, and always egged
on by the drover from Aincourt, seized and garrotted those two worthy
gentlemen and, throwing them into the cart, took them along with them.
In the forest of Mézieres they came upon the diligence in which were our
little friend Madeleine and her parents. The vehicle was ostensibly
guarded by four troopers only, but our Scarlet Pimpernel and his friends
had already ascertained that as a matter of fact there were half a dozen
more men inside the coach, and that all were armed to the teeth.
Altogther too many for three men to tackle; and since the chief motto of
our band of heroes is never to attempt where they cannot succeed,
stratagem had here to come to the aid of valour."

"And what did they do?" one of the ladies queried breathlessly.

"The driver from Aincourt, our gallant Scarlet Pimpernel," His Highness
replied, "brought the cart to a standstill about a quarter of a mile
from the crest of the hill where the diligence had come to a halt
prepared for an attack. Then he allowed the louts to rush the vehicle,
and a general melée ensued. But he and his two followers in the
meanwhile lifted the Chief of Section and his fiend out of the cart and
carried them up the road to a point from which their call for help would
presently be heard. Here they left them in the ditch, but carefully took
the gags from their mouths. Immediatley the two worthy gentlemen started
to shout. Nor could they be blamed, for their plight was indeed
pitiable. At first there was so much din in the melée at the top of the
hill that their cries could not be heard. And in the meanwhile one of
our gallant heroes had crept up through the thicket to the crest of the
hill. Then presently the fighting ceased. The enthusiastic Captain of
gendarmerie heard the cries for help, accompnied by a good deal of
shouting and clash of metal carried on by the Scarlet Pimpernel himself
and his second follower. Now do you see what was the result of this
manoeuvre?"

"No! No!" the ladies exclaimed. And the men, no less enthusiastic and
interested cried: "Will your Highness proceed?"

"The prisoners let out the secret that the Chief of Section and his
friend were lying bound with ropes in a ditch, whilst one of our
heroes-the one who had gone back to the scene of the fight and mingled
with the crowd--was able to put in a word that no doubt those two great
and worthy citizens were being attacked and murdered by the English
spies. The English spies! You have no conception, ladies, what magic
lies in those three words for every soldier in the Republic. They mean
hopes of promotion and of big monetary reward. In an instant the
enthusiastic Captain had called to some of his men to follow him, to go
to the rescue of their Chief of Section, and incidentally to capture the
Scarlet Pimpernel. And that was the immediate outcome of the clever
stratagem. The Captain divided his forces. Three he took with him, two
were left to bring the prisoners along, another had been sent as courier
with a message. Three only were left to guard the diligence. The gallant
Scarlet Pimpernel had made a clever calculation. Already by a small ruse
he had rid himself of the cart. Under cover of the darkness his two
equally gallant followers had crept underneath the vehicle, whilst he
waited in the thicket for the right time to strike. I leave you to guess
the rest. The three remaining soldiers taken unawares, the horses
unsaddled, the diligence finally driven down the hill by our hero,
whilst inside the coach his two followers were doing their best to
assure little Madeleine and her parents that all was well. Soon they
abandoned the cumbersome diligence and took to the road. That part of
the story is perhaps less exciting though no less heroic. The Scarlet
Pimpernel has nineteen followers; it was their task to be on the road,
to aid the fugitives with disguises, to help in the great task of
reaching the coach in safety.

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story," His Highness concluded,
rising. "Let us go and drink some of my friend Blakeney's excellent
punch. But after we have drunk our toast for the King, let us raise our
glasses to our national hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel."

With a courtly bow and a smile he offered his arm to Marguerite Blakeney
who, with a glistening tear in her beautiful eyes, gave His Highness a
glance of gratitude.

"Are you coming, Blakeney?" the Prince said with a merry laugh. "You
must drink our toast, too, remember. To the gallant Scarlet Pimpernel!"

All the ladies laughed, partly with gaiety, but also with excitement.
Then with one accord they cried: "Come and drink, Sir Percy, to the
gallant Scarlet Pimpernel."

"I'll come, dear ladies," Sir Percy said with a sigh, "since His
Highness commands, but you'll forgive me if I cannot drink to that
demmed, elusive shadow."

Laughing still, the ladies cried: "Fie, Sir Percy! Jealous again?"

And little Madeleine, with her great childish gaze fixed upon the
handsome English gentleman, cried in her piping little voice: "Fie, Sir
Percy!"



CHAPTER 2 - THE PRINCIPAL WITNESS

I

Those who knew the widow Lesueur declared that she was quite incapable
of the villainous and spiteful action which landed poor Joséphine
Palmier in the dock for theft. This may or may not be so. Citoyenne
Lesueur had many friends, seeing that she was well-to-do and in good
odour with all the Committees and Sections that tyrannized over humble
folk in a manner which recalled the very worst days of the old régime,
to the distinct advantage of the latter. Moreover, Achille Lesueur was a
fine man, with a distinct way with the women. He had a glossy black
moustache and flashing dark eyes, since he was a true son of the South,
rather inclined to be quarrelsome; and he had very decided views on
politics, had Achille. You should hear him singing the Carmagnole: "Ca
ira! Ca ira!" and "Les aristos à la lanterne!" He did it so lustily, it
verily sent a thrill all down your spine.

He was for destroying everything that pertained to the old order:
titles, of course, and private ownership of every sort and kind, and the
lives of all those who did not agree with him. Land must belong to the
nation, and all that grew on the land and was produced under the earth
or brought out of the sea. Everything must belong to the people: that
was Achille's creed. Houses and fields and cattle and trees and women.
Oh, above all, women! Women were the property of the nation.

That was the grand new creed, which had lately been propounded at
Achille's Club--the Cordeliers. And everybody knows that what the
Cordeliers discuss to-day becomes law by decree of the National Assembly
the day after to-morrow.

Now, there were many who averred that Achille Lesueur became a devotee
of that creed only after Joséphine Palmier, his mother's
maid-of-all-work, disdained his amorous advances. Joséphine was pretty
and had the dainty appearance which, in these grand days of perfect
equality, proclaimed past sojourn in the house of a whilom
aristocrat--as a menial, probably. Bah! Achille, whenever he tried to
question Joséphine about the past and received no satisfactory answer,
would spit and leer; for he had a wholesome contempt for all aristocrats
and bourgeois and capitalists, and people of all sorts who had more
money than he--Achilles Lesueur, the only son of his mother--happened to
have at the moment.

Did I mention the fact that the widow Lesueur was very well-to-do, that
she owned an excellent little business for the sale of wines, both
wholesale and retail, and that Achille's creed that everything should
belong to the people did not go to the length of allowing, say, Hector
and Alcibiade, to help themselves to a stray bottle or so of the best
Roussillon which happened to be standing invitingly on his mother's
counter?

How he explained this seeming discrepancy in his profession of faith I
do not pretend to say. Perhaps he did not consider it a discrepancy, and
drew a firm line between the ownership of the people and the dishonesty
of individuals. Be that as it may, Achille Lesueur had made up his mind
that he was in love with Joséphine Palmier and that he would honour her
by asking her to become his wife.

She refused--refused categorically and firmly; gave as an excuse that
she could give him no love in return. No love, to him--Achille--with the
flashing eyes, the long maternal purse, and the irresistible ways? It
was unthinkable! The wench was shy, ignorant, stupid, despite her airs
and graces of an out-at-elbows aristocrat. Achille persevered in his
suit, enlisted his mother's help, who indeed could not imagine how any
girl in her five senses could throw away such a splendid chance.
Joséphine Palmier had looked half-starved when first she applied for the
situation of maid-of-all-work in the widow Lesueur's house. She had
great purple rings under her eyes and hands almost transparently thin;
her lips looked pinched with cold, and her hair was lank and lustreless.

Now she still looked pale and was not over-plump; but the Citizeness
Lesueur told all her neighbours that the wench had a voracious appetite,
very difficult to satisfy, and that in accordance with the national
decree, she was being treated as a friend of the house.

And now this wanton ingratitude! Joséphine Palmier, a waif out of the
gutter, refusing the hand of Achille, his mother's only son, in
marriage!

Ah, ça! Was the baggage perchance an aristocrat in disguise? One never
knew these days! Half-starved aristocrats were glad enough to share the
bread of honest citizens in any capacity; and it was a well-known fact
that the ci-devant Comtesse d'Aurillac had been cook to Citizen Louvet
before she was sent as a traitor and a spy to the guillotine.

II

Achille was persistent, and Joséphine obstinate. Citoyenne veuve
Lesueur, whilst watching the growth of her son's passion, waxed
exasperated.

Then the crisis came.

Achille's passion reached its climax, and the widow Lesueur's anger no
longer knew bounds. The baggage must go. Had anyone ever seen such
wanton wickedness? First to encourage Achille's attentions--oh, yes! the
whilom aristo had from the first made eyes at the rich and handsome son
of the house. Now, no doubt, she had some traitor waiting for her
somewhere, or even perhaps one of those abominable English spies who
literally infested Paris these days, intriguing and suborning traitors
and seducing the daughters of honest patriots, so as to point with
hypocritical finger afterwards at the so-called immoral tendencies of
this glorious revolution. Oh, no! Citoyenne Lesueur did not mince
matters.

"Take your rags and chattels with you, my wench, and go!"

And Joséphine, tearful, humiliated, anxious for the future of pauvre
maman, who was quietly starving in a garret whilst her daughter earned a
precarious livelihood for both as a household drudge, put together her
few tiny possessions--mere relics of former happy times--and went out of
the Citoyenne Lesueur's inhospitable doors, followed by the latter's
curses and jeers--Achille having been got safely out of the way for the
occasion.

This had occurred in the late afternoon of the 6th Floréal, which
corresponds with the 25th day of April of more ordinary calendars.

On the morning of the 7th, which was Saturday, Citoyenne Lesueur came
downstairs to the shop as usual, a little after six, took down the
shutters, and started to put the place tidy for the day's work; when,
chancing to look on the drawer which contained the takings of the week,
she saw at once that it had been tampered with, the lock forced, the
woodwork scratched.

With hands trembling with anxiety, the worthy widow fumbled for her
keys, found them, opened the drawer, and there was confronted with the
full evidence of her misfortune. Two hundred francs had been abstracted
from the till--oh! the citoyenne was quite positive as to that, for she
had tied that money up separately with a piece of string and set it in a
special corner of the drawer. As for the baggage--eh! was not her guilt
patent to everyone?

To begin with, she had been dismissed for bad conduct the evening
before, turned out of the house for immoral ways, with which Citoyenne
Lesueur had only put up all this while out of pity and because the girl
was so poor and so friendless. Then there was the testimony of Achille.
He had returned from his Club at ten o'clock that evening. He was
positive as to the time, because the clock of the Hôtel de Ville was
striking the hour at the very moment when he saw Joséphine Palmier
outside his mother's shop. She was wrapped in a dark cloak, and carried
a bundle under her arm. He--Achille---could not understand what the girl
might be doing there, out in the streets at that hour, for he knew
nothing of the quarrel between her and his mother.

He spoke to her, it seems, called her by name; but she did not respond,
and hurried by in the direction of the river. Achille was very much
puzzled at this incident, but the hour being so late he did not think of
waking his mother and telling her of this strange rencontre, nor did he
think of going into the shop to see if everything was in order. What
would you? One does not always think of everything!

But there the matter stood, and the money was gone. And Citoyenne veuve
Lesueur called in the Chief Commissary of the Section and gave her
testimony, and attested as a patriot and a citizen against Joséphine,
known to her as Palmier. That this was an assumed name, the worthy widow
was now quite positive. That Joséphine was nought but an aristo in
disguise looked more and more likely every moment.

The citoyenne recalled many an incident. Name of a name, what a terrible
affair! If only she had not been possessed of such a commiserating
heart, she would have turned the baggage out into the street long ago.

But now, what further testimony did any Commissary want, who is set at
his post by the Committee of Public Safety for the protection of the
life and property of honest citizens and for the punishment of bourgeois
and aristos--traitors all--who are for ever intriguing against both?

As for Achille, he attested and deposed, fumed, raged, and swore; would
have struck the Citizen Commissary had he dared, when the latter cast
doubt upon his--Achille's--testimony; suggested that the Club of the
Cordeliers was known for its generous libations, and that at that hour
of the night any of its members might be pardoned for not recognizing
even a pretty wench in the dark. And the Rue des Enfers was always a
very dark street, the Citizen Commissary concluded indulgently.

Achille was beside himself with rage. Imagine his word being doubted!
What was this glorious Revolution coming to, he desired to know? In the
end, he vowed that Joséphine Palmier was both a thief and an aristocrat,
but that he--Achille Lesueur, the most soulful and selfless patriot the
Republic had ever known--was ready to exercise the rights conferred upon
him by the recent decree of the National Convention and take the wench
for his wife; whereupon she would automatically become his property,
and, as the property of the aforesaid soulful and selfless patriot, be
no longer amenable to the guillotine.

Achille had inherited that commiserating heart from his mother
apparently; and the Chief Commissary of the Section, himself a humane
and a just man, if somewhat weak, greatly approved of this solution to
his difficulties. Between ourselves, he did not believe very firmly in
Joséphine's guilt, but would not have dared to dismiss her without
sending her before the Tribunal lest this indulgence on his part be
construed into trafficking with aristos.

III

All would then have been well, but that Joséphine Palmier, from the
depths of the prison where she had been incarcerated for three days,
absolutely refused to be a party to this accommodating arrangement. She
refused to be white-washed by the amorous hands of Achille Lesueur,
declared that she was innocent and the victim of an abominable
conspiracy hatched by mother and son in order to inveigle her into a
hated marriage.

Thus the matter became very serious. From a mere question of theft, the
charge had grown into one of false accusation, of conspiracy against two
well-known and highly respected citizens. The Citizen Chief Commissary
scratched his head in uttermost perplexity. The trouble was that he did
not believe that the accusation was a false one. In his own mind, he was
quite certain that the widow and her precious son had adopted this
abominable means of bringing the recalcitrant girl to the arms of a
hated lover.

But, name of a name! what is a Commissary to do? Being a wise man,
Citizen Commissary Bourgoin referred the whole matter to a higher
authority: in other words, he sent the prisoner to be tried by the
Revolutionary Tribunal, the Tribunal Extraordinaire, where five judges
and a standing jury would pronounce whether Joséphine Palmier was a
traitor, an aristo, as well as a thief, and one who has trafficked with
English spies for the destruction of the Republic.

And here the unfortunate girl is presently arraigned, charged with a
multiplicity of crimes, any one of which will inevitably lead her to the
guillotine.

Citizen Fouquier-Tinville, the Attorney-General, has the case in hand.
Citizen Dumas, the Judge-President, fixes the accused with his pale,
threatening eye. The narrow court is crowded to the ceiling. Somehow,
the affair has excited public interest, and Achille Lesueur and his
widowed mother, being well-to-do sellers of good wine, have many
friends.

Attorney-General Fouquier-Tinville has read the indictment. The accused
stands in the dock facing the five judges, with a set, determined look
on her face. She wears a plain grey frock with long, narrow sleeves down
to her pale, white hands, which accentuate the slimness of her
appearance. The white kerchief round her shoulders and the cap which
conceals her fair hair are spotlessly clean. Maman has carefully washed
and ironed them herself and brought them to Joséphine in the prison, so
that the child should look neat before her judges.

"Accused, what answer do you give to the indictment?" the
Judge-President questions sternly.

"I am innocent," the girl replies firmly. "I was not in the Rue des
Enfers at the hour when yonder false witness declares that he spoke with
me."

Achille, who sits on a bench immediately below the jury, devours the
girl with his eyes. Every now and again he sighs, and his red,
spatulated hands are clasped compulsively together. At Joséphine's last
words, spoken in a tone of unutterable contempt, a crimson flush spreads
over his face, and his teeth--white and sharp as those of some wild,
feline creature--bury themselves in his fleshy lower lip. His mother,
who sits beside him, demure and consequential in sober black with
open-work mittens on her thin, wrinkled hands, gives Achille a warning
look and a scarce-perceptible nudge. It were not wise to betray before
these judges feelings of which they might disapprove.

"I am innocent!" the girl insists. "I do not know why the Citizeness
Lesueur should try and fasten such an abominable crime on me."

Here the Attorney-General takes her up sharply.

"The Citizeness Lesueur cannot be accused of trying to make you out a
thief, since her only son is prepared to make you his wife."

"I would rather die accused of the vilest crimes known upon this earth,"
she retorts firmly, "than wed a miserable liar and informer!"

Achille utters a cry of rage not unlike that of a wild beast. Again his
mother has to restrain him. But the public is in sympathy with him.
Imagine that pitiful aristo scorning the love of so fine a patriot!

The Attorney-General is waxing impatient.

"If you are innocent," he says tartly, "prove it. The Revolutionary
Committee of your Section has declared you to be a Suspect, and ordered
your arrest as such. The onus to prove your innocence now rests with
you."

"At ten o'clock on the night of the 6th Floréal, I was with my mother,"
the girl insists calmly, "in the Rue Christine--at the opposite end of
the city to where the Rue des Enfers is situated."

"Prove it," reiterates the Attorney-General imperturbably.

"My mother can testify--" the girl retorts.

But Citizen Fouquier-Tinville shrugs his shoulders.

"A mother is not a witness," he says curtly. "Mothers have been known to
condone their children's crimes. The law does not admit the testimony of
a mother, a father, a husband, or a wife. Was anyone else at the Rue
Christine that night--one who saw you, and can swear that you could not
possibly have been at the Rue des Enfers at the hour to which the
principal witness hath attested?"

But this time the girl is dumb. Her sensitive lips are drawn closely
together, as if they would guard a secret which must remain inviolate.

"Well?" the Attorney-General goes on with a sneer. "You do not reply.
Where is the witness who can testify that you were in the Rue Christine,
at the other end of Paris, at the hour when the principal witness swears
that he saw you in the Rue des Enfers?"

Again the accused gives no reply. And now it is the turn of the five
judges to become insistent first, then impatient, and finally very
angry. Every one of them has, in turn, put the same proposition to the
accused:

"You say that the principal witness could not have seen you in the Rue
des Enfers at ten o'clock of the 6th Floréal, because at that hour you
were in the Rue Christine. Well, prove it!"

And every one of them has received the same mute answer: an obstinate
silence, the sight o a face pale and drawn, and a glance from large,
purple-rimmed eyes that have a haunting, terrified look in them now.

In the end, the Judge-President sums up the case and orders the jury to
"get themselves convinced". And this they must do by deliberating and
voting audibly in full hearing of the public; for such is the law
to-day.

For awhile thereupon, nothing is heard in the court save that audible
murmur from the stand where the jury are "getting themselves convinced".
The murmur itself is confused; only from time to time a word, a broken
phrase, penetrates to the ear of the public or to that of the
unfortunate girl who is awaiting her doom. Such words as "obvious
guilt", or "no doubt a traitor", "nought but an aristo", "the
guillotine", occur most frequently; especially "the guillotine". It is
such a simple solver of problems, such an easy way to set all doubts at
rest!

The accused stands in the dock facing the judges. She does not glance in
the direction of the jury. She seems like a statue fashioned of
alabaster, a ghost-like harmony in grey and white, her kerchief scarce
whiter than her cheeks.

Then suddenly there is a sensation. Through the hum of the jury
"debating audibly", a raucous voice is raised from out the body of the
public, immediately behind the dock.

"Name of a dog! Why, Cyrano lodges at No. 12, Rue Christine. He was
there on the evening of the 6th. Eh, Cyrano? En avant, my ancient!"

"Cyrano, en avant!" The chorus is taken up by several men in ragged
shirts and blouses, to the accompaniment of ribald laughter and one or
two coarse jokes.

The jury cease their "audible deliberation". Remember that this Tribunal
Extraordinaire is subject to no law forms. Judges and jury are here to
administer justice as they understand it, not as tradition--the hated
traditions of the old régime--had it in the past. They are here
principally in order to see that the Republic suffers no detriment
through the actions of her citizens; and there is no one to interfere
with them as to how they accomplish this laudable end.

This time, all of them being puzzled by the strangeness of the
affair--the singular dearth of witnesses in such a complicated
case--they listen to the voice of the public: vox populi suits their
purpose for the nonce.

So, at an order from the Judge-President, someone is hauled out of the
crowd, pushed forward into the witness-box, hustled and bundled like a
bale of goods: a great, hulking fellow with muscular arms and lank, fair
hair covered with grime. He is a cobbler by trade, apparently, for he
wears a leather apron and generally exhales an odour of tanned leather.
He has a huge nose, tip-tilted and of a rosy-purple hue; a perpetual
tiny drop of moisture hangs on his left nostril, whilst another glistens
unceasingly in his right eye. His appearance in the witness-box is
greeted by a round of applause from his friends.

"Cyrano!" they shout gaily, and clap their hands. "Vivat, Cyrano!"

He draws his hand slowly across his nose and smiles, a shy,
self-deprecating smile which sits quaintly on one so powerfully built.

"They call me Cyrano, the comrades," he says in a gentle, indulgent
voice, addressing the Judge-President, "because of my nose. It seems
there was once a great citizen of France called Cyrano, who had a very
large nose, and--"

"Never mind about that," the Judge-President breaks in impatiently.
"Tell us what you know."

"I don't know much, Citizen," the man replies with a doleful sigh. "The
comrades, they will have their little game."

"What is your name, and where do you lodge?"

"My name is Georges Gradin, and I lodge at No. 12, Rue Christine."

He fumbles with one hand inside his shirt, for he wears no coat, and out
of that mysterious receptacle he presently produces his certificatory
Carte de Civisme--his identity card, what?--which the sergeant of the
Revolutionary guard, who stands beside the witness-box, snatches away
from him and hands up to the Judge-President.

Apparently the document is all in order, for the Judge returns it to the
witness; then demands curtly:

"You know the widow Palmier?"

"Yes, Citizen Judge," replies the witness. "She lives on the top floor
and my shop is down below. On the night of the 5th, I was in the lodge
of the Citizen Concierge at ten o'clock when someone rang the front-door
bell. The concierge pulled the communicating-cord and a man came in and
walked very quickly past the lodge on his way to the back staircase; but
not before I had seen his face and recognized him as one who has
frequently visited the widow Palmier."

"Who was it?" queries the Judge-President.

"I don't know his name, Citizen Judge," Gradin replies slowly, "but I
know him for a cursed aristocrat, one who, if I and the comrades had our
way, would have been shorter by a head long ago."

He still speaks in that same shy, self-deprecating way, and there is no
responsive glitter in his blue eyes as he voices this cold-blooded,
ferocious sentiment. The judges suddenly sit up straight in their
chairs, as if moved by a common spring. They had not expected these
ultra-revolutionary terrorist opinions from the meek-looking cobbler
with the watery eyes and the huge, damp nose. But the Judge-President
figuratively smacks his lips, as does also Attorney-General
Fouquier-Tinville. They have both already recognized the type of man
with whom they have to deal: one of your ferocious felines, gentle in
speech, timid in manner and self-deprecating; but one who has sucked in
bloodthirsty Marat's theories of vengeance and of murder, by every pore
of his grimy skin, and hath remained more vengeful far than Danton, more
relentless than Robespierre.

"So the principal witness in this mysterious case is an aristo?" the
Judge-President puts in thoughtfully. "Where does he live?"

"That I do not know, Citizen Judge," Gradin replies in his meek, simple
way. "But I can find him," he adds, and solemnly wipes his nose on his
shirt-sleeve.

"How?" queries the Judge.

"That is my affair, Citizen," says Gradin imperturbably. "Mine, and the
comrades!" Then he turns to the body of the court, there where in a
compact mass of humanity a number of grimy faces are seen, craned
upwards in order to catch full sight of the man in the witness-box. "Eh,
comrades?" he says to them. "We can find the aristo, what?"

There is a murmur of assent, and a reiteration of the ribald joke of
awhile ago. The Judge-President raps upon his desk with the palm of his
hand, demands silence peremptorily. When order is restored, he turns
once more to the witness.

"Your affair!" he says curtly. "Your affair! That is not enough. The law
cannot accept the word of all and sundry who may wish to help in its
administration, however well-intentioned they may be; and it is the work
of the Committee of Public Safety to find such traitors and aristos as
are a danger to the State. You and your comrades are not competent to
deal with so serious a matter."

"Not competent, Citizen Judge?" Georges Gradin queries meekly. "Then I
pray you look at the accused and see if we are not competent to find the
aristo whom she is trying to shield."

He gave a short, dry laugh, and pointed a long, stained finger at the
unfortunate girl in the dock. All eyes were immediately turned to her.
Indeed, it required no deep knowledge of psychology to interpret
accurately the look of horror and of genuine fear which literally
distorted Joséphine Palmier's pale, emaciated face. And now, when she
saw the eyes of the five judges fixed sternly upon her, a hoarse cry
escaped her trembling lips.

"It is false!" she cried, and clung to the bar of the dock with both
hands as if she were about to fall. "The man is lying! No one came that
evening to maman's lodgings. There was no one there but maman and I."

"Give me and the comrades till to-morrow, Citizen Judge," Gradin
interposed meekly; "and we'll have the aristo here, to prove who it is
that is lying now."

The Moniteur, of the 10th Floréal, year 1, which gives a detailed
account of that memorable sitting of the Tribunal Extraordinaire, tells
us that after this episode there was a good deal of confusion in the
court. The jury, once more ordered by the judges to deliberate and to
vote audibly, decided that the principal witness on behalf of the
accused must appear before the court on the morrow at three o'clock of
the afternoon; failing which, Joséphine Palmier would be convicted of
perjury and conspiracy directed against the persons of Citizeness veuve
Lesueur and her son Achille, a crime which entailed the death sentence.

Gradin stepped down from the witness-box, a hero before the public. He
was soon surrounded by his friends and led away in triumph.

As for Achille and his mother, they had listened to Georges Gradin's
evidence with derision rather than with wrath. No doubt they felt that
whichever way the affair turned new they would have ample revenge for
all the disdain they had suffered at the hands of the unfortunate
Joséphine.

The Moniteur concludes its account of the episode by the bald statement
that the accused was taken back to the cells in a state of
unconsciousness.

IV

The public was on tenterhooks about the whole affair. The latter had the
inestimable charm which pertains to the unusual. Here was something
new--something different to the usual tableau of the bourgeois or the
aristocrat arraigned for spying or malpractices against the safety of
the Republic; to the usual proud speech from the accused, defying the
judges who condemned; to the usual brief indictment and swift sentence,
followed by the daily spectacle of the tumbril dragging a few more
victims to the guillotine.

Here, there was mystery; a secret jealously guarded by the accused, who
apparently preferred to risk her neck rather than drag some unknown
individual--an aristo evidently, and her lover--before the tribunal,
even in the mere capacity of witness.

And so the court is crowded on this second day of Joséphine's trial,
with working-men and shopmen, with women and some children. A sight,
what? This girl, half-aristocrat, half-maid-of-all-work! And the
handsome Achille--how will he take the whole affair? He has been madly
in love with the accused, so they say.

And will Cyrano produce the principal witness as he promised that he
would do? A fine fellow, that Cyrano, and hater of aristos! Name of a
name, how he hated them!

The court is crowded; the judges waiting. The accused, more composed
than yesterday, stands in the dock, grasping the rail with her thin,
white hands, her whole slender body slightly bent forward, as if in an
attitude of tense expectancy.

Anon, Georges Gradin appears upon the scene, is greeted with loud
guffaws and calls of "Vivat, Cyrano!" He is pushed along, jostled,
bundled forward, till he finds himself once more in the witness-box,
confronting the Judge-President, who demands sternly:

"The witness you promised to find--the aristocrat--where is he?"

"Gone, Citizen Judge!" Gradin exclaims, and throws up his arms with a
gesture of desperation. "Gone; the canaillee scoundrel! The traitor!"

"Gone? Name of a dog, what do you mean?"

It is Fouquier-Tinville who actually voices the question. But the
Judge-President has echoed it by bringing his heavy fist down with a
crash upon his desk. The other judges, too, have asked the question by
gesture, exclamation, every token of wrath. And the same query has been
re-echoed by a hundred throats, rendered dry and raucous with
excitement.

"Gone? Where? How? What do you mean?"

And Gradin, meek, ferocious, with great hairy hands clawing the rail of
the witness-box, explains.

"We scoured Paris all last night, the comrades and I," he begins, in
short, halting sentences. "We knew one or two places the aristo was wont
to haunt--the Café de la Montagne, the Club Républicain, the
Bibliothèque de la Nation. That is how we meant to find him. We went in
bands, two and three of us at a time. We did not know where he lodged;
but we knew we should find him at one of those places--then we would
tell him that his sweetheart was in peril--we knew we could get him
here---But he has gone--gone; the scoundrel, the canaille! They told us
at the Club Républicain he had been gone five days...got a forged
passport through the agency of those abominable English spies--the
Scarlet Pimpernel, what? It was all arranged the night of the 6th, when
he went to the Rue Christine, and the accused and her mother were to
have joined him the next day. But the accusation was launched by that
time and the Palmiers, mother and daughter, were detained in the city.
But he has gone! The thief! The coward!"

He turned to the crowd, amongst whom his friends were still conspicuous,
stretched out his long, hairy arm, and shook his fist at an imaginary
foe.

"But me and the comrades will be even with him yet! Aye, even!" he
reiterated, with that sleek and ferocious accent which had gained him
the confidence of the judges. "And in a manner that will punish him
worse than even the guillotine could have done. Eh, comrades?"

The Judge-President shrugs his shoulders. The whole thing has been a
failure. The accused might just as well have been condemned the day
before and much trouble would have been saved.

Attorney-General Fouquier-Tinville alone rejoices. His indictment of the
accused would now stand in its pristine simplicity: "Joséphine Palmier,
accused of conspiring against the property and good name of Citizeness
Lesueur and her son." A crime against the safety of the Republic. The
death sentence to follow as a natural sequence. Fouquier-Tinville cares
nothing about a witness who cannot be found. He is not sure that he ever
believed in the latter's existence, and hardly listens to Georges
Gradin, still muttering with sleek ferocity: "I'll be even with the
aristo!"

The Judge-President, weary, impatient, murmurs mechanically: "How?"

Georges Gradin thoughtfully wipes his nose, looks across at the accused
with a leer on his face, and a sickly smile upon his lips.

"I'll marry the accused myself," he says, with a shy, self-deprecating
shrug of his broad shoulders. "I must be even with the aristo."

Everyone looks at the accused. She appears ready to swoon. Achille
Lesueur has pushed his way forward from out the crowd at the back.

"You fool!" he shouts, in a voice half-strangled with rage. "She has
refused to marry me!"

"The law takes no count of a woman's whim," Gradin rejoins simply. "She
is the property of the State. Is that not so, comrades?"

He is fond of appealing to his friends: does so at every turn of events;
and they stand by him with moral support, which consists in making a
great deal of noise and in shouting "Vivat, Cyrano!" at every
opportunity. They are a rough-looking crowd, these comrades of Gradin:
mechanics, artisans, citizens with or without employment, of the kind
that are not safely tampered with these days. They are the rulers of
France.

Now they have ranged themselves against Achille Lesueur: call him
"bourgeois" to his face, and "capitalist".

"The aristo shall wed Gradin, not Achille! Vivat, Cyrano!" they shout.

Georges Gradin is within his rights. By decree of the Convention, a
female aristocrat becomes the property of the State. Is Joséphine
Palmier an aristocrat?

"Yes!" asserts Gradin. "Her name is de Lamoignan. Her father was a
ci-devant--an aristo--of the worst type."

"If she marries anyone, she marries me!" asserts Achille.

"We'll see about that!" comes in quick response from Gradin. "A moi,
comrades!"

And before the judge or jury, or anyone there for that matter, can
recover from the sudden shock of surprise, Gradin, with three strides of
his long legs, is over the bar of the dock, in the dock itself the next
moment, and has seized Joséphine Palmier and thrown her across his broad
shoulders as if she were a bale of goods. To clinch the bargain, he
imprints a smacking kiss upon her cheek. Josephine Palmier's head rolls
almost inert upon her shoulders, white and death-like save for the
crimson glow on one side of her face, there where her conquering captor
has set his seal of possession. Gradin gives a long, coarse laugh.

"She does not care for me, it seems," he says, in his usual
self-deprecating way. "But it will come."

The comrades laugh. "Vivat, Cyrano!" And they close in around their
friend, who once more, with one stride of his long limbs, is over the
bar of the dock, at the back of it this time, and is at once surrounded
by a yelling, gesticulating crowd.

There is indescribable confusion. Vainly does the Attorney-General shout
himself hoarse, vainly does the Judge-President rap with a wooden mallet
against his desk. Everyone shouts, everyone gesticulates; most people
laugh. Such a droll fellow, that Cyrano, with his big nose! There he is,
just by the doorway now, still surrounded by "the comrades". But his
huge frame towers above the crowd, and across his broad shoulder, still
slung like a bale of goods, lies the unconscious body of Joséphine
Palmier.

In the doorway he turns. His glance sweeps over the court, above the
massed heads of the throng; and suddenly he flings something white and
weighty across the court. It lands on the desk of the Judge-President.
Then, using the inert body of the girl as a battering-ram wherewith to
forge himself a way through the fringe of the crowd, he begins to move.
His strength, his swiftness, above all his authority, carry him through.
In less than ten seconds he has scattered the crowd and has gained ten
paces on the foremost amongst them. The five judges and the jury are
left gasping; and the Judge-President's trembling hands mechanically
finger the missile, whilst with every second the pseudo-Gradin has
forged ahead, striding with long limbs that know neither hesitation nor
slackness. He knows his way about this Palace of Justice as no one else
does probably in the whole of Paris. In and out of corridors, through
guarded doors and down winding stairs, he goes with an easy, swinging
stride, never breaking into a run. To those who stare at him with
astonishment or who try to stop him, he merely shouts over his shoulder:

"A female aristocrat! The spoils of the nation! The Judge-President has
just given her to me. A fine wife, what?"

Some of them know Gradin the cobbler by sight. A ferocious fellow with
whom it is not safe to interfere; and name of a name, what a patriot!

As for "the comrades", they have been merged with the crowd, swallowed
up, disappeared. Who shall recognize them amongst so many?

Less than five minutes later, there is a coming and a going, and a
rushing; orders given; shouts and curses flying from end to end, from
court to corridor. The whole machinery of the executive of the Committee
of Public Safety is set in motion to find traces of a giant cobbler,
carrying a fainting aristocrat upon his shoulders.

The Judge-President has at last mastered the contents of that missile
flung at him by the cobbler across the court. It consists of a scrap of
paper, scrawled over with a doggerel rhyme and a signature drawn in red,
representing a small, five-petalled flower in shape like a Scarlet
Pimpernel.

But of "Cyrano" there is not a trace, nor yet of half a dozen of his
"comrades" who had been so conspicuous in the court when first he had
snatched the aristocrat Joséphine Palmier from the dock.

V

Maître Rochet, the distinguished advocate who emigrated to England in
the year 1793, has left some interesting memoirs, wherein he gives an
account of the last days which he spent in Paris, when his fiancée,
Mademoiselle Joséphine de Lamoignan, driven by extreme poverty to do the
roughest kitchen work for a spiteful employer, was accused by the latter
of petty theft, and stood in the dock under the charge. He knew nothing
of her plight, for she had never told him that she had been driven to
work under an assumed name; until one evening he received the visit of a
magnificent English milord, whom he subsequently knew in England as Sir
Percy Blakeney.

In a few very brief words, Sir Percy told him the history of the past
two days and of the iniquitous accusation and trial which had ended so
fortunately for Mademoiselle de Lamoignan, and for her mother. The two
ladies were now quite safe under the protection of a band of English
gentlemen, who would see them safely across France and thence to
England.

Sir Percy had come to propose that Maître Rochet should accompany them.

It was not until the distinguished advocate met his fiancée again that
he heard the full and detailed account of her sufferings and of the
heroism and audacity of the English adventurer who had brought her and
her mother safely through perils innumerable to the happy haven of a
home in England.



CHAPTER III - THE STRANGER FROM PARIS

I

What had happened was this:

On the night of the 16th Nivôse a band of those English adventurers who
were known throughout the country as the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
had made an armed attack on the local commissariat at Limours. They had
presented pistols at the heads of the police officers, had gagged and
pinioned them, whilst the rest of their gang had ransacked the
commissariat, and duly found the half-dozen aristos who had been
apprehended that very day on a charge of counter-revolutionary
sentiments openly expressed, and were to have been transferred to Paris
the next day for trial and, presumably, summary condemnation and
execution. They were women for the most part, these aristos, and there
were a couple of children amongst them. Anyway, those English spies got
clear away with them, vanished into the night after their coup, like so
many spooks carrying their living booty upon their saddlebows.

How they ever managed to elude the night patrols on the main roads, or,
in fact, what became of them at all after their daring raid, remained a
baffling mystery. But the feelings of the population of Limours were
positively outraged by this impudent act of aggression. Hitherto the
Scarlet Pimpernel, well known in Paris and in the great cities as the
most virulent and most active enemy of the Republic, the most able and
most daring of the thousands of English spies who infested the country,
was at Limours nothing but a name: that of a man endowed with
supernatural attributes, in whom only the superstitious and the ignorant
believed; but, in truth, just a legend which caused the sophisticated
and wise to smile with lofty incredulity.

"Let that elusive personage but show his face in Limours," those
wiseacres would say, "and we would very soon show him that we are not so
easily hoodwinked as all those clever people in Paris, or Nantes, or
Boulogne."

Thus the raid on the commissariat came as a veritable thunderclap,
scarce to be believed.

Citizen Campon, the chief commissary of police, sent urgent messages to
Paris: "What am I to do?" and "I am at my wit's ends," alternated with
"In the name of--er--everything, send me help." In fact, the poor man
was in despair. He felt that "suspension" was in the air and talk of
"dereliction of duty." Between this and a positive accusation of treason
was but a very short step these days. Heaven and a wayward fate alone
knew when the unfortunate commissary would be made to take it.
Fortunately for him, he happened to have a friend in Paris who had at
one time been a man of considerable influence on the Committee of Public
Safety. This man had of late somewhat fallen from this high estate, but
he was still credited with being on intimate terms with Maximilien
Robespierre and one or two of the more prominent orators in the
Convention. His name was Chauvelin, and it was to him that Campon turned
in his distress.

Citizen Chauvelin's advice (sent to his friend in Limours by special
courier) may be summarized thus:

My good friend:

I know that cursed Scarlet Pimpernel and his ways to my cost. The more
impossible or perilous the adventure, the more certain is he to embark
upon it. Judging from his recent coup, he appears to have confederates
in Limours. At any rate, he is, I imagine, still in touch with your
township. My advice to you is this: secure a pack of aristos, the more
innocent, the more pathetic, the better, two or three women, young, if
possible, a batch of children. Give it out that you have them
incarcerated in any house or place you choose to name, and that you
propose to send the whole pack to Paris, or elsewhere, for trial on any
given day. Then you may take what precautions you choose and calmly
await events. As sure as I am sitting here writing this with mine own
hand, as certain as is my hatred for that abominable English intriguer,
he will make an attempt to get those aristos out of your clutches. Then
'tis for you to see that he fails, and that you catch him in the
attempt.



Unfortunately, Citizen Chauvelin was not permitted to journey to Limours
in order to be of active assistance to his friend. Rumours anent the
activities of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel in Paris itself
necessitated his remaining in the city. Had he been allowed to go...

But I am anticipating.

Suffice it is to say that the Committee of Public Safety, realizing the
need of the moment at Limours, as well as in Paris, sent a sealed letter
then and there to Citizen Campon, assuring him that within the next
four-and-twenty hours Citizen Mayet, one of the ablest men known to the
sectional committees for the tracking down criminals and the detection
of spies, would journey to Limours in order to take in hand and carry
through a plan for the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

In the meanwhile, Chief Commissary Campon was desired to act on the
advice given him by Citizen Chauvelin.

This Campon did, and after reflection decided on the arrest of a woman
named Mailly, widow of a late officer of the Royal Guard, of her sister
who had been abbess in a local, now derelict, convent, and of her two
children, Pauline, aged sixteen, and André, a lad of eleven. A lovely
lot, in truth, to serve as a bait for the adventurous passion of the
Scarlet Pimpernel.

To these arrests Citizen Mayet, on his arrival two days later, gave
unqualified approval.

"A lovely lot," he agreed, "as you say. Where have you put them?"

"I have them here in the commissariat," Campon replied, "and am ready to
make any arrangements which you might suggest."

"The commissariat," Mayet agreed, "will do very well for the moment.
Give it out as publicly as possible--but not obtrusively, remember--that
the prisoners will be transferred to the tribunal of Chartres on any
given day you choose to name. This will give that cursed English spy
time to make his plans, whilst we, on the other hand, can make ours for
the laying of him by the heels."

And Citizen Mayet rubbed his huge, coarse hands complacently together.
He was a large, brawny, muscular fellow whose clenched fist looked fit
to fell on ox. He explained to Citizen Campon that at one time he had
been a butcher by trade, but that since the severe shortage of meat he
had found it more profitable to serve one or other of the committees as
a sleuth-hound and denouncer of counter-revolutionaries. He was
apparently of a very cheerful disposition, for his loud guffaws and
violent outbursts of hilarity, mostly at his own jokes, would shake the
walls of the old commissariat to their very foundations.

Campon had at once conceived the greatest possible admiration for the
newcomer. He appeared so invariably cheerful, and so very sure of
himself, and withal so marvellously ferocious, like a huge man-eating
tiger---three qualities not one of which did the poor commissary himself
possess. He himself had always been considered an able, cool-headed,
reliable man. Born at Limours, he and his family before him, who had
kept the local cookshop for three generations, were as well known in the
district as the proverbial town pump. But just now Citizen Campon was
little else than a bundle of nerves. He knew that his head, of which he
was both fond and proud, was at stake in this plan for the capture of
the Scarlet Pimpernel.

II

In accordance with Mayet's orders it was at once given out quite
publicly that the prisoners, who were still confined in the
commissariat, would be transferred the very next day to the tribunal at
Chartres.

"No doubt," the jovial ex-butcher had declared with unruffled
cheerfulness, "the Scarlet Pimpernel has evolved some scheme by now for
wresting the aristos out of our clutches, whether from the commissariat
or on the road to Chartres remains to be seen, but the latter is the
more probable."

The commissariat, an isolated building standing at an angle of the
principle street in Limours, was being guarded day and night, but to
make assurance doubly sure, Mayet had asked for, and obtained, the
assistance of half a company of the 61st Regiment, which was stationed
at Chartres, with a sergeant and two corporals. These men were to
furnish the escort for the journey between Limours and Chartres, which
was duly arranged to begin at ten o'clock of the following day.

At that hour and on that day everything was ready for the start. The
aristos were duly packed like so many cattle in an old market cart to
which a couple of heavy artillery horses were harnessed, and on the
front board of which sat one of the corporals belonging to the 61st
regiment would form the escort, whilst Chief Commissary Campon had
arranged to ride at the head of the procession and Citizen Mayet, with
two rough fellows whom he had brought with him from Paris as
aides-de-camp, would form the rear. As this cavalcade formed outside the
commissariat it looked in truth very imposing. All Limours turned out to
see the start.

The old clock in the church tower had not yet struck ten; the morning
was bitterly raw and frosty, and the men---ill clad and ill shod as were
most of the armies of the Republic---were obviously grumbling at the
cold.

Citizens Campon and Mayet were standing talking together outside the
commissariat waiting to give the order to start when a man was suddenly
seen running down the street from the direction of Longjumeau at an
immoderate speed, waving his arms and shouting as he ran.

Soon his shouts became more coherent. He was calling for the citizen
commissary at the top of his voice:

"Citizen Commissary! Citizen Commissary! News! News!"

The next moment he was close on the scene, appeared gasping for breath,
and, despite the cold, was streaming with perspiration.

"I have run all the way from Bernix," he contrived to say in answer to
the chief commissary's peremptory query.

"Well?" broke in Campon eagerly.

"There's a gang of foreigners--English spies in very truth--in hiding in
the ruins of the château."

"Name of a name!" Campon ejaculated, and would have shouted still more
emphatically had not Mayet restrained him.

"Who is this man?" the latter demanded.

"Jean Mathis, the shepherd," Campon gave reply. "I have set a number of
these fellows to scour the neighbourhood for me for traces of those
English adventurers."

In a moment Mayet's jovial face had become grave.

"You should not have done that without consulting me. You have them on
the qui vive now, and--"

"Never mind about that," Campon interposed roughly. "We know where they
are."

"Then leave them there till they come out into the open."

"Not I," the other retorted decisively. "The château de Bernix is not
half a league away. I am going here and now, with a dozen men, to
capture my quarry whilst I know where I can lay my hands on them."

"But the prisoners," Mayet protested.

"You stay behind and look after them. I'll leave a score of soldiers to
help you and half the population of Limours. You would be a fool to let
them slip away, more especially as I shall be engaging the attention of
our elusive friend, the Scarlet Pimpernel."

Mayet vainly endeavoured to assert his authority.

"I was sent here in order to capture those English spies," he said. "If
you run counter to my orders you do so at your risk and peril, Citizen
Campon."

"If I let the opportunity slip by of capturing that Scarlet Pimpernel,
when I know where he is hiding, I should be contravening my duty.
Sergeant Torson," he added authoritatively, "you will accompany me with
a score of your men. The others remain here with Corporal Vernay in
charge under the orders of Citizen Mayet. Understood? Then en avant!"

Mayet swore and threatened, but in the end had to give in. Already a
quarter of an hour had been lost in useless arguments. Campon was in the
saddle, and whilst Torson got his men ready the chief commissary asked a
few more pertinent questions of Jean Mathis.

Were the foreigners in hiding at the château yesterday, or had they,
seemingly, only just come? Jean Mathis could not say exactly when they
had come. He had been near the ruins yesterday, and had seen no one
then. But this morning when he arrived, soon after six o'clock, he at
once perceived signs of life in and around the derelict château. Subdued
lights were moving to and fro; he had heard whisperings and stealthy
footfalls. How did he know that the intruders were foreigners? Well, he
had caught the words "Yes" and "Damn!" both of which were English,
and---well---because one man came up to him and, seeing that he was on
the watch, offered him money to go away and to hold his tongue. He spoke
French, but like a foreigner. What had Jean done then? Why, taken the
money, of course, and then run like a good patriot to tell the citizen
commissary what he had seen. But not before he had noted many things!
(And here Jean Mathis thumped himself vigorously on the chest in
conscious pride at his own foresight and his own patriotism.) He had
noted that the gang of malefactors had much luggage with them---bundles
without number, and some cooking utensils---and that six horses---yes,
six horses---had not Jean mentioned them before?---six horses were
tethered in that portion of the rained château that had once been the
stables. Oh! and Jean was nearly forgetting something. The money that
the foreigner had given him was wrapped in a piece of paper, and on this
paper there was something written which Jean, not knowing how to read,
could not, of course, decipher, but he had brought the paper with him,
and now produced it from the depth of a very hot and very grimy hand. It
was creased and soiled, the writing blurred almost beyond recognition,
but both Campon and Mayet pored over it, trying to wrest, at any rate, a
part of its secret from those grimy folds.

It was Campon who in the end pointed a triumphant finger to the last
word of the mysterious writing. The rest he could not read, because it
was in a foreign tongue--English most probably---but that one word stood
clear and unmistakable: whether you knew the language or whether you did
not, there was the word as clear as crystal: "Pimpernel."

"Now, Citizen Mayet," he said, his voice hoarse with excitement, "do you
still persist in calling me a fool for going to capture a prey that is
absolutely waiting to fall into my hand?"

After that, in truth, even Mayet appeared undecided. If Jean Mathis had
spoken the truth, then it were treason and worse to allow the prey to
escape. With their bundles and their cooking utensils and their horses,
those impudent English spies evidently used the ruined château as their
headquarters and relied on the superstition of the neighbouring yokels
to give the ghost-haunted place a wide berth.

"Anyway," and these were Mayet's final words to the excited chief
commissary, "anyway, I will not make a start with the prisoners until
your return. I do not personally believe that you will come across that
gang of malefactors at Bernix, and I have no wish to encounter them on
the highroad with only twenty men to aid me in case of an attack. Whilst
I am in Limours the population will see to it that these accursed spies
do not show their ugly faces in this township. Eh, my friends?"

Whereupon those who had pressed forward sufficiently to catch the
citizen's words gave a loud cheer. Admittedly, they cared nothing about
Citizen Mayet, who was a stranger to them, sent down from Paris, and
therefore an object of suspicion and jealousy, and they cared everything
for Citizen Commissary Campon, who was one of themselves, and whose
mother still kept the local cook shop, as she had done for the past
thirty years. But these feelings of sympathy and of antipathy were for
the nonce merged in an intense and comprehensive feeling of deadly
hatred against that mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, whom rumour had
represented to them as the incarnation of evil, the worst enemy their
country ever had, the upholder of aristos and the friend of traitors. So
they cheered Campon as he rode away with his escort of twenty stalwarts,
all well armed with good muskets and with pistols in their belts, and
they cheered Mayet, who remained behind to guard the aristos with
another score equally stalwart and equally well-equipped soldiers of the
61st Regiment; and when, a moment or two later, a child in the crowd
spied the aristos who had thrust pale, anxious faces out of the closely
hooded market cart, marvelling what new misery, what further indignity,
was being projected against them, there rose from the crowd such a
mighty hissing and booing as would have gladdened the heart of the most
bloodthirsty rhetorician in the Convention.

III.

Along the hard, frozen road which leads from Limours to Bernix, Campon
and his escort clattered on at a steady trot. On! On! Not a man there
but had it in his mind that the nation had promised a reward of ten
thousand francs to the first man who laid hands on the Scarlet
Pimpernel, and of a thousand to each man who had aided in the capture of
the abominable spy. So on! on! my stalwarts! heedless of the biting
frost, the keenest that has been known in this part of France within
memory of the oldest inhabitant; heedless of the awful jar from the
uneven road which even under the trees was frozen to the consistency of
corrugated iron. Jean Mathis was riding on the pillion behind one of the
men. He felt that the glory of the expedition, if successful, would be
entirely due to his perspicacity, his courage, and his patriotism.

The road betwixt Limours and Bernix cuts straight across the woods,
leaving Longjumeau well on the left. On the edge of the wood Campon
cried a halt. Some two hundred metres farther on, the gray ruins of the
château, with the pale rays of the midday sun full upon them, had
suddenly come in sight. The house had been built some ninety years ago
by "Le Roi Soleil" for one of the ladies of his choice: it had been the
first to suffer at the outbreak of the Revolution, as it was then still
held by one of the lineal descendants of that same lady who was mightily
unpopular in the neighbourhood. The château was burned and gutted, the
trees of the park cut down for fuel, its surrounding wall demolished,
its forged iron gateway melted down for cannon, and there the place had
remained since, derelict, lonely, reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of
dead aristocrats, but in reality the meeting place of every gang of
malefactors of the district---thieves, smugglers, or spies---who found
their safety in the superstitious awe of the countryside.

Even Campon, advanced republican and free-thinker though he was, could
not repress a shudder when he first caught sight of the old château
looming before him through the broken-down gateway of the park---silent,
solitary, awesome. It seemed as if a hundred hidden eyes were peeping
out through the orifices, the broken windows, the roofless attics of the
derelict building.

A strange silence appeared to reign around, and though in the woods
which the men had just traversed the keen frosty air had been very
still, here in the outskirts of this abandoned park a weird, soughing
breeze moaned through the leafless twigs of broken and torn trees and
the lifeless foliage of evergreen shrubs.

So strange indeed was the silence that Campon felt a sudden sinking of
the heart at thought that mayhap his quarry had already fled, or, worse
still, that it was falling even now, into the hands of his rival, Mayet.

He gave hurried orders to the men to remain well under cover in the
woods, whilst he dismounted, and, accompanied only by Jean Mathis, crept
forward cautiously on hands and knees through the shrubberies and tall
rough grass of the park, with a view of ascertaining if indeed the gang
of spies was still there or no. But, indeed, the silence appeared all
the more oppressive as the two men drew nigh to the château itself.
Neither here nor in the park was there the faintest sign of life.
Certainly the horses were no longer in the stables, and not a footfall,
not a quickly drawn breath even, was perceptible to the straining ears
of Citizen Campon. Had the English gang decamped, or were they on the
watch? Again that awful feeling crept down the chief commissary's spine,
that awful feeling that numberless pairs of eyes were watching him
through the torn windows of the château.

After a rapid consultation with Jean Mathis it was decided that the
latter should go on alone as far as the château. The English spies
already knew him by sight; he was dressed in his shepherd's blouse, his
sheepskin and gaiters, just as he had been this morning when one of the
strangers had accosted him. They would, therefore, have no suspicion of
him.

Campon was conscious of an intense feeling of excitement, and when he
saw Mathis straighten out his long, lean back and start at an easy,
careless stride toward the château, he felt a positive thrill shake his
nerves, like the presage of something huge, stupendous, the turning
point of his whole career.

For a while he waited in agonized suspense. Jean Mathis had quickly
disappeared amidst the shrubberies. Just for a second or two his
sheepskin and the blue of his blouse appeared upon the steps of the
perron, then it seemed that he entered the château, for he was lost to
sight.

Campon made his way back to the shelter of the woods. His nerves were
terribly on edge. He could not get to horse, but paced up and down the
narrow clearing where the men and their mounts had found satisfactory
cover.

Half an hour went by. Campon was enduring the tortures of a lost soul.
He could not understand why Jean Mathis tarried, imagined every kind of
horror and the worst of disappointments. So unnerved was he that after a
while he sent one of the men all the way back to Limours to beg Citizen
Mayet on no account to relax vigilance, or to make a start with the
aristos until he, Campon, had returned from the expedition on which he
was now engaged.

At the end of that half hour Campon's apprehension had turned to genuine
fear. Something must have happened to Mathis. He consulted with Torson,
the sergeant, who appeared sulky and unhelpful. It was long past the
dinner hour. The men were desperately hungry. There was already talk
amongst them of turning tail and returning to their quarters at
Chartres, and in these days of rampant democracy and slackened
discipline that threat would undoubtedly be put into execution unless
something was done. The men were ready enough for a man-hunt, keen
enough to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel if he was about, but hours of
inactivity in this biting cold weather had ruffled their tempers, and
they were on the verge of insubordination.

Campon, realizing the danger, agreed with the sergeant that there was
only one thing to be done: make for the château at all risks. The men
were armed, and their rising temper could incite them to make quick work
of the spies. The brigands were in the château, of that there could no
longer be any doubt, since they had apparently done away with that
unfortunate Jean Mathis.

Far be it for me to say that there were any cowards among those men.
They were twenty all told, and ready enough for a scrap with the English
adventurers. The superstitious awe which had hold of them in face of the
silent, ghost-haunted château soon disappeared when they were called to
action. Silently they looked to their pistols, and at a word from their
sergeant they tethered their horses to the most convenient trees, and
the next moment were picking their way carefully through the rough grass
of the park, which with its rank growth had long ago obliterated the
last vestiges of the garden paths.

Still not a sound from the château. Campon, who had the sergeant,
Torson, with him, was the first to reach the perron. The men quickly
followed suit, and soon, cocked pistol in hand, they were all firing in
through the broken doorway into the derelict building.

The next moment a loud exclamation from Torson brought them all to the
stately door of one of the apartments on the ground floor. Here an
amazing sight met their gaze. The room which stretched out before them,
with broken ceiling, gutted window frames, and charred walls, had
obviously been once an imposing one. Right along the centre of it now
there was a long board, supported on trestles and covered with a white
cloth. On this board was spread a copious collation---meats, bread,
bottles of wine---everything apparently prepared for a joyous feast. Of
this Jean Mathis was even now partaking freely. He sat at the farther
end of the board, a huge pasty before him, into which he still dived at
intervals with his knife. Beside him lay a couple of empty bottles on
their sides, and the flush upon Jean's cheeks, the vague look in his
eyes, the disorder of his hair, and the thickness of his speech bore
witness to the excellent reasons which had kept him inside the ruined
château for so long.

The men, in truth, gave only one look upon the unexpected scene; the
next moment they hurled themselves with a wild shout of joy,
helter-skelter into the room, tumbling over one another in their
eagerness to share in the delectable feast. Nor did their sergeant's
somewhat feeble protests against this lack of discipline prevail. The
men were half-perished with cold and hunger. They saw the good things of
this earth spread invitingly before them, and would have been more than
human had they as much as attempted to resist the alluring temptation. A
minute later a portentous silence had fallen over the assembly; nothing,
in truth, could be heard in the vast and stately ruins save the clatter
of knives and dishes, and the delicious, mellifluous sound of wine
gurgling out of bottles. Torson, of course, was caught in the vortex. He
was no martyr to duty. Moreover, was there not a certain merit in
consuming this repast so lavishly laid out for the enemies of the
Republic?

As for Campon, he began by storming and swearing, then he admonished and
entreated, and, finally, when obviously he was wasting his breath, he
picked up a dish of pasty and a bottle of wine, and, standing apart from
the others, he leaned against one of the deep window embrasures and in
sullen silence began to eat.

A strange scene, forsooth, and a mysterious one; this repast spread by
unseen hands for guests who did not appear. In the intervals of enjoying
the pasty and putting down a mug or two of excellent wine, the good
Campon would feel an uncomfortable jarring of his nerves, a sickly
apprehension that all was not as it should be.

What, in the meanwhile, was happening at Limours? What was Mayet doing
in the interval? Campon, beginning to feel replete, was gazing
thoughtfully through the window across the devastated park when, with a
loud oath, he turned, hastily put down empty dish and mug, and ran
incontinently out of the room. The men did no more than look up lazily
as he disappeared through the door, and his hurried footsteps clanged
weirdly on the broken flagstones of the hall. They were, in truth, far
too happy and comfortable to pay heed to anything that might be going on
outside. Some of them had fallen into a delicious state of somnolence,
others were singing bibulous songs, others again, including Jean Mathis,
had collapsed upon the floor.

Campon took no notice of them; he was out of the building in less than
ten seconds and running across the park, where a man on horseback, with
another riding beside him, had but a moment ago emerged out of the wood.
The rider was urging on his horse with spur and knees, and the beast,
despite the cold and frost, was covered with lather. At sight of Campon
the rider drew rein and the two men jumped out of the saddle. One of
them was the soldier whom Campon had sent back to Limours about an hour
before with an urgent message to Mayet.

"What is it?" the commissary queried sharply as soon as the men had
dismounted, his heart thumping furiously against his breast in an agony
of apprehension.

"I was to report from Citizen Mayet," the soldier replied, "that all was
well..."

"Thank God!" Campon ejaculated, remembering for the first time for many
years that God still presided over the destinies of France, even though
her sons had chosen to deny Him.

"But," the soldier went on rapidly, "he says that he cannot wait much
longer. He told me to explain to you that his force was quite sufficient
to convey the aristos to Chartres, and that he would certainly make a
start in the early part of the afternoon."

Campon made no reply. He was brooding over the news, marvelling if it
would be in his interest to let the whole matter drift as Mayet had
ordered it. Then he bethought himself of the man who had ridden behind
the soldier.

"Who are you?" he asked abruptly.

The man appeared weary, scarce able to stand. At the commissary's
peremptory query, however, he drew a sealed letter from the inner pocket
of his tattered coat.

"Courier in the service of the Committee of Public Safety," he said,
laconically, and handed the letter to Campon. "I rode from Paris this
morning, with orders to deliver this to no one but the Citizen Campon
himself."

"I met the courier just outside Limours, on my way back here," the
soldier went on to explain, whilst Campon, with an obviously shaking
hand, was breaking the seal of the letter. "He was asking after the
citizen commissary. I thought I could not do better than bring him along
with me..."

But the man got no further in his speech. He was, in truth, only just in
time to catch the commissary, who with a loud cry of horror had
tottered, and would undoubtedly have measured his length on the ground
but for the soldier's timely assistance.

"A horse!" he exclaimed, hoarsely, for indeed he felt that he was
choking. "I must to Limours at once."

And, without waiting for the man's help, he strode to where the horses
were tethered in the wood, champing and fretting their bits, and,
seizing the nearest one by the bridle, he made futile efforts to free
the animal, all in a vague, blundering manner which further upset the
poor brute and called forth an exclamation of contempt from the two men.

After that the soldiers made the horse ready, and held the stirrup for
the quaking commissary.

"You get to horse, too, and at once," the latter commanded, "and let the
courier come, too."

The men murmured. They were dog-tired.

"Do as I say," Campon went on roughly. "It is a matter of life and
death, and the others are all lying besotted or dead drunk inside the
château."

"But what has happened, Citizen?" the soldier queried sullenly. "Duty is
duty, but..."

"There is no but about it," the commissary cried in a raucous voice as
he settled down into his saddle and gathered the reins in his shaking
hand. "This letter comes to me from Citizen Mayet."

"Citizen Mayet!" the soldier exclaimed, thinking that the commissary had
lost his head. "But the letter comes from Paris..."

"Yes," Campon cried in response, "from Paris, where Citizen Mayet, the
real Citizen Mayet, still is at the present moment. He warns me that
that accursed English spy has been impersonating him these few days
past."

"Malediction!" the soldier ejaculated lustily.

"Aye, malediction!" Campon assented, whilst his whole body thrilled in a
veritable frenzy of excitement, "for it is a false Mayet who came to
Limours---a false Mayet who hath charge of the prisoners---a false Mayet
who will spirit them away right under our very noses unless I get to
Limours in time!"

"Then I am with you," the two men cried simultaneously, as they, too,
swung themselves into the saddle, leaving their own wearied mounts to
wander loosely and at will.

"But have no fear, Citizen Commissary," the soldier added, just as his
horse settled down into an easy trot. "There are twenty of our regiment
guarding the aristos, and the whole population of Limours is out to foil
the tricks of that crafty Scarlet Pimpernel."

Hope and despair alternately played havoc with the chief commissary's
nerves as he pushed along at breakneck speed, along the road to Limours,
closely followed by the two men. On the whole, hope predominated. As the
soldier had pertinently reminded him, there were not only twenty of his
loyal comrades, but half the population of the little township on the
spot to see that that impudent English adventurer did not carry out one
of his accursed tricks.

At last the edge of the wood was reached. Limours was in sight. Another
ten minutes and the three riders had reached the first isolated house of
the city: another five, and the horses were thundering down the long
main street. Already Campon had seen that unusual bustle reigned around
the commissariat. Already he could hear the clanking of metal, the
snorts and pawing of the horses, the creaking of saddles and harness,
the words of command and the shouts attendant upon a cavalcade on the
move.

On, no! But a minute more and he had perceived the hood of the market
cart lumbering slowly up the street, to right and left of it the
tricolour cockades on the caps of the soldiers catching the pale gray
light of the wintry sun: and ahead, in front of the cart, the huge
figure of the false Mayet, mounted on a white charger, appeared to
Campon's excited gaze like the very incarnation of the devil. And all
around, the crowd of worthy citizens of Limours, booing the aristos and
cheering to the echoes the impudent and audacious trickster who was even
then leading them by the nose.

Right into the very midst of the crowd Campon rode, scattering
affrighted men, women, and children all around him. Then suddenly he
brought his horse to a standstill.

"Halt!" he cried in a stentorian voice.

At first only the crowd heard him, gazed on him openmouthed and
terrified, for truly the face of the chief commissary was livid with
fury. But on ahead the cavalcade went coolly on its way. In fact, that
fiend incarnate upon the white charger had just given the order to trot.

"Halt!" cried Campon again. "In the name of the Republic, halt!"

Some of the soldiers heard him, turned in their saddles to see what was
the matter. Campon caught the eye of the corporal in charge, and once
again cried: "Halt! In the name of the Republic, at your peril, Corporal
Vernay, I command you to halt!"

Then that impudent English spy turned in his saddle, too, caught sight
of Campon shouting and gesticulating in the midst of the crowd; but all
that he did was to swear loudly.

"Name of a dog, that fool Campon is trying to interfere again! En
avant!" he cried to the soldiers, "or we'll not make Chartres before
nightfall."

But the corporal and the men had instinctively pulled up at the
commissary's peremptory calls of "Halt!" After all, they knew him. He
was the local commissary. The stranger from Paris was, in truth, nothing
to them. So they halted: and the market cart, after lumbering on for a
while in splendid isolation, came also to a halt, whilst the stranger
from Paris stormed and swore that they would all suffer for this
insubordination. The crowd, in the meanwhile, was swarming
everywhere---round the market cart, round the soldiers, and, above all,
round Campon, who had begun to tell them of the impudent trick that the
man on the white charger had very nearly played them. In quick, jerky,
but pithy sentences he told them just what had happened: the arrival of
the stranger with the letters of credentials from the Committee of
Public Safety, the stranger who pretended to be Citizen Mayet, the
servant of the Republic, and who was none other than that accursed and
famous English adventurer, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

At first the man on the white charger did not seem to understand what
Campon was saying, then a look went over his face as if he though the
chief commissary was nothing but a raving maniac. Finally, when after a
few seconds the purport of Campon's oratory reached his senses, he swore
the loudest and most comprehensive oath that had ever shaken the little
township to its very foundations; after which he broke into a loud and
immoderate roar of laughter.

But that outburst of hilarity soon died in his throat. The crowd, too,
had suddenly realized the full, horrible reality. With a wild shout, men
and women, aye, even the children, literally hurled themselves upon the
man who had thought to play them such an abominable trick. He swore and
he shouted, plunged his spurs into his horse's flanks till the beast
reared and struck out with its fore-hoofs, scattering momentarily the
angry, yelling crowd. But only momentarily. The next they had returned
to the charge, headed and egged on by Campon, whom shame at being fooled
and latent horror of what might have been so hideous a catastrophe had
turned into a raging and vindictive madman. The soldiers whose duty it
was to protect the abominable malefactor, in order to save him from the
guillotine, did what they could to keep the crowd at bay. But even so
the object of their fury was torn from his white charger, rolled on the
ground, kicked, maltreated, spat upon like the abominable spy that he
was.

Gradually, however, even the wild ravings of an angry crowd are bound to
subside. In this case, after twenty minutes of the maddest orgy of rage
and of hate some of the soldiers had succeeded in forming a guard around
the prostrate form of the stranger from Paris and of his quivering,
excited, snorting charger, whilst others gradually pushed the foremost
of the crowd back from the object of their wrath and their
vindictiveness. The temper of the people was slowly cooling down. Pushed
back by the soldiers, they formed into knots, still talking, volubly and
with much animated gesture, of the past exciting events. The chief
commissary was urging them all to go home. He even collected his
scattered wits sufficiently to order the removal of the aristos back to
the commissariat, as it would now be too late to convey them to Chartres
this day.

Ah! when the true Citzen Mayet, the noted and trusted servant of the
Committee of Public Safety, did eventually arrive in Limours he would
find that his task had already been ably accomplished by a proud chief
commissary of police, conscious of his own worth and of valuable
services rendered to the state!

Even whilst Citizen Campon, saddle-sore but happy, was able to dismount,
meaning to take a few hours' rest in his mother's cook shop over the
way, a loud exclamation followed by a vigorous curse quickly dispelled
his short dream of bliss.

"The cart!" Corporal Vernay had exclaimed, and the soldiers near him had
cried excitedly: "And the aristos! They have gone!"

"Impossible!" shouted one man.

But the impossible was a fact indeed! The market cart, with its
occupants, had vanished---spirited away even whilst the crowd, the
soldiers, the commissary had their whole attention fixed upon the object
of their rage. The market cart had gone! When? Whither? Who could tell?
Not the two soldiers who had sat on the front board, for they were
presently discovered some fifty paces round the curve of the road, with
arms and legs securely tied together with cords, so that they could not
move, and woollen scarves wound around their mouths. When these were
removed they were able to explain that when the disturbance was at its
height and their own attention entirely concentrated on the lively
spectacle which they were watching by standing on the front board and
looking over the hood of the cart, they were suddenly seized by the
legs, thrown down, gagged, and bound, then carried to this spot before
they could even utter a scream. No one paid any heed to them, and they
actually saw the cart driven away at breakneck speed in the direction of
Versailles.

To Campon this tale, when it was reported to him, was like a fall of icy
water down his spine. For a moment he could neither see nor hear, he
could not even think, and the expression of his face was so terrible
that those nearest him fell back appalled. Quite mechanically, and like
one moving in a dream, he went up the street to where half-a-dozen
soldiers were guarding the prostrate body of the stranger from Paris.
The latter, bruised, bleeding, aching in limb, in pride, and in temper,
was only partially conscious, but sufficiently so to glare with
bunged-up eyes, redolent of hatred and contempt, on the unfortunate
chief commissary, and to murmur in a choked and throaty voice: "You
dolt! You fool! You ass! You traitor! You shall pay me for this!"

Then only did Citizen Campon understand that the man who lay there
before him, bruised and sore, spouting vengeance through purple and
thick lips, was indeed the true Citizen Mayet after all, and that the
whole tragic episode from beginning to end--the strangers at the ruined
château, the money and paper purposely give to Jean Mathis so as to lure
him, Campon and some of the soldiers away from the scene of the proposed
coup, the feast spread out in the château in order to entice those
soldiers to indiscipline and render them momentarily helpless, the
courier (obviously a false one, bearing a forged letter from Paris, and
whom now Campon vainly sought amongst the crowd)---all, all had been
part of the gigantic hoax invented and perpetrated by that abominable
spy, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

IV.

In a lonely cottage the other side of Versailles, hidden from the road
and secure from prying eyes, the little party halted. It was, in truth,
their first halt since the exciting moment when three men, who seemed
but a part of that awful, yelling crowd at Limours, had boarded the
market cart, overpowered its drivers, and driven it away under the very
noses of chief commissary and sergeant, of soldiers and citizens, who
were all far too blind with excitement to see anything but the object of
their wrath.

Madame Mailly, with her sister and two children, were vainly trying to
find words wherewith to express their gratitude to the brave English
gentlemen who had saved them from certain death. One of these, who
appeared to be the leader, and who looked magnificent even in the rough
and shabby clothes of a proletary of Limours, said to her with a smile:

"I pray you do not thank any of us, dear lady. My friends will tell you,
as I do, that we spent in Limours to-day one of the most enjoyable
afternoons of our checkered careers. The only thing I regret is that I
must be in Paris this night, else it were my greatest joy to go and
watch the first tête-à-tête meeting between our friends Campon and
Mayet. What say you, Tony?" he added, turning to one of his friends.
"You were such an efficient courier. When you handed the forged letter
to Campon this morning and he really thought that good old Mayet was
none other than the Scarlet Pimpernel, what did he say? His language was
forcible, was it not?"

"Nothing to what Mayet's must have been later on when the fun was raging
around him," the other assented, with a laugh.

"Nothing," the leader said, with his irrepressible gaiety, "to what
their language is now, when they realize that Madame Mailly and her
family are safely out of their hands. En route, madame, mademoiselle,"
he concluded, "we hope to let you see the white cliffs of England before
many days are past."



CHAPTER IV - "FLY-BY-NIGHT"

1

They were so enthusiastic! so eager! Perhaps the secrecy and the
excitement of it all appealed more to them than the actual ideals which
they advocated. For they were all young men of the professional classes
and of the lower bourgeoisie: men who, you would have thought, would
have nothing to gain by political intrigue or the reëstablishment of the
old monarchy, and who were risking their lives to overthrow a system
that had not, in very truth, much interfered with the even tenor of
their lives.

They held their meetings in the cellar of an old house at the bottom of
the Rue de l'Odéon, which was decorated with a white flat that bore the
emblem of the royal fleur-de-lys on it in gold, and was hung on the wall
immediately behind the seat usually occupied by the chairman. Here the
young hotheads would talk politics o'nights and swear allegiance to King
Louis XVII, by the grace of God King of France: the poor mite who had
been dispossessed of all save his precarious little life, and that too
was at the mercy of the inhuman brutes who held him captive. An old
wastrel, Servan by name, kept watch at the street door during the
sittings and tidied up the place afterward. Strangely enough, no one
knew much about Servan. He came and he went. Now and then he disappeared
for days on end, when, at his earnest request, sittings would be
suspended until his return. Servan was invaluable for ferreting out the
plans of the committee of the section; invaluable in his position as
watch-dog-in-chief of the Club des Fils du Royaume.

It was one night while Servan was absent that the inevitable catastrophe
occurred. He had begged that the sittings of the club should be
postponed for a few days. But the next day happened to be the 14th of
October, and on that morning had begun the trial of Marie
Antoinette---erstwhile Queen of France, now called the Widow
Capet---before the Revolutionary Tribunal, at the bar of
Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor. What could Les Fils du Royaume
do but call a hurried meeting to discuss this portentous event?

Old Servan's warning was forgotten, and at eleven o'clock that same
night eighteen or twenty young enthusiasts met to formulate plans for
the liberation of their queen.

An hour later the blow had fallen. The ominous command: "Open in the
name of the Republic!" came loudly and peremptorily from outside. "The
police! Sauve qui peut!" in hurried, hoarse whispers from within. They
were trapped like so many rats in a burrow. There was nothing for it but
to make a fight for one's life first and make a rush for the open, if
possible, when darkness might be of service.

But the revolutionaries were armed with bayonets, and the issue was
never for a moment in doubt. The Sons of the Kingdom fought bravely and
there were several broken heads among the guard. In the end, some
fifteen of the young conspirators were overpowered. Bleeding from
several wounds, they were tied together like so much cattle, with cords,
and marched up the narrow dank stairs into the street, where the raiding
party handed them over to a fresh body of soldiers. They were taken to
the chief depôt of the section, whilst five others lay dead upon the
floor of the cellar in the Rue de l'Odéon. The chief commissary of the
section ordered the bodies to be left there.

"The garbage can be cleared away another time," he remarked spitefully.

Two days later the bodies were removed, but there were only four of them
then. And on looking through his list of prisoners and comparing it with
that of the dead, the chief commissary found that one name was missing
from both. It was that of Félicien Lézennes, chairman of the Club des
Fils du Royaume.

2

The news of the raid on the Club des Files du Royaume came as a
thunderbolt upon the little household at Mon Abris. Little was known at
first save the meagre announcement which appeared the following day in
the Moniteur. Madame St. Luc, however, was at once filled with the
gloomiest forebodings as to her son-in-law's fate. Adrienne Lézennes,
always self-contained, didn't say much, but her father appeared
distinctly resentful as well as anxious. The plight into which
Félicien's hot-headedness had landed them all had a grating effect upon
his nerves.

They might all of them have been so happy in their little home--a
detached, creeper-clad house, standing in an hectare of ground in the
Batignolles quarter of Paris, not far from the Porte d'Asnières--had it
not been for Félicien's mania for running his head into a noose.
Monsieur St. Luc himself had been a well-to-do attorney in his time, had
retired at the outbreak of the Revolution, for he was a firm upholder of
the monarchic system; but what was the use of airing one's views on so
great a subject, when the guillotine loomed so large on the horizon of
every bourgeois's life these days?

"That fool Félicien!" so his father-in-law invariably dubbed him. More
so now than ever, since he had become a fugitive, hiding God alone knew
where, starving probably. For five days after the raid his family did
not know what had become of him. Adrienne haunted the purlieus of the
prisons, trying to get some information as to her husband's fate, but
she could glean none. Then, on the fifth day, when despair had wellnigh
seized her, there came a message written in Félicien's own hand,
assuring them all that he was safe and under the protection of a brave
English milord, who had picked him up half-dead after the raid and
brought him, at risk of his life, to a place of safety just outside
Paris. How that note came to the house it was impossible to say. Marthe,
the serving wench, found the scrap of paper lying on the mat in the
small lobby when she came down in the morning. It had been pushed in
under the door, and Marthe had hardly dared to touch it at first; it
looked so weird and ghostlike, she said.

The note also contained an earnest warning that, the house being
certainly now under observation by the spies of the Committee of Public
Safety, the utmost discretion and circumspection were imperative; but
that mother and father and Adrienne, and also Marthe, had best make
quietly ready to leave Paris at an hour's notice. In the meanwhile,
however, Félicien adjured them all not to be anxious, and on no account
to make any move until they heard from him again. The League of the
Scarlet Pimpernel---a magnificent English organization---had the welfare
of the household in hand. All would be well if they would only act on
instructions.

Unfortunately, Monsieur St. Luc, accustomed as he had been all his life
to direct and regulate the affairs of his family, refused on so solemn
an occasion to be dictated to by his son-in-law (that fool Félicien!).
By his orders a few necessary effects were at once hastily put together.
The whole family, he decided, had best leave Pariws that very day. He
himself would see to passports. He had friends in several
administrations who would help to get his family away, and they would
all go to St.-Aubin by the Sea, where he owned a little house property,
and where they could live in retirement until this cloud had blown over.

While the women packed St. Luc went to the local commissariat to see
about the passports. His request was flatly refused. The Committee of
Public Safety, so the chief commissary of the section told him, had an
eye on Mon Abris. This sudden desire on the part of the household to
leave Paris would certainly cause all their names to be placed upon the
list of the "Suspect"; which meant that a domiciliary visit, a
perquisition, and consequent arrest on some kind of trumped-up charge
could now be considered imminent.

Monsieur St. Luc, by his obstinacy, had precipitated the crisis and
hopelessly endangered his own life and that of all those he cared for.
The situation, from being tense, had suddenly become tragic. There was
nothing for it now but to act on Félicien's original advice, praying God
in the meanwhile that this wiser course had not been taken too late.

Soon after Monsieur St. Luc's return from his unsuccessful errand
another message came, exactly similar to the previous one--a scrap of
paper pushed mysteriously under the door and found by Marthe in the
little lobby on the mat. But the writing this time was a strange one,
and it bore no signature, only a small device in the left-hand corner,
drawn in red, and representing a small five-petalled flower, in shape
like a Scarlet Pimpernel. The message warned Monsieur St. Luc that a
domiciliary visit at Mon Abris could be expected at about four o'clock;
that the arrest of the entire household, on suspicion of conspiracy, had
already been decided. The usual travesty of justice would inevitably
follow, with condemnation, and probably the guillotine in the end. The
message, however, went on to assure Monsieur St. Luc that measures were
being taken for the immediate flight of himself and his household out of
Paris, but that their very lives now depended on implicit obedience. The
writer of this warning would himself be at Mon Abris within the hour, to
give them final instructions.

3

The family had assembled in the little boudoir which gave on the left of
the hall. The two old people were sitting, one on each side of the
hearth. Between them, Adrienne Lézennes, kneeling in front of the fire,
had the drawer of her husband's desk beside her. This she had filled
with all his papers that she could find, and was systematically putting
them, packet by packet, into the flames.

"Above all, Adrienne," Madame St. Luc insisted earnestly, "burn anything
you can find that looks as if it related to the English milord. It would
be an eternal shame on us all if those brutes came on his track while he
is working for our salvation."

"Milord is too clever to allow a pack of loons to catch him," Monsieur
St. Luc riposted dryly. "But, in any case, Adrienne had best destroy
every scrap of paper that Félicien was fool enough to leave about for
our undoing."

Neither his wife nor his daughter made further comment on the matter,
and for a while no sound disturbed the quietude of the cosy-looking
room, save the hissing of the flames licking the loose bundles of
papers, and the monotonous ticking of the old clock standing against the
wall.

"I wish they would come," Madame St. Luc said presently. "It will be
best when it is all over."

"They won't be here for another hour at least," Adrienne rejoined. "And
we don't know how bad the worse may be," she added under her breath.

"I wish milord were here," Madame sighed plaintively.

An hour later a detachment of the revolutionary guard, belonging to the
Sectional Committee of Public Safety, had assembled in the garden in
front of Mon Abris. There were a dozen or more of them, dressed in the
usual haphazzard attire which, in these days of penury and of prolonged
war, did duty for military uniform: ragged breeches, odd coats that more
often than not hung loosely upon thin, narrow shoulders; feet thrust
bare into sabots or any old boots that might have been picked up in the
course of a foraging expedition. The men were under the command of a
big, burly ruffian known as Citizen Captain Courtain, who was standing
before the front door, vociferating lustily the habitual "Open, in the
name of the Republic!" And since he did not obtain the prompt answer to
his summons which he required, he proceeded to kick against the door
with the point of his boot.

"Hé là!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "Open there, I say! Do not
waste the time of the loyal servants of the Republic, or you'll have
your doors and windows presently smashed about your heads."

He was about to put his sturdy shoulder to the door when it was opened
from within. Marthe, neatly dressed and prim, trying to look brave at
sight of those awful soldiers whom every peace-loving citizen had
learned to dread, stood by, while the men filed through into the square
hall in the wake of their captain. The latter then turned to the wench
and demanded curtly:

"The Citizen St. Luc, his wife, and daughter---where are they?"

"In the boudoir, Citizen Captain," the girl replied quite readily. She
appeared self-possessed and spoke as if she were repeating a lesson. The
captain gave her a quick, searching look.

"How many of you live in the house?" he queried.

"Four of us altogether. The Citizen St. Luc, with his wife and their
daughter, Adrienne Lézennes. I do the service of the house."

"And what does Félicien Lézennes, the husband of Adrienne, do?" the
captain broke in abruptly.

This time the girl did not answer so glibly. There was an instant's
hesitation of her voice--the mere fraction of a second, imperceptible no
doubt to the bullying rascallion before here---ere she gave reply.

"Félicien Lézennes," she said quite steadily after awhile, "has been
gone for some days. You know that well enough, Citizen Captain."

"I know nothing," he retorted, "save that this house stinks of aristos,
and that an accursed English spy, who goes by the name of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, is suspected of having been in and out of here."

The wench shrugged her shoulders.

"I know nothing about English spies," she riposted dryly. "Methinks you,
Citizen Captain, have been led by the nose."

"We'll soon see about that," was the captain's curt rejoinder. "Now," he
added peremptorily, "which is the room you call the boudoir?"

Marthe led the way to a door on the left of the hall and opened it
without knocking.

"This way, Citizen Captain," she said simply, and was in the act of
standing aside in order to let the soldiers file into the room, when she
quickly put her hand up to her mouth as if to smother a sudden,
involuntary cry.

In an instant, Courtain had her by the arm.

"What is it?" he queried roughly.

"The mutton stew!" she exclaimed glibly. "I have left it on the fire. It
will burn for sure!"

She made as if to run out of the room, but Courtain held her tight.

"You stay here, Citizeness," he commanded. "Pierre Dumont there will see
to yoru stew. His mother was an excellent cook and taught him all she
knew."

He nodded to one of his men, who laughed and shrugged his shoulders,
then went out of the room.

"Let go my arm, Citizen Captain," the girl said, apparently reassured as
to the fate of her stew. "You are hurting me."

The incident was closed. Captain Courtain gave a comprehensive,
searching look around. The two ladies had made no movement when first he
had entered the room. The older one sat quite still in the high-backed
armchair by the hearth, the younger one, on a low tabouret by her side,
was busy with some sewing. Monsieur St. Luc rose to receive the soldiers
of the Republic.

"Your name?" Courtain queried roughly.

"Adrien St. Luc, attorney-at-law," the old man replied with much
dignity.

"Félicien Lézennes, where is he?"

"I do not know, Citizen Captain. We none of us have seen him this past
week and more."

"You lie!" Courtain retorted. "He is a fugitive from justice. Where
should he find shelter but with his relatives?"

"I know nothing of Félicien Lézennes's movements," Monsieur St. Luc
reiterated firmly.

"Well for you if you do not! Give me your keys," the captain commanded.

"Nothing is locked," St. Luc replied. "We have nothing to hide."

Whereupon Courtain with a shrug of the shoulders turned to his men.

"You have heard me question the aristo," he said. "He denies everything.
Now, there's a strong suspicion that a cursed traitor is in hiding in
this house, as well as that abominable English spy who should have been
hung on a lanthorn post long ago. Therefore, comrades, leave not a
single piece of furniture in its place of a single door or drawer
unopened. The house must be searched through and through; and there are
outhouses and stables, too, in the ground. Understand?"

The men were ready enough to obey. There was a reward of forty sous for
every man who brought an escaped suspect to justice; and there had been
rumours of some English spies being about. Good reward was promised for
their capture, too, whilst for the apprehension of the mysterious leader
who was known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, a man might earn as much as ten
thousand francs.

Courtain himself remained behind after his comrades had gone. He had
apparently set himself the task of searching the boudoir and
interrogating the inmates of the house.

"I always mistrust the place where women congregate," he had said in his
own picturesque language, ere his men dispersed about the premises.

Indeed, no one understood that type of work better than did Captain
Courtain. Not a cranny escaped his vigilant eye, not a nook where an
aristo might lie concealed or compromising papers be stowed away. After
he had been in the boudoir half an hour there was not one unbroken piece
of furniture there. The upholstered chairs had been ripped and the
carpets torn up from the floor; he had put his heel through every drawer
of the desk, and his fist through every bit of panelling. He had even,
in places, torn the paper from the walls.

The three women watched him, fascinated and motionless. Not a word of
protest escaped them when they saw some of their most precious treasures
ruthlessly destroyed. Monsieur St. Luc made no protest either. He had
resumed his seat, was staring moodily before him, and replied in curt
monosyllables whenever Courtain put a question to him. Anon the latter
threw himself upon the sofa, which his rough handling had reduced to
mere wreckage, and gave vent to his disappointment by a comprehensive
curse. Then he curtly ordered Marthe to get him some wine. The girl
turned to her master, asking for the key.

"I thought you said that nothing was locked in this house," Courtain
remarked with a sneer. He was on his feet again in a moment, and turned
to St. Luc. "Give me the cellar key," he commanded.

"It is at your service," St. Luc replied.

He took a key from his pocket and held it out to Courtain. "You are free
to walk in, Citizen Captain," he said simply.

But Courtain would not take the key.

"Not without you, my friend," he riposted. "Do you take me for a
nincompoop, ready to fall into a booby-trap? Allons!" he added roughly.
"Marche!"

St. Luc obeyed without another word, walked out of the room in front of
Courtain, who took the precaution of turning the key in the lock of the
boudoir door behind him.

"We don't want our birds to fly away in our absence, eh?" he remarked
with a leer.

The whole house appeared alive with noise: shouts and laughter, smashing
of woodwork, and tramping of heavy feet. In the centre of the hall one
of the men was brandishing a crowbar, whilst three or four others were
apparently egging him on to some doughtly deed.

"What is that crowbar for?" Courtain queried curtly.

"The cellar door, Citizen Captain," one of the men replied. "We have
searched every nook and corner of the house except the cellar, which is
locked. The door has a deal of resistance in it. We thought this
crowbar--"

"Throw it down, comrades," Courtain broke in jovially. "Citizen St. Luc
will do the honours of his cellar for us in person."

There was no need to reiterate this order. In a moment the crowbar was
thrown down and the little procession was formed, with St. Luc leading
the way and Courtain treading hard on his heels. The citizen captain had
quietly taken a pistol out of his breeches pocket.

"In case something happens that I don't like!" he remarked casually to
St. Luc. "And remember that some of my men, if not all, have loaded
pistols, too."

But St. Luc appeared quite placid, gave but a cursory glance at the
pistol. He led the way across the hall, then down a flight of stairs
which was faced at the bottom by a heavy oak door. St. Luc inserted the
key in the lock and flung the door open.

"This is the cellar," he said curtly.

"Well!" riposted Courtain with affected jollity. "Go in, and we'll
follow."

St. Luc, still placidly, led the way in. The cellar was vast and well
ordered, with casks ranged around and an array of bottles and jars
filled with the delicacies beloved of the French bourgeoisie. It derived
some light from a small grated window set high in the wall. There were
some empty wooden casks standing about, and a row of pewter mugs hung on
hooks along the edge of a shelf.

"Quite cosy and inviting in here, eh, comrades?" Courtain remarked
jauntily.

The soldiers were not long in getting to work. They helped themselves to
the mugs, and one of them volunteered to draw the wine, as he had been a
butler in an aristos house in pre-Revolution days. Soon each had a
mugful of wine in his hand; one of them started to sing, the others
joined in. The merry sound attracted their comrades, who were still busy
in other parts of the house. They came helter-skelter, running down the
stone staircase, and presently the vast cellar was filled with a
merry-making throng, in the midst of which St. Luc's majestic figure in
sober black, with stiff white stock and tie and iron-gray hair falling
modishly down to his shoulders, had lost nothing of the dignity and
sang-froid of the well-to-do attorney.

"You do not drink, Citizen St. Luc?" courtain asked him good-humouredly.
Then, as the other made no reply, he added with stern significance: "If
you are trying some hidden game, my friend, by making my men drunk, you
will do yourself no good and aggravate your own case and that of the
women upstairs. Drunk or sober, we stay in the house until we've found
your precious son-in-law or that confounded Englishman, or both; and I
may as well tell you that I have another eight or ten men outside in
your garden. So even if these men do get drunk--"

"If they get drunk," broke in St. Luc impatiently, "they'll never rid me
of that confounded Englishman or my daughter or that ne'er-do-well
husband of hers."

"What?"

The shrill ejaculation had burst involuntarily from Courtain. He
literally gave a jump as well as a gasp of astonishment at this wholly
unexpected retort, and spilled a quarter of a litre of precious wine in
the act. "What did you say?"

"I said that I wished to be rid of that confounded Englishman, a regular
Fly-by-Night, who has led us into all this trouble," St. Luc rejoined,
and a malicious, spiteful glitter lit up for a moment the even pallor of
his face. "As for that fool Lézennes--!"

He paused and pressed his lips together, as if fearing to say too much.

Courtain gave a prolonged whistle.

"Oho!" he said, "so that's the way the wind blows, is it? Why did you
not speak of this before?"

"How could I," retorted St. Luc sullenly, "in the presence of my
daughter?"

"Then," Courtain went on significantly, "you are willing to--?"

He looked St. Luc straight in the eyes, and the latter nodded in
response.

"Where are they?" the other continued. Then, as the old attorney was
about to reply, Courtain suddenly gripped his arm and dragged him to a
corner of the cellar where they could talk without fear of being
overheard. He had just remembered that a reward of ten thousand francs
was due to the man who captured the Scarlet Pimpernel. "Where are they?"
he reiterated eagerly, dropping his voice to a whisper.

But St. Luc's manner had already undergone a change. That strange,
malicious glitter had died out of his eyes. He looked sheepish and
ashamed.

"I-I don't know," he stammered, "just where they are...If the men kept
sober the could..."

"None of that!" retorted Courtain roughly. "You have gone too far now,
Citizen, to draw back without risking your neck. Where are they?" he
reiterated for the third time, and gripped St. Luc so fiercely by the
arm that the older man could scarce keep back a cry of pain. "Well, are
you going to speak, or shall I have you and your womankind placed under
arrest until you do?"

"No, no!" said St. Luc weakly. "I'll tell you. I meant to tell you,
only--"

"Only what?"

"The Englishman is very powerful. He is not easily captured. Many have
tried and all have failed, remember. And my son-in-law, too, is young
and vigorous."

"So much the better," retorted Courtain. "It will be the greater glory
for me. Are they in the house?"

"No," replied St. Luc.

"Where then?"

"Not very far from here. Through the barrier. The empty house at the
junction of the Rue du Bois. You know it, Citizen Captain? It used to
belong to Lézennes's aunt and uncle--aristos who have had to fly the
country."

"No, I don't know the house. Is it Clinchy way?" Courtain asked.

"More on the Levallois-Perret side. You can't miss it. Go straight up
the Route d'Asnières and take the third turning on the left; then go on
till you come to a forked road, when you want to bear to your right.
You'll see a white gate--"

"Never mind about that!" Courtain broke in impatiently. "You had best
come and show us the way."

"No, no!" St. Luc protested, and his voice had a note of plaintive
entreaty in it now. "I couldn't face Lézennes or the Englishman! It
would kill me! And my daughter! My wife! They would know...Oh, my God!"
he added, and covered his face with his hands as if in abject shame.

The situation seemed vastly to amuse Courtain.

"Many people like to say 'A.'," he remarked dryly, "but don't care to
say 'B.' Well, I'll be a good dog, Citizen. The traitors shan't see you.
You'll put us on our way, then I'll leave you in charge of two of my
men, who will bring you back while we go search the place."

St. Luc still appeared to hesitated, but only for a moment. Obviously,
as Courtain had tersely put it, he had gone too far now to draw back.
Nor did the captain take any notice of his scruples. There were ten
thousand francs waiting for him at the end of a more or less hazardous
expedition, and he had plenty of stalwart fellows under his command. He
was not likely to abandon so splendid a chance for reward and
advancement. But he took the opportunity before starting of having St.
Luc thoroughly searched for any weapons he might have concealed about
his person.

"I am taking no risks," he said dryly, when the old attorney tried to
protest.

Satisfied on that point, he quickly organized the expedition, turned the
men out of the cellar, and locked the door behind them, putting the key
in his pocket.

"Do not relax your vigilance for one instant, Citizen Lavérie," he said
to the soldier whom he was leaving in command of the party. "The women
are, of course, safe under lock and key in the boudoir. See that no one
has access to them. I am taking the men with me whom I left on guard
outside the house. They have no had the opportunity of visiting the
cellar," continued Courtain dryly, "and I shall find them mroe reliable.
St. Luc is coming with us part of the way, but I'll send him back here
presently under escort, and then you had better lock him up with the
women in the boudoir. Any further orders I may have to give you I will
send through the men who will bring St. Luc along. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly, Citizen Captain," Lavérie replied.

After which Courtain went toomuster the men whom he desired to accompany
him to the empty house at Levallois-Perret. As he had remarked to
Lavérie, they were men who had not tasted St. Luc's wines as yet.
Besides taking on risks, he was leaving nothing to chance. He had heard
tales of the marvellous prowess of that English spy who, from all
accounts, was a kind of legendary athlete, endowed with supernatural
cunning and strength. Well, this time he would have to reckon with
Citizen Captain Courtain: a man whom nothing could daunt and whose
courage was equal to his perspicacity.

His escort, too, looked fit and keen. It was then close on seven
o'clock. The sun was slowly sinking down in the west behind a canopy of
heavy clouds. Courtain placed himself at the head of his squad and
ordered St. Luc to march by his side.

4

A quarter of an hour's brisk walk brought them to the Porte d'Asnières.
The gates were closed for the night, but Courtain and his escort,
besides being well known to the officer in command, had all the
necessary passes, and the party was let through without any hindrance.

Half an hour afterward, at the top of the Route d'Asnières and its
junction with the Rue du Bois, where the roads fork, St. Luc came to a
halt.

"There is the house," he said, and pointed up the road to where a small
building gleamed white in the midst of a clump of old and twisted acacia
trees. But, despite his protestations, Courtain would not release him.

"You are coming a bit further along with us, my man," he said curtly. "I
told you I was taking no risks."

It was only when they came to a low, broken-down fence which appeared to
mark the boundary of the grounds around the house that Courtain finally
detailed two of his men to remain on guard over St. Luc.

"Wait for me here," he commanded. "If you hear any fracas inside the
house, come to my assistance."

"But the aristo--" suggested one of the men, nodding toward St. Luc.

"In case of trouble," retorted Courtain curtly, "stab him in the legs
with your bayonets. Then he can't run far."

He found a rickety gate in the fence and, followed by his escort,
proceeded to march up to the house. It lay a hundred mètres, or perhaps
less, farther on. The ground around it had no doubt once been a garden;
it was now nothing but a mass of overgrown shrubs and a wilderness of
nettles. Courtain and his men could be seen for a time ploughing their
way through the weeds. Anon they reached the house. The captain's voice
of command rang out through the fast-gathering dusk. No answer came from
within. The house appeared indeed deserted. Courtain then pushed open
the door, which yielded quite easily, and he and his men disappeared
inside the house.

Those who had remained on guard over St. Luc settled down for a long
wait, sat down on the sloping ground with their backs against the fence,
taking care to keep the aristo between them and their bayonets close to
their hands.

How it all happened they could not afterward have said. The attack came
from behind the fence, they thought, and began with a stunning blow on
their heads. Before they could recover from the violence of this
assault, thick scarves were wound round their faces; they felt
smothered, blinded, unable to call for help. Both tried to reach out for
their bayonets, but were almost simultaneously thrown flat to the
ground, more securely gagged, pinioned, their pockets ransacked, and
finally left to lie there, not even knowing whence the swift and
vigorous blow had come that had reduced them to such absolute
helplessness. All that they could hear was St. Luc's voice, sometimes
moaning, at others cursing violently. But what had become of him they
neither of them could say.

Certain it is that less than ten minutes later, two soldiers of the
revolutionary guard, with a tall civilian between them who appeared to
be their prisoner, presented themselves at the Porte de Clichy, which is
next to that of Asnières. They had the required passes such as are
supplied to the revolutionary guard in the exercise of their duty. Their
papers being all in order, they were allowed to pass through into the
city without any delay.

5

Lavérie and the men left behind at Mon Abris ahd not forgotten the
crowbar which had been thrown down in the hall earlier in the afternoon.
And this was very fortunate as it happened, because darkness soon began
to draw in and at first no candles or lamps could be found anywhere. The
serving maid, summoned from the boudoir, explained that lamps were
always kept in the cellar on one of the shelves. Whereupon, since the
citizen captain had chosen to lock the cellar door, there was nothing
for it but to use the crowbar in the manner in which it was originally
intended.

There was no disobedience or defiance of discipline in that. To remain
in darkness in a house which reeked of aristos was not to be thought of,
and Lavérie himself gave the order to break open the cellar door.

Subsequently, when the whole matter was inquired into and punishment
duly meted out to the guilty, it was never suggested that Lavérie did
anything more reprehensible than just omitting to have the lamps lighted
then and there. But it seems that when they were found, it was
discovered that they needed filling. The oil drum could not at once be
found, and in the meanwhile a couple of tallow candles were made to do
duty instead, one being placed on the trestle table in the cellar and
the other in the hall.

The semi-darkness certainly left the house rather gloomy; but the
evening light had not wholly faded out of the sky, and a pale, grayish
streak still came peeping in through the windows and the wide-open door
of the hall.

It was close on half-past nine when a couple of men's voices, in
conjuction with that of St. Luc, first reached Lavérie's ears. He was
then in the cellar with half-a-dozen comrades, and--yes, well! they were
haivng a drink whilst the others remained on guard about the house.
There was no harm in that. The entire premises ahd been literally turned
inside out more than once in the course of the afternoon; the women were
safe under lock and key, and all the men were well armed. No one could
say that any of them had had too much to drink, but they were tired as
well as hot, for the evening had turned sultry, and there was thunder in
the air.

"Which of you is Citizen Lavérie?" a voice shouted down from above.

"Here, in the cellar," Lavérie replied. "We are busy with the lamps. Who
are you?"

"Guard from the Porte d'Asnières," the voice gave answer. "We have
brought St. Luc back with us and have a message for you from Citizen
Captain Courtain. He has got the aristos."

"Where?" queried Lavérie eagerly, and ran helterskelter up the stairs.
The others remained down below, straining their ears to listen.

Two soldiers, in the same haphazard uniforms that they were all wearing
these days, were standing in the hall. Lavérie saw them vaguely through
the gloom, with St. Luc's tall, funereal-looking figure between them,
and his own comrades crowding excitedly around the newcomers.

"Over in the house at Levallois-Perret," one of the latter replied.
"Citizen Courtain wants you to bring the women along to him at once."

Lavérie groaned.

"What for?"

"An important confrontation. Citizen Courtain has sent for the chief
commissary of the section, and we are to pick up a couple more aristos
who are being detained in a house in the Rue Legendre. It seems that the
English spies have had their headquarters there recently. I tell you,
comrade," continued the man, "there will be some fine doings at
Levallois-Perret presently; and all of us who have had a share in the
business are also to have a share in the reward."

But Lavérie was not to be cajoled with any promise of a reward. He gave
another groan.

"We are dog-tired, all of us," he mumbled. "We've been on our feet since
three o'clock this afternoon."

"And we've got a half-a-dozen horses outside," the newcomer riposted
gilbly. "We borrowed them from the guard at the Porte d'Asnières. All
we've got to do is to get some sort of vehicle from the neighbourhood
for the aristos. By the way," he added, turning to his comrade, "did we
unearth an old barouche when we were rummaging round the grounds this
afternoon?"

"You did," assented Lavérie more cheerfully. "I saw it, too, and there
were two horses and some harness in the stables. So, if we can have the
mounts--"

"Four of you can have mounts," rejoined the other. "But two of the
horses must be led, as they are for our two comrades who are guarding
the aristos in the Rue Legendre. With them, and the two of us in the box
of the barouche, we shall make an escort of eight: quite enough to be
guard against any unpleasant surprise. You Citizen Lavérie," he
concluded, "will, I presume, take command of the party?" Then he
indicated St. Luc. "And in the meanwhile, perhaps you'll take charge of
this old scarecrow, whilst I and my comrade here get out the barouche
and put the horses to."

It all seemed so simple. There was really nothing to arouse any man's
suspicions, however vigilant he might be. Perhaps, if there had been
more light, Lavérie or one of the others would have noticed something
strange about the newcomers. But they were in uniform and they had
brought St. Luc back with them, together with a message from Courtain,
just as Lavérie expected. Moreover, they themselves suggested that the
latter should take command of the party. Anyone would have been
deceived.

Be that as it may, the coach and pair were got ready in less than twenty
minutes. Lavérie in the meanwhile had collected the three women and
placed them with St. Luc in charge of some of the men. Now he ordered
the aristos to be bundled into the barouche. They all obeyed with the
same passive meekness which they had exhibited all along. The three
women got in first, then the long-legged old attorney. The two soldiers
were already on the box; but there was a little delay at the start,
because some of the horses, notably the two in the carriage and a couple
of saddled ones, were extremely restive. Lavérie and his men, feeling
tired and not too sure of their seats after their prolonged visits to
the cellar of Mon Abris, were at pains to select the four mounts that
looked almost as sleepy as themselves.

However, the cavalcade was presently got into order. Lavérie gave the
word of command, and the procession started at last on its way.

Midway down the Rue Legendre the man on the box drew rein, and Lavérie
called a halt.

"This is where we pick up the aristos," the former said, and pointed to
a house on his right.

"How shall we find them?" Lavérie asked.

"Two of our comrades are on guard right inside the door," the soldier
replied. "Give the password," he added as Lavérie dismounted and called
to one of his men to do likewise.

"What is it?" queried the latter.

"Fly-by-night," was the reply.

Everything still quite simple, Lavérie and his comrade found the door of
the house wide open, and inside the dark and narrow passage two soldiers
were on guard. Lavérie gave the password, whereupon one of them retired
farther into the house and presently returned, pushing an elderly woman
and an old man roughly before him.

"Are these the aristos?" Lavérie asked.

The soldier nodded.

"The citizen captain must be expecting them," he said.

At a command from Lavérie the two old people were now bundled into the
barouche. But the women inside the carriage complained that there was no
more room, whereupon St. Luc volunteered to get out and mount on the
box. There was some argument over that; but Lavérie was really too
sleepy to argue, nor did he protest when St. Luc took the reins in his
hands. Perhaps he did not notice. The Rue Legendre was very dark.

Thus the procession was formed once more, the carriage leading the way
this time and the mounted escort around.

"We'll go by the Porte de Clichy," the soldier on the box called out at
last. "It is the better and quicker way, and the citizen captain will be
getting impatient."

It was now quite dark. The party of horsemen, with the ponderous,
lumbering vehicle, made a great clatter over the ill-paved streets. The
Porte de Clichy was soon reached. There was no question of detaining a
carriage escorted by a detachment of revolutionary guard. Lavérie,
moreover, was a well-known figure in these parts, and he had all his
passes in order.

"Aristos," he explained curtly to the officer in command at the gate,
who peeped curiously into the carriage. "Orders of the Citizen Captain
Courtain. Important business with the chief commissary of the section at
Levallois-Perret."

"Pass on, Citizen!" the officer replied, and stood watching the barouche
through the gate and until it was out of sight.

6

The first inkling that Lavérie had that something was wrong was when the
driver of the carriage deliberately turned his horses' heads to the
right after he had followed the Route de Clichy for about ten minutes.
He turned up the Route de Pouchet, whereas Levallois-Perret was in just
the opposite direction. Lavérie called the driver's attention to what he
thought was merely an error, whereupon the latter whipped up his horses
and literally tore up the Route de Pouchet at breakneck speed.

Lavérie dug his knees into his horse and, calling loudly to his men,
started in pursuit. But he and the men were tired, and the horses they
were riding felt anything but fresh. After a minute or two the carriage
gained ground visibly: only two of the mounted men seemed able to keep
up with it. Lavérie shouted to them to keep up, but they apparently
needed no spur to their efforts. It become a neck to neck race between
these two and the barouche, Lavérie and the other three dropping more
and more behind every moment. Their horses were obviously spent; they
themselves could scarcely sit in their saddles.

"Draw your pistols!" Lavérie shouted to those in front. "Fire at the
horses or at the driver. Fire, curse you!" he reiterated, as the
soldiers paid no heed to his orders but merely continued to gallop one
on each side of the carriage.

He pulled out his own pistol, fired once or twice; but his hand was
unsteady, and his eyesight suffered from the effects of Monsieur St.
Luc's excellent wines.

Up on the box, the long-legged attorney and the two soldiers were
enjoying one of the finest runs they ever remembered in their
adventurous careers.

"If," St. Luc presently said, with a light-hearted laugh, "you
remembered to give those poor horses the draught I prescribed, they'll
drop in a few minutes. They'll come to no harm afterward, but they won't
stand a forced gallop for long."

An exclamation from the man next him caused him to look over his
shoulder.

"Ah, I thought so!" he went on gaily, for just at that moment Lavérie
rolled over and over with his mount on the dusty road. Two minutes later
another man followed suit. "If this old barouche were not so
confoundedly heavy!" he added, and encouraged his horses with whip and
tongue.

"You can slacken, Blakeney," the other exclaimed after awhile. "We are
safe from pursuit now."

Indeed, Lavérie's two last comrades had also fallen away. Their horses,
covered with sweat and shaking at the knees, had quietly rolled over in
the dusty road.

Lord Anthony Dewhurst, one of London's most exquisite dandies, dressed
in the haphazard uniform of a revolutionary, was surveying the spectacle
from the top of the barouche. Soon the gloom and the distance hid
Lavérie and his comrades from view. Then Lord Tony turned back to his
chief.

"It was a difficult business this time," he said lightly.

"Yes," Sir Percy replied. "Because we could not trust that obstinate St.
Luc to act his part himself. He would have given it all away, so I
conveyed him and his wife to the Rue Legendre first, and had some
difficulty, I assure you, in persuading him to come. Then I assumed the
rôle of the elderly attorney myself and my dear Marguerite made an
excellent Madame St. Luc, who kept the other two women up to their task
of silence and obedience. At one moment she thought that the
waiting-wench would betray us all."

"And if Courtain or one of his men happened to have known the real St.
Luc by sight--"

"Then we should have had to devise something else," Blakeney retorted
carelessly. "Unlike our friend Courtain, I believe in taking every
risk."

"By the way, I wonder what Courtain is doing at the present moment in
the lonely house at Levallois-Perret."

"Still waiting for the English spies and the aristos to turn up. He
won't leave the house for at least an hour. When I was there about
midday, I left every possible indication that the English spies had
their headquarters in the house and would surely return before evening.
The worthy citizen captain, anxious for the reward, is still calmly
waiting for the birds to fly into his trap."

"It was very well managed," Sir Andrew Ffoulkes continued.

"By you two," Blakeney retorted. "Your attack on my two guardians from
behind the fence was a masterpiece, and, of course, you rifled their
pockets for their passes, but I have yet to hear where you got the
horses from."

"We picked up one here and there. That was not very difficult; and
everything else was so splendidly thought of," Lord Tony mused, and cast
a look of profound admiration for his chief. "The wine and the empty
lamps; the carriage and the restive horses. It would have taken a
sharper man than poor Lavérie to suspect a trap."

Inside the carriage, Adrienne Lézennes had put her arms round her
mother; her hand was on her father's knee. But her eyes and those of her
companions in this exciting adventure were fixed upon the false Madame
St. Luc.

"And it is you, milady, and your brave husband who have saved us all!"
Monsieur St. Luc was saying ruefully.

"At peril of your lives," Adrienne added in a tear-choked voice.

"Ah! but you must not cry, little woman," Marguerite Blakeney said
gaily. "We shall be meeting your Félicien at Pouchet, and he must not
see you with red eyes!"

"And so we are going to England!" Madame St. Luc mused.

"A dull old country; but safe," Lady Blakeney replied.



CHAPTER V - THE LURE OF THE CHATEAU

I

"You can't touch Malzieu! Whatever you do, you dare not touch him!"

And the speaker, a stout florid man with thick features and flaccid
hanging mouth, brought his clenched fist down with a crash upon the
table.

"And why not, if you please, Citizen Desor?" the other man retorted
sharply. "Why should any traitor be inviolate, however popular he may
be?"

This second speaker was a small spare man, with white, almost cadaverous
face and pale, deep-set eyes that darted from time to time piercing,
steel-like glances at his interlocutor. But Desor only shrugged his
broad shoulders.

"Because," he said, and made a wide sweeping gesture with his thick
grimy hand, "because of the whole neighbourhood, Citizen Chauvelin. St.
Brieuc is not Paris you must remember: no man with a touch of genius
gets lost in this town as he would in your big city. And you must admit
that Malzieu is a genius. Did you ever see him in Molière? No? Or as
Figaro? Name of a dog, he makes you die of laughter. And handsome, I
tell you! The women just adore him, and all St. Brieuc is justly proud
of him, for this is his birthplace. The Château de Maljovins close by
here belonged to his grandfather and is now in the possession of his
cousin Désiré. You can't touch him, I say, for if you do there will be
riots in St. Brieuc, and not a single servant of the Republic, civil or
military, would be left alive to take the tale as far as Paris."

Chauvelin remained silent after that with eyes closed and lips tightly
as if he were striving to shut every ingress to his mind against the
other's prying. Then presently he said with quiet emphasis:

"We can't allow a man to remain in such a position. Any man who is the
idol of a rabble is a danger to the State."

"He will be a danger," Desor retorted, "if you arrest him."

"That would surely depend on the grounds for the arrest," Chauvelin
rejoined blandly.

"I don't understand you," Desor muttered. "Malzieu has done nothing. He
is a good patriot, he--"

"If Malzieu, for instance, were to commit a crime--"

Desor laughed. "Malzieu?" he exclaimed. "A crime? He wouldn't harm a
cat."

Chauvelin uttered an ejaculation of impatience.

"You are obtuse, my friend," he said. "If Malzieu were to commit a
crime--a brutal, cowardly crime--I imagine that the rabble who adore him
now, discovering that their idol had feet of clay, would quickly enough
hurl him down from his pedestal."

"Yes!" Desor admitted. "If!"

"Well, then!" Chauvelin rejoined significantly, and fixed those pale,
scrutinizing eyes of his on his companion. Desor met those eyes,
interrogated them for a second or two, until something in their cold,
steely gaze mirrored the dark thoughts within.

"You mean--?" he murmured.

Chauvelin merely shrugged and retorted: "Why not?"

"A difficult problem, Citizen Chauvelin!" was Desor's dry remark.

"But not one above your powers, Citizen," Chauvelin concluded blandly.

II

It was on a cold, gusty day in late September that Citizen Fernand
Malzieu received the visit of one Desor, a lawyer of somewhat shady
antecedents, settled in St. Brieuc since poor Pégou, the old-established
notary, had paid on the guillotine the price of his own loyalty to
former clients. Desor brought some interesting news, none the less
welcome because it came through such an unpleasant channel. Malzieu's
cousin, Désiré, who owned the old château of Maljovins, had died,
leaving the property to his next of kin, Fernand, the last of his name.
Désiré Malzieu had all his life been an eccentric, not to say a maniac.
For years he had lived in the old château, all alone, seeing no one,
waited on by one old woman who ministered to all his wants. Nothing was
known about his life, save that periodically he would go to Paris,
taking his old servant Julie with him. Désiré kept an old horse and
chaise: he would harness the one to the other and off he and old Julie
would go: they would remain absent sometimes two months, sometimes as
much as six; but no one knew when they went or when they came back. The
old château appeared equally lonely, equally desolate whether the master
was in residence or no: of late he had been absent for the best part of
a year, and the news of his death had, it seems, come from Paris. For
nearly a year the old château had been deserted: it stood perched high
up on the cliffs, above the turbulent ocean, and the booming of the
waves against the granite rocks had been the only sound that broke the
silence of the grim solitude.

But Fernand, with the mercurial, artistic temperament of his class, had
always loved Maljovins. As a boy, when Désiré's father and mother were
still alive, he had been a constant visitor at the château, but of late
he and his cousin had drifted apart. Désiré's eccentricities, his
maniacal love of solitude, had kept Fernand's attempts at friendship at
bay. And now he was dead and Fernand the rover, the mountebank, found
himself in possession of what he had coveted more than anything else in
the world: the old family château. It was dull and grey and lonely, but
it was Maljovins. Fernand laughed when Desor reminded him of a somewhat
curious condition attached to the legacy.

"The place is only yours, Citizen," the notary said, "as long as you
make it your habitual dwelling-place. If you are ever absent from it
more than three months in any one year, the estate and the château
become the property of Julie Navet, the faithful servant of your late
cousin, Désiré."

"I have no greater wish, Citizen Notary," Fernand retorted, "than to
live at Maljovins for the rest of my days."

"And you are not afraid?"

"Afraid of what?"

"Oh, I don't know," the notary said, and he gave a shudder, as if a wave
of cold had passed down his spine. "They say the place is haunted."

"I would love to see a ghost."

"It has been deserted for so long, they say, that malefactors have,
before now, made it a place of refuge."

"They'll be welcome to anything I take there with me."

"You are determined, then, Citizen?"

"Certainly I am. Would you have me refuse so brilliant a legacy? I am a
poor man, Citizen Notary," Malzieu continued with simple dignity, "and
my marriage to the Citizeness Céleste Gambier is delayed through my lack
of means."

"Ah!" concluded the notary, "that accounts for everything. Well, I wish
you luck, Citizen! When do you go to Maljovins?"

"To-morrow."

Already the lawyer had collected his papers and stuffed them into a
leather wallet which he carried under his arm. He now reached for his
hat and took his leave.

"Good luck, Citizen," he said once more as Malzieu escorted him through
the ante-room and there bade him good-bye.

III

A quarter of an hour later Fernand Malzieu was speeding through the
streets of St. Brieuc. Daylight was quickly fading into dusk. The
streets were ill-lighted, and in the shelter of doorways and obscure
passages furtive figures crouched under cover of the darkness. But
Malzieu paid no heed to these. He feared no one in this town, for he was
conscious of his own popularity and of the love which his
fellow-townsmen--even those of the underworld--had for him. For the past
ten years Malzieu had made France laugh, and France had very great need
of laughter these days; and he was handsome withal, and genial, spent as
freely as he got, and, despite tempting offers to settle down
permanently in Paris as a member of the Comédie française, he had
continued to make St. Brieuc his headquarters and went on living there,
in his native town, simply, unostentatiously, waiting for better times
so that he might marry pretty Céleste, the daughter of Citizen Gambier,
the municipal doctor.

Malzieu had come to a halt outside a low, narrow house in the Rue des
Remparts. It was the house inhabited by the Citizen Gambier and his
daughter Céleste. Fernand had just plied the knocker with his accustomed
impatience when a tall man wearing a huge caped coat and chapeau-bras,
which further enhanced his stature, accosted him by slapping him lustily
on the back.

"Well, luckiest of mortals!" the new-comer said gaily, "how goes the
world with you?"

"Milor!" Malzieu exclaimed with a thought of consternation in his voice,
"what are you doing in this town?"

"Passing through St. Brieuc," the other replied, "on my way to Paris.
Are you not rehearsing a new rôle? I must see you in that."

"Ye gods! Do you know Citizen Chauvelin is in St. Brieuc? He is here on
some mission of mischief, you may be sure."

"To keep an eye on you probably, my friend," the stranger retorted
dryly. "But you have never answered my first question yet."

"How the world goes with me?" Malzieu rejoined lightly. "Well! We
produce the new play on Thursday, and I have just become the proprietor
of my ancestral château."

"Two excellent bits of news," the Englishman said. "I shall hope to
applaud you on Thursday. When do you take possession of your château?"

"To-morrow, if all's well. It is only mine, I must tell you on condition
that I am never absent from it longer than three months at a time."

"Ah! An eccentric will, then? Whose was it?"

"My cousin, Désiré de Malzieu, left me the property."

The Englishman frowned. "Ah!" he said, "I did not know he was dead."

"You knew him?"

"I had heard of him--in Paris."

The two men were about to part, and Malzieu was already grasping his
friend's hand, bidding him good night, when the Englishman suddenly said
with grave earnestness:

"Don't go to Maljovins to-morrow, Fernand. Wait a week or two. You lose
nothing by waiting and the whole affair sounds to me like a trap."

"A trap, milor?" Fernand retorted, with a merry laugh, "who should want
to entrap me? I am not worth killing. I only possess a thousand livres
in all the world, and I shan't have them in my pocket when I go to
Maljovins."

"I know, I know," the Englishman rejoined with an impatient sigh. "But
you'll admit that I have had some experience of these revolutionary
devils over here, and of their methods, and there's something about this
will--"

"Now, milor," Malzieu broke in lightly, "if you are going to warn me of
danger, it is not to-morrow that I shall go to Maljovins, but to-night."

Whereupon the Englishman said no more, but went his way, whilst Fernand
ran up the stone stairs of the house in the Rue des Remparts two at a
time, for he was in a mighty hurry to tell his beloved Céleste of the
good fortune that had just fallen to his lot.

That same evening, half an hour after Fernand had taken leave of Dr.
Gambier and Céleste, and whilst the girl was tidying up the little
apartment preparatory to going to bed, she saw that a slip of paper had
been mysteriously inserted underneath the front door. Not being of a
nervy disposition, she picked up the note and unfolded it. In it was
written:

If you ever need a friend, ask advice from the public letter-writer at
the angle of Passage Fontaine.

Céleste had been gravely puzzled when she read the note: but she had
also been amused. Was it likely that she would be in need of a friend,
when she had her father and Fernand in whom she could always confide?
But two days had gone by since then, and now she was indeed badly in
need of a friend. She did not want to worry her father, who had plenty
of troubles and cares of his own; as for Fernand--well! The trouble was
about Fernand. It took Céleste some little time to make up her mind:
these were times when it was not prudent to trust anyone or anything.
That note may have been a trap: and yet--

A few moments later Céleste was speeding along the Rue des Remparts. She
noticed that at the angle of the Passage Fontaine a public letter-writer
had of late set up his wares. It was five o'clock of the afternoon: a
thin drizzle was falling: Céleste wrapped her shawl close round her head
and shoulders and looked cautiously about her. The evening was drawing
in, and there were few passers-by: some fifty mètres on ahead the
rickety awning that sheltered the letter-writer's table flapped dismally
in the wind. The man himself appeared to be dozing under the awning:
Céleste hesitated a second or two longer, then she went boldly up to the
table.

"I am Céleste Gambier," she said softly, "and have need of a friend."

The letter-writer did not appear to move, but from somewhere out of the
semi-darkness, a kindly voice murmured: "What is it?"

"Fernand Malzieu has not been at his lodgings for four days," she said
in a hurried whisper. "Last Friday evening, he said good night to me,
telling me that he was going to Maljovins the next day to explore the
old château. No one has seen or heard anything of him since. This is
Tuesday. There was a dress-rehearsal at the theatre this morning. He did
not put in an appearance. People make light of this. They say Fernand is
engrossed with his good fortune, and has forgotten his duties. They say
he will not fail to put in an appearance on Thursday for the production
of the play, but I know Fernand better than they do: I know that nothing
would make him forget his duties. Something has happened to Fernand, and
I am scared to death."

As soon as she had begun her tale, the public letter-writer had roused
himself from slumber, and while she spoke he made as if he were writing
from her dictation. He was a funny old fellow, with spectacles on his
nose, and a shaggy mop of white hair above his high, wrinkled forehead.
It was fortunate that the shades of evening were drawing in so quickly
in this corner of the narrow street, and that the weather was too bad
for clients of the letter-writer to be demanding his services. When
Céleste had done speaking, the old man continued for awhile to scribble
aimlessly upon the sheet of paper before him, then, when there was not a
single passer-by in sight, he said:

"Go home now! Try not to appear anxious. I will bring you news of
Fernand to-morrow."

Céleste wanted to ask him a question or two, but, very abruptly, the old
man rose, and without paying any further heed to her, he began
collecting his traps together and folding up his awning.

"It is getting dark, Citizeness," he said in a loud, gruff voice. "I am
going home now and to bed. I advise you to do the same."

And Céleste perforce had to follow this advice.

IV

An hour later two men were speeding down the Chemin de la Digue which
leads to the seashore. When they had reached the edge of the cliffs they
turned sharply to the left toward the village of Maljovins.

"It is infernally dark," one of the men said impatiently. "Are you sure
of the way?"

"Quite sure, Citizen," the other replied; "that sombre mass of building
over there is the château."

"And you have provided for everything?"

"For everything, Citizen, and I know that you will be satisfied. Our men
succeeded in capturing Fernand Malzieu in the courtyard of the château
when he arrived there on Saturday: he has been under lock and key in one
of the tower rooms ever since. His cousin Désiré returned from Paris
this morning. My man is already there, ready to act if he has not done
so already, and the old woman, Julie Navet, has agreed to my terms for
giving the evidence which I require. In less than an hour we can have
Fernand Malzieu under arrest for the peculiarly brutal murder of his
aged cousin, and there will be two eye-witnesses to the crime. Directly
afterwards, we will publish the will of Désiré Malzieu, which I have
prepared and which I have already shown to Fernand. This will provide us
with the motive for the murder and will render the assassin doubly
odious to his former worshippers. No!" Desor concluded, with absolute
complacence, "we have left nothing to chance, and the Committee of
Public Safety will, I hope, give me due recognition for my work."

To this broad hint Chauvelin gave no direct reply, and after a moment's
silence he asked abruptly:

"You are sure of your man, I imagine?"

"I could not have found a better," Desor replied. "Orgelet is a man who
ought to have been guillotined ages ago, he has half a dozen crimes on
his conscience and to-day would murder his own mother for a few francs.
I have him in the hollow of my hand, as I hold proofs of certain
forgeries and trafficking with our enemies which would send him to the
guillotine to-morrow. He knows that, and knows, too, that if he ever
played me false or betrayed us in any way, I would use those proofs
without hesitation. He has a kind of rough intelligence, too, and will
act his part rightly, you may be sure."

"And the woman--what is her name?"

"Julie Navet? Oh, with her, greed is master of all her actions. The way
I have worded the will of Désiré Malzieu she becomes sole beneficiary
under it, if Fernand does not comply with the conditions. And he cannot
do that if we send him to the guillotine for murder."

"The signature to the will? Is that in order?"

"Quite in order, Citizen: and there are the signatures of the two
witnesses. Indeed, indeed," the notary concluded emphatically, "you need
have no fear on that score either. It is not the first time," he went on
cynically, "that I have had to concoct a document of that sort, and I am
not likely to bungle this one."

"No," was Chauvelin's equally cynical retort, "for it would not be to
your interest, Citizen, to make an enemy of me. As for your reward," he
added more lightly, "you need have no fear. It will be adequate: I
promise you."

After which there was silence for a while between these two partners in
the infamous plot. They walked on rapidly, bending their heads to the
wind: soon an irregular mass of masonry, partially hidden by clumps of
trees, loomed out of the fast-gathering darkness. It was the chateau of
Maljovins. The two men, silently and cautiously, began by making a tour
of inspection of the entire building.

The main body of the house consisted of two stories only, but in the
centre of the façade an extra story had been added; it only consisted of
one room, with a window and a balcony. The front of the house was
approached by a paved courtyard, and it was ornamented by a colonnaded
porch which gave support to another and larger balcony; under this porch
was the main entrance into the château. To right and left the house was
flanked by square, projecting towers, each of which had doors giving
direct access into them from the courtyard. As the château was built on
the side of the cliff, the upper story was on the level at the back: a
broken-down veranda, covered with overgrown wild vine, gave access
through glazed doors into this side of the house. Here, too, and to the
left of the veranda there was an additional tower, taller than the
others and octagonal in shape: this tower also had, a door which gave
direct access into it. From this multiplicity of doors it was easy to
infer that the rooms on the ground floor of the towers had no direct
communication with other parts of the house, and that there was possibly
only one staircase in the centre of the château.

The two men had completed the tour of the building: with their linen
carefully concealed by the dark lapels of their coats, and their hats
pulled well over the eyes, they moved about the darkness noiselessly,
like ghosts. They had just reached the veranda and were cautiously
peering about them, when a slight sound coming from the darkest angle
caused Desor suddenly to dart forward with an angry oath: the next
moment there was the sound of a sharp struggle, a smothered curse, a
choking murmur, and the notary dragged a man out from under the veranda
into the open.

"What is the meaning of this?" Chauvelin queried in a whisper.

"Name of a dog," came in a hoarse reply from the victim of Desor's
sudden onslaught, "if that is the way you treat a patriot--"

"Citizen Orgelet--!" murmured the notary.

"Who else?" the other retorted. "A fine fright you gave me, I can tell
you. And why do you interfere with my business, I'd like to know."

"It was a mistake, Citizen," Desor whispered apologetically. "I
thought--"

"You have lost your nerve, Citizen Desor," Orgelet riposted, with a
sneer. "Seeing ghosts, what? Well, am I to finish this business, or am I
not?"

"I thought to find it all done--" grunted Desor.

"I had no opportunity," was Orgelet's gruff rejoinder, "the aristo
arrived late in the afternoon. He bolted and barred all the doors and
windows himself. It took me some time to get one undone."

"Why all this to-do?" Desor retorted roughly, "there is no one in the
house but the old woman, and she won't interfere with you."

But apparently Orgelet was inclined to be truculent. "If you can find
someone else to do the work for you," he began; but Chauvelin once again
broke in impatiently:

"Stop this wrangling!" he commanded; "and you, Citizen Orgelet, get to
business: we've wasted too much time already."

Orgelet shook himself like a big, shaggy dog: then, with hands in
pocket, he shuffled back up the shallow steps of the veranda, Chauvelin
and Desor following closely behind him.

"I have got these shutters undone," Orgelet whispered, and softly
disengaged first the outside latch of one of the shutters, and then the
bolt of the glazed doors. A moment later he had stepped cautiously into
the house, whilst Desor and Chauvelin remained outside--watching. It was
pitch dark. For a moment or two everything was as silent, as motionless
as a grave--then from out of the darkness a soft shuffling sound made
itself heard, the sound of stealthy footsteps creeping down some unseen
stairs, and anon a voice came whispering through the gloom:

"Hist, is that you; Citizen Orgelet?"

"At your service, Citizeness," Orgelet replied.

The footsteps came nearer and suddenly a shaft of light pierced the
darkness, and lit up the grotesque figure of an old woman, scantily
dressed in a petticoat and shawl. Orgelet had opened the shutter of a
small, dark lantern which he carried in his belt: the old woman only
just succeeded in smothering the scream which had risen to her throat.

"How you frightened me, Citizen!" she murmured hoarsely.

"Too late now to think of fright," Orgelet retorted. "Is everything
ready?"

"Yes!" the woman replied, "he has gone to bed, and there's no one in the
house but me."

"Which is the bedroom?"

"Just up those steps, then turn sharply to your right. The door in front
of you, at the end of the passage. I have left it on the latch."

"Then stay down here until I call you. I shall not be long," was
Orgelet's final, cynical retort, as he tiptoed toward the stairs.

The old woman remained crouching somewhere in a dark angle of the room:
Chauvelin, closely followed by Desor, had stepped noiselessly into the
room. They watched, fascinated, the movements of the shaft of light that
came from the lantern at Orgelet's belt. Up the stairs it travelled,
then took a sharp turn to the left, and crept along a short passage:
Orgelet's footsteps were noiseless, but presently the watchers heard the
soft sound of a door being cautiously opened, followed almost
immediately by a loud cry of "Qui va là"?

The old woman gave a smothered cry and buried her face in her hands.
Desor, with hands that shook and dripped with moisture, gripped the edge
of his companion's coat. Only Chauvelin remained motionless and unmoved.
The first cry had been followed by another: "Voleur! Assassin!" The
silent, deserted château seemed suddenly alive with noise: a tramping of
feet overhead, a struggle, another cry, quickly smothered this time,
then a dull thud. After that, silence again.

And a few minutes later the watchers from below saw the tell-tale shaft
of light come creeping back, first along the passage, then down the
stairs. Orgelet had done his work.

"Is he dead?" Chauvelin asked.

He had spoken quite calmly, hardly raising his voice, and yet the sound
reverberated like dull thunder through the silence and the gloom.

"I believe you," Orgelet grunted in reply: then added with a cynical
laugh: "It was tough work, I can tell you." He was intent on nursing one
of his wrists, rubbing it with the palm of his other hand and muttering
a coarse oath or else a groan from time to time. The bright eye of his
lantern wandered aimlessly from point to point about the room with every
movement that he made: one moment it lit up the huddled figure of the
old woman, and the next it alighted on Desor's bloated face or on
Chauvelin's shrunken figure and pale, thin hands. The room appeared
large, running right through from the veranda at the back of the house
to the balcony above the porch in front. The staircase was somewhere on
the left encased in gloom. There was very little furniture about: a
horse-hair sofa in one angle, a desk in another: in the centre, a round
table, with three or four upright chairs around it.

The old woman had begun to whimper, her teeth could be heard chattering.

"Stop that snivelling," Chauvelin broke in impatiently.

"My poor, poor master," she moaned.

"You should have thought of that sooner, my good woman," Chauvelin
retorted dryly. "Are you forgetting perchance, that Citizen Orgelet has
just put you in possession of a very nice château and some valuable
land?" he added with a sneer.

At once the sound of whimpering ceased

"You won't go back on that, Citizen?" she asked.

"Not unless you play me false."

"I won't play you false," the woman said more steadily, even though she
could not quite stop the chattering of her teeth, "tell me what to do
and I'll do it."

"It won't be difficult either," Desor grunted. "And what a reward!"

"It is close on nine o'clock now," Chauvelin resumed in curt, incisive
tones. "At ten o'clock you will go upstairs into your master's room--"

"Saints in Heaven!" the woman broke in shrilly, "how shall I do that?"

"By thinking, I imagine, of the will which your master has made, leaving
all his property to you," Chauvelin replied with a dry chuckle. "That
ought to steady your knees as you go up those stairs. Well, you will
carry a candle, and you need only go as far as the door, but you'll open
the door wide and then let yourself sink down on the threshold, as if
you were in a faint, and there you will remain until the Commissary of
Police arrives on the scene. You understand?"

"Yes, yes!" she murmured, "but, my God, how shall I do it?"

"The Commissary of Police will question you, and you will tell him that
Citizen Orgelet here is your nephew, that he had been doing some work in
the stables for your master and had then come in to have supper with
you: that your master went up to bed at nine o'clock, and that you and
your nephew followed an hour later: that going up the stairs you both
heard certain sounds that alarmed you: that you went to the door of your
master's room, found it on the latch, pushed it open, and saw--you
understand me?--saw Citizen Malzieu, whom you know well by sight,
standing over your master with his two hands around his throat; that you
screamed, and Citizen Orgelet rushed forward to apprehend the murderer,
after which you must have fainted for you remember nothing more. Is that
clear?"

"Quite--quite clear, Citizen," the woman muttered feebly.

"And what did I do," here broke in Orgelet, "with a dry cackle, whilst
my respected aunt fainted on the doorstep?"

"You overpowered the assassin," replied Chauvelin curtly, "pinioned him
to a chair by securing his hands with his belt and his feet with yours,
wound your scarf around his mouth then you ascertained that poor Désiré
Malzieu was dead, and finally ran to the nearest commissariat of police,
like the good citizen that you are."

"Hm! And the assassin?"

"We have him under lock and key. He has been shut up in one of the
tower-rooms since Saturday; he will be too hungry to struggle much."

"So long as it seems reasonable that I overpowered him and pinned him to
a chair, single-handed---"

"What? A sturdy, big gossoon like you?--and Fernand Malzieu is an
actor--puny--effete--"

"I am not objecting, Citizen, if you are satisfied!"

"Then go and fetch the fellow. You'll find him in the ground-floor room
of the octagonal tower on this side of the château. We must get our
mise-en-scène right, eh, Citizen Desor?"

But Desor did not seem over-inclined to talk. There was something
ghoulish in the matter-of-fact way in which Citizen Chauvelin was
directing the staging of this grizzly comedy of which he, Desor, was the
principal author.

"Are you dreaming, Citizen," Chauvelin said abruptly in that trenchant
voice of his which always seemed to contain a menace. "Give your friend
Orgelet the key of the tower-room. After which we'll go and set up the
scene for the last act of the play."

Silently Desor fumbled in the capacious pocket of his coat and silently
he handed a key to Orgelet.

"The ground-floor room in the octagon tower, you said?" the ruffian
remarked, and then shuffled across the room toward the veranda. The next
moment he had disappeared through the glazed door; his lantern went with
him, and the two men and the old woman remained in utter darkness.
Orgelet's heavy, dragging footsteps could be heard quite distinctly,
first on the wooden flooring of the veranda, then squelching the soft,
rain-sodden ground of the pathway round the house. The silence around
was death-like; way below the cliffs, the outgoing tide made no sound of
breaking surf, or rattle of pebbles on the beach: the rain fell, soft
and persistent; soundless, too. The darkness alone seemed to carry
sounds within its folds--Orgelet's footsteps, and after awhile the
grating of a rusty key in a lock, somewhere in the near distance, and a
murmur as of a man's voice.

"Get a candle, woman," Desor said suddenly in a husky voice, "this
darkness is enough to choke a man."

"No, no, leave it alone," Chauvelin riposted. "Orgelet will be back
directly."

Somewhere close by a wooden shutter flapped, weirdly, persistently, like
the knocking of ghostly knuckles seeking admittance into the house of
death, then once again heavy footsteps squelched the muddy path. They
sounded heavier, slower, than before. Soon a narrow shaft of light
loomed through the darkness: it drew nearer, and presently fell across
the veranda floor.

"Name of a name of a dog, this is work for beasts, not for man," came
from a gruff voice, even as Orgelet reappeared under the lintel of the
glazed door. A heavy burden lay right across his shoulders: a ray of
light from the lantern in his belt caught the tip of his big nose and
the point of his chin covered with a grimy stubble.

"Take him upstairs," Chauvelin commanded; "we'll follow."

Orgelet muttered a few more oaths, but never thought to disobey. He
toiled laboriously up the narrow, winding stairs, with Chauvelin close
on his heels, and Desor, dragging Julie Navet by the hand, following on
behind.

Outside the door of the room where Désiré Malzieu lay lifeless, Orgelet
paused and deposited his burden on the ground, propping it up against
the wall.

"I thought I would lock our friend Désiré in," he said, with his coarse,
callous laugh, "in case the dead took to walking."

He took a key out of his pocket, but before inserting it in the lock, he
looked down on the burden which he had brought on his shoulders all this
way from the tower-room. The light from his lantern fell on Fernand
Malzieu's pale, wan face; his eyes were open and had a dull, feverish
glow in them, his hair lay matted against his forehead, his mouth and
chin were hidden by a woollen scarf wound loosely around his mouth.

"He doesn't look much like a desperate murderer now, does he?" Orgelet
remarked sarcastically.

Then he turned the key in the lock and threw open the door. He took the
lantern from his belt and held it high above his head, moving it to and
fro to illumine different parts of the room. The light fell on the
tumbled bed, the blankets dragged to the floor, the broken crockery and
overturned chair, and in the centre of the room the motionless form of
old Désiré Malzieu lying on his face with claw-like fingers clutching
convulsively at the carpet.

"A pretty sight, what?" Orgelet remarked with a ghoulish cackle. "What
do you think of it, Citizen Chauvelin?"

With a cry of impatience Chauvelin snatched the lantern from him and
stepped briskly into the room; Desor still dragging the woman by the
hand, was hard on his heels.

The next moment the door behind them fell to with a loud bang, and the
key grated in the lock. A noise as of a hundred demons let loose issued
from inside the room, whilst on the other side of the door Orgelet
cautiously lifted the inanimate figure of Fernand Malzieu from the
ground and once more hoisted him up on his shoulders. Quickly, but as
swiftly as he could, guiding himself with one hand to the banisters, and
steadying his burden with the other, he hurried down the stairs, across
the room, out once more through the glazed door, then through the
veranda back into the open. He skirted the house and crossed the
courtyard: here he paused a moment to lend an ear to the shouting, the
cursing and the banging that still issued from the top story of the
château. Quietly chuckling to himself, he re-started on his way, and
this time he did not halt until he had reached the path at the top of
the cliffs. Here he came to a standstill, and gently laid his bundle
down: then he gave a cry like that of a sea-mew, and thrice repeated it.

All around the same silence still held sway, only from below at this
point the gentle murmur of the waves rose and fell in rhythmic cadence
that was soothing and agreeable to the ear.

Two men emerged now out of the darkness, and Citizen Orgelet called out
to them in an extraordinarily cultured and well-modulated voice and in
amazingly perfect English:

"Hastings, is that you?"

"At your command," a pleasant voice gave reply. "Galveston is with me.
Have you got your man?"

"You bet I have. But I fear me he cannot walk."

"We have a couple of horses not two hundred mètres from here," my lord
Hastings explained, "and we can carry him so far."

"I'll leave him in your hands, then," the pseudo-Orgelet rejoined. "You
can take him to his lodgings in the Rue des Moines, number 17, over
against the jeweller's shop at the sign of the opal ring. Give him in
charge of his man-of-all-work, and then go at once to the house of the
Citizen Doctor Gambier, see Mademoiselle Céleste, his daughter, and tell
her the news. After that, meet me at my lodgings. I must get some of
this filth off me before I can think of anything else."

He watched my lord Hastings and Sir Richard Galveston while they lifted
the still unconscious body of Fernand Malzieu in their arms, and then he
waited until these two devoted followers had disappeared in the darkness
with their precious burden. After which, he turned on his heel and
walked back toward the old château.

V

An hour later in a dingy lodging situated not far from the one where
Fernand Malzieu was slowly recovering consciousness under the loving
eyes of Céleste Gambier, we men were delighting in the story of this
latest adventure of their beloved chief.

"I could not resist going back to that old crow's nest," Blakeney was
saying gaily, "just to see how that unsavoury rabble was getting on. I
was just in time to see the elegant form of my ever-engaging friend
Chauvelin silhouetted against the light behind him; he was apparently
mentally gauging the distance from the top balcony to the one below and
marvelling if he might venture on a jump. He had succeeded in opening
the window and the shutter: the door, I imagine, holding fast; it was of
oak, very stout, and the lock was good. He was silent as usual: but in
the room behind him, his precious mate, Desor, as well as old Désiré
Malzieu and that abominable hag, were making a noise fit to bring all
the evil spirits out of Hades."

"Old Malzieu was not hurt, then?" one of the young men asked.

"Not he!" Sir Percy replied. "You see, what actually happened was this:
after poor, little Céleste had confided her anxiety to me, and I had
arranged to meet some of you on the cliffs, I put on some rags and set
off at once, as you know, for the old château. I knew, of course, that
poor, unsuspecting Fernand had walked straight into a trap which those
devils had set for him. What that trap was I could only conjecture, but
I had shot a guessing arrow into the air and it had not fallen wide of
the mark. My only fear was that we should be too late, and that I should
find the abominable deed already done. The château was all in darkness
when I arrived, door and windows hermetically closed; but peeping
through one of the shutters under the veranda I saw old Désiré sitting
at the table, having some supper and waited on by that old hag Julie. Of
Fernand I saw no sign. A moment or two later I became conscious that I
was not the only night-bird prowling round the old château. A bulky,
clumsy form was lurking in the shadows, obviously intent on mischief.
He, too, like myself, peeped through the shutters of the veranda, then
he ensconced himself in its darkest angle and waited. I, in the
meanwhile, had found cover behind some rough shrubbery from whence I had
observed his movements. I give you my word that the whole sinister plan
invented by those fiends was by this time as clear as daylight to me. A
lurking assassin! A will supposed to have been made in favour of Fernand
whose popularity disturbed the complacence of the Terrorists! A charge
of wilful murder! Odium cast on the popular actor! The idol of the
people turned into an execrated criminal! Well, we had to put a spoke in
that abominable wheel or shame the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel for
ever."

"You know the rest," Blakeney went on lightly.

"Skirting the house, I succeeded in effecting an entrance into it by
climbing by way of the two balconies up to the top floor window, which
luckily was not so securely latched as those on the lower floors. The
room which I entered was obviously the master's bedroom: everything was
prepared for him for the night. Trusting to luck, I hid underneath the
bed and waited. After awhile, Désiré Malzieu came upstairs. Then came
the dramatic moment. What exactly happened in the room below I cannot,
of course, tell you. I was just trusting to luck. But presently I heard
shuffling footsteps, then voices from below, finally the opening of the
bedroom door. You can easily guess the rest: whilst Orgelet feil on old
Désiré Malzieu, who was shouting 'Voleur! Assassin!' fit to wake the
dead, I fell on Orgelet, who was so taken by surprise that has never
uttered a sound. What with his belt and my own and a length of rope
which I had stuffed into my pockets, I managed to get him well trussed
and silenced and stuffed underneath the bed: old Désiré was sprawling on
the floor, but I did not think that he was very grievously hurt. From
Orgelet I had taken the dark lantern which proved such a valuable
friend, for it lit up everything round me and left my face in darkness.
After that, the whole thing became child's play. I was sent by Desor to
fetch poor Fernand: until that moment I did not know where he was and
never had the time or opportunity to look for him. When I first saw him,
he was more dead than alive, but we may take it at this moment, under
the able ministrations of Mademoiselle Céleste, he is more alive than
dead. And so, home, friends," the daring adventurer concluded with his
merry, last laugh; "frankly, I am demmed fatigued. At dusk to-morrow we
make for the Day-Dream and set sail for England, and unless the little
party's obstinacy prove greater than our determination, we'll have
Fernand Malzieu and his pretty Céleste and possibly old Doctor Gambier
on board, too."



CHAPTER VI - IN THE TIGER'S DEN

I

Heavens above, the indignation! The entire commune of Bordet was
outraged: its rampant patriotism was stirred to its depths.

Think of it! That abominable gang of English desperadoes had been at
work in the region. Aye! within a stone's throw of Bordet itself. For
Bordet is an important commune, look you! Situated less than half a
dozen leagues from Paris, and possessing a fine château which might be
termed a stronghold, it had the proud distinction of having harboured
important prisoners at different times--aristos, awaiting condemnation
and death--when the great prisons of the capital were, mayhap,
over-full, or it was thought more expedient to erect a guillotine on the
spot.

Thus it was that the ci-devant Bishop of Chenonceaux--a man of eighty
who should have known better than to defy the law--and the equally old
Curé de Venelle had been incarcerated in Fort St. Arc, and it was from
there, and on the very eve of the arrival of Mme la Guillotine and her
attendant executioner on a visit to Bordet, that those two old calotins
were spirited away under the very nose of Citizen Sergeant Renault, one
of the shrewdest soldiers in the department and more keen after spies
than a terrier is after rats.

Sergeant Renault was soundly rebuked for what was mercifully termed his
carelessness, and he was ordered off to defy Holland to rejoin his
regiment, there to expiate his misdemeanour by fighting against the
English. And good luck to him, if he came home with all his fingers and
toes and the tip still on his nose. The authorities in Paris, on the
other hand, despatched a special officer down to Bordet to take over the
command of the detachment of National Guard stationed at Fort St. Arc,
as well as to supervise the organization of the police in the district.

Now, if the English spies dared to show their ugly faces in Bordet they
would have to deal with Citizen Papillon--a very different man to that
fool Renault, whose popularity and reputation had effectually gone down
with him. A day or two after the arrival of Papillon, a batch of
prisoners were brought to Fort St. Arc: ci-devant priests--contumacious
ones, so 'twas understood--from villages over Orléans way, whose crimes
against the new laws regulating the administration of religion were too
many to enumerate. No wonder that the authorities in Paris required a
man of Papillon's shrewdness and enthusiasm to guard these against the
possible interference of that master-spy--the mysterious Englishman,
known throughout the country as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Papillon, sitting in state in the Taverne des Trois Rats, surrounded by
an admiring crowd of citizens, gave it as his opinion that not the devil
himself--so be it there was a devil--could spirit the aristos out of St.
Arc.

"And look you," he went on sententiously, "look you, citizens all! It
has come to my ears, that there are those among you who, for filthy
lucre, have actually lent a hand to those abominable English spies in
their treacherous devices against the security of the State. Now, let me
tell you this: if I catch any man of you thus trafficking with those
devils I will shoot him on sight like a dog!"

And he looked so fierce when he said this, and rolled his eyes so
ferociously that many a man felt an icy shiver coursing down his spine.

"Therefore," concluded Citizen Papillon, "if any one of you here know
aught of the doings of that gang of malefactors, or of the place of
their abode, let him come forward now like a man, and a patriot, and
impart such information to me."

There was silence after that--silence all the more remarkable as the
Taverne des Trois Rats was densely packed with men, all of whom hung
spellbound on the irascible sergeant's lips. Citizen Papillon, having
delivered himself of such sound patriotic principles, proceeded to
quench his thirst, and whilst he did so, the silence gradually broke,
firstly into a soft murmur, then into louder whispering; finally a few
words were distinguishable above a general hum which sounded now like
the buzzing inside a beehive.

"Tell him, Citizen Chapeau!" one or two men kept on repeating in a
hoarse whisper. "It is thy duty to tell."

Thus admonished and egged on too by sundry prods from persuasive elbows
and fists, a tall, ungainly youth slowly worked his way in and out of
the forest of tables, chair, and intervening humanity, until he came
within a few feet of the redoubtable Papillon, where he remained
standing, obviously timid and undecided.

"Well, Citizen, what is it?" the Sergeant condescended to say in an
encouraging tone of voice.

"It is--it is that--" the youth answered. Then he suddenly blurted out
the whole astounding fact: "It is that I know where the English spies
have their night quarters!" he said.

"What?" And Sergeant Papillon nearly fell off his chair, so staggered
and excited was he. He appeared quite speechless for the moment, nor did
Chapeau say anything more: his courage had once more sunk into his
sabots. Then someone volunteered the remark:

"Citizen Glapeau lives on the outskirts of the commune. His father is a
mender of boats."

"Well, what of that?" Papillon demanded.

"My father and I have seen strange forms of late prowling about the
river bank o' nights," Chapeau said with a swift if transitory return to
courage.

Papillon, with characteristic keenness, seized upon these scanty facts,
and within a few minutes had dragged from the timid Chapeau all the
information he needed.

Chapeau's story was simple enough. Close to the river bank, not a
quarter of a league from his father's hut, there was a derelict cottage.
Citizen Papillon would not know it, as he was a stranger in these parts,
but everyone in Bordet knew the place and could go to it blindfolded. Eh
bien! Chapeau could swear he had seen vague forms moving about inside
the cottage and, in fact--in fact--well, he himself had taken wine and
food there once or twice--oh, certainly not more than twice--at the
command of a tall foreigner, who might have been an Englishman.

This was neither the place nor the time to deal with Chapeau's
misdemeanour in the matter of parleying with and feeding the enemies of
the country. Sergeant Papillon for the nonce contented himself with
admonishing the delinquent and frightening him into a state bordering on
imbecility. After which he turned to his subordinate, Corporal Joly, and
fell to whispering with him. It was understood that measures were being
taken for a nocturnal expedition against the English spies, and after
awhile the agitated throng fled out of the Taverne des Trois Rats and
men returned to their homes to ponder over the events which were about
to plunge the peaceful commune of Bordet into a veritable hurricane of
excitement.

II

The derelict cottage which stood with its back to the towpath had no
roof; only two of its outside walls were whole, the others, built of mud
and stone, had partially fallen in. Inside, the place was littered with
debris of plaster and of lath: the front door had gone, leaving a wide,
shapeless gap in its place: the inside walls were partly demolished, and
there was no trace of any staircase.

In the shelter of these ruins vague forms were moving. The night was
dark and very still after the rain. The moon was up, but invisible
behind a thin veiling of clouds which tempered her light into a grey
half-tone that lay over the river like a ghost-like pall and made the
shadows appear almost solid upon the banks. The miscellaneous noises
which during the day filled the immediate neighbourhood of the towpath
with life and animation had long since died away: all sounds were
stilled in the direction of the boat-mender's workshop some two hundred
mètres away. All that could be heard now was the soughing of the
night-breeze through the reeds or the monotonous drip-drip of lingering
raindrops from the branches of the willow trees. Even the waterfowl and
tiny, prowling beasts were at rest, and the lazy river made no sound as
she lapped her flat banks with silent somnolence.

The men who were sheltering in the derelict cottage did not speak. They
were of the type whom a life of adventure and of deadly perils
constantly affronted, had endorsed with the capacity for perfect
quietude and protracted silences. It is only the idle and shallow-witted
who are for ever restless and discursive. Of time, they took no count:
the whole of the night was before them, with its every moment mapped out
for action and for thought.

Then suddenly one of them spoke:

"They should be here by now," he said in a soft whisper, scarce
distinguishable from the soughing of the wind among the rushes, "unless
the worthy Papillon has changed his mind. You'll have to hold them a
good quarter of an hour when they do come," he added, with a pleasant
laugh.

A happy chuckle came in response to this command.

He who had first spoken straightened out his tall figure and gazed above
the low parapet of broken masonry toward the remote distance where the
solid, irregular pile of Fort St. Arc stood out spectral, almost weird,
against the midnight sky.

"When Ffoulkes and I have done our work," he resumed after awhile,
"we'll meet as arranged. I don't know how many of us there will be, but
we'll do our best."

"I believe that my information is correct," another voice put in
quietly. "There are half a dozen old priests shut up in the topmost
story of the tower they call Duchesse Anne."

"Nothing could be better," the chief went on, "as the tower is close to
the river and very easy of access. I wonder, now," he added
thoughtfully, "why they chose it."

"I wondered, too," the other assented. "It seems the prisoners were
moved in there yesterday."

"Well, so long as we have the boats..."

"We have two: and Hastings is in charge of them, in the backwater just
below the Venelle woods."

"Then there is nothing more to arrange," the chief concluded, "and so
long as you, Tony, and Holte can keep that fool Papillon and his
detachment off our hands until they are too tired to do more mischief,
Ffoulkes and I will have ample time for our work and should certainly be
at the back-water before dawn."

Before any of the others could give reply, however, he gave a
peremptory: "Hush!" then added quickly: "Here they are! Come, Ffoulkes!"

To any but a practised ear, the silence of the night was still unbroken:
only such men as these, whose senses were keyed up to the presence of
danger, like the beasts in the desert or jungle, could have perceived
that soft and subtle sound of men stirring far away. A detachment of the
National Guard was in truth moving forward stealthily along the towpath
and the adjacent fields from the direction of Bordet: their thinly-shod
feet made no noise on the soft, rain-sodden earth. They crept along,
their backs bent nearly double, they carried their muskets in their
hands and each man had a pistol in his belt.

In the derelict cottage all was silence again. Of the four men who had
been there, two had gone. These two were also creeping along under cover
of the darkness, but their way lay in the direction of Bordet. They
appeared as one with the shadows of the night, which enveloped them as
in a shroud. At times they crawled flat on their faces, like reptiles in
the ditches, at others they flitted like spectres across an intervening
field.

When, after awhile, the body of Papillon's men was in their rear, they
struck boldly across to the towpath, and thereafter, with elbows held to
their sides, swiftly and with measured tread they ran along towards Fort
St. Arc. At a distance of some two hundred mètres from the pile they
halted. A spinney composed of alders, birch, and ash gave them shelter;
the undergrowth below hid them from view.

"What disgusting objects we must look," one of the men said with a
quaint, happy laugh. "I vow that confounded mud has even got into my
teeth."

He drew a scented handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wiped his
face and hands.

"I wonder," he said, musing, "if it is possible for any man to be quite
such a fool as Papillon appears. Well, we shall see."

The other, in the meanwhile, had groped his way to a dense portion in
the undergrowth, whence after some searching in the dark, he brought out
a bundle of clothes.

"Hastings has not failed us," he said simply. "And the others will be
waiting in the Venelle woods."

Whereupon the two men proceeded to divest themselves of the rough and
mud-stained garments which they were wearing, and to don the clothes
which their friend had laid ready for them. These consisted of uniforms
of the National Guard, a disguise oft affected by members of the League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel: blue coats with red facings, white breeches
and high, black gaiters reaching above the knee, all very much worn and
stained.

"Excellent!" the taller of the two men said when he had fastened the
last button. "Now, Ffoulkes, remember! You wait below until I give the
signal. You have the rope, of course?"

He did not wait for a reply, but started to walk at a quick pace towards
the fort. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Bart., one of the smartest exquisites in
London, followed close on his heels, with a heavy-knotted rope wound
around his person.

Everything had been pre-arranged. Within a few minutes the two men had
reached the edge of the spinney, and the irregular pile of the old fort,
with the tower known as the Duchesse Anne in the foreground, rose grim
and majestic above them. The Duchesse Anne was an irregular heptagonal
tower surmounted by a battlement. There were only two small windows, one
above the other, in the façade which fronted the spinney: they were
perched high up, close to the battlemented room; one of these windows,
the lower one of the two, showed a dim light.

Above it, to the immediate left, there was a square, flat projection
which might have served as a look-out place or a concealing closet. A
tiny window was cut into its face. To the right and left of the tower,
the irregular roofs and battlements of the fort, some of them in ruins,
all of them obviously neglected and disused, rose in irregular masses
against the sky. Shallow, rocky slopes, covered with rough grasses and
shrubs, led up to the foot of the fort, save where these had been cut
into to form a bridge that led to the main entrance portal. The night
had become very dark. Heavy clouds were rolling in from the south-west,
completely obliterating the moon, and a few heavy raindrops had begun to
fall.

Sir Andrew Ffoulkes now wound the knotted rope around his chief's body,
and a minute later the latter began his ascent of the slopes.
Immediately the darkness swallowed him up. Sir Percy Blakeney, one of
the most powerful athletes of his time, was possessed of almost abnormal
physique and was as agile as a cat. To him the climbing of a rough,
stone wall did not present the slightest difficulty. Here, a century-old
ivy and a stout iron pipe gave him all the help he needed. Within five
minutes he was on a level with the lower of the two windows--the one
which showed a dim light, like a sleepy, half-open eye, through the
darkness clinging with one hand to the ivy and with the other to a stone
projection, he peeped in through the window. It was innocent of glass.
One bar of iron divided it vertically in two, leaving, so Sir Percy
ascertained at once, sufficient space for the passage of a human body.
The room on which it gave was large and bare. Blakeney, for the space of
a second or two, thought it was empty. He seized the iron bar and limbed
upon the sill; this gave him a commanding view of the room. It was
innocent of furniture, save for one chair, and in the corner, on a level
with the window, a table.

In front of this table, kneeling upon the floor, and with their heads
buried in their hands, six men were kneeling. Sir Percy could only see
their backs, clad in black soutanes, shiny at the seams, threadbare
across the shoulders, and the worn soles of their shoes. The men were
praying. One of them was reciting a Litany: the others gave the
responses.

Without another thought, Sir Percy Blakeney threw one shapely leg over
the window-sill, then the other, and dropped gently down into the room.

In one moment the six men were on their feet, with a loud cry of triumph
which had nothing priestly in its ring, and through which one voice,
hoarse with excitement, rang out commanding and distinct.

"My gallant Scarlet Pimpernel, so then we meet at last!"

III

In less time than that of a heart-beat Sir Percy realized the magnitude
of the trap which had been laid for him. In less than one second he saw
himself surrounded; at a call from his first assailants, half a dozen
more men had rushed into the room; he felt a dozen pairs of hands laid
about his person and heard the cries of exultation and the shouts of
derision. He saw the pale eyes of his arch-enemy Chauvelin glistening
with triumphant malice as they met his own across the room.

A dozen pairs of hands! No wonder that Chauvelin called to him with a
complacent grin.

"I think we have fairly caught you this time, eh, my fine gentleman!"

He looked so evil just then, so cruel and withal so triumphant that
Blakeney's imperturbable humour got the better of his grim sense of
danger. He threw back his head and a loud, merry peal of laughter woke
the echoes of the old fort.

"By Gad!" he said lightly. "I verily believe, sir, that you have."

They thought that he meant to sell his life dearly; one or two of them
raised the butt-ends of their pistols, ready to strike the struggling
lion on the head. But that struggle was brief. Just once he freed
himself from them all. Just once did he send one or two of his
assailants, with a mighty blow of his powerful fists, sprawling,
half-senseless, against the wall. Just once did Hébert--Hébert who had a
heavy score to settle against the Scarlet Pimpernel--raise a knife, and
would have dealt a death-blow to the fighting giant in the back, but it
was Chauvelin himself who struck the would-be assassin such a heavy blow
on the wrist with his pistol, that the knife fell with a clatter to the
ground.

"You fool," he said with a snarl, "this is not the time to kill him."

At that same moment Blakeney raised his hand, and before anyone could
intervene he flung something white and heavy with unerring precision and
lightning rapidity through the window. But what was one man's
strength--even if it be almost superhuman--against the weight of
numbers?

"You are caught, my fine Scarlet Pimpernel!" Chauvelin kept on repeating
in a shrill, excited voice, and rubbed his thin, claw-like hands
complacently one against the other "You are caught at last and this
time..."

He left the sentence uncompleted, but there was a world of vengeful
malice in those unspoken words. Quickly enough the end came. One man
used the butt-end of his pistol and struck at the lion from behind. The
blow caught him at the back of the head and for a moment his senses
reeled: whereupon they got him down flat upon the table and tied him to
it with the knotted rope which he had about him.

Even through half-swooning senses, he was aware of Chauvelin's thin,
colourless face thrust close to his own.

"Fairly caught, eh, my gallant Pimpernel?" the Terrorist whispered with
a malicious chortle; "there are four calotins in the room above and you
have fallen like a bird into my trap this time."

"Aye! and been trussed like a fowl," Sir Percy gave cool reply. "The
last time you trussed me like this was on the sands off Calais. On that
occasion too you had donned clerical garb, my friend. 'Tis all of good
augury."

Chauvelin laughed; he felt secure at last. No more bargaining with the
Scarlet Pimpernel, no more parleyings. The guillotine here in the
courtyard of the fort as soon as it could be brought down from Paris. He
would send a courier for it at once. In less than twelve hours, it could
be here. In the meanwhile, unless indeed supernatural agencies were at
work, there was no fear that this trussed bundle of anguished humanity
could escape out of this trap.

Blakeney securely tied to the table, with several mètres of rope wound
about his body, was as helpless as his most bitter enemy could have
wished. For the nonce he seemed to have lost consciousness. He lay quite
still, with eyes closed, and slender hands--the hands of an idealist and
of an exquisite--hanging limp and nerveless from the wrist.

That was the last vision which Chauvelin had of him as he finally went
out of the room in the wake of his friends. They took the lantern away
with them and left the captured giant in darkness. After which they
filed out through the door and pushed the heavy bolts home. Even so half
a dozen men were left on guard outside: the others quietly went their
way, satisfied.

IV

How long Sir Percy remained thus pinioned in total darkness, he could
not have told you. Time for him had ceased to be. That he had not been
altogether blind to the possibility of this danger was proved by the
fact that he had a message ready for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, in his pocket,
carefully weighted with a disc of lead. It contained less than half a
dozen words and was characteristic both of the man and of his friends,
in whom he trusted. The words were "Am helpless. Wait for signal." This
message he had succeeded in flinging out of the window before he had
been finally overpowered. He was quite convinced in his own mind that if
Sir Andrew received the missile, nothing short of death itself would
move him from his post. He would watch and wait.

All that prescience could accomplish had therefore been done; from
henceforth luck, indomitable will and untiring pluck could alone save
this reckless adventurer from the consequence of his own daring.

Indomitable will and pluck--the pluck to wait and to remain quiescent at
this moment when the husbanding of strength perhaps meant ultimate
safety. He did not struggle, nor did he waste his energies, great as
they were, in futile attempts to free himself from his bonds. The men,
who had set the cunning trap, were not likely to have bungled over the
tying of knots; therefore Blakeney, pinioned and helpless, was content
to wait and to watch--to watch for this swift passage of fortune--the
quaint, old saying in which he had so often professed belief: "Of
fortune the wayward god with the one hair upon his bald pate, the one
hair which he, who is bold may seize and therewith enchain the god to
his chariot."

He waited and listened. No sound came from the other side of the door:
the soldiers on guard were probably asleep; but overhead men were
stirring; shuffling footsteps moved to and fro across the floor. The old
calotins were watching and praying, and he who had set out to rescue
them lay like an insentient log, the victim of a clumsy feint. At
thought of this Sir Percy swore inwardly, and his fine, sensitive lips
broke into a self-deprecating smile.

But presently he fell asleep.

When he awoke, he did so because the darkness about him had become less
dense. The moon had tom a rent in her mantle of clouds: she peeped in
through the window; a shaft of her pale, cold light lay along the floor.

Pinioned as he was, Sir Percy could not do more than slightly raise his
head and turn his eyes so as to search with cat-like glance the remotest
angles of his prison. Then suddenly his roaming eyes alighted upon an
object which lay on the floor just beneath the window. A knife! the one
wherewith Hébert had tried to stab him and which Chauvelin had knocked
out of his colleague's hand. There it had lain all this while--an unseen
salvation.

Strength? of course it required strength! and pluck and determination!
But here was a man who had all three in a more than a human degree. Tied
to the table, his arms and legs helpless, he had just his powerful
shoulders as a leverage, and to a certain extent his elbows. With their
aid he started first a gentle oscillating movement of the table, which
was a rickety one, the floor being old too, made of deal planks roughly
put together and very uneven. Gradually by regular pressure first with
one shoulder and elbow, then with the other, the table rocked more and
more: presently it tottered, partly swung back again, staggered again
and finally came down with a terrific clatter on the floor, bearing its
human burden with it to the ground. A broken arm, leg, or shoulder?
Perhaps! The adventurer would not think of that! If he did not succeed
in getting out of this, he would be no worse off with a broken limb than
he had been before. And there was always the chance! At this moment it
meant life to him and to others.

The fraças had, of course, roused the soldiers on guard. Sir Percy lying
prone now, with the table on top of him, heard them stirring the other
side of the door. Anon the bolts were pushed open, the heavy latch
lifted. The chance! my God, the chance! The chance of what those
miserable soldiers would do when they found the prisoner in such a
precarious position. And then there was the knife! My God, do not let
them see that knife...and guess! Blakeney lying there, half-numb with
the fall, bruised more than he knew, could just perceive its dim outline
in the penumbra less than half a dozen feel: away. There followed a
couple of minutes of suspense more agonizing perhaps than any through
which the bold Scarlet Pimpernel had gone through this night. He heard
the footsteps of the soldiers entering the room. One, two, three of
them. One came up close to him, and laughed. Then the others laughed
too. No doubt, the mysterious Englishman, endowed by popular
superstition with supernatural powers, looked mightily ridiculous, lying
there upon his face with table legs towering above him. Obviously the
soldiers thought so too, looked upon his plight as a huge joke, and
laughed and laughed; one of them adding to the joke by kicking the
pinioned foe. Then they all retired, and went back to their interrupted
sleep. Blakeney heard the violent closing of the door, the grating of
the heavy bolts in their socket, then nothing more.

The knife still lay there on the ground, not half a dozen feet away, and
the moon once more veiled her light behind a bank of grey clouds.

To drag himself along the ground with scarcely any noise was still a
difficult task, but it was not a superhuman one. Slowly, painfully but
surely Blakeney soon lessened the distance between himself and that
weapon of salvation. Five minutes later his hand had closed on the
knife, and he was rubbing its edge against that portion of the rope
which he was able to reach. The labour was arduous and time was speeding
on. Darkness had once more become absolute: through the open window
there came the scent of moisture, and the faint sound of dripping rain
upon the ivy-leaves. A distant church-clock struck three--two hours then
before the break of dawn!--two hours and there was such a lot more to be
done.

A quarter of an hour later the first piece of rope had given way, and
the slow process of disentangling it had begun. It required an infinity
of patience and above all absolute noiselessness. But it was done in
time. At last the prisoner was free from the rope and he was able gently
to crawl away from under the table. A moment later he was at the window
peering out in the darkness. A thin drizzle was falling, and the soft,
moist air of early morning cooled his burning forehead.

"By God!" he murmured to himself. "May I never be in so tight a hole
again. All my compliments, my good M. Chauvelin. The trap was
magnificently laid. But I was a fool to fall into it. I wonder if there
is anyone down there now--"

Leaning out of the window, he detached a small piece of loose mortar
from the outside wall and let it fall into the depth below. At once his
keen ear detected the sound of men stirring down there, sitting up,
mayhap, to listen, or merely turning over in their sleep.

"They've left nothing to chance," he murmured with a good-humoured
chuckle. Fortunately, when his enemies brought him down they had not
searched through his pockets, so now from an inner one he took a pencil
and a tablet, and, blindly, for the darkness was complete, he wrote a
long message to his friend. When he had finished, he listened for a
moment; no sound now came from below; whereupon he gave a gentle call,
like the melancholy hooting of an owl. It was answered immediately from
out of the midst of the spinney, and Blakeney then flung the second
message to Sir Andrew--a message of instructions, on the fulfilment of
which depended not so much his own life, as that of four helpless,
innocent priests.

After which he wound the precious, knotted rope once more around his
person, threw one leg over the sill, and, a moment later, started to
climb once more up the side of the ancient, ivy-covered wall.

V

Midnight had struck at the church tower of Ste Cunégonde when Sergeant
Papillon returned from his expedition to the derelict cottage. After a
siege lasting over a quarter of an hour, during which those satané
Englishmen had kept up a wild fusillade from the ruined house and
succeeded in putting half a dozen of Papillon's best men hors de combat,
the Sergeant had given the order to charge, and the men had, indeed,
boldly rushed into the place--only to find the cottage entirely
deserted! It was scoured in every nook and cranny, but not a sign of
human life could there be found, nothing but the usual heap of debris,
the litter of broken laths, of masonry and scrap-iron. The Englishmen
had vanished as if the earth had swallowed them up. Indeed, the silence
and desolation appeared spectral and terrifying. And it was in very
truth the earth that had swallowed up those mad Englishmen. They must
have crept through a disused drain which gave from a back room of the
cottage direct into the bank of the river. Here they must have lain
perdu half-in and half-out of the water, hidden by the reeds, until the
soldiers were busy searching the cottage, when no doubt they made their
way, under cover of the reeds, and along the bank to a place of safety.

Papillon had been obliged to leave the wounded in the derelict cottage
and had returned somewhat crestfallen, glad to find that his
discomfiture was not counted against him. In very truth he could not
guess that his expedition had succeeded over-well in its object, which
was to throw dust in the eyes of that astute Scarlet Pimpernel by
persuading him that here were a lot of louts and fools whom it was
mighty easy to hoodwink. Since then the mysterious Englishman had been
captured and was now lying a helpless prisoner in one of the topmost
rooms of the Duchesse Anne. There was nothing to fear from him. The
English spy, completely helpless, was so well guarded, that not a host
of his hobgoblins could trick his warders now. A dozen men outside his
door, he himself little more than an insentient log, and a good watch at
the foot of the tower! What cabalistic power was there to free him from
it all? Chauvelin, Hébert and the other Terrorists--all members of the
Committee of Public Safety, who looked strangely out of the picture in
their clerical garb, with the tricolour sash peeping out beneath their
soutanes--finally retired satisfied, leaving Papillon and the men whom
he had brought back with him on duty in the guard-room for the night.
They would be relieved one hour before break of dawn.

It all occurred when the church-clock of Ste Cunégonde was striking
four. Some of the soldiers had been relieving the tedium of the night by
playing dominoes, others by recounting the legendary adventures which
popular belief ascribed to the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel. All around,
the place was still. It was good to think of that turbulent Englishman
lying so still and helpless in the room above. Then suddenly the voice
of the sentry rang with a quick challenge through the silence of the
night. It was immediately followed by the sharp report of a musket-shot,
and before Papillon and his men could collect their somewhat sleepy
senses the passage and vestibule outside the guard-room, as well as the
courtyard beyond, were filled with awesome sounds of men shouting, of
hoarse commands, of cries, objurgations and curses. Papillon stepped out
of the guard-room. In a moment the confused hubbub was changed into the
one terrifying phrase repeated by a number of rushing, gesticulating
men: "The Englishman has escaped!"

"Where? How?"

But nobody could say for certain. The facts appeared to be that the
sentry at the bridge-head had heard a sound, and seen a man running from
the direction of the river. Both the sentinels fired, but in the
darkness they missed their man. Just then the detachment of National
Guard, who had come from their headquarters at Bordet to relieve
Papillon, came into view at the bridge-head. With them was one of the
members of the Committee of Public Safety, still in his clerical garb
and with the tricolour scarf gleaming beneath his soutane. He shouted a
peremptory order: "After him, Citizen Soldiers! or by Satan your heads
shall pay for it, if the Englishman escapes!" This order the sentry
dared not disobey, seeing whence it came, and both the men immediately
gave chase, aided by those who had been on guard at the foot of Duchesse
Anne.

But beyond that no one knew anything definite, and presently the
question was raised: "Had the Englishman really escaped?"

This, Sergeant Papillon set out immediately to ascertain. A winding
stone staircase leads from the vestibule into the tower. He went up,
followed by his own men, while the relief guard remained in the
vestibule.

No sooner, however, had the last of the Sergeant's men disappeared round
the bend of the stairs, than these newcomers silently and without haste
filed out of the vestibule, crossed the narrow courtyard, the entrance
portal and the bridge, and a minute later had disappeared amidst the
undergrowth of the spinney. Stealthily, warily, but with unerring
certainty they made their way through the thick scrub, striking inland
first then immediately behind St. Arc and back toward the river. They
had thus walked in a complete semi-circle around the fort, and reached
that portion of it which consists of a hollow, ruined tower rising sheer
out of the water and abutting on the battlemented roof of the main
building.

"Now," said one of the men in a quick whisper, "we should soon be seeing
Blakeney up there, and those poor old priests being lowered by him from
the roof."

Hardly were the words out of his mouth than the melancholy cry of an owl
came softly sounding from the battlements above.

"And here he is! God bless him!" came fervently as if in unison from the
hearts of the others.

Blakeney had succeeded in the task which he had set out to do. He had
climbed into the room under the roof where four unfortunate priests had
been imprisoned, preparatory to their being sent to death, for the crime
of adhering to their religion and administering it in the way they
believed the Divine Master had taught them to do. Their gallant rescuer
had soon found a means of breaking through the ceiling and getting out
upon the roof. With the help of the table, the chairs, and the precious
rope, he contrived to aid these four unfortunates to escape from their
hideous prison. They were sturdy country-folk, these old priests, and
did not shrink from perilous adventure, encouraged as they were by a
kindly voice and helped along by a sure and firm hand.

And whilst the Duchesse Anne tower, the staircases, vestibule and
courtyard of the fort were singing from end to end with shouts, and
words of command, with curses and derisive laughter, the Scarlet
Pimpernel, in a remote corner of the fort which the tumult and confusion
had not yet reached carefully lowered his four old protégés down from
the roof into the arms of his friends. Quietly he did it, without haste
and without delay, but aided by the members of his league not one whit
less devoted, less resourceful than he. There were just five minutes in
which the work of rescue had to be done; after which the confusion and
the search would spread to this lonely spot, and the noble act of
self-sacrifice would have been offered up in vain.

But it was all accomplished in the time, and soon the little party,
under cover of that darkest moment which comes just before the dawn,
were speeding up the river bank toward the Venelle woods, where in a
lonely backwater one of their gallant band of heroes was waiting for
them with the boats.

The chief was the last to step into the boat, and as the others began to
row, and the four old priests reverently whispered a prayer of
thanksgiving to God, he looked with eyes curiously filled with regret on
the grim pile that stood out vaguely silhouetted against the dark sky.

"By Gad!" he murmured with an entirely happy little laugh. "I would not
have missed this night's adventure for a fortune. I am quite sorry to
go."



CHAPTER VII - "THE LITTLE DOCTOR"

On that late September evening two men stood upon the lonely shore of a
picturesque corner of Brittany looking out to sea where a graceful
schooner, catching upon her sails the last lingering glow of the setting
sun, was fast disappearing behind the horizon line. One of these men was
tall above the average, and his height and breadth of shoulders were
accentuated not only by the dark many-caped coat which he wore but also
by proximity to the small, wizened figure of his companion, an old man
whose white hair was tossed about by the wind, and whose pale blue eyes
had that half-vacant gaze peculiar by daylight to those who habitually
burn the midnight oil. He it was who first broke the silence between the
two of them, and he spoke as if in response to a quick, short sigh that
had escaped the younger man's lips.

"I should be happier, milord," he said gently, "if you yourself were on
board that schooner now."

The other made no reply, gave the signal for turning away from the
shore, and anon the two men walked slowly back along the coast toward
the distant town. They did not speak: each was buried in his own
thoughts. It was only when the lights of the little city could be seen
twinkling in the near distance that they came to a halt; the older man
grasped his companion's slender hand with a gesture that was almost one
of affection.

"Give it up, milord," he said earnestly. "God knows you have done more
than enough in the defence of the innocent and the weak. The soil of
France has been made purer and finer since your foot hath trodden it.
But now it is enough. You have earned your rest, you deserve to enjoy
your happiness in peace, and to think of your own precious life and of
your own safety."

But the other shook his head and smiled somewhat wistfully.

"And," he said, "what about yourself, my dear Lescar?"

"Oh! I am safe enough," the old man replied. "They all know me for a
harmless fool round about here. And my profession is my safeguard. Even
the most hot-headed patriot knows that the country could not afford to
send all its doctors to the guillotine."

"You are right there," the other assented. "Well, God guard you."

Dr. Lescar watched the tall, athletic figure until the fast-spreading
gloom gathered it in its embrace, then he continued his way in the
direction of St.-Jean. He lived in a little house just inside the city
walls, and had in truth made a shrewd remark when he said that even the
wildest revolutionaries in France would not think of sending all their
doctors to the guillotine. Sickness, epidemics born of hunger and of
cold had followed in the wake of all the other miseries which a set of
self-seeking and cruel autocrats had brought upon the land, and in
St.-Jean itself Dr. Lescar had been kept busy. No one thought of
molesting him, no one hitherto had been fiendish enough to suspect or to
denounce him. They knew well enough that death would take a far heavier
toll in the city if it were not for his unremitting devotion and
undoubted skill.

The old man had met the English milord on one of those errands of mercy
the pursuit of which formed the life's business of both these men. They
were destined to understand one another; the self-sacrifice of the
gallant Scarlet Pimpernel found its counterpart in the unselfish herosim
of the obscure country doctor, and friendship born of mutual esteem had
sprung up between them over the alleviations of several miseries. It was
an impoverished family of gentle birth, named La Forest, suspected of
counter-revolutionary tendencies and recently denounced to the Committee
of Public Safety, which was even at this hour on the way to England on
board the schooner which Sir Percy Blakeney and Dr. Lescar had been
watching till she was out of sight. The latter had befriended them
whilst he had the power and the Scarlet Pimpernel had saved them from
certain death; but the old man felt heartsick when he thought of the
equally certain danger to which the noble-hearted English milord exposed
himself by remaining even a day longer in this country where a hundred
enemy eyes were on the watch for him.

Dr. Lescar saw nothing of his English friend for several days after the
departure of the schooner; vaguely he hoped that milord had taken his
earnest advice and had gone back to England. He himself was more than
usually busy that autumn; in the wake of early frosts and heavy rains
had come an epidemic of lung and throat trouble, and the doctor was up
and about seeing patients all the day and half the night through. It was
only in the evenings that he indulged in an hour or two's recreation in
the Taverne des Trois Rats, where sundry worthy tradesmen of the city
were wont to congregate and to gossip over a muddy cup of coffee and a
rank pipe of stale tobacco and strive to forget for awhile the miseries
which the high ideals of Liverty, Equality, and Fraternity had brought
upon them all. It was a tavern that was much frequented by sailors and
fisherfolk, not to mention the numerous smugglers who plied their
dangerous trade with some immunity along the lonely bit of coast.

On this occasion there was a group of that fraternity engaged in
animated conversation at one end of the room, whilst Dr. Lescar and his
friends sat together over their coffee at the other. The talk here had
drifted to the ever-interesting topic of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The
rescue of the La Forests under the very nose of the local Revolutionary
Tribunal was still a nine days' wonder. Dr. Lescar was known to have
attended one of the children the very day before the entire family had
been spirited away on board an English schooner that had brought in a
cargo of smuggled Bradford cloth and never been suspected of belonging
to the noted English spy and his amazing league of bravos.

"You must have seen the Scarlet Pimpernel, Doctor," one of the men said
jovially; "you must have seen him! Come! there's no harm in seeing a
spy--not for a man like you who would be too busy to trouble about
denouncing anyone, as it would be the duty of an ordinary citizen to
do."

"I may have seen the Scarlet Pimpernel," Dr. Lescar replied cooly, "or I
may not. How can I tell? seeing that we none of us know what he is like,
or who he is."

"You must know if an English aristo visited the La Forests," the other
persisted, "you were in and out of their house."

"Citizen Bausset is right," here interposed a mean-looking,
sharp-featured man who was sitting alone at a small table close by. "You
must have seen or at least suspected something, Citizen Doctor."

He spoke sharply and with a certain indefinite air of authority which at
once drew the eyes of all those present upon him.

"Do you not think it strange," he went on with a note of dry sarcasm in
his thin, shrill voice and addressing the group of men who sat at the
table nearest him, "Do you not think it strange, Citizens, that Dr.
Lescar, who was an intimate of those traitors La Forest---"

"Who says he was an intimate?" interposed Bausset, throwing himself at
once into the breach in order to defend his friend.

"I say so," the other retorted quickly. "He attended them without
demanding his just fees--"

"More honour to him," one or two broke in warmly.

"Perhaps. I am not impugning him for that. I merely endeavour to prove
that the citizen doctor was intimate enough with the La Forests to give
them his time and his trouble for nothing; and I therefore assert that
he must have been aware of the plot hatched by those English spies to
cheat the laws of our country and to aid a set of damnable traitors to
escape from justice."

The man never once raised his voice, nor did he make a single gesture of
wrath or of authority; nevertheless, when he had finished speaking no
one attempted to contradict him. A silence fell on them all, and furtive
looks that spoke of hidden terrors were hastily exchanged,
whilst---almost imperceptibly---those who had sat nearest to the little
doctor edged their chairs away.

The only one in the room who appeared wholly unconcerned was Dr. Lescar
himself. He continued to pull at his long-stemmed pipe and to sip his
coffee with perfect quietude. After awhile he said simply:

"My country will judge of mine actions: I have done naught of which any
true patriot need be ashamed." Then he turned and deliberately faced the
man with the thin voice and added calmly: "Every man, woman, and child
in and about this city knows me. You, Citizen, are a stranger here. Will
you not tell us your name, and by whose authority you come here amongst
us and impugn the loyalty of the citizens of St.-Jean?"

The other appeared to hesitate for a moment, then with quiet
deliberation he unbuttoned his coat and displayed the tricolour scarf of
officialdom which was wound around his waist. With his long, thin
fingers he tapped the scarf and said dryly: "This is my authority,
Citizen Doctor. My name is Péret, at your service."

"Then, Citizen Péret, I pray you be more explicit," Lescar rejoined
calmly, "and frame your accusation against me in a manner that I can
understand."

"I am not accusing you, Citizen Doctor," Péret retorted more amicably;
"but you should understand how anxious the government is to get hold of
that English spy whose machinations have fostered the spirit of
rebellion and treachery in France. We cannot leave a stone unturned to
track him to his hiding place. My accusations were not directed against
you. I was only seeking for the truth."

This change of front, from truculence to conciliation, had at once a
cheering influence upon the company; a general sense of relief loosened
every tongue. Dr. Lescar was very popular in the city; there was scarce
a family dwelling in it who did not owe him a debt of gratitude, and
every man in the room was conscious of a vague feeling of satisfaction
at the thought that the good doctor of St.-Jean was too important a
personage to be dealt with summarily by the tyrannical Committees of
Public Safety.

In the silence that ensued in the immediate entourage of Lescar and
Péret the hum of conversation at the farther end of the room became more
audible. Here a group of rough-looking customers had apparently lent an
ear to the wordy passage of arms whilst continuing an exciting game of
dominoes. They were an ugly crowd, unwashed and loud of speech, and al
of them were drinking hard; some of them spoke French, with the throaty
accent that hails from Spain or Portugal, others only spoke their own
language amongst themselves---English, Dutch, Norwegian--whilst those
who were obviously French, equally obviously hailed from Marseilles. All
of them had that unmistakable air about them that proclaims the rough
seafaring life, and not only that but also the unavowed trade, the
traffic which calls for constant risks, perilous adventure, and
familiarity with crime. Here, from out the general murmur made up of
foreign oaths and truculent arguments, the voices of two or three
Frenchmen detached themselves more clearly. They were mariners by
profession and had the rich colouring, dark, crisp hair, and massive
build peculiar to the sons of Provence. Fine, sturdy fellows they were
and would in truth have been goodly to look at with their flashing eyes
and full red lips and the gold earrings in their ears, were it not for
the glowering, surly, at times coldly cruel expressions which would
suddenly spread over their features if they were contradicted, or
thought themselves insulted.

"I tell you, Pierre-Hercule," one of them said to the other, "that
you'll gain far more by speaking than by holding your tongue."

"'Tis not for me to speak," Pierre-Hercule retorted with an oath.
"Dieudonné here knows more about it than I do."

And he half turned to the third man who sat close beside him, a man
whose face was disfigured by a scar that ran straight between his brows
and gave his a peculiarly hard, obstinate expression; his watery eyes
and hanging lips suggested that he had already drunk more than was good
for him, and at Pierre-Hercule's words he indulged in a stream of
meaningless oaths.

"I don't want to give that fool of a doctor away," he murmured thickly.
"He was very good to my little wench once when she was sick; so hold thy
tongue, Pierre-Hercule, and thou too, Jean-Paul, for I've a good mind to
break thy jaw to stop thy cackling."

This was too good an opening for a quarrel and the beginnings for a
fight to be lightly passed over and the next few minutes were taken up
with fierce expletives and provocative cries on the one side and sundry
attempts at peace-making on the part of those nigh.

At the other end of the room Citizen Péret was apparently asleep; it was
only Lescar and his friend Bausset who had noted that at the last speech
from the Marseillais, the representative of the Committee of Public
Safety had opened one eye and then turned slightly toward the smugglers,
the better to hear what next they would say.

"Thou'rt a fool, Dieudonné," Pierre-Hercule resumed after the quarrel
had been hastily patched up. "Dost forget that thine own neck is in
danger, all the while that thou choosest to hold thy tongue?"

Dieudonné put his hand to his throat and swallowed hard. The prospect
was obviously an unpleasant one.

"Anyway," he said gruffly, "it is too late. The Englishman must be gone
by now."

"Then 'tis ten thousand francs thou has lost, my friend," Jean-Paul
retorted dryly, "for that is the reward for the capture of the
Englishman."

"Not only ten thousand francs," here broke in the thin, shrill voice of
Citizen Péret, "but most probably thy head as well."

Unseen and silent, he had edged up to the table around which the
smugglers sat; at sound of his voice the three Provençals had jumped to
their feet and hastily made the sign of the Cross---one may deal in
illicit goods and be pious for all that. The foreigners gazed up at
Péret in surly silence.

"Yes! thy head," Péret went on sharply. "Dost not know that to traffic
with an enemy of thy country is treason and punishable by death?"

"How did I know that he was an enemy of my country?" Dieudonné retorted
savagely.

"Every Englishman is an enemy of France. We are at war with England."

"Not every Englishman, Citizen," Dieudonné rejoined. "Our own government
up in Paris has bought Bradford cloth from one or two English traders
whom I could name, and--"

"That is beside the point," Péret interposed hastily. "According to
thine own showing, thou didst meet an English spy and failed to denounce
him."

"How should I know he was an English spy?"

"The description of that abominable Scarlet Pimpernel has been
circulated far and wide. Every seafaring man, every coastguardsman,
every loyal citizen should know him at a glance."

"That's just it," Dieudonné rejoined with a loud oath. "The Englishman
of whom I speak could not possibly be the Scarlet Pimpernel. The Scarlet
Pimpernel is tall; the Englishman I saw was short, wizened, a shrimp,
what? He has a sick wife and two miserable brats whom Dr. Lescar over
there has attended to my knowledge the last three days."

"Is this true?" Péret exclaimed with a snarl, and wheeled round abruptly
to face the old doctor.

"I attend all those who are sick," Lescar replied, "but I have no
recollection of the people of whom Citizen Dieudonné is speaking."

"We'll soon see about that," Péret retorted, sneering. "Where did that
Englishman lodge?" he asked once more, turning to Dieudonné.

Dieudonné hesitated palpably for a moment or two. Murmurs of "shame on
thee" came from various parts of the room, and Bausset, the friend of
Lescar, swore a savage oath. But the authority of the tricolour scarf,
the threat which it implied, the ever-present dread of accusations, of
summary trials and of the guillotine, quickly smothered any generous
impulse and after a second's pause Dieudonné replied sullenly:

"In the last house in the Rue des Pipots. The end house before you come
to the edge of the cliff."

Whereupon Péret without further remark called out loudly:

"Citizen Corporal! Hey, there!"

A couple of soldiers immediately entered the room; unbeknown to the
company, they had apparently all along been on guard somewhere close by.
Behind them in the doorway worthy Citizen Liard, landlord of Les Trois
Rats, stood wringing his hands, lamenting at this insult put upon his
loyal house.

"Citizen Corporal," Péret commanded, "go at once to the barracks, and
ask the captain to detail a dozen men to accompany you. Your orders are
to go to the end house in the Rue des Pipots and to bring every person
you find inside that house here to me. Go quickly!"

The soldiers saluted and went out of the room; their rapid, measured
steps were heard to cross the narrow passage and then resounded down the
cobbled road. In the public room an ominous silence had fallen over the
assembly. Men had drawn their chairs closer together, casting obsequious
glances on Péret, or servilely offering him food and drink. The fear of
death was upon them; one or two had made a furtive attempt to sneak out
of the room, but a peremptory word from the Terrorist glued them to the
spot.

"Every man," he said curtly, "who goes out of this room without my
permission will be a dead man to-morrow. Citizen Landlord, I make you
responsible for everyone in this house."

Only the little doctor remained perfectly calm, sipping his coffee and
now and again giving a pull at his long-stemmed pipe. But with the
exception of Bausset no one spoke with him; they had edged their chairs
away, as far from his as they could.

In the far corner of the room the company of smugglers had become
singularly quiet. It seemed as if they felt the magnetism of the
impending tragedy. Now and then a murmur from one of them would break
the silence, but it was quickly suppressed by the others. Dieudonné, the
unworthy hero of the drama, sat sullenly pulling away at the fragments
of an old clay pipe. The others apparently were blaming him for what had
happened, for a few injurious epithets were hurled at him between
copious draughts of liquor.

Half an hour went by. Péret had been at pains to restrain his
impatience; his fingers were drumming a devil's tattoo upon the table
and his narrow, hawklike face was working as if a savage oath was
forcing its way through his lips.

Then suddenly he jumped to his feet; quick, measured footsteps resounded
on the cobblestones of the narrow street. A few seconds later the
corporal entered the room. He appeared breathless with excitement.

"We went to the Rue des Pipots," he said, speaking rapidly, "the last
house in the street---"

"Yes! Yes!" Péret broke in, in his shrill treble, "and whom did you find
there?"

"No one, Citizen."

"What do you mean? No one?"

"No one, Citizen. The house was empty. But I left three of our men on
guard, waiting your instructions, because in an outhouse in the waste
ground adjoining we found a quantity of smuggled goods: English ale,
cloth, steel files. It was quite by chance we lighted on them."

"Smuggled goods, eh?" Péret remarked, obviously disappointed. "We can
see about those to-morrow. It was not worth while keeping three men to
guard a few yards of cloth."

"It was not the cloth, Citizen, nor the English files that made me and
my men anxious. It was this note which we found soiled and crumpled,
forgotten amongst the goods."

And the soldier handed a dirty scrap of paper to Péret, who seized on it
eagerly and quickly glanced over its contents. Then he turned back
abruptly to the group of smugglers.

"This epistle," he said dryly, "is addressed to you, Citizen Dieudonné."

Dieudonné jumped to his feet.

"To me?" he queried with an oath.

"It suggests that you meet the writer at the usual trysting place at ten
o'clock this evening. Where is that trysting place, Citizen Dieudonné?"

"I don't know what you mean," the smuggler replied gruffly. "The epistle
is not addressed to me."

"Ah, but I think that it is," Péret rejoined blandly. "How can we assume
that there is more than one Dieudonné who plies the nefarious trade
smuggling in St.-Jean. The epistle is addressed to the Citizen Dieudonné
at the sign of the Flying Bull in St.-Jean. Now my police happen to
know, Citizen Dieudonné, that you are lodging at the sign of the Flying
Bull. Where is the usual trysting place, Citizen Dieudonné?"

"It is all a lie," Dieudonné swore hotly. "Are you all fools or am I
mad? I tell you that letter was not written to me. I know nothing of any
trysting place."

"H'm," Péret retorted with affected urbanity, "that is a pity for you,
Citizen. Because the device at the foot of this epistle---see, it is
done in red ink and shaped like a small flower--suggests to me that it
was written by that arch spy the Scarlet Pimpernel, and unless you can
tell us what is the trysting place where he suggests that you meet
him--"

He paused and looked intently on the smuggler, whose cheeks beneath the
tan had taken on a leaden hue.

"It is all a lie," Deiudonné murmured, but those who heard him now could
note a tone of hesitancy, aye, and of fear in his gruff voice.

"Unless," Péret reiterated very slowly, "you can tell us the whereabouts
of that trysting place, you will be a dead man within the hour."

"Name of a dog!"

"Aye, name of a dog!" Péret retorted at the top of his high-pitched
voice, "you dirty, miserable spy, who tried---clumsily enough---to save
your pocket by telling us lies and denouncing a man whom this city
respects. You hoped, I imagine, to keep me and these citizen soldiers
busy whilst you removed your hoard and trafficked with that cursed
Englishman. Well! the guillotine is set up in the market place
conveniently, just outside this house. If within the next five minutes
you do not put me on the track of the Scarlet Pimpernel your head will
roll into the basket, my friend. And," he added with a vicious snarl,
turning to the rest of the company, "whoever protests or interferes will
go the same way too. Citizen Corporal, take this man out into the
square. The sight of Madame Guillotine's outstretched arms will, mayhap,
loosen his tongue."

The man---who was huge and powerful---fought desperately and with
amazing vigour; but resistance was, of course, futile, and within half a
minute he was over-powered and led out of the room, cursing viciously
and shaking a clenched fist in the direction of the little doctor.

"You mealy mouthed reprobate," he shouted, "I'll be even with you yet!"

But after he had been made to cross the narrow hall and, the front door
being wide open, he had caught sight of the hideous erection in the
market place, dimly illumined by an overhead lanthorn, he gave a dismal
howl like a terrified cur and blabbed half-incoherently:

"I'll tell you! I'll tell you where you can find the Englishman."

Péret, who had followed the small posse into the little hall, gave an
exclamation of satisfaction; then he made a peremptory gesture in the
direction of a door close by which bore the legend "Private" upon it.

"In there!" he said curtly.

He himself pushed the door open and went into what was apparently the
landlord's private parlour. A pair of ragged curtains hung in front of
the only window. In the centre of the room there was a table; on it a
tattered cloth. Around the walls were ranged a sofa and a few chairs of
black horsehair, adorned with soiled antimacassars, and upon the chimney
shelf an old clock ticked monotonously. A smoky, evil-smelling oil lamp
hung from the blackened ceiling and threw a dim circle of light around.

The soldiers pushed Dieudonné into the parlour.

"Two of you remain on guard in this room," Péret commanded, "the others
at attention outside the front and back doors of this house, see that no
one leaves it. Now then, Citizen Dieudonné," he went on, as soon as his
orders had been obeyed, "we wait to hear what you have to tell us."

"It's simple enough," the smuggler murmured, cowed and browbeaten
apparently into submission. "The Englishman is rich. He owns a schooner
which you must have seen out to sea. When he comes ashore I give him
shelter out of sight of the police; in exchange he brings me cargoes of
English files, or cloth, what? There's not much harm in that."

"To traffick with an enemy of France," Péret broke in dryly, "to cheat
your country of revenue, to harbour an English spy is black treason,
punishable by death without trial."

"If I am to die whatever I do," Dieudonné broke out like an infuriated
animal at bay, "then I'll not speak. Find the Englishman as best you
can."

"Silence!" Péret thundered in response. "You are not here to argue with
me, but to speak. But let me tell you this, my friend," he added with
sudden urbanity, "as soon as we have captured the Englishman you shall
have a full pardon for all your misdeeds and be free to go whithersoever
you please."

"Then send your men to the house of Dr. Lescar; the Englishman was to
meet me there at ten o'clock to-night."

"I don't believe it," Péret retorted. "It is another trick."

"A trick, is it?" Dieudonné cried hoarsely, "a trick? Let me tell you,
Citizen Péret, that you and your committee are being fooled and tricked.
Fooled by that sanctimonious doctor who lines his pockets and sells his
country to the enemy. A trick? Go, send your soldiers to the doctor's
house. You'll soon see if this is a trick."

For a moment after that there was complete silence in the dingy, ill-lit
parlour. Péret's deep-set eyes were fixed upon the smuggler's face, as
if he would drag the truth out of him by brute force. Then he glanced at
the clock. It lacked twenty minutes to ten.

The soldiers at the door were waiting, immobile and mute.

"A full pardon, man, if you have spoken truly," Péret muttered between
his teeth. "But if within an hour from now the guard have not returned
with the Englishman, or if in some other way you have lied to
me---well---it is not too late an hour to set Madame la Guillotine to
work."

He went to the window and threw it open. It gave on to the side of the
house.

"Citizen Corporal!" he shouted.

"Present, Citizen," came in quick response as the corporal hastened
around the corner.

Péret leaned out of the window and, when the soldier was within
whispering distance, he gave him rapid instructions:

"The house of Dr. Lescar---you know it?"

"Perfectly, Citizen."

"Go there at once with a dozen of your men. At ten o'clock, or soon
after, a man will arrive. He is tall and powerful--will probably be
disguised. Do not allow yourself to be tricked---seize any man you
suspect and remember that your heads are at stake.

"Tell them to bring Dr. Lescar in here to me."

Then he turned back into the room. For the next few moments the silence
of the night was broken by quick words of command; the measured tramp of
the soldiers as they crossed the market square and the peremptory call
for Dr. Lascar. Anon the little doctor was ushered into the parlour. He
appeared as serene as before, asked no questions and barely looked at
the smuggler, who at sight of him had broken into a jeering laugh and
raised a menacing fist.

"Pray to your saints, Citizen Doctor," he said, "that the Englishman
keeps the tryst which we made with him, else you and I, it seems, are to
lose our heads within the hour."

After that all was still. The doctor sat down quietly beside the table
and soon appeared absorbed in calm meditation. Outside, the little city
was already asleep, or mayhap its inhabitants were cowering wide-awake
in their beds, vaguely conscious of the tragedy that was being enacted
in their peace-loving town.

The tavern itself seemed like the abode of wraiths. Inside the public
room no one had stirred. No one dared stir. There were still soldiers on
guard about the entrances and all those in the public rooms remembered
Péret's orders and his threats.

In the private parlour the silence was electric; through it could only
be heard the dismal, monotonous ticking of the clock and the gentle
grating of metal against metal, as the curtain swayed upon its rod,
blown by the breeze which came through the open window. Péret had sunk
down on the sofa, with his elbows resting on his knees, his face buried
in his hands, striving vainly to keep his excitement in check. The
soldiers, alert and keen, kept close watch upon the smuggler and upon
the doctor. Dieudonné stood close beside the table, one hand resting on
the back of a chair; he was swaying slightly on his legs like a man
drunk, and his glance, which had become unsteady, travelled incessantly
from the calm face of the doctor to the crouching figure of the
Terrorist.

Then it happened all in a moment: the soldiers themselves scarce knew
how, so unexpected was it, like a sudden flash of lightening in a serene
sky. All that they recollected was that Dieudonné at a stroke lifted the
chair nearest to him and, swinging it up, struck the hanging lamp. There
was a terrific clatter of broken glass and falling metal; one of the
soldiers, on the very point of turning to pull open the door, felt his
leg clutched by an unseen hand, and he fell against his comrade,
dragging him down with him, even whilst Citizen Péret's calls and curses
sounded muffled, almost inaudible.

Less than two seconds later the noise had attracted the attention of the
guard outside The door was pulled open; soldiers came rushing in; the
lanthorn from the hall threw some measure of light upon the confusion
that reigned in the private parlour. There were some among the soldiers
who, had they dared, would in truth have laughed aloud, so comical did
the situation appear: their comrades struggling to their feet, the
broken glass, the oil from the lamp flowing in an evil-smelling stream,
and, funniest of all, Citizen Péret, the dreaded Terrorist, vainly
striving to disentangle himself from the folds of the tablecloth which
completely enveloped him, whilst the draught through the open window,
now that the door was open, blew the curtains straight out into the room
and somehow helped to make the situation appear more confused and more
ludicrous.

Of the smuggler and the little doctor there was not a sign. In vain did
Péret, as soon as he had found breath, shout himself hoarse with cries
of: "After them! After them! Curse you for a set of fools! After them!
They cannot have gone far!"

But, in truth, though mayhap they had not gone far, they had gone far
enough to be out of reach. Indeed, such a pursuit was bound to be
futile, as there were no indications whatever which ways the fugitive
had gone and many seconds were lost by the pursuers in arguments as to
which road to take. The darkness of the night favoured them, too, and
suddenly even the heavens were on their side, when it began to rain
heavily.

The records of St.-Jean in Brittany go to prove that the pursuit was
carried on in spite of many drawbacks and endless heart-burnings and
disappointments, until a posse of coastguardsmen sighted a rowing boat
out to sea which was making for a graceful English schooner whose lights
could be seen faintly glimmering through the veil of darkness and of
rain. They sent a volley of musket shot after that boat, but whoever it
was who wielded the oars easily baffled them.

And a couple of hours later, when from far away inland came the sound of
church clocks of St.-Jean booming the midnight hour, Dr. Lescar was
pacing up and down the deck of the Day-Dream beside the man to whom he
owed his life.

"I wish I understood it all, milord," he said. "Indeed, it seems that my
gratitude hath o'erclouded my brains, for it all seems an inextricable
puzzle to me."

"Nay! my dear doctor," Sir Percy Blakeney replied, smiling pleasantly on
the eager face of the little man. "Your generosity makes far too much of
what was just a happy adventure for me, almost entirely due to chance."

"Chance! It could not have been chance, milord, else how came you to be
in the public room of the tavern at the very hour when Péret made up his
mind to have me arrested?"

"Ah, but that is where you are mistaken, doctor. You think that it was a
sudden thought of Péret's tortuous brain that caused him to launch an
accusation against you. But I who---alas for me---know these abominable
Terrorists from old and varied experience, I guessed the moment that
such an important personage came to St.-Jean that he had been sent in
order to track down noble game. And who more important, more noble, more
of a thorn in the flesh of all those reprobates, than you, my dear
doctor, with your gentle, unselfish ways, your refinement, your
learning, and your pity. Nay! do not protests! We all know how the
people of St.-Jean love you, and to be loved of the people these days
stinks in the nostrils of those arrogant demagogues. I knew that your
arrest was a matter of a few hours, that it would need but a chance
click of the tongue to send a pack of curs snarling at your heels, so I
devised my little comedy. You know my belief, do you not? my belief in
my own luck, my belief that that the Goddess of Chance is bald is save
for one hair in her head, and that when she flies, unseen, before us, if
we can grasp that hair we hold her a slave to our will; well! to-night I
grasped that hair. I laid my scene in the outhouse of the Rue des
Pipots, with smuggled goods and the epistle making the assignation for
ten o'clock. Then, disguised as the smuggler Dieudonné and one or two
members of my faithful league as Pierre-Hercule and Jean-Paul, we goaded
Péret into accusing you then and there. It took time; but it was a mere
juggling with words and phrases till we got him to send his soldiers off
to the Rue des Pipots, where they found the epistle which I had prepared
for them. From that point until we got him into a state of somewhat
fuddled rage we had easy work. I wanted to get him and you into one
private room with me; I did not care how many soldiers he had to guard
him; the Goddess of Chance was ahead of me and I grasped her by the one
hair. After that, to break a lamp, to plunge the room into darkness, to
trip up the soldiers, to throw a heavy cloth over the head of Péret was
work that any schoolboy would accomplish with zest. The window was
already open as you know; I lifted you across my shoulders---you weigh
more than a child, my dear doctor---and together we gave Citizen Péret's
guard of bloodhounds a magnificent run, until we reached the secret
cove, which was the rendezvous for my faithful lieutenants, and where
one of them was waiting for us with a boat. Indeed, you and I had not
long to wait either. During the wild chase after us, attention at the
tavern had relaxed, the two members of my league had no difficulty in
getting away. They too made straight for the cove, while our pursuers
ran aimlessly about the town. And now," Sir Percy Blakeney concluded
with a happy sigh, "please forgive me for this long disquisition. 'Tis
you who wanted to know how the adventure was planned. To me and my
league it was both simple and pleasant. Ask my friends Lord Anthony
Dewhurst and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes if they would not greatly relish
another such joyous adventure."

The little doctor was silent for a moment or two; when he spoke again
his voice was veiled with tears.

"Ah, milord! you and your friends are English, and you have---I
understand--as great a horror of sentiment as you have of cowardice:
therefore I will make a great effort and keep back the words of
gratitude and admiration which wellnigh choke me. But at evening when,
mayhap, for awhile you rest from your labours of self-sacrifice and
heroism and in the arms of your dear wife live only for her beauty and
her love, then I beg of you to remember that at that hour there will
always rise from an old man's lips a hymn of thanksgiving to God, in
that He created men like you!"



CHAPTER VIII - THE CHIEF'S WAY

Part One

"Tell me all about it, boy!"

"It's damnable, damnable, damnable!"

"Of course it is---but how can I judge?"

"Blakeney, you will help me," the younger man pleaded. "You must." And
his gray, rather shifty eyes, despite the frown between the brows, were
fixed in a half-appealing, half-obstinate glance on his chief.

These were the early days of the League. The work of rescue to one or
two of these young enthusiasts was still a novelty--exciting---but
perhaps not quite so serious as it became later on. The chief was
obeyed, reverenced by those who were most in earnest---but there were
one or two---not more---who, full of zest at first, had found discipline
and blind obedience irksome. There was Kulmsted, whom they all
mistrusted, and who had not been allowed to join the present expedition.
Marguerite had begged her husband not to take him along, and these were
the early days of that marvellous recrudescence of love when Marguerite
and Percy had found one another, after that terrible misunderstanding
which had threatened to wreck both their lives. Therefore, her earnestly
expressed wish could not be denied and Kulmsted was left to nurse
disloyal thoughts in England. There were one or two members of the
League, Lord Tony and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, my Lord Hastings and others,
who would have liked to extend the prohibition to young Fanshawe. He was
a keen sportsman and apparently a loyal friend. He had joined the League
with an enthusiasm which scarcely had an equal, but he was wilful and
obstinate---an inveterate gambler and apt to turn very nasty if matters
did not go just the way he desired.

But Blakeney, with that marvellous cheerfulness and optimism which was
his greatest charm and that inveterate belief in the loyalty of others,
born of his own perfect rectitude, had dismissed with a light shrug the
warnings of his friends.

"You do the boy an injustice," he declared. "Good God, man, Fanshawe is
a Scotsman, a sportsman, and a gentleman---find me greater deterrents to
any suspicion of treachery."

On this occasion some half-dozen members of the League had with their
chief found refuge in a derelict cottage, which lay off the main
Thiers-Roanne road. In ragged clothes, unkempt and covered with grime,
they looked just what they pretended to be---miserable vagrants driven
from home by penury, and striving to pick up a precarious existence by
playing outside village cabarets. Even at this moment Sir Percy
Blakeney, Bart., the most perfect exquisite London society had ever
known, the intimate friend of the Prince of Wales, the inimitable Squire
of Dames, had stretched out his long legs, which were innocent of
stockings and only partially covered by a ragged pair of breeches. In
his hands---the Duchess of Flintshire had called them irresistably
beautiful---which were coated with coal dust he had a violin and a bow;
his hair, which looked lank and unkempt, hung in matted strands over his
forehead.

He had been performing on his violin in a manner which had brought forth
groans from his hearers and missiles of various kinds hurled admist
shouts of laughter at his offending head.

In a remote corner of the hut young Lord Fanshawe had been talking in
eager whispers to two of his companions who appeared too impatient to
listen; and the young man had worked himself up into a state of
exasperation until Blakeney's pleasant, if authoritative, voice suddenly
put an end to laughter and focused everyone's attention on Fanshawe.

"Blakeney, you will help---you must!"

"We'll all help, my dear fellow," Blakeney replied, and his gently
ironical glance rested for a moment on the flushed face and restless
eyes of his friend. "Tell us all about it. We'll make no more music
to-night."

And as Fanshawe remained silent, with that wilful, obstinate look more
marked on his face, Sir Percy insisted more firmly:

"Tell us, my dear fellow, how it all began. And when."

"About four years ago," Lord Fanshawe began at last, "when I was on a
visit to the D'Ercourts, at the Château Montbrison. Aline was lovely
then...a mere child; not yet seventeen, I think but..."

The boy paused a moment. The obstinacy died out of his eyes and gave way
to a look of softness. The others made no comment, they sat all round
him silently; some of them on the floor with their knees drawn up to
their chins, their hands clasped round their knees. After a while
Fanshawe seemed to shake off the wave of sentiment that had gripped him
by the throat and he went on in a more matter-of-fact tone of voice.

"We had a very gay time at the château, I remember. It was the season of
the chasse---you know what that means in France---dancing, cavalcades,
tournaments, everything to make life gay and beautiful. Aline was the
life and soul of it all. Her brother François I did not care about; he
was sullen and had a curious trait of arrogance and cruelty in him
which, I must say, I never found in the other French friends whom I used
to visit in those days. The old comte and comtesse, on the other hand,
were perfectly charming, slightly artificial perhaps in their studied
manners and ways of entertaining their guests, but marvellously
hospitable and pleasant. As far as I could gather they were always kind
to the people of the village, and during times of distress both the
comtesse and Aline would sally forth with baskets of provisions on their
arms, and I am sure kindly words on their lips, to see what was amiss
and to succour where they could.

"But trouble was brewing already. News from the big cities used to
filtrate down to this remote village, which lies off the main road
between Thiers and Roanne. Men in black coats and cocked hats---you know
the sort---would come down to the cabaret and hold meetings there to
which the village lads crowded eagerly. I never heard any of those
speeches but even we, in England, know something of these agitators,
whose mission in life is to make trouble.

"All of us at the château had heard of this Paul Notara who was a young
and good-looking fellow and kept the little village school. I strolled
down with François D'Ercourt one day as far as the school building,
which was also Notara's home. It was very neatly kept and very
picturesque. It had a little bit of garden and a pond and Notara himself
told me that he reared a few ducks and chickens and sold his eggs and
poultry. We had a long talk, and I got on very well with him. As you
know, I speak French fairly fluently. He struck me as a very highly
educated man and cultured above his station. He told me that his mother
and father used to keep the village cabaret, and when his father died
Paul and his mother sold the business. He then applied for and obtained
the post of schoolmaster in the village, settled down in the house
attached to the schoolroom, and lived on there with his mother whom he
idolized.

"Notara, it seems, had never thought of marrying then because his mother
made him so happy and comfortable that the idea of bringing into the
house a young woman who might prove a stormy petrel never entered his
head. At least that was what he told me. But while I and others were
guests at Montbrison---it was the first time I had been there---old
Marianne, Notara's mother, died. Now, of course, I do not know the
rights or wrongs of that story, but what Notara told me sounded credible
enough. It appears that the old woman caught a chill one November night
coming home from the castle where she had been summoned by Madame la
Comtesse to help in the kitchen. I know that they had a houseful at the
time and we certainly had a great to-do with banquetings and so on; I
quite believe that extra hands were required in the kitchen, but it
seems that this wretched old Marianne was already crippled with
rheumatism, and Notara says that she was made to stand in the yard in
the pouring rain doing some work for which there was no accommodation in
the kitchen. Be that as it may, the old woman developed some chest
trouble, and in three days she was dead. Well, of course, that was
nobody's fault and I am quite convinced in my own mind that both Madame
la Comtesse and Aline did all they could to help because it was in their
nature so to do, but Notara assured me that he was quite alone at the
time to look after his mother, that he entreated the leech of Montbrison
to come and see her but that there happened to be an epidemic of mange
among Madame le Comte's hounds and that the leech told him that these
were far more important than old Marianne. Anyway, the death of his
mother seems to have embittered Notara's soul, and probably did lay the
seeds to his subsequent bitter resentment."

A murmur went round the small assembly who up to now had listened in
complete silence to this simple enough narrative. The soft look in
Fanshawe's eyes had quickly died down again. As soon as Notara's name
came to his lips, that sullen, obstinate look which seemed the keyhole
of his character returned to his comely young face.

Blakeney poured out a glass of water and handed it to him. "You are
telling your tale most admirably, my dear fellow," he said lightly; "but
do not lose your breath till you have quite finished. I can see the
whole picture before me, so can the others I'm sure; and all that you
tell us now will help us, of course, to decide what had best be done in
the immediate future."

Fanshawe drank the water eagerly. He was not breathless but his throat
was dry and his hand slightly shaky. After a while he resumed his story.

"It was François d'Ercourt who told me that, according to village
gossip, Paul Notara was quickly enough consoled after the death of his
mother. Six months or so later he had resumed his place among the young
folk in the village. He was fond of dancing and of their beloved game of
bowls on the village green. He drank, but not to excess, and had an eye
for a pretty wench, but it seems that although he looked at this girl
and that one, not one of them could boast of having received more than
passing attention from Paul Notara. This strange indifference on his
part was, of course, much commented on in the village, and presently
when spring came along the idea began to get about that Paul had a
secret passion gnawing at his heart. You may well imagine that after
that these village folk put their heads together and decided that they
would find out for themselves why it was that Paul Notara, who had quite
a bit of money and a nice position, who was moreover good-looking and
hard-working, was still a bachelor.

"I don't know how François and Monsieur le Comte got to hear of the
facts, but certain it is that we all of us at the château used to make
great fun of the village schoolmaster's hopeless passion for
Mademoiselle Aline. For so it was: the village gossips had watched him,
it seems, o'nights, and they declared that Notara was for ever haunting
the purlieus of the castle and wandering beneath its walls; he had even
been observed to linger in the one spot in the park from which he could
spy the lighted windows and balcony which gave on Aline's room. Laughter
and gossip in the village soon became general. Imagine a village
schoolmaster daring to fall in love with a daughter of Monsieur le
Comte! But that Paul Notara was in love with Aline was no longer a
matter of conjecture; it was an established fact.

"As was only to be expected, this gossip came presently to the ears of
the Comte d'Ercourt and of the comtesse and also of François d'Ercourt
who, quite unnecessarily I thought, flew into a violent rage and
declared that he would punish that impertinent schoolmaster with a sound
thrashing, unless this abominable gossip died down within the next few
weeks.

"It was soon after that that the tragedy occurred."

Again the young man paused. He rested his elbows on his knees and buried
his face in his hands. It had been easy enough to recount in an
impersonal way the events which had occurred in a village, and in a
castle inhabited by friends, but quite another matter to tell of the
tragedy which had turned the whole tide of his destiny, and even warped
his nature to the extent of changing his feelings of friendship and
loyalty to his chief into incipient rebellion and treachery.

Blakeney said nothing, but more clearly than anyone else in the room he
could read just what was going on in the young man's mind. He had such a
capacity for sympathy and understanding that, where others would be
ready to condemn, he could always find something to excuse and a great
deal to pity. "Go on, Fanshawe," he said gently. "I think we ought to
hear from you exactly what happened on that night. So far I have only
heard a garbled and possibly a prejudiced account of that miserable
tragedy."

Fanshawe raised his head and looked outward and into vacancy as if he
were seeing again in a vision that exquisite autumn evening when on the
heights the tall cypresses had thrust their velvety blackness above the
sea of feathery pines, and down in the valley the leaves of the plane
trees had turned from russet to gold and lay thickly on the ground like
a soft, murmuring carpet that made a soft swishing sound under the feet
of the passers-by. The waning moon cast mysterious lights and deep
purple shadows across the avenue of the park, and in the darkness the
white flowers alone gleamed ghostlike, while their coloured sisters hid
their garish beauty in the mantle of the night.

"It is four years ago almost to a day," he resumed after a while. "Aline
and I wandered out into the park one evening after supper, lured as we
were by the beauty of the night. Unfortunately, she was never allowed
outside the house unless accompanied by a maid. That, as you know, was
the general custom in France in those days among young girls as well
born and well bred as was Aline. But I can assure you that on this
occasion the maid's presence was intensely irksome, both to Aline and to
me. There was so much that I wished to say to her, and I could see that
she was willing to listen. We both wanted to dream, and the swishing
sound of the leaves under our feet was just the right accompaniment to
all that I wanted to whisper in her ear.

"This was my second visit to the château, and my love for Aline had
grown in intensity. The girl, I could see, was developing into an
exquisitely beautiful woman. I felt that my happiness lay entirely in
her hands; I knew the prejudicdes that existed---especially in those
days---in the minds of French aristocrats against unions with
foreigners, but I trusted in my name and my considerable fortune to
overcome those prejudices in the minds of Aline's parents. Anyway, the
thought of making Aline my wife haunted my mind by day and my dreams by
night. She was exquisite, her eyes were like the mysterious ocean that
bathes the rocky shore of our cliffs in Cornwall, and her lips had the
velvety sheen which lies on the petal of a rose. I wanted to say all
this to her, and by the light of the moon I could see her dear face
soften and her eyes glowing when ever I was bold enough to take her
hand."

"Oh, we had to be very careful in those days how we approached the
daughter of a French aristocrat. No wonder, then, that both Aline and I
found the maid's presence irksome, especially when at a given moment she
interrupted one of my most passionate phrases with an impertinent: 'I am
sure Mademoiselle should be going indoors, the night is chilly..' But
Aline was not quite such a child as her maid and her mother supposed,
and I had the joy of hearing her retort quite impatiently: 'Yes, it is
chill; run, wench, and fetch me my shawl, the one which I left in the
boudoir this afternoon.'"

"I could not help smiling to myself, for I knew that the boudoir was
situated in a wing of the château at some distance from this avenue, and
you may imagine the joy I felt when I realized that Aline's intention
was to rid herself of the maid's company and to remain with me alone for
some length of time."

"And so we wandered on down the avenue under the plane tree, and it
would be useless for me to tell you how happy I was when I felt her
yielding as I put my arm round her waist. I think I was on the point of
snatching a kiss, when, from the distance, I heard François d'Ercourt's
voice calling to me: he was in the stables which were close by, looking
after one of his horses which was sick. Afraid that, if I did not
respond at once, he might come and fetch me and, finding his sister
alone with me, might make himself unpleasant, I gave Aline's dear little
hand a last squeeze, pressed my lips on her fingers, and went to find
François."

"Now, what happened after that I heard ultimately from Aline herself. It
seems that she waited in the avenue for a moment or two, half-hoping now
that her maid would not tarry; then suddenly, through the gloom, amongst
the trees, she saw a figure moving toward her. She came to a halt,
vaguely frightened: there were many marauders about these days, for
discontent in the village was rife, stirred up as it was by those
agitators from Paris. Aline was about to call for help; as I told you,
the stables were not very far, and both her brother and I, as well as
the grooms, were close by, but before she could utter a sound a voice
which she declared was very soft and gentle begged her not to be
alarmed. The mysterious figure moved out of the darkness into the light
of the waning moon, and Aline recognized Paul Notara. She told me
herself that she did not remember exactly what he said to her at the
time. Certain it is that he declared his love for her, but assured her
at the same time that he looked upon her with reverence as he would on
the Virgin Mary, and went on talking just the sort of twaddle which men
of his class, half-educated and possibly romantic, usually say under the
circumstances. Aline was not frightened of him; I think, poor darling,
she was slightly flustered by this declaration of love, which she said
was very respectful and gentle. Anyway, the romantic little scene ended
in Notara falling on his knees and kissing the hem of her gown. He also
tried to get hold of her hand, but I do believe that nothing more
serious would have happened ahd not Fate interevened in the shape of
Aline's maid, who returning at that moment with the shawl upon her arm.
She, seeing a man crouching beside her mistress, a man who she thought
must be an evil-doer, set up a mighty scream of alarm."

"Notara jumped to his feet. I take it he was no fool, and realized that
his position would be a very precarious one should he be discovered here
by any of the grooms or perhaps by Monsieur le Vicomte himself. Aline
was deeply distressed. She was a sweet nature, and was no doubt moved to
pity for the man who was in love with her, and she really tried her best
to get him away before François arrived on the scene. Notara, however,
seems on this occasion to have behaved like an idiot. He made no attempt
to get away, and a minute or two later a crowd of grooms and lackeys
were all about him, his flight was cut off, and to make matters worse,
François, who had heard the maid's scream, had come hurrying to the
spot. I followed closely behind him, and we arrived just in time to see
Notara brought down to his knees by the weight of the grooms' hands upon
his shoulders. François, I must tell you, was in a furious rage,
demanding an explanation, looking on Notara as if ready to kill the man.
The maid, terrified lest she should be blamed for having been absent
from her mistress gave an altogether wrong version of what she had seen.
According to her, Notara had molested Aline, and she had screamed for
help, being afraid lest a worse outrage should befall."

"Aline assured me subsequently that she did all she possibly could to
pacify her brother. Paul Notara, she declared, had said nothing whatever
to offend her. But there was no holding François then; his rage appeared
to have cooled down outwardly, but he was in one of those white furies
which are far more dangerous than the more violent sort. He reiterated
more than once and always apparently with the greatest calm: 'What was
this lout doing here at this hour? And why should he dare speak to you?'
He had a riding whip in his hand, and suddenly I saw him turn to Notara
and tighten his grip upon the whip. He addressed the wretched man quite
coldly, and asked him two or three times: 'How dared you? How dared
you?' and again: 'How dared you?' And before Notara could say one word,
and before I had the chance of interfering, he raised his whip and
struck him twice in the face."

"He would have done it a third time, only, fortunately, I was now near
enough to take hold of his wrist and prevent a further blow. I really
cannot tell you how Notara looked, what he did, or even what Aline said.
I know that she gave a cry and hid her face in her hands, whilst I did
my very best to control François, who seemed like a man who had seen red
and wanted someone's blood. I take it that Notara was never a coward,
and he certainly was a powerful, well-built man. I suppose that he
succeeded in wrenching his arms free, although I did not see him
struggle. What I did see was that he was about to raise his fist and, in
his turn, to strike François in the face. Of course, that was nothing
but blind and senseless rage, because, as you know, in France, for a man
in his position to raise his hand against his seigneur was, in those
days, punishable by death. Fortunately or unfortunately, I really don't
know which, the lackeys were there to intercept the gesture: they seized
Notara's arms again before he could actually raise his fist."

"By this time I had contrived to wrest the whip out of François's hand.
His rage had entirely left him, he was as cool as you or I, and, turning
to me, he said, laughing lightly: 'You English are as sentimental as our
women. Why should I not thrash that cur, I should like to know?' And he
said something about our men in the navy getting worse thrashings than
he would have administered to Notara, and for lesser faults than his."

"I was thankful to see the grooms and lackeys dragging the man away.
François went up to his sister: he took her by the hand and led her,
willing and silent, back toward the château. I tried to get a last
glance from her, but I think she was crying; and no wonder! She was
little more than a child, and the scene had entirely upset her nerves. I
remember next day hearing François and his father discussing the
punishment that should be meted to Notara. François, of course, was for
having him summarily hanged for having raised his hand against him and
insulted Aline. But Monsieur le Comte himself decided otherwise. It
seems that they looked upon Notara as a useful man in the village,
well-to-do and industrious. He paid heavy taxes into the coffers of his
seigneur and his government, and I suppose that it was doubtful whether
another man of that same calibre could be found in this out-of-the-way
village."

"I must say that at the time my sympathies were mostly with Notara,
although I had thought him a ridiculous fool for making love to Aline.
But he really had been so respectful and had kept his own counsel so
completely that I never had cause to demean myself by jealousy. After
that horrible scene of the night before I felt very sorry for him, as I
was quite sure he had done nothing to irritate François to such a pitch
of violence. Anyway, Monsieur le Comte, after he had heard the full
story of the adventure, came to the conclusion that a sound thrashing
would meet the case. In the light of to-day's events I am not quite sure
whether François's idea of hanging the brute would not have been the
wiser course, but at the time it was decided that there was nothing like
a stout stick for breaking a man's spirit and humbling his pride. What
we none of us reckoned with was that this breaking of spirit and of
pride could only be a temporary affair and that resentment and
bitterness would be far more difficult to combat than mere insolence."

"And so the next day I understood that Paul Notara had been duly
thrashed and within an inch of his life. It was owing to one of the
blows from François's whip that he lost the sight of one eye and his
face became singularly ugly and almost grotesque. I can imagine him for
days afterward, while he lay sick, nursing thoughts of bitter hatred
against everyone at the château. I thought that probably his love for
Aline would turn to hatred; I think in a way it has. I suppose he has
had plenty of time to think over all his wrongs, both imaginary and
real. Certain it is that as soon as he got better he threw himself
blindly into politics."

"As you know, matters were already then moving fast in Paris. Notara, as
soon as he got better, left his native village and wandered away,
presumably to the capital. In the meanwhile, those devils up in Paris
have kept on sending their agitators into all the villages of France,
and particularly over here. They have stirred up these louts into a
terrible state of resentment. The story of Notara, of course, leaked
out, and he has been deified into a kind of village hero. When he
returned, which was only a couple of months ago, and in the company of
one of those agitators, he was tacitly chosen to be the leader of all
the malcontents in the village. Most of the young men have been drafted
into military service. There are only aged and crippled ones left, but
they are the ones who remember the past; some of them have seen Notara
grow up amongst them, and that is the chief cause, I think, which led to
the horrible scene of this afternoon."

Lord Fanshawe paused. His narrative was at an end. The others had
listened in silence, nor did they speak for some time. Blakeney, too,
was silent. He was meditating on what he had heard. "There is no doubt,"
he said after a while, "that there are a good many innocents like Aline
who will have to suffer for sins which they have not committed and which
they abhor."

Part Two

Four years had gone by since that memorable evening, the tragic events
of which Lord Fanshawe had related to his friends. The old régime had
been swept away. The king and queen were prisoners in the hands of their
people, soon to pay with their lives the penalty incurred by their
forbears. Men, women, and even children had expiated on the guillotine
the ignorances, the faults, the crimes of which they themselves were
often innocent.

And still the work of retribution went on. Nothing was forgotten of past
injustice and past oppression, and in this death feud between caitiff
and aristocrat worse crimes were committed than those it was sought to
avenge. The Comte d'Ercourt had been among the first to suffer. Already
in the earliest days of the Revolution, and even while Madame la
Comtesse was lying ill with fever, brought on no doubt by worry and
anxiety, an angry mob of peasants invaded the château---very much as
another had done at Versailles---demanding speech of Monsieur le Comte
and Madame la Comtesse, of Monsieur le Vicomte, and Mademoiselle Aline,
and when the family refused to see them they forced their way into the
private apartments, smashed in a door or two on their way, ripping up
cushions and upholstery with the agricultural tools which they carried,
and tearing down priceless pictures from the walls.

It seems that they had contemplated nothing more, once in the presence
of Monsieur le Comte and his family, than to assert their right over
Monsieur le Comte's domains, to shoot what game they chose, to ride his
horses, or milk his cows and goats for their own benefit, and to empty
his granaries, since bread in the district was scarce. But they also
asserted their right of telling Monsieur le Comte and his family a few
home truths. Many matters were raked up which no doubt both Comte
d'Ercourt and his son would have wished to consign to oblivion. Of
these, the tragic fate of Paul Notara was more bitterly resented than
many another act of oppression or cruelty. Notara himself had left the
village and had not been seen or heard of since. No one knew whither he
had gone. But the picture of him when he wandered off on a chill
December morning, with a bundle of goods slung over his shoulder, his
face with that hideous scar over one eye turned for the last time on his
native village, was one not easily forgotten. And Aline, only recently
emerged out of childhood, listened wide-eyed and horror-stricken to all
this vituperation. Malevolence and hatred had never touched her before.
She knew nothing of the execration in which her father and brother and,
in a lesser degree, she and her mother were held by these people whom
she had been taught to regard as of less account than her horses and
dogs.

Now, when bitter words and angry curses were hurled at those she loved
best, when one of the men in a fit of fury seized her pet dog and with a
savage cry threw it out of the window onto the flagged terrace below,
when a begrimed hand snatched the string of pearls from her neck and
tore the lace ruffle from her brother's wrists, she could only stand
there, trembling and speechless, not understanding what all this meant
or why it had pleased God to inflict such an outrage upon her dear
father and mother who had always led a pious life, fearing God and
honouring the king.

But still darker days ensued. All the servants of the château, who used
to be so diligent and well mannered, now became rough and overbearing.
Impossible to give any one of them an order without receiving a rude
reply---often a point-blank refusal. And presently they left, one by
one---the men to seek employment in the cities, the women because they
no longer had taste for domestic work. The château, once the scene of so
much revelry, so many feasts, became silent and deserted. Only the
family remained at last, with old Pierre and Yvonne to do what little
service they could---Yvonne to cook scanty meals, and Pierre to try and
keep Monsieur le Comte's and Monsieur le Vicomte's clothes as tidy as
possible and to clean the three or four rooms which the family now
occupied. The rest of the house was shut up, with sheets thrown over
furniture and pictures to save them from the dust: and though the
weather was bitterly cold only one or two fires were lighted
occasionally, because wood was so scarce and dear. Men in rough clothes
and sabots came from Thiers or Roanne and without saying "by your leave"
carted away the provisions of fod and fuel that enriched the storerooms
of the château. They would march through the deserted rooms, peer into
drawers and cupboards, carry away anything portable they fancied, and
smash or otherwise destroy priceless objects of art which had been the
pride of the old château and its owners for many generations.

But the worst was yet to come. Aline, who was then just twenty-one, saw
her mother die, untended by a leech. She knew nothing of the healing art
herself, poor child! and Yvonne did what she could, but Madame d'Ercourt
just faded out of life: content to go rather than see worse humiliations
befall her children. And when Aline, half-distracted with grief, wept
bitter tears because the leech from Thiers refused to come and see her
mother, because, forsooth, the road was long and the weather cold,
Yvonne just shrugged her shoulders, and said dryly: "I remember Paul
Notara coming here, half-crazy, begging the leech to come to his dying
mother. But the leech could not be troubled about old Marianne, because
forsooth he had to tend Monsieur le Comte's dogs who were sick with the
mange."

Hatred, bitterness everywhere. Oh, my God! when would it all cease?

Part Three

Down in the village Paul Notara, recently back from Paris, taught his
friends how to nurse thoughts of revenge. Day after day, night after
night, the village folk would sit together, their stomachs empty and
their brains seething with resentment, discussing the marvellous events
up in Paris, where the people, tired of misery and want, and conscious
of their newly found liberties, had begun by storming the Bastille,
raiding that great monument which for centuries had stood as the
embodiment of everything that was tyrannical and cruel in the old régime
of France. Since then they had seized the persons of the king and his
family and kept them prisoners, forcing the king to do their will under
threat of worse to come. News filtered slowly through to this remote
corner of the Lyonnais, but it did reach even these sleepy villages in
time. Itinerant vendors of cheap wares, or vagrant musicians would bring
tales of the great doings in the big cities, not only in Paris, but also
in Orléans or in Bordeaux. Then why not in Thiers?

Paul Notara, blind in one eye, older than his years through mental and
bodily suffering, was no longer the handsome young man of the past. His
dreams had been shattered, even the memory of Aline seldom disturbed his
thoughts. He had not forgotten her, but would not allow himself to
think. Perhaps he wished to forget that it had been because of her that
that terrible outrage had been laid upon him. He hated all her kindred
and her friends, but the love of his youth prevented his feelings toward
her to turn to bitterness. And while the other men from the village sat
around the tables of the inn discussing the latest news from Paris,
gloating over the tales of reprisals, of executions, of summary justice
dealt out to those who had tyrannized over them in the past, Notara
would often sit amongst them, brooding and silent, only putting in a
word here and there, a word that would stir up their flagging interest
on their smouldering hatred. Though blind in one eye and no longer the
fine lad he used to be, Paul Notara, with his superior education and his
forceful personality, was the acknowledged leader amongst them.

With their headquarters in Thiers, the agents of the new government were
all over the neighbourhood urging the lads of the villages to find out
who it was amongst the bourgeois and the ci-devants who trafficked with
the enemies of the people of France. But the agents of the government
soon enlightened them. The enemies of the people, they said, were all
those who in the past had made the poor work while they feasted and
enjoyed life. They were those who had luxuries of all kinds at their
command while the people starved and while the poor had not even a leech
to look after them when they were sick. Well, there were plenty of those
all over France: the owners of the land, for the most part aristos or
bourgeois. But, said the agents of the government, the land by right
belonged to the people. What right had a few to monopolize it? To close
up the woods and forests and declare that the beasts that were good to
eat were their own inalienable property? Then there were others as well
who owned no land but had made money by selling goods to the poor at
exorbitant prices, whilst they themselves waxed rich in the process.
Merchants and manufacturers, all of them tyrants. It was the turn of the
people now to show their power over them.

And so the village lads sucked all those theories in as they would their
mothers' milk. It was good to hear that it was their turn now to feast
and to enjoy, whilst those others who had lived on the fat of the land
would suffer poverty and even want.

They gloated over the idea. Every one of them had a grievance to record,
an injustice to avenge. The old inn parlour was crowded most nights with
hotheads and malcontents. An agitator had been over from Paris and had
talked so forcefully and so eloquently that the whole countryside was
now convinced that the millennium had come at last upon the earth, that
everybody who had been poor would become rich, that everyone would have
enough to eat and drink and ne'er a stroke of work to do--no other work,
that is, except denouncing traitors to the justice of their country.

"Let not a single aristo remain," the agitator had entreated with fiery
eloquence, "to continue those traditions of tyranny under which the
people of France have groaned for centuries. Let but one of that brood
be left to stalk the land and back you will all sink into that abyss of
poverty out of which the government of the people, for the people, is
striving now to drag you."

The fact that up to this hour the government of the people for the
people had only succeeded in throwing the country into worse poverty
than before was not brought home to these ignorant village folk. All
they knew was that in the past they had often looked with envy on the
stores of good things---game, fuel, fruit--that entered the château of
the D'Ercourts while they themselves were left to munch rye bread and
mouldy potatoes. So, quite naturally, poor things, they banged their
fists upon the big vats that did duty for tables in the cabaret and
shouted with one accord:

"Down with every aristo!"

"Down with D'Ercourt and his brood!"

"To hell with their château!"

The government agents made it clear that, in order to effect this
admirable purpose of destroying all the enemies of the people, it was
needful that the men of the village volunteer for service on the
Gendarmerie Nationale. The pay was not much---a couple of sous a
day---but there would be the glory of tracking and even arresting the
enemies of France.

And they were willing enough to be so enrolled---life was dreary and
dull and one got tired of hearing what others were doing in the big
cities, in Paris and Orléans and even in Thiers---then why not have the
same kind of excitement in Drumettaz? The women especially were keen.
They could not be enrolled in the Gendarmerie Nationale, but they saw to
it that their menfolk got the tricolour badge round their arm, the
cockade in their caps, and that they learned how to use the bayonets
which the government agent had brought for them from Paris.

"Down with D'Ercourt and his brood!" became their favourite cry. And the
more they heard of ci-devant ducs and comtes being sent to the
guillotine, the more they heard of the ci-devant king and his family
being kept in prison, the more were they determined that their comte and
vicomte, yea! and the girl, too, up at the château should be punished
for their past wealth and arrogance as those others had been.

"Down with the D'Ercourts!" they cried.

"Down, I quite agree," the man from Paris went on, satisfied that the
tares which he had sown were coming up plentifully; "but why delay?
There is no time like the present, and if you wait too long...who knows?
Those aristos might escape your just wrath and run away to that land of
fogs and tyranny called England, where so many traitors have already
found refuge."

"That would be a shame on us all, if those D'Ercourts were to escape."

The man who muttered this between his teeth, though loudly enough for
those nearest him to hear, was André, the village smith. He had been
crippled in his youth through a kick from one of Monsieur le Comte's
horses. Like Notara, his physical sufferings had come to him--though
indirectly---at the hands of those tyrants and oppressors up at the
château, and they gave him a right to counsel and to lead, though not in
so great a measure as Paul Notara.

"We'll not let them escape," one of the men declared emphatically.

"Then why not go up there to-day?" the man from Paris suggested. "They
have a marvellous way, those aristos, of escaping punishment, just by
slipping through your fingers."

"I have even heard tell," André the cripple put in dryly, "that more
than one aristo has fled from justice aided by supernatural agency.
There is talk of a sacré Englishman--"

"A devil--"

"Who just flicks his fingers like this and the aristo becomes at once
invisible--vanishes into the air---even at the foot of the gallows."

"The guillotine, André--we don't talk of gallows now."

"Nor do we talk of devils---or supernatural agencies."

It was Notara who spoke. As was his wont, he had been sitting, silent
and brooding, listening to all that wild talk with ill-concealed
impatience.

"But you must have heard of the Englishman, Notara. They say that he is
taller than any two men put end to end, that when he opens his eyes
flames gush out from them, and when he speaks--"

"Name of a dog, stop that old woman's talk," Notara retorted with an
oath. "Are we children that we are to be scared by tales of hobgoblins?
Here!" he called, turning to where, in the far corner of the room, a
small group of vagrant musicians stood humbly waiting for alms, "show us
your mettle, brothers, and play a lively tune that will put heart into
these cravens' breasts."

The suggestion was very welcome. In this remote village of the Lyonnais
the advanced theories of reason and common sense had not yet chased
superstition entirely away. And while André and his friends had
discussed the supernatural attributes of the mysterious Englishman, more
than one lad had felt a cold shudder running down his spine.

"Yes! Yes! A tune!" they called, with obvious relief. The musicians
began to play. They were unkempt, dirty, clad in a few rags. One had a
fiddle, another a clarinet, the third one a bassoon---old battered
instruments that emitted wailing sounds under the trembling fingers of
the players. They played the songs of old France, love songs, martial
songs, the gay songs of the countryside, and while the voices rose in
chorus, and the familiar words and tunes filled the overheated room,
hatred and vengeance and cruelty were momentarily forgotten: the
characteristic French spirit of gaiety had gained the upper hand.

"Au clair de la lune
Mon ami Pierrot."

and

"J'aime Bachus, j'aime Manon
Tous deux partagent ma tendresse."

But this sane and softer mood did not suit the man in the black coat and
tricolour sash who had, by his impassioned harangue, worked these lads
up into a martial and virile temper. To hear them singing sentimental
ditties did not suit his purpose at all. He had been sent down from
Paris to create strife and resentment---he was paid, handsomely, too, to
create them---to make trouble in fact, not to see it die down in a wave
of sentimentality. Turning to the out-at-elbows musicians, he called to
them with well-feigned indignation:

"Are ye milksops or chicken-livered cowards?" he demanded. "These old
ditties are fit for old women, not for men. Have ye never heard the tune
we, in Paris, call 'Marseillaise,' because the lads from Marseilles
marched gaily against the enemies of their country to its inspiriting
refrain? Cannot ye play that rather than these spiritless songs? I, for
one, would of a certainty call any musician a traitor who could not
strike up that patriotic tune."

Oh, that awful word "traitor"! It always had such an ominous ring. The
leader of the musicians, a gentle fellow, bent nearly double with aching
joints, his swollen fingers scarce able to touch the fiddle strings,
cowered before the menacing glance of the man from Paris. And at first
tentatively, then more boldly, he struck up the opening bars of the new
"Marseillaise":

"Allons, enfants de la partrie..."

"Come, that's better," the man from Paris condescended. "Now, then, my
lads. All together." Thus egged on, shamed out of their softer mood, the
men bellowed in chorus:

"Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'etendard sanglant est levé!"

Thus are the moods of a crowd swayed by deft manipulation. Within a few
minutes the man from Paris, sent hither to make trouble, had all these
wretched caitiffs in the hollow of his hand. He told them to bellow, and
they bellowed. He told them that they had suffered untold wrongs at the
hands of cruel tyrants, and they remembered every unpleasant incident
that had ever occurred in their lives; he asked them who were those who
had ground them down into poverty and humiliation, and with one accord
they shouted in reply:

"D'Ercourt and his brood up at the château."

The man from Paris had, of a truth, stirred up all the trouble he
wanted.

"Then why not storm their château now, as the people of Paris stormed
the Bastille? Why not take the aristos prisoners, as the people of
France even now hold the ci-devant king?"

Why not, indeed? Heads were put together---poor ignorant heads!---and
the matter discussed. It would be good to see those D'Ercourts punished.
The vicomte, now---what an arrogant taskmaster he had been---how rough
with the men--how insolent with the women---and Monsieur le Comte--

"No, no!" said the man from Paris, "there are no comtes and vicomtes
now. Ci-devants, if you like, and aristos. But we French men and women
are just citizens of France. All of us, and all equal. Equality,
Liberty, Fraternity---that is our motto and the 'Marseillaise' the tune
to which we sing its praise. Allons, enfants de la patrie!" he went on
lustily: "to the Château de Montbrison. If we do not find there proof
and to spare that those D'Ercourts are all a set of traitors, then you
can call me a traitor if you will and send me to the guillotine."

He had a ringing voice, had the man from Paris. These makers of strife
in outlying villages were chosen for their oratory and their power to
sway such tempers as were apt to become dormant. In most of the villages
there still lurked a certain respect for the seigneurs. Habits not only
of a lifetime but of generations cannot so easily be cast aside.
Sometimes a certain amount of gratitude would also linger in the memory:
gratitude for past kindnesses, sentiment for the younger generation born
and grown to adolescence in the village. And the parish priest, not yet
dispossessed, was still powerful enough to threaten with God's wrath
those who were turbulent. Therefore, these men from Paris were well
chosen and highly paid. Itinerant agitators, they had to earn their
money by dint of shouting and inspiring gestures:

"Allons, enfants de la patrie!
Le jours de gloire est arrivé!"

"Come, you old slow-coach," this stirrer of trouble in Drumettaz shouted
to the musicians. "In the van! Ply your bassoon and your cracked fiddle,
till the hills echo and reëcho with the martial tune."

The musicians, eager to please, picked up their instruments and marched
out of the inn parlour, striking up as they did the first bar of the new
song. Their leader, in ragged coat and torn breeches, hoseless, and with
feet thrust into sabots, looked but a wreck of humanity as he plied his
bow. Yet he must have been a fine figure of a man at one time, tall and
broad-shouldered. It must be supposed that one of the many diseases
attendant on poverty and insufficient food had bent his spine and
twisted his limbs. Cowed before the lordly glance and menancing attitude
of this black-coated dictator from Paris, he seemed still further to
shrink into himself, even whilst his quivering fingers evoked the virile
strain of the "Marseillaise." His three companions, one wielding a
fiddle, another a bassoon, and the third a clarinet, followed in his
wake.

Thus was the cortège formed. Behind the musicians marched the newly
enrolled men of the Gendarmerie Nationale, six of them, carrying their
bayonets. They bore themselves well, proud of their own martial air,
their tricolour badges, and their vast importance. And after them came
the other men of the village, the old and the crippled, all singing
lustily. A few women were with them. Most of them had worked for Madame
la Comtesse and Mademoiselle Aline in the past. They felt in a mood now
to exult over those aristos who were feeling the pinch of want for the
first time in their lives.

Not that either Madame la Comtesse or Mademoiselle Aline had ever been
unkind: they had merely taken all the good things of this world as if
these were theirs by right. They had also taken the work of the people
in the same arrogant spirit: theirs by right. Because God had created
them in a sphere above their fellows. And Jeanne and Marie, Anna and
Joséphine had served them and worked for them, because they had done so
all their lives and because their mothers had done it before them. It
had never struck them that they also had rights and privileges and
liberties. Not until these black-coated gentlemen with the tricolour
scarves had explained to them that the earth was theirs and the fulness
thereof and that if there was a God at all, which they declared was
doubtful, He had of a certainty created all men and women to have equal
rights in everything on the earth. And if any of those aristos dared to
stand in the way, or tried with outside aid to cling to all the old
fallacies of the past, why, then, there was a certain Madame la
Guillotine up in Paris whose arms would receive all the ci-devants and
aristos, bourgeois and priests who stood in the way of the liberties of
the people.

Thus were the great gates of the château reached at last. A motley crowd
of men and women in ragged clothes, panting and sweating after the long
tramp along the muddy road. Unarmed, fortunately, save for those
bayonets which the valiant Gendarmerie Nationale did not know how to
wield. The shades of the evening were falling fast: only a gray and
misty twilight lingered still in the clearings. A warm, boisterous wind
blew from over the range of Forrez. The Garde Nationale, conscious of
their importance, demanded admittance, but the gates were no longer kept
locked these days. What had been the good? There was always a group of
malcontents or mere mischief-makers to break them open if they had been
locked. Musicians en tête, they marched in and swarmed into the
courtyard: then up the perron steps to the front door. There was nothing
to stop them. No bolts, no locks, no bars. So straight across the
stately vestibule dimly lit by a single oil lamp which cast a faint,
yellowish glow on the massive marble columns, making them seem like
ghosts looming out of the darkness.

Then up the monumental staircase on which had passed such brilliant
assemblies in the past. Now the marble treads were dull and cracked, the
ormolu balustrade twisted and broken---the result of the former raid
upon the old château. Monsieur d'Ercourt was in one of the small
boudoirs with his son François when first he heard the noise of tramping
feet, of hoarse singing and shouting approaching from the road. He knew
what it all meant. He put down the book which he was reading and,
walking erect and calm, he sought Pierre and Yvonne in the kitchen.

"We shall have trouble again here directly," he said coolly: "a crowd of
villagers is invading the château. We must try and not get a repetition
of what we went through before. Can I trust you both to look after
Mademoiselle Aline?"

Pierre and Yvonne swore that they would do their best. They would see to
it that Mademoiselle Aline remained quietly in one of the rooms on the
top floor. Those rowdies from the village could easily be persuaded that
she was from home visiting her aunt in Bordeaux.

Satisfied, or nearly so, the Comte d'Ercourt rejoined his son in the
boudoir. Neither of them was afraid. With all their faults, the great
French nobles of the time possessed an immense courage which amounted to
virtue. They had been arrogant, and were now humbled, but they never
cringed. The shadow of Death lurked around them all the time, but they
were prepared for every fate, and as ready to meet death on the gallows
as they had been in the past on the battlefield or in the cause of
chivalry. They had learned their lesson of resignation and dignity from
their king.

The crowd made noisy irruption into the boudoir; laughing, shouting, and
singing, and pushing the musicians in front of them. The Gendarmerie
Nationale lined up along the wall, guarding the door.

The room was dark: only faintly illumined by tallow candles guttering in
the sconces of a tall, massive silver candelabra.

Monsieur d'Ercourt had ostentatiously taken up his book again. He did no
more than look up when the first of the intruders pushed the door open
and, panting with excitement, stood for a moment under the lintel,
astonished because they had thought to find a family group cowering and
clinging together in an agony of fear and only found Monsieur le Comte
calmly reading a book and the vicomte examining the handle of his
hunting crop.

"What is it you want?" Monsieur le Comte asked calmly.

There was no immediate reply. The intruders were hoping to see the
black-coated man from Paris come to the fore and be their spokesman, as
he had been their chosen orator. But the government agent, having
fomented the mischief, was prudently keeping out of the way. Nor was
Notara there. The villagers felt momentarily baffled. Fortunately, André
the cripple was there. He elbowed his way to the front, and with his
twisted legs set well apart, his hands thrust in the pockets of his
ragged breeches, and chewing a length of straw, he addressed the Comte
d'Ercourt, but not before he had spat on the Aubusson carpet just to
show what a fine and independent citizen of the Republic he was.

"We have come, D'Ercourt," he said, "in an entirely friendly spirit, and
only because we desire that you and your son there shall join us in
singing that wonderful new tune called the 'Marseillaise,' which it is
incumbent on every son of France to know and to sing. Isn't that it,
comrades?" he concluded, half-turning to his friends.

A murmur of assent came in response.

"Well said, André!" some of them declared.

"Just in a friendly spirit..."

"A fine tune, D'Ercourt. Let's hear you sing it."

Monsieur d'Ercourt looked calmly on the hunched-up figure of the cripple
and retorted quite simply: "A not unnatural desire. Let's hear the tune.
My son and I are ready to listen."

The flickering flames of the tallow candles cast eerie lights and
weird-looking shadows over the faces of André and the crowd, twisting
them into grotesque shapes and drawing fantastic shadows on the wall of
gnomelike faces with elongated noses and outstretched chins.

At a word from the cripple the musicians once more intoned the patriotic
hymn:

"Contre nous de la tyrannie..."

"Sing! nom d'un chien, sing! All of you," André commanded, and they did
sing both loudly and thoroughly out of tune. Alone Monsieur le Comte and
his son sat there, silent and aloof. Monsieur le Comte had drawn his
book and the light closer to him and, resting his elbow on the table,
appeared once more absorbed in reading. The vicomte drummed his fingers
against the table.

For the first few minutes André and the others glowered at the two
aristos, whose calm attitude was distinctly exasperating. So much so, in
fact, that André with a savage curse suddenly snatched the book out of
the comte's hand and hurled it across the room against the wall.

"Did you not hear me say sing? Nom d'un chien," he demanded, and raised
his fist, as if ready to strike. In a moment, François was on his feet
and already stood between his father and the cripple.

"You dare touch Monsieur le Comte, you insolent..."

André had instinctively drawn back a step or two---the instincts of a
lifetime are not easily ignored---but the very next moment he had
recovered his aplomb and, looking the vicomte up and down, he indulged
in loud ironical laughter:

"Dare?" he exclaimed. "Monsieur le Comte?--Insolent?---Did you hear
those words, citizens of a free land?" And he flicked his fingers under
the vicomte's nose. "This do I dare, my fine bird---and this--and--"

He untied the vicomte's cravat and the next moment was in the act of
tweaking his nose when François hit out with clenched fist and struck
him full in the mouth.

In an instant all was confusion. André had cried: "Malediction!" as he
staggered under the blow. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
A streak of blood appeared between his lips. "Murder! Outrage!" the
women cried. The music had suddenly ceased; the leader of the band had
fled from the room. Monsieur le Comte and his son were surrounded now by
a crowd that meant mischief or worse. The men of the Gendarmerie
Nationale pushed their way to the front and, wielding their bayonets as
they would a bludgeon, they soon brought the Comte d'Ercourt to the
ground. He was an old man, and though he fought valiantly to avert blows
from every side, he was quickly rendered helpless while the vicomte
vainly tried to come to his father's aid.

It was while confusion was at its height that an authoritative voice
called out from the rear of the crowd:

"If any killing's to be done here, I have first call."

It was Paul Notara. He had not joined in with the crowd and the
musicians when they started out for the château. The man from Paris,
scenting in this powerful personality a valuable tool for his work of
trouble, had engaged him in conversation. Notara listened to him for
awhile: but in thought he followed the other men on their way to the
château. He had not been within its boundary walls since that memorable
night four years ago. He wondered how it looked now in its forlorn and
neglected state. He wondered also if Aline were there, and if all those
hotheads would molest her. And if she were molested, how she would act.
There was also the hope of seeing that miserable vicomte cowed, perhaps
maltreated---a pleasant sight for one who had suffered at his hands.

So Notara abruptly turned his back on the man from Paris and left him
standing there, frowning and puzzled, while he made his way over to the
château. He arrived there some fifteen minutes after the others, just in
time to see the worst of the mêlée in the boudoir; Monsieur le Comte in
a precarious position on the floor, and the vicomte seriously threatened
by the infuriated cripple. He elbowed his way through the crowd, past
the valiant gendarmes, and with a rough hand he dragged André aside and
thrust him out of the way. Then he stood facing the vicomte.

"We've not met, François, have we, for four years?" he said. "I wonder
if you have forgotten everything that I remember."

He brought his hand down heavily on the vicomte's shoulder. The latter
tried to shake him off, but Notara tightened his grip and, peering into
the other's face, he said slowly: "It is my turn now, François, and I am
going to give myself the satisfaction of thrashing you--yes, thrashing
you, my fine fellow, as one thrashes a cur---within an inch of your
life--as you had me thrashed that time by your lackeys. Do you remember
that?"

In his right hand he had a stout stick, and this he raised above his
head with a flourish and uttered a long mirthless laugh, whilst the
weight of his left hand on the vicomte's shoulder forced the latter down
on his knees.

"Well said, Notara," some of the men shouted---aye! and some of the
women, too. "The stick! That's what these aristos want to bring them to
their sense."

And down came Notara's stick with a dull thud across the Victome
François's shoulders. Monsieur le Comte had just sufficient strength to
utter a cry of helpless rage, whilst the vicomte, manfully smothering a
groan, put up his arms to ward the next blow from his head. Down came
the stick again.

A shout of joy and derision went up from the crowd.

"Well done, Notara!" the men and women shouted.

"Le jour de gloire est arrivé!" some of them cried, full of excitement
and of zest.

Up went Notara's stick once more. The flickering candlelight distorted
his face, making it look like that of some demon of rage and of spite.
He was deathly pale, but his movements were slow and deliberate. His was
the calm fury, the white heat of an overwhelming passion. Even the most
ignorant and loutish amongst that crowd knew that he meant to strike and
to strike again until his victim had paid for past offences with his
life.

It was during the tense silence which preceded that third blow that a
portière which concealed a second door was pushed violently aside and a
woman's piercing shriek rang out of the darkness:

"Holy Virgin! François! Father!"

The room on which this door and portière gave was on a higher level than
the boudoir; two steps gave access to it. Aline, motionless with horror,
stood on the top of those steps for the space of a second or two. From
where she stood she could see everything---her father on the ground, her
brother at Notara's feet, the upraised stick, Notara's face, distorted
and grotesque.

Her father! her brother! The horror in her had turned her sweet young
face as if to stone. With dilated eyes she stared down at the awful
scene, and the men and women who were there, savage and lustful though
they had been but a few seconds ago, were themselves aghast, or perhaps
moved to pity at sight of the girl. Thus for a moment or two an awed
silence held sway in the crowded room---a silence during which Paul
Notara nad Aline looked into one another's eyes.

Four years had gone by since Paul had looked upon the woman whom he had
so madly worshipped, and something of that reverence with which he had
regarded her in the past seemed to struggle back into his heart. The
vengeful hand which had brandished the stick dropped to his side, and
his lips murmured a half-articulate word---her name--"Aline!"

Aline said nothing. After that first cry of horror not a sound had come
to her lips. Only her eyes, when first they rested on Notara, told him
that she, too, remembered. Did they plead, or did they command? Certain
it is that after those few tense seconds Notara's glance fell away. With
a muttered word of scorn he released François, and then turned to the
crowd.

"Leave these people alone," he commanded; "it is better we let the
government in Paris deal with them."

His words broke the spell which had so unaccountably descended upon
them.

Murmurs of protest rose from the malcontents. They had not come all this
way---had not worked themselves up into a passion of resentment---to be
thus sent about their business, unsatisfied. No, not even by Paul
Notara, their avowed friend and leader. He had not, it seems, forgotten
his schoolmaster days, when he drilled little boys into submission. But
they were men, not boys, and these D'Ercourts were aristos and enemies
of France. Were they to be allowed to continue plotting against the
liberties of the people?

And Notara himself? Was he turning traitor, too? It looked like it, when
suddenly, at a word from that D'Ercourt girl, he robbed them all of
their revenge.

Strangely enough, though they murmured and protested, they were on the
whole inclined to let the matter drop for the moment---to go away
quietly, and to wait until they had thought things over.

"We'll talk with the citizen agent from Paris," André the cripple had
muttered audibly. "We'll see what he says."

And this semmed to satisfy them. They threw suspicious, glowering looks
on Notara, who, however, paid no heed to them. He seemed like a man in a
dream, with that one dark eye of his still fixed upon Aline--seeing
nothing but her. Monsieur le Comte, in the meanwhile, aided by his
daughter, had struggled to his feet. François d'Ercourt, with studied
nonchalance, was readjusting the set of his cravat, striving the while
with all his might to hide his face from Notara and the crowd, for in
his eyes there glowed a flame of deadly rage and hatred.

The musicians ahd started to play the good old tune:

"Jeanne, Jeannette, et Jeanneton
Toutes trois jeunes et jolies..."

This had a further effect in calming the turbulent spirits. Some of them
nodded their heads sagely, and said:

"The citizen agent from Paris will know what to do."

And so, with the musicians once more in the van, they filed in an
orderly fashion down the monumental staircase.

The men of the Gendarmerie Nationale, carrying their bayonets, followed
the crowd.

Notara was last to leave.

Part IV

While men made the earth ugly with their hatred and their passions,
Nature was in one of her lovely moods. Once more the autumn evenings
were sweet and mellow, once more the velvety blackness of cypresses was
thrust above the sea of feathery pines: once more the dead leaves of
planes and elms made a soft swishing carpet beneath the feet of the
passers-by.

Aline d'Ercourt, still under the influence of all the horror which she
had experienced that afternoon, tried to find comfort and to soothe her
nerves in the solitary avenues of the park. In the days that were gone,
when she knew nothing of men and of their passions, she would have been
frightened to wander out in the gloaming alone, but now that she had
seen hatred and hardness of heart at such close quarters, she felt that
in her heart there was no longer any room for cowardly fear. Men, even
the most evil, seemed to have done their worst with her. When presently
she saw a figure detach itself out of the gloom she was not afraid, not
even when in that lurking figure she recognized Notara--the man whose
hatred for those she cared for had killed all sense of mercy and
humanity in him. Aline was not afraid of him, but to speak with him or
to listen to him was the very last thing she could have wished, and
so--quite instinctively she turned away at sight of him, ready to flee
from him as she would from some powerful and mysterious enemy.

But already he was close beside her, so close that stretching out his
hand he grasped her skirt and clung to it, so that she could not run
away.

"I entreat you not to be afraid, Mlle Aline," he said, and his voice was
soft and gentle: "and to grant me just a few words. Believe me, I ..."

The moon was at her brightest, and the shadows long and purple. She
could not see his face because it was in shadow--only one shoulder and
the massive leg, slightly bending at the knee.

"I am not afraid," she said coldly. "Why should I be? It is not in your
power to do me more harm than you have already done."

"Harm? Great God! And I who would sooner die than harm as much as one of
your exquisite hands."

"Do not let us speak of that," she retorted. "I pray you, release my
gown. I would like to call at least this part private and free from the
presence of those who hate me and mine so bitterly. I have little to
care for now," she added, "except my privacy."

She tried to disengage her skirt, but he clung to it so tightly that she
was helpless.

"You cannot go, Mademoiselle Aline," he said, "until you have heard why
I came out here this night. For the sake of your father and your
brother, you must listen to me."

At these words she stood still. He had spoken very quietly and very
softly, and his appeal in the name of her father and brother had been
spoken with compelling earnestness.

"Will you listen!" he insisted.

She did not reply, but her silence gave consent, and after a moment or
two he went on:

"I dare say you have seen, Mademoiselle, how the men listened to me this
afternoon. They look upon me as a leader because of the wrong I suffered
at your brother's hands. A few hours ago I was on the point of avenging
upon his person the terrible wrong that he did to me... ." A quick
intake of the breath, and Paul Notara went on more vehemently: "I am not
speaking of physical wrongs. The wrong that he did me was an outrage to
my manhood and to my pride. From that, I have never recovered. Through
it, I have become less and more than a man; even the love that I had for
you--and God knows that it was pure and holy--is no longer so now. But I
still love you, and for the sake of that love, I am willing to forego my
just desire for revenge. I can save our father, your brother, and
yourself from the fate which has overtaken so many of your friends and
kindred...."

At these words, which to Aline's ears sounded like a message of hope
from Heaven, she gave a quick little cry:

"Notara," she said impulsively, "if you will do that..."

"I am not a saint, Mlle Aline," he broke in coolly, "anything but that.
I am only a man with feelings, a man with hatred in his heart just as
much as with love. Your people before then had looked on me as little
better than a beast of burden, created for the sole purpose of toiling
so that they might rest, of labouring and suffering so that they might
enjoy. But we won't go back on that now. As I have told you, I am
willing to forgo my revenge, I am willing to help those whom you love
for the sake of the past love which I bore you, but it is on one
condition." He paused, and Aline made no reply. A silence seemed to have
fallen over Nature, only the tender murmuring of the wind in the dying
leaves of the planes broke the mysterious hush which held sway in the
park. For two or three minutes these two stood there, silent, facing one
another, each knowing that the other understood. Aline felt the tears
come to her eyes, she marvelled if God willed her to make this sacrifice
for the sake of those she cared for. She knew well enough what Notara
meant when he spoke of a condition, and she wondered whether she had it
in her to give up everything which she held most dear--her honour, her
pride, her love--to this creature who was her enemy. And while every
thought in her brain seemed annihilated save that one--the power of
sacrifice--her ears caught the far-off sound of a sweet instrument, the
gentle murmuring strain of a song of old France--plaintive and
appealing--one that spoke of home and joy and love. The sound was so
sweet and sad that Aline but her hands to her face and allowed the tears
to trickle through her fingers.

Notara shrugged his shoulders. He was long past the time when women's
tears had the power to move him. "I think those tears mean consent," was
all that he said. "I think you will be wise to accept. I have a great
deal of influence in this neighbourhood, I can find the means to convey
your father and your brother from here to Grenoble and thence over the
Swiss frontier, but that will only be if you will pledge yourself to be
my wife and come with me to-morrow before the maire of Thiers, when I
shall pass a ring over your finger. Whether you will be happy with me
will be a matter for yourself to decide. My love for you may have
undergone a change, but it is not dead, and I will do my best that you
do not regret the step which you will have taken for the sake of your
father and your brother."

Aline's hands dropped from her face, she looked straight at Notara. By
the light of the moon she could see his pale, ugly face, with the empty
socket caused by her brother's blow. Somehow there was something in that
terrible wound which told her more plainly than words could do, that to
appeal to this man who had suffered so much at her brother's hands,
would indeed be useless. He had so obviously spoken his last word. Was
the sacrifice beyond her power, she wondered?

"I must think," she murmured feebly.

"Yes," he said, "you can think until to-morrow. But only until then. The
whole village--the women as well as the men--are incensed against your
people. With great difficulty I held them back to-day. In a day or two I
might be powerless and we might all of us perish together. You must do
as you think best. We have twenty-four hours before us, perhaps less:
but if within that time you have become my wife, I will see to it that
your father and your brother are safely over the frontier. You, of
course, will be safe with me...always."

He allowed her skirt to slip out of his hand. For a moment it seemed as
if he would raise it to his lips--as he had done that evening four years
ago. Aline wanted to say something to him--what, she knew not--but
something kind, for he seemed so gentle now and looked so sad.

He had suffered--God in Heaven! how he must have suffered! And at her
brother's hands. Aline remembered everything now--that night in this
same dark and solitary avenue, how gentle he had been then, how almost
reverential, and for that avowal of love which could not have been an
insult, even to a queen, he had been punished like a dog! An
overwhelming feeling of pity welled up in her heart for him--pity the
tender, and kinsman of love. She wanted to keep him back, to hear him
speak again, to hear him tell her that he forgave her for what her
brother had done. But already the shades of the evening had enfolded his
tall, massive figure. Soon he disappeared out of her sight. From far
away the plaintive song still reached her ear.

Silent and thoughtful--not altogether unhappy--Aline went slowly back to
the château.

Part V

It was on this same evening, after the turbulent expedition to the
château, and about an hour after Aline d'Ercourt's interview with Paul
Notara in the park, that Sir Percy Blakeney and his friends--all of this
still in the ragged coats and breeches of itinerant musicians--had met
in the derelict cottage off the main Thiers-Roanne Road and listened to
Lord Fanshawe's story of his early acquaintance with the d'Ercourts and
with Paul Notara.

Something in the young man's attitude, ever since the members of the
league had turned their activities to this corner of the Lyonnais, had
induced the chief to ask for this explanation. He only knew vaguely that
Fanshawe had in the past been acquainted with the d'Ercourts, that he
even had been, and still was, in love with Aline: it was, in fact, owing
to rumours transmitted to him by Fanshawe that he decided to turn his
attention to Thiers and its neighbourhood, here to seek out those who
might need his help and that of the League. There were those in these
remote districts of France--men and women, young and old--who, have led
a secluded life, God-fearing and simple-minded, had for some
unexplainable reason been singled out by the revolutionary government
for persecution. In the desire to enlist the support of agriculturists
and peasants, the Terrorists had done their best to arouse the cupidity
of these ignorant people by wild promises of untold wealth to be derived
from expropriation of the land.

It was always the business of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel to
discover where such persecution was rife, where there were innocents
likely to suffer, and where active help would be most needed. Fanshawe
had spoken of the neighborhood of Thiers, of the d'Ercourts and others,
and had said quite enough to arouse the sympathy of his chief.

But Blakeney was too shrewd an observer of human nature to be satisfied
with Fanshawe's vague hints of former acquaintanceship with the
d'Ercourt family. As soon as he and his followers arrived in the
neighbourhood he scented the hatred and resentment which existed in the
village against the d'Ercourts. He heard various scraps of gossip about
this Paul Notara, about the Vicomte François and about Aline, a young
girl, who obviously was one of those innocents on whom injustice, born
of blind resentment, would fall most heavily.

He questioned Fanshawe who, pressed to tell the whole story, poured out
into the sympathetic ear of his chief and his friends the epic of his
love for Aline, of Notara's wrongs and of the fears and jealousies which
wrought such havoc in his own soul.

A quarter of an hour or so after the young man had concluded his story,
Blakeney rose and went out of the cottage. Lord Anthony Dewhurst was on
guard outside, in case night hawks with prying eyes and ears came too
near to the derelict cottage.

"Go inside, Tony," Blakeney said to him. "I'll stay out here. I want to
think things over for awhile. Fanshawe's story...you heard it?"

"Only fragments," Lord Tony replied. "But I can piece them together
easily enough....Blakeney, I wish you wouldn't..."

"What?"

"I mistrust that boy...more than ever after I heard his tale... ."

"Only fragments, Tony..."

"Enough to know that he is half-crazy with jealousy. If I have read your
intentions aright, Blakeney..."

"You have, Tony."

"You mean to get this man Notara away as well as the d'Ercourts?"

"Of course. If he and Aline stay here, their life would not be worth a
week's purchase. She has by now made up her mind to accept the bargain.
I heard and saw her an hour ago in the park. The moment I struck up a
love ditty on this cracked old fiddle she burst into tears. I know those
symptoms," Sir Percy went on with a gentle snigger. "She is half in love
with the brute already. A fine fellow, in a way. Too fine to be thrown
to the wolves."

"Whilst that young Fanshawe is just a despicable young mole," Lord Tony
concluded as in response to a mute command from his chief he turned to
go into the cottage.

"Between ourselves, that is also my opinion," Blakeney assented lightly.
"That is why I don't want him to marry Aline d'Ercourt. She is too fine
a woman to risk getting her heart broken by his future
infidelities...and he'd commit so many!..."

The interior of the cottage was in almost total darkness. Only in one
corner of the bare, half-empty room, a tallow candle guttered in a
pewter sconce. Through the tiny window, innocent of frame or glass, the
slanting rays of the moon entered mysterious and ghost-like. There were
six of them there--fine English gentlemen, all of them, exquisites in
London Society of the most engaging type, keen riders to hounds, adepts
at all the graceful arts that make a man popular with his own sex, and
admired by the women. Yet here they were now, grimy and unkempt, dressed
in a few rags, heedless of the cool October evening and the freshening
wind that blew over the range of Forrez--and all of them as keen after
this new altruistic sport as they ever were at home after stag or fox.
They squatted on the bare boards of the floor, or paced up and down the
room eagerly discussing the position as revealed to them by Lord
Fanshawe--but only in whispers, because these were the days when spying
and anonymous denunciations were encouraged and highly paid by the
revolutionary Government.

Alone Lord Fanshawe sat, somewhat apart from the others, in the darkest
corner of the room on one of the few wooden chairs that furnished this
derelict cottage.

"I cannot understand Blakeney..." he said at one moment: and his voice
sounded harsh, with a rasping note of discontent and obstinacy.

"How do you mean, you don't understand him?" one of the others retorted.
"A more single-minded man never lived. He never seems to think of
anything else but how to help someone, and if he cannot help, then how
to comfort. My God! and with such a happy home as he's got, such a
marvellous wife...money, position...he's got everything ...and look at
him...."

"Well," Fanshawe put in sullenly, "don't we all..."

"Yes, now and again," the other insisted, "but Blakeney practically
lives in this God-forsaken country now...and with a whole pack of these
wolves lying in wait for him all the time. And when there is work to be
done, he never thinks of himself, only of us...all the time."

How they loved their chief, all these young men! It was Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes who had spoken, and he was the most enthusiastic, the most
trusted amongst the members of the League. It was only young Fanshawe
...

"He would do well to take counsel from some of us sometimes," the latter
muttered, but only half-audibly. He was still almost ashamed of his own
disloyalty, and half-afraid to betray himself before the others.

It was at this point that Lord Anthony Dewhurst came into the room. He
usually was the gayest of the party. A regular sportsman. Perhaps not
quite so sentimentally attached to Sir Percy as was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes,
for instance, and some of the others, but the truest of the true, and
with boundless admiration not to say reverence for the chief, to whom he
gave implicit obedience and trust.

"What counsel would you be giving the chief on this occasion, Fanshawe?"
he asked lightly. "Blakeney, as you know, is always ready to listen."

"Well," Fanshawe retorted in a tone of obvious exasperation, "we all
know that this afternoon Blakeney had a hand in letting poor little
Aline know what was going on downstairs when Notara was giving the
vicomte his well-deserved punishment. She was safe enough, I imagine, in
one of the remote wings of the château, and why a young and sensitive
girl should have been dragged into that dirty business..." He checked
himself, and as the others made no comment, he went on sullenly:

"I knew at once that it was Blakeney who had found her and brought her
down, because, if you remember, he disappeared from the room just when
the fun was about to begin, and a few minutes later there was poor
little Aline..."

"Blakeney did right, as usual, for Aline was the only person who could
have stopped that abominable murder just then....Notara was seeing
red...and we could not have interfered without..."

"And the best thing that could have happened," young Fanshawe broke in
vehemently. "Why should not Notara have killed that miserable François,
he well deserved it and would have been off our hands. We could have
concentrated on Aline and perhaps her old father..."

"I don't understand you, Fanshawe," my Lord Hastings put in earnestly.
"I thought this Vicomte François was your friend. On which side are you
exactly?"

"I care nothing about any of them," the young man replied, "my one
thought is Aline, and I feel that by worrying about the rest of them we
are minimizing our chance of saving her."

It was while Fanshawe said this that Sir Percy Blakeney re-entered the
room though none of them noticed him at once, and he stood for awhile in
the doorway, listening.

"We are going to worry, my dear fellow," he now said, "and quite
considerably, too, about all of them. I have a plan in my head which,
with luck, will answer very well. I should certainly be afraid that even
if Notara's scheme came off..."

"Oh, he has a scheme, too, has he?" Fanshawe broke in with a sneer.

"I should have called it a bargain," Sir Percy said quietly.

"The devil!" Fanshawe exclaimed. "What bargain?"

"To get the d'Ercourt family out of the country on condition that
Mademoiselle Aline becomes his wife."

"And do you mean to tell me...?" Fanshawe almost shrieked out in an
excess of rage, and his face reddened to the roots of his hair. But he
made a violent effort to regain control over himself, and went on more
coolly: "How do you know that this bargain was proposed?"

"I heard Notara and Aline together in the park, about an hour ago."

"Aline, of course, rejected this with scorn."

"Not she," Blakeney replied. "She burst into tears--that was all."

"She loathes and hates Notara."

"She did, but she pities him now, and we all know that pity in a woman's
heart soon turns to love."

"Never while I live--" Fanshawe cried, but Blakeney put up a quietly
restraining hand.

"We are not here to discuss love idylls, my dear fellow," he said, with
just the first suspicion of authority in his voice: "neither yours, nor
Notara's. We are here to drag four innocents out of the clutches of
these murdering wolves."

"Four?"

"Perhaps I should have said three, for your friend François is not
innocent like the others. But we could not in all humanity leave him
behind and so--"

"But who are the four?"

"The Comte d'Ercourt, his son and daughter--and the man Notara."

"Notara? Surely you do not mean--?"

"What?"

"Risk our lives for that brute--?"

"Not for a brute," Blakeney replied quietly, "for a man who has suffered
biter wrongs innocently--wrongs so bitter that for a time his whole
nature became warped--but a fine fellow for all that. Already those
murdering wolves are lying in wait for him. His return to his finer self
is not understood by them, and they are already planning to destroy him.
That is why we must get him out of their clutches--as for risking our
lives..."

He laughed, and shrugged his shoulders, his deep-set lazy eyes wandered
lovingly--proudly--to those half-dozen men who were his willing
helpmates in the tasks of mercy and self-sacrifice which he spent his
life in accomplishing.

"I have a plan in my mind," Sir Percy continued, after a slight pause,
"which will work very well and will be ridiculously easy, once we can
get the d'Ercourts and Notara away from this village and on the road to
Thiers. My plan works from there, and for it our headquarters will be
the half-derelict Maison Gaglio, which you all know. The d'Ercourts we
could get away straight from him, because they would follow us readily
enough: but how to get Notara away at the same time puzzles me a little
for the moment--he certainly would not come with us willingly, so we
shall have to..."

He broke off abruptly and paced up and down the narrow room for a while,
frowning and thinking. One of those daring plans of which he alone
possessed the secret was taking shape in his fertile brain. The others
hung on his lips. They knew they could trust their chief to find a means
to save those four people from the cruel fate which without his help
would surely overtake them: presently they would each be told their task
on the morrow and what share each would have in the exciting sport.
Fanshawe alone did not look at the chief. He sat on one of the rickety
chairs with his hands buried in the pockets of his ragged breeches,
pondering sullenly.

"I think, I have the glimmer of an idea," Blakeney said suddenly, "and,
by God! I can promise you all more exciting sport than you have ever had
in all your lives. As for Paul Notara, I reserve for him the surprise of
his life."

"Whatever your scheme may be, Blakeney," Fanshawe said firmly and
coolly, "you must not reckon on me to help you with it."

At these words, spoken with the obstinacy of a contumacious schoolboy,
all eyes were turned instinctively on the chief. Such words had never
been spoken by any of them since the first inception of the League, and
even those who knew Blakeney most intimately marvelled how he would take
this outburst of rebellion on the part of one of his youngest followers.

Thus an absolute silence fell upon them all, whilst Blakeney from his
full magnificent height looked down upon the flushed, sullen face of
young Fanshawe. He said nothing. Only to the keen eyes of his two most
intimate friends did there appear a very slight drawing up of his fine
figure, a drooping of the heavy lids over the deep-set blue eyes, and a
tightening of the firm lips. The silence after a while became
oppressive.

Fanshawe had not moved, and the look of sullen obstinacy on his face
became more marked. And suddenly the silence was broken in an unexpected
way by a ripple of merry laughter. Blakeney threw back his head and
laughed: the novelty of the situation had tickled his sense of humour.
This boy standing up to him, defying him, looking like a sulky schoolboy
daring his master to lay hands on him!...It seemed as if a magic spell
had been broken, and Blakeney said lightly:

"Do you mind telling us exactly what you mean, my dear fellow? I don't
think any of us quite understood you when you said...What exactly did
you say, by the way?"

"I meant just what I said," Fanshawe replied dryly. "You may formulate
any scheme you please for the d'Ercourts; I think that François is a
miserable worm, but he is Aline's brother, and I will do all I can to
help you and the others to see the family safely over the frontier: but
I'll not be party to any such scheme if it includes Notara."

"And how do you propose to take up that attitude of...what shall I call
it?--independence?" Blakeney queried, still speaking lightly and with a
gentle, ironical smile upon his lips.

"I will see Aline and..." Fanshawe began.

But Blakeney put up a gently restraining hand. "We'll talk of that
presently, my dear fellow; for the moment, I think, it is your turn to
keep watch outside. You will find the night cold and soothing."

Fanshawe seemed to hesitate for a moment. He had tasted the first sweets
of rebellion and felt extraordinarily valiant and important. He was
prepared to follow up his advantage: but somehow he had become conscious
of an atmosphere of hostility about him: perhaps, too, he felt a desire
to be alone for awhile to think matters over more deliberately. Certain
it is that he appeared willing to obey this minor command from his
chief. He rose, but gave no look to the others, and without another word
went out into the night.

After a second or two Blakeney followed him; he closed the cottage door
behind him lest the others should hear what he wished to say. Once
outside and alone with the boy, he put a kindly hand on his shoulder,
and by sheer force of will compelled those sullen-looking eyes to look
straight into his own.

"Now, listen to me, my boy," he said, speaking in a whisper and with
infinite kindness. "I am always ready to make any allowance for
jealousy. We are all friends together, and some of us have suffered more
than others in our affections: for these, and for you, I have the utmost
sympathy, but you must understand that there is one thing I'll never
tolerate and that is insubordination. We have banded ourselves together
in order to help suffering humanity, in order to right wrongs and
redress injustice. There is only one way by which we can succeed in our
work and that is by working willingly and wholeheartedly together. You
understood that, when you joined the League in its very early days. More
than that: you, like the others, swore a solemn oath and gave me your
word of honour that you would follow me and obey me in all things. Think
all that over, my dear lad. You have got your two hours' watch before
you now. During those two hours, while you perform this duty, the safety
of us all is practically in your hands: so you see how completely I
trust you." After which, Sir Percy Blakeney gave the young man's
shoulder an affectionate pat, and then, with a quickly suppressed sigh,
he turned and went back into the cottage.



Part VI

For half an hour did young Fanshawe wrestle with the demon of
treachery--this much to his credit--one half-hour, while a thousand
mischievous imps seemed to be whispering in his ear.

He tried to persuade himself that there was nothing disloyal in what he
contemplated--rebellion, perhaps, against arbitrary rules of
conduct--but treachery, no! The chief was not infallible, and in this
case to risk valuable lives for that brute Notara, was nothing short of
madness. Fanshawe hated Notara, with that most deadly hatred which is
born of jealousy. Vaguely he suspected a rival in that beggarly
schoolmaster, who had dared to make love to Aline--Aline was
young--sensitive--romantic. Woman-like, she might...Great God! the very
thought caused Fanshawe's nerves to tingle and send his pulses beating.
Anything rather than that. Jealousy had reawakened his dormant love for
Aline. She looked lovely, standing under the lintel of the door, her
small hand holding back the heavy portière, her marvellous eyes fixed on
that brute-beast, till they had cowed him into showing mercy. At all
risks, at all costs she must be forcibly torn away from any possible
influence which Notara, through his very ruthlessness, might exert over
her. Women were such strange untamed creatures: the primeval cave-man
stood a far better chance with them than the most polished gentleman.

Fanshawe cursed and swore under his breath--he swore to himself that
Notara should remain in France amidst the wolves, and if the guillotine
was to be his lot, he, Fanshawe, would not grieve. But Aline must be got
away...at all risks...at all costs....

After half an hour of this fight with all the demons of jealousy and
wounded vanity, he finally gave in to them. By the light of the moon he
tore a page out of his pocket-book; on this he scribbled rapidly, in
French, with a hand that trembled visibly:



I am close by you Aline; for days I have planned how to be of service to
you. I am writing this by the light of the moon. To-morrow, at dawn, you
will receive this message of love and hope. Do you remember this
afternoon, when that ferocious brute raised his hand against François,
there were four vagrant musicians there; I was one of them. Ragged and
unkempt, I was even then watching over you and planning how to serve
you. Now my plans have matured. One hour after sunset I will be waiting
for you at the postern gate beside the old stables. Trust yourself to
me, and I will not only see you safely out of the country, but I swear
to you by our love, which dwells in my heart more strongly than ever,
that your father and François will join us in Switzerland within the
week. You and I will make straight for Chambéry where Monseigneur Barco,
Bishop of Savoy, will unite us in marriage. In the name of our love,
Aline, I entreat you to trust me. Deadly danger threatens you and yours
if you do not.

He signed this with the pet name which Aline herself had bestowed on him
when first he made love to her: "Martin Pêchur." He then folded the
paper carefully and thrust it into the pocket of his ragged breeches.
Then he waited, pacing up and down outside the cottage until a bank of
clouds which had gathered over in the west obscured the face of the
moon. He reckoned that he had just a little over an hour in which to
accomplish his errand and to be back here before the end of his watch,
when one of the others would come to relieve him.

There was, of course, the possible danger of one of them--the chief
perhaps--calling to him while he was not there to respond. But that risk
he had made up his mind to run. After all, he was not a schoolboy
fearing punishment for playing truant. Anyway, he did take the risk, and
when presently the bank of clouds veiled the light of the moon, he stole
noiselessly away.

The village was no more than a ten minutes' walk, if he stepped out. The
bank of clouds had gathered volume, and the night now was very dark. But
Fanshawe knew his way well. With luck he would find the man he wanted.

As soon as he reached the village he made his way to the cabaret; the
outer door was wide open, and he was able to peep in. Despite the
lateness of the hour the place was still crowded. The events of the day
had been so numerous and so exciting that they had not yet been
discussed in all their bearings. The women had gone back to their homes,
but the men stood or sat around the big barrels that did duty for
tables, talking volubly and drinking the thin local wine. As usual there
were the beggars, two or three cripples, one with one leg, the other
with one eye, the third with an empty sleeve, going the round of the
customers to pick up either a sou or a drink.

Paul Notara was not there, but the man from Paris was very much to the
fore, sitting on a bench at the further end of the room, with half a
dozen privileged companions with whom he was talking eagerly.

Fanshawe, looking as grimy and unkempt as any of the beggars, leaned
against the framework of the doorway for a moment of two surveying the
scene. One or two of the customers looked up at him, but recognizing in
the slouching, bedraggled figure one of the itinerant musicians of this
afternoon, paid no further heed to him. One kindly person offered him a
drink which he refused. A few moments later a wretched, maimed creature,
who had collected a few sous and been given a mug of wine, hobbled out
of the cabaret. Fanshawe followed him, at some distance, until the
cripple reached the top of the village, well away from likely spies.
Then Fanshawe accosted him.

"Hey, mon ami."

The beggar halted, turned, and vaguely perceiving the approaching figure
through the gloom, muttered at once his habitual, entirely mechanical:
"Alms, kind friend. Alms for a poor cripple, who..."

"Alms and more will you get from me, my friend," Fanshawe said to him in
a whisper: "if you will do what I ask."

"There's nothing I can do...how can I earn?...I can only beg, I am
maimed...helpless...."

"You can go up to the château for me...."

"It is far...and the hour late....They'll all be abed there..."

"Tomorrow morning...in the early hours...you will find Mademoiselle
Aline...."

"Yes, sometimes she gives me alms, if Pierre or Yvonne..."

"You need not ask for alms. You will tell Pierre or Yvonne that you have
brought a message for Mademoiselle Aline, which will mean life or death
to her and her father and brother...."

"A message?"

"A letter which you will give her."

"And what'll I get if I do?"

"One piece of gold to-night, and another when you bring me back the
answer."

"Give me the letter," the cripple said eagerly. "Gold!...I have not seen
a piece of gold since..."

Fanshawe took a coin out of his pocket, also the letter.

"As soon as you have given this to Mademoiselle Aline you will come
here--to this spot--and sit on that corner stone, begging as you always
do until I come."

"Yes, yes. I'll do it," the cripple assented and put out his maimed hand
for the gold. "It is a terrible risk...for there are
spies...everywhere...but gold!...Name of a name...Gold!"

Fanshawe gave him the letter and the money. They had spoken in whispers,
and the night enclosed them as in a dark shroud. The cripple, he knew,
was wont to spend nights under the stars, under shelter of a hedge or a
haystack, or if the weather was unkind, then inside some derelict barn
or cow-byre. Even now as soon as he had hidden the coin and paper
somewhere inside his rags he hobbled away, leaning on his crutch.
Fanshawe soon lost sight of him: the darkness seemed to close in around
him like a mantle. A few drops of rain fell, and a moaning, sighing wind
came from over the mountain tops. The young man shivered under his
scanty rags: but neither doubt nor remorse assailed him: "For Aline's
sake," he repeated under his breath once or twice. "Once she has pledged
herself to me, I shall know how to guard her against the wiles of that
brute Notara."

It never entered Fanshawe's head that he was behaving like a traitor and
a fool His jealousy had blinded him. Notara in his eyes had become a
rival--a dangerous rival--with a strange, compelling power to wrest
Aline's affections and force her to his will, then how could it be
treacherous or wrong to guard her against such a destiny?

Never once did the young man look back upon the scene of his crime. Had
he done so he would even through the gloom have perceived a crouching
figure slowly lifting itself to its knees, then to its feet and with
stealthy steps follow in the wake of the cripple. There was neither
struggle nor noise--hardly a smothered cry from the cripple when he felt
himself seized from behind, held tightly with one arm round his thin
shoulders, while a quick and sure hand sought and found the paper
beneath his rags.

The whole incident had lasted less than two minutes. After that, silence
and darkness held sway once more: only the patter of the rain on the
withered leaves of the planes broke the stillness of the night. The
cripple had started to whimper; under his rags found the gold coin which
still lay snugly there. He gave a sigh of regret for the second coin
which would not be his on the morrow, but after all, the night had not
been unprofitable and it was a long tramp up to the château. With a
final shrug of satisfaction he made his way towards a thatched barn
where he with a boon companion were wont to find shelter on a wet night.

Lord Fanshawe in the meanwhile made his way back quickly to the derelict
cottage. Considerably less than an hour had gone by since he left his
post of duty. Everything appeared unchanged, and yet... the young man
was conscious of a feeling of aversion or of awe, which? when first
through the gloom he spied the square block inside whose tumble-down
walls sat the friends--the chief--whom he had betrayed. Not a sound came
from within. Fanshawe found his way to a broken tree-stump just outside
the cottage door. Here he sat down and waited.



Part VII

In the village cabaret the flickering tallow candles were burning low.
Some of the men had already paid for their drinks and gone, others stood
about preparatory to going. In the further corner of the room the
black-coated man from Paris was still talking earnestly to André the
smith, and to a few of his chosen friends. All the beggars and
hangers-on had long since departed.

It was just at the moment when the man from Paris finally made up his
mind to say good night and to retire to the miserable little room which
the innkeeper's wife had got ready for him upstairs, that a hunched-up
figure of a man appeared in the doorway. He stood under the lintel for a
moment or two casting anxious eyes around.

"Who are you? And what do you want?" Jacques the innkeeper asked him
roughly. "There's nothing more to be got here to-day."

Then looking more closely at the man he added:

"Have I seen your ugly face before?..."

The man did not answer, nor did he go away, and when Jacques tried to
push him off the doorstep he stood as firm as a rock.

The man from Paris hearing the slight scuffle looked round. "What's all
this?" he asked.

The man thrust out his long arm: in his clenched fist he held what
looked like a very dirty scrap of paper. "For you," he said laconically.

After a second's hesitation the man from Paris came across the room and
took the paper from him. The others watched him while he unfolded it,
then drawing as near as he could to one of the guttering candles he read
what was written from his pocket, handed them to Jacques and said:

"Give these to the man, also a drink of wine and a crust."

Jacques took the coins, poured out the wine, picked up a crust from the
table where the provisions were kept and then went to seek the ragged
messenger, whom he thought to find on the other side of the door. But
the man had vanished.

Then it was that Jacques suddenly recollected where he had seen the man
before.

"Why, if it wasn't that old musician of this afternoon..." he said.

"Musician of this afternoon?" the man from Paris exclaimed. In the
letter which the beggar had handed to him there occurred the words: "Do
you remember this afternoon...there were four vagrant musicians there. I
was one of them."

"After him one of you," he cried. "Name of a dog, Jacques, you should
not have let the man go."

The night by now had waxed very dark, rain was falling: one or two of
the men went out and tried to peer through the gloom, to listen to any
footfall dying away in the distance.

But nothing could be seen or heard of the ragged fiddler who had brought
the mysterious letter. Crestfallen they came back to the cabaret
parlour. The man from Paris appeared terribly upset.

"Close the door, Jacques," he said impatiently, "and listen all of you."

Jacques closed the outer door; he and the other men gathered round the
man from Paris who looked even more solemn and commanding than was his
wont.

"Matters here in Drumetaz," he began gravely, "have suddenly assumed
national importance, and it is my duty to warn you that great events
will occur within the next twenty-four hours. Listen to this letter."

He unfolded the letter which the mysterious musician had brought him and
read it through carefully and aloud to the men. They listened in
silence.

When he had finished one of them asked: "What does it mean?"

"It means," the man from Paris replied, "that we are on the track of
that gang of English spies who your government have tried to run to
earth for over two years. They are some of the most dangerous enemies of
France, for they make it their business to assist traitors in escaping
from justice. It also means that that d'Ercourt brood is up to the neck
in treachery and in league with the English spies, for this letter is
addressed by one of those devils to the girl Aline."

A murmur of horror went round the room. The poor ignorant caitiffs did
indeed believe every word the man from Paris said to them. The latter
continued to talk at great length, telling them of all the misdeeds
perpetrated by that abominable Englishman who was a very devil
incarnate; for his capture, dead or alive, the revolutionary Government
was prepared to give his entire weight in gold. The murmur that went
round the room was no longer one of horror.

"What are we to do to get him?" they asked eagerly.

"Two things you can do," the man from Paris replied. "Firstly you can
arrest the whole of the d'Ercourt crowd, and that immediately before
your intentions are bruited about in the village. This letter is
sufficient witness to their treachery: doth it not prove that they are
in league with the enemies of France?"

They nodded their heads sagely:

"Aye, aye, they are traitors all of them," they murmured to one another.

"And so is Paul Notara a traitor, in my opinion," André the cripple put
in spitefully. He had never liked Notara and was jealous of his superior
influence over the village folk. What a chance to put such a rival out
of the way.

"I promise you," the man from Paris rejoined, "that Notara will also be
dealt with according to his deserts. But we can always get hold of him;
the English devils only trouble about aristos, it seems. For the moment
we must concentrate on the d'Ercourt crowd. And it is up to you,
patriots all, to watch over them and see that they do not escape the
just punishment which awaits them in Paris."

"Tell us what to do and we'll do it," they said with one accord, through
André the cripple who had become their spokesman.

"You will proceed to the château and effect the arrest of the ci-devant
d'Ercourt, his son and daughter. All night through you will guard them
on sight, but you will not answer any questions they may put to you, nor
enter into any explanations. At daybreak you will bring them hither. I,
in the meanwhile, will requisition from the local farmers a couple of
covered carts in which you will convey the prisoners to Thiers. I, of
course, have my own coach. In Thiers the representatives of the
government will deal with the ci-devant as they think best."

"But what of the English devils?" they asked. "There's the reward... ."

"Which I make no doubt you will secure by capturing the noted Scarlet
Pimpernel--"

"But how?"

"There's the writer of this letter. He will have received no reply, but
even so he is certain to hang about the purlieus of the château and try
and communicate with the d'Ercourt woman. He won't know that she will be
on her way to Thiers by then. Anyway, two of you just remain on the
watch round about the walls of the château. Any suspicious person you
see loitering about there, you will arrest and bring hither to await my
return. Is that clear?"

They swore that it was, and nodded their heads eagerly: they were all
thinking of the reward.

"Straight to the château, then," the man from Paris said in conclusion,
"and make sure of your birds. But remember to guard every possible
ingress and egress, every possible way of escape. Before the sun is high
in the heavens we'll have three traitors on the way which leads to the
guillotine. As for the others...we shall see."

They obeyed in silence and one by one filed out of the cabaret. The man
from Paris nodded quietly to himself, and gave a sigh of satisfaction.
He was pleased with his day's work. Few patriots had ever fomented so
much trouble in so short a time.

An hour later the arrest was effected in the château de Montbrison. The
Comte d'Ercourt, his son and daughter, roused from their first sleep,
accepted their fate with that stoicism and dignity which did so much to
awaken sympathy for their caste in foreign countries. Even François
showed neither the rage nor the contempt which he felt. After the first
question or two had been met by studied silence on the part of this
impoverished gendarmerie, he and M. le Comte did not condescend to utter
another word. The terrible events of the afternoon had already proved
how useless any attempt at resistance would be. It could only have ended
once again in a disastrous loss of dignity.

The men who had come on this preposterous errand were men who in the
past had worked for wages in or about the château. Most if not all of
them had received many a kindness at the hands of Madame la Comtesse and
Mademoiselle Aline. But all that was now forgotten. In these days of
excitement and recriminations there was no time for gratitude, no time
to glance back into the past.

Aided by Pierre and Yvonne, M. le Comte and his family were soon
dressed. Yvonne had had the charity or merely the good sense to brew
some hot coffee. She and Pierre stood by, silent and inscrutable, while
their employers whom they had served all these years were subject to the
indignity of a constant watch by the men all through the night. The
hours went by leaden-footed. M. le Comte was the only one who from time
to time snatched a few moments' sleep. Aline's glance travelled over the
familiar objects, and in that glance there dwelt the pathos of an
everlasting farewell.

Part VIII

Down in the derelict cottage there was in truth nothing in the manner of
any of his friends or of the chief to rouse in Fanshawe the fear that
his escapade had been discovered. When his two hours' watch were at an
end, and he was relieved by my lord Hastings he went back into the
cottage, and although both Blakeney and the others seemed somewhat curt
and silent, Fanshawe was too deeply preoccupied with his own affairs to
pay more than passing heed to this.

"Seek shelter where you can," Sir Percy now commanded to his followers.
"We have been too long in this cottage to risk spending another night in
it. Disperse for the night and we'll met to-morrow as arranged soon
after daybreak. Good night all, think of nothing for the moment. The
four people whom we have taken under our wing will be safely in
Switzerland or Belgium within the next forty-eight hours, to this I
pledge you all my word, and as you know with your help we have never
failed yet."

And so, despite the rain, despite their scanty clothing, these six
English gentlemen wandered out into the night to seek what shelter they
could under hedges or protecting barns. Fanshawe, silent and sullen,
went out with the rest. This was not the first time that he, like the
others, had wandered out like any vagrant to seek shelter for the night,
but on this occasion, with rebellion in his heart and treachery already
accomplished, he hated all these discomforts which his own adherence to
the League had imposed upon him. He nodded a curt good night to the
others and, like them, was soon lost in the gloom.

But the next morning early he was at the cross-roads where he had
arranged to meet the cripple. As soon as the grey light of an autumn
morning had picked out the tips of feathery pine-trees on the
mountain-side he spied the hunched-up figure hobbling toward him through
the mist. Eagerly, he stepped along. The cripple had a scrap of paper in
his hand, Fanshawe almost tore it out of his grasp.

It was a mere scrap and contained only half a dozen words: "I will do as
you wish," but to the young man it meant the realization of all the
dreams which had haunted him through the past sleepless night. Aline
would come away with him. She would meet him at the postern gate
to-night. Aline, lovely Aline loved him, or she could not so readily
have agreed to his wish. Never for a moment did remorse touch him. What
plans the chief had made he did not know, but let the intrepid Scarlet
Pimpernel and the others look to themselves, and to the three
men--unworthy all of them--whom they had elected to protect. And if he,
Fanshawe, had by his action thwarted those plans, let their failure lie
at the door of him who had conceived them.

As for Notara, Fanshawe no longer feared him. Aline, once his, would no
longer think of that loutish schoolmaster, even if in far-off England
they met once more through the agency of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Aye! let
the others play their own game. What cared he, Fanshawe, since he had
got Aline.

The cripple stood by, waiting patiently until the young man finally gave
him the promised coin. Then the two men--the young and the old, the
crippled beggar and the wealthy lord--each went their way and
disappeared out of one another's sight in the autumn mist.

It was about the same time that the unfortunate d'Ercourts were marched
down to the castle gates where two covered carts already awaited them.
M. le Comte and Aline were ordered to mount into one of the carts, and
François d'Ercourt in the other. Three men of the Gendarmerie Nationale
took their seats in each of the carts.

The morning was raw and cold. Aline sat under the hood looking for the
last time on the land where her whole life had been spent. The château
perched on a hillock, surrounded by its age-old trees, by its avenues
and its park, already to her eyes appeared remote, unreal, as it slowly
faded away in the hazy distance.

Nothing was known in the village of what had happened in the château.
The secret of the arrest and of the mysterious letter had been
well-kept. Paul Notara, whose house lay some little way away from the
main block of cottages, had heard nothing. A few labourers--men and
women--out in the fields did perceive the two covered carts winding
their way slowly along the road. But there did not seem anything very
exciting in that, and after a cursory glance in that direction they bent
once more to their work, whilst the farmers from whom the carts had been
requisitioned had been told to ask no questions and to hold their
tongues: and in those days, silence was more golden than it had ever
been before.

The halt at the cabaret was short. The coach in which the government
agent had arrived from Paris was ready and waiting when the carts drew
up at the door. A brief colloquy between the self-constituted captain of
the gendarmerie and the agent, and then the latter gave the order to
start. M. le Comte and François had made an attempt to ask a few leading
questions: they had, they declared, the right to know by what right and
what authority their persons had been seized.

"By mine as representing the people of France and their chosen
government," the man from Paris had replied curtly.

To no further questions would he give an answer and here again M. le
Comte and even François quickly realized their own helplessness and the
loss of dignity which argument or resistance would carry in their wake.
What was happening to them had happened to many of their friends and
kindred, had happened even to their King, their Queen, the royal family
of Bourbons, who to them were beings second only to their God. Then why
not to themselves? Had it not been for Aline, their resignation would
have been even more stoical.

It was close on ten o'clock when the cortège, now reinforced by the
coach from Paris, set out on the main Thiers Road. Aline sat close to
her father, and he had his arm round her shoulders. Of the three men who
were with them in the cart, one was driving the two starved-looking
nags, the other two sat in the bottom of the cart, hugging their
bayonets, the use of which they did not quite understand. The coach, in
which the man from Paris sat by himself, led the way, the two wagons
followed in its wake close by.

About half-way between Drumetaz and Thiers and some three leagues from
the latter town, there stands a house which had once been the property
of a certain Marius Holmes, a rich citizen of Thiers, one of the early
victims of the Revolution. The house which had been appropriated by the
State stood forlorn and derelict: nominally it had been sold to a
servant of the former owners, who eked out a miserable existence in the
lonely house by selling an occasional glass of sour wine to the
passers-by or giving a handful of mouldy corn to their nags. It was a
usual halting-place for travellers, between Roanne and Thiers.

Soon after midday that house came in sight. The man from Paris put his
head out of the window, and called to his coachman:

"We will not halt, Pierre: I want to make Courpière, where we can dine."

Pierre whipped up his horses, and the small cortège continued to rattle
at full speed along the road when suddenly Pierre spied in the near
distance a group of men advancing towards him. There were some
half-dozen of them, and they held the whole width of the road. They were
dressed in military uniform, with feathers in their hats: this much did
Pierre see in the distance. As they came nearer he saw that they wore
tricolour sashes round their waist, and cockades in their hats, also
that they carried swords, and that the buttons on their uniforms were
beautifully polished and shone like gold.

When they were within fifty paces of Pierre's horses, one who appeared
to be their captain put up his hand and cried in a loud voice:

"Halte! Au nom de la République, une et indivisible!"

That, of course, was a command which could not be disobeyed. Pierre
pulled up his horses. The drivers of the covered carts did likewise.

The man from Paris put his head out of the window once more:

"What is it? he asked, ready to pulverize with his wrath whoever
interfered with his progress. But he recognized the uniform of the Garde
Nationale, and his tone was quite conciliatory as he reiterated:

"What is it, Citizen Soldier? My name is Rollon. I am on a mission here
for the government. I have my papers to show--"

The captain of the Garde Nationale had ordered his men to halt. He
himself came up to the coach and respectfully saluted the agent of the
government.

"Not necessary, Citizen," he said. "My orders are to look out for you,
and to see to your safety if necessary."

"I thank you, Citizen Soldiers. Then may we proceed? Everything is in
order. We have not been molested."

"And you have your prisoners safely under surveillance, Citizen Rollon.
Your pardon if I seem interfering. But my orders--"

"Do not apologize, I pray you, Citizen. We are all of us soldiers these
days, and know the value of orders. My prisoners are safe, I think you,
and under guard--"

The captain took a rolled parchment from inside his tunic and appeared
to study its contents for a minute or two:

"I have orders," he said, referring to the scroll, from which dangled a
heavy seal, "to inquire if you have effected the arrest of one Paul
Notara, at one time schoolmaster in the village of Drumetaz, now
suspected of treasonable traffic with the enemies of the people."

"Paul Notara?" the man from Paris ejaculated, "but he--"

"He is one of the blackest traitors known to the agents of the
government," the captain of the Garde Nationale rejoined coolly. "My
orders are that you, Citizen Rollon, will be escorting him from his
native village to Thiers, where you will hand him over to the proper
authority."

"He is known to have many sympathizers in the neighbourhood, who might
mediate a coup in his favour. That is why I and my men have been ordered
out to meet you and watch over your safety."

"I thank you, Citizen Captain," the man from Paris said, slightly upset
by this contretemps, "but Notara has not been arrested--"

"Not been arrested?" the other ejaculated with a frown. "Then whom have
you got here under escort, Citizen Rollon?" he asked in a loud,
distinctly authoritative tone, and drew up his tall figure to look down
disapprovingly on the agent from Paris.

"A ci-devant d'Ercourt with his son and daughter," replied the latter in
a very much subdued voice---"traitors and aristos. We have proof--"

"That is all very well," the captain of the guard broke in impatiently.
"But it is Notara whom you have been ordered to arrest."

"I had no such orders--"

"You will find it difficult to substantiate this statement, Citizen
Rollon," the soldier remarked dryly. "You know what they are up in
Paris. They send out an order--if it is not executed, there is trouble
for someone, and--"

And he made a significant gesture with his hand across his neck. The man
from Paris felt a cold shiver running down his spine.

"If we could get fresh horses," he said, "some of the men, or you
yourself, Citizen Captain, could go back to Drumetaz. Paul Notara is
easily found--"

"Not he. He will have slipped through your fingers by now--"

"Wouldn't you, Citizen Captain--?"

"What? Go after him? Those are not my orders. And I don't know the
fellow. I might arrest the wrong man."

"If only we could get fresh horses--" the man from Paris reiterated
anxiously. "It is only a matter of three leagues--"

"Is that all?" the captain of the guard remarked. "I don't know the
country, but three leagues--why that is only a matter of two or three
hours there and back. There are a couple of horses in the house yonder.
We can requisition those." And he indicated the lonely house by the side
of the road.

"I have half a dozen men here," the man from Paris explained eagerly,
"whom I enrolled into our new Gendarmerie Nationale. With fresh
horses--as you say we can requisition them--they can be here with Paul
Notara in less than three hours, allowing for every contingency."

"Well," the soldier rejoined, "in my opinion you will do wisely to send
some men along. I can lend you two of my own, and in the meanwhile if
you will honour me, Citizen Rollon, by drinking a glass of our wine with
me in yonder house, you will not perhaps find time hang too heavily on
your hands. Your volunteers can join up with my men over a few litres of
that same sour wine. As for your prisoners," he concluded with a
pleasant laugh, "methinks we are in sufficient numbers to see that they
do not escape."

The agent form Paris felt very much relieved in his mind. There had been
a moment during his conversation with the captain of the guard when he
feared that there might be trouble for him over this Notara affair. Not
that he had been guilty of negligence. He had not received any orders,
and though he intended to keep an eye on Paul Notara, he did not think
that the time was yet ripe for his arrest, but apparently the
authorities in Paris thought otherwise.

It was finally decided that three of the men from Drumetaz, accompanied
by two soldiers of the Garde Nationale, should go back to the village in
one of the covered carts, and bring back Paul Notara with them. The
horses were duly requisitioned from the caretaker of the Holmes' house,
no questions being asked as to where these horses came from--stolen, no
doubt--but anyway they were fresh and well-fed. The man from Paris gave
all instructions to his volunteers. The prisoners were ordered to get
out of the wagons: they were conveyed into the house: a room was found
for them to sit in from which escape would be impossible, and finally
the covered cart with its fresh pair of horses was sent merrily on its
way.



Part IX

Paul Notara, the village schoolmaster, who had not age-old traditions of
dignity and caste to keep up, put up a strenuous fight when in the
afternoon of that same day three of his own friends, together with a
couple of men wearing the uniform of the Garde Nationale, invaded his
little home and demanded possession of his person. Two of the men from
the village, who had tricolour badges on their arms, and carried
bayonets which they did not know how to use, laid hands on him, and he
knocked them down. He fought like a lion and like a lion was powerful,
but in the end he was brought to the ground by the men in uniform: his
arms were strapped together behind his back, and he was flung somewhat
roughly into the bottom of a covered cart. His friends from the village
had no feelings of tenderness for him just then. To keep him from
kicking, which he persistently did, they put their feet on him, and as
he was still showing fight one of the men in uniform gave him a crack on
the head which eventually calmed him, and partly deprived him of
consciousness.

It was half-past four in the afternoon when the driver of the cart
finally pulled up outside the Holmes' house. Here he and the two other
valiant gendarmes had made sure to find their comrades and also the
black-coated man from Paris. But instead of these familiar faces, they
saw before them the captain of the Garde Nationale who, taking no notice
of them or of the prisoner, at once spoke some sort of gibberish to the
two men in uniform who had jumped down lightly from the cart. Before
they had time to recover from their surprise they were seized and pushed
and dragged into the house. In the struggle they quite forgot to use
their bayonets: they were bewildered, helpless, and as the interior of
the house was very gloomy, they could not even see exactly what was
happening, nor whither they were being led. But after a moment or so
they were conscious that they were being unceremoniously dragged down
some stairs, thrust into a room which smelt of wine and which was very
nearly pitch dark. They were thrown rather violently forward and this
caused them to stumble and fall on their knees. Whilst they struggled to
their feet they heard the door slammed behind them, and a key turned in
the lock: then loud and merry laughter, retreating footsteps and nothing
more.

A wan, grey light was peeping in shyly through a grated window high up
in the wall. Gradually the eyes of these valiant gendarmes because
accustomed to the gloom. They saw that they were shut into what looked
like a cellar, and that in a distant corner of the place there was a
litter of straw. On this litter reclined their three comrades. They were
fast asleep, and the sound of their stertorous breathing broke what
otherwise would have been an unpleasant silence. The smell of sour wine
was very insistent, and there were three empty mugs lying on the floor,
all of which went to prove that these other three valiant gendarmes had
been prisoners here for some time and had employed that time pleasantly
for themselves. The three new-comers therefore felt it incumbent upon
them to follow so good an example, and we may take it that in a very
short while they, too, after copious libations of sour wine, had found a
rest on the litter of straw, and mingled their melodious snores with
those of their companions.

On the floor above, on the other hand, events and incidents were of an
entirely different nature. Paul Notara, still rather dazed from the
crack on the head which he had received, and the airless drive beneath
the feet of the gendarmes, allowed himself to be dragged out of the cart
quietly enough. He was then conveyed into a sparsely furnished room,
where he was left to meditate in quietude on the strange events of which
he had been the unwilling hero. In an adjoining room the two men who
wore the uniform of the Garde Nationale, and who had helped to bring
Notara hither were plying their captain with questions. They were
speaking English: a strange enough proceeding on the part of men who
wore the uniforms of the newly created French Republic.

"I suppose he put up a fight?" the captain was asking.

"Like the very devil," one of the men replied.

"We had to knock him down, before we got him," added the other.

"But what happened here?" they both asked, almost simultaneously.

"Everything that we foresaw," the chief replied gaily. "As soon as your
wagon was out of earshot we seized hold of that villainous agent, and of
the three valiant pseudo-gendarmes. These three we locked up in the
cellar down below, where their three companions have just joined them as
you know. The black-coated villain I've got locked up in an attic room
upstairs. You should have seen him. I don't think I ever saw a more
ridiculous, futile, and ponderous rage."

"But what about the owner of this tumble-down place?"

"A good sort," the chief replied: "but ground down by poverty. I
couldn't make him see the humour of the situation, but he liked the
colour of my money. Poor wretch, he would have sold his soul for less.
Anyway, he has agreed to release all the prisoners early to-morrow
morning. They might burst themselves with rage before then, but will not
die of inanition."

"And what about the d'Ercourts?"

The chief was silent for a moment of two: his earnest, deep-set eyes
reflected the sympathy which he felt for that sorely-stricken family.

"Poor people," he said, "I don't think they quite realize yet that they
have found a haven at last. For three years and more they have lived on
the brink of a volcano, not knowing what day, what hour, death would
claim them. Aline, if you will believe me, had, I am sure, made up her
mind to accept Notara's proposals, and to barter herself against safety
for her brother and father. How short-lived her own and Notara's safety
would have been she doesn't quite realize even now, and my impression is
that in her heart she already regrets that that bargain did not come
off."

"You think that she has fallen in love with Notara?"

"I am sure of it. You should have seen the anxiety with which she
inquired after him. I tested her by hinting at the danger that
threatened him, and she turned grey to the lips.

"What an idyll!"

"Do not laugh, Tony: Notara has much good in him, and he worships Aline
d'Ercourt. Over in England he'll find some employment as a teacher. He
will marry Aline in spite of her father's protests, and her brother's
wrath, and they will be as happy as two children whom resentment and
hatred have never touched. What think you, Ffoulkes, of the idyll?"

"That it shall have my blessing. I never trusted Fanshawe myself: and he
would have made such a bad husband for poor Aline."

"By the way," Lord Tony put in, "what has become of Fanshawe?"

"He is at the moment, I imagine, looking forward to meeting Aline at the
postern gate: I scribbled a few words which I gave to his crippled
messenger to give to him, because I wanted him to be just where I could
find him. There are two or three self-constituted gendarmes lying in
wait for him--"

"Poor brute--but in that case--"

"Don't say poor brute," the chief put in quietly. "I am going straight
back now to look after him. No harm shall come to him--I'll see to
that."

"You are going back?" Ffoulkes ejaculated. "Percy, you don't mean that?"

"Why, of course I do. You don't think that I'm going to let that boy
perish here in this foreign land, just because he suffered from a
super-access of jealousy. Do you?"

Neither Lord Tony nor Sir Anthony Ffoulkes replied to that. They knew
the indomitable Scarlet Pimpernel far too well to argue with him, where
a question of mercy and self-sacrifice was on the tapis. Fanshawe had
sinned and grievously sinned, and by his action had not only wellnigh
ruined the plan which had for its object the safety of the d'Ercourt
family, but he had also jeopardized the safety of his chief, and of his
friends. Had he been seen by one of the government spies giving the
letter and the money to the cripple on the previous night, the very
lives of his chief and his friends would have been in jeopardy, and at
best all would have been up with the plan for the safety of the
d'Ercourts and of Notara. Fortunately Blakeney had kept an eye on him
and followed him as far as the cabaret first, and then to the
crossroads.

"The great difficulty--the only real difficulty in fact," Blakeney went
on, explaining to his friends, "was getting the d'Ercourts first, and
then Notara away from their own village, where eyes made keen by hatred
and cupidity were intent upon their every movement. The only way to
accomplish this was to make those village idiots and that blatant
government agent bring them along here themselves. Now that we have them
well away from Drumetaz we can convey them easily enough to the Swiss
frontier, by way of Grenoble. All you have to do now is to march as far
as Courpière. You know the farmhouse where we spent a couple of days
last week?"

"Yes."

"The man is keeping eight or ten horses in readiness there for you: also
a few more of these uniforms. I will explain to our friends, and also to
Mlle Aline, that they will have to don the uniforms. Ffoulkes will act
as your captain, and I will in any event be with you before noon
to-morrow with young Fanshawe. I have got the passports and necessary
papers from our usual source, but I don't think we shall require them,
for we'll make such a fine cavalcade and carry ourselves so boldly that
no one will dare interfere with a platoon of the Garde Nationale out on
the road, in the execution of duty. It won't be the first time," he went
on with his infections laugh, "that we have carried such a situation off
successfully, and I'll warrant ye that we are over the Swiss frontier
within forty-eight hours."

"And now," he concluded, "I'll have a little talk with our friend
Notara. In half an hour I'll have him as gentle as a lamb. When he knows
that Aline is of the party--well! I put it to you all--how would you
take the situation?"

And it did not take Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., more than half an hour to
make the unfortunate schoolmaster understand what a blessing from Heaven
had descended upon him. The prospect of journeying to Switzerland and
thence through Belgium to distant England, all in the company of Aline
d'Ercourt, was one which appeared to him like a journey through Elysian
fields. Nor, it must be admitted, was Aline averse to the prospect
either. Ugly, embittered as was Paul Notara, there was something about
him, his constant love, his gentleness allied to his just resentment
which had aroused her pity already, and in the heart of a woman of
Aline's temperament there is but a short step from pity to love.

M. le Comte d'Ercourt took all the bewildering events of his rescue and
proposed journey to England with the same stoic calm with which he had
accepted his journey to a likely death. As to Notara, he was still of
very little account in his sight, so he gave the ex-schoolmaster but few
of his thoughts. But his gratitude to his rescuers was real, dignified,
and without bounds.

"The English," he said, "are the traditional enemies of my country: but
you, milor, have shown me to-day the most perfect type of a gentleman
and a sportsman it has ever been my good fortune to meet. I thank you
for the lesson as much as for what you have done for me and mine."

After which the little party was ready to make a start for Courpière:
the prisoners entered one of the covered wagons: Notara took the reins,
and the six English gentlemen in the uniform of the Garde Nationale
marched alongside, as their escort.

Aline was the last to step into the cart. Just before she did so, and
when her father, her brother and Paul Notara were already installed, she
turned with a whole-hearted impulse to the man to whom she owed so much.

"Milor," she said sweetly in the little bit of broken English which she
knew, "will you let me--?"

"I will let you do nothing," Sir Percy broke in gaily, "but give me a
kiss."

She flew into his arms and kissed him on both cheeks.

"Be kind to my friend Paul," he whispered in her ear.

"Oh--but milor--" she retorted, while a deep blush spread over her
cheeks.

She sprang lightly up into the cart, and her eyes remained fixed on his
tall, elegant figure as it gradually receded from her sight. She thought
he would be coming, too. When she realized that he was remaining behind
she called impulsively to Lord Tony who was marching close beside the
cart.

"Let us go back! Oh, Holy Virgin! We must not leave him here. Milor,
milor! how could you leave your friend--? I'll not go--Holy Virgin,
protect him--"

She would have jumped out of the cart, only that her father held her
back.

"God will protect him, Aline," he said. "It is not for us to question
the actions of such a fine and gallant gentleman."

"He would not listen to you, if you did, sir," Lord Tony said with a
laugh.

"But when will we see him again?" Aline cried.

"Did you not hear him say that he will join us at Courpière
to-morrow--?"

"But how do you know that he will be able to come? How do you know--?"

"Because he said so," Lord Tony replied simply. "The Scarlet Pimpernel
never fails in what he has set himself to do."

Nor did he in the matter of Lord Fanshawe, who that same evening lurked
around the purlieu of the château de Montbrison, forgetful of his
friends, of his chief and of the oath which bound him to the fortunes.
The watchful eyes of two members of the Garde Nationale were upon
him--and so were those of the chief whom he had betrayed.

But that is another story.



THE END




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