Part 6 out of 8
"I trust that your visit has pleased you, Lady Blakeney," he said
suavely. "At what hour do you desire to repeat it to-morrow?"
"To-morrow?" she reiterated in a vague, absent manner, for she was
still dazed with the strange incident of Armand's appearance and
"Yes. You would like to see Sir Percy again to-morrow, would you
not? I myself would gladly pay him a visit from time to time, but
he does not care for my company. My colleague, citizen Heron, on
the other hand, calls on him four times in every twenty-four
hours; he does so a few moments before the changing of the guard,
and stays chatting with Sir Percy until after the guard is
changed, when he inspects the men and satisfies himself that no
traitor has crept in among them. All the men are personally known
to him, you see. These hours are at five in the morning and again
at eleven, and then again at five and eleven in the evening. My
friend Heron, as you see, is zealous and assiduous, and, strangely
enough, Sir Percy does not seem to view his visit with any
displeasure. Now at any other hour of the day, Lady Blakeney, I
pray you command me and I will arrange that citizen Heron grant
you a second interview with the prisoner."
Marguerite had only listened to Chauvelin's lengthy speech with
half an ear; her thoughts still dwelt on the past half-hour with
its bitter joy and its agonising pain; and fighting through her
thoughts of Percy there was the recollection of Armand which so
disquieted her. But though she had only vaguely listened to what
Chauvelin was saying, she caught the drift of it.
Madly she longed to accept his suggestion. The very thought of
seeing Percy on the morrow was solace to her aching heart; it
could feed on hope to-night instead of on its own bitter pain.
But even during this brief moment of hesitancy, and while her
whole being cried out for this joy that her enemy was holding out
to her, even then in the gloom ahead of her she seemed to see a
vision of a pale face raised above a crowd of swaying heads, and
of the eyes of the dreamer searching for her own, whilst the last
sublime cry of perfect self-devotion once more echoed in her ear:
The promise which she had given him, that would she fulfil. The
burden which he had laid on her shoulders she would try to bear as
heroically as he was bearing his own. Aye, even at the cost of
the supreme sorrow of never resting again in the haven of his arms.
But in spite of sorrow, in spite of anguish so terrible that she
could not imagine Death itself to have a more cruel sting, she
wished above all to safeguard that final, attenuated thread of
hope which was wound round the packet that lay hidden on her breast.
She wanted, above all, not to arouse Chauvelin's suspicions by
markedly refusing to visit the prisoner again--suspicions that
might lead to her being searched once more and the precious packet
filched from her. Therefore she said to him earnestly now:
"I thank you, citizen, for your solicitude on my behalf, but you
will understand, I think, that my visit to the prisoner has been
almost more than I could bear. I cannot tell you at this moment
whether to-morrow I should be in a fit state to repeat it."
"As you please," he replied urbanely. "But I pray you to remember
one thing, and that is--"
He paused a moment while his restless eyes wandered rapidly over
her face, trying, as it were, to get at the soul of this woman, at
her innermost thoughts, which he felt were hidden from him.
"Yes, citizen," she said quietly; "what is it that I am to remember?"
"That it rests with you, Lady Blakeney, to put an end to the
"Surely you can persuade Sir Percy's friends not to leave their
chief in durance vile. They themselves could put an end to his
"By giving up the Dauphin to you, you mean?" she retorted coldly.
"And you hoped--you still hope that by placing before me the
picture of your own fiendish cruelty against my husband you will
induce me to act the part of a traitor towards him and a coward
before his followers?"
"Oh!" he said deprecatingly, "the cruelty now is no longer mine.
Sir Percy's release is in your hands, Lady Blakeney--in that of
his followers. I should only be too willing to end the present
intolerable situation. You and your friends are applying the last
turn of the thumbscrew, not I--"
She smothered the cry of horror that had risen to her lips. The
man's cold-blooded sophistry was threatening to make a breach in
her armour of self-control.
She would no longer trust herself to speak, but made a quick
movement towards the door.
He shrugged his shoulders as if the matter were now entirely out
of his control. Then he opened the door for her to pass out, and
as her skirts brushed against him he bowed with studied deference,
murmuring a cordial "Good-night!"
"And remember, Lady Blakeney," he added politely, "that should you
at any time desire to communicate with me at my rooms, 19, Rue
Dupuy, I hold myself entirely at your service.
Then as her tall, graceful figure disappeared in the outside gloom
he passed his thin hand over his mouth as if to wipe away the last
lingering signs of triumphant irony:
"The second visit will work wonders, I think, my fine lady," he
murmured under his breath.
It was close on midnight now, and still they sat opposite one
another, he the friend and she the wife, talking over that brief
half-hour that had meant an eternity to her,
Marguerite had tried to tell Sir Andrew everything; bitter as it
was to put into actual words the pathos and misery which she had
witnessed, yet she would hide nothing from the devoted comrade
whom she knew Percy would trust absolutely. To him she repeated
every word that Percy had uttered, described every inflection of
his voice, those enigmatical phrases which she had not understood,
and together they cheated one another into the belief that hope
lingered somewhere hidden in those words.
"I am not going to despair, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew
firmly; "and, moreover, we are not going to disobey. I would
stake my life that even now Blakeney has some scheme in his mind
which is embodied in the various letters which he has given you,
and which--Heaven help us in that case!--we might thwart by
disobedience. Tomorrow in the late afternoon I will escort you to
the Rue de Charonne. It is a house that we all know well, and
which Armand, of course, knows too. I had already inquired there
two days ago to ascertain whether by chance St. Just was not in
hiding there, but Lucas, the landlord and old-clothes dealer, knew
nothing about him."
Marguerite told him about her swift vision of Armand in the dark
corridor of the house of Justice.
"Can you understand it, Sir Andrew?" she asked, fixing her deep,
luminous eyes inquiringly upon him.
"No, I cannot," he said, after an almost imperceptible moment of
hesitancy; "but we shall see him to-morrow. I have no doubt that
Mademoiselle Lange will know where to find him; and now that we
know where she is, all our anxiety about him, at any rate, should
soon be at an end."
He rose and made some allusion to the lateness of the hour.
Somehow it seemed to her that her devoted friend was trying to
hide his innermost thoughts from her. She watched him with an
anxious, intent gaze.
"Can you understand it all, Sir Andrew?" she reiterated with a
pathetic note of appeal.
"No, no!" he said firmly. "On my soul, Lady Blakeney, I know no
more of Armand than you do yourself. But I am sure that Percy is
right. The boy frets because remorse must have assailed him by
now. Had he but obeyed implicitly that day, as we all did--"
But he could not frame the whole terrible proposition in words.
Bitterly as he himself felt on the subject of Armand, he would
not add yet another burden to this devoted woman's heavy load
"It was Fate, Lady Blakeney," he said after a while. "Fate! a
damnable fate which did it all. Great God! to think of Blakeney
in the hands of those brutes seems so horrible that at times I
feel as if the whole thing were a nightmare, and that the next
moment we shall both wake hearing his merry voice echoing through
He tried to cheer her with words of hope that he knew were but
chimeras. A heavy weight of despondency lay on his heart. The
letter from his chief was hidden against his breast; he would
study it anon in the privacy of his own apartment so as to commit
every word to memory that related to the measures for the ultimate
safety of the child-King. After that it would have to be
destroyed, lest it fell into inimical hands.
Soon he bade Marguerite good-night. She was tired out, body and
soul, and he--her faithful friend--vaguely wondered how long she
would be able to withstand the strain of so much sorrow, such
When at last she was alone Marguerite made brave efforts to
compose her nerves so as to obtain a certain modicum of sleep this
night. But, strive how she might, sleep would not come. How
could it, when before her wearied brain there rose constantly that
awful vision of Percy in the long, narrow cell, with weary head
bent over his arm, and those friends shouting persistently in his
"Wake up, citizen! Tell us, where is Capet?"
The fear obsessed her that his mind might give way; for the mental
agony of such intense weariness must be well-nigh impossible to
bear. In the dark, as she sat hour after hour at the open window,
looking out in the direction where through the veil of snow the
grey walls of the Chatelet prison towered silent and grim, she
seemed to see his pale, drawn face with almost appalling reality;
she could see every line of it, and could study it with the
intensity born of a terrible fear.
How long would the ghostly glimmer of merriment still linger in
the eyes? When would the hoarse, mirthless laugh rise to the
lips, that awful laugh that proclaims madness? Oh! she could have
screamed now with the awfulness of this haunting terror. Ghouls
seemed to be mocking her out of the darkness, every flake of snow
that fell silently on the window-sill became a grinning face that
taunted and derided; every cry in the silence of the night, every
footstep on the quay below turned to hideous jeers hurled at her
by tormenting fiends.
She closed the window quickly, for she feared that she would go
mad. For an hour after that she walked up and down the room
making violent efforts to control her nerves, to find a glimmer of
that courage which she promised Percy that she would have.
The morning found her fagged out, but more calm. Later on she
managed to drink some coffee, and having washed and dressed, she
prepared to go out.
Sir Andrew appeared in time to ascertain her wishes.
"I promised Percy to go to the Rue de Charonne in the late
afternoon," she said. "I have some hours to spare, and mean to
employ them in trying to find speech with Mademoiselle Lange."
"Blakeney has told you where she lives?"
"Yes. In the Square du Roule. I know it well. I can be there in
half an hour."
He, of course, begged to be allowed to accompany her, and anon
they were walking together quickly up toward the Faubourg St.
Honore. The snow had ceased falling, but it was still very cold,
but neither Marguerite nor Sir Andrew were conscious of the
temperature or of any outward signs around them. They walked on
silently until they reached the torn-down gates of the Square du
Roule; there Sir Andrew parted from Marguerite after having
appointed to meet her an hour later at a small eating-house he
knew of where they could have some food together, before starting
on their long expedition to the Rue de Charonne.
Five minutes later Marguerite Blakeney was shown in by worthy
Madame Belhomme, into the quaint and pretty drawing-room with its
soft-toned hangings and old-world air of faded grace.
Mademoiselle Lange was sitting there, in a capacious armchair,
which encircled her delicate figure with its frame-work of dull
She was ostensibly reading when Marguerite was announced, for an
open book lay on a table beside her; but it seemed to the visitor
that mayhap the young girl's thoughts had played truant from her
work, for her pose was listless and apathetic, and there was a
look of grave trouble upon the childlike face.
She rose when Marguerite entered, obviously puzzled at the
unexpected visit, and somewhat awed at the appearance of this
beautiful woman with the sad look in her eyes.
"I must crave your pardon, mademoiselle," said Lady Blakeney as
soon as the door had once more closed on Madame Belhomme, and she
found herself alone with the young girl. "This visit at such an
early hour must seem to you an intrusion. But I am Marguerite St.
Her smile and outstretched hand completed the sentence.
"St. Just!" exclaimed Jeanne.
"Yes. Armand's sister!"
A swift blush rushed to the girl's pale cheeks; her brown eyes
expressed unadulterated joy. Marguerite, who was studying her
closely, was conscious that her poor aching heart went out to this
exquisite child, the far-off innocent cause of so much misery.
Jeanne, a little shy, a little confused and nervous in her movements,
was pulling a chair close to the fire, begging Marguerite to sit.
Her words came out all the while in short jerky sentences, and from
time to time she stole swift shy glances at Armand's sister.
"You will forgive me, mademoiselle," said Marguerite, whose simple
and calm manner quickly tended to soothe Jeanne Lange's confusion;
"but I was so anxious about my brother--I do not know where to
"And so you came to me, madame?"
"Was I wrong?"
"Oh, no! But what made you think that--that I would know?"
"I guessed," said Marguerite with a smile. "You had heard about me
"Through whom? Did Armand tell you about me?"
"No, alas! I have not seen him this past fortnight, since you,
mademoiselle, came into his life; but many of Armand's friends are
in Paris just now; one of them knew, and he told me."
The soft blush had now overspread the whole of the girl's face,
even down to her graceful neck. She waited to see Marguerite
comfortably installed in an armchair, then she resumed shyly:
"And it was Armand who told me all about you. He loves you so
"Armand and I were very young children when we lost our parents,"
said Marguerite softly, "and we were all in all to each other then.
And until I married he was the man I loved best in all the world."
"He told me you were married--to an Englishman."
"He loves England too. At first he always talked of my going
there with him as his wife, and of the happiness we should find
"Why do you say 'at first'?"
"He talks less about England now."
"Perhaps he feels that now you know all about it, and that you
understand each other with regard to the future."
Jeanne sat opposite to Marguerite on a low stool by the fire. Her
elbows were resting on her knees, and her face just now was
half-hidden by the wealth of her brown curls. She looked exquisitely
pretty sitting like this, with just the suggestion of sadness in the
listless pose. Marguerite had come here to-day prepared to hate this
young girl, who in a few brief days had stolen not only Armand's heart,
but his allegiance to his chief, and his trust in him. Since last
night, when she had seen her brother sneak silently past her like a
thief in the night, she had nurtured thoughts of ill-will and anger
But hatred and anger had melted at the sight of this child.
Marguerite, with the perfect understanding born of love itself,
had soon realised the charm which a woman like Mademoiselle Lange
must of necessity exercise over a chivalrous, enthusiastic nature
like Armand's. The sense of protection--the strongest perhaps
that exists in a good man's heart--would draw him irresistibly to
this beautiful child, with the great, appealing eyes, and the look
of pathos that pervaded the entire face. Marguerite, looking in
silence on the--dainty picture before her, found it in her heart
to forgive Armand for disobeying his chief when those eyes
beckoned to him in a contrary direction.
How could he, how could any chivalrous man endure the thought of
this delicate, fresh flower lying crushed and drooping in the
hands of monsters who respected neither courage nor purity? And
Armand had been more than human, or mayhap less, if he had indeed
consented to leave the fate of the girl whom he had sworn to love
and protect in other hands than his own.
It seemed almost as if Jeanne was conscious of the fixity of
Marguerite's gaze, for though she did not turn to look at her, the
flush gradually deepened in her cheeks.
"Mademoiselle Lange," said Marguerite gently, "do you not feel
that you can trust me?"
She held out her two hands to the girl, and Jeanne slowly turned
to her. The next moment she was kneeling at Marguerite's feet,
and kissing the beautiful kind hands that had been stretched out
to her with such sisterly love.
"Indeed, indeed, I do trust you," she said, and looked with
tear-dimmed eyes in the pale face above her. "I have longed for
some one in whom I could confide. I have been so lonely lately,
With an impatient little gesture she brushed away the tears which
had gathered in her eyes.
"What has Armand been doing?" asked Marguerite with an encouraging
"Oh, nothing to grieve me!" replied the young girl eagerly, "for
he is kind and good, and chivalrous and noble. Oh, I love him
with all my heart! I loved him from the moment that I set eyes on
him, and then he came to see me--perhaps you know! And he talked
so beautiful about England, and so nobly about his leader the
Scarlet Pimpernel--have you heard of him?"
"Yes," said Marguerite, smiling. "I have heard of him."
"It was that day that citizen Heron came with his soldiers! Oh!
you do not know citizen Heron. He is the most cruel man in
France. In Paris he is hated by every one, and no one is safe
from his spies. He came to arrest Armand, but I was able to fool
him and to save Armand. And after that," she added with charming
naivete, "I felt as if, having saved Armand's life, he belonged to
me--and his love for me had made me his."
"Then I was arrested," she continued after a slight pause, and at
the recollection of what she had endured then her fresh voice
still trembled with horror.
"They dragged me to prison, and I spent two days in a dark cell,
She hid her face in her hands, whilst a few sobs shook her whole
frame; then she resumed more calmly:
"I had seen nothing of Armand. I wondered where he was, and I
knew that he would be eating out his heart with anxiety for me.
But God was watching over me. At first I was transferred to the
Temple prison, and there a kind creature--a sort of man-of-all
work in the prison took compassion on me. I do not know how he
contrived it, but one morning very early he brought me some filthy
old rags which he told me to put on quickly, and when I had done
that he bade me follow him. Oh! he was a very dirty, wretched man
himself, but he must have had a kind heart. He took me by the
hand and made me carry his broom and brushes. Nobody took much
notice of us, the dawn was only just breaking, and the passages
were very dark and deserted; only once some soldiers began to
chaff him about me: 'C'est ma fille--quoi?' he said roughly. I
very nearly laughed then, only I had the good sense to restrain
myself, for I knew that my freedom, and perhaps my life, depended
on my not betraying myself. My grimy, tattered guide took me with
him right through the interminable corridors of that awful building,
whilst I prayed fervently to God for him and for myself. We got out
by one of the service stairs and exit, and then he dragged me through
some narrow streets until we came to a corner where a covered cart
stood waiting. My kind friend told me to get into the cart, and then
he bade the driver on the box take me straight to a house in the Rue
St. Germain l'Auxerrois. Oh! I was infinitely grateful to the poor
creature who had helped me to get out of that awful prison, and I
would gladly have given him some money, for I am sure he was very
poor; but I had none by me. He told me that I should be quite safe
in the house in the Rue St. Germain l'Auxerrois, and begged me to
wait there patiently for a few days until I heard from one who had
my welfare at heart, and who would further arrange for my safety."
Marguerite had listened silently to this narrative so naively told
by this child, who obviously had no idea to whom she owed her
freedom and her life. While the girl talked, her mind could
follow with unspeakable pride and happiness every phase of that
scene in the early dawn, when that mysterious, ragged
man-of-all-work, unbeknown even to the woman whom he was saving,
risked his own noble life for the sake of her whom his friend and
"And did you never see again the kind man to whom you owe your
life?" she asked.
"No!" replied Jeanne. "I never saw him since; but when I arrived
at the Rue St. Germain l'Auxerrois I was told by the good people
who took charge of me that the ragged man-of-all-work had been
none other than the mysterious Englishman whom Armand reveres, he
whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"But you did not stay very long in the Rue St. Germain
l'Auxerrois, did you?"
"No. Only three days. The third day I received a communique from
the Committee of General Security, together with an unconditional
certificate of safety. It meant that I was free--quite free. Oh!
I could scarcely believe it. I laughed and I cried until the
people in the house thought that I had gone mad. The past few
days had been such a horrible nightmare."
"And then you saw Armand again?"
"Yes. They told him that I was free. And he came here to see me.
He often comes; he will be here anon."
"But are you not afraid on his account and your own? He is--he
must be still--'suspect'; a well-known adherent of the Scarlet
Pimpernel, he would be safer out of Paris."
"No! oh, no! Armand is in no danger. He, too, has an unconditional
certificate of safety."
"An unconditional certificate of safety?" asked Marguerite, whilst
a deep frown of grave puzzlement appeared between her brows.
"What does that mean?
"It means that he is free to come and go as he likes; that neither
he nor I have anything to fear from Heron and his awful spies.
Oh! but for that sad and careworn look on Armand's face we could
be so happy; but he is so unlike himself. He is Armand and yet
another; his look at times quite frightens me."
"Yet you know why he is so sad," said Marguerite in a strange,
toneless voice which she seemed quite unable to control, for that
tonelessness came from a terrible sense of suffocation, of a
feeling as if her heart-strings were being gripped by huge, hard
"Yes, I know," said Jeanne half hesitatingly, as if knowing, she
was still unconvinced.
"His chief, his comrade, the friend of whom you speak, the Scarlet
Pimpernel, who risked his life in order to save yours,
mademoiselle, is a prisoner in the hands of those that hate him."
Marguerite had spoken with sudden vehemence. There was almost an
appeal in her voice now, as if she were trying not to convince
Jeanne only, but also herself, of something that was quite simple,
quite straightforward, and yet which appeared to be receding from
her, an intangible something, a spirit that was gradually yielding
to a force as yet unborn, to a phantom that had not yet emerged
from out chaos.
But Jeanne seemed unconscious of all this. Her mind was absorbed
in Armand, the man whom she loved in her simple, whole-hearted
way, and who had seemed so different of late.
"Oh, yes!" she said with a deep, sad sigh, whilst the ever-ready
tears once more gathered in her eyes, "Armand is very unhappy
because of him. The Scarlet Pimpernel was his friend; Armand
loved and revered him. Did you know," added the girl, turning
large, horror-filled eyes on Marguerite, "that they want some
information from him about the Dauphin, and to force him to give
"Yes, I know," said Marguerite.
"Can you wonder, then, that Armand is unhappy. Oh! last night,
after he went from me, I cried for hours, just because he had
looked so sad. He no longer talks of happy England, of the
cottage we were to have, and of the Kentish orchards in May. He
has not ceased to love me, for at times his love seems so great
that I tremble with a delicious sense of fear. But oh! his love
for me no longer makes him happy."
Her head had gradually sunk lower and lower on her breast, her
voice died down in a murmur broken by heartrending sighs. Every
generous impulse in Marguerite's noble nature prompted her to take
that sorrowing child in her arms, to comfort her if she could, to
reassure her if she had the power. But a strange icy feeling had
gradually invaded her heart, even whilst she listened to the simple
unsophisticated talk of Jeanne Lange. Her hands felt numb and
clammy, and instinctively she withdrew away from the near vicinity
of the girl. She felt as if the room, the furniture in it, even the
window before her were dancing a wild and curious dance, and that
from everywhere around strange whistling sounds reached her ears,
which caused her head to whirl and her brain to reel.
Jeanne had buried her head in her hands. She was crying--softly,
almost humbly at first, as if half ashamed of her grief; then,
suddenly it seemed, as if she could not contain herself any
longer, a heavy sob escaped her throat and shook her whole
delicate frame with its violence. Sorrow no longer would be
gainsaid, it insisted on physical expression--that awful tearing
of the heart-strings which leaves the body numb and panting with
In a moment Marguerite had forgotten; the dark and shapeless
phantom that had knocked at the gate of her soul was relegated
back into chaos. It ceased to be, it was made to shrivel and to
burn in the great seething cauldron of womanly sympathy. What
part this child had played in the vast cataclysm of misery which
had dragged a noble-hearted enthusiast into the dark torture-chamber,
whence the only outlet led to the guillotine, she--Marguerite Blakeney
--did not know; what part Armand, her brother, had played in it, that
she would not dare to guess; all that she knew was that here was a
loving heart that was filled with pain--a young, inexperienced soul
that was having its first tussle with the grim realities of life--
and every motherly instinct in Marguerite was aroused.
She rose and gently drew the young girl up from her knees, and then
closer to her; she pillowed the grief-stricken head against her
shoulder, and murmured gentle, comforting words into the tiny ear.
"I have news for Armand," she whispered, "that will comfort him, a
message--a letter from his friend. You will see, dear, that when
Armand reads it he will become a changed man; you see, Armand
acted a little foolishly a few days ago. His chief had given him
orders which he disregarded--he was so anxious about you--he
should have obeyed; and now, mayhap, he feels that his disobedience
may have been the--the innocent cause of much misery to others; that
is, no doubt, the reason why he is so sad. The letter from his friend
will cheer him, you will see."
"Do you really think so, madame?" murmured Jeanne, in whose
tear-stained eyes the indomitable hopefulness of youth was already
striving to shine.
"I am sure of it," assented Marguerite.
And for the moment she was absolutely sincere. The phantom had
entirely vanished. She would even, had he dared to re-appear,
have mocked and derided him for his futile attempt at turning the
sorrow in her heart to a veritable hell of bitterness.
The two women, both so young still, but each of them with a mark
of sorrow already indelibly graven in her heart, were clinging to
one another, bound together by the strong bond of sympathy. And
but for the sadness of it all it were difficult to conjure up a
more beautiful picture than that which they presented as they
stood side by side; Marguerite, tall and stately as an exquisite
lily, with the crown of her ardent hair and the glory of her deep
blue eyes, and Jeanne Lange, dainty and delicate, with the brown
curls and the child-like droop of the soft, moist lips.
Thus Armand saw them when, a moment or two later, entered
unannounced. He had pushed open the door and looked on the two
women silently for a second or two; on the girl whom he loved so
dearly, for whose sake he had committed the great, the unpardonable
sin which would send him forever henceforth, Cain-like, a wanderer
on the face of the earth; and the other, his sister, her whom a
Judas act would condemn to lonely sorrow and widowhood.
He could have cried out in an agony of remorse, and it was the
groan of acute soul anguish which escaped his lips that drew
Marguerite's attention to his presence.
Even though many things that Jeanne Lange had said had prepared
her for a change in her brother, she was immeasurably shocked by
his appearance. He had always been slim and rather below the
average in height, but now his usually upright and trim figure
seemed to have shrunken within itself; his clothes hung baggy on
his shoulders, his hands appeared waxen and emaciated, but the
greatest change was in his face, in the wide circles round the
eyes, that spoke of wakeful nights, in the hollow cheeks, and the
mouth that had wholly forgotten how to smile.
Percy after a week's misery immured in a dark and miserable
prison, deprived of food and rest, did not look such a physical
wreck as did Armand St. Just, who was free.
Marguerite's heart reproached her for what she felt had been
neglect, callousness on her part. Mutely, within herself, she
craved his forgiveness for the appearance of that phantom which
should never have come forth from out that chaotic hell which had
"Armand!" she cried.
And the loving arms that had guided his baby footsteps long ago,
the tender hands that had wiped his boyish tears, were stretched
out with unalterable love toward him.
"I have a message for you, dear," she said gently--"a letter from
him. Mademoiselle Jeanne allowed me to wait here for you until
Silently, like a little shy mouse, Jeanne had slipped out of the
room. Her pure love for Armand had ennobled every one of her
thoughts, and her innate kindliness and refinement had already
suggested that brother and sister would wish to be alone. At the
door she had turned and met Armand's look. That look had
satisfied her; she felt that in it she had read the expression of
his love, and to it she had responded with a glance that spoke of
hope for a future meeting.
As soon as the door had closed on Jeanne Lange, Armand, with an
impulse that refused to be checked, threw himself into his
sister's arms. The present, with all its sorrows, its remorse and
its shame, had sunk away; only the past remained--the unforgettable
past, when Marguerite was "little mother"--the soother, the comforter,
the healer, the ever-willing receptacle wherein he had been wont to
pour the burden of his childish griefs, of his boyish escapades.
Conscious that she could not know everything--not yet, at any
rate--he gave himself over to the rapture of this pure embrace,
the last time, mayhap, that those fond arms would close round him
in unmixed tenderness, the last time that those fond lips would
murmur words of affection and of comfort.
To-morrow those same lips would, perhaps, curse the traitor, and
the small hand be raised in wrath, pointing an avenging finger on
"Little mother," he whispered, babbling like a child, "it is good
to see you again."
"And I have brought you a message from Percy," she said, "a letter
which he begged me to give you as soon as maybe."
"You have seen him?" he asked.
She nodded silently, unable to speak. Not now, not when her
nerves were strung to breaking pitch, would she trust herself to
speak of that awful yesterday. She groped in the folds of her
gown and took the packet which Percy had given her for Armand. It
felt quite bulky in her hand.
"There is quite a good deal there for you to read, dear," she
said. "Percy begged me to give you this, and then to let you read
it when you were alone."
She pressed the packet into his hand. Armand's face was ashen
pale. He clung to her with strange, nervous tenacity; the paper
which he held in one hand seemed to Sear his fingers as with a
"I will slip away now," she said, for strangely enough since
Percy's message had been in Armand's hands she was once again
conscious of that awful feeling of iciness round her heart, a
sense of numbness that paralysed her very thoughts.
"You will make my excuses to Mademoiselle Lange," she said, trying
to smile. "When you have read, you will wish to see her alone."
Gently she disengaged herself from Armand's grasp and made for the
door. He appeared dazed, staring down at that paper which was
scorching his fingers. Only when her hand was on the latch did he
seem to realise that she was going.
"Little mother," came involuntarily to his lips.
She came straight back to him and took both his wrists in her
small hands. She was taller than he, and his head was slightly
bent forward. Thus she towered over him, loving but strong, her
great, earnest eyes searching his soul.
"When shall I see you again, little mother?" he asked.
"Read your letter, dear," she replied, "and when you have read it,
if you care to impart its contents to me, come to-night to my
lodgings, Quai de la Ferraille, above the saddler's shop. But if
there is aught in it that you do not wish me to know, then do not
come; I shall understand. Good-bye, dear."
She took his head between her two cold hands, and as it was still
bowed she placed a tender kiss, as of a long farewell, upon his
Then she went out of the room.
Armand sat in the armchair in front of the fire. His head rested
against one hand; in the other he held the letter written by the
friend whom he had betrayed.
Twice he had read it now, and already was every word of that
minute, clear writing graven upon the innermost fibres of his
body, upon the most secret cells of his brain.
Armand, I know. I knew even before Chauvelin came to me, and
stood there hoping to gloat over the soul-agony a man who finds
that he has been betrayed by his dearest friend. But that d--d
reprobate did not get that satisfaction, for I was prepared. Not
only do I know, Armand, but I UNDERSTAND. I, who do not know what
love is, have realised how small a thing is honour, loyalty, or
friendship when weighed in the balance of a loved one's need.
To save Jeanne you sold me to Heron and his crowd. We are men,
Armand, and the word forgiveness has only been spoken once these
past two thousand years, and then it was spoken by Divine lips.
But Marguerite loves you, and mayhap soon you will be all that is
left her to love on this earth. Because of this she must never
know .... As for you, Armand--well, God help you! But meseems
that the hell which you are enduring now is ten thousand times
worse than mine. I have heard your furtive footsteps in the
corridor outside the grated window of this cell, and would not
then have exchanged my hell for yours. Therefore, Armand, and
because Marguerite loves you, I would wish to turn to you in the
hour that I need help. I am in a tight corner, but the hour may
come when a comrade's hand might mean life to me. I have thought
of you, Armand partly because having taken more than my life, your
own belongs to me, and partly because the plan which I have in my
mind will carry with it grave risks for the man who stands by me.
I swore once that never would I risk a comrade's life to save mine
own; but matters are so different now ... we are both in hell,
Armand, and I in striving to get out of mine will be showing you a
way out of yours.
Will you retake possession of your lodgings in the Rue de la Croix
Blanche? I should always know then where to find you on an
emergency. But if at any time you receive another letter from me,
be its contents what they may, act in accordance with the letter,
and send a copy of it at once to Ffoulkes or to Marguerite. Keep
in close touch with them both. Tell her I so far forgave your
disobedience (there was nothing more) that I may yet trust my life
and mine honour in your hands.
I shall have no means of ascertaining definitely whether you will
do all that I ask; but somehow, Armand, I know that you will.
For the third time Armand read the letter through.
"But, Armand," he repeated, murmuring the words softly tinder his
breath, "I know that you will."
Prompted by some indefinable instinct, moved by a force that
compelled, he allowed himself to glide from the chair on to the
floor, on to his knees.
All the pent-up bitterness, the humiliation, the shame of the past
few days, surged up from his heart to his lips in one great cry of
"My God!" he whispered, "give me the chance of giving my life for
Alone and unwatched, he gave himself over for a few moments to the
almost voluptuous delight of giving free rein to his grief. The
hot Latin blood in him, tempestuous in all its passions, was
firing his heart and brain now with the glow of devotion and of
The calm, self-centred Anglo-Saxon temperament--the almost
fatalistic acceptance of failure without reproach yet without
despair, which Percy's letter to him had evidenced in so marked a
manner--was, mayhap, somewhat beyond the comprehension of this
young enthusiast, with pure Gallic blood in his veins, who was
ever wont to allow his most elemental passions to sway his actions.
But though he did not altogether understand, Armand St. Just could
fully appreciate. All that was noble and loyal in him rose
triumphant from beneath the devastating ashes of his own shame.
Soon his mood calmed down, his look grew less wan and haggard.
Hearing Jeanne's discreet and mouselike steps in the next room, he
rose quickly and hid the letter in the pocket of his coat.
She came in and inquired anxiously about Marguerite; a hurriedly
expressed excuse from him, however, satisfied her easily enough.
She wanted to be alone with Armand, happy to see that he held his
head more erect to-day, and that the look as of a hunted creature
had entirely gone from his eyes.
She ascribed this happy change to Marguerite, finding it in her
heart to be grateful to the sister for having accomplished what
the fiancee had failed to do.
For awhile they remained together, sitting side by side, speaking
at times, but mostly silent, seeming to savour the return of
truant happiness. Armand felt like a sick man who has obtained a
sudden surcease from pain. He looked round him with a kind of
melancholy delight on this room which he had entered for the first
time less than a fortnight ago, and which already was so full of
Those first hours spent at the feet of Jeanne Lange, how exquisite
they had been, how fleeting in the perfection of their happiness!
Now they seemed to belong to a far distant past, evanescent like
the perfume of violets, swift in their flight like the winged steps
of youth. Blakeney's letter had effectually taken the bitter sting
from out his remorse, but it had increased his already over-heavy
load of inconsolable sorrow.
Later in the day he turned his footsteps in the direction of the
river, to the house in the Quai de la Ferraille above the saddler's
shop. Marguerite had returned alone from the expedition to the Rue
de Charonne. Whilst Sir Andrew took charge of the little party of
fugitives and escorted them out of Paris, she came hack to her
lodgings in order to collect her belongings, preparatory to taking
up her quarters in the house of Lucas, the old-clothes dealer. She
returned also because she hoped to see Armand.
"If you care to impart the contents of the letter to me, come to
my lodgings to-night," she had said.
All day a phantom had haunted her, the phantom of an agonising
But now the phantom had vanished never to return. Armand was
sitting close beside her, and he told her that the chief had
selected him amongst all the others to stand by him inside the
walls of Paris until the last.
"I shall mayhap," thus closed that precious document, "have no
means of ascertaining definitely whether you will act in
accordance with this letter. But somehow, Armand, I know that you
"T know that you will, Armand," reiterated Marguerite fervently.
She had only been too eager to be convinced; the dread arid dark
suspicion which had been like a hideous poisoned sting had only
vaguely touched her soul; it had not gone in very deeply. How
could it, when in its death-dealing passage it encountered the
rampart of tender, almost motherly love?
Armand, trying to read his sister's thoughts in the depths of her
blue eyes, found the look in them limpid and clear. Percy's
message to Armand had reassured her just as he had intended that
it should do. Fate had dealt over harshly with her as it was, and
Blakeney's remorse for the sorrow which he had already caused her,
was scarcely less keen than Armand's. He did not wish her to bear
the intolerable burden of hatred against her brother; and by
binding St. Just close to him at the supreme hour of danger he
hoped to prove to the woman whom he loved so passionately that
Armand was worthy of trust.
THE LAST PHASE
"Well? How is it now?"
"The last phase, I think."
"He will yield?"
"Bah! you have said it yourself often enough; those English are
"It takes time to hack them to pieces, perhaps. In this case even
you, citizen Chauvelin, said that it would take time. Well, it
has taken just seventeen days, and now the end is in sight."
It was close on midnight in the guard-room which gave on the
innermost cell of the Conciergerie. Heron had just visited the
prisoner as was his wont at this hour of the night. He had
watched the changing of the guard, inspected the night-watch,
questioned the sergeant in charge, and finally he had been on the
point of retiring to his own new quarters in the house of Justice,
in the near vicinity of the Conciergerie, when citizen Chauvelin
entered the guard-room unexpectedly and detained his colleague
with the peremptory question:
"How is it now?"
"If you are so near the end, citizen Heron," he now said, sinking
his voice to a whisper, "why not make a final effort and end it
"I wish I could; the anxiety is wearing me out more n him," added
with a jerky movement of the head in direction of the inner cell.
"Shall I try?" rejoined Chauvelin grimly.
"Yes, an you wish."
Citizen Heron's long limbs were sprawling on a guard-room chair.
In this low narrow room he looked like some giant whose body had
been carelessly and loosely put together by a 'prentice hand in
the art of manufacture. His broad shoulders were bent, probably
under the weight of anxiety to which he had referred, and his
head, with the lank, shaggy hair overshadowing the brow, was sunk
deep down on his chest.
Chauvelin looked on his friend and associate with no small measure
of contempt. He would no doubt have preferred to conclude the
present difficult transaction entirely in his own way and alone;
but equally there was no doubt that the Committee of Public Safety
did not trust him quite so fully as it used to do before the
fiasco at Calais and the blunders of Boulogne. Heron, on the
other hand, enjoyed to its outermost the confidence of his
colleagues; his ferocious cruelty and his callousness were well
known, whilst physically, owing to his great height and bulky if
loosely knit frame, he had a decided advantage over his trim and
As far as the bringing of prisoners to trial was concerned, the
chief agent of the Committee of General Security had been given a
perfectly free hand by the decree of the 27th Nivose. At first,
therefore, he had experienced no difficulty when he desired to
keep the Englishman in close confinement for a time without
hurrying on that summary trial and condemnation which the populace
had loudly demanded, and to which they felt that they were
entitled as to a public holiday. The death of the Scarlet
Pimpernel on the guillotine had been a spectacle promised by every
demagogue who desired to purchase a few votes by holding out
visions of pleasant doings to come; and during the first few days
the mob of Paris was content to enjoy the delights of expectation.
But now seventeen days had gone by and still the Englishman was
not being brought to trial. The pleasure-loving public was waxing
impatient, and earlier this evening, when citizen Heron had shown
himself in the stalls of the national theatre, he was greeted by a
crowded audience with decided expressions of disapproval and open
"What of the Scarlet Pimpernel?"
It almost looked as if he would have to bring that accursed
Englishman to the guillotine without having wrested from him the
secret which he would have given a fortune to possess. Chauvelin,
who had also been present at the theatre, had heard the
expressions of discontent; hence his visit to his colleague at
this late hour of the night.
"Shall I try?" he had queried with some impatience, and a deep
sigh of satisfaction escaped his thin lips when the chief agent,
wearied and discouraged, had reluctantly agreed.
"Let the men make as much noise as they like," he added with an
enigmatical smile. "The Englishman and I will want an
accompaniment to our pleasant conversation."
Heron growled a surly assent, and without another word Chauvelin
turned towards the inner cell. As he stepped in he allowed the
iron bar to fall into its socket behind him. Then he went farther
into the room until the distant recess was fully revealed to him.
His tread had been furtive and almost noiseless. Now he paused,
for he had caught sight the prisoner. For a moment he stood quite
still, with hands clasped behind his back in his wonted
attitude--still save for a strange, involuntary twitching of his
mouth, and the nervous clasping and interlocking of his fingers
behind his back. He was savouring to its utmost fulsomeness the
supremest joy which animal man can ever know--the joy of looking
on a fallen enemy.
Blakeney sat at the table with one arm resting on it, the
emaciated hand tightly clutched, the body leaning forward, the
eyes looking into nothingness.
For the moment he was unconscious of Chauvelin's presence, and the
latter could gaze on him to the full content of his heart.
Indeed, to all outward appearances there sat a man whom privations
of every sort and kind, the want of fresh air, of proper food,
above all, of rest, had worn down physically to a shadow. There
was not a particle of colour in cheeks or lips, the skin was grey
in hue, the eyes looked like deep caverns, wherein the glow of
fever was all that was left of life.
Chauvelin looked on in silence, vaguely stirred by something that
he could not define, something that right through his triumphant
satisfaction, his hatred and final certainty of revenge, had
roused in him a sense almost of admiration.
He gazed on the noiseless figure of the man who had endured so
much for an ideal, and as he gazed it seemed to him as if the
spirit no longer dwelt in the body, but hovered round in the dank,
stuffy air of the narrow cell above the head of the lonely
prisoner, crowning it with glory that was no longer of this earth.
Of this the looker-on was conscious despite himself, of that and
of the fact that stare as he might, and with perception rendered
doubly keen by hate, he could not, in spite of all, find the least
trace of mental weakness in that far-seeing gaze which seemed to
pierce the prison walls, nor could he see that bodily weakness had
tended to subdue the ruling passions.
Sir Percy Blakeney--a prisoner since seventeen days in close,
solitary confinement, half-starved, deprived of rest, and of that
mental and physical activity which had been the very essence of
life to him hitherto--might be outwardly but a shadow of his
former brilliant self, but nevertheless he was still that same
elegant English gentleman, that prince of dandies whom Chauvelin
had first met eighteen months ago at the most courtly Court in
Europe. His clothes, despite constant wear and the want of
attention from a scrupulous valet, still betrayed the perfection
of London tailoring; he had put them on with meticulous care, they
were free from the slightest particle of dust, and the filmy folds
of priceless Mechlin still half-veiled the delicate whiteness of
his shapely hands.
And in the pale, haggard face, in the whole pose of body and of
arm, there was still the expression of that indomitable strength
of will, that reckless daring, that almost insolent challenge to
Fate; it was there untamed, uncrushed. Chauvelin himself could not
deny to himself its presence or its force. He felt that behind
that smooth brow, which looked waxlike now, the mind was still
alert, scheming, plotting, striving for freedom, for conquest and
for power, and rendered even doubly keen and virile by the ardour
of supreme self-sacrifice.
Chauvelin now made a slight movement and suddenly Blakeney became
conscious of his presence, and swift as a flash a smile lit up his
"Why! if it is not my engaging friend Monsieur Chambertin," he
He rose and stepped forward in the most approved fashion
prescribed by the elaborate etiquette of the time. But Chauvelin
smiled grimly and a look of almost animal lust gleamed in his pale
eyes, for he had noted that as he rose Sir Percy had to seek the
support of the table, even whilst a dull film appeared to gather
over his eyes.
The gesture had been quick and cleverly disguised, but it had been
there nevertheless--that and the livid hue that overspread the
face as if consciousness was threatening to go. All of which was
sufficient still further to assure the looker-on that that mighty
physical strength was giving way at last, that strength which he
had hated in his enemy almost as much as he had hated the thinly
veiled insolence of his manner.
"And what procures me, sir, the honour of your visit?" continued
Blakeney, who had--at any rate, outwardly soon recovered himself,
and whose voice, though distinctly hoarse and spent, rang quite
cheerfully across the dank narrow cell.
"My desire for your welfare, Sir Percy," replied Chauvelin with
"La, sir; but have you not gratified that desire already, to an
extent which leaves no room for further solicitude? But I pray
you, will you not sit down?" he continued, turning back toward the
table. "I was about to partake of the lavish supper which your
friends have provided for me. Will you not share it, sir? You are
most royally welcome, and it will mayhap remind you of that supper
we shared together in Calais, eh? when you, Monsieur Chambertin,
were temporarily in holy orders."
He laughed, offering his enemy a chair, and pointed with inviting
gesture to the hunk of brown bread and the mug of water which
stood on the table.
"Such as it is, sir," he said with a pleasant smile, "it is yours
Chauvelin sat down. He held his lower lip tightly between his
teeth, so tightly that a few drops of blood appeared upon its
narrow surface. He was making vigorous efforts to keep his temper
under control, for he would not give his enemy the satisfaction of
seeing him resent his insolence. He could afford to keep calm now
that victory was at last in sight, now that he knew that he had
but to raise a finger, and those smiling, impudent lips would be
closed forever at last.
"Sir Percy," he resumed quietly, "no doubt it affords you a
certain amount of pleasure to aim your sarcastic shafts at me. I
will not begrudge you that pleasure; in your present position,
sir, your shafts have little or no sting."
"And I shall have but few chances left to aim them at your
charming self," interposed Blakeney, who had drawn another chair
close to the table and was now sitting opposite his enemy, with
the light of the lamp falling full on his own face, as if he
wished his enemy to know that he had nothing to hide, no thought,
no hope, no fear.
"Exactly," said Chauvelin dryly. "That being the case, Sir Percy,
what say you to no longer wasting the few chances which are left
to you for safety? The time is getting on. You are not, I
imagine, quite as hopeful as you were even a week ago, ... you
have never been over-comfortable in this cell, why not end this
unpleasant state of affairs now--once and for all? You'll not have
cause to regret it. My word on it."
Sir Percy leaned back in his chair. He yawned loudly and
"I pray you, sir, forgive me," he said. "Never have I been so
d--d fatigued. I have not slept for more than a fortnight."
"Exactly, Sir Percy. A night's rest would do you a world of
"A night, sir?" exclaimed Blakeney with what seemed like an echo
of his former inimitable laugh. "La! I should want a week."
"I am afraid we could not arrange for that, but one night would
greatly refresh you."
"You are right, sir, you are right; but those d--d fellows in the
next room make so much noise."
"I would give strict orders that perfect quietude reigned in the
guard-room this night," said Chauvelin, murmuring softly, and
there was a gentle purr in his voice, "and that you were left
undisturbed for several hours. I would give orders that a
comforting supper be served to you at once, and that everything be
done to minister to your wants."
"That sounds d--d alluring, sir. Why did you not suggest this
"You were so--what shall I say--so obstinate, Sir Percy?"
"Call it pig-headed, my dear Monsieur Chambertin," retorted
Blakeney gaily, "truly you would oblige me."
"In any case you, sir, were acting in direct opposition to your
"Therefore you came," concluded Blakeney airily, "like the good
Samaritan to take compassion on me and my troubles, and to lead me
straight away to comfort, a good supper and a downy bed."
"Admirably put, Sir Percy," said Chauvelin blandly; "that is
exactly my mission."
"How will you set to work, Monsieur Chambertin?"
"Quite easily, if you, Sir Percy, will yield to the persuasion of
my friend citizen Heron."
"Why, yes! He is anxious to know where little Capet is. A
reasonable whim, you will own, considering that the disappearance
of the child is causing him grave anxiety."
"And you, Monsieur Chambertin?" queried Sir Percy with that
suspicion of insolence in his manner which had the power to
irritate his enemy even now. "And yourself, sir; what are your
wishes in the matter?"
"Mine, Sir Percy?" retorted Chauvelin. "Mine? Why, to tell you
the truth, the fate of little Capet interests me but little. Let
him rot in Austria or in our prisons, I care not which. He'll
never trouble France overmuch, I imagine. The teachings of old
Simon will not tend to make a leader or a king out of the puny
brat whom you chose to drag out of our keeping. My wishes, sir,
are the annihilation of your accursed League, and the lasting
disgrace, if not the death, of its chief."
He had spoken more hotly than he had intended, but all the pent-up
rage of the past eighteen months, the recollections of Calais and
of Boulogne, had all surged up again in his mind, because despite
the closeness of these prison walls, despite the grim shadow of
starvation and of death that beckoned so close at hand, he still
encountered a pair of mocking eyes, fixed with relentless
insolence upon him.
Whilst he spoke Blakeney had once more leaned forward, resting his
elbows upon the table. Now he drew nearer to him the wooden
platter on which reposed that very uninviting piece of dry bread.
With solemn intentness he proceeded to break the bread into
pieces; then he offered the platter to Chauvelin.
"I am sorry," he said pleasantly, "that I cannot you more dainty
fare, sir, but this is all that your friends have supplied me with
He crumbled some of the dry bread in his slender fingers, then
started munching the crumbs with apparent relish. He poured out
some water into the mug and drank it. Then be said with a light
"Even the vinegar which that ruffian Brogard served us at Calais
was preferable to this, do you not imagine so, my good Monsieur
Chauvelin made no reply. Like a feline creature on the prowl, he
was watching the prey that had so nearly succumbed to his talons.
Blakeney's face now was positively ghastly. The effort to speak,
to laugh, to appear unconcerned, was apparently beyond his
strength. His cheeks and lips were livid in hue, the skin clung
like a thin layer of wax to the bones of cheek and jaw, and the
heavy lids that fell over the eyes had purple patches on them like
To a system in such an advanced state of exhaustion the stale
water and dusty bread must have been terribly nauseating, and
Chauvelin himself callous and thirsting for vengeance though he
was, could hardly bear to look calmly on the martyrdom of this man
whom he and his colleagues were torturing in order to gain their
An ashen hue, which seemed like the shadow of the hand of death,
passed over the prisoner's face. Chauvelin felt compelled to avert
his gaze. A feeling that was almost akin to remorse had stirred a
hidden cord in his heart. The feeling did not last--the heart had
been too long atrophied by the constantly recurring spectacles of
cruelties, massacres, and wholesale hecatombs perpetrated in the
past eighteen months in the name of liberty and fraternity to be
capable of a sustained effort in the direction of gentleness or of
pity. Any noble instinct in these revolutionaries had long ago
been drowned in a whirlpool of exploits that would forever sully
the records of humanity; and this keeping of a fellow-creature on
the rack in order to wring from him a Judas-like betrayal was but
a complement to a record of infamy that had ceased by its very
magnitude to weigh upon their souls.
Chauvelin was in no way different from his colleagues; the crimes
in which he had had no hand he had condoned by continuing to serve
the Government that had committed them, and his ferocity in the
present case was increased a thousandfold by his personal hatred
for the man who had so often fooled and baffled him.
When he looked round a second or two later that ephemeral fit of
remorse did its final vanishing; he had once more encountered the
pleasant smile, the laughing if ashen-pale face of his unconquered
"Only a passing giddiness, my dear sir," said Sir Percy lightly.
"As you were saying--"
At the airily-spoken words, at the smile that accompanied them,
Chauvelin had jumped to his feet. There was something almost
supernatural, weird, and impish about the present situation, about
this dying man who, like an impudent schoolboy, seemed to be
mocking Death with his tongue in his cheek, about his laugh that
appeared to find its echo in a widely yawning grave.
"In the name of God, Sir Percy," he said roughly, as he brought
his clenched fist crashing down upon the table, "this situation is
intolerable. Bring it to an end to-night!"
"Why, sir?" retorted Blakeney, "methought you and your kind did
not believe in God."
"No. But you English do."
"We do. But we do not care to hear His name on your lips."
"Then in the name of the wife whom you love--"
But even before the words had died upon his lips, Sir Percy, too,
had risen to his feet.
"Have done, man--have done," he broke in hoarsely, and despite
weakness, despite exhaustion and weariness, there was such a
dangerous look in his hollow eyes as he leaned across the table
that Chauvelin drew back a step or two, and--vaguely fearful--
looked furtively towards the opening into the guard-room. "Have
done," he reiterated for the third time; "do not name her, or by
the living God whom you dared to invoke I'll find strength yet to
smite you in the face."
But Chauvelin, after that first moment of almost superstitious
fear, had quickly recovered his sang-froid.
"Little Capet, Sir Percy," he said, meeting the other's
threatening glance with an imperturbable smile, "tell me where to
find him, and you may yet live to savour the caresses of the most
beautiful woman in England."
He had meant it as a taunt, the final turn of the thumb-screw
applied to a dying man, and he had in that watchful, keen mind of
his well weighed the full consequences of the taunt.
The next moment he had paid to the full the anticipated price.
Sir Percy had picked up the pewter mug from the table--it was
half-filled with brackish water--and with a hand that trembled but
slightly he hurled it straight at his opponent's face.
The heavy mug did not hit citizen Chauvelin; it went crashing
against the stone wall opposite. But the water was trickling from
the top of his head all down his eyes and cheeks. He shrugged his
shoulders with a look of benign indulgence directed at his enemy,
who had fallen back into his chair exhausted with the effort.
Then he took out his handkerchief and calmly wiped the water from
"Not quite so straight a shot as you used to be, Sir Percy," he
The words came out in gasps. He was like a man only partly
conscious. The lips were parted, the eyes closed, the head
leaning against the high back of the chair. For the space of one
second Chauvelin feared that his zeal had outrun his prudence,
that he had dealt a death-blow to a man in the last stage of
exhaustion, where he had only wished to fan the flickering flame
of life. Hastily--for the seconds seemed precious--he ran to the
opening that led into the guard-room.
"Brandy--quick!" he cried.
Heron looked up, roused from the semi-somnolence in which he had
lain for the past half-hour. He disentangled his long limbs from
out the guard-room chair.
"Eh?" he queried. "What is it?"
"Brandy," reiterated Chauvelin impatiently; "the prisoner has
"Bah!" retorted the other with a callous shrug of the shoulders,
"you are not going to revive him with brandy, I imagine."
"No. But you will, citizen Heron," rejoined the other dryly, "for
if you do not he'll be dead in an hour!"
"Devils in hell!" exclaimed Heron, "you have not killed him?
You--you d--d fool!"
He was wide awake enough now; wide awake and shaking with fury.
Almost foaming at the mouth and uttering volleys of the choicest
oaths, he elbowed his way roughly through the groups of soldiers
who were crowding round the centre table of the guard-room,
smoking and throwing dice or playing cards. They made way for him
as hurriedly as they could, for it was not safe to thwart the
citizen agent when he was in a rage.
Heron walked across to the opening and lifted the iron bar. With
scant ceremony he pushed his colleague aside arid strode into the
cell, whilst Chauvelin, seemingly not resenting the other's ruffianly
manners and violent language, followed close upon his heel.
In the centre of the room both men paused, and Heron turned with a
surly growl to his friend.
"You vowed he would be dead in an hour," he said reproachfully.
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"It does not look like it now certainly," he said dryly.
Blakeney was sitting--as was his wont--close to the table, with
one arm leaning on it, the other, tightly clenched, resting upon
his knee. A ghost of a smile hovered round his lips.
"Not in an hour, citizen Heron," he said, and his voice flow was
scarce above a whisper, "nor yet in two."
"You are a fool, man," said Heron roughly. "You have had seventeen
days of this. Are you not sick of it?"
"Heartily, my dear friend," replied Blakeney a little more firmly.
"Seventeen days," reiterated the other, nodding his shaggy head;
"you came here on the 2nd of Pluviose, today is the 19th."
"The 19th Pluviose?" interposed Sir Percy, and a strange gleam
suddenly flashed in his eyes. "Demn it, sir, and in Christian
parlance what may that day be?"
"The 7th of February at your service, Sir Percy," replied
"I thank you, sir. In this d--d hole I had lost count of time."
Chauvelin, unlike his rough and blundering colleague, had been
watching the prisoner very closely for the last moment or two,
conscious of a subtle, undefinable change that had come over the
man during those few seconds while he, Chauvelin, had thought him
dying. The pose was certainly the old familiar one, the head
erect, the hand clenched, the eyes looking through and beyond the
stone walls; but there was an air of listlessness in the stoop of
the shoulders, and--except for that one brief gleam just now--a
look of more complete weariness round the hollow eyes! To the keen
watcher it appeared as if that sense of living power, of
unconquered will and defiant mind was no longer there, and as if
he himself need no longer fear that almost supersensual thrill
which had a while ago kindled in him a vague sense of
admiration--almost of remorse.
Even as he gazed, Blakeney slowly turned his eyes full upon him.
Chauvelin's heart gave a triumphant bound.
With a mocking smile he met the wearied look, the pitiable appeal.
His turn had come at last--his turn to mock and to exult. He knew
that what he was watching now was no longer the last phase of a
long and noble martyrdom; it was the end--the inevitable end--that
for which he had schemed and striven, for which he had schooled
his heart to ferocity and callousness that were devilish in their
intensity. It was the end indeed, the slow descent of a soul from
the giddy heights of attempted self-sacrifice, where it had
striven to soar for a time, until the body and the will both
succumbed together and dragged it down with them into the abyss of
submission and of irreparable shame.
Silence reigned in the narrow cell for a few moments, whilst two
human jackals stood motionless over their captured prey.
A savage triumph gleamed in Chauvelin's eyes, and even Heron, dull
and brutal though he was, had become vaguely conscious of the
great change that had come over the prisoner.
Blakeney, with a gesture and a sigh of hopeless exhaustion had
once more rested both his elbows on the table; his head fell heavy
and almost lifeless downward in his arms.
"Curse you, man!" cried Heron almost involuntarily. "Why in the
name of hell did you wait so long?"
Then, as the prisoner made no reply, but only raised his head
slightly, and looked on the other two men with dulled, wearied
eyes, Chauvelin interposed calmly:
"More than a fortnight has been wasted in useless obstinacy, Sir
Percy. Fortunately it is not too late."
"Capet?" said Heron hoarsely, "tell us, where is Capet?"
He leaned across the table, his eyes were bloodshot with the
keenness of his excitement, his voice shook with the passionate
desire for the crowning triumph.
"If you'll only not worry me," murmured the prisoner; and the
whisper came so laboriously and so low that both men were forced
to bend their ears close to the scarcely moving lips; "if you will
let me sleep and rest, and leave me in peace--"
"The peace of the grave, man," retorted Chauvelin roughly; "if you
will only speak. Where is Capet?"
"I cannot tell you; the way is long, the road--intricate."
"I'll lead you to him, if you will give me rest."
"We don't want you to lead us anywhere," growled Heron with a
smothered curse; "tell us where Capet is; we'll find him right
"I cannot explain; the way is intricate; the place off the beaten
track, unknown except to me and my friends."
Once more that shadow, which was so like the passing of the hand
of Death, overspread the prisoner's face; his head rolled back
against the chair.
"He'll die before he can speak," muttered Chauvelin under his
breath. "You usually are well provided with brandy, citizen
The latter no longer demurred. He saw the danger as clearly as
did his colleague. It had been hell's own luck if the prisoner
were to die now when he seemed ready to give in. He produced a
flask from the pocket of his coat, and this he held to Blakeney's
"Beastly stuff," murmured the latter feebly. "I think I'd sooner
"Capet? where is Capet?" reiterated Heron impatiently. "One--two--
three hundred leagues from here. I must let one of my friends know;
he'll communicate with the others; they must be prepared," replied
the prisoner slowly.
Heron uttered a blasphemous oath.
Where is Capet? Tell us where Capet is, or--"
He was like a raging tiger that bad thought to hold its prey and
suddenly realised that it was being snatched from him. He raised
his fist, and without doubt the next moment he would Lave silenced
forever the lips that held the precious secret, but Chauvelin
fortunately was quick enough to seize his wrist.
"Have a care, citizen," he said peremptorily; "have a care! You
called me a fool just now when you thought I had killed the
prisoner. It is his secret we want first; his death can follow
"Yes, but not in this d--d hole," murmured Blakeney.
"On the guillotine if you'll speak," cried Heron, whose exasperation
was getting the better of his self-interest, "but if you'll not speak
then it shall be starvation in this hole--yes, starvation," he growled,
showing a row of large and uneven teeth like those of some mongrel cur,
"for I'll have that door walled in to-night, and not another living
soul shall cross this threshold again until your flesh has rotted on
your bones and the rats have had their fill of you."
The prisoner raised his head slowly, a shiver shook him as if
caused by ague, and his eyes, that appeared almost sightless, now
looked with a strange glance of horror on his enemy.
"I'll die in the open," he whispered, "not in this d--d hole."
"Then tell us where Capet is."
"I cannot; I wish to God I could. But I'll take you to him, I
swear I will. I'll make my friends give him up to you. Do you
think that I would not tell you now, if I could."
Heron, whose every instinct of tyranny revolted against this
thwarting of his will, would have continued to heckle the prisoner
even now, had not Chauvelin suddenly interposed with an
"You'll gain nothing this way, citizen," he said quietly; "the
man's mind is wandering; he is probably quite unable to give you
clear directions at this moment."
"What am I to do, then?" muttered the other roughly.
"He cannot live another twenty-four hours now, and would only grow
more and more helpless as time went on."
"Unless you relax your strict regime with him."
"And if I do we'll only prolong this situation indefinitely; and
in the meanwhile how do we know that the brat is not being
spirited away out of the country?"
The prisoner, with his head once more buried in his arms, had
fallen into a kind of torpor, the only kind of sleep that the
exhausted system would allow. With a brutal gesture Heron shook
him by the shoulder.
"He," he shouted, "none of that, you know. We have not settled
the matter of young Capet yet."
Then, as the prisoner made no movement, and the chief agent
indulged in one of his favourite volleys of oaths, Chauvelin
placed a peremptory hand on his colleague's shoulder.
"I tell you, citizen, that this is no use," he said firmly.
"Unless you are prepared to give up all thoughts of finding Capet,
you must try and curb your temper, and try diplomacy where force
is sure to fail."
"Diplomacy?" retorted the other with a sneer. "Bah! it served you
well at Boulogne last autumn, did it not, citizen Chauvelin?"
"It has served me better now," rejoined the other imperturbably.
"You will own, citizen, that it is my diplomacy which has placed
within your reach the ultimate hope of finding Capet."
"H'm!" muttered the other, "you advised us to starve the prisoner.
Are we any nearer to knowing his secret?"
"Yes. By a fortnight of weariness, of exhaustion and of starvation,
you are nearer to it by the weakness of the man whom in his full
strength you could never hope to conquer."
"But if the cursed Englishman won't speak, and in the meanwhile
dies on my hands--"
"He won't do that if you will accede to his wish. Give him some
good food now, and let him sleep till dawn."
"And at dawn he'll defy me again. I believe now that he has some
scheme in his mind, and means to play us a trick."
"That, I imagine, is more than likely," retorted Chauvelin dryly;
"though," he added with a contemptuous nod of the head directed at
the huddled-up figure of his once brilliant enemy, "neither mind
nor body seem to me to be in a sufficiently active state just now
for hatching plot or intrigue; but even if--vaguely floating
through his clouded mind--there has sprung some little scheme for
evasion, I give you my word, citizen Heron, that you can thwart
him completely, and gain all that you desire, if you will only
follow my advice."
There had always been a great amount of persuasive power in
citizen Chauvelin, ex-envoy of the revolutionary Government of
France at the Court of St. James, and that same persuasive
eloquence did not fail now in its effect on the chief agent of the
Committee of General Security. The latter was made of coarser
stuff than his more brilliant colleague. Chauvelin was like a
wily and sleek panther that is furtive in its movements, that will
lure its prey, watch it, follow it with stealthy footsteps, and
only pounce on it when it is least wary, whilst Heron was more
like a raging bull that tosses its head in a blind, irresponsible
fashion, rushes at an obstacle without gauging its resisting
powers, and allows its victim to slip from beneath its weight
through the very clumsiness and brutality of its assault.
Still Chauvelin had two heavy black marks against him--those of
his failures at Calais and Boulogne. Heron, rendered cautious
both by the deadly danger in which he stood and the sense of his
own incompetence to deal with the present situation, tried to
resist the other's authority as well as his persuasion.
"Your advice was not of great use to citizen Collot last autumn at
Boulogne," he said, and spat on the ground by way of expressing
both his independence and his contempt.
"Still, citizen Heron," retorted Chauvelin with unruffled patience,
"it is the best advice that you are likely to get in the present
emergency. You have eyes to see, have you not? Look on your
prisoner at this moment. Unless something is done, and at once,
too, he will be past negotiating with in the next twenty-four hours;
then what will follow?"
He put his thin hand once more on his colleague's grubby
coat-sleeve, he drew him closer to himself away from the vicinity
of that huddled figure, that captive lion, wrapped in a torpid
somnolence that looked already so like the last long sleep.
"What will follow, citizen Heron?" he reiterated, sinking his
voice to a whisper; "sooner or later some meddlesome busybody who
sits in the Assembly of the Convention will get wind that little
Capet is no longer in the Temple prison, that a pauper child was
substituted for him, and that you, citizen Heron, together with
the commissaries in charge, have thus been fooling the nation and
its representatives for over a fortnight. What will follow then,
And he made an expressive gesture with his outstretched fingers
across his throat.
Heron found no other answer but blasphemy.
"I'll make that cursed Englishman speak yet," he said with a
"You cannot," retorted Chauvelin decisively. "In his present
state he is incapable of it, even if he would, which also is
"Ah! then you do think that he still means to cheat us?"
"Yes, I do. But I also know that he is no longer in a physical
state to do it. No doubt he thinks that he is. A man of that
type is sure to overvalue his own strength; but look at him,
citizen Heron. Surely you must see that we have nothing to fear
from him now."
Heron now was like a voracious creature that has two victims lying
ready for his gluttonous jaws. He was loath to let either of them
go. He hated the very thought of seeing the Englishman being led
out of this narrow cell, where he had kept a watchful eye over him
night and day for a fortnight, satisfied that with every day,
every hour, the chances of escape became more improbable and more
rare; at the same time there was the possibility of the recapture
of little Capet, a possibility which made Heron's brain reel with
the delightful vista of it, and which might never come about if
the prisoner remained silent to the end.
"I wish I were quite sure," he said sullenly, "that you were body
and soul in accord with me."
"I am in accord with you, citizen Heron," rejoined the other
earnestly--"body and soul in accord with you. Do you not believe
that I hate this man--aye! hate him with a hatred ten thousand
times more strong than yours? I want his death--Heaven or hell
alone know how I long for that--but what I long for most is his
lasting disgrace. For that I have worked, citizen Heron--for that
I advised and helped you. When first you captured this man you
wanted summarily to try him, to send him to the guillotine amidst
the joy of the populace of Paris, and crowned with a splendid halo
of martyrdom. That man, citizen Heron, would have baffled you,
mocked you, and fooled you even on the steps of the scaffold. In
the zenith of his strength and of insurmountable good luck you and
all your myrmidons and all the assembled guard of Paris would have
had no power over him. The day that you led him out of this cell
in order to take him to trial or to the guillotine would have been
that of your hopeless discomfiture. Having once walked out of
this cell hale, hearty and alert, be the escort round him ever so
strong, he never would have re-entered it again. Of that I am as
convinced as that I am alive. I know the man; you don't. Mine
are not the only fingers through which he has slipped. Ask
citizen Collot d'Herbois, ask Sergeant Bibot at the barrier of
Menilmontant, ask General Santerre and his guards. They all have
a tale to tell. Did I believe in God or the devil, I should also
believe that this man has supernatural powers and a host of demons
at his beck and call."
"Yet you talk now of letting him walk out of this cell to-morrow?"
"He is a different man now, citizen Heron. On my advice you
placed him on a regime that has counteracted the supernatural
power by simple physical exhaustion, and driven to the four winds
the host of demons who no doubt fled in the face of starvation."
"If only I thought that the recapture of Capet was as vital to you
as it is to me," said Heron, still unconvinced.
"The capture of Capet is just as vital to me as it is to you,"
rejoined Chauvelin earnestly, "if it is brought about through the
instrumentality of the Englishman."
He paused, looking intently on his colleague, whose shifty eyes
encountered his own. Thus eye to eye the two men at last
understood one another.
"Ah!" said Heron with a snort, "I think I understand."
"I am sure that you do," responded Chauvelin dryly. "The disgrace
of this cursed Scarlet Pimpernel and his League is as vital to me,
and more, as the capture of Capet is to you. That is why I showed
you the way how to bring that meddlesome adventurer to his knees;
that is why I will help you now both to find Capet and with his
aid and to wreak what reprisals you like on him in the end."
Heron before he spoke again cast one more look on the prisoner.
The latter had not stirred; his face was hidden, but the hands,
emaciated, nerveless and waxen, like those of the dead, told a
more eloquent tale, mayhap, then than the eyes could do. The
chief agent of the Committee of General Security walked
deliberately round the table until he stood once more close beside
the man from whom he longed with passionate ardour to wrest an
all-important secret. With brutal, grimy hand he raised the head
that lay, sunken and inert, against the table; with callous eyes
he gazed attentively on the face that was then revealed to him, he
looked on the waxen flesh, the hollow eyes, the bloodless lips;
then he shrugged his wide shoulders, and with a laugh that surely
must have caused joy in hell, he allowed the wearied head to fall
back against the outstretched arms, and turned once again to his
"I think you are right, citizen Chauvelin," he said; "there is not
much supernatural power here. Let me hear your advice."
Citizen Chauvelin had drawn his colleague with him to the end of
the cell that was farthest away from the recess, and the table at
which the prisoner was sitting.
Here the noise and hubbub that went on constantly in the guard
room would effectually drown a whispered conversation. Chauvelin
called to the sergeant to hand him a couple of chairs over the
barrier. These he placed against the wall opposite the opening,
and beckoning Heron to sit down, he did likewise, placing himself
close to his colleague.
From where the two men now sat they could see both into the
guard-room opposite them and into the recess at die furthermost
end of the cell.
"First of all," began Chauvelin after a while, and sinking his
voice to a whisper, "let me understand you thoroughly, citizen
Heron. Do you want the death of the Englishman, either to-day or
to-morrow, either in this prison or on the guillotine? For that
now is easy of accomplishment; or do you want, above all, to get
hold of little Capet?"
"It is Capet I want," growled Heron savagely under his breath.
"Capet! Capet! My own neck is dependent on my finding Capet.
Curse you, have I not told you that clearly enough?"
"You have told it me very clearly, citizen Heron; but I wished to
make assurance doubly sure, and also make you Understand that I,
too, want the Englishman to betray little Capet into your hands.
I want that more even than I do his death."
"Then in the name of hell, citizen, give me your advice."
"My advice to you, citizen Heron, is this: Give your prisoner now
just a sufficiency of food to revive him--he will have had a few
moments' sleep--and when he has eaten, and, mayhap, drunk a glass
of wine, he will, no doubt, feel a recrudescence of strength, then
give him pen and ink and paper. He must, as he says, write to one
of his followers, who, in his turn, I suppose, will communicate
with the others, bidding them to be prepared to deliver up little
Capet to us; the letter must make it clear to that crowd of
English gentlemen that their beloved chief is giving up the
uncrowned King of France to us in exchange for his own safety. But
I think you will agree with me, citizen Heron, that it would not
be over-prudent on our part to allow that same gallant crowd to be
forewarned too soon of the pro-posed doings of their chief.
Therefore, I think, we'll explain to the prisoner that his
follower, whom he will first apprise of his intentions, shall
start with us to-morrow on our expedition, and accompany us until
its last stage, when, if it is found necessary, he may be sent on
ahead, strongly escorted of course, and with personal messages
from the gallant Scarlet Pimpernel to the members of his League."
"What will be the good of that?" broke in Heron viciously. "Do
you want one of his accursed followers to be ready to give him a
helping hand on the way if he tries to slip through our fingers?
"Patience, patience, my good Heron!" rejoined Chauvelin with a
placid smile. "Hear me out to the end. Time is precious. You
shall offer what criticism you will when I have finished, but not
"Go on, then. I listen."
"I am not only proposing that one member of the Scarlet Pimpernel
League shall accompany us to-morrow," continued Chauvelin, "but I
would also force the prisoner's wife--Marguerite Blakeney--to
follow in our train."
"A woman? Bah! What for?"
"I will tell you the reason of this presently. In her case I
should not let the prisoner know beforehand that she too will form
a part of our expedition. Let this come as a pleasing surprise for
him. She could join us on our way out of Paris."
"How will you get hold of her?"
"Easily enough. I know where to find her. I traced her myself a
few days ago to a house in the Rue de Charonne, and she is not
likely to have gone away from Paris while her husband was at the
Conciergerie. But this is a digression, let me proceed more
consecutively. The letter, as I have said, being written to-night
by the prisoner to one of his followers, I will myself see that it
is delivered into the right hands. You, citizen Heron, will in the
meanwhile make all arrangements for the journey. We ought to start
at dawn, and we ought to be prepared, especially during the first
fifty leagues of the way, against organised attack in case the
Englishman leads us into an ambush."
"Yes. He might even do that, curse him!" muttered Heron.
"He might, but it is unlikely. Still it is best to be prepared.
Take a strong escort, citizen, say twenty or thirty men, picked
and trained soldiers who would make short work of civilians,
however well-armed they might be. There are twenty
members--including the chief--in that Scarlet Pimpernel League,
and I do not quite see how from this cell the prisoner could
organise an ambuscade against us at a given time. Anyhow, that is
a matter for you to decide. I have still to place before you a
scheme which is a measure of safety for ourselves and our men
against ambush as well as against trickery, and which I feel sure
you will pronounce quite adequate."
"Let me hear it, then!"
"The prisoner will have to travel by coach, of course. You can
travel with him, if you like, and put him in irons, and thus avert
all chances of his escaping on the road. But"--and here Chauvelin
made a long pause, which had the effect of holding his colleague's
attention still more closely--"remember that we shall have his
wife and one of his friends with us. Before we finally leave
Paris tomorrow we will explain to the prisoner that at the first
attempt to escape on his part, at the slightest suspicion that he
has tricked us for his own ends or is leading us into an ambush--
at the slightest suspicion, I say--you, citizen Heron, will order
his friend first, and then Marguerite Blakeney herself, to be
summarily shot before his eyes."
Heron gave a long, low whistle. Instinctively he threw a furtive,
backward glance at the prisoner, then he raised his shifty eyes to
There was unbounded admiration expressed in them. One blackguard
had met another--a greater one than himself--and was proud to
acknowledge him as his master.
"By Lucifer, citizen Chauvelin," he said at last, "I should never
have thought of such a thing myself."
Chauvelin put up his hand with a gesture of self-deprecation.
"I certainly think that measure ought to be adequate," he said
with a gentle air of assumed modesty, "unless you would prefer to
arrest the woman and lodge her here, keeping her here as an
"No, no!" said Heron with a gruff laugh; "that idea does not
appeal to me nearly so much as the other. I should not feel so
secure on the way.... I should always be thinking that that
cursed woman had been allowed to escape.... No! no! I would
rather keep her under my own eye--just as you suggest, citizen
Chauvelin ... and under the prisoner's, too," he added with a
coarse jest. "If he did not actually see her, he might be more
ready to try and save himself at her expense. But, of course, he
could not see her shot before his eyes. It is a perfect plan,
citizen, arid does you infinite credit; and if the Englishman
tricked us," he concluded with a fierce and savage oath, "and we
did not find Capet at the end of the journey, I would gladly
strangle his wife and his friend with my own hands."
"A satisfaction which I would not begrudge you, citizen," said
Chauvelin dryly. "Perhaps you are right ... the woman had best be
kept under your own eye ... the prisoner will never risk her
safety on that, I would stake my life. We'll deliver our final
'either--or' the moment that she has joined our party, and before
we start further on our way. Now, citizen Heron, you have heard
my advice; are you prepared to follow it?"
"To the last letter," replied the other.
And their two hands met in a grasp of mutual understanding--two
hands already indelibly stained with much innocent blood, more
deeply stained now with seventeen past days of inhumanity and
miserable treachery to come.
What occurred within the inner cell of the Conciergerie prison
within the next half-hour of that 16th day of Pluviose in the year
II of the Republic is, perhaps, too well known to history to need
or bear overfull repetition.
Chroniclers intimate with the inner history of those infamous days
have told us how the chief agent of the Committee of General
Security gave orders one hour after midnight that hot soup, white
bread and wine be served to the prisoner, who for close on
fourteen days previously had been kept on short rations of black
bread and water; the sergeant in charge of the guard-room watch
for the night also received strict orders that that same prisoner
was on no account to be disturbed until the hour of six in the
morning, when he was to be served with anything in the way of
breakfast that he might fancy.
All this we know, and also that citizen Heron, having given all