Part 2 out of 6
merry bowl. Think you, Tony," he added, turning towards the Vicomte,
"that the jackanapes of yours will join us in a glass? Tell him that
we drink in token of reconciliation."
"In fact you are all such merry company," said Marguerite,
"that I trust you will forgive me if I bid my brother good-bye in
It would have been bad form to protest. Both Lord Antony and
Sir Andrew felt that Lady Blakeney could not altogether be in tune
with them at the moment. Her love for her brother, Armand St. Just,
was deep and touching in the extreme. He had just spent a few weeks with
her in her English home, and was going back to serve his country, at the
moment when death was the usual reward for the most enduring devotion.
Sir Percy also made no attempt to detain his wife. With that
perfect, somewhat affected gallantry which characterised his every
movement, he opened the coffee-room door for her, and made her the
most approved and elaborate bow, which the fashion of the time
dictated, as she sailed out of the room without bestowing on him more
than a passing, slightly contemptuous glance. Only Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, whose every thought since he had met Suzanne de Tournay
seemed keener, more gentle, more innately sympathetic, noted the
curious look of intense longing, of deep and hopeless passion, with
which the inane and flippant Sir Percy followed the retreating figure
of his brilliant wife.
CHAPTER VII THE SECRET ORCHARD
Once outside the noisy coffee-room, along in the dimly-lighted
passage, Marguerite Blakeney seemed to breathe more freely. She
heaved a deep sigh, like one who had long been oppressed with the
heavy weight of constant self-control, and she allowed a few tears to
fall unheeded down her cheeks.
Outside the rain had ceased, and through the swiftly passing
clouds, the pale rays of an after-storm sun shone upon the beautiful
white coast of Kent and the quaint, irregular houses that clustered
round the Admiralty Pier. Marguerite Blakeney stepped on to the porch
and looked out to sea. Silhouetted against the ever-changing sky, a
graceful schooner, with white sails set, was gently dancing in the
breeze. The DAY DREAM it was, Sir Percy Blakeney's yacht, which was
ready to take Armand St. Just back to France into the very midst of
that seething, bloody Revolution which was overthrowing a monarchy,
attacking a religion, destroying a society, in order to try and
rebuild upon the ashes of tradition a new Utopia, of which a few men
dreamed, but which none had the power to establish.
In the distance two figures were approaching "The Fisherman's
Rest": one, an oldish man, with a curious fringe of grey hairs round a
rotund and massive chin, and who walked with that peculiar rolling
gait which invariably betrays the seafaring man: the other, a young,
slight figure, neatly and becomingly dressed in a dark, many caped
overcoat; he was clean-shaved, and his dark hair was taken well back
over a clear and noble forehead.
"Armand!" said Marguerite Blakeney, as soon as she saw him
approaching from the distance, and a happy smile shone on her sweet
face, even through the tears.
A minute or two later brother and sister were locked in each
other's arms, while the old skipper stood respectfully on one side.
"How much time have we got, Briggs?" asked Lady Blakeney,
"before M. St. Just need go on board?"
"We ought to weigh anchor before half an hour, your ladyship,"
replied the old man, pulling at his grey forelock.
Linking her arm in his, Marguerite led her brother towards the cliffs.
"Half an hour," she said, looking wistfully out to sea, "half
an hour more and you'll be far from me, Armand! Oh! I can't believe
that you are going, dear! These last few days--whilst Percy has been
away, and I've had you all to myself, have slipped by like a dream."
"I am not going far, sweet one," said the young man gently, "a
narrow channel to cross-a few miles of road--I can soon come back."
"Nay, `tis not the distance, Armand--but that awful Paris. . .
just now. . ."
They had reached the edge of the cliff. The gentle sea-breeze
blew Marguerite's hair about her face, and sent the ends of her soft
lace fichu waving round her, like a white and supple snake. She tried
to pierce the distance far away, beyond which lay the shores of
France: that relentless and stern France which was exacting her pound
of flesh, the blood-tax from the noblest of her sons.
"Our own beautiful country, Marguerite," said Armand, who
seemed to have divined her thoughts.
"They are going too far, Armand," she said vehemently. "You
are a republican, so am I. . .we have the same thoughts, the same
enthusiasm for liberty and equality. . .but even YOU must think that
they are going too far. . ."
"Hush!--" said Armand, instinctively, as he threw a quick,
apprehensive glance around him.
"Ah! you see: you don't think yourself that it is safe even to
speak of these things--here in England!" She clung to him suddenly
with strong, almost motherly, passion: "Don't go, Armand!" she begged;
"don't go back! What should I do if. . .if. . .if. . ."
Her voice was choked in sobs, her eyes, tender, blue and
loving, gazed appealingly at the young man, who in his turn looked
steadfastly into hers.
"You would in any case be my own brave sister," he said
gently, "who would remember that, when France is in peril, it is not
for her sons to turn their backs on her."
Even as he spoke, that sweet childlike smile crept back into
her face, pathetic in the extreme, for it seemed drowned in tears.
"Oh! Armand!" she said quaintly, "I sometimes wish you had
not so many lofty virtues. . . . I assure you little sins are far
less dangerous and uncomfortable. But you WILL be prudent?" she
"As far as possible. . .I promise you."
"Remember, dear, I have only you. . .to. . .to care for me. . . ."
"Nay, sweet one, you have other interests now. Percy cares
for you. . . ."
A look of strange wistfulness crept into her eyes as she murmured,--
"He did. . .once. . ."
"But surely. . ."
"There, there, dear, don't distress yourself on my account.
Percy is very good. . ."
"Nay!" he interrupted energetically, "I will distress myself
on your account, my Margot. Listen, dear, I have not spoken of these
things to you before; something always seemed to stop me when I wished
to question you. But, somehow, I feel as if I could not go away and
leave you now without asking you one question. . . . You need not
answer it if you do not wish," he added, as he noted a sudden hard
look, almost of apprehension, darting through her eyes.
"What is it?" she asked simply.
"Does Sir Percy Blakeney know that. . .I mean, does he know
the part you played in the arrest of the Marquis de St. Cyr?"
She laughed--a mirthless, bitter, contemptuous laugh, which
was like a jarring chord in the music of her voice.
"That I denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr, you mean, to the
tribunal that ultimately sent him and all his family to the
guillotine? Yes, he does know. . . . . I told him after I married
him. . . ."
"You told him all the circumstances--which so completely
exonerated you from any blame?"
"It was too late to talk of `circumstances'; he heard the
story from other sources; my confession came too tardily, it seems. I
could no longer plead extenuating circumstances: I could not demean
myself by trying to explain--"
"And now I have the satisfaction, Armand, of knowing that the
biggest fool in England has the most complete contempt for his wife."
She spoke with vehement bitterness this time, and Armand St.
Just, who loved her so dearly, felt that he had placed a somewhat
clumsy finger upon an aching wound.
"But Sir Percy loved you, Margot," he repeated gently.
"Loved me?--Well, Armand, I thought at one time that he did,
or I should not have married him. I daresay," she added, speaking
very rapidly, as if she were about to lay down a heavy burden, which
had oppressed her for months, "I daresay that even you thought-as
everybody else did--that I married Sir Percy because of his
wealth--but I assure you, dear, that it was not so. He seemed to
worship me with a curious intensity of concentrated passion, which
went straight to my heart. I had never loved any one before, as you
know, and I was four-and-twenty then--so I naturally thought that it
was not in my nature to love. But it has always seemed to me that it
MUST be HEAVENLY to be loved blindly, passionately, wholly. . .
worshipped, in fact--and the very fact that Percy was slow and stupid
was an attraction for me, as I thought he would love me all the more.
A clever man would naturally have other interests, an ambitious man
other hopes. . . . I thought that a fool would worship, and think of
nothing else. And I was ready to respond, Armand; I would have
allowed myself to be worshipped, and given infinite tenderness in
return. . . ."
She sighed--and there was a world of disillusionment in that
sigh. Armand St. Just had allowed her to speak on without
interruption: he listened to her, whilst allowing his own thoughts to
run riot. It was terrible to see a young and beautiful woman--a girl
in all but name--still standing almost at the threshold of her life,
yet bereft of hope, bereft of illusions, bereft of all those golden
and fantastic dreams, which should have made her youth one long,
Yet perhaps--though he loved his sister dearly--perhaps he
understood: he had studied men in many countries, men of all ages, men
of every grade of social and intellectual status, and inwardly he
understood what Marguerite had left unsaid. Granted that Percy
Blakeney was dull-witted, but in his slow-going mind, there would
still be room for that ineradicable pride of a descendant of a long
line of English gentlemen. A Blakeney had died on Bosworth field,
another had sacrified life and fortune for the sake of a treacherous
Stuart: and that same pride--foolish and prejudiced as the republican
Armand would call it--must have been stung to the quick on hearing of
the sin which lay at Lady Blakeney's door. She had been young,
misguided, ill-advised perhaps. Armand knew that: her impulses and
imprudence, knew it still better; but Blakeney was slow-witted, he
would not listen to "circumstances," he only clung to facts, and these
had shown him Lady Blakeney denouncing a fellow man to a tribunal that
knew no pardon: and the contempt he would feel for the deed she had
done, however unwittingly, would kill that same love in him, in which
sympathy and intellectuality could never had a part.
Yet even now, his own sister puzzled him. Life and love have
such strange vagaries. Could it be that with the waning of her
husband's love, Marguerite's heart had awakened with love for him?
Strange extremes meet in love's pathway: this woman, who had had half
intellectual Europe at her feet, might perhaps have set her affections
on a fool. Marguerite was gazing out towards the sunset. Armand
could not see her face, but presently it seemed to him that something
which glittered for a moment in the golden evening light, fell from
her eyes onto her dainty fichu of lace.
But he could not broach that subject with her. He knew her
strange, passionate nature so well, and knew that reserve which lurked
behind her frank, open ways.
The had always been together, these two, for their parents had
died when Armand was still a youth, and Marguerite but a child. He,
some eight years her senior, had watched over her until her marriage;
had chaperoned her during those brilliant years spent in the flat of
the Rue de Richelieu, and had seen her enter upon this new life of
hers, here in England, with much sorrow and some foreboding.
This was his first visit to England since her marriage, and
the few months of separation had already seemed to have built up a
slight, thin partition between brother and sister; the same deep,
intense love was still there, on both sides, but each now seemed to
have a secret orchard, into which the other dared not penetrate.
There was much Armand St. Just could not tell his sister; the
political aspect of the revolution in France was changing almost every
day; she might not understand how his own views and sympathies might
become modified, even as the excesses, committed by those who had been
his friends, grew in horror and in intensity. And Marguerite could
not speak to her brother about the secrets of her heart; she hardly
understood them herself, she only knew that, in the midst of luxury,
she felt lonely and unhappy.
And now Armand was going away; she feared for his safety, she
longed for his presence. She would not spoil these last few
sadly-sweet moments by speaking about herself. She led him gently
along the cliffs, then down to the beach; their arms linked in one
another's, they had still so much to say that lay just outside that
secret orchard of theirs.
CHAPTER VIII THE ACCREDITED AGENT
The afternoon was rapidly drawing to a close; and a long,
chilly English summer's evening was throwing a misty pall over the
green Kentish landscape.
The DAY DREAM had set sail, and Marguerite Blakeney stood
alone on the edge of the cliff over an hour, watching those white
sails, which bore so swiftly away from her the only being who really
cared for her, whom she dared to love, whom she knew she could trust.
Some little distance away to her left the lights from the
coffee-room of "The Fisherman's Rest" glittered yellow in the
gathering mist; from time to time it seemed to her aching nerves as if
she could catch from thence the sound of merry-making and of jovial
talk, or even that perpetual, senseless laugh of her husband's, which
grated continually upon her sensitive ears.
Sir Percy had had the delicacy to leave her severely alone.
She supposed that, in his own stupid, good-natured way, he may have
understood that she would wish to remain alone, while those white
sails disappeared into the vague horizon, so many miles away. He,
whose notions of propriety and decorum were supersensitive, had not
suggested even that an attendant should remain within call.
Marguerite was grateful to her husband for all this; she always tried
to be grateful to him for his thoughtfulness, which was constant, and
for his generosity, which really was boundless. She tried even at
times to curb the sarcastic, bitter thoughts of him, which made
her--in spite of herself--say cruel, insulting things, which she
vaguely hoped would wound him.
Yes! she often wished to wound him, to make him feel that she
too held him in contempt, that she too had forgotten that she had
almost loved him. Loved that inane fop! whose thoughts seemed unable
to soar beyond the tying of a cravat or the new cut of a coat. Bah!
And yet!. . .vague memories, that were sweet and ardent and attuned to
this calm summer's evening, came wafted back to her memory, on the
invisible wings of the light sea-breeze: the tie when first he
worshipped her; he seemed so devoted--a very slave--and there was a
certain latent intensity in that love which had fascinated her.
Then suddenly that love, that devotion, which throughout his
courtship she had looked upon as the slavish fidelity of a dog, seemed
to vanish completely. Twenty-four hours after the simple little
ceremony at old St. Roch, she had told him the story of how,
inadvertently, she had spoken of certain matters connected with the
Marquis de St. Cyr before some men--her friends--who had used this
information against the unfortunate Marquis, and sent him and his
family to the guillotine.
She hated the Marquis. Years ago, Armand, her dear brother,
loved Angele de St. Cyr, but St. Just was a plebeian, and the Marquis
full of the pride and arrogant prejudices of his caste. One day
Armand, the respectful, timid lover, ventured on sending a small
poem--enthusiastic, ardent, passionate--to the idol of his dreams.
The next night he was waylaid just outside Paris by the valets of
Marquis de St. Cyr, and ignominiously thrashed--thrashed like a dog
within an inch of his life--because he had dared to raise his eyes to
the daughter of the aristocrat. The incident was one which, in those
days, some two years before the great Revolution, was of almost daily
occurrence in France; incidents of that type, in fact, led to bloody
reprisals, which a few years later sent most of those haughty heads to
Marguerite remembered it all: what her brother must have
suffered in his manhood and his pride must have been appalling; what
she suffered through him and with him she never attempted even to
Then the day of retribution came. St. Cyr and his kin had
found their masters, in those same plebeians whom they had despised.
Armand and Marguerite, both intellectual, thinking beings, adopted
with the enthusiasm of their years the Utopian doctrines of the
Revolution, while the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family fought inch by
inch for the retention of those privileges which had placed them
socially above their fellow-men. Marguerite, impulsive, thoughtless,
not calculating the purport of her words, still smarting under the
terrible insult her brother had suffered at the Marquis' hands,
happened to hear--amongst her own coterie--that the St. Cyrs were in
treasonable correspondence with Austria, hoping to obtain the
Emperor's support to quell the growing revolution in their own
In those days one denunciation was sufficient: Marguerite's
few thoughtless words anent the Marquis de St. Cyr bore fruit within
twenty-four hours. He was arrested. His papers were searched:
letters from the Austrian Emperor, promising to send troops against
the Paris populace, were found in his desk. He was arraigned for
treason against the nation, and sent to the guillotine, whilst his
family, his wife and his sons, shared in this awful fate.
Marguerite, horrified at the terrible consequences of her own
thoughtlessness, was powerless to save the Marquis: his own coterie,
the leaders of the revolutionary movement, all proclaimed her as a
heroine: and when she married Sir Percy Blakeney, she did not perhaps
altogether realise how severely he would look upon the sin, which she
had so inadvertently committed, and which still lay heavily upon her
soul. She made full confession of it to her husband, trusting his
blind love for her, her boundless power over him, to soon make him
forget what might have sounded unpleasant to an English ear.
Certainly at the moment he seemed to take it very quietly;
hardly, in fact, did he appear to understand the meaning of all she
said; but what was more certain still, was that never after that could
she detect the slightest sign of that love, which she once believed
had been wholly hers. Now they had drifted quite apart, and Sir Percy
seemed to have laid aside his love for her, as he would an ill-fitting
glove. She tried to rouse him by sharpening her ready wit against his
dull intellect; endeavouring to excite his jealousy, if she could not
rouse his love; tried to goad him to self-assertion, but all in vain.
He remained the same, always passive, drawling, sleepy, always
courteous, invariably a gentleman: she had all that the world and a
wealthy husband can give to a pretty woman, yet on this beautiful
summer's evening, with the white sails of the DAY DREAM finally
hidden by the evening shadows, she felt more lonely than that poor
tramp who plodded his way wearily along the rugged cliffs.
With another heavy sigh, Marguerite Blakeney turned her back
upon the sea and cliffs, and walked slowly back towards "The
Fisherman's Rest." As she drew near, the sound of revelry, of gay,
jovial laughter, grew louder and more distinct. She could distinguish
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes' pleasant voice, Lord Tony's boisterous guffaws,
her husband's occasional, drawly, sleepy comments; then realising the
loneliness of the road and the fast gathering gloom round her, she
quickened her steps. . .the next moment she perceived a stranger
coming rapidly towards her. Marguerite did not look up: she was not
the least nervous, and "The Fisherman's Rest" was now well within call.
The stranger paused when he saw Marguerite coming quickly
towards him, and just as she was about to slip past him, he said very
"Citoyenne St. Just."
Marguerite uttered a little cry of astonishment, at thus
hearing her own familiar maiden name uttered so close to her. She
looked up at the stranger, and this time, with a cry of unfeigned
pleasure, she put out both her hands effusively towards him.
"Chauvelin!" she exclaimed.
"Himself, citoyenne, at your service," said the stranger,
gallantly kissing the tips of her fingers.
Marguerite said nothing for a moment or two, as she surveyed
with obvious delight the not very prepossessing little figure before
her. Chauvelin was then nearer forty than thirty--a clever,
shrewd-looking personality, with a curious fox-like expression in the
deep, sunken eyes. He was the same stranger who an hour or two
previously had joined Mr. Jellyband in a friendly glass of wine.
"Chauvelin. . .my friend. . ." said Marguerite, with a pretty
little sigh of satisfaction. "I am mightily pleased to see you."
No doubt poor Marguerite St. Just, lonely in the midst of her
grandeur, and of her starchy friends, was happy to see a face that
brought back memories of that happy time in Paris, when she reigned--a
queen--over the intellectual coterie of the Rue de Richelieu. She did
not notice the sarcastic little smile, however, that hovered round the
thin lips of Chauvelin.
"But tell me," she added merrily, "what in the world, or whom
in the world, are you doing here in England?"
"I might return the subtle compliment, fair lady," he said.
"What of yourself?"
"Oh, I?" she said, with a shrug of the shoulders. "Je m'ennuie,
mon ami, that is all."
They had reached the porch of "The Fisherman's Rest," but
Marguerite seemed loth to go within. The evening air was lovely after
the storm, and she had found a friend who exhaled the breath of Paris,
who knew Armand well, who could talk of all the merry, brilliant
friends whom she had left behind. So she lingered on under the pretty
porch, while through the gaily-lighted dormer-window of the
coffee-room sounds of laughter, of calls for "Sally" and for beer, of
tapping of mugs, and clinking of dice, mingled with Sir Percy
Blakeney's inane and mirthless laugh. Chauvelin stood beside her, his
shrewd, pale, yellow eyes fixed on the pretty face, which looked so
sweet and childlike in this soft English summer twilight.
"You surprise me, citoyenne," he said quietly, as he took a
pinch of snuff.
"Do I now?" she retorted gaily. "Faith, my little Chauvelin,
I should have thought that, with your penetration, you would have
guessed that an atmosphere composed of fogs and virtues would never
suit Marguerite St. Just."
"Dear me! is it as bad as that?" he asked, in mock consternation.
"Quite," she retorted, "and worse."
"Strange! Now, I thought that a pretty woman would have found
English country life peculiarly attractive."
"Yes! so did I," she said with a sigh, "Pretty women," she
added meditatively, "ought to have a good time in England, since all
the pleasant things are forbidden them--the very things they do every
"You'll hardly believe it, my little Chauvelin," she said
earnestly, "but I often pass a whole day--a whole day--without
encountering a single temptation."
"No wonder," retorted Chauvelin, gallantly, "that the
cleverest woman in Europe is troubled with ENNUI."
She laughed one of her melodious, rippling, childlike laughs.
"It must be pretty bad, mustn't it?" she asked archly, "or I
should not have been so pleased to see you."
"And this within a year of a romantic love match. . .that's
just the difficulty. . ."
"Ah!. . .that idyllic folly," said Chauvelin, with quiet
sarcasm, "did not then survive the lapse of. . .weeks?"
"Idyllic follies never last, my little Chauvelin. . .They come
upon us like the measles. . .and are as easily cured."
Chauvelin took another pinch of snuff: he seemed very much
addicted to that pernicious habit, so prevalent in those days;
perhaps, too, he found the taking of snuff a convenient veil for
disguising the quick, shrewd glances with which he strove to read the
very souls of those with whom he came in contact.
"No wonder," he repeated, with the same gallantry, "that the
most active brain in Europe is troubled with ENNUI."
"I was in hopes that you had a prescription against the
malady, my little Chauvelin."
"How can I hope to succeed in that which Sir Percy Blakeney
has failed to accomplish?"
"Shall we leave Sir Percy out of the question for the present,
my dear friend? she said drily.
"Ah! my dear lady, pardon me, but that is just what we cannot
very well do," said Chauvelin, whilst once again his eyes, keen as
those of a fox on the alert, darted a quick glance at Marguerite. "I
have a most perfect prescription against the worst form of ENNUI,
which I would have been happy to submit to you, but--"
"There IS Sir Percy."
"What has he to do with it?"
"Quite a good deal, I am afraid. The prescription I would
offer, fair lady, is called by a very plebeian name: Work!"
Chauvelin looked at Marguerite long and scrutinisingly. It
seemed as if those keen, pale eyes of his were reading every one of
her thoughts. They were alone together; the evening air was quite
still, and their soft whispers were drowned in the noise which came
from the coffee-room. Still, Chauvelin took as step or two from under
the porch, looked quickly and keenly all round him, then seeing that
indeed no one was within earshot, he once more came back close to
"Will you render France a small service, citoyenne?" he asked,
with a sudden change of manner, which lent his thin, fox-like face a
"La, man!" she replied flippantly, "how serious you look all
of a sudden. . . . Indeed I do not know if I WOULD render France a
small service--at any rate, it depends upon the kind of service
"Have you ever heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Citoyenne St.
Just?" asked Chauvelin, abruptly.
"Heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel?" she retorted with a long and
merry laugh, "Faith man! we talk of nothing else. . . . We have hats
'a la Scarlet Pimpernel'; our horses are called `Scarlet Pimpernel';
at the Prince of Wales' supper party the other night we had a `souffle
a la Scarlet Pimpernel.'. . .Lud!" she added gaily, "the other day I
ordered at my milliner's a blue dress trimmed with green, and bless me,
if she did not call that `a la Scarlet Pimpernel.'"
Chauvelin had not moved while she prattled merrily along; he
did not even attempt to stop her when her musical voice and her
childlike laugh went echoing through the still evening air. But he
remained serious and earnest whilst she laughed, and his voice, clear,
incisive, and hard, was not raised above his breath as he said,--
"Then, as you have heard of that enigmatical personage,
citoyenne, you must also have guessed, and know, that the man who
hides his identity under that strange pseudonym, is the most bitter
enemy of our republic, of France. . .of men like Armand St. Just."
"La!.." she said, with a quaint little sigh, "I dare swear he
is. . . . France has many bitter enemies these days."
"But you, citoyenne, are a daughter of France, and should be
ready to help her in a moment of deadly peril."
"My brother Armand devotes his life to France," she retorted
proudly; "as for me, I can do nothing. . .here in England. . . ."
"Yes, you. . ." he urged still more earnestly, whilst his thin
fox-like face seemed suddenly to have grown impressive and full of
dignity, "here, in England, citoyenne. . .you alone can help us. . . .
Listen!--I have been sent over here by the Republican Government as
its representative: I present my credentials to Mr. Pitt in London
to-morrow. One of my duties here is to find out all about this League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, which has become a standing menace to
France, since it is pledged to help our cursed aristocrats--traitors
to their country, and enemies of the people--to escape from the just
punishment which they deserve. You know as well as I do, citoyenne,
that once they are over here, those French EMIGRES try to rouse
public feeling against the Republic. . .They are ready to join issue
with any enemy bold enough to attack France. . .Now, within the last
month scores of these EMIGRES, some only suspected of treason,
others actually condemned by the Tribunal of Public Safety, have
succeeded in crossing the Channel. Their escape in each instance was
planned, organized and effected by this society of young English
jackanapes, headed by a man whose brain seems as resourceful as his
identity is mysterious. All the most strenuous efforts on the part of
my spies have failed to discover who he is; whilst the others are the
hands, he is the head, who beneath this strange anonymity calmly works
at the destruction of France. I mean to strike at that head, and for
this I want your help--through him afterwards I can reach the rest of
the gang: he is a young buck in English society, of that I feel sure.
Find that man for me, citoyenne!" he urged, "find him for France."
Marguerite had listened to Chauvelin's impassioned speech
without uttering a word, scarce making a movement, hardly daring to
breathe. She had told him before that this mysterious hero of romance
was the talk of the smart set to which she belonged; already, before
this, her heart and her imagination had stirred by the thought of the
brave man, who, unknown to fame, had rescued hundreds of lives from a
terrible, often an unmerciful fate. She had but little real sympathy
with those haughty French aristocrats, insolent in their pride of
caste, of whom the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive was so typical an
example; but republican and liberal-minded though she was from
principle, she hated and loathed the methods which the young Republic
had chosen for establishing itself. She had not been in Paris for
some months; the horrors and bloodshed of the Reign of Terror,
culminating in the September massacres, had only come across the
Channel to her as a faint echo. Robespierre, Danton, Marat, she had
not known in their new guise of bloody judiciaries, merciless wielders
of the guillotine. Her very soul recoiled in horror from these
excesses, to which she feared her brother Armand--moderate republican
as he was--might become one day the holocaust.
Then, when first she heard of this band of young English
enthusiasts, who, for sheer love of their fellowmen, dragged women and
children, old and young men, from a horrible death, her heart had
glowed with pride for them, and now, as Chauvelin spoke, her very soul
went out to the gallant and mysterious leader of the reckless little
band, who risked his life daily, who gave it freely and without
ostentation, for the sake of humanity.
Her eyes were moist when Chauvelin had finished speaking, the
lace at her bosom rose and fell with her quick, excited breathing; she
no longer heard the noise of drinking from the inn, she did not heed
her husband's voice or his inane laugh, her thoughts had gone
wandering in search of the mysterious hero! Ah! there was a man she
might have loved, had he come her way: everything in him appealed to
her romantic imagination; his personality, his strength, his bravery,
the loyalty of those who served under him in that same noble cause,
and, above all, that anonymity which crowned him, as if with a halo of
"Find him for France, citoyenne!"
Chauvelin's voice close to her ear roused her from her dreams.
The mysterious hero had vanished, and, not twenty yards away from her,
a man was drinking and laughing, to whom she had sworn faith and
"La! man," she said with a return of her assumed flippancy,
"you are astonishing. Where in the world am I to look for him?"
"You go everywhere, citoyenne," whispered Chauvelin,
insinuatingly, "Lady Blakeney is the pivot of social London, so I am
told. . .you see everything, you HEAR everything."
"Easy, my friend," retorted Marguerite, drawing, herself up to
her full height and looking down, with a slight thought of contempt on
the small, thin figure before her. "Easy! you seem to forget that
there are six feet of Sir Percy Blakeney, and a long line of ancestors
to stand between Lady Blakeney and such a thing as you propose."
"For the sake of France, citoyenne!" reiterated Chauvelin, earnestly.
"Tush, man, you talk nonsense anyway; for even if you did know who this
Scarlet Pimpernel is, you could do nothing to him--an Englishman!"
"I'd take my chance of that," said Chauvelin, with a dry,
rasping little laugh. "At any rate we could send him to the
guillotine first to cool his ardour, then, when there is a diplomatic
fuss about it, we can apologise--humbly--to the British Government,
and, if necessary, pay compensation to the bereaved family."
"What you propose is horrible, Chauvelin," she said, drawing
away from him as from some noisome insect. "Whoever the man may be,
he is brave and noble, and never--do you hear me?--never would I lend
a hand to such villiany."
"You prefer to be insulted by every French aristocrat who
comes to this country?"
Chauvelin had taken sure aim when he shot this tiny shaft.
Marguerite's fresh young cheeks became a thought more pale and she bit
her under lip, for she would not let him see that the shaft had struck
"That is beside the question," she said at last with
indifference. "I can defend myself, but I refuse to do any dirty work
for you--or for France. You have other means at your disposal; you
must use them, my friend."
And without another look at Chauvelin, Marguerite Blakeney
turned her back on him and walked straight into the inn.
"That is not your last word, citoyenne," said Chauvelin, as a
flood of light from the passage illumined her elegant, richly-clad
figure, "we meet in London, I hope!"
"We meet in London," she said, speaking over her shoulder at
him, "but that is my last word."
She threw open the coffee-room door and disappeared from his
view, but he remained under the porch for a moment or two, taking a
pinch of snuff. He had received a rebuke and a snub, but his shrewd,
fox-like face looked neither abashed nor disappointed; on the
contrary, a curious smile, half sarcastic and wholly satisfied, played
around the corners of his thin lips.
CHAPTER IX THE OUTRAGE
A beautiful starlit night had followed on the day of incessant
rain: a cool, balmy, late summer's night, essentially English in its
suggestion of moisture and scent of wet earth and dripping leaves.
The magnificent coach, drawn by four of the finest
thoroughbreds in England, had driven off along the London road, with
Sir Percy Blakeney on the box, holding the reins in his slender
feminine hands, and beside him Lady Blakeney wrapped in costly furs.
A fifty-mile drive on a starlit summer's night! Marguerite had hailed
the notion of it with delight. . . . Sir Percy was an enthusiastic
whip; his four thoroughbreds, which had been sent down to Dover a
couple of days before, were just sufficiently fresh and restive to add
zest to the expedition and Marguerite revelled in anticipation of the
few hours of solitude, with the soft night breeze fanning her cheeks,
her thoughts wandering, whither away? She knew from old experience
that Sir Percy would speak little, if at all: he had often driven her
on his beautiful coach for hours at night, from point to point,
without making more than one or two casual remarks upon the weather or
the state of the roads. He was very fond of driving by night, and she
had very quickly adopted his fancy: as she sat next to him hour after
hour, admiring the dexterous, certain way in which he handled the
reins, she often wondered what went on in that slow-going head of his.
He never told her, and she had never cared to ask.
At "The Fisherman's Rest" Mr. Jellyband was going the round,
putting out the lights. His bar customers had all gone, but upstairs
in the snug little bedrooms, Mr. Jellyband had quite a few important
guests: the Comtesse de Tournay, with Suzannne, and the Vicomte, and
there were two more bedrooms ready for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord
Antony Dewhurst, if the two young men should elect to honour the
ancient hostelry and stay the night.
For the moment these two young gallants were comfortably installed in
the coffee-room, before the huge log-fire, which, in spite of the
mildness of the evening, had been allowed to burn merrily.
"I say, Jelly, has everyone gone?" asked Lord Tony, as the
worthy landlord still busied himself clearing away glasses and mugs.
"Everyone, as you see, my lord."
"And all your servants gone to bed?"
"All except the boy on duty in the bar, and," added Mr. Jellyband
with a laugh, "I expect he'll be asleep afore long, the rascal."
"Then we can talk here undisturbed for half an hour?"
"At your service, my lord. . . . I'll leave your candles on
the dresser. . .and your rooms are quite ready. . .I sleep at the top
of the house myself, but if your lordship'll only call loudly enough,
I daresay I shall hear."
"All right, Jelly. . .and. . .I say, put the lamp out--the fire'll give
us all the light we need--and we don't want to attract the passer-by."
"Al ri', my lord."
Mr. Jellyband did as he was bid--he turned out the quaint old
lamp that hung from the raftered ceiling and blew out all the candles.
"Let's have a bottle of wine, Jelly," suggested Sir Andrew.
"Al ri', sir!"
Jellyband went off to fetch the wine. The room now was quite
dark, save for the circle of ruddy and fitful light formed by the
brightly blazing logs in the hearth.
"Is that all, gentlemen?" asked Jellyband, as he returned with a
bottle of wine and a couple of glasses, which he placed on the table.
"That'll do nicely, thanks, Jelly!" said Lord Tony.
"Good-night, my lord! Good-night, sir!"
The two young men listened, whilst the heavy tread of Mr.
Jellyband was heard echoing along the passage and staircase.
Presently even that sound died out, and the whole of "The Fisherman's
Rest" seemed wrapt in sleep, save the two young men drinking in
silence beside the hearth.
For a while no sound was heard, even in the coffee-room, save
the ticking of the old grandfather's clock and the crackling of the
"All right again this time, Ffoulkes?" asked Lord Antony at last.
Sir Andrew had been dreaming evidently, gazing into the fire,
and seeing therein, no doubt, a pretty, piquant face, with large brown
eyes and a wealth of dark curls round a childish forehead.
"Yes!" he said, still musing, "all right!"
Lord Antony laughed pleasantly as he poured himself out
another glass of wine.
"I need not ask, I suppose, whether you found the journey
pleasant this time?"
"No, friend, you need not ask," replied Sir Andrew, gaily.
"It was all right."
"Then here's to her very good health," said jovial Lord Tony.
"She's a bonnie lass, though she IS a French one. And here's to
your courtship--may it flourish and prosper exceedingly."
He drained his glass to the last drop, then joined his friend
beside the hearth.
"Well! you'll be doing the journey next, Tony, I expect,"
said Sir Andrew, rousing himself from his meditations, "you and
Hastings, certainly; and I hope you may have as pleasant a task as I
had, and as charming a travelling companion. You have no idea,
Tony. . . ."
"No! I haven't," interrupted his friend pleasantly, "but I'll
take your word for it. And now," he added, whilst a sudden
earnestness crept over his jovial young face, "how about business?"
The two young men drew their chairs closer together, and
instinctively, though they were alone, their voices sank to a whisper.
"I saw the Scarlet Pimpernel alone, for a few moments in
Calais," said Sir Andrew, "a day or two ago. He crossed over to
England two days before we did. He had escorted the party all the way
from Paris, dressed--you'll never credit it!--as an old market woman,
and driving--until they were safely out of the city--the covered cart,
under which the Comtesse de Tournay, Mlle. Suzanne, and the Vicomte
lay concealed among the turnips and cabbages. They, themselves, of
course, never suspected who their driver was. He drove them right
through a line of soldiery and a yelling mob, who were screaming, `A
bas les aristos!' But the market cart got through along with some
others, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, in shawl, petticoat and hood,
yelled `A bas les aristos!' louder than anybody. Faith!" added the
young man, as his eyes glowed with enthusiasm for the beloved leader,
"that man's a marvel! His cheek is preposterous, I vow!--and that's
what carries him through."
Lord Antony, whose vocabulary was more limited than that of
his friend, could only find an oath or two with which to show his
admiration for his leader.
"He wants you and Hastings to meet him at Calais," said Sir
Andrew, more quietly, "on the 2nd of next month. Let me see! that
will be next Wednesday."
"It is, of course, the case of the Comte de Tournay, this
time; a dangerous task, for the Comte, whose escape from his chateau,
after he had been declared a `suspect' by the Committee of Public
Safety, was a masterpiece of the Scarlet Pimpernel's ingenuity, is now
under sentence of death. It will be rare sport to get HIM out of
France, and you will have a narrow escape, if you get through at all.
St. Just has actually gone to meet him--of course, no one suspects St.
Just as yet; but after that. . .to get them both out of the country!
I'faith, `twill be a tough job, and tax even the ingenuity of our
chief. I hope I may yet have orders to be of the party."
"Have you any special instructions for me?"
"Yes! rather more precise ones than usual. It appears that
the Republican Government have sent an accredited agent over to
England, a man named Chauvelin, who is said to be terribly bitter
against our league, and determined to discover the identity of our
leader, so that he may have him kidnapped, the next time he attempts
to set foot in France. This Chauvelin has brought a whole army of
spies with him, and until the chief has sampled the lot, he thinks we
should meet as seldom as possible on the business of the league, and
on no account should talk to each other in public places for a time.
When he wants to speak to us, he will contrive to let us know."
The two young men were both bending over the fire for the
blaze had died down, and only a red glow from the dying embers cast a
lurid light on a narrow semicircle in front of the hearth. The rest
of the room lay buried in complete gloom; Sir Andrew had taken a
pocket-book from his pocket, and drawn therefrom a paper, which he
unfolded, and together they tried to read it by the dim red firelight.
So intent were they upon this, so wrapt up in the cause, the business
they had so much at heart, so precious was this document which came
from the very hand of their adored leader, that they had eyes and ears
only for that. They lost count of the sounds around them, of the
dropping of the crisp ash from the grate, of the monotonous ticking of
the clock, of the soft, almost imperceptible rustle of something on
the floor close beside them. A figure had emerged from under one of
the benches; with snake-like, noiseless movements it crept closer and
closer to the two young men, not breathing, only gliding along the
floor, in the inky blackness of the room.
"You are to read these instructions and commit them to
memory," said Sir Andrew, "then destroy them."
He was about to replace the letter-case into his pocket, when
a tiny slip of paper fluttered from it and fell on to the floor. Lord
Antony stooped and picked it up.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I don't know," replied Sir Andrew.
"It dropped out of your pocket just now. It certainly does
not seem to be with the other paper."
"Strange!--I wonder when it got there? It is from the chief,"
he added, glancing at the paper.
Both stooped to try and decipher this last tiny scrap of paper
on which a few words had been hastily scrawled, when suddenly a slight
noise atrracted their attention, which seemed to come from the passage
"What's that?" said both instinctively. Lord Antony crossed
the room towards the door, which he threw open quickly and suddenly;
at that very moment he received a stunning blow between the eyes,
which threw him back violently into the room. Simultaneously the
crouching, snake-like figure in the gloom had jumped up and hurled
itself from behind upon the unsuspecting Sir Andrew, felling him to
All this occurred within the short space of two or three
seconds, and before either Lord Antony or Sir Andrew had time or
chance to utter a cry or to make the faintest struggle. They were
each seized by two men, a muffler was quickly tied round the mouth of
each, and they were pinioned to one another back to back, their arms,
hands, and legs securely fastened.
One man had in the meanwhile quietly shut the door; he wore a
mask and now stood motionless while the others completed their work.
"All safe, citoyen!" said one of the men, as he took a final
survey of the bonds which secured the two young men.
"Good!" replied the man at the door; "now search their pockets
and give me all the papers you find."
This was promptly and quietly done. The masked man having
taken possession of all the papers, listened for a moment or two if
there were any sound within "The Fisherman's Rest." Evidently
satisfied that this dastardly outrage had remained unheard, he once
more opened the door and pointed peremptorily down the passage. The
four men lifted Sir Andrew and Lord Antony from the ground, and as
quietly, as noiselessly as they had come, they bore the two pinioned
young gallants out of the inn and along the Dover Road into the gloom
In the coffee-room the masked leader of this daring attempt
was quickly glancing through the stolen papers.
"Not a bad day's work on the whole," he muttered, as he
quietly took off his mask, and his pale, fox-like eyes glittered in
the red glow of the fire. "Not a bad day's work."
He opened one or two letters from Sir Andrew Ffoulkes'
pocket-book, noted the tiny scrap of paper which the two young men had
only just had time to read; but one letter specially, signed Armand
St. Just, seemed to give him strange satisfaction.
"Armand St. Just a traitor after all," he murmured. "Now,
fair Marguerite Blakeney," he added viciously between his clenched
teeth, "I think that you will help me to find the Scarlet Pimpernel."
CHAPTER X IN THE OPERA BOX
It was one of the gala nights at Covent Garden Theatre, the
first of the autumn season in this memorable year of grace 1792.
The house was packed, both in the smart orchestra boxes and in
the pit, as well as in the more plebeian balconies and galleries
above. Gluck's ORPHEUS made a strong appeal to the more
intellectual portions of the house, whilst the fashionable women, the
gaily-dressed and brilliant throng, spoke to the eye of those who
cared but little for this "latest importation from Germany."
Selina Storace had been duly applauded after her grand ARIA
by her numerous admirers; Benjamin Incledon, the acknowledged
favourite of the ladies, had received special gracious recognition
from the royal box; and now the curtain came down after the glorious
finale to the second act, and the audience, which had hung spell-bound
on the magic strains of the great maestro, seemed collectively to
breathe a long sigh of satisfaction, previous to letting loose its
hundreds of waggish and frivolous tongues.
In the smart orchestra boxes many well-known faces were to be
seen. Mr. Pitt, overweighted with cares of state, was finding brief
relaxation in to-night's musical treat; the Prince of Wales, jovial,
rotund, somewhat coarse and commonplace in appearance, moved about
from box to box, spending brief quarters of an hour with those of his
more intimate friends.
In Lord Grenville's box, too, a curious, interesting
personality attracted everyone's attention; a thin, small figure with
shrewd, sarcastic face and deep-set eyes, attentive to the music,
keenly critical of the audience, dressed in immaculate black, with
dark hair free from any powder. Lord Grenville--Foreign Secretary of
State--paid him marked, though frigid deference.
Here and there, dotted about among distinctly English types of
beauty, one or two foreign faces stood out in marked contrast: the
haughty aristocratic cast of countenance of the many French royalist
EMIGRES who, persecuted by the relentless, revolutionary faction of
their country, had found a peaceful refuge in England. On these faces
sorrow and care were deeply writ; the women especially paid but little
heed, either to the music or to the brilliant audience; no doubt their
thoughts were far away with husband, brother, son maybe, still in
peril, or lately succumbed to a cruel fate.
Among these the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive, but lately
arrived from France, was a most conspicuous figure: dressed in deep,
heavy black silk, with only a white lace kerchief to relieve the
aspect of mourning about her person, she sat beside Lady Portarles,
who was vainly trying by witty sallies and somewhat broad jokes, to
bring a smile to the Comtesse's sad mouth. Behind her sat little
Suzanne and the Vicomte, both silent and somewhat shy among so many
strangers. Suzanne's eyes seemed wistful; when she first entered the
crowded house, she had looked eagerly all around, scanning every face,
scrutinised every box. Evidently the one face she wished to see was
not there, for she settled herself quietly behind her mother, listened
apathetically to the music, and took no further interest in the
"Ah, Lord Grenville," said Lady Portarles, as following a
discreet knock, the clever, interesting head of the Secretary of State
appeared in the doorway of the box, "you could not arrive more _A_
PROPOS. Here is Madame la Comtesse de Tournay positively dying to
hear the latest news from France."
The distinguished diplomat had come forward and was shaking
hands with the ladies.
"Alas!" he said sadly, "it is of the very worst. The
massacres continue; Paris literally reeks with blood; and the
guillotine claims a hundred victims a day."
Pale and tearful, the Comtesse was leaning back in her chair,
listening horror-struck to this brief and graphic account of what went
on in her own misguided country.
"Ah, monsieur!" she said in broken English, "it is dreadful to
hear all that--and my poor husband still in that awful country. It is
terrible for me to be sitting here, in a theatre, all safe and in
peace, whilst he is in such peril."
"Lud, Madame!" said honest, bluff Lady Portarles, "your
sitting in a convent won't make your husband safe, and you have your
children to consider: they are too young to be dosed with anxiety and
The Comtesse smiled through her tears at the vehemence of her
friend. Lady Portarles, whose voice and manner would not have
misfitted a jockey, had a heart of gold, and hid the most genuine
sympathy and most gentle kindliness, beneath the somewhat coarse
manners affected by some ladies at that time.
"Besides which, Madame," added Lord Grenville, "did you not
tell me yesterday that the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had pledged
their honour to bring M. le Comte safely across the Channel?"
"Ah, yes!" replied the Comtesse, "and that is my only hope. I
saw Lord Hastings yesterday. . .he reassured me again."
"Then I am sure you need have no fear. What the league have
sworn, that they surely will accomplish. Ah!" added the old diplomat
with a sigh, "if I were but a few years younger. . ."
"La, man!" interrupted honest Lady Portarles, "you are still
young enough to turn your back on that French scarecrow that sits
enthroned in your box to-night."
"I wish I could. . .but your ladyship must remember that in
serving our country we must put prejudices aside. M. Chauvelin is the
accredited agent of his Government. . ."
"Odd's fish, man!" she retorted, "you don't call those
bloodthirsty ruffians over there a government, do you?"
"It has not been thought advisable as yet," said the Minister,
guardedly, "for England to break off diplomatic relations with France,
and we cannot therefore refuse to receive with courtesy the agent she
wishes to send to us."
"Diplomatic relations be demmed, my lord! That sly little fox
over there is nothing but a spy, I'll warrant, and you'll find--an I'm
much mistaken, that he'll concern himself little with such diplomacy,
beyond trying to do mischief to royalist refugees--to our heroic
Scarlet Pimpernel and to the members of that brave little league."
"I am sure," said the Comtesse, pursing up her thin lips,
"that if this Chauvelin wishes to do us mischief, he will find a
faithful ally in Lady Blakeney."
"Bless the woman!" ejaculated Lady Portarles, "did ever anyone
see such perversity? My Lord Grenville, you have the gift of gab,
will you please explain to Madame la Comtesse that she is acting like
a fool. In your position here in England, Madame," she added, turning
a wrathful and resolute face towards the Comtesse, "you cannot afford
to put on the hoity-toity airs you French aristocrats are so fond of.
Lady Blakeney may or may not be in sympathy with those Ruffians in
France; she may or may not have had anything to do with the arrest and
condemnation of St. Cyr, or whatever the man's name is, but she is the
leader of fashion in this country; Sir Percy Blakeney has more money
than any half-dozen other men put together, he is hand and glove with
royalty, and your trying to snub Lady Blakeney will not harm her, but
will make you look a fool. Isn't that so, my Lord?
But what Lord Grenville thought of this matter, or to what
reflections this comely tirade of Lady Portarles led the Comtesse de
Tournay, remained unspoken, for the curtain had just risen on the
third act of ORPHEUS, and admonishments to silence came from every
part of the house.
Lord Grenville took a hasty farewell of the ladies and slipped
back into his box, where M. Chauvelin had sat through this
ENTR'ACTE, with his eternal snuff-box in his hand, and with his keen
pale eyes intently fixed upon a box opposite him, where, with much
frou-frou of silken skirts, much laughter and general stir of
curiosity amongst the audience, Marguerite Blakeney had just entered,
accompanied by her husband, and looking divinely pretty beneath the
wealth of her golden, reddish curls, slightly besprinkled with powder,
and tied back at the nape of her graceful neck with a gigantic black
bow. Always dressed in the very latest vagary of fashion, Marguerite
alone among the ladies that night had discarded the crossover fichu
and broad-lapelled over-dress, which had been in fashion for the last
two or three years. She wore the short-waisted classical-shaped gown,
which so soon was to become the approved mode in every country in
Europe. It suited her graceful, regal figure to perfection, composed
as it was of shimmering stuff which seemed a mass of rich gold embroidery.
As she entered, she leant for a moment out of the box, taking
stock of all those present whom she knew. Many bowed to her as she
did so, and from the royal box there came also a quick and gracious
Chauvelin watched her intently all through the commencement of
the third act, as she sat enthralled with the music, her exquisite
little hand toying with a small jewelled fan, her regal head, her
throat, arms and neck covered with magnificent diamonds and rare gems,
the gift of the adoring husband who sprawled leisurely by her side.
Marguerite was passionately fond of music. ORPHEUS charmed
her to-night. The very joy of living was writ plainly upon the sweet
young face, it sparkled out of the merry blue eyes and lit up the
smile that lurked around the lips. She was after all but
five-and-twenty, in the hey day of youth, the darling of a brilliant
throng, adored, FETED, petted, cherished. Two days ago the DAY
DREAM had returned from Calais, bringing her news that her idolised
brother had safely landed, that he thought of her, and would be
prudent for her sake.
What wonder for the moment, and listening to Gluck's
impassioned strains, that she forgot her disillusionments, forgot her
vanished love-dreams, forgot even the lazy, good-humoured nonentity
who had made up for his lack of spiritual attainments by lavishing
worldly advantages upon her.
He had stayed beside her in the box just as long as convention
demanded, making way for His Royal Highness, and for the host of
admirers who in a continued procession came to pay homage to the queen
of fashion. Sir Percy had strolled away, to talk to more congenial
friends probably. Marguerite did not even wonder whither he had
gone--she cared so little; she had had a little court round her,
composed of the JEUNESSE DOREE of London, and had just dismissed
them all, wishing to be alone with Gluck for a brief while.
A discreet knock at the door roused her from her enjoyment.
"Come in," she said with some impatience, without turning to
look at the intruder.
Chauvelin, waiting for his opportunity, noted that she was
alone, and now, without pausing for that impatient "Come in," he
quietly slipped into the box, and the next moment was standing behind
"A word with you, citoyenne," he said quietly.
Marguerite turned quickly, in alarm, which was not altogether
"Lud, man! you frightened me," she said with a forced little
laugh, "your presence is entirely inopportune. I want to listen to
Gluck, and have no mind for talking."
"But this is my only opportunity," he said, as quietly, and
without waiting for permission, he drew a chair close behind her--so
close that he could whisper in her ear, without disturbing the
audience, and without being seen, in the dark background of the box.
"This is my only opportunity," he repeated, as he vouchsafed him no
reply, "Lady Blakeney is always so surrounded, so FETED by her
court, that a mere old friend has but very little chance."
"Faith, man!" she said impatiently, "you must seek for another
opportunity then. I am going to Lord Grenville's ball to-night after
the opera. So are you, probably. I'll give you five minutes
then. . . ."
"Three minutes in the privacy of this box are quite sufficient
for me," he rejoined placidly, "and I think that you will be wise to
listen to me, Citoyenne St. Just."
Marguerite instinctively shivered. Chauvelin had not raised
his voice above a whisper; he was now quietly taking a pinch of snuff,
yet there was something in his attitude, something in those pale, foxy
eyes, which seemed to freeze the blood in her veins, as would the
sight of some deadly hitherto unguessed peril.
"Is that a threat, citoyen?" she asked at last.
"Nay, fair lady," he said gallantly, "only an arrow shot into
He paused a moment, like a cat which sees a mouse running
heedlessly by, ready to spring, yet waiting with that feline sense of
enjoyment of mischief about to be done. Then he said quietly--
"Your brother, St. Just, is in peril."
Not a muscle moved in the beautiful face before him. He could
only see it in profile, for Marguerite seemed to be watching the stage
intently, but Chauvelin was a keen observer; he noticed the sudden
rigidity of the eyes, the hardening of the mouth, the sharp, almost
paralysed tension of the beautiful, graceful figure.
"Lud, then," she said with affected merriment, "since `tis one
of your imaginary plots, you'd best go back to your own seat and leave
me enjoy the music."
And with her hand she began to beat time nervously against the
cushion of the box. Selina Storace was singing the "Che faro" to an
audience that hung spellbound upon the prima donna's lips. Chauvelin
did not move from his seat; he quietly watched that tiny nervous hand,
the only indication that his shaft had indeed struck home.
"Well?" she said suddenly and irrelevantly, and with the same
"Well, citoyenne?" he rejoined placidly.
"About my brother?"
"I have news of him for you which, I think, will interest you,
but first let me explain. . . . May I?"
The question was unnecessary. He felt, though Marguerite
still held her head steadily averted from him, that her every nerve
was strained to hear what he had to say.
"The other day, citoyenne," he said, "I asked for your
help. . . . France needed it, and I thought I could rely on you, but
you gave me your answer. . . . Since then the exigencies of my own
affairs and your own social duties have kept up apart. . .although
many things have happened. . . ."
"To the point, I pray you, citoyen," she said lightly; "the
music is entrancing, and the audience will get impatient of your
"One moment, citoyenne. The day on which I had the honour of
meeting you at Dover, and less than an hour after I had your final
answer, I obtained possession of some papers, which revealed another
of those subtle schemes for the escape of a batch of French
aristocrats--that traitor de Tournay amongst others--all organized by
that arch-meddler, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Some of the threads, too,
of this mysterious organization have come into my hands, but not all,
and I want you--nay! you MUST help me to gather them together."
Marguerite seemed to have listened to him with marked
impatience; she now shrugged her shoulders and said gaily--
"Bah! man. Have I not already told you that I care nought
about your schemes or about the Scarlet Pimpernel. And had you not
spoken about my brother. . ."
"A little patience, I entreat, citoyenne," he continued
imperturbably. "Two gentlemen, Lord Antony Dewhurst and Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes were at `The Fisherman's Rest' at Dover that same night."
"I know. I saw them there."
"They were already known to my spies as members of that
accursed league. It was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes who escorted the Comtesse
de Tournay and her children across the Channel. When the two young
men were alone, my spies forced their way into the coffee-room of the
inn, gagged and pinioned the two gallants, seized their papers, and
brought them to me."
In a moment she had guessed the danger. Papers?. . .Had
Armand been imprudent?. . .The very thought struck her with nameless
terror. Still she would not let this man see that she feared; she
laughed gaily and lightly.
"Faith! and your impudence pases belief," she said merrily.
"Robbery and violence!--in England!--in a crowded inn! Your men might
have been caught in the act!"
"What if they had? They are children of France, and have been
trained by your humble servant. Had they been caught they would have
gone to jail, or even to the gallows, without a word of protest or
indiscretion; at any rate it was well worth the risk. A crowded inn
is safer for these little operations than you think, and my men have
"Well? And those papers?" she asked carelessly.
"Unfortunately, though they have given me cognisance of
certain names. . .certain movements. . .enough, I think, to thwart
their projected COUP for the moment, it would only be for the
moment, and still leaves me in ignorance of the identity of the
"La! my friend," she said, with the same assumed flippancy of
manner, "then you are where you were before, aren't you? and you can
let me enjoy the last strophe of the ARIA. Faith!" she added,
ostentatiously smothering an imaginary yawn, "had you not spoken about
my brother. . ."
"I am coming to him now, citoyenne. Among the papers there
was a letter to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, written by your brother, St.
"That letter shows him to be not only in sympathy with the
enemies of France, but actually a helper, if not a member, of the
League of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
The blow had been struck at last. All along, Marguerite had
been expecting it; she would not show fear, she was determined to seem
unconcerned, flippant even. She wished, when the shock came, to be
prepared for it, to have all her wits about her--those wits which had
been nicknamed the keenest in Europe. Even now she did not flinch.
She knew that Chauvelin had spoken the truth; the man was too earnest,
too blindly devoted to the misguided cause he had at heart, too proud
of his countrymen, of those makers of revolutions, to stoop to low,
That letter of Armand's--foolish, imprudent Armand--was in
Chauvelin's hands. Marguerite knew that as if she had seen the letter
with her own eyes; and Chauvelin would hold that letter for purposes
of his own, until it suited him to destroy it or to make use of it
against Armand. All that she knew, and yet she continued to laugh
more gaily, more loudly than she had done before.
"La, man!" she said, speaking over her shoulder and looking
him full and squarely in the face, "did I not say it was some
imaginary plot. . . . Armand in league with that enigmatic Scarlet
Pimpernel!. . .Armand busy helping those French aristocrats whom he
despises!. . .Faith, the tale does infinite credit to your
"Let me make my point clear, citoyenne," said Chauvelin, with
the same unruffled calm, "I must assure you that St. Just is
compromised beyond the slightest hope of pardon."
Inside the orchestra box all was silent for a moment or two.
Marguerite sat, straight upright, rigid and inert, trying to think,
trying to face the situation, to realise what had best be done.
In the house Storace had finished the ARIA, and was even now
bowing in her classic garb, but in approved eighteenth-century
fashion, to the enthusiastic audience, who cheered her to the echo.
"Chauvelin," said Marguerite Blakeney at last, quietly, and
without that touch of bravado which had characterised her attitude all
along, "Chauvelin, my friend, shall we try to understand one another.
It seems that my wits have become rusty by contact with this damp
climate. Now, tell me, you are very anxious to discover the identity
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, isn't that so?"
"France's most bitter enemy, citoyenne. . .all the more
dangerous, as he works in the dark."
"All the more noble, you mean. . . . Well!--and you would now
force me to do some spying work for you in exchange for my brother
Armand's safety?--Is that it?"
"Fie! two very ugly words, fair lady," protested Chauvelin,
urbanely. "There can be no question of force, and the service which I
would ask of you, in the name of France, could never be called by the
shocking name of spying."
"At any rate, that is what it is called over here," she said
drily. "That is your intention, is it not?"
"My intention is, that you yourself win the free pardon for
Armand St. Just by doing me a small service."
"What is it?"
"Only watch for me to-night, Citoyenne St. Just," he said
eagerly. "Listen: among the papers which were found about the person
of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes there was a tiny note. See!" he added, taking
a tiny scrap of paper from his pocket-book and handing it to her.
It was the same scrap of paper which, four days ago, the two
young men had been in the act of reading, at the very moment when they
were attacked by Chauvelin's minions. Marguerite took it mechanically
and stooped to read it. There were only two lines, written in a
distorted, evidently disguised, handwriting; she read them half
"`Remember we must not meet more often than is strictly
necessary. You have all instructions for the 2nd. If you wish to
speak to me again, I shall be at G.'s ball.'"
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"Look again, citoyenne, and you will understand."
"There is a device here in the corner, a small red
flower. . ."
"The Scarlet Pimpernel," she said eagerly, "and G.'s ball
means Grenville's ball. . . . He will be at my Lord Grenville's ball
"That is how I interpret the note, citoyenne," concluded
Chauvelin, blandly. "Lord Antony Dewhurst and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes,
after they were pinioned and searched by my spies, were carried by my
orders to a lonely house in the Dover Road, which I had rented for the
purpose: there they remained close prisoners until this morning. But
having found this tiny scrap of paper, my intention was that they
should be in London, in time to attend my Lord Grenville's ball. You
see, do you not? that they must have a great deal to say to their
chief. . .and thus they will have an opportunity of speaking to him
to-night, just as he directed them to do. Therefore, this morning,
those two young gallants found every bar and bolt open in that lonely
house on the Dover Road, their jailers disappeared, and two good
horses standing ready saddled and tethered in the yard. I have not
seen them yet, but I think we may safely conclude that they did not
draw rein until they reached London. Now you see how simple it all
"It does seem simple, doesn't it?" she said, with a final
bitter attempt at flippancy, "when you want to kill a chicken. . .you
take hold of it. . .then you wring its neck. . .it's only the chicken
who does not find it quite so simple. Now you hold a knife at my
throat, and a hostage for my obedience. . . . You find it
simple. . . . I don't."
"Nay, citoyenne, I offer you a chance of saving the brother
you love from the consequences of his own folly."
Marguerite's face softened, her eyes at last grew moist, as
she murmured, half to herself:
"The only being in the world who has loved me truly and
constantly. . . . But what do you want me to do, Chauvelin?" she
said, with a world of despair in her tear-choked voice. "In my
present position, it is well-nigh impossible!"
"Nay, citoyenne," he said drily and relentlessly, not heeding
that despairing, childlike appeal, which might have melted a heart of
stone, "as Lady Blakeney, no one suspects you, and with your help
to-night I may--who knows?--succeed in finally establishing the
identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. . . . You are going to the ball
anon. . . . Watch for me there, citoyenne, watch and listen. . . .
You can tell me if you hear a chance word or whisper. . . . You can
note everyone to whom Sir Andrew Ffoulkes or Lord Antony Dewhurst will
speak. You are absolutely beyond suspicion now. The Scarlet
Pimpernel will be at Lord Grenville's ball to-night. Find out who he
is, and I will pledge the word of France that your brother shall be
Chauvelin was putting the knife to her throat. Marguerite
felt herself entangled in one of those webs, from which she could hope
for no escape. A precious hostage was being held for her obedience:
for she knew that this man would never make an empty threat. No doubt
Armand was already signalled to the Committee of Public Safety as one
of the "suspect"; he would not be allowed to leave France again, and
would be ruthlessly struck, if she refused to obey Chauvelin. For a
moment--woman-like--she still hoped to temporise. She held out her
hand to this man, whom she now feared and hated.
"If I promise to help you in this matter, Chauvelin," she said
pleasantly, "will you give me that letter of St. Just's?"
"If you render me useful service to-night, citoyenne," he
replied with a sarcastic smile, "I will give you that letter. . .
"You do not trust me?"
"I trust you absolutely, dear lady, but St. Just's life is
forfeit to his country. . .it rests with you to redeem it."
"I may be powerless to help you," she pleaded, "were I ever so
"That would be terrible indeed," he said quietly, "for
you. . .and for St. Just."
Marguerite shuddered. She felt that from this man she could
expect no mercy. All-powerful, he held the beloved life in the hollow
of his hand. She knew him too well not to know that, if he failed in
gaining his own ends, he would be pitiless.
She felt cold in spite of the oppressive air of opera-house.
The heart-appealing strains of the music seemed to reach her, as from
a distant land. She drew her costly lace scarf up around her
shoulders, and sat silently watching the brilliant scene, as if in a
For a moment her thoughts wandered away from the loved one who
was in danger, to that other man who also had a claim on her
confidence and her affection. She felt lonely, frightened for
Armand's sake; she longed to seek comfort and advice from someone who
would know how to help and console. Sir Percy Blakeney had loved her
once; he was her husband; why should she stand alone through this
terrible ordeal? He had very little brains, it is true, but he had
plenty of muscle: surely, if she provided the thought, and he the
manly energy and pluck, together they could outwit the astute
diplomatist, and save the hostage from his vengeful hands, without
imperilling the life of the noble leader of that gallant little band
of heroes. Sir Percy knew St. Just well--he seemed attached to
him--she was sure that he could help.
Chauvelin was taking no further heed of her. He had said his
cruel "Either--or--" and left her to decide. He, in his turn now,
appeared to be absorbed in the sour-stirring melodies of ORPHEUS,
and was beating time to the music with his sharp, ferret-like head.
A discreet rap at the door roused Marguerite from her
thoughts. It was Sir Percy Blakeney, tall, sleepy, good-humoured, and
wearing that half-shy, half-inane smile, which just now seemed to
irritate her every nerve.
"Er. . .your chair is outside. . .m'dear," he said, with his
most exasperating drawl, "I suppose you will want to go to that demmed
ball. . . . Excuse me--er--Monsieur Chauvelin--I had not observed
you. . . ."
He extended two slender, white fingers toward Chauvelin, who
had risen when Sir Percy entered the box.
"Are you coming, m'dear?"
"Hush! Sh! Sh!" came in angry remonstrance from different
parts of the house.
"Demmed impudence," commented Sir Percy with a good-natured
Marguerite sighed impatiently. Her last hope seemed suddenly
to have vanished away. She wrapped her cloak round her and without
looking at her husband:
"I am ready to go," she said, taking his arm. At the door of
the box she turned and looked straight at Chauvelin, who, with his
CHAPEAU-BRAS under his arm, and a curious smile round his thin lips,
was preparing to follow the strangely ill-assorted couple.
"It is only AU REVOIR, Chauvelin," she said pleasantly, "we
shall meet at my Lord Grenville's ball, anon."
And in her eyes the astute Frenchman, read, no doubt,
something which caused him profound satisfaction, for, with a
sarcastic smile, he took a delicate pinch of snuff, then, having
dusted his dainty lace jabot, he rubbed his thin, bony hands
CHAPTER XI LORD GRENVILLE'S BALL
The historic ball given by the then Secretary of State for
Foreign Affairs--Lord Grenville--was the most brilliant function of
the year. Though the autumn season had only just begun, everybody who
was anybody had contrived to be in London in time to be present there,
and to shine at this ball, to the best of his or her respective
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had promised to be
present. He was coming on presently from the opera. Lord Grenville
himself had listened to the two first acts of ORPHEUS, before
preparing to receive his guests. At ten o'clock--an unusually late
hour in those days--the grand rooms of the Foreign Office, exquisitely
decorated with exotic palms and flowers, were filled to overflowing.
One room had been set apart for dancing, and the dainty strains of the
minuet made a soft accompaniment to the gay chatter, the merry
laughter of the numerous and brilliant company.
In a smaller chamber, facing the top of the fine stairway, the
distinguished host stood ready to receive his guests. Distinguished
men, beautiful women, notabilities from every European country had
already filed past him, had exchanged the elaborate bows and curtsies
with him, which the extravagant fashion of the time demanded, and
then, laughing and talking, had dispersed in the ball, reception, and
card rooms beyond.
Not far from Lord Grenville's elbow, leaning against one of
the console tables, Chauvelin, in his irreproachable black costume,
was taking a quiet survey of the brilliant throng. He noted that Sir
Percy and Lady Blakeney had not yet arrived, and his keen, pale eyes
glanced quickly towards the door every time a new-comer appeared.
He stood somewhat isolated: the envoy of the Revolutionary
Government of France was not likely to be very popular in England, at
a time when the news of the awful September massacres, and of the
Reign of Terror and Anarchy, had just begun to filtrate across the
In his official capacity he had been received courteously by
his English colleagues: Mr. Pitt had shaken him by the hand; Lord
Grenville had entertained him more than once; but the more intimate
circles of London society ignored him altogether; the women openly
turned their backs upon him; the men who held no official position
refused to shake his hand.
But Chauvelin was not the man to trouble himself about these
social amenities, which he called mere incidents in his diplomatic
career. He was blindly enthusiastic for the revolutionary cause, he
despised all social inequalities, and he had a burning love for his
own country: these three sentiments made him supremely indifferent to
the snubs he received in this fog-ridden, loyalist, old-fashioned
But, above all, Chauvelin had a purpose at heart. He firmly
believed that the French aristocrat was the most bitter enemy of
France; he would have wished to see every one of them annihilated: he
was one of those who, during this awful Reign of Terror, had been the
first to utter the historic and ferocious desire "that aristocrats
might have but one head between them, so that it might be cut off with
a single stroke of the guillotine." And thus he looked upon every
French aristocrat, who had succeeded in escaping from France, as so
much prey of which the guillotine had been unwarrantably cheated.
There is no doubt that those royalist EMIGRES, once they had managed
to cross the frontier, did their very best to stir up foreign
indignation against France. Plots without end were hatched in
England, in Belgium, in Holland, to try and induce some great power to
send troops into revolutionary Paris, to free King Louis, and to
summarily hang the bloodthirsty leaders of that monster republic.
Small wonder, therefore, that the romantic and mysterious
personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel was a source of bitter hatred to
Chauvelin. He and the few young jackanapes under his command, well
furnished with money, armed with boundless daring, and acute cunning,
had succeeded in rescuing hundreds of aristocrats from France.
Nine-tenths of the EMIGRES, who were FETED at the English court,
owed their safety to that man and to his league.
Chauvelin had sworn to his colleagues in Paris that he would
discover the identity of that meddlesome Englishman, entice him over
to France, and then. . .Chauvelin drew a deep breath of satisfaction
at the very thought of seeing that enigmatic head falling under the
knife of the guillotine, as easily as that of any other man.
Suddenly there was a great stir on the handsome staircase, all
conversation stopped for a moment as the majordomo's voice outside
"His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and suite, Sir Percy
Blakeney, Lady Blakeney."
Lord Grenville went quickly to the door to receive his exalted
The Prince of Wales, dressed in a magnificent court suit of
salmon-coloured velvet richly embroidered with gold, entered with
Marguerite Blakeney on his arm; and on his left Sir Percy, in gorgeous
shimmering cream satin, cut in the extravagant "Incroyable" style, his
fair hair free from powder, priceless lace at his neck and wrists, and
the flat CHAPEAU-BRAS under his arm.
After the few conventional words of deferential greeting, Lord
Grenville said to his royal guest,--
"Will your Highness permit me to introduce M. Chauvelin, the
accredited agent of the French Government?"
Chauvelin, immediately the Prince entered, had stepped
forward, expecting this introduction. He bowed very low, whilst the
Prince returned his salute with a curt nod of the head.
"Monsieur," said His Royal Highness coldly, "we will try to
forget the government that sent you, and look upon you merely as our
guest--a private gentleman from France. As such you are welcome,
"Monseigneur," rejoined Chauvelin, bowing once again.
"Madame," he added, bowing ceremoniously before Marguerite.
"Ah! my little Chauvelin!" she said with unconcerned gaiety,
and extending her tiny hand to him. "Monsieur and I are old friends,
your Royal Highness."
"Ah, then," said the Prince, this time very graciously, "you
are doubly welcome, Monsieur."
"There is someone else I would crave permission to present to
your Royal Highness," here interposed Lord Grenville.
"Ah! who is it?" asked the Prince.
"Madame la Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive and her family,
who have but recently come from France."
"By all means!--They are among the lucky ones then!"
Lord Grenville turned in search of the Comtesse, who sat at
the further end of the room.
"Lud love me!" whispered his Royal Highness to Marguerite, as
soon as he had caught sight of the rigid figure of the old lady; "Lud
love me! she looks very virtuous and very melancholy."
"Faith, your Royal Highness," she rejoined with a smile,
"virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when it is crushed."
"Virtue, alas!" sighed the Prince, "is mostly unbecoming to
your charming sex, Madame."
"Madame la Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive," said Lord
Grenville, introducing the lady.
"This is a pleasure, Madame; my royal father, as you know, is
ever glad to welcome those of your compatriots whom France has driven
from her shores."
"Your Royal Highness is ever gracious," replied the Comtesse
with becoming dignity. Then, indicating her daughter, who stood
timidly by her side: "My daughter Suzanne, Monseigneur," she said.
"Ah! charming!--charming!" said the Prince, "and now allow
me, Comtesse, to introduce you, Lady Blakeney, who honours us with her
friendship. You and she will have much to say to one another, I vow.
Every compatriot of Lady Blakeney's is doubly welcome for her
sake. . .her friends are our friends. . .her enemies, the enemies of
Marguerite's blue eyes had twinkled with merriment at this
gracious speech from her exalted friend. The Comtesse de Tournay, who
lately had so flagrantly insulted her, was here receiving a public
lesson, at which Marguerite could not help but rejoice. But the
Comtesse, for whom respect of royalty amounted almost to a religion,
was too well-schooled in courtly etiquette to show the slightest sign
of embarrassment, as the two ladies curtsied ceremoniously to one
"His Royal Highness is ever gracious, Madame," said
Marguerite, demurely, and with a wealth of mischief in her twinkling
blue eyes, "but there is no need for his kind of meditation. . . .
Your amiable reception of me at our last meeting still dwells
pleasantly in my memory."
"We poor exiles, Madame," rejoined the Comtesse, frigidly,
"show our gratitude to England by devotion to the wishes of
"Madame!" said Marguerite, with another ceremonious curtsey.
"Madame," responded the Comtesse with equal dignity.
The Prince in the meanwhile was saying a few gracious words to
the young Vicomte.
"I am happy to know you, Monsieur le Vicomte," he said. "I
knew your father well when he was ambassador in London."
"Ah, Monseigneur!" replied the Vicomte, "I was a leetle boy
then. . .and now I owe the honour of this meeting to our protector,
the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"Hush!" said the Prince, earnestly and quickly, as he
indicated Chauvelin, who had stood a little on one side throughout the
whole of this little scene, watching Marguerite and the Comtesse with
an amused, sarcastic little smile around his thin lips.
"Nay, Monseigneur," he said now, as if in direct response to
the Prince's challenge, "pray do not check this gentleman's display of
gratitude; the name of that interesting red flower is well known to
me--and to France."
The Prince looked at him keenly for a moment or two.
"Faith, then, Monsieur," he said, "perhaps you know more about
our national hero than we do ourselves. . .perchance you know who he
is. . . . See!" he added, turning to the groups round the room, "the
ladies hang upon your lips. . .you would render yourself popular among
the fair sex if you were to gratify their curiosity."
"Ah, Monseigneur," said Chauvelin, significantly, "rumour has
it in France that your Highness could--an you would--give the truest
account of that enigmatical wayside flower."
He looked quickly and keenly at Marguerite as he spoke; but
she betrayed no emotion, and her eyes met his quite fearlessly.
"Nay, man," replied the Prince, "my lips are sealed! and the
members of the league jealously guard the secret of their chief. . .so
his fair adorers have to be content with worshipping a shadow. Here
in England, Monsieur," he added, with wonderful charm and dignity, "we
but name the Scarlet Pimpernel, and every fair cheek is suffused with
a blush of enthusiasm. None have seen him save his faithful
lieutenants. We know not if he be tall or short, fair or dark,
handsome or ill-formed; but we know that he is the bravest gentleman
in all the world, and we all feel a little proud, Monsieur, when we
remember that he is an Englishman.
"Ah, Monsieur Chauvelin," added Marguerite, looking almost
with defiance across at the placid, sphinx-like face of the Frenchman,
"His Royal Highness should add that we ladies think of him as of a
hero of old. . .we worship him. . .we wear his badge. . .we tremble
for him when he is in danger, and exult with him in the hour of his
Chauvelin did no more than bow placidly both to the Prince and
to Marguerite; he felt that both speeches were intended--each in their
way--to convey contempt or defiance. The pleasure-loving, idle Prince
he despised: the beautiful woman, who in her golden hair wore a spray
of small red flowers composed of rubies and diamonds--her he held in
the hollow of hand: he could afford to remain silent and to wait
A long, jovial, inane laugh broke the sudden silence which had
fallen over everyone.
"And we poor husbands," came in slow, affected accents from
gorgeous Sir Percy, "we have to stand by. . .while they worship a
Everyone laughed--the Prince more loudly than anyone. The
tension of subdued excitement was relieved, and the next moment
everyone was laughing and chatting merrily as the gay crowd broke up
and dispersed in the adjoining rooms.
CHAPTER XII THE SCRAP OF PAPER
Marguerite suffered intensely. Though she laughed and
chatted, though she was more admired, more surrounded, more FETED
than any woman there, she felt like one condemned to death, living her
last day upon this earth.
Her nerves were in a state of painful tension, which had
increased a hundredfold during that brief hour which she had spent in
her husband's company, between the opera and the ball. The short ray
of hope--that she might find in this good-natured, lazy individual a
valuable friend and adviser--had vanished as quickly as it had come,
the moment she found herself alone with him. The same feeling of
good-humoured contempt which one feels for an animal or a faithful
servant, made her turn away with a smile from the man who should have
been her moral support in this heart-rending crisis through which she
was passing: who should have been her cool-headed adviser, when
feminine sympathy and sentiment tossed her hither and thither, between
her love for her brother, who was far away and in mortal peril, and
horror of the awful service which Chauvelin had exacted from her, in
exchange for Armand's safety.
There he stood, the moral support, the cool-headed adviser,
surrounded by a crowd of brainless, empty-headed young fops, who were
even now repeating from mouth to mouth, and with every sign of the
keenest enjoyment, a doggerel quatrain which he had just given forth.
Everywhere the absurd, silly words met her: people seemed to have
little else to speak about, even the Prince had asked her, with a
little laugh, whether she appreciated her husband's latest poetic
"All done in the tying of a cravat," Sir Percy had declared to
his clique of admirers.
"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?--Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel"
Sir Percy's BON MOT had gone the round of the brilliant
reception-rooms. The Prince was enchanted. He vowed that life
without Blakeney would be but a dreary desert. Then, taking him by
the arm, had led him to the card-room, and engaged him in a long game
Sir Percy, whose chief interest in most social gatherings
seemed to centre round the card-table, usually allowed his wife to
flirt, dance, to amuse or bore herself as much as she liked. And
to-night, having delivered himself of his BON MOT, he had left
Marguerite surrounded by a crowd of admirers of all ages, all anxious
and willing to help her to forget that somewhere in the spacious
reception rooms, there was a long, lazy being who had been fool enough
to suppose that the cleverest woman in Europe would settle down to the
prosaic bonds of English matrimony.
Her still overwrought nerves, her excitement and agitation,
lent beautiful Marguerite Blakeney much additional charm: escorted by
a veritable bevy of men of all ages and of most nationalities, she
called forth many exclamations of admiration from everyone as she
She would not allow herself any more time to think. Her
early, somewhat Bohemian training had made her something of a
fatalist. She felt that events would shape themselves, that the
directing of them was not in her hands. From Chauvelin she knew that
she could expect no mercy. He had set a price on Armand's head, and
left it to her to pay or not, as she chose.
Later on in the evening she caught sight of Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst, who seemingly had just arrived.
She noticed at once that Sir Andrew immediately made for little
Suzanne de Tournay, and that the two young people soon managed to
isolate themselves in one of the deep embrasures of the mullioned
windows, there to carry on a long conversation, which seemed very
earnest and very pleasant on both sides.
Both the young men looked a little haggard and anxious, but
otherwise they were irreproachably dressed, and there was not the
slightest sign, about their courtly demeanour, of the terrible
catastrophe, which they must have felt hovering round them and round
That the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had no intention of
abandoning its cause, she had gathered through little Suzanne herself,
who spoke openly of the assurance she and her mother had had that the
Comte de Tournay would be rescued from France by the league, within
the next few days. Vaguely she began to wonder, as she looked at the
brilliant and fashionable in the gaily-lighted ball-room, which of
these worldly men round her was the mysterious "Scarlet Pimpernel,"
who held the threads of such daring plots, and the fate of valuable
lives in his hands.
A burning curiosity seized her to know him: although for
months she had heard of him and had accepted his anonymity, as
everyone else in society had done; but now she longed to know--quite
impersonally, quite apart from Armand, and oh! quite apart from
Chauvelin--only for her own sake, for the sake of the enthusiastic
admiration she had always bestowed on his bravery and cunning.
He was at the ball, of course, somewhere, since Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst were here, evidently expecting to
meet their chief--and perhaps to get a fresh MOT D'ORDRE from him.
Marguerite looked round at everyone, at the aristocratic
high-typed Norman faces, the squarely-built, fair-haired Saxon, the
more gentle, humorous caste of the Celt, wondering which of these
betrayed the power, the energy, the cunning which had imposed its will
and its leadership upon a number of high-born English gentlemen, among
whom rumour asserted was His Royal Highness himself.
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes? Surely not, with his gentle blue eyes,
which were looking so tenderly and longingly after little Suzanne, who
was being led away from the pleasant TETE-A-TETE by her stern
mother. Marguerite watched him across the room, as he finally turned
away with a sigh, and seemed to stand, aimless and lonely, now that
Suzanne's dainty little figure had disappeared in the crowd.
She watched him as he strolled towards the doorway, which led
to a small boudoir beyond, then paused and leaned against the
framework of it, looking still anxiously all round him.
Marguerite contrived for the moment to evade her present
attentive cavalier, and she skirted the fashionable crowd, drawing
nearer to the doorway, against which Sir Andrew was leaning. Why she
wished to get closer to him, she could not have said: perhaps she was
impelled by an all-powerful fatality, which so often seems to rule the
destinies of men.
Suddenly she stopped: her very heart seemed to stand still,
her eyes, large and excited, flashed for a moment towards that
doorway, then as quickly were turned away again. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
was still in the same listless position by the door, but Marguerite
had distinctly seen that Lord Hastings--a young buck, a friend of her
husband's and one of the Prince's set--had, as he quickly brushed past
him, slipped something into his hand.