Part 5 out of 6
don't mind my having made the remark?. . .Demmed bad form making
remarks. . . . I hope you don't mind?"
"No, no, not at all--hem! I hope Lady Blakeney is well," said
Chauvelin, hurriedly changing the topic of conversation.
Blakeney, with much deliberation, finished his plate of soup,
drank his glass of wine, and, momentarily, it seemed to Marguerite as
if he glanced all round the room.
"Quite well, thank you," he said at last, drily. There was a
pause, during which Marguerite could watch these two antagonists who,
evidently in their minds, were measuring themselves against one
another. She could see Percy almost full face where he sat at the
table not ten yards from where she herself was crouching, puzzled, not
knowing what to do, or what she should think. She had quite
controlled her impulse now of rushing down hand disclosing herself to
her husband. A man capable of acting a part, in the way he was doing
at the present moment, did not need a woman's word to warn him to be
Marguerite indulged in the luxury, dear to every tender
woman's heart, of looking at the man she loved. She looked through
the tattered curtain, across at the handsome face of her husband, in
whose lazy blue eyes, and behind whose inane smile, she could now so
plainly see the strength, energy, and resourcefulness which had caused
the Scarlet Pimpernel to be reverenced and trusted by his followers.
"There are nineteen of us ready to lay down our lives for your
husband, Lady Blakeney," Sir Andrew had said to her; and as she looked
at the forehead, low, but square and broad, the eyes, blue, yet
deep-set and intense, the whole aspect of the man, of indomitable
energy, hiding, behind a perfectly acted comedy, his almost superhuman
strength of will and marvellous ingenuity, she understood the
fascination which he exercised over his followers, for had he not also
cast his spells over her heart and her imagination?
Chauvelin, who was trying to conceal his impatience beneath
his usual urbane manner, took a quick look at his watch. Desgas
should not be long: another two or three minutes, and this impudent
Englishman would be secure in the keeping of half a dozen of Captain
Jutley's most trusted men.
"You are on your way to Paris, Sir Percy?" he asked carelessly.
"Odd's life, no," replied Blakeney, with a laugh. "Only as
far as Lille--not Paris for me. . .beastly uncomfortable place Paris,
just now. . .eh, Monsieur Chaubertin. . .beg pardon. . .Chauvelin!"
"Not for an English gentleman like yourself, Sir Percy,"
rejoined Chauvelin, sarcastically, "who takes no interest in the
conflict that is raging there."
"La! you see it's no business of mine, and our demmed
government is all on your side of the business. Old Pitt daren't say
'Bo' to a goose. You are in a hurry, sir," he added, as Chauvelin
once again took out his watch; "an appointment, perhaps. . . . I pray
you take no heed of me. . . . My time's my own."
He rose from the table and dragged a chair to the hearth.
Once more Marguerite was terribly tempted to go to him, for time was
getting on; Desgas might be back at any moment with his men. Percy
did not know that and. . .oh! how horrible it all was--and how
helpless she felt.
"I am in no hurry," continued Percy, pleasantly, "but, la! I don't want
to spend any more time than I can help in this God-forsaken hole! But,
begad! sir," he added, as Chauvelin had surreptitiously looked at his
watch for the third time, "that watch of yours won't go any faster for
all the looking you give it. You are expecting a friend, maybe?"
"Not a lady--I trust, Monsieur l'Abbe," laughed Blakeney;
"surely the holy church does not allow?. . .eh?. . .what!
But, I say, come by the fire. . .it's getting demmed cold."
He kicked the fire with the heel of his boot, making the logs
blaze in the old hearth. He seemed in no hurry to go, and apparently
was quite unconscious of his immediate danger. He dragged another
chair to the fire, and Chauvelin, whose impatience was by now quite
beyond control, sat down beside the hearth, in such a way as to command
a view of the door. Desgas had been gone nearly a quarter of an hour.
It was quite plane to Marguerite's aching senses that as soon as he arrived,
Chauvelin would abandon all his other plans with regard to the fugitives,
and capture this impudent Scarlet Pimpernel at once.
"Hey, M. Chauvelin," the latter was saying arily, "tell me, I
pray you, is your friend pretty? Demmed smart these little French
women sometimes--what? But I protest I need not ask," he added, as he
carelessly strode back towards the supper-table. "In matters of taste
the Church has never been backward. . . . Eh?"
But Chauvelin was not listening. His every faculty was now
concentrated on that door through which presently Desgas would enter.
Marguerite's thoughts, too, were centered there, for her ears had
suddenly caught, through the stillness of the night, the sound of
numerous and measured treads some distance away.
It was Desgas and his men. Another three minutes and they
would be here! Another three minutes and the awful thing would have
occurred: the brave eagle would have fallen in the ferret's trap!
She would have moved now and screamed, but she dared not; for whilst she
heard the soldiers approaching, she was looking at Percy and watching
his every movement. He was standing by the table whereon the remnants
of the supper, plates, glasses, spoons, salt and pepper-pots were
scattered pell-mell. His back was turned to Chauvelin and he was
still prattling along in his own affected and inane way, but from his
pocket he had taken his snuff-box, and quickly and suddenly he emptied
the contents of the pepper-pot into it.
Then he again turned with an inane laugh to Chauvelin,--
"Eh? Did you speak, sir?"
Chauvelin had been too intent on listening to the sound of
those approaching footsteps, to notice what his cunning adversary had
been doing. He now pulled himself together, trying to look
unconcerned in the very midst of his anticipated triumph.
"No," he said presently, "that is--as you were saying, Sir Percy--?"
"I was saying," said Blakeney, going up to Chauvelin, by the
fire, "that the Jew in Piccadilly has sold me better snuff this time
than I have ever tasted. Will you honour me, Monsieur l'Abbe?"
He stood close to Chauvelin in his own careless, DEBONNAIRE
way, holding out his snuff-box to his arch-enemy.
Chauvelin, who, as he told Marguerite once, had seen a trick
or two in his day, had never dreamed of this one. With one ear fixed
on those fast-approaching footsteps, one eye turned to that door where
Desgas and his men would presently appear, lulled into false security
by the impudent Englishman's airy manner, he never even remotely
guessed the trick which was being played upon him.
He took a pinch of snuff.
Only he, who has ever by accident sniffed vigorously a dose of
pepper, can have the faintest conception of the hopeless condition in
which such a sniff would reduce any human being.
Chauvelin felt as if his head would burst--sneeze after sneeze
seemed nearly to choke him; he was blind, deaf, and dumb for the
moment, and during that moment Blakeney quietly, without the slightest
haste, took up his hat, took some money out of his pocket, which he
left on the table, then calmly stalked out of the room!
CHAPTER XXVI THE JEW
It took Marguerite some time to collect her scattered senses;
the whole of this last short episode had taken place in less than a
minute, and Desgas and the soldiers were still about two hundred yards
away from the "Chat Gris."
When she realised what had happened, a curious mixture of joy
and wonder filled her heart. It all was so neat, so ingenious.
Chauvelin was still absolutely helpless, far more so than he could
even have been under a blow from the fist, for now he could neither
see, nor hear, nor speak, whilst his cunning adversary had quietly
slipped through his fingers.
Blakeney was gone, obviously to try and join the fugitives at
the Pere Blanchard's hut. For the moment, true, Chauvelin was
helpless; for the moment the daring Scarlet Pimpernel had not been
caught by Desgas and his men. But all the roads and the beach were
patrolled. Every place was watched, and every stranger kept in sight.
How far could Percy go, thus arrayed in his gorgeous clothes, without
being sighted and followed?
Now she blamed herself terribly for not having gone down to
him sooner, and given him that word of warning and of love which,
perhaps, after all, he needed. He could not know of the orders which
Chauvelin had given for his capture, and even now, perhaps. . .
But before all these horrible thoughts had taken concrete form
in her brain, she heard the grounding of arms outside, close to the
door, and Desgas' voice shouting "Halt!" to his men.
Chauvelin had partially recovered; his sneezing had become
less violent, and he had struggled to his feet. He managed to reach
the door just as Desgas' knock was heard on the outside.
Chauvelin threw open the door, and before his secretary could
say a word, he had managed to stammer between two sneezes--
"The tall stranger--quick!--did any of you see him?"
"Where, citoyen?" asked Desgas, in surprise.
"Here, man! through that door! not five minutes ago."
"We saw nothing, citoyen! The moon is not yet up, and. . ."
"And you are just five minutes too late, my friend," said
Chauvelin, with concentrated fury.
"Citoyen. . .I. . ."
"You did what I ordered you to do," said Chauvelin, with
impatience. "I know that, but you were a precious long time about it.
Fortunately, there's not much harm done, or it had fared ill with you,
Desgas turned a little pale. There was so much rage and
hatred in his superior's whole attitude.
"The tall stranger, citoyen--" he stammered.
"Was here, in this room, five minutes ago, having supper at
that table. Damn his impudence! For obvious reasons, I dared not
tackle him alone. Brogard is too big a fool, and that cursed
Englishman appears to have the strength of a bullock, and so he
slipped away under your very nose."
"He cannot go far without being sighted, citoyen."
"Captain Jutley sent forty men as reinforcements for the
patrol duty: twenty went down to the beach. He again assured me that
the watch had been constant all day, and that no stranger could
possibly get to the beach, or reach a boat, without being sighted."
"That's good.--Do the men know their work?"
"They have had very clear orders, citoyen: and I myself spoke
to those who were about to start. They are to shadow--as secretly as
possible--any stranger they may see, especially if he be tall, or
stoop as if her would disguise his height."
"In no case to detain such a person, of course," said
Chauvelin, eagerly. "That impudent Scarlet Pimpernel would slip
through clumsy fingers. We must let him get to the Pere Blanchard's
hut now; there surround and capture him."
"The men understand that, citoyen, and also that, as soon as a
tall stranger has been sighted, he must be shadowed, whilst one man is
to turn straight back and report to you."
"That is right," said Chauvelin, rubbing his hands, well
"I have further news for you, citoyen."
"What is it?"
"A tall Englishman had a long conversation about
three-quarters of an hour ago with a Jew, Reuben by name, who lives
not ten paces from here."
"Yes--and?" queried Chauvelin, impatiently.
"The conversation was all about a horse and cart, which the
tall Englishman wished to hire, and which was to have been ready for
him by eleven o'clock."
"It is past that now. Where does that Reuben live?"
"A few minutes' walk from this door."
"Send one of the men to find out if the stranger has driven
off in Reuben's cart."
Desgas went to give the necessary orders to one of the men.
Not a word of this conversation between him and Chauvelin had escaped
Marguerite, and every word they had spoken seemed to strike at her
heart, with terrible hopelessness and dark foreboding.
She had come all this way, and with such high hopes and firm
determination to help her husband, and so far she had been able to do
nothing, but to watch, with a heart breaking with anguish, the meshes
of the deadly net closing round the daring Scarlet Pimpernel.
He could not now advance many steps, without spying eyes to
track and denounce him. Her own helplessness struck her with the
terrible sense of utter disappointment. The possibility of being the
slightest use to her husband had become almost NIL, and her only
hope rested in being allowed to share his fate, whatever it might
For the moment, even her chance of ever seeing the man she
loved again, had become a remote one. Still, she was determined to
keep a close watch over his enemy, and a vague hope filled her heart,
that whilst she kept Chauvelin in sight, Percy's fate might still be
hanging in the balance.
Desgas left Chauvelin moodily pacing up and down the room,
whilst he himself waited outside for the return of the man whom he had
sent in search of Reuben. Thus several minutes went by. Chauvelin
was evidently devoured with impatience. Apparently he trusted no one:
this last trick played upon him by the daring Scarlet Pimpernel had
made him suddenly doubtful of success, unless he himself was there to
watch, direct and superintend the capture of this impudent Englishman.
About five minutes later, Desgas returned, followed by an
elderly Jew, in a dirty, threadbare gaberdine, worn greasy across the
shoulders. His red hair, which he wore after the fashion of the
Polish Jews, with the corkscrew curls each side of his face, was
plentifully sprinkled with grey--a general coating of grime, about his
cheeks and his chin, gave him a peculiarly dirty and loathsome
appearance. He had the habitual stoop, those of his race affected in
mock humility in past centuries, before the dawn of equality and
freedom in matters of faith, and he walked behind Desgas with the
peculiar shuffling gait which has remained the characteristic of the
Jew trader in continental Europe to this day.
Chauvelin, who had all the Frenchman's prejudice against the
despised race, motioned to the fellow to keep at a respectful
distance. The group of the three men were standing just underneath
the hanging oil-lamp, and Marguerite had a clear view of them all.
"Is this the man?" asked Chauvelin.
"No, citoyen," replied Desgas, "Reuben could not be found, so
presumably his cart has gone with the stranger; but this man here
seems to know something, which he is willing to sell for a
"Ah!" said Chauvelin, turning away with disgust from the
loathsome specimen of humanity before him.
The Jew, with characteristic patience, stood humbly on one
side, leaning on the knotted staff, his greasy, broad-brimmed hat
casting a deep shadow over his grimy face, waiting for the noble
Excellency to deign to put some questions to him.
"The citoyen tells me," said Chauvelin peremptorily to him,
"that you know something of my friend, the tall Englishman, whom I
desire to meet. . .MORBLEU! keep your distance, man," he added
hurriedly, as the Jew took a quick and eager step forward.
"Yes, your Excellency," replied the Jew, who spoke the
language with that peculiar lisp which denotes Eastern origin, "I and
Reuben Goldstein met a tall Englishman, on the road, close by here
"Did you speak to him?"
"He spoke to us, your Excellency. He wanted to know if he
could hire a horse and cart to go down along the St. Martin road, to a
place he wanted to reach to-night."
"What did you say?"
"I did not say anything," said the Jew in an injured tone,
"Reuben Goldstein, that accursed traitor, that son of Belial. . ."
"Cut that short, man," interrupted Chauvelin, roughly, "and go
on with your story."
"He took the words out of my mouth, your Excellency: when I
was about to offer the wealthy Englishman my horse and cart, to take
him wheresoever he chose, Reuben had already spoken, and offered his
half-starved nag, and his broken-down cart."
"And what did the Englishman do?"
"He listened to Reuben Goldstein, your Excellency, and put his
hand in his pocket then and there, and took out a handful of gold,
which he showed to that descendant of Beelzebub, telling him that all
that would be his, if the horse and cart were ready for him by eleven
"And, of course, the horse and cart were ready?"
"Well! they were ready for him in a manner, so to speak, your
Excellency. Reuben's nag was lame as usual; she refused to budge at
first. It was only after a time and with plenty of kicks, that she at
last could be made to move," said the Jew with a malicious chuckle.
"Then they started?"
"Yes, they started about five minutes ago. I was disgusted
with that stranger's folly. An Englishman too!--He ought to have
known Reuben's nag was not fit to drive."
"But if he had no choice?"
"No choice, your Excellency?" protested the Jew, in a rasping
voice, "did I not repeat to him a dozen times, that my horse and cart
would take him quicker, and more comfortably than Reuben's bag of
bones. He would not listen. Reuben is such a liar, and has such
insinuating ways. The stranger was deceived. If he was in a hurry,
he would have had better value for his money by taking my cart."
"You have a horse and cart too, then?" asked Chauvelin, peremptorily.
"Aye! that I have, your Excellency, and if your Excellency wants
to drive. . ."
"Do you happen to know which way my friend went in Reuben Goldstein's cart?"
Thoughtfully the Jew rubbed his dirty chin. Marguerite's heart was
beating well-nigh to bursting. She had heard the peremptory question;
she looked anxiously at the Jew, but could not read his face beneath
the shadow of his broad-brimmed hat. Vaguely she felt somehow as if
he held Percy's fate in his long dirty hands.
There was a long pause, whilst Chauvelin frowned impatiently
at the stooping figure before him: at last the Jew slowly put his hand
in his breast pocket, and drew out from its capacious depths a number
of silver coins. He gazed at them thoughtfully, then remarked, in a
quiet tone of voice,--
"This is what the tall stranger gave me, when he drove away
with Reuben, for holding my tongue about him, and his doings."
Chauvelin shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"How much is there there?" he asked.
"Twenty francs, your Excellency," replied the Jew, "and I have
been an honest man all my life."
Chauvelin without further comment took a few pieces of gold
out of his own pocket, and leaving them in the palm of his hand, he
allowed them to jingle as he held them out towards the Jew.
"How many gold pieces are there in the palm of my hand?" he asked quietly.
Evidently he had no desire to terrorize the man, but to conciliate him,
for his own purposes, for his manner was pleasant and suave. No doubt
he feared that threats of the guillotine, and various other persuasive
methods of that type, might addle the old man's brains, and that he would
be more likely to be useful through greed of gain, than through terror
The eyes of the Jew shot a quick, keen glance at the gold in
his interlocutor's hand.
"At least five, I should say, your Excellency," he replied obsequiously.
"Enough, do you think, to loosen that honest tongue of yours?"
"What does your Excellency wish to know?"
"Whether your horse and cart can take me to where I can find my friend
the tall stranger, who has driven off in Reuben Goldstein's cart?"
"My horse and cart can take your Honour there, where you please."
"To a place called the Pere Blanchard's hut?"
"Your Honour has guessed?" said the Jew in astonishment.
"You know the place?"
"Which road leads to it?"
"The St. Martin Road, your Honour, then a footpath from there to the cliffs."
"You know the road?" repeated Chauvelin, roughly.
"Every stone, every blade of grass, your Honour," replied the Jew quietly.
Chauvelin without another word threw the five pieces of gold
one by one before the Jew, who knelt down, and on his hands and knees
struggled to collect them. One rolled away, and he had some trouble
to get it, for it had lodged underneath the dresser. Chauvelin
quietly waited while the old man scrambled on the floor, to find the
piece of gold.
When the Jew was again on his feet, Chauvelin said,--
"How soon can your horse and cart be ready?"
"They are ready now, your Honour."
"Not ten meters from this door. Will your Excellency deign to look."
"I don't want to see it. How far can you drive me in it?"
"As far as the Pere Blanchard's hut, your Honour, and further
than Reuben's nag took your friend. I am sure that, not two leagues
from here, we shall come across that wily Reuben, his nag, his cart
and the tall stranger all in a heap in the middle of the road."
"How far is the nearest village from here?"
"On the road which the Englishman took, Miquelon is the
nearest village, not two leagues from here."
"There he could get fresh conveyance, if he wanted to go further?"
"He could--if he ever got so far."
"Will your Excellency try?" said the Jew simply.
"That is my intention," said Chauvelin very quietly, "but
remember, if you have deceived me, I shall tell off two of my most
stalwart soldiers to give you such a beating, that your breath will
perhaps leave your ugly body for ever. But if we find my friend the
tall Englishman, either on the road or at the Pere Blanchard's hut,
there will be ten more gold pieces for you. Do you accept the bargain?"
The Jew again thoughtfully rubbed his chin. He looked at the money
in his hand, then at this stern interlocutor, and at Desgas, who
had stood silently behind him all this while. After a moment's pause,
he said deliberately,--
"Go and wait outside then," said Chauvelin, "and remember to
stick to your bargain, or by Heaven, I will keep to mine."
With a final, most abject and cringing bow, the old Jew
shuffled out of the room. Chauvelin seemed pleased with his
interview, for he rubbed his hands together, with that usual gesture
of his, of malignant satisfaction.
"My coat and boots," he said to Desgas at last.
Desgas went to the door, and apparently gave the necessary orders, for
presently a soldier entered, carrying Chauvelin's coat, boots, and hat.
He took off his soutane, beneath which he was wearing close-fitting
breeches and a cloth waistcoat, and began changing his attire.
"You, citoyen, in the meanwhile," he said to Desgas, "go back
to Captain Jutley as fast as you can, and tell him to let you have
another dozen men, and bring them with you along the St. Martin Road,
where I daresay you will soon overtake the Jew's cart with myself in
it. There will be hot work presently, if I mistake not, in the Pere
Blanchard's hut. We shall corner our game there, I'll warrant, for
this impudent Scarlet Pimpernel has had the audacity--or the
stupidity, I hardly know which--to adhere to his original plans. He
has gone to meet de Tournay, St. Just and the other traitors, which
for the moment, I thought, perhaps, he did not intend to do. When we
find them, there will be a band of desperate men at bay. Some of our
men will, I presume, be put HORS DE COMBAT. These royalists are
good swordsmen, and the Englishman is devilish cunning, and looks very
powerful. Still, we shall be five against one at least. You can
follow the cart closely with your men, all along the St. Martin Road,
through Miquelon. The Englishman is ahead of us, and not likely to
look behind him."
Whilst he gave these curt and concise orders, he had completed
his change of attire. The priest's costume had been laid aside, and
he was once more dressed in his usual dark, tight-fitting clothes. At
last he took up his hat.
"I shall have an interesting prisoner to deliver into your
hands," he said with a chuckle, as with unwonted familiarity he took
Desgas' arm, and led him towards the door. "We won't kill him
outright, eh, friend Desgas? The Pere Blanchard's hut is--an I
mistake not--a lonely spot upon the beach, and our men will enjoy a
bit of rough sport there with the wounded fox. Choose your men well,
friend Desgas. . .of the sort who would enjoy that type of sport--eh?
We must see that Scarlet Pimpernel wither a bit--what?--shrink and
tremble, eh?. . .before we finally. . ." He made an expressive
gesture, whilst he laughed a low, evil laugh, which filled
Marguerite's soul with sickening horror.
"Choose your men well, Citoyen Desgas," he said once more, as
he led his secretary finally out of the room.
CHAPTER XXVII ON THE TRACK
Never for a moment did Marguerite Blakeney hesitate. The last
sounds outside the "Chat Gris" had died away in the night. She had
heard Desgas giving orders to his men, and then starting off towards
the fort, to get a reinforcement of a dozen more men: six were not
thought sufficient to capture the cunning Englishman, whose
resourceful brain was even more dangerous than his valour and his
Then a few minutes later, she heard the Jew's husky voice
again, evidently shouting to his nag, then the rumble of wheels, and
noise of a rickety cart bumping over the rough road.
Inside the inn, everything was still. Brogard and his wife,
terrified of Chauvelin, had given no sign of life; they hoped to be
forgotten, and at any rate to remain unperceived: Marguerite could not
even hear their usual volleys of muttered oaths.
She waited a moment or two longer, then she quietly slipped
down the broken stairs, wrapped her dark cloak closely round her and
slipped out of the inn.
The night was fairly dark, sufficiently so at any rate to hide
her dark figure from view, whilst her keen ears kept count of the
sound of the cart going on ahead. She hoped by keeping well within
the shadow of the ditches which lined the road, that she would not be
seen by Desgas' men, when they approached, or by the patrols, which
she concluded were still on duty.
Thus she started to do this, the last stage of her weary
journey, alone, at night, and on foot. Nearly three leagues to
Miquelon, and then on to the Pere Blanchard's hut, wherever that fatal
spot might be, probably over rough roads: she cared not.
The Jew's nag could not get on very fast, and though she was
wary with mental fatigue and nerve strain, she knew that she could
easily keep up with it, on a hilly road, where the poor beast, who was
sure to be half-starved, would have to be allowed long and frequent
rests. The road lay some distance from the sea, bordered on either
side by shrubs and stunted trees, sparsely covered with meagre foliage,
all turning away from the North, with their branches looking in the
semi-darkness, like stiff, ghostly hair, blown by a perpetual wind.
Fortunately, the moon showed no desire to peep between the
clouds, and Marguerite hugging the edge of the road, and keeping close
to the low line of shrubs, was fairly safe from view. Everything
around her was so still: only from far, very far away, there came like
a long soft moan, the sound of the distant sea.
The air was keen and full of brine; after that enforced period
of inactivity, inside the evil-smelling, squalid inn, Marguerite would
have enjoyed the sweet scent of this autumnal night, and the distant
melancholy rumble of the autumnal night, and the distant melancholy
rumble of the waves; she would have revelled in the calm and stillness
of this lonely spot, a calm, broken only at intervals by the strident
and mournful cry of some distant gull, and by the creaking of the
wheels, some way down the road: she would have loved the cool
atmosphere, the peaceful immensity of Nature, in this lonely part of
the coast: but her heart was too full of cruel foreboding, of a great
ache and longing for a being who had become infinitely dear to her.
Her feet slipped on the grassy bank, for she thought it safest
not to walk near the centre of the road, and she found it difficult to
keep up a sharp pace along the muddy incline. She even thought it
best not to keep too near to the cart; everything was so still, that
the rumble of the wheels could not fail to be a safe guide.
The loneliness was absolute. Already the few dim lights of
Calais lay far behind, and on this road there was not a sign of human
habitation, not even the hut of a fisherman or of a woodcutter
anywhere near; far away on her right was the edge of the cliff, below
it the rough beach, against which the incoming tide was dashing itself
with its constant, distant murmur. And ahead the rumble of the
wheels, bearing an implacable enemy to his triumph.
Marguerite wondered at what particular spot, on this lonely
coast, Percy could be at this moment. Not very far surely, for he had
had less than a quarter of an hour's start of Chauvelin. She wondered
if he knew that in this cool, ocean-scented bit of France, there
lurked many spies, all eager to sight his tall figure, to track him to
where his unsuspecting friends waited for him, and then, to close the
net over him and them.
Chauvelin, on ahead, jolted and jostled in the Jew's vehicle,
was nursing comfortable thoughts. He rubbed his hands together, with
content, as he thought of the web which he had woven, and through
which that ubiquitous and daring Englishman could not hope to escape.
As the time went on, and the old Jew drove him leisurely but surely
along the dark road, he felt more and more eager for the grand finale
of this exciting chase after the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel.
The capture of the audacious plotter would be the finest leaf
in Citoyen Chauvelin's wreath of glory. Caught, red-handed, on the
spot, in the very act of aiding and abetting the traitors against the
Republic of France, the Englishman could claim no protection from his
own country. Chauvelin had, in any case, fully made up his mind that
all intervention should come too late.
Never for a moment did the slightest remorse enter his heart,
as to the terrible position in which he had placed the unfortunate
wife, who had unconsciously betrayed her husband. As a matter of
fact, Chauvelin had ceased even to think of her: she had been a useful
tool, that was all.
The Jew's lean nag did little more than walk. She was going
along at a slow jog trot, and her driver had to give her long and
"Are we a long way yet from Miquelon?" asked Chauvelin from
time to time.
"Not very far, your Honour," was the uniform placid reply.
"We have not yet come across your friend and mine, lying in a
heap in the roadway," was Chauvelin's sarcastic comment.
"Patience, noble Excellency," rejoined the son of Moses, "they
are ahead of us. I can see the imprint of the cart wheels, driven by
that traitor, that son of the Amalekite."
"You are sure of the road?"
"As sure as I am of the presence of those ten gold pieces in
the noble Excellency's pockets, which I trust will presently be mine."
"As soon as I have shaken hands with my friend the tall
stranger, they will certainly be yours."
"Hark, what was that?" said the Jew suddenly.
Through the stillness, which had been absolute, there could
now be heard distinctly the sound of horses' hoofs on the muddy road.
"They are soldiers," he added in an awed whisper.
"Stop a moment, I want to hear," said Chauvelin.
Marguerite had also heard the sound of galloping hoofs, coming
towards the cart and towards herself. For some time she had been on
the alert thinking that Desgas and his squad would soon overtake them,
but these came from the opposite direction, presumably from Miquelon.
The darkness lent her sufficient cover. She had perceived that the
cart had stopped, and with utmost caution, treading noiselessly on the
soft road, she crept a little nearer.
Her heart was beating fast, she was trembling in every limb;
already she had guessed what news these mounted men would bring.
"Every stranger on these roads or on the beach must be shadowed,
especially if he be tall or stoops as if he would disguise his height;
when sighted a mounted messenger must at once ride back and report."
Those had been Chauvelin's orders. Had then the tall stranger been
sighted, and was this the mounted messenger, come to bring the great
news, that the hunted hare had run its head into the noose at last?"
Marguerite, realizing that the cart had come to a standstill,
managed to slip nearer to it in the darkness; she crept close up,
hoping to get within earshot, to hear what the messenger had to say.
She heard the quick words of challenge--
"Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite!" then Chauvelin's quick query:--
Two men on horseback had halted beside the vehicle.
Marguerite could see them silhouetted against the midnight
sky. She could hear their voices, and the snorting of their horses,
and now, behind her, some little distance off, the regular and
measured tread of a body of advancing men: Desgas and his soldiers.
There had been a long pause, during which, no doubt, Chauvelin
satisfied the men as to his identity, for presently, questions and
answers followed each other in quick succession.
"You have seen the stranger?" asked Chauvelin, eagerly.
"No, citoyen, we have seen no tall stranger; we came by the
edge of the cliff."
"Less than a quarter of a league beyond Miquelon, we came
across a rough construction of wood, which looked like the hut of a
fisherman, where he might keep his tools and nets. When we first
sighted it, it seemed to be empty, and, at first we thought that there
was nothing suspicious about, until we saw some smoke issuing through
an aperture at the side. I dismounted and crept close to it. It was
then empty, but in one corner of the hut, there was a charcoal fire,
and a couple of stools were also in the hut. I consulted with my
comrades, and we decided that they should take cover with the horses,
well out of sight, and that I should remain on the watch, which I did."
"Well! and did you see anything?"
"About half an hour later, I heard voices, citoyen, and
presently, two men came along towards the edge of the cliff; they
seemed to me to have come from the Lille Road. One was young, the
other quite old. They were talking in a whisper, to one another, and
I could not hear what they said."
One was young, and the other quite old. Marguerite's aching
heart almost stopped beating as she listened: was the young one
Armand?--her brother?--and the old one de Tournay--were they the two
fugitives who, unconsciously, were used as a decoy, to entrap their
fearless and noble rescuer.
"The two men presently went into the hut," continued the
soldier, whilst Marguerite's aching nerves seemed to catch the sound
of Chauvelin's triumphant chuckle, "and I crept nearer to it then.
The hut is very roughly built, and I caught snatches of their
"Yes?--Quick!--What did you hear?"
"The old man asked the young one if he were sure that was
right place. `Oh, yes,' he replied, `'tis the place sure enough,' and
by the light of the charcoal fire he showed to his companion a paper,
which he carried. `Here is the plan,' he said, `which he gave me
before I left London. We were to adhere strictly to that plan, unless
I had contrary orders, and I have had none. Here is the road we
followed, see. . .here the fork. . .here we cut across the St. Martin
Road. . .and here is the footpath which brought us to the edge of the
cliff.' I must have made a slight noise then, for the young man came
to the door of the hut, and peered anxiously all round him. When he
again joined his companion, they whispered so low, that I could no
longer hear them."
"Well?--and?" asked Chauvelin, impatiently.
"There were six of us altogether, patrolling that part of the
beach, so we consulted together, and thought it best that four should
remain behind and keep the hut in sight, and I and my comrade rode
back at once to make report of what we had seen."
"You saw nothing of the tall stranger?"
"If your comrades see him, what would they do?"
"Not lose sight of him for a moment, and if he showed signs of
escape, or any boat came in sight, they would close in on him, and, if
necessary, they would shoot: the firing would bring the rest of the
patrol to the spot. In any case they would not let the stranger go."
"Aye! but I did not want the stranger hurt--not just yet,"
murmured Chauvelin, savagely, "but there, you've done your best. The
Fates grant that I may not be too late. . . ."
"We met half a dozen men just now, who have been patrolling
this road for several hours."
"They have seen no stranger either."
"Yet he is on ahead somewhere, in a cart or else. . .Here!
there is not a moment to lose. How far is that hut from here?"
"About a couple of leagues, citoyen."
"You can find it again?--at once?--without hesitation?"
"I have absolutely no doubt, citoyen."
"The footpath, to the edge of the cliff?--Even in the dark?"
"It is not a dark night, citoyen, and I know I can find my
way," repeated the soldier firmly.
"Fall in behind then. Let your comrade take both your horses back
to Calais. You won't want them. Keep beside the cart, and direct
the Jew to drive straight ahead; then stop him, within a quarter of
a league of the footpath; see that he takes the most direct road."
Whilst Chauvelin spoke, Desgas and his men were fast
approaching, and Marguerite could hear their footsteps within a
hundred yards behind her now. She thought it unsafe to stay where she
was, and unnecessary too, as she had heard enough. She seemed
suddenly to have lost all faculty even for suffering: her heart, her
nerves, her brain seemed to have become numb after all these hours of
ceaseless anguish, culminating in this awful despair.
For now there was absolutely not the faintest hope. Within
two short leagues of this spot, the fugitives were waiting for their
brave deliverer. He was on his way, somewhere on this lonely road,
and presently he would join them; then the well-laid trap would close,
two dozen men, led by one whose hatred was as deadly as his cunning
was malicious, would close round the small band of fugitives, and
their daring leader. They would all be captured. Armand, according
to Chauvelin's pledged word would be restored to her, but her husband,
Percy, whom with every breath she drew she seemed to love and worship
more and more, he would fall into the hands of a remorseless enemy,
who had no pity for a brave heart, no admiration for the courage of a
noble soul, who would show nothing but hatred for the cunning
antagonist, who had baffled him so long.
She heard the soldier giving a few brief directions to the
Jew, then she retired quickly to the edge of the road, and cowered
behind some low shrubs, whilst Desgas and his men came up.
All fell in noiselessly behind the cart, and slowly they all
started down the dark road. Marguerite waited until she reckoned that
they were well outside the range of earshot, then, she too in the
darkness, which suddenly seemed to have become more intense, crept
CHAPTER XXVIII THE PERE BLANCHARD'S HUT
As in a dream, Marguerite followed on; the web was drawing
more and more tightly every moment round the beloved life, which had
become dearer than all. To see her husband once again, to tell him
how she had suffered, how much she had wronged, and how little
understood him, had become now her only aim. She had abandoned all
hope of saving him: she saw him gradually hemmed in on all sides, and,
in despair, she gazed round her into the darkness, and wondered whence
he would presently come, to fall into the death-trap which his
relentless enemy had prepared for him.
The distant roar of the waves now made her shudder; the
occasional dismal cry of an owl, or a sea-gull, filled her with
unspeakable horror. She thought of the ravenous beasts--in human
shape--who lay in wait for their prey, and destroyed them, as
mercilessly as any hungry wolf, for the satisfaction of their own
appetite of hate. Marguerite was not afraid of the darkness, she only
feared that man, on ahead, who was sitting at the bottom of a rough
wooden cart, nursing thoughts of vengeance, which would have made the
very demons in hell chuckle with delight.
Her feet were sore. Her knees shook under her, from sheer
bodily fatigue. For days now she had lived in a wild turmoil of
excitement; she had not had a quiet rest for three nights; now, she
had walked on a slippery road for nearly two hours, and yet her
determination never swerved for a moment. She would see her husband,
tell him all, and, if he was ready to forgive the crime, which she had
committed in her blind ignorance, she would yet have the happiness of
dying by his side.
She must have walked on almost in a trance, instinct alone
keeping her up, and guiding her in the wake of the enemy, when
suddenly her ears, attuned to the slightest sound, by that same blind
instinct, told her that the cart had stopped, and that the soldiers
had halted. They had come to their destination. No doubt on the
right, somewhere close ahead, was the footpath that led to the edge of
the cliff and to the hut.
Heedless of any risks, she crept up quite close up to where
Chauvelin stood, surrounded by his little troop: he had descended from
the cart, and was giving some orders to the men. These she wanted to
hear: what little chance she yet had, of being useful to Percy,
consisted in hearing absolutely every word of his enemy's plans.
The spot where all the party had halted must have lain some
eight hundred meters from the coast; the sound of the sea came only
very faintly, as from a distance. Chauvelin and Desgas, followed by
the soldiers, had turned off sharply to the right of the road,
apparently on to the footpath, which led to the cliffs. The Jew had
remained on the road, with his cart and nag.
Marguerite, with infinite caution, and literally crawling on
her hands and knees, had also turned off to the right: to accomplish
this she had to creep through the rough, low shrubs, trying to make as
little noise as possible as she went along, tearing her face and hands
against the dry twigs, intent only upon hearing without being seen or
heard. Fortunately--as is usual in this part of France--the footpath
was bordered by a low rough hedge, beyond which was a dry ditch,
filled with coarse grass. In this Marguerite managed to find shelter;
she was quite hidden from view, yet could contrive to get within three
yards of where Chauvelin stood, giving orders to his men.
"Now," he was saying in a low and peremptory whisper, "where
is the Pere Blanchard's hut?"
"About eight hundred meters from here, along the footpath,"
said the soldier who had lately been directing the party, "and
half-way down the cliff."
"Very good. You shall lead us. Before we begin to descend the cliff,
you shall creep down to the hut, as noiselessly as possible, and
ascertain if the traitor royalists are there? Do you understand?"
"I understand, citoyen."
"Now listen very attentively, all of you," continued
Chauvelin, impressively, and addressing the soldiers collectively,
"for after this we may not be able to exchange another word, so
remember every syllable I utter, as if your very lives depended on
your memory. Perhaps they do," he added drily.
"We listen, citoyen," said Desgas, "and a soldier of the Republic
never forgets an order."
"You, who have crept up to the hut, will try to peep inside.
If an Englishman is there with those traitors, a man who is tall above
the average, or who stoops as if he would disguise his height, then
give a sharp, quick whistle as a signal to your comrades. All of
you," he added, once more speaking to the soldiers collectively, "then
quickly surround and rush into the hut, and each seize one of the men
there, before they have time to draw their firearms; if any of them
struggle, shoot at their legs or arms, but on no account kill the tall
man. Do you understand?"
"We understand, citoyen."
"The man who is tall above the average is probably also strong
above the average; it will take four or five of you at least to
There was a little pause, then Chauvelin continued,--
"If the royalist traitors are still alone, which is more than
likely to be the case, then warn your comrades who are lying in wait
there, and all of you creep and take cover behind the rocks and
boulders round the hut, and wait there, in dead silence, until the
tall Englishman arrives; then only rush the hut, when he is safely
within its doors. But remember that you must be as silent as the wolf
is at night, when he prowls around the pens. I do not wish those
royalists to be on the alert--the firing of a pistol, a shriek or call
on their part would be sufficient, perhaps, to warn the tall personage
to keep clear of the cliffs, and of the hut, and," he added
emphatically, "it is the tall Englishman whom it is your duty to
"You shall be implicitly obeyed, citoyen."
"Then get along as noiselessly as possible, and I will follow you."
"What about the Jew, citoyen?" asked Desgas, as silently like
noiseless shadows, one by one the soldiers began to creep along the
rough and narrow footpath.
"Ah, yes; I had forgotten about the Jew," said Chauvelin, and,
turning towards the Jew, he called him peremptorily.
"Here, you. . .Aaron, Moses, Abraham, or whatever your
confounded name may be," he said to the old man, who had quietly stood
beside his lean nag, as far away from the soldiers as possible.
"Benjamin Rosenbaum, so it please your Honour," he replied humbly.
"It does not please me to hear your voice, but it does please
me to give you certain orders, which you will find it wise to obey."
"So it please your Honour. . ."
"Hold your confounded tongue. You shall stay here, do you
hear? with your horse and cart until our return. You are on no
account to utter the faintest sound, or to even breathe louder than
you can help; nor are you, on any consideration whatever, to leave
your post, until I give you orders to do so. Do you understand?"
"But your Honour--" protested the Jew pitiably.
"There is no question of `but' or of any argument," said
Chauvelin, in a tone that made the timid old man tremble from heat to
foot. "If, when I return, I do not find you here, I most solemnly
assure you that, wherever you may try to hide yourself, I can find
you, and that punishment swift, sure and terrible, will sooner or
later overtake you. Do you hear me?"
"But your Excellency. . ."
"I said, do you hear me?"
The soldiers had all crept away; the three men stood alone together
in the dark and lonely road, with Marguerite there, behind the hedge,
listening to Chauvelin's orders, as she would to her own death sentence.
"I heard your Honour," protested the Jew again, while he tried
to draw nearer to Chauvelin, "and I swear by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
that I would obey your Honour most absolutely, and that I would not
move from this place until your Honour once more deigned to shed the
light of your countenance upon your humble servant; but remember, your
Honour, I am a poor man; my nerves are not as strong as those of a
young soldier. If midnight marauders should come prowling round this
lonely road, I might scream or run in my fright! And is my life to be
forfeit, is some terrible punishment to come on my poor old head for
that which I cannot help?
The Jew seemed in real distress; he was shaking from head to foot.
Clearly he was not the man to be left by himself on this lonely road.
The man spoke truly; he might unwittingly, in sheer terror, utter the
shriek that might prove a warning to the wily Scarlet Pimpernel.
Chauvelin reflected for a moment.
"Will your horse and cart be safe alone, here, do you think?"
he asked roughly.
"I fancy, citoyen," here interposed Desgas, "that they will be
safer without that dirty, cowardly Jew than with him. There seems no
doubt that, if he gets scared, he will either make a bolt of it, or
shriek his head off."
"But what am I to do with the brute?"
"Will you send him back to Calais, citoyen?"
"No, for we shall want him to drive back the wounded presently,"
said Chauvelin, with grim significance.
There was a pause again--Desgas waiting for the decision of
his chief, and the old Jew whining beside his nag.
"Well, you lazy, lumbering old coward," said Chauvelin at
last, "you had better shuffle along behind us. Here, Citoyen Desgas,
tie this handkerchief tightly round the fellow's mouth."
Chauvelin handed a scarf to Desgas, who solemnly began winding
it round the Jew's mouth. Meekly Benjamin Rosenbaum allowed himself
to be gagged; he, evidently, preferred this uncomfortable state to
that of being left alone, on the dark St. Martin Road. Then the three
men fell in line.
"Quick!" said Chauvelin, impatiently, "we have already wasted
much valuable time."
And the firm footsteps of Chauvelin and Desgas, the shuffling
gait of the old Jew, soon died away along the footpath.
Marguerite had not lost a single one of Chauvelin's words of
command. Her every nerve was strained to completely grasp the
situation first, then to make a final appeal to those wits which had
so often been called the sharpest in Europe, and which alone might be
of service now.
Certainly the situation was desperate enough; a tiny band of
unsuspecting men, quietly awaiting the arrival of their rescuer, who
was equally unconscious of the trap laid for them all. It seemed so
horrible, this net, as it were drawn in a circle, at dead of night, on
a lonely beach, round a few defenceless men, defenceless because they
were tricked and unsuspecting; of these one was the husband she
idolised, another the brother she loved. She vaguely wondered who the
others were, who were also calmly waiting for the Scarlet Pimpernel,
while death lurked behind every boulder of the cliffs.
For the moment she could do nothing but follow the soldiers
and Chauvelin. She feared to lose her way, or she would have rushed
forward and found that wooden hut, and perhaps been in time to warn
the fugitives and their brave deliverer yet.
For a second, the thought flashed through her mind of uttering
the piercing shrieks, which Chauvelin seemed to dread, as a possible
warning to the Scarlet Pimpernel and his friends--in the wild hope
that they would hear, and have yet time to escape before it was too
late. But she did not know if her shrieks would reach the ears of the
doomed men. Her effort might be premature, and she would never be
allowed to make another. Her mouth would be securely gagged, like
that of the Jew, and she, a helpless prisoner in the hands of
Like a ghost she flitted noiselessly behind that hedge: she
had taken her shoes off, and her stockings were by now torn off her
feet. She felt neither soreness nor weariness; indomitable will to
reach her husband in spite of adverse Fate, and of a cunning enemy,
killed all sense of bodily pain within her, and rendered her instincts
She heard nothing save the soft and measured footsteps of Percy's
enemies on in front; she saw nothing but--in her mind's eye--that
wooden hut, and he, her husband, walking blindly to his doom.
Suddenly, those same keen instincts within her made her pause
in her mad haste, and cower still further within the shadow of the
hedge. The moon, which had proved a friend to her by remaining hidden
behind a bank of clouds, now emerged in all the glory of an early
autumn night, and in a moment flooded the weird and lonely landscape
with a rush of brilliant light.
There, not two hundred metres ahead, was the edge of the
cliff, and below, stretching far away to free and happy England, the
sea rolled on smoothly and peaceably. Marguerite's gaze rested for an
instant on the brilliant, silvery waters; and as she gazed, her heart,
which had been numb with pain for all these hours, seemed to soften
and distend, and her eyes filled with hot tears: not three miles away,
with white sails set, a graceful schooner lay in wait.
Marguerite had guessed rather than recognized her. It was the
DAY DREAM, Percy's favourite yacht, and all her crew of British
sailors: her white sails, glistening in the moonlight, seemed to
convey a message to Marguerite of joy and hope, which yet she feared
could never be. She waited there, out at sea, waited for her master,
like a beautiful white bird all ready to take flight, and he would
never reach her, never see her smooth deck again, never gaze any more
on the white cliffs of England, the land of liberty and of hope.
The sight of the schooner seemed to infuse into the poor,
wearied woman the superhuman strength of despair. There was the edge
of the cliff, and some way below was the hut, where presently, her
husband would meet his death. But the moon was out: she could see her
way now: she would see the hut from a distance, run to it, rouse them
all, warn them at any rate to be prepared and to sell their lives
dearly, rather than be caught like so many rats in a hole.
She stumbled on behind the hedge in the low, thick grass of
the ditch. She must have run on very fast, and had outdistanced
Chauvelin and Desgas, for presently she reached the edge of the cliff,
and heard their footsteps distinctly behind her. But only a very few
yards away, and now the moonlight was full upon her, her figure must have
been distinctly silhouetted against the silvery background of the sea.
Only for a moment, though; the next she had cowered, like some
animal doubled up within itself. She peeped down the great rugged
cliffs--the descent would be easy enough, as they were not
precipitous, and the great boulders afforded plenty of foothold.
Suddenly, as she grazed, she saw at some little distance on her left,
and about midway down the cliffs, a rough wooden construction, through
the wall of which a tiny red light glimmered like a beacon. Her very
heart seemed to stand still, the eagerness of joy was so great that it
felt like an awful pain.
She could not gauge how distant the hut was, but without hesitation
she began the steep descent, creeping from boulder to boulder, caring
nothing for the enemy behind, or for the soldiers, who evidently had
all taken cover since the tall Englishman had not yet appeared.
On she pressed, forgetting the deadly foe on her track,
running, stumbling, foot-sore, half-dazed, but still on. . .When,
suddenly, a crevice, or stone, or slippery bit of rock, threw her
violently to the ground. She struggled again to her feet, and started
running forward once more to give them that timely warning, to beg
them to flee before he came, and to tell him to keep away--away from
this death-trap--away from this awful doom. But now she realised that
other steps, quicker than her own, were already close at her heels.
The next instant a hand dragged at her skirt, and she was down on her
knees again, whilst something was wound round her mouth to prevent her
uttering a scream.
Bewildered, half frantic with the bitterness of disappointment,
she looked round her helplessly, and, bending down quite close to her,
she saw through the mist, which seemed to gather round her, a pair of keen,
malicious eyes, which appeared to her excited brain to have a weird,
supernatural green light in them. She lay in the shadow of a great boulder;
Chauvelin could not see her features, but he passed his thin, white fingers
over her face.
"A woman!" he whispered, "by all the Saints in the calendar."
"We cannot let her loose, that's certain," he muttered to himself.
"I wonder now. . ."
Suddenly he paused, after a few moment of deadly silence, he gave forth
a long, low, curious chuckle, while once again Marguerite felt, with a
horrible shudder, his thin fingers wandering over her face.
"Dear me! dear me!" he whispered, with affected gallantry,
"this is indeed a charming surprise," and Marguerite felt her
resistless hand raised to Chauvelin's thin, mocking lips.
The situation was indeed grotesque, had it not been at the
same time so fearfully tragic: the poor, weary woman, broken in
spirit, and half frantic with the bitterness of her disappointment,
receiving on her knees the BANAL gallantries of her deadly enemy.
Her senses were leaving her; half choked with the tight grip
round her mouth, she had no strength to move or to utter the faintest
sound. The excitement which all along had kept up her delicate body
seemed at once to have subsided, and the feeling of blank despair to
have completely paralyzed her brain and nerves.
Chauvelin must have given some directions, which she was too
dazed to hear, for she felt herself lifted from off her feet: the
bandage round her mouth was made more secure, and a pair of strong
arms carried her towards that tiny, red light, on ahead, which she had
looked upon as a beacon and the last faint glimmer of hope.
CHAPTER XXIX TRAPPED
She did not know how long she was thus carried along, she had
lost all notion of time and space, and for a few seconds tired nature,
mercifully, deprived her of consciousness.
When she once more realised her state, she felt that she was placed with
some degree of comfort upon a man's coat, with her back resting against
a fragment of rock. The moon was hidden again behind some clouds,
and the darkness seemed in comparison more intense. The sea was
roaring some two hundred feet below her, and on looking all round
she could no longer see any vestige of the tiny glimmer of red light.
That the end of the journey had been reached, she gathered
from the fact that she heard rapid questions and answers spoken in a
whisper quite close to her.
"There are four men in there, citoyen; they are sitting by the
fire, and seem to be waiting quietly."
"Nearly two o'clock."
"Coming in quickly."
"Obviously an English one, lying some three kilometers out.
But we cannot see her boat."
"Have the men taken cover?"
"They will not blunder?"
"They will not stir until the tall Englishman comes, then they
will surround and overpower the five men."
"Right. And the lady?"
"Still dazed, I fancy. She's close beside you, citoyen."
"And the Jew?"
"He's gagged, and his legs strapped together. He cannot move or scream."
"Good. Then have your gun ready, in case you want it.
Get close to the hut and leave me to look after the lady."
Desgas evidently obeyed, for Marguerite heard him creeping away along
the stony cliff, then she felt that a pair of warm, thin, talon-like
hands took hold of both her own, and held them in a grip of steel.
"Before that handkerchief is removed from your pretty mouth,
fair lady," whispered Chauvelin close to her ear, "I think it right to
give you one small word of warning. What has procured me the honour
of being followed across the Channel by so charming a companion, I
cannot, of course, conceive, but, if I mistake it not, the purpose of
this flattering attention is not one that would commend itself to my
vanity and I think that I am right in surmising, moreover, that the
first sound which your pretty lips would utter, as soon as the cruel
gag is removed, would be one that would prove a warning to the cunning
fox, which I have been at such pains to track to his lair."
He paused a moment, while the steel-like grasp seemed to tighten round
her waist; then he resumed in the same hurried whisper:--
"Inside that hut, if again I am not mistaken, your brother,
Armand St. Just, waits with that traitor de Tournay, and two other men
unknown to you, for the arrival of the mysterious rescuer, whose
identity has for so long puzzled our Committee of Public Safety--the
audacious Scarlet Pimpernel. No doubt if you scream, if there is a
scuffle here, if shots are fired, it is more than likely that the same
long legs that brought this scarlet enigma here, will as quickly take
him to some place of safety. The purpose then, for which I have
travelled all these miles, will remain unaccomplished. On the other
hand it only rests with yourself that your brother--Armand--shall be
free to go off with you to-night if you like, to England, or any other
place of safety."
Marguerite could not utter a sound, as the handkerchief was
would very tightly round her mouth, but Chauvelin was peering through
the darkness very closely into her face; no doubt too her hand gave a
responsive appeal to his last suggestion, for presently he continued:--
"What I want you to do to ensure Armand's safety is a very simple thing,
"What is it?" Marguerite's hand seemed to convey to his, in response.
"To remain--on this spot, without uttering a sound, until I
give you leave to speak. Ah! but I think you will obey," he added,
with that funny dry chuckle of his as Marguerite's whole figure seemed
to stiffen, in defiance of this order, "for let me tell you that if
you scream, nay! if you utter one sound, or attempt to move from
here, my men--there are thirty of them about--will seize St. Just, de
Tournay, and their two friends, and shoot them here--by my
orders--before your eyes."
Marguerite had listened to her implacable enemy's speech with
ever-increasing terror. Numbed with physical pain, she yet had
sufficient mental vitality in her to realize the full horror of this
terrible "either--or" he was once more putting before her;
"either--or" ten thousand times more appalling and horrible, that the
one he had suggested to her that fatal night at the ball.
This time it meant that she should keep still, and allow the
husband she worshipped to walk unconsciously to his death, or that she
should, by trying to give him a word of warning, which perhaps might
even be unavailing, actually give the signal for her own brother's
death, and that of three other unsuspecting men.
She could not see Chauvelin, but she could almost feel those
keen, pale eyes of his fixed maliciously upon her helpless form, and
his hurried, whispered words reached her ear, as the death-knell of
her last faint, lingering hope.
"Nay, fair lady," he added urbanely, "you can have no interest
in anyone save in St. Just, and all you need do for his safety is to
remain where you are, and to keep silent. My men have strict orders
to spare him in every way. As for that enigmatic Scarlet Pimpernel,
what is he to you? Believe me, no warning from you could possibly
save him. And now dear lady, let me remove this unpleasant coercion,
which has been placed before your pretty mouth. You see I wish you to
be perfectly free, in the choice which you are about to make."
Her thoughts in a whirl, her temples aching, her nerves
paralyzed, her body numb with pain, Marguerite sat there, in the
darkness which surrounded her as with a pall. From where she sat she
could not see the sea, but she heard the incessant mournful murmur of
the incoming tide, which spoke of her dead hopes, her lost love, the
husband she had with her own hand betrayed, and sent to his death.
Chauvelin removed he handkerchief from her mouth. She certainly
did not scream: at that moment, she had no strength to do anything
but barely to hold herself upright, and to force herself to think.
Oh! think! think! think! of what she should do. The
minutes flew on; in this awful stillness she could not tell how fast
or how slowly; she heard nothing, she saw nothing: she did not feel
the sweet-smelling autumn air, scented with the briny odour of the
sea, she no longer heard the murmur of the waves, the occasional
rattling of a pebble, as it rolled down some steep incline. More and
more unreal did the whole situation seem. It was impossible that she,
Marguerite Blakeney, the queen of London society, should actually be
sitting here on this bit of lonely coast, in the middle of the night,
side by side with a most bitter enemy; and oh! it was not possible
that somewhere, not many hundred feet away perhaps, from where she
stood, the being she had once despised, but who now, in every moment
of this weird, dreamlike life, became more and more dear--it was not
possible that HE was unconsciously, even now walking to his doom,
whilst she did nothing to save him.
Why did she not with unearthly screams, that would re-echo
from one end of the lonely beach to the other, send out a warning to
him to desist, to retrace his steps, for death lurked here whilst he
advanced? Once or twice the screams rose to her throat--as if my
instinct: then, before her eyes there stood the awful alternative: her
brother and those three men shot before her eyes, practically by her
orders: she their murderer.
Oh! that fiend in human shape, next to her, knew human--female--nature well.
He had played upon her feelings as a skilful musician plays upon an instrument.
He had gauged her very thoughts to a nicety.
She could not give that signal--for she was weak, and she was
a woman. How could she deliberately order Armand to be shot before
her eyes, to have his dear blood upon her head, he dying perhaps with
a curse on her, upon his lips. And little Suzanne's father, too! he,
and old man; and the others!--oh! it was all too, too horrible.
Wait! wait! wait! how long? The early morning hours sped
on, and yet it was not dawn: the sea continued its incessant mournful
murmur, the autumnal breeze sighed gently in the night: the lonely
beach was silent, even as the grave.
Suddenly from somewhere, not very far away, a cheerful, strong
voice was heard singing "God save the King!"
CHAPTER XXX THE SCHOONER
Marguerite's aching heart stood still. She felt, more than
she heard, the men on the watch preparing for the fight. Her senses
told her that each, with sword in hand, was crouching, ready for the
The voice came nearer and nearer; in the vast immensity of
these lonely cliffs, with the loud murmur of the sea below, it was
impossible to say how near, or how far, nor yet from which direction
came that cheerful singer, who sang to God to save his King, whilst he
himself was in such deadly danger. Faint at first, the voice grew
louder and louder; from time to time a small pebble detached itself
apparently from beneath the firm tread of the singer, and went rolling
down the rocky cliffs to the beach below.
Marguerite as she heard, felt that her very life was slipping
away, as if when that voice drew nearer, when that singer became
entrapped. . .
She distinctly heard the click of Desgas' gun close to her. . . .
No! no! no! no! Oh, God in heaven! this cannot be! let Armand's
blood then be on her own head! let her be branded as his murderer!
let even he, whom she loved, despise and loathe her for this, but God!
oh God! save him at any cost!
With a wild shriek, she sprang to her feet, and darted round
the rock, against which she had been cowering; she saw the little red
gleam through the chinks of the hut; she ran up to it and fell against
its wooden walls, which she began to hammer with clenched fists in an
almost maniacal frenzy, while she shouted,--
"Armand! Armand! for God's sake fire! your leader is near!
he is coming! he is betrayed! Armand! Armand! fire in Heaven's name!"
She was seized and thrown to the ground. She lay there moaning, bruised,
not caring, but still half-sobbing, half-shrieking,--
"Percy, my husband, for God's sake fly! Armand!
Armand! why don't you fire?"
"One of you stop that woman screaming," hissed Chauvelin, who hardly
could refrain from striking her.
Something was thrown over her face; she could not breathe, and
perforce she was silent.
The bold singer, too, had become silent, warned, no doubt, of
his impending danger by Marguerite's frantic shrieks. The men had
sprung to their feet, there was no need for further silence on their
part; the very cliffs echoed the poor, heart-broken woman's screams.
Chauvelin, with a muttered oath, which boded no good to her,
who had dared to upset his most cherished plans, had hastily shouted
the word of command,--
"Into it, my men, and let no one escape from that hut alive!"
The moon had once more emerged from between the clouds: the
darkness on the cliffs had gone, giving place once more to brilliant,
silvery light. Some of the soldiers had rushed to the rough, wooden
door of the hut, whilst one of them kept guard over Marguerite.
The door was partially open; on of the soldiers pushed it further,
but within all was darkness, the charcoal fire only lighting with a dim,
red light the furthest corner of the hut. The soldiers paused
automatically at the door, like machines waiting for further orders.
Chauvelin, who was prepared for a violent onslaught from
within, and for a vigorous resistance from the four fugitives, under
cover of the darkness, was for the moment paralyzed with astonishment
when he saw the soldiers standing there at attention, like sentries on
guard, whilst not a sound proceeded from the hut.
Filled with strange, anxious foreboding, he, too, went to the
door of the hut, and peering into the gloom, he asked quickly,--
"What is the meaning of this?"
"I think, citoyen, that there is no one there now," replied
one of the soldiers imperturbably.
"You have not let those four men go?" thundered Chauvelin,
menacingly. "I ordered you to let no man escape alive!--Quick, after
them all of you! Quick, in every direction!"
The men, obedient as machines, rushed down the rocky incline
towards the beach, some going off to right and left, as fast as their
feet could carry them.
"You and your men will pay with your lives for this blunder,
citoyen sergeant," said Chauvelin viciously to the sergeant who had
been in charge of the men; "and you, too, citoyen," he added turning
with a snarl to Desgas, "for disobeying my orders."
"You ordered us to wait, citoyen, until the tall Englishman
arrived and joined the four men in the hut. No one came," said the
"But I ordered you just now, when the woman screamed, to rush
in and let no one escape."
"But, citoyen, the four men who were there before had been
gone some time, I think. . ."
"You think?--You?. . ." said Chauvelin, almost choking with
fury, "and you let them go. . ."
"You ordered us to wait, citoyen," protested the sergeant,
"and to implicitly obey your commands on pain of death. We waited."
"I heard the men creep out of the hut, not many minutes after
we took cover, and long before the woman screamed," he added, as
Chauvelin seemed still quite speechless with rage.
"Hark!" said Desgas suddenly.
In the distance the sound of repeated firing was heard.
Chauvelin tried to peer along the beach below, but as luck would have
it, the fitful moon once more hid her light behind a bank of clouds,
and he could see nothing.
"One of you go into the hut and strike a light," he stammered at last.
Stolidly the sergeant obeyed: he went up to the charcoal fire
and lit the small lantern he carried in his belt; it was evident that
the hut was quite empty.
"Which way did they go?" asked Chauvelin.
"I could not tell, citoyen," said the sergeant; "they went
straight down the cliff first, then disappeared behind some boulders."
"Hush! what was that?"
All three men listened attentively. In the far, very far
distance, could be heard faintly echoing and already dying away, the
quick, sharp splash of half a dozen oars. Chauvelin took out his
handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"The schooner's boat!" was all he gasped.
Evidently Armand St. Just and his three companions had managed
to creep along the side of the cliffs, whilst the men, like true
soldiers of the well-drilled Republican army, had with blind
obedience, and in fear of their own lives, implicitly obeyed
Chauvelin's orders--to wait for the tall Englishman, who was the
They had no doubt reached one of the creeks which jut far out
to see on this coast at intervals; behind this, the boat of the DAY
DREAM must have been on the lookout for them, and they were by now
safely on board the British schooner.
As if to confirm this last supposition, the dull boom of a gun
was heard from out at sea.
"The schooner, citoyen," said Desgas, quietly; "she's off."
It needed all Chauvelin's nerve and presence of mind not to
give way to a useless and undignified access of rage. There was no
doubt now, that once again, that accursed British head had completely
outwitted him. How he had contrived to reach the hut, without being
seen by one of the thirty soldiers who guarded the spot, was more than
Chauvelin could conceive. That he had done so before the thirty men
had arrived on the cliff was, of course, fairly clear, but how he had
come over in Reuben Goldstein's cart, all the way from Calais, without
being sighted by the various patrols on duty was impossible of
explanation. It really seemed as if some potent Fate watched over
that daring Scarlet Pimpernel, and his astute enemy almost felt a
superstitious shudder pass through him, as he looked round at the
towering cliffs, and the loneliness of this outlying coast.
But surely this was reality! and the year of grace 1792:
there were no fairies and hobgoblins about. Chauvelin and his thirty
men had all heard with their own ears that accursed voice singing "God
save the King," fully twenty minutes AFTER they had all taken cover
around the hut; by that time the four fugitives must have reached the
creek, and got into the boat, and the nearest creek was more than a
mile from the hut.
Where had that daring singer got to? Unless Satan himself had
lent him wings, he could not have covered that mile on a rocky cliff
in the space of two minutes; and only two minutes had elapsed between
his song and the sound of the boat's oars away at sea. He must have
remained behind, and was even now hiding somewhere about the cliffs;
the patrols were still about, he would still be sighted, no doubt.
Chauvelin felt hopeful once again.
One or two of the men, who had run after the fugitives, were
now slowly working their way up the cliff: one of them reached
Chauvelin's side, at the very moment that this hope arose in the
astute diplomatist's heart.
"We were too late, citoyen," the soldier said, "we reached the
beach just before the moon was hidden by that bank of clouds. The
boat had undoubtedly been on the look-out behind that first creek, a
mile off, but she had shoved off some time ago, when we got to the
beach, and was already some way out to sea. We fired after her, but
of course, it was no good. She was making straight and quickly for
the schooner. We saw her very clearly in the moonlight."
"Yes," said Chauvelin, with eager impatience, "she had shoved off
some time ago, you said, and the nearest creek is a mile further on."
"Yes, citoyen! I ran all the way, straight to the beach,
though I guessed the boat would have waited somewhere near the creek,
as the tide would reach there earliest. The boat must have shoved off
some minutes before the woman began to scream."
"Bring the light in here!" he commanded eagerly, as he once
more entered the hut.
The sergeant brought his lantern, and together the two men
explored the little place: with a rapid glance Chauvelin noted its
contents: the cauldron placed close under an aperture in the wall, and
containing the last few dying embers of burned charcoal, a couple of
stools, overturned as if in the haste of sudden departure, then the
fisherman's tools and his nets lying in one corner, and beside them,
something small and white.
"Pick that up," said Chauvelin to the sergeant, pointing to
this white scrap, "and bring it to me."
It was a crumpled piece of paper, evidently forgotten there by
the fugitives, in their hurry to get away. The sergeant, much awed by
the citoyen's obvious rage and impatience, picked the paper up and
handed it respectfully to Chauvelin.
"Read it, sergeant," said the latter curtly.
"It is almost illegible, citoyen. . .a fearful scrawl. . ."
"I ordered you to read it," repeated Chauvelin, viciously.
The sergeant, by the light of his lantern, began deciphering
the few hastily scrawled words.
"I cannot quite reach you, without risking your lives
and endangering the success of your rescue. When you receive
this, wait two minutes, then creep out of the hut one by one,
turn to your left sharply, and creep cautiously down the
cliff; keep to the left all the time, till you reach the first
rock, which you see jutting far out to sea--behind it in the
creek the boat is on the look-out for you--give a long, sharp
whistle--she will come up--get into her--my men will row you
to the schooner, and thence to England and safety--once on
board the DAY DREAM send the boat back for me, tell my men
that I shall be at the creek, which is in a direct line
opposite the `Chat Gris' near Calais. They know it. I shall
be there as soon as possible--they must wait for me at a safe
distance out at sea, till they hear the usual signal. Do not
delay--and obey these instructions implicitly."
"Then there is the signature, citoyen," added the sergeant, as
he handed the paper back to Chauvelin.
But the latter had not waited an instant. One phrase of the
momentous scrawl had caught his ear. "I shall be at the creek which
is in a direct line opposite the `Chat Gris' near Calais": that phrase
might yet mean victory for him.
"Which of you knows this coast well?" he shouted to his men
who now one by one all returned from their fruitless run, and were all
assembled once more round the hut.
"I do, citoyen," said one of them, "I was born in Calais, and
know every stone of these cliffs."
"There is a creek in a direct line from the `Chat Gris'?"
"There is, citoyen. I know it well."
"The Englishman is hoping to reach that creek. He does NOT
know every stone of these cliffs, he may go there by the longest way
round, and in any case he will proceed cautiously for fear of the
patrols. At any rate, there is a chance to get him yet. A thousand
francs to each man who gets to that creek before that long-legged
"I know of a short cut across the cliffs," said the soldier,
and with an enthusiastic shout, he rushed forward, followed closely by
Within a few minutes their running footsteps had died away in the distance.
Chauvelin listened to them for a moment; the promise of the reward was
lending spurs to the soldiers of the Republic. The gleam of hate and
anticipated triumph was once more apparent on his face.
Close to him Desgas still stood mute and impassive, waiting
for further orders, whilst two soldiers were kneeling beside the
prostrate form of Marguerite. Chauvelin gave his secretary a vicious
look. His well-laid plan had failed, its sequel was problematical;
there was still a great chance now that the Scarlet Pimpernel might
yet escape, and Chauvelin, with that unreasoning fury, which sometimes
assails a strong nature, was longing to vent his rage on somebody.
The soldiers were holding Marguerite pinioned to the ground,
though, she, poor soul, was not making the faintest struggle.
Overwrought nature had at last peremptorily asserted herself, and she
lay there in a dead swoon: her eyes circled by deep purple lines, that
told of long, sleepless nights, her hair matted and damp round her forehead,
her lips parted in a sharp curve that spoke of physical pain.
The cleverest woman in Europe, the elegant and fashionable
Lady Blakeney, who had dazzled London society with her beauty, her wit
and her extravagances, presented a very pathetic picture of tired-out,
suffering womanhood, which would have appealed to any, but the hard,
vengeful heart of her baffled enemy.
"It is no use mounting guard over a woman who is half dead,"
he said spitefully to the soldiers, "when you have allowed five men
who were very much alive to escape."
Obediently the soldiers rose to their feet.
"You'd better try and find that footpath again for me, and
that broken-down cart we left on the road."
Then suddenly a bright idea seemed to strike him.
"Ah! by-the-bye! where is the Jew?"
"Close by here, citoyen," said Desgas; "I gagged him and tied
his legs together as you commanded."
From the immediate vicinity, a plaintive moan reached
Chauvelin's ears. He followed his secretary, who led the way to the
other side of the hut, where, fallen into an absolute heap of
dejection, with his legs tightly pinioned together and his mouth
gagged, lay the unfortunate descendant of Israel.
His face in the silvery light of the moon looked positively
ghastly with terror: his eyes were wide open and almost glassy, and
his whole body was trembling, as if with ague, while a piteous wail
escaped his bloodless lips. The rope which had originally been wound
round his shoulders and arms had evidently given way, for it lay in a
tangle about his body, but he seemed quite unconscious of this, for he
had not made the slightest attempt to move from the place where Desgas
had originally put him: like a terrified chicken which looks upon a
line of white chalk, drawn on a table, as on a string which paralyzes
"Bring the cowardly brute here," commanded Chauvelin.
He certainly felt exceedingly vicious, and since he had no
reasonable grounds for venting his ill-humour on the soldiers who had
but too punctually obeyed his orders, he felt that the son of the
despised race would prove an excellent butt. With true French
contempt of the Jew, which has survived the lapse of centuries even to
this day, he would not go too near him, but said with biting sarcasm,
as the wretched old man was brought in full light of the moon by the
"I suppose now, that being a Jew, you have a good memory for
"Answer!" he again commanded, as the Jew with trembling lips
seemed too frightened to speak.
"Yes, your Honour," stammered the poor wretch.
"You remember, then, the one you and I made together in Calais,
when you undertook to overtake Reuben Goldstein, his nag and
my friend the tall stranger? Eh?"
"B. . .b. . .but. . .your Honour. . ."
"There is no `but.' I said, do you remember?"
"Y. . .y. . .y. . .yes. . .your Honour!"
"What was the bargain?"
There was dead silence. The unfortunate man looked round at
the great cliffs, the moon above, the stolid faces of the soldiers,
and even at the poor, prostate, inanimate woman close by, but said nothing.
"Will you speak?" thundered Chauvelin, menacingly.
He did try, poor wretch, but, obviously, he could not. There was no doubt,
however, that he knew what to expect from the stern man before him.
"Your Honour. . ." he ventured imploringly.
"Since your terror seems to have paralyzed your tongue," said
Chauvelin sarcastically, "I must needs refresh your memory. It was
agreed between us, that if we overtook my friend the tall stranger,
before he reached this place, you were to have ten pieces of gold."
A low moan escaped from the Jew's trembling lips.
"But," added Chauvelin, with slow emphasis, "if you deceived
me in your promise, you were to have a sound beating, one that would
teach you not to tell lies."
"I did not, your Honour; I swear it by Abraham. . ."
"And by all the other patriarchs, I know. Unfortunately, they
are still in Hades, I believe, according to your creed, and cannot
help you much in your present trouble. Now, you did not fulful your
share of the bargain, but I am ready to fulfil mine. Here," he added,
turning to the soldiers, "the buckle-end of your two belts to this
As the soldiers obediently unbuckled their heavy leather
belts, the Jew set up a howl that surely would have been enough to
bring all the patriarchs out of Hades and elsewhere, to defend their
descendant from the brutality of this French official.
"I think I can rely on you, citoyen soldiers," laughed
Chauvelin, maliciously, "to give this old liar the best and soundest
beating he has ever experienced. But don't kill him," he added drily.
"We will obey, citoyen," replied the soldiers as imperturbably
He did not wait to see his orders carried out: he knew that he
could trust these soldiers--who were still smarting under his
rebuke--not to mince matters, when given a free hand to belabour a
"When that lumbering coward has had his punishment," he said
to Desgas, "the men can guide us as far as the cart, and one of them
can drive us in it back to Calais. The Jew and the woman can look
after each other," he added roughly, "until we can send somebody for
them in the morning. They can't run away very far, in their present
condition, and we cannot be troubled with them just now."
Chauvelin had not given up all hope. His men, he knew, were
spurred on by the hope of the reward. That enigmatic and audacious
Scarlet Pimpernel, alone and with thirty men at his heels, could not
reasonably be expected to escape a second time.
But he felt less sure now: the Englishman's audacity had
baffled him once, whilst the wooden-headed stupidity of the soldiers,
and the interference of a woman had turned his hand, which held all
the trumps, into a losing one. If Marguerite had not taken up his
time, if the soldiers had had a grain of intelligence, if. . .it was a
long "if," and Chauvelin stood for a moment quite still, and enrolled
thirty odd people in one long, overwhelming anathema. Nature, poetic,
silent, balmy, the bright moon, the calm, silvery sea spoke of beauty
and of rest, and Chauvelin cursed nature, cursed man and woman, and
above all, he cursed all long-legged, meddlesome British enigmas with
one gigantic curse.
The howls of the Jew behind him, undergoing his punishment
sent a balm through his heart, overburdened as it was with revengeful
malice. He smiled. It eased his mind to think that some human being
at least was, like himself, not altogether at peace with mankind.
He turned and took a last look at the lonely bit of coast,
where stood the wooden hut, now bathed in moonlight, the scene of the
greatest discomfiture ever experienced by a leading member of the
Committee of Public Safety.
Against a rock, on a hard bed of stone, lay the unconscious
figure of Marguerite Blakeney, while some few paces further on, the
unfortunate Jew was receiving on his broad back the blows of two stout
leather belts, wielded by the stolid arms of two sturdy soldiers of
the Republic. The howls of Benjamin Rosenbaum were fit to make the
dead rise from their graves. They must have wakened all the gulls
from sleep, and made them look down with great interest at the doings
of the lords of the creation.
"That will do," commanded Chauvelin, as the Jew's moans became
more feeble, and the poor wretch seemed to have fainted away,
"we don't want to kill him."
Obediently the soldiers buckled on their belts, one of them
viciously kicking the Jew to one side.
"Leave him there," said Chauvelin, "and lead the way now
quickly to the cart. I'll follow."
He walked up to where Marguerite lay, and looked down into her
face. She had evidently recovered consciousness, and was making
feeble efforts to raise herself. Her large, blue eyes were looking at
the moonlit scene round her with a scared and terrified look; they
rested with a mixture of horror and pity on the Jew, whose luckless
fate and wild howls had been the first signs that struck her, with her
returning senses; then she caught sight of Chauvelin, in his neat,
dark clothes, which seemed hardly crumpled after the stirring events
of the last few hours. He was smiling sarcastically, and his pale
eyes peered down at her with a look of intense malice.
With mock gallantry, he stooped and raised her icy-cold hand
to his lips, which sent a thrill of indescribable loathing through
Marguerite's weary frame.
"I much regret, fair lady," he said in his most suave tones,
"that circumstances, over which I have no control, compel me to leave
you here for the moment. But I go away, secure in the knowledge that
I do not leave you unprotected. Our friend Benjamin here, though a
trifle the worse for wear at the present moment, will prove a gallant
defender of your fair person, I have no doubt. At dawn I will send an
escort for you; until then, I feel sure that you will find him
devoted, though perhaps a trifle slow."
Marguerite only had the strength to turn her head away. Her
heart was broken with cruel anguish. One awful thought had returned
to her mind, together with gathering consciousness: "What had become
of Percy?--What of Armand?"
She knew nothing of what had happened after she heard the
cheerful song, "God save the King," which she believed to be the
signal of death.
"I, myself," concluded Chauvelin, "must now very reluctantly
leave you. AU REVOIR, fair lady. We meet, I hope, soon in London.
Shall I see you at the Prince of Wales garden party?--No?--Ah, well,
AU REVOIR!--Remember me, I pray, to Sir Percy Blakeney.
And, with a last ironical smile and bow, he once more kissed
her hand, and disappeared down the footpath in the wake of the
soldiers, and followed by the imperturbable Desgas.
CHAPTER XXXI THE ESCAPE
Marguerite listened--half-dazed as she was--to the
fast-retreating, firm footsteps of the four men.
All nature was so still that she, lying with her ear close to
the ground, could distinctly trace the sound of their tread, as they
ultimately turned into the road, and presently the faint echo of the
old cart-wheels, the halting gait of the lean nag, told her that her
enemy was a quarter of a league away. How long she lay there she knew
not. She had lost count of time; dreamily she looked up at the
moonlit sky, and listened to the monotonous roll of the waves.
The invigorating scent of the sea was nectar to her wearied
body, the immensity of the lonely cliffs was silent and dreamlike.
Her brain only remained conscious of its ceaseless, its intolerable
torture of uncertainty.
She did not know!--
She did not know whether Percy was even now, at this moment,
in the hands of the soldiers of the Republic, enduring--as she had
done herself--the gibes and jeers of his malicious enemy. She did not
know, on the other hand, whether Armand's lifeless body did not lie
there, in the hut, whilst Percy had escaped, only to hear that his
wife's hands had guided the human bloodhounds to the murder of Armand
and his friends.
The physical pain of utter weariness was so great, that she
hoped confidently her tired body could rest here for ever, after all
the turmoil, the passion, and the intrigues of the last few
days--here, beneath that clear sky, within sound of the sea, and with
this balmy autumn breeze whispering to her a last lullaby. All was so
solitary, so silent, like unto dreamland. Even the last faint echo of
the distant cart had long ago died away, afar.
Suddenly. . .a sound. . .the strangest, undoubtedly, that
these lonely cliffs of France had ever heard, broke the silent
solemnity of the shore.
So strange a sound was it that the gentle breeze ceased to
murmur, the tiny pebbles to roll down the steep incline! So strange,
that Marguerite, wearied, overwrought as she was, thought that the
beneficial unconsciousness of the approach of death was playing her
half-sleeping senses a weird and elusive trick.
It was the sound of a good, solid, absolutely British "Damn!"
The sea gulls in their nests awoke and looked round in astonishment;