by Baroness Orczy
CHAPTER I. 1789:
THE DAWN OF
PARIS IN REVOLT
CHAPTER III. ONE
OF THE DERELICTS
CHAPTER V. A
CHAPTER VI. THE
CHAPTER VII. A
CHAPTER VIII. A
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER X. A
The English Spy
CHAPTER XIV. LE
PARC AUX DAIMS
CHAPTER XVI. A
CHAPTER XIX. THE
CHAPTER XX. THE
CHAPTER XXI. AN
CHAPTER XXIII. A
THE COSY CORNER
CHAPTER XXV. THE
MAN IN BLACK
FORTUNE IN SIGHT
AT THE CROSS
CHAPTER XXX. THE
CHAPTER XXXI. AN
CHAPTER I: 1789: THE DAWN OF
"Arms! Arms! Give us arms!"
France to-day is desperate. Her people are starving. Women and
children cry for bread; famine, injustice and oppression have made
slaves of the men. But the time has come at last when the cry for
freedom and for justice has drowned the wails of hungry children. It is
Sunday the twelfth of July. Camille Desmoulins the fiery young
demagogue is here, standing on a table in the Palais Royal, a pistol in
each hand, with a herd of gaunt and hollow-eyed men around him.
"Friends," he demands vehemently, "shall our children die like
sheep? Shall we continue to plead for ears that will not hear and
appeal to hearts that are made of stone? Shall we labour to feed the
welled-filled and see our wives and daughters starve? Frenchmen! The
hour has come: the hour of our deliverance. To arms, friends! to arms!
Let our oppressors look to themselves. Let them come to grips with us,
the oppressed, and see if brutal force can conquer justice."
With burning hearts and quivering lips they listened to him for a
while, some in silence, others muttering incoherent words. But soon
they took up the echo of the impassioned call: "To arms!" and in a few
moments what had been a tentative murmur became a delirious shout: "To
arms! To arms!" Throughout the long afternoon, until dusk and
nightfall, and thereafter the call to arms like the roar of ocean waves
breaking on a rocky shore resounded from one end of Paris to the other.
And all night long men in threadbare suits and wooden shoes roamed
about the streets, gesticulating, forming groups, talking, arguing,
shouting. Shouting always their rallying cry: "To arms!"
By dawn the next day the herd of gaunt, hollowed-eyed men has
become a raging multitude. The call for arms has become a vociferous
demand: "Give us arms!" Right to-day must be at grips with might. The
oppressed shall rise against the oppressor. But the oppressed must have
arms wherewith to smite the tyrant, the extortioner, the relentless
task-master of the poor. And so they march, these hungry, wan-faced
men, at first in their hundreds but soon in their thousands. They march
to the Town Hall demanding arms.
"Arms! Arms! Give us arms!"
It is Monday morning but all the shops are shut: neither cobblers,
nor weavers, barbers nor venders of miscellaneous goods have taken down
their shutters. Labourers and scavengers are idle, for every worker
to-day has become a fighter. Alone the bakers and the vinters ply their
trade, for fighting men must eat and drink. And the smiths are set to
work to forge pikes as fast as they can, and the women up in their
attics to sew cockades. Red and blue which are the municipal colours
are tacked on to the constitutional white, thus making of the Tricolour
the badge of France in revolt.
The rest of Paris continues to roam the streets demanding arms:
first at the Hôtel de Ville, the Town Hall where provost and aldermen
are forced to admit they have no arms: not in any quantity, only a few
antiquated firelocks, which are immediately seized upon. Then they go,
those hungry thousands, to the Arsenal, where they only find rubbish
and bits of rusty iron which they hurl into the streets, often wounding
others who had remained, expectant, outside. Next to the King's
warehouse where there are plenty of gewgaws, tapestries, pictures, a
gilded sword or two and suits of antiquated armour, also the cannon,
silver mounted and coated with grime, which a grateful King of Siam
once sent as a present to Louis XIV, but nothing useful, nothing
No matter! A Siamese cannon is better than none. It is trundled
along the streets of Paris to the Debtors' prison, to the Chatelet, to
the House of Correction where prisoners are liberated and made to swell
News of all this tumult soon wakens the complacent and the luxurious
from their slumbers. They tumble out of bed wanting to know what "those
brigands" were up to. The "brigands it seems were in possession of the
barriers, had seized the carts which conveyed food into the city for
the rich. They were marching through Paris, yelling, and roaring,
wearing strange cockades. The tocsin was pealing from every church
steeple. Every smith in the town was forging pikes; fifty thousand it
was asserted had been forged in twenty-four hours, and still the
"brigands" demanded more.
So what were the complacent and the luxurious to do but make haste
to depart from this Paris with its strange cockades and its unseemly
tumult? There were some quick packings-up and calls for coaches,
tumbrils, anything whereon to pile up furniture, silver and provisions
and hurry to the nearest barrier. But already Paris in revolt had
posted its scrubby hordes at all the gates, with orders to stop every
vehicle from going through and to drag every person who attempted to
leave the city, willy-nilly to the Town Hall.
And the complacent and the luxurious, driven back into Paris which
they wished to quit, desire to know what the commandant of the city, M.
le baron Pierre Victor de Besenval is doing about it. They demand to
know what is being done for their safety. Well! M. de Besenval has sent
courier after courier to Versailles asking for orders, or at least for
guidance. But all that he gets in reply to his most urgent messages are
a few vague words from His Majesty saying that he has called a Council
of his Ministers who will decide what is to be done, and in the
meanwhile let M. le baron do his duty as beseems an officer loyal to
Besenval in his turn calls a Council of his Officers. His troops
are deserting in their hundreds, taking their arms with them. Two of
his Colonels declare that their men will not fight. Later in the
afternoon three thousand six hundred Gardes Françaises ordered to march
against the insurgents go over to them in a body with their guns and
their gunners, their arms and accoutrements. Gardes Françaises no
longer, they are re-named Gardes Nationales, and enrolled in the
fastgrowing Paris Militia, which is like to number forty- eight
thousand soon, and by to-morrow nearer one hundred thousand.
If only it had arms, the Paris Militia would be unconquerable.
And now it is Tuesday, the fourteenth of July, a date destined to
remain for all time the most momentous in the annals of France, a date
on which century-old institutions shall totter and fall, not only in
France, but in the course of time, throughout the civilized world, and
archaic systems shall perish that have taken root and gathered power
since might became right in the days of cave-dwelling man.
Still no definite orders from Versailles. The Council of Ministers
continues to deliberate. Hoary-headed Senators decide to sit in
unbroken session, while Commandant Besenval in Paris does his duty as a
soldier loyal to his King. But what can Besenval do, even though he be
a soldier and loyal to his King? He may be loyal but the men are not.
Their Colonels declare that the troops will not fight. Who then can
stem that army of National Volunteers, now grown to a hundred and fifty
thousand, as they march with their rallying cry "To arms!" and roll
like a flood to the Hôtel des Invalides?
"There are arms there. Why had we not thought of that before?"
On they roll, scale the containing wall and demand entrance. The
Invalides, old soldiers, veterans of the Seven Years' War stand by; the
gates are opened, the Garde Nationale march in, but the veterans still
stand by without firing a shot. Their Commandant tries to parley with
the insurgents, put they push past him and his bodyguards; they swarm
all over the building rummaging through every room and every closet
from attic to cellar. And in the cellar the arms are found. Thousands
of firelocks soon find their way on the shoulders of the National
Guard. What indeed can Commadant Besenval do, even though he be a
soldier and loyal to his King?
CHAPTER II. PARIS IN REVOLT
And now to the Bastille, to that monument of arrogance and power,
with its drawbridges, its bastions and eight grim towers, which has
reared its massive pile of masonry above the "swinish multitude" for
over four hundred years. Tyranny frowning down on Impotence. Power
holding the weak in bondage. Here it stands on this fourteenth day of
July, bloated with pride and, conscious of its impregnability, it seems
to mock that chaotic horde which invades its purlieus, swarms round its
ditches and its walls, and with a roaring like that of a tempestuous
sea, raises the defiant cry: "Surrender!"
A tumult such as Dante in his visions of hell never dreamed of,
rises from one hundred and fifty thousand throats. Floods of humanity
come pouring into the Place from the outlying suburbs. Paris in revolt
has arms now: One hundred thousand muskets, fifty thousand pikes: one
hundred and fifty thousand hungry, frenzied men. No longer do these
call out with the fury of despair: "Arms! Give us arms!" Rather do they
shout : "We'll not yield while stone remains on stone of that cursed
And the walls of the Bastille are nine feet thick.
Can they be as much as shaken, even by a hurricane of grapeshot and
the roaring of a Siamese cannon? Commandant de Launay laughs the very
suggestion to scorn. He has less than a hundred and twenty men to
defend what is impregnable. Eighty or so veterans, old soldiers who
fought in the Seven Years' War, and not more than thirty young Swiss.
He has cannons concealed up on the battlements, and piles of missiles
and ammunition. Very few victuals, it is true, but that is no matter.
As soon as he opens fire on that undisciplined mob, it will scatter as
autumn leaves scatter in the wind. And "No Surrender!" has already been
his answer to a deputation which came to him from the Town Hall in the
early morning, suggesting parley with the men of the National Guard,
the disciplined leaders of this riotous mob.
"No surrender!" he reiterates with emphasis; "rather will I hurl
myself down from these battlements into the ditch three feet below, or
blow up the fortress sky-high and half Paris along with it."
And to show that he will be as good as his word, he takes up a
taper and stands for a time within arm's length of the powder magazine.
Only for a time, for poor old de Launay never did do what he said he
would. All he did just then was to survey the tumulteous crowd below.
They have begun the attack. Paris in revolt opens fire on the 'accursed
stronghold" with volley after volley of musket-fire from every corner
of the Place and from every surrounding window. De Launay thrusts the
taper away, and turns to his small garrison of veterans and young
Swiss. Will they fire on the mob if he gives the order? He has plied
them with drink, but feels doubtful of their temper. Anyway, the volley
of musket-fire cannot damage walls that are nine feet thick. "We'll
wait and see what happens," thinks Commandant de Launay, but he does
not rekindle the taper.
Just then a couple of stalwarts down below start an attack on the
outer drawbridge. De Launay knows them both for old soldiers, one is a
smith, the other a wheelright, both of them resolute and strong as
Hercules. They climb on the roof of the guard-room and with heavy axes
strike against the chains of the drawbridge, heedles of the rain of
grapeshot around them. They strike and strike again, with such force
and such persistence that the chain must presently break, seeing which
de Launay turns to his veterans and orders fire. The cannon gives one
roar from the battlements, and does mighty damage down below. Paris in
revolt has shed its first blood and reaches the acme of its frenzy.
The chains of the outer drawbridge yield and break and down comes
the bridge with a terrific clatter. This first tangible sign of
victory is greeted with a delirious shout, and an umber of insurgents
headed by men of the National Guard swarm over the drawbridge and into
the outer court. Here they are met by Thuriot, second in command, with
a small bodygaurd. He tries to parley with them. No use of course.
Paris now is no longer in revolt. It is in revolution.
The insurgents hustle and bustle Thuriot and his bodyguard out of
the way. They surge all over the outer court, up to the ditch and the
inner drawbridge. De Launay up on the battlements can only guess what
is happening down there. His veterans and young Swiss stand by. Shall
they fire, or wait till fired on? Indecision is clearly written on
their faces. De Launay picks up a taper again, takes up his position
once more within arm's length of the powder magazine. Will he, after
all, be as good as his word and along with the impregnable stronghold
blow half Paris up sky-high? He might have done it. He said he would
rather than surrender, but he doesn't do it. Why not? Who shall say?
Was it destiny that stayed his arm? destiny which no doubt aeons ago
had decreed the downfall of this monument of autocratic sovereignty on
his fourteenth day of July, 1789.
All that de Launay does is to order the veterans to fire once more,
and the cannons scatter death and mutilation among the aggressors,
whilst all kinds of missiles, pavingstones , old iron, granite blocks
are hurled down into the ditch, till it too is littered with dead and
dying. The wounded in the Place are carried to safety into adjoining
streets, but so much blood has let a veritable Bedlam loose. A cartload
of straw is trundled over the outer drawbridge into the court. Fire!
Conflagaration! Paris in revolution had not thought before of this
way of subduing that "cursed fortress", but now fire! Fire everywhere!
The Bastille has not surrendered yet.
Soon the guard-room is set ablaze, and the veterans' mess-room. The
fire spreads to one of the inner courts. De Launay still hovers on the
battlements, still declares that he will blow up half Paris rather than
surrender his fortress. But he doesn't do it, and a hundred feet below
the conflagaration is threatening his last entrenchments. The flames
lick upwards ready to do the work which old de Launay had sworn that he
Inside the dungeons of the Bastille the prisoners, lifewearied and
indifferent, dream that a series of earthquakes are shaking Paris, But
what do they care? If these walls nine feet thick should totter and
fall and bury them under their ruins, it would only mean for them the
happy release of death. For hours has this hellish din been going on.
In the inner courtyard the big clock continues to tick on; the seconds,
the minutes, the hours go by: five hours, perhaps six, and still the
Up on the battlements the garrison is getting weary. The veterans
have been prone on the ground for over four hours making the cannons
roar , but now they are tired. They struggle to their feet and stand
sullen, with reversed muskets, whilst an old bearded sergeant picks up
a a tattered white flag and waves it in the commandant's face. The
Swiss down below do better than that. They open a porthole in the inner
drawbridge, and one man thrusts out a hand, grasping a paper. It is
seized upon by one of the National Guard. "Terms of Surrender," the
Swiss cry as with one voice. The insurgents press forward shouting:
"What are they?"
"Immunity for all," is the reply. "Will you accept?"
"On the word of an officer we will." It is an officer of the
National Guard who says this. Two days ago he was officer in the Gardes
Françaises. His word must be believed.
And so the last drawbridge is lowered and Paris in delirious joy
rushes into the citadel crying: "Victory! The Bastille is ours!"
CHAPTER III. ONE OF THE DERELICTS
It is best not to remember what followed. The word of an officer,
once of the Gardes Françaises, was not kept. Old veterans and young
Swiss fell victims to the fury of frenzied conquerors. Paris in
revolution, drunk with its triumph, plunged through the labyrinthine
fortress, wreaking vengeance for its dead.
The prisoners were dragged out of their dungeons where some had
spent a quarter of a century and more in a living death. They were let
loose in a world they knew nothing of, a world that had forgotten them.
That miserable old de Launay and his escort of officers were dragged to
the Town Hall. But they never got there; hustled by a yelling, hooting
throng, the officers fell by the wayside and were trampled to death in
the gutters. Seeing which de Launay cried pitiably : "O friends, kill
me fast." He had his wish, the poor old weakling, and all of him that
reached the Town Hall was his head carried aloft on a pike.
To the credit of the Gardes Nationales, once the Royal Regiment of
Gardes Françaises, be it said that they marched back to their barracks
in perfect order and discipline; it was this same Garde Nationale who
plied hoses on the conflagration inside the fortress and averted an
explosion which would have wrecked more than a third of the city.
But no one took any notice of the liberated prisoners. A dozen or
so of them were let loose in this World-Bedlam, left to roam about the
streets, trying all in vain to gather up threads of life long since
turned to dust. The fall of the mighty fortress put to light many of
its grim secrets, some horrible, others infinitely pathetic, some
carved in the stone of a dank dungeon, others scribbled on scraps of
"If for my consolation" [ was the purport of one of these]
"Monseigneur would grant me for the sake of God and the Blessed
Trinity, that I could have news of my dear wife: were it only her name
on a card to show that she is alive. It were the greatest consolation
I could receive, and I would for ever bless the greatness of
The letter is dated "A la Bastille le 7 Octobre 1752" and signed
Quéret-Démery. Thirty-seven years spent in a dark dugeon with no hope
of reunion with that dear wife, news of whom would have been a solace
to the broken heart. History has no record of one Quéret-Démery who
spent close on half a century in the "cursed fortress." What he had
done to merit his fate no one will ever know. He was: that is
all we know and that he spent a lifetime in agonized longing and
One can picture him now on this evening of July 14th turned out
from that prison which had become his only home, the shelter of his old
age, and wandering with mind impaired and memory gone, through the
streets of a city he hardly knew again. Wandering with only one fixed
aim: to find the old home where he had known youth and happiness, and
the love of his dear wife. Dead or Alive? Did he find her? History has
no record. Quéret-Démery was just an obscure, forgotten victim of an
autocratic rule, sending his humble petition which was never delivered,
to "Monseigneur." Monseigneur who? Imagination is lost in conjecture.
The profligate Philippe d'Orleans or one of his like? Who can tell?
The attempt to follow the adventures or misadvantures of those
thirteen prisoners let loose in the midst of Paris in revolution, would
be vain. There were thirteen, it seems. An unlucky number. Again
history is silent as to what became to twelve of their number. Only one
stands out among the thirteen in subsequent chronicles of the times: a
woman. The only woman among the lot. Her name was Gabrielle Damiens. At
least that is the name she went by later on, but she never spoke
publicly either of her origin or of her parentage. She had forgotten;
so she often said. One does forget things when one has spent sixteen
years- one's best years- living a life that is so like death. She
certainly forgot what she did that night after she had been turned out
into the world: she must have wandered through the streets as did the
others, trying to find her way to a place somewhere in the city, which
had once been her home. But where she slpet then, and for many nights
after that she never knew, until the day when she found herself
opposite a house in the Boulevard Saint-Germain: a majestic house with
an elaborate coronet and coat of arms carved in stone, surmounting the
monumental entrance door: and the device also carved in stone:
"N'oublie jamais." Seeing which Gabrielle's wanderings came to a sudden
halt, and she stood quite still in the gutter opposite the house,
staring up at the coronet, the caot of arms and the device. "N'oublie
jamais," she murmured. "Jamais!" she reiterated with a curious throaty
sound which was neither a cry nor a laugh, but was both in one. "No,
Monsieur le Marquis de Saint-Lucque de Tourville," she continued to
murmur to herself, "Gabrielle Damiens will see to it that you and your
brood never shall forget."
There was a bench opposite the house under the trees of the
boulevard and Gabrielle sat down not because she was tired but because
she had a good view of the coronet and the device over the front door.
Desultory crowds paraded the boulevard laughing and shouting "Victory!"
Most of them had been standing for hours in queues outside the bakers'
shops, but not everyone had been served with bread. There was not
enough to go round, hence the reason why with the cry of "Victory!"
there mingled one which sounded like an appeal, and also like a threat:
"Bread! Give us bread!"
Gabrielle watched them unseeing. She too had stood for the past few
days in queues, getting what food she could. She had a little money.
Where it came from she didn't know. She had a vague recollection of
scrubbing floors and washing dishes, so perhaps the money came from
that, or a charitable person may have had pity on her: anyway she was
neither hungry nor tired, and she was willing to remain here on this
bench for an indefinite length of time trying to piece together the
fragments of the past from out the confused storehouse of memory.
She saw herself as a child, living almost as a pariah on the
charity of relatives who never allowed her to forget her father's crime
or his appaling fate. They always spoke of him as "that abominable
regicide," which he certainly was not. François Damiens was just a
misguided fool, a religious fanatic who saw in the profligate,
dissolute monarch, the enemy of France, and struck at him not, he
asserted, with a view to murdering his King but just to frighten him
and to warn him of the people's growing resentment against his life of
immorality. Madness of course. His assertion was obviously true since
the weapon which he used was an ordinary pocketknife and did no more
than scratch the royal shoulder. But he had struck at the King and
royal blood had flown from the scratch, staining the royal shirt. In
punishment for this sacrilege, Damiens was hung, drawn and quartered,
but to the end, in spite of abominable tortures which he bore
stoically, he maintained steadfastly that he had no accomplice and had
acted entirely on his own initiative.
François Damiens had left his motherless daughter in the care of a
married sister Ursule and her husband Anatole Desèze, a cabinet-maker,
who earned a precarious livelihood and begrudged the child every morsel
she ate. Gabrielle from earliest childhood had known what hunger meant
and the bitter cold of a Paris of winter, often without a fire, always
without sufficient clothing. She had relaxation only in sleep and never
any kind of childish amusement. The only interests she had in life was
to gaze up at an old box fashioned of carved wood, which stood on a
shelf in the living-room, high up against the wall, out of her reach.
This box for some unknown reason, chiefly because she had never been
allowed to touch it, had always fascinated her. It excited her childish
curiosity to that extent that on one occasion when her uncle and aunt
were out of the house, she managed to drag the table close to the wall,
to hoist a chair upon the table, to climb up on the chair and to
stretch her little arms out in a vain attempt to reach the tempting
box. The attempt was a complete fiasco. The chair slid away from under
her on the polished table, and she fell with a clatter and a crash to
the floor, bruised all over her body and her head swimming after it had
struck against the edge of the table. To make matters worse, she felt
so queer and giddy that she had not the strenght at once to put the
table and chair back in their accustomed places. Aunt and uncle came
back and at once guessed the cause of the catastrophe, with the result
that in addition to bruises and an aching head Gabrielle got a sound
beating and was threatened with a more severe one still if she ever
dared to try and interfere with the mysterious box again. She was ten
years old when this disastrous incident occurred. Cowed and fearfull
she never made a second attempt to satisfy her curiosity. She drilled
herself into avoiding to cast the merest glance up on the shelf. But
though she was able to control her eyes, she could not control her
mind, and her mind continued to dwell on the mystery of that fatal box.
It was not until she reached the age of sixteen that she lost
something of her terror of another beating. She was a strapping girl by
then, strong and tall for her age and unusually good-looking inspite of
poor food and constant overwork. Her second attempt was entirely
succesful. Uncle and aunt were out of the way, table and chair were
easily moved and Gabrielle waas now tall enough to reach the shelf and
lift down the box. It was locked, but after a brief struggle with the
aid of an old kitchen knife the lid fell back and revealed- what? A few
old papers tied up in three small bundles. One of these bundles was
marked with the name "Saint-Lucque," a name quite unknown to Gabrielle.
She turned these papers- they were letters apparently- over and over,
conscious of an intense feeling of disappointment. What she had
expected to find she didn't know but it certainly wasn't this.
The girl however, was no fool. Soon her wits got to work. They told
her that, obviously, if these old letters were of no importance to her,
Aunt Ursule would not have kept them all these years out of her reach.
As time was getting on and uncle and aunt might be back at any moment,
she made haste to replace the box on the shelf, carefully disguising
the damamge done by the kitchen knife. Chair and table she put back in
their accustomed places and the old letters she tucked away under the
folds of her fichu. By this time she had worked herself up into a fever
of conjecture, but she had sufficient control over herself to await
with apparent calm the moment when she could persue the letters in the
privacy of her own room. She had never been allowed to have a candle in
the evenings, because there was a street-lamp opposite the window
which, as Aunt Ursule said, was quite light enough to go to bed by.
Gabrielle hated that street-lamp because as there were no curtains to
the window, the glare often prevented her getting to sleep, but on this
never-to-be-forgotten night she blessed it. Far into the next morning
sitting by the open window, did the daughter of François Damiens read
and re-read those old letters by the flickering light of the
street-lamp. When the lamp was extinguished she still remained sitting
by the window scheming and dreaming until the pale light of dawn
enabled her to read and read again. For what did those old letters
reveal? They revealed the fact that her unfortunate father who had been
sent to his death as a regicide had not been alone in his design
against the King. The crime- for so it was called- had been instigated
and aided by a body of noble gentlemen who like himself saw in the
profligate monarch the true enemy of France. But whilst Damiens bore
loyally and in silence the brunt of this conspiracy, whilst he endured
torture and went to his death like a hero, those noble gentlemen had
remained immune and left their miserable tool to his fate.
All this Gabrielle Damiens learned during those wakeful hours of
the night. A great deal of it was of course mere inference; the letters
were all addressed to her father apparently by three gentlemen, two of
whom with commendable prudence had refrained from appending their
signature. But there was one name "Saint-Lucque" which appeared at the
foot of some letters more damnatory than most. Before the rising sun
had flooded the towers of Notre Dame with gold Gabrielle had committed
these to memory.
Yes! Memory was reawakened now, and busy after all these years
unravelling the tangled skein of the past. Sitting here on the
boulevard opposite the stately mansion with the coat of arms and the
device "N'oublie Jamais" carved in stone above its portal, Gabrielle
saw herself as she was during the three years following her fateful
discovery. Her first task had been to make a copy of the letters in a
clean and careful hand, after which there were the days spent in
establishing the identity of "Saint-Lucque" and tracing his
whereabouts. M. le Marquis de Saint-Lucque turned out to be one of the
greatest gentlemen in France, attached to the Court of His Majesty King
Louis XV. He lived in a palatial masion on the Boulevard Saint-Germain
ans was a widower with one son. His association with François Damiens
had seemingly never been found out. Presumably the whole episode was
forgotten by now.
Then there came the great day when Gabrielle first called on
Monsieur le Marquis. It was not easy for a girl of her class to obtain
an interview with so noble a gentlemen, and at once Gabrielle was
confronted with a regular barrage of lackeys, all intent apparently on
preventing her acces to their master. "No, certainly not," was the
final pronouncement of the major-domo, a very great gentleman indeed in
this lordly establishment, "you cannot present yourself before Monsieur
le Marquis, he will not see you." Gabrielle conscious of her personal
charm tried blandishments, but these were of no avail, and undoubtedly
she would have failed in her purpose had not Monsieur le Vicomte, son
and heir of Monsieur le Marquis, come unexpectedly upon the scene. He
was in riding kit. An exceptionally handsome young man, and apparantly
more impressionable than the severe major-domo. Here was a lovely girl
whose glance was nothing less than a challenge, and she wanted
something which was being denied her by a lot of louts. Whatever it
was, thought the handsome Vicomte, she must have her wish; preliminary,
he added to himself with an appraising look directed at the pretty
creature, to his getting what he would want in return for his kind
offices. There was an exchange of glances between the two young people
and a few moments later Gabrielle was ushered into the presence of
Monsieur le Marquis de Saint-Lucque by a humbled and bewildered
major-domo. Monsieur le Vicomte had given the order, and there was no
disobeying him. "I'll wait for you here," he whispered in the girl's
ear, indicating a door on the same landing. She lowered her eyes, put
on the airs of a demure country wench, and disappeared within the
The first interview with the old aristocrat was distinctly stormy.
There was a great deal of shouting at first on his part. A stick was
raised. A bell was rung. But Gabrielle held her grounds: very calmly,
produced the copy of a damnatory letter, and presently the shouting
ceased, the stick was lowered, and the lackey dismissed who came in
answer to the bell. The letter doubtless brought up vivid and most
unpleasant memories of the past. Presently a bargain was struck, money
passed from hand to hand- quite a good deal of money, more than
Gabrielle had ever seen in all her life, and the interview ended with a
promise on her part to destroy all the original letters. She was to
bring them to Monsieur le Marquis the next day and burn them before his
eyes. She trotted off with the money safely tucked away in the fold of
her fichu. The handsome Vicomte was waiting for her, and she duly paid
the tribute which he demanded of her. But she did not call on the old
the old Marquis either the next day, or the day after that, or ever
again, because a week later Monsieur le Marquis de Saint-Lucque had a
paralytic stroke, and thereafter remained bedridden for over four years
until the day when he was laid to rest among his ancestors in the
family mausoleum in Artois.
In the meantime Gabrielle Damiens's relationship with Vicomte
Fernand de Saint-Lucque had become very tender. He was for the time
being entirely under the charm of the fascinating blackmailer, unaware
of the ugly role she had been playing against his father. He had fitted
up what he called a love-nest for her in a rustic chalet in the
environs of Versailles and here she lived in the greatest luxury,
visited constantly by the Vicomte, who loaded her with money and
jewellery to such an extent that she forgot all about her contemplated
source of revenue through the medium of the compromising letters.
Everything then was going on very well with the daughter of
François Damiens. Her uncle and aunt with the philosophy peculiar to hoc genus omne
of their country were only too ready to approve of a
situation which contributed largely to their well-being, for Gabrielle,
ready to forget the cavalier way in which she had been treated in the
past, was not only generous but lavish in her gifts to them. And all
went well indeed for nearly three years until the day when Fernand de
Saint-Lucque became weary of the tie which bound him to the rather
common and exacting beauty and gave her a decisive if somewhat curt
congé, together with a goodly sum of money which he considered
sufficient as a solace to her wounded vanity. The blow fell so
unexpectedly that at first Gabrielle felt absolutely stunned. It came
at a moment when, deluded into believing that she had completely
enslaved her highborn lover, she saw visions of being herself one day
Vicomtesse and subsequently Marquise de Saint-Lucque de Tourville,
received at Court, the queen and leader of Paris society.
She certainly did not look upon the Vicomte's partin gift as
sufficient solace for her disappointment. It would not do much more
than pay her debts to dressmakers, milliners and jewellers. With the
prodigality peculiar to her kind she had spent money as freely and
easily as she had earned it. She had, of course, some valuable
jewellery, but this she would not sell, and the future, as she
presently surveyed it, looked anything but cheerful. Soon, however, her
sound common sense came to the rescue. She took, as it were, stock of
her resources, and in the process remembered the letters on which she
had counted three years ago as the foundation of her fortunes. She
turned her back without a pang on the rustic chalet, no longer a
love-nest now, and returned to her uncle and aunt, in whom she now felt
compelled to confide the secret of her disappointment in the present
and of her hopes of the future.
She made a fresh attempt to see the old Marquis. Then only did she
learn of his sickness and the hopeless state of mind and body in which
he now was. But this did not daunt Gabrielle Damiens. Her scheme of
blackmail could no longer be succesfully directed against the father,
but there was the son, the once enamoured Vicomte, her adoring slave,
now nothing but an arrogant aristocrat, treating the humble little
bourgeoise as if she were dirt and dismissing her out of his life with
nothing but a miserable pittance. Well! He should pay for it, pay so
heavily that not only his fortune but also his life would be wrecked in
the process. Moreover, she, the daughter of that same François Damiens,
who had been dubbed the regicide and died a horrible death, would see
her ambition fulfilled and herself paid court to and the hem of germent
kissed by obsequious courtiers, when she was Madame la Marquise de
Saint-Lucque de Tourville.
She started on her campaign without delay. A humble request for an
interview with M. le Vicomte was at first curtly refused, but when it
was renewed with certain veiled threats it was conceded. Armed with the
copies of the damnatory letters Gabrielle demanded money first and then
marriage. Yes! no less a thing than marriage to the hier of one of the
greatest names in France, failing which the letters would be sent to
the Comte de Meaurevaisre, Chief of the Secret Police of His Majesty
the King. Well! When Fernand de Saint-Lucque had dismissed her,
Gabrielle, with a curt word of farewell, he had dealt her a blow which
had completely knocked her over. But it was her turn now to retaliate.
He tried to carry off the affair in his usual high-handed manner. He
began with sarcasm, went with bravado, and ended with threats.
Gabrielle stood as she had done three years ago before the old Marquis.
Already she felt conscious of victory, because she had seen the look
almost like a death-mask which had come over Fernand de Saint-Lucque's
face when he took in the contents of this the first of the fateful
letters. When she held it out to him he had waved her hand aside with
disdain. She placed it on the table, and waited until natural curiosity
impelled him to pick it up. He did it with a contemptuous shrug, held
it as if it were filth.
But the look so like a death-mask soon spread over his face. He did
his best to disguise it, but Gabrielle had seen it and felt convinced
that victory was already in sight. She left, not taking any money away
with her, not exacting any promise at the moment save that her victim-
he was her victim already- would see her once more. He had commanded
her to bring the letters: "Not the copies remember! The originals!"
which the Vicomte declared with all his old arrogance did not exist
save in the imagination of a cinderwench.
For days and weeks after that first interview did Gabrielle Damines
keep the Vicomte de Saint-Lucque on tednerhooks without going near him.
The old Marquis was still alive, slowly sinking, with one foot in the
grave, and Gabrielle hugged herself with thoughts of the hier of that
great name writhing under the threat of disgrace to the head of the
house, disgrace followed by confiscation of all his goods, exile from
court and country, his name for ever branded with the stigma of
regicide: disgrace which would redound on his heir and on all his
family, and migh even be the stepping stone to an ignominious death.
When Gabrielle felt that Fernand had suffered long enough she sent
him a harsh command for another interview. Devoured with anxiety, he
was only too ready to accede. She came this time in a mood as arrogant
as his own, exacting writtenpromise of marriage: the date of the
wedding to be fixed here and now. She did not bring the original
letters with her. They would, she said curtly, be handed over to him
when she, Gabrielle Damines, was incontestably Vicomtesse de
Saint-Lucque de Tourville.
Fernand at his wits' end did not know what to do. He tried
pretence: a softened manner as if he was prepared to yield. Quite
gently and persuasively he explained to her that whatever his ultimate
decision might be- and he gave her to understand that it certainly
would be favourable- he was compelled at the moment to ask for a few
days delay. He had been, he said, paying court to a lady, at His
Majesty's express wish, had in fact become officially engaged, and all
he needed was a little time for the final breaking off of his
obligations. In the meanwhile he was ready, he said, to give her a
written promise of marriage duly signed, the wedding to take place
within the next three months.
As usual Gabrielle's common sense warned her of a possible trap.
The Vicomte had made a very sudden volte-face and had become
extraordinarily suave and engaging. He even went to length of assuring
her that he never ceased to love her, and that it was only at the
King's command that he had become engaged to the lady in question. The
breaking off of that engagement, he declared in conclusion, would cause
him no heartache. A little doubtful, inclined to mistrust this
plausible dissembler, Gabrielle remained impervious to his
blandishments, even when she suddenly found herself in his arms, under
the once potent spell of his kisses. No longer potent now. She smiled
back into his glowing eyes, accepted the written promise of marriage
and endured his kisses while keeping her wits about her. When she
finally freed herself from his arms she merely assured him that the
compromising letters would be returned to him when she had become his
She trotted home that afternoon happy and triumphant with the
written promise of marriage duly signed "Fernand de Saint-Lucque de
Tourville" safely tucked away in the folds of her fichu. Aunt Ursule
and Uncle Desèze congratulated her on her triumph, and the three of
them sat up half the night making plans for a golden future. Aunt and
uncle would have a farm with cows and horses and pigs, a beautiful
garden and plenty of money to give themselves every luxury.
"You need never be afraid of the future," Gabrielle declared
proudly. "I'll never be such a fool as to give up the original letters.
Even when I am Marquise de Saint-Lucque I will always keep that hold
over my husband."
There ensued four days of perfect bliss, unmarred by doubts or
fears. They were destined to be the last moments of happiness the
blackmailer was ever to know in life. Saint-Lucque, whose engagement
to Mademoiselle de Nesle had not only been approved of but actually
desired by the King, was nearly crazy with terror at the awful sword of
Damocles hanging over his head. Not knowing where to turn or what to
do he finally made up his mind to confide the whole of the miserable
story to his future mother-in-law, the person most likely to be both
discreet abd helpful. Madame de Nesle was just then in high favour with
the King, whose daughter Mademoiselle was reputed to be, and she was
just as anxious as was His Majesty to see the girl married to the
bearer of a great name who would secure for her the entreé to
the most exclusive circles of aristocratic France. One could not,
Madame declared emphatically, allow a dirty blackmailer to come athwart
the royal plans, and at once she suggested a lettre de cachet ,
one of those abominable sealed orders which consigned any person
accused of an offence against the King to lifelong imprisonment,
without the formality of a trail. She was confident that she could
obtain anything she desired from her adoring Louis, and anyhow
incarceration in the Bastille was the only way of silencing that
And Madame was as good as her word. Four days later Gabrielle
Damiens saw herself cast into a cell in the Bastille. All her
possessions were seized by the men who came to arrest her. Pinioned
between two of them she watched the other two turning out her table
drawers, and pocket everything they found there, including the precious
letters, the promise of marriage and the pieces of jewellery which she
had saved from the débâcle of the love-nest. Neither tears, nor
protest, nor blandishments were of any avail. Her demands for a trail
were met with stolid silence, her questions were not answered. She had
become a mere chattel cast into a dungeon, there to remain till she was
carried out, feet first, to be thrown into an unknown grave. She never
knew what had become of her aunt and uncle, nor did she ever hear the
name of Saint-Lucque mentioned again while she spent her best years in
a living death.
Gabrielle Damiens was nineteen years old when this catastrophe
occurred. Sixteen years had gone by since then.
CHAPTER IV: London 1794
"Tell me more about that young woman, Blakeney. She interests me."
It was the Prince of Wales who spoke. He was honouring Sir Percy
and Lady Blakeney with his presence at dinner in their beautiful home
in Richmond. The dinner was over; the ladies had retired leaving the
men to enjoy their port and their gossip. It had been a small and
intimate dinner-party and after the ladies had gone only half a dozen
men were left sitting round the table. In addition to the host and the
royal guest, there were present on this occasion four of the more
prominent members of that heroic organization known as the League of
the Scarlet Pimpernel: Lord Anthony Dewhurst, my Lord Hastings and Sir
Philip Glynde, also Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, his chief's right hand and
loyal lieutenant, newly wed to Mademoiselle Suzanne de Tournay, one of
the fortunate ones whom the League had succeeded in rescuing from the
horrors of revolutionary France.
Without waiting for a reply to his command, His Royal Highness went
"I suppose Paris is like hell just now."
"With the lid off, sir," was Blakeney's caustic comment.
"And not only Paris," Sir Andrew added; "Nantes under that fiendish
Carrier runs it close."
"As for the province of Artois—" mused my Lord Hastings.
"That is where that interesting young woman takes a hand in the
devilish work, isn't that it, Blakeney?" the Prince interposed. "You
were about to tell us something more about her. I confess there is
something that thrills one in that story in spite of oneself. The idea
of a woman—"
His Highness broke off and resumed after a moment or two:
"Is she young and good-looking?"
"Young? No sir," Blakeney answered. "Nearer forty than thirty, I
"And not good-looking?"
"She must have been at one time. But sixteen years in the Bastille
has modified all that."
"Sixteen years!" His Highness ejaculated. "What in the world had
"It has been a little difficult to get to the bottom of her story.
But I was interested. So were we all, weren't we, Ffoulkes? As you
say, sir, there is something thrilling-horrible really-in the idea of a
woman performing the revolting task of a public executioner. For that
is Gabrielle Damiens's calling at the moment."
"Damiens?" His Highness mused; "the name sounds vaguely familiar."
"Perhaps you will remember sir, that some twenty-five years ago a
kind of religious maniac named François Damiens created a sensation by
slashing the late King with a penknife, without doing real harm, of
course; but for this so-called crime he was condemned to death, hung,
drawn and quartered. He maintained to the end, even under torture,
that he had acted entirely on his own and that he never had any
"Yes! I remember the story now. And this female executioner is his
"His only child. She was only a baby at the time. As far as we
have been able to unravel the tangled skein of this extraordinary
tragi-comedy, Damiens bequeathed her a packet of old letters which
involved the old Marquis de Saint-Lucque-the father of the present
man-in that ridiculous conspiracy. Armed with these the girl-she was
only sixteen at the time-started a campaign of blackmail, first against
the old Marquis and, when he became bedridden, against his son, who, I
understand, was deeply in love with her at one time."
"What a complication! But go on, man. Your story is as interesting
as a novel by that French fellow Voltaire. Well!" His Highness
continued, "and what happened to the blackmailer?"
"The usual thing sir. Saint-Lucque got tired of his liaison, broke
it off, became engaged to Mademoiselle de Nesle . . ."
"Good old Louis's daughter, what?"
"Supposed to be," Blakeney replied curtly.
"I remember Madame de Nesle," His Highness mused. A beautiful
woman! She even made the du Barry jealous. I was in Paris at the
time. And her daughter married Saint-Lucque, of course . . . I
"Then you can guess the rest of the story, sir. Madame de Nesle
wanted her daughter's marriage to take place. She had great influence
over the King, and obtained from him one of those damnable lettres de
cachet which did effectually silence the blackmailer by keeping her
locked up in the Bastille without trial and without a chance of
appeal. There she would have ended her days had not the
revolutionaries captured the Bastille and liberated the prisoners."
"Most interesting! Most interesting! And how did the blackmailer
become the executioner?"
"By easy stages, sir."
"What was she like when she came out, one wonders."
"Like a raging tigress."
"Vowing before anyone who cared to listen that she would make
Saint-Lucque and all his brood pay eye for eye and tooth for tooth."
"That was inevitable, of course," the Prince mused, "and not
difficult to accomplish these days. I suppose," he went on, "that this
Gabrielle Damiens has already got herself mixed up with the worst of
the revolutionary rabble."
"She certainly has. She began by joining in the crowd of ten
thousand women who marched to Versailles demanding food. She seized a
drum from one of the guard-rooms in the suburb where she lived, and
paraded the streets beating the Generale and shouting: 'Bread! we must
have bread! . . .' and 'Come, mothers, with your starving children . .
.' and so on."
"You weren't there, were you, Blakeney?"
"I was, sir. Tony, Ffoulkes and I were the guests of the King that
day at Versailles. We saw it all. It was the queerest crowd, wasn't
"It certainly was," my Lord Tony agreed lightly; "fat fishwives from
the Halles, chambermaids shouldering their brooms, pale-faced milliners
and apple-cheeked country wenches. All sorts and conditions."
"And this Damiens woman was among them?"
"She led them, sir," Blakeney replied, "with her drum. The whole
thing was really pathetic. Food in Paris was very scarce and very dear
and there were many cases of actual starvation. The trouble was, too,
that the Queen had chosen to give a huge banquet the day before to the
officers of the army of Flanders who came over to take the place of
certain disloyal regiments. Three hundred and fifty guests sat down to
a Gargantuan feast, ate and drank till the small hours of the morning.
It was most injudicious to say the least."
"Wretched woman!" the Prince put in with a sigh; "she always seemed
to do the wrong thing even in those days."
"And did so to the end, poor woman," one of the others observed.
"Was that the banquet you told me about, Blakeney, where you first
met your adorable wife?"
"It was, sir," Blakeney replied, while a wonderfully soft look came
into his lazy blue eyes, as it always did when Marguerite's name was as
much as mentioned. It was only a flash, however. The next moment he
"And where I first saw Mam'zelle Guillotine."
"Such a funny name," His Highness remarked. "As a rule they speak
of Madame Guillotine over there."
"Gabrielle deserves the name, sir, odious as it sounds. I have been
told that she has guillotined over a hundred men and women and even a
number of children with her own hands."
Then as they all remained silent, unable to pass any remark on this
horrible statement, Sir Percy went on:
"After the march on Versailles she became more and more prominent in
the revolutionary movement. Marat became her close friend and gave her
all the publicity she wanted in his paper L'ami du Peuple. I know for
a fact that she actually took a hand in the wholesale massacre of
prisoners the September before last. Robespierre thinks all the world
of her oratory, and she has spoken more than once at the Club des
Jacobins and at the Cordeliers. I listened on several occasions to the
harangues which she likes to deliver in the Palais Royal Gardens,
standing on a table with a pistol in each hand as Camille Desmoulins
used to do. They were the most inflammatory speeches I ever heard.
And clever, too. The sixteen years she spent in the Bastille did not
dull her wits seemingly. Finally," Blakeney concluded, "Robespierre
got her appointed last year, at her own request, public executioner in
his native province of Artois, and there she has been active ever
There was silence round the festive board after that. They were all
men here who had seen much of the seamy side of life. Even His
Highness had had experiences which do not usually come in the way of
royal personages, and he was the only non-member of the League of the
Scarlet Pimpernel who knew the identity of its heroic chief. His eyes
now rested with an expression of ill-concealed affection and admiration
on that chief, whom he honoured with his especial friendship.
He raised his glass of port and sipped it thoughtfully before he
spoke again, then he said with an attempt at gaiety:
"I know what you are thinking at this moment, Blakeney."
"Yes, your Highness?" Sir Percy retorted.
"That Mam'zelle Guillotine will soon be . . . what shall we say? . .
. lying in the arms of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
This sally made everybody laugh, and conversation presently drifted
into other channels.
CHAPTER V. A SOCIAL EVENT
There are many records extant to-day of the wonderful rout offered
to the élite of French and English society in London by Her Grace the
Duchesse de Roncevaux in her sumptuous house in St. James's Square. The
date I believe was somewhere in January, 1794. The decorations, the
flowers, the music, the banquet-supper surpassed in magnificence, it is
asserted by chroniclers of the time, anything that had ever been seen
in the ultra-fashionable world.
The Duchesse, as everybody knows, was English by birth, daughter of
Reuben Meyer, the banker, and immensely rich. His Grace the Duc de
Roncevaux, first cousin to the royal house of Bourbon, married her not
only for her wealth but principally because he was genuinely in love
with her. His name and popularity at court secured for his wife a
brilliant position in Paris society during the declining years of the
monarchy, whilst his charming personality and always deferential
love-making brought her a full measure of domestic happiness. He left
her an inconsolable widow after five years of married bliss. The
revolutionary storm was by then already gathering over France. The
English-born Duchesse thought it best to return to her own country,
before the cloud-burst which appeared more and more threatening every
day. She chose London as her principal home, and here with the aid of
her wealth and a heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness she
did her best to gather round her those more fortunate French families
who had somehow contrived to escape from the murderous clutches of the
revolutionary government of France. Thus a delightful set of charming
cultured people could always be met with in the Duchesse de Roncevaux's
luxurious salons. Here one rubbed shoulders with some of the
members of the old French aristocracy now dispossessed of most if not
all their wealth, but bringing into the somewhat free-and-easy tone of
eighteenth-century London something of their perfect manners, their
old-world courtesy and that atmosphere of high-breeding and distinction
handed down to them by generations of courtiers. The Comte de Tournay
with Madame his wife and their son the young Vicomte were often to be
seen at these social gatherings. Mademoiselle de Tournay had recently
married Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, the handsome young leader of fashion, who
was credited with being a member of the heroic League of the Scarlet
Pimpernel. There was Félicien Lézenne, who had been chairman of the
Club des Fils du Royaume, his young wife and Monsieur de Lucines, his
father-in-law, who were actually known to have been saved from the
guillotine by that mysterious and elusive person the Scarlet Pimpernel
There were others, of course, for the list of refugees from
revolutionary France waxed longer day by day and all found a welcome in
the Duchesse de Roncevaux's hospitable mansion; and not only did they
find a welcome but also a measure of gaiety! for the daughter of Reuben
Meyer the Jewish banker had understanding as well as social ambition.
Her aim was to make her salon the most attractive one in town,
and what society could be more attractive than that of those French
aristocrats, most of whom had palpitating stories to tell of past
horrors, of dangers of death, and, above all, of those almost
phenomenal rescues of condemned innocents sometimes under the very
shadow of the guillotine, effected by that heroic organization known as
the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and its lion-hearted chief.
To hear one of those deeds of unparalleled courage recounted by one
of those who owed their lives to that intriguing personality was voted
unanimously to be far more exciting than a melodrama at Drury Lane, and
the Duchesse de Roncevaux could always be relied on to provide her
guests with one of those soul-stirring narrations which caused every
velvet cheek to flush with enthusiasm and every bright eye to glow with
hero-worship. There were other entertainments too to be enjoyed in the
sumptuous mansion in St. James's Square, there were operas, ballets,
comedies, concerts: young musicians often made their first formal bow
before a discriminating company which often included the Prince of
Wales himself and the élite of English society, and more than one
disciple of the late Mr. Garrick first tasted the sweets of success in
the Duchesse's salon. But none of these entertainments had the
power to excite interest as did the relation of one of those
hair-raising exploits of the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, told with
fervour and a charming French accent by whoever happened to be the
honoured guest of the evening.
On this occasion it was the abbé Prud'hon, lately come from France
in the company of Monsieur le Marquis de Saint-Lucque and the young
Vicomte. The arrival of Monsieur de Saint-Lucque had been a real event
in the chronicle of London society. He was known to have been saved
from death by the hero of the hour: in fact, he and the abbé had
proclaimed this openly, and everybody—the men as well as the
ladies—had been on tenterhooks to hear the true version of their
amazing rescue. All sorts of rumours had been afloat, as they always
were whenever a French family came to join the colony of recent émigrés who had found refuge in hospitable England. Everyone was
agog to know how they had been smuggled out of France, for that was
what it amounted to. Men, women and children, the old, the infirm,
whenever innocent seemed literally to have been snatched from under the
very noses of the revolutionary guard, and this led to all sorts of
tales, medieval in their superstitious extravagance, of direct
interference from the clouds or of a supernatural being, of unearthly
appearance and abnormal strength who scattered revolutionary soldiers
before him as easily as he would a swarm of flies.
There was a first-class sensation in fashionable circles when Madame
la Duchesse de Roncevaux issued invitations for one of her popular
routs. The invitation promised a concert by the London String Band, a
playlet to be performed by His Majesty's mummers, and a supper prepared
by Monsieur Haon formerly cook-in-chief to Madame de Pompadour. But all
these attractions paled in interest before the one brief announcement:
"Guest of Honour: M. l'Abbé Prud'hon." Everyone in town knew by now
that M. l'Abbé Prud'hon was tutor to the young Vicomte de Saint-Lucque
and had been summarily arrested along with him and M. le Marquis by the
revolutionary government under the usual futile pretext of having
plotted against the safety of the Republic.
The salons of Madame la Duchesse de Roncevaux were thronged
on this occasion as they had never been before, and there was such a
chattering up and down the monumental staircase as the guests filed up
to greet their hostess, as in an aviary of love-birds.
"My dear, isn't it too wonderful?"
"I declare I am so excited, I don't know if I am standing on my head
or on my heels."
"I know I shall scream if that London String Band goes on too long."
"I call it cruel to put them on before we have heard M. l'Abbé."
"Hush! you mustn't say that. The dear Duchesse had them only in
order to bring our blood to boiling point."
"Mine has been over boiling point all day, and I am on the verge of
By ten o'clock all the guests had arrived, and the hostess, wearied
after standing for over an hour at the head of the staircase receiving
the company, had retired to the rose-coloured boudoir where His Royal
Highness the Prince of Wales, Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney, Sir Andrew
and Lady Ffoulkes and a small number of the more privileged guests were
discussing the coming event somewhat more soberly than did the gaily
plumaged birds in the adjoining ball-room. M. l'Abbé was there too, a
pathetic figure in his well-worn soutane: his cheeks, once round and
full, were pale and wan now, showing signs of the many privations, the
lack of food and warmth, which he had suffered recently. He looked ill
and very weary. It was only his eyes, tired-looking and red-rimmed
though they were, that retained within their depths a merry twinkle
which every now and then came to the fore, when his inward glance came
to rest on a memory less cruel than most: that merry twinkle was the
expression of a keen sense of humour which no amount of sorrow and
suffering had the power wholly to eradicate.
At the moment he certainly seemed to have thrown off some of his
lassitude; finding himself the centre of interest in a sympathetic
crowd, all anxious to make him forget what he had suffered, and to make
him feel at home in this land of freedom and of orderly government, his
whole being seemed to expand in response. A warm glow came into his
eyes and the smiles so freely bestowed on him by the ladies found their
reflection round his pale, drooping lips. Everyone was charming to him.
The Prince of Wales was most gracious, and his hostess lavish in
delicate attentions. He had had an excellent dinner, and a couple of
glasses of fine old Burgundy had put heart into him.
"Ah, Monsieur l'Abbé," sighed lovely Lady Lauriston, "you will tell
us, won't you, the true, unvarnished facts about your wonderful escape."
"Of course I will, dear lady," the old priest replied; "nothing
could make me happier than to let the whole world hear, if it were
possible, the story of one of the most valorous deeds ever accomplished
on this earth. I have seen men and women, especially recently, show
amazing pluck and endurance under the terrible circumstances which alas
obtain in my poor country these days, but never did I witness anything
like the courage and resourcefulness displayed by that noble gentleman
who rescued us from certain death at risk of his life."
The abbé had spoken so earnestly and in a voice quivering with such
depth of emotion, that instinctively the chatter around him died down,
and for a few moments there was silence in the pretty rose-coloured
boudoir, whilst the old priest and several of the ladies
surreptitiously wiped away a tear. Everyone felt thrilled, emotional;
even the men responded readily to that feeling of pride in the display
of courage and endurance, those virtues which make such a strong appeal
to the finest of their sex.
It was the hostess who first broke the silence. She asked:
"And you do not know who your rescuer was, M. l'Abbé?"
"Alas, no, Madame la Duchesse. Monsieur de Saint-Lucque, the Vicomte
and I were locked up inside the coach which was conveying us to Paris
for trial and, of course, execution. It was very dark. To my sorrow I
saw nothing, no one. And that is a sorrow I shall take with me to my
grave. To touch the hand of the most gallant man on earth would be an
infinite joy to me. And I know that Monsieur le Marquis thinks as I do
"How is Monsieur le Marquis, by the way?" His Royal Highness
The abbé shook his head and drew a deep sigh.
"Sadly, I am afraid. He is heart-broken with anxiety about his wife
and the other two children: and he keeps on reproaching himself for
being safe and free while they are still in danger."
"Don't let him break his heart over that, M. l'Abbé. Didn't you tell
us the other day that the Scarlet Pimpernel had pledged you his word to
bring Madame de Saint-Lucque and her two little girls safely to
It was Lady Blakeney who spoke. She was sitting on the sofa near the
old priest and while she said those comforting words she put her hand
on his arm. She was the most beautiful woman there, easily the queen
among this bevy of loveliness. The abbé turned to her and met those
wonderful luminous eyes of hers so full of confidence and
encouragement. He raised her hand to his old lips.
"Yes," he said; "we did get that marvellous pledge, Monsieur de
Saint-Lucque and I. How it came to us is another of the many miracles
that occurred during those awful times after we were arrested and
incarcerated in the local gaol. There was a funny old fellow, dirty and
bedraggled, whom we caught sight of one day through the grated window
of our prison-cell. He was stumping up and down the corridor outside
singing the Marseillaise very much out of tune. Two days later we saw
him again, and this time as he stumped along he recited in a cracked
voice that awful blasphemous doggerel: 'Ça ira!' It was then that the
miracle occurred, for after he had gone by we saw a crumpled wad of
paper on the floor, just beneath the window."
Here the abbé's narration was suddenly broken into by a shrill
little cry of distress.
"Sir Percy, I entreat, do hold my hand. I vow I shall swoon if you
The cry broke the tension which was keeping the small company in the
boudoir hanging on the words of the old priest. All eyes were turned to
the dainty lady who had uttered the pitiful appeal. The Lady Blanche
Crewkerne had edged closer and closer to the sofa where sat the abbé;
her eyes were glowing, her lips quivered; she was in a regular state of
flurry. As soon as she had attracted all the attention she coveted to
her engaging personality she raised a perfumed handkerchief to her
tip-tilted nose, fluttered her eyelids, closed her eyes and finally
tottered backwards as if in very truth she was on the point of losing
consciousness. From all around there came an exclamation of concern
until a pair of masculine arms was stretched out to receive the
swooning beauty, whereupon concern turned to laughter, loud and
prolonged laughter while Lady Blanche opened her eyes, thinking to find
herself reclining against the magnificent waistcoat of the Prince of
Dandies. They encountered the timid glance of old Sir Martin Cheverill,
who felt very much embarrassed in the chivalrous role of supporter to a
lady in distress thus unexpectedly thrust upon him. Nor did the lady
make any effort to conceal her mortification. Already she had recovered
her senses, as well as her poise. With nervy movements she plied her
fan vigorously and remarked somewhat tartly:
"Methought Sir Percy Blakeney was standing somewhere near."
There was more laughter after this, and old Lady Portarles who never
missed an opportunity of putting in a spiteful word where the younger
ladies were concerned, interposed mockingly:
"Sir Percy, my dear Blanche? Why, he has been fast asleep this last
And picking up her ample train she swept across the room to where a
rose-coloured portière was drawn across the archway of a recess.
Lady Portarles drew the curtain aside with a dramatic gesture and there
of a truth across a satin-covered sofa, his head reclining against a
cushion, fast asleep, lay the Prince of Dandies, Sir Percy Blakeney,
Bart. An exclamation of horror, amounting to a groan, went round the
room. Such disgraceful behaviour surpassed any that that privileged
person had ever been guilty of. Had it been anyone else . . .
The groan, the exclamation of horror, had quickly roused the
delinquent from his slumbers. He struggled to his feet and looking
round on the indignant faces turned on him he had the good grace to
look thoroughly embarrassed.
"Ladies, a thousand pardons," he stammered shame-facedly. His Royal
Highness deigned to keep me at hazard the whole afternoon and . . ."
But it was no use appealing to His Highness for protection against
the irate ladies. He was sitting back in his chair roaring with
"Blakeney," he said between his guffaws, "you'll be the death of me
And after a time he added: "It is to Monsieur l'Abbé Prud'hon that
you owe an abject apology."
"Monsieur l'Abbé . . ." Sir Percy began in tones of the deepest
humility, "to do wrong is human. I have done wrong, I confess. To
forgive is divine. Will you exercise your privilege and pronounce
absolution on the repentant sinner?"
His manner was so engaging, his diction so suave, and he really did
seem so completely ashamed of himself that the kind old priest who had
a keen sense of humour was quite ready to forgive the offence.
"On one condition, Sir Percy," he said lightly.
"I am at your mercy, M. l'Abbé."
"That you listen to me—without once going to sleep, mind you—while
I narrate to Madame la Duchesse's guests the full story of how Monsieur
de Saint-Lucque and his son as well as my own insignificant self were
spirited away out of the very jaws of death, and at the risk of his own
precious life, by that greatest of living heroes the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"I am at your mercy, M. l'Abbé ," Sir Percy reiterated ruefully.
"And now I pray you, Sir Percy," the Lady Blanche resumed, and gave
a playful tap with her fan on Sir Percy's sleeve, "to hold my hand. I
am still on the point of swooning, you know," she added archly.
She held out her pretty hand to Blakeney, who raised it to his lips,
then turning to the Prince of Wales he pleaded: "Will your Royal
Highness pronounce this painful incident closed and command Monsieur
l'Abbé to give us the story of what he is pleased to call a miracle."
"Monsieur l'Abbé . . ." His Highness responded, turning to the old
priest, "since you have been gracious enough to forgive . . ."
"I will continue,
c'est entendu," Monsieur l'Abbé readily
agreed. And once more the ladies crowded round him the better to listen
to a tale that had their beau ideal for its hero. Nor were the men
backward in their desire to hear of the prowess of a man whose identity
remained as incomprehensible as were the methods which he employed for
getting in touch with those persecuted innocents whom he had pledged
himself to save.
"And what was written on that scrap of paper, M. l'Abbé?" His
"Only a few words, your Highness," the priest replied. "It said: 'We
who are working for your safety do pledge you our word of honour that
Madame de Saint-Lucque and her two children will land safely in England
before long," and in the corner there was a drawing of a small flower
roughly tinted in red chalk."
"The Scarlet Pimpernel!" The three magic words coming from a score
of exquisitely rouged lips had the sound of a deep-drawn sigh. It was
followed by a tense silence while the abbé mopped his streaming
"Your pardon, ladies," he murmured. "I always feel overcome with
emotion when I think of those horrible and amazing days."
CHAPTER VI. THE PRINCE OF DANDIES
Thus was the incident closed. The hostess rose somewhat in a flurry.
"In my excitement to hear you, M. l'Abbé," she said, "I am
forgetting my guests. Will your Royal Highness deign to excuse me?"
"I'll follow you in a moment, dear lady. Your guests I am sure are
dying with impatience. And," he added, turning with a smile to the
other ladies, "all the best seats will soon be occupied."
It seemed like a hint, which from royal lips was akin to a command.
Lady Lauriston, Lady Portarles and the other ladies followed in the
wake of Madame la Duchesse. Only at a sign from His Royal Highness did
a privileged few remain in the boudoir: they were Sir Percy and Lady
Blakeney, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and his young wife, Lord Anthony
Dewhurst, Monsieur l'Abbé Prud'hon and two or three others.
The Prince turned to the old priest and asked:
"And M. de Saint-Lucque you say, reverend, sir, could find no trace
of the whereabouts of his wife and daughters?"
"None, monseigneur," the abbé replied. "When M. de Saint-Lucque did
me the honour of seeking shelter under my roof with Monsieur le
Vicomte, he entrusted his wife and daughters to the care of a worthy
couple named Guidal, who had a small farm a league or so from Rocroi.
They had both been in the service of old M. le Marquis, who had loaded
them with kindness, and I for one could have sworn that they were
loyalty itself. The night before our summary arrest—we already knew
that we were under suspicion—the woman Guidal came to my presbytery.
She was in tears. I questioned her and through her sobs she contrived
to convey to me the terrible news that her husband fearing for his own
arrest had talked of denouncing Madame la Marquise to the police; that
she herself had entreated and protested in the name of humanity and
past loyalty to the family, but terror of the guillotine had got a grip
over him and he wouldn't listen. The woman went on to say that Madame
la Marquise had unfortunately overheard the discussion and in the early
dawn before she and her husband were awake had left the farm with her
two little girls going she knew not whither. "Your Highness may well
imagine," the old man went on, "how completely heart-broken Monsieur de
Saint-Lucque was and has been ever since. At times since then I have
even feared for his reason. Had it not been for his son he would I feel
sure have done away with himself, but never for one moment would I
allow M. le Vicomte to be away from his father. This was not difficult
as the guard put over us during our captivity and in the coach that was
taking us to Paris kept the three of us forcibly together. The first
ray of light that came to us through this abysmal horror," the abbé now
concluded, mastering the emotion which had seized him while he told his
pitiable story, "were the few lines written on the scrap of paper which
a dirty and be-draggled scavenger threw in to us through the grated
window of our prison-cell: 'We who are working for your safety do
pledge you our word that Madame de Saint-Lucque and her two children
will land in England before long.'"
"And you may rest assured, M. l'Abbé, that that pledged word will
never be broken."
It was Marguerite Blakeney who said this, breaking the tense silence
which had reigned in the gay little boudoir when the old priest had
concluded his narrative. She put her hand on his, giving it a
comforting pressure and the old man raised it to his lips.
"God bless you!" he murmured. "God bless England and you all who
belong to this great country." He rose to his feet and added fervently:
"And, above all, God bless the selfless hero of whom you are so justly
proud and to whom so many of us owe life and happiness: your mysterious
"God bless him!" they all murmured in unison.
Over in the ball-room the London String Band had finished playing
the last item on their programme and the final chords of the Magic
Flute followed by a round of applause came floating in on the
perfumed air of the rose-coloured boudoir.
"Your Royal Highness," came in meek accents from Sir Percy Blakeney,
"will you deign to remember that I am forbidden to go to sleep until
Monsieur l'Abbé has told us a lot more about that shadowy Scarlet
Pimpernel, and frankly I am dead sick of the demmed fellow already."
The Prince had already regained his habitual insouciance.
"Nor do we wish," he said, and gave the signal for every one to rise
and follow him, "to miss another moment of M. le Abbé's interesting
talk. But I'll warrant, my friend," he added, with a chuckle, "that you
won't get to sleep till after you have completely atoned for your
He shook an admonishing finger at Sir Percy Blakeney, the darling of
society, the pattern of the perfect gentleman, caught in flagrante
delicto of bad manners, and finally led the way into the adjoining
ball-room. It was crowded with an ultra-fashionable throng. The elite
of English society was present in full force as well as a goodly
contingent of French émigrés. Lady Lockroy was there with her two
pretty daughters. The old Earl of Mainbron had brought his charming
young wife, and the Countess of Lauriston, acknowledged to be next to
Lady Blakeney the best-dressed woman in town, had donned one of the
new-fashioned dresses of clinging material and high waist said to be
the latest mode in Vienna. And many others, of course. When His
Highness entered the ball-room and the ladies swept their ceremonial
courtesy to him down to the ground, there was such a rustling of silks
and satins as if a swarm of bees had suddenly been let loose. His
Highness had Lady Blakeney on his arm, and immediately behind him came
Sir Percy with young Lady Ffoulkes. The Prince was in the best of
"Ladies! Ladies!" he said gaily; "you have missed such a scandal as
London has not witnessed for many a day. Has not our charming hostess
The select company who had trooped out of the boudoir in the wake of
His Highness tittered as the word "scandal" went round the big
ball-room in varied tones of horror or suspense.
"Your Highness, I entreat," Sir Percy whispered in the ear of his
But the Prince solemnly shook his head and made to look very serious.
"No good your appealing to me, Blakeney," he said with mock
severity. "The ladies must hear of your abominable behaviour. Monsieur
l'Abbé has been most kind and forbearing, but our royal patience has
been sorely tried, and we have decreed that your punishment shall fit
your crime, and that you shall be pilloried before all these ladies as
the most ill-mannered man in London. What say you, ladies? Lady
Blakeney, have I your permission to proceed?"
The ladies with one accord begged His Highness to go on, whilst Lady
Blakeney, smiling at her discomfited lord, shrugged her pretty
shoulders and said deferentially:
"As your Royal Highness desires."
"Then we will depute Lady Portarles to tell the awful tale." His
Highness concluded, and deposited his bulky person in a capacious
armchair. He begged his hostess to sit on one side of him and Lady
Blakeney on the other. The story of how the Prince of Dandies had gone
to sleep while M. l'Abbé Prud'hon was relating one of the miracles
accomplished by the heroic Scarlet Pimpernel was told with obvious
gusto and a suspicion of malice by Lady Portarles, who, by the way, was
known in society as the queen of scandal-mongers. The story lost
nothing in the telling and as the horrifying recital of his misdeed
progressed, Sir Percy Blakeney became the target of a hundred frowning
looks and was forced to listen to a veritable uproar of censure of
"Shame on you, Sir Percy!" and "Would you believe it, my dear?" or "Did
you ever hear the like?" The whole thing, of course, in a spirit of
fun, for there was no more popular man in the whole of England than Sir
Lady Blakeney sat by smiling sweetly whilst His Royal Highness
obviously enjoyed the discomfiture of his friend. Protests on Sir
Percy's part were of no avail. His Highness had decreed that he should
be pilloried—and he was.
"I have often noticed," one of the ladies now remarked, "that Sir
Percy makes a point of going to sleep whenever the rest of us are
thrilled by one of those marvellous exploits of our beloved Scarlet
Pimpernel related here in this very room by those who owe their life to
"I seem to have noticed the same thing," mused pretty Lady Blanche,
"on more than one occasion."
"My belief," put in Lady Portarles, in a voice that dominated the
din of conversation, "my firm belief, I may say, is that our Prince of
Dandies is jealous of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"He is! He is!" came in a loud chorus from everyone around.
"Own to it, Sir Percy, that you are jealous of our wonderful hero."
Sir Percy no longer protested.
"I will own to it at your command, fair ones," he said ruefully.
"What can a poor man say when the innermost workings of his heart are
read like a book by a whole bevy of lovely ladies. How can I help being
jealous of that demmed elusive fellow who monopolises your thoughts and
conversations at all hours of the day? That, begad, shadow deprives us
mere mortals of your attention when we would desire to lay our homage
at your feet."
While this merry interlude went on, the servants had been busy
arranging the chairs and putting the room generally in order for the
hearing of Monsieur l'Abbé's recital. Now everything was ready. Heavy
curtains masked the dais where the String Band had discoursed sweet
music, leaving a semicircular alcove in the centre of which the major
domo had placed a chair behind a table with a carafe of water and a
glass. And gradually chattering and laughter ceased. There was a little
whispering here and there, a few discreet ripples of laughter quickly
suppressed, when Sir Percy after he had seen Madame la Duchesse to her
seat, took up his stand with an air of resignation against the nearest
window embrasure. Monsieur l'Abbé Prud'hon now mounted the few steps
that led up to the dais whilst the company sat down, the ladies in the
front displaying their brocaded gowns to the best advantage, and the
men standing in compact groups all round them.
No actor of note or learned lecturer could have boasted of a more
attentive audience than had this old Frenchman in the shabby soutane
with the wan cheeks and the twinkling eyes. He sat down in the
framework of the alcove, and once or twice passed his hand across his
brow as if to collect his thoughts.
"Monseigneur," he began,
"Mesdames et Messieurs." He
spoke in French throughout. Most of the company which consisted
exclusively of cultured, well-educated persons, understood every word
he said, for his diction was of the clearest, and he spoke his own
language with the exquisite purity of the Touraine district. It was
Madame Descazes, wife of the eminent advocate at the Paris bar, who
being an erudite as well as a meticulous lady, made copious notes of
what Monsieur l'Abbé related to the elegant company assembled in the salon of Madame la Duchesse de Roncevaux on that
never-to-be-forgotten evening in the winter of 1794; and it is on these
notes that all records of the event are based, for Madame Descazes very
kindly allowed her intimate friends to study her notes and make a
translation of them if they had a mind.
"I am so thankful, my dear, that I learned French at school," the
Countess of Mainbron whispered to her neighbour while the abbé paused
"I wish I had done better with it," the latter responded. "Luckily,
the dear old man speaks very slowly, and I shall not miss much."
"I can understand every word he says," the youngest Miss Lockroy put
"Hush! Hush over there!" Lady Portarles admonished. "We can't have
any chattering or we may miss something."
For Monsieur l'Abbé, after a few preliminaries, had now embarked on
the most palpitating point in his narrative.
"The great miracle, for I must call it that," he was saying,
"occurred on a steep bit of road which cuts across the forest of
Mézières. It was mid-afternoon and very dull and dark. We could see
nothing inside the carriage for the windows were veiled by a curtain of
misty rain which had fallen in a drizzle ever since early morning. We
sat huddled up against one another. Monsieur le Marquis and I had the
young Vicomte between us, trying to keep him warm, for as the shades of
evening began to draw in, the cold grew intense, and the poor lad had
been half starved ever since our arrest eight days before.
"As I say, we could see very little of what went on outside; only
the dim outline of horses trotting on each side of the carriage. We
were being strongly guarded. You must know, ladies, that Monsieur le
Marquis and all his family are the special targets of an insane hatred
on the part of the revolutionary government and of a cruel woman, whom
may God forgive, who seems to have vast influence with them all."
"You mean the woman they call Mam'zelle Guillotine?" His Royal
Highness here put in.
"Your Highness knows?" the hostess asked.
"We heard her life-story a little while ago," the Prince replied.
"It is one of the most extraordinary ones we had ever heard."
"What has always remained a puzzle," the abbé continued after this
slight interruption, "in the minds of those of us who have had the good
fortune of coming in personal contact with the Scarlet Pimpernel is how
he comes to be always in close touch with those who presently may have
need of his help. I have heard it argued among some of my English
friends that on most occasions luck entered largely in the success of
his plans. There never was a more false or more unjust suggestion. Let
me assure you that certainly as far as we wretched prisoners were
concerned it was pluck and pluck only, the courage and resourcefulness
of one man, that saved the three of us from death."
From the elegant assembly, from those society ladies peacocking it
in their silks and satins, from the men, some of whom spent the best
part of their day at the gambling-tables, there came a sound like the
intaking of one breath, a deep sigh which proclaimed more eloquently
than words could do the admiration amounting almost to reverence laid
at the shrine of the bravest of the brave. The sigh died down and a
tense silence followed. Nothing was heard for a moment or two, save the
faint rustle here and there of stiff brocade, or the flutter of a fan,
until suddenly the silence was broken by a pleasant voice saying
"Surely not one man, Monsieur l'Abbé. I have it from M. de
Saint-Lucque himself that there were at least three if not more of the
rescuing party . . . and that your Scarlet Pimpernel did no more than .
"Hush! Silence!" came in indignant protest from the ladies at this
attempted disparagement of their hero.
"Sir Percy, you are impossible!" one of them declared resolutely,
whilst another begged His Royal Highness to intervene.
"Jealousy carried to that point," concluded Lady Portarles, "amounts
to a scandal. Your Royal Highness, we entreat . . ."
"Nay, ladies," His Highness responded with his cheery laugh. "Since
you ladies have failed in inculcating hero-worship into this flippant
courtier of mine, what can I do? . . . a mere man!"
There were few things the Prince enjoyed more than the badgering of
his friend over this question of the Scarlet Pimpernel, while he
yielded it to none in his admiration for the man's superhuman courage
and spirit of self-sacrifice.
"Lady Blakeney," one of the younger ladies pleaded, "have you no
influence over Sir Percy? His flippant remarks cut most of us to the
Marguerite Blakeney turned smiling to the speaker.
"I have no influence, my dear, over Sir Percy," she said, "but I am
sure that he would sooner remain silent the rest of the evening rather
than distress any of you."
"You have heard what her ladyship says, you incorrigible person,"
His Highness put in. "It amounts to a command which we feel obliged to
"What can I do," Blakeney responded humbly, "but bow my diminished
head? Lady Blakeney is quite right when she asserts that I would rather
remain for ever dumb than bring one tear of distress to so many lovely
eyes. It was only a sense of fair play that caused me to say what I
"Why, yes. Fair play. In your over-estimation of one man's prowess,
you, dear ladies, are apt to forget that there are other equally
gallant English gentlemen, without whose courage and loyalty your
Scarlet Pimpernel would probably by now have fallen into the hands of
those murdering devils over in France. Now, I know for a fact, and I am
sure that Monsieur l'Abbé will bear my story out, that in this case . .
But the mere suggestion that the Scarlet Pimpernel might possibly
one day fall into the hands of the Terrorists in France, raised such a
storm of indignation from the entire assembly that Sir Percy was unable
to proceed. He gave an audible sigh of resignation and thereafter
leaned back once more in silence against the window embrasure. His eyes
remained fixed on his beautiful wife. She was obviously smiling to
herself. It was a mischievous little smile for she, too, like the
Prince of Wales, enjoyed the good-humoured chaff to which her husband
was invariably exposed when the subject of the Scarlet Pimpernel was on
the tapis. She was sitting beside His Royal Highness now and Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes sat next to her. There was no more ardent worshipper of his
chief than Sir Andrew, the most faithful and loyal lieutenant a leader
ever had, and an evening like the present one gave him a measure of
happiness almost as great as that experienced by Marguerite Blakeney
herself. She was looking radiant and her luminous eyes had a glow in
them which had its counterpart in those of her friend. They were made
to understand one another, these two, and now, unseen by the rest of
the company, he raised her hand to his lips.
CHAPTER VII. A VALOROUS DEED
After this brief interval the old abbé was allowed to resume his
"I am quite prepared to admit," he now went on, "that Nature helped
our rescuers all she could. It would have been more difficult, of
course, had the afternoon been fine and clear. But even so, I am sure
that the leader of that gallant league would have found some other
means to save us. As it was, the drizzle mixed with sleet and driven by
a cutting wind fretted the horses, and the driver had much ado to keep
them in hand: a difficult task, as he himself was obliged to keep his
head down and his hat pulled well over his eyes. So we went on for what
seemed to me an eternity. I had completely lost count of time. We went
on and on or rather were being dragged along in the jolting vehicle on
the rough, muddy road until we wondered whether body and soul could
bear the strain any longer, and would presently disintegrate, be forced
to break apart and lose cohesion through the violence of those
"A slight respite from this torture came presently when the road
began to rise sharply, and the horses, sweating and panting, were put
at foot-pace while they dragged the heavy coach up the incline, still
in squelching mud. As I put it to you just now, I had lost count of
time altogether; so, I know, had Monsieur le Marquis. The child was
asleep in my arms, his curly head resting against my shoulder. His lips
were parted and through them came at regular intervals a gentle,
pathetic moan. The shades of evening were drawing in by now, darkness
closed in around us; we were prisoners inside that jolting vehicle,
aching in every limb, unable to see, unable to move, hearing nothing
but the creaking of axles and of damp leather, and the squelching of
horses' hoofs in the mud of the road.
"And suddenly out of the gloom there rang the report of a
pistol-shot, followed immediately by a loud call: 'Stand and deliver!'"
At which palpitating point in the abbé's narrative one of the ladies
gave a shrill cry, another exclaimed, breathless: "Oh, mon Dieu
!" and there was a peremptory chorus of "Hush!" in which the men also
"The first pistol-shot was followed by another and then by a third,"
Monsieur l'Abbé resumed. "The horses must then have reared and plunged
wildly, for we were shaken right out of our seats and found ourselves
on the floor of the coach in a tumbled heap one on the top of the
other. We could hear a great deal of shouting, hoarse words of command
from the officer in charge of our escort, and throughout it all a
confused jumble of sounds, the jingle of harness, the stamping and
plunging of the horses maddened by the noise, the creaking of the
carriage wheels, dragged forwards and then backwards by their restless
movements, and the constant lashing of wind and sleet beating against
the carriage windows. Everything around the coach did, in fact, add to
the confusion. We in the meanwhile did our best to extricate ourselves
from our unpleasant position and had just succeeded in regaining our
seats, when the carriage door was suddenly opened and the figure of a
man appeared in the framework. He had a lantern in his hand which he
swung about, lighting up the inside of the coach as well as our scared
faces. The man wore a mask, and for all the world looked the very
picture of a highway-man. The poor little Vicomte huddled up against me
and began to whimper. I remember that at the moment my thoughts were
busy with conjecture as to what would be preferable under these
circumstances: to continue our fateful journey to Paris or to fall into
the hands of highway robbers. Before I could make up my mind as to
that, the man with the lantern said quite pleasantly: 'As you value
your lives, keep as still as you can. There are four of us here working
for your safety.'
"And before we had recovered from the shock—the happy shock, I may
tell you—which his words had brought to our nerves, the
pseudo-highwayman had vanished and closed the carriage door behind him.
We were left to marvel at this miracle which the good God had deigned
to perform for our salvation. Monsieur le Marquis murmured faintly: 'It
is surely that wonderful English gentleman they call the Scarlet
Pimpernel who is working for us,' and after a time he sighed and said:
'If only my dear wife and my darling girls could have been here too.'
But somehow I felt wonderfully elated. I had said my prayers of
thankfulness to God, and after that I was granted the power to comfort
our dear little Vicomte, by putting my arms round him and making him
rest his head against my shoulder, and also to speak words of
encouragement to M. le Marquis. Next to the good God himself, I felt in
my very soul complete belief in the Scarlet Pimpernel and trust in his
courage and his ability to save us."
The old man paused for a moment or two and mopped his streaming
forehead. He had spoken at some length amidst breathless silence on the
part of his hearers. Someone poured out a glass of water for him, and
he drank this down eagerly. After this he resumed:
"As to what happened subsequently we knew nothing for certain till
some days afterwards when we were on board an English ship and saw the
shores of France receding from our gaze. Then it was that the details
of our amazing rescue were related to me by one of the brave followers
of the Scarlet Pimpernel. I believe that it was just boundless
enthusiasm for his chief that caused him to speak to me as he did. He
was not the Scarlet Pimpernel himself but was, I am sure, the leader's
right-hand man. Let me tell you at once that I have pledged my word of
honour that I would never reveal his identity under any circumstances
whatever. As a matter of fact, he was the pseudo-highwayman who came to
comfort us when we were nearly scared to death. What he ultimately told
us was in substance this: that the whole surprise attack was the
foundation of an ingenious plan devised by his chief. It took no more
than a few minutes to carry through. Surprise and swiftness were, as my
informant said, the keynote of success. Had there been the slightest
slackening of speed, a word of command wrongly interpreted, a mere
second of hesitancy and the whole plan would certainly have failed. It
was swift action that won the victory, because it brought about a
confusion during which—can you believe it?—the Scarlet Pimpernel and
his three followers were down on their knees in the squelching mud of
the road, engaged in cutting the saddle-girths under the bellies of the
troopers' horses. Imagine what pluck, what coolness such an action
demanded in view of the fact that our brave rescuers were outnumbered
three to one. It is, so I understand, a well-known form of attack
practised in the East, fraught with deadly danger even when attackers
are numerically stronger than their enemy. In our case I imagine that a
kind of superstitious terror on the part of the revolutionary guard
must also have played into the hands of those brave English gentlemen.
The soldiers had no elbow-room for a good fight. The road was narrow,
the afternoon light growing more and more dim. And with it all the
constant cracking of pistol-shots, the snorting and terror of their
horses, the confusion, the mêlée and the gathering gloom hindered the
men from using what arms they had for fear of wounding their comrades
or injuring their horses.
"We, of course, kept as quiet as our nerves would allow, marvelling
what was happening and repeating our prayers to the good God for mercy
and divine help. As a matter of fact, what was happening unbeknown to
us remains to my mind the most wonderful act of audacity and contempt
of danger I for one have ever heard of. It seems that at a given moment
the Scarlet Pimpernel scrambled up the box-seat of the coach, snatched
the reins out of the driver's hands and in less time than it takes an
old man to tell you of it he had calmed the poor horses down. This, of
course, as I say, we did not know at the time, but it thrilled us poor
prisoners, I can tell you, when we heard a voice, a wonderful, cheery
and yet commanding voice speak the one word: 'Ready.'
"Was it intuition or inspiration, I know not; certain it is that I
knew in my innermost soul, that the voice I heard at that moment, was
that of the Scarlet Pimpernel. I can't tell you how I knew, but I did
know, and I have often talked this over with Monsieur le Marquis and it
seems that he too had the same conviction that I had. You must remember
that we inside the coach know nothing of what was happening, and yet
there we were suddenly convinced that the hour of our deliverance had
come. Often since that fateful moment have I been stirred to the soul
by the mere recollection of that voice speaking the word: 'Ready!' It
was his voice, my friends! I believe I should know it again
among thousands, or in the midst of the loudest uproar."
The priest had indeed no cause to complain of a want of attention on
the part of his audience. Men and women alike hung upon every word he
uttered. They held their breath, their glowing eyes were fixed upon the
old man's face.
"But, M. l'Abbé . . ." one lady was heard gasping through the
breathless silence that hung on this vast assembly.
"Yes, dear lady?" the abbé responded.
"As you say you would know the voice of the Scarlet Pimpernel again
. . ."
"I should . . . anywhere . . ." he assented.
"Then you are the one to identify our mysterious hero . . . to tell
us who he is and where, oh where, we are to find him."
This raised a wave of agitation, and a murmur of excitement. But
Monsieur l'Abbé only shrugged.
"Alas!" he said. "I have not heard that voice again—only in my
"If you do not proceed, Monsieur l'Abbé," here interposed Sir Percy
Blakeney with a genial laugh, "a number of ladies here will faint on
"Oh, yes, do go on, we beg of you, Monsieur l'Abbé," the ladies
pleaded, and one of them added lightly:
"See, even Sir Percy, the arch scoffer, hangs upon your lips."
"There is not much more to relate," the priest now resumed. "I
understand that the word 'Ready' was a command from the chief to his
followers to take immediate cover, which they did, whilst he himself
with one light click of the tongue whipped up the team, which plunged
down the incline at breakneck speed.
"My informant, bless him, cowering with his two friends in the gloom
of the thicket, told me that one of the most thrilling moments in the
day's adventure was to see the revolutionary soldiers trying to give
chase. Had they been circus-riders they might have given a good account
of themselves, but never having learned how to sit a horse with their
saddle-girths severed, they did not get very far. The three lieutenants
of your gallant hero did not stay to see the rest of the fun. They had
their orders and made their way to the place assigned to them by their
chief. As to the rest of our journey it has always seemed both to
Monsieur le Marquis and to me nothing but a dream. I remember—but only
vaguely—the dash down the forest road, and subsequently several halts
for the night in wayside huts. I remember the three of us being ordered
at one time to don the tattered garb of road-menders, and being jolted
along interminable roads in a rickety cart driven by an old hunchback
who appeared dumb as well as deaf; and I remembering staggering with
surprise when I saw that same old mudlark straighten out his back and
throw a purse of money to one of his own kind, who after that drove the
rickety cart all the way to the coast.
"Many less important events do I remember also. We were I reckoned
five days on the way, five days during which I was haunted by a clear,
commanding voice calling 'Ready' and by the vision of an out-at-elbows'
hunchback whose body presently appeared as tall and as straight as that
of a young god, and who threw a purse of gold about as if it were dross.
"And that, your Royal Highness, my lords and ladies," the abbé now
concluded, "is all that I can tell you of the great miracle
accomplished on our behalf and under the guidance of God by the finest
and bravest man that ever walked this earth."
These were some of the words that flew from mouth to mouth. It had
been a glorious story, told with the simplicity of truth. The audience
rose soon after that and separate groups were formed, groups in which
the palpitating tale of a man's heroism drove from the most flippant
minds all desire for frivolous chatter. The Prince of Wales held
Monsieur l'Abbé in earnest conversation. There were many here present
this evening who vowed that His Royal Highness was deep in the secrets
of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and could if he had a mind
reveal the identity of the popular hero. Lady Ffoulkes had edged up
close to Lady Blakeney and these two beautiful women, wives of two
brave English gentlemen, exchanged glances not only of pride but also
of anxiety for those precious lives so valiantly and constantly risked
in the defence of the helpless and the innocent.
At the other end of the room a group of ladies were trying to
remember the famous doggerel which that inimitable dandy, Sir Percy
Blakeney, as great a poet as he was a sportsman, had conceived while
tying his cravat.
"It went thus," Lady Blanche declared: "They seek him in England,
they . . ."
"No! no! no," broke in the eldest Miss Lockroy. "I am sure there was
no word about England . . . or France . . ."
"Yes, there was," asserted pretty Miss Norreys; "I remember the word
England very distinctly."
"Besides, it stands to reason," argued another fashionable beauty,
"they are seeking him in England, aren't they?"
"Wouldn't it be simpler, ladies," one of the men suggested, "to
settle the argument by referring it to the author of the deathless
"Yes! Yes! Of course," the ladies agreed.
"Sir Percy! Where is Sir Percy?"
All eyes were turned to the window embrasure against which the
darling of society had last been seen reclining with an air of
"Sir Percy!" the ladies reiterated. "Where is Sir Percy?"
But they looked for him in vain. That Prince of Dandies had,
incontinently, it seems, taken his elegant self off to a more congenial
CHAPTER VIII. A ROYAL FRIEND
Madame la Duchesse de Roncevaux was preparing to bid good night to
her guests. They were all standing in a wide semicircle at one end of
the ball-room waiting for His Royal Highness to give the signal for
departure before they in their turn took their leave. This he did
raising his hostess's hand to his lips.
"We have spent a delightful evening in your charming house, Madame,"
he said graciously; "one that none of our friends will, I warrant, ever
The frou-frou of brocaded skirts once more swept the parquet floor
with a sound like the buzzing of bees; it came as an accompaniment to
His Highness's departure. After he had taken final leave of Madame la
Duchesse the Prince turned to Sir Percy Blakeney, who with Marguerite
on his arm was also ready to take his leave.
"Nay, man," he said jovially. "I won't let you go quite so easily.
You are coming with us for we want a turn at hazard."
He gave a gracious nod to Blakeney, who murmured obediently:
"As Your Highness commands."
"I vow," the Prince went on, "I was so thrilled by Monsieur l'Abbé's
narration I must do something to take my mind off those horrors that go
on continually the other side of the Channel. Come, man, I'll challenge
you. The best of five throws, with doubles or quits a time. Lady
Blakeney," he went on, addressing Marguerite, "will you honour my poor
house by accompanying us? I feel I shall be in luck to-night and win
some of that rogue's fortune which is far to great for the needs of any
man. The Goddess of Fortune and the Goddess of Love have him under
their special care, he cannot expect Dame Chance to favour him also."
Thus chattering with his wonted good humour, His Royal Highness
offered his arm to Marguerite who took it and led the way down the
monumental staircase closely followed by Sir Percy. After he and his
immediate entourage had left, the party broke up. There was a general
rush for cloaks and mantles, calls outside for chaises and coaches,
endless chattering and shrill little cries as in an aviary of
Soon the whole company had dispersed, coaches and calèches rattled
over the cobblestones of old London in this or that direction, and the
magnificent mansion in St. James's Square was shuttered and presently
was wrapped in sleep.
The Prince of Wales who had Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney with him,
was being driven round in the royal equipage to Carlton House Terrace.
Not a word was spoken during the drive. It was quite a short one. All
three occupants of the carriage were absorbed in thought.
Half an hour later the royal host and his two privileged visitors
were closeted in the small library adjoining the enfilade of
reception-rooms. Attendants and servants had been dismissed and three
chairs disposed in front of the mantelpiece in which blazed a cheerful
fire of logs. In one of these reclined the rotund form of the future
King of England; Lady Blakeney sat beside him, her luminous eyes fixed
on the fitful play of the flames. Sir Percy was standing behind these
two, close to a table on which was placed a steaming bowl of punch. He
was intent on ladling out the hot liquid into a glass which he then
placed at the elbow of his royal host. The latter took a long draught,
smacked his lips and pronounced the drink to be first-rate.
"There is one thing, Lady Blakeney," he said jovially, "that this
scapegrace of a husband of yours can do to perfection and that is to
brew a night-cap. This punch is superlatively good."
He had another drink, cleared his throat, and fidgeted with his
lace-edged handkerchief. Obviously he had something to say and knew not
how to begin.
"You have guessed, gracious lady, I'm sure," he began at last, "the
reason why I have asked you to come here to-night knowing well how
tired and anxious you must be."
Marguerite murmured: "Yes!" almost inaudibly. She seemed unable to
"I desired your presence while I gave a serious talking to this
He then turned to Sir Percy.
"Blakeney," he commanded, "come hither and stand before me while I
impart to you our royal behest."
Blakeney smiling and indifferent at once came forward and, leaning
against the tall mantelpiece, stood facing His Royal Highness who then
"While we held converse with M. l'Abbé Prud'hon and afterwards when
he gave us such a graphic account of the heroic way in which . . ."
He broke off with a jovial guffaw for Blakeney had made a sign of
obvious impatience and put up a hand in protest.
"All right, all right man!" he said good-humouredly, "but don't
forget that I who represent the King my father am speaking to you now
and I forbid you to interrupt. I was going to say that while our friend
the emotional old priest was talking I watched your face, and I may say
that this gracious lady here, your wife, did the same, and we both came
to the conclusion that you were then and there making up your mind to
go back to France in order to effect the rescue of Madame de
Saint-Lucque and her children. That is so, is it not?"
He looked up enquiringly at Blakeney, trying to read in his somewhat
clumsy way what went on behind those deep-set blue eyes with their
far-away look of absorption in one single overwhelming purpose. How
could he tell? How could anyone guess the workings of this self-centred
mind intent on one thing and one only: the fulfillment of that one
purpose? Indeed Blakeney's gaze at this moment, though fixed on his
royal friend, was obviously unseeing. It took in nothing of these
luxurious surroundings in happy England, the ease, the comfort and the
peace. It had come to rest far away over there in France where a
helpless woman and two innocent children would soon be facing death
unless . . . And at the thought a happy smile came curling round his
lips, and a great sigh not only of longing but of resolve rose from out
the depths of his heart. The smile lingered until he saw Marguerite's
lovely face turned appealingly up to his, saw her sweet mouth a-quiver
with silent anguish and her lovely eyes shining with unshed tears. Then
the smile faded from his lips, and a kind of grey veil seemed to spread
right over his face. For one moment only. Just a few seconds and that
look was gone, the grey veil lifted by some ghostly hand. Back came the
smile and with it the merry laugh which proclaimed high animal spirits
and a carefree heart.
"Blakeney, are you listening?" the Prince demanded sternly.
"At Your Highness's commands."
"My commands are these, man, and note the word 'command.' I am not
asking or suggesting. I am ordering you to accompany us to Bath
to-morrow where we desire to spend the next month in taking the waters
necessary for our health."
A few second's silence and Blakeney put in with seeming irrelevance:
"The thaw has set in, sir. They have resumed hunting in the Shires."
"Well! You may hunt till the frost begins again if you like. But it
is Bath or the Shires, understand."
"Your Highness would not forbid me to hunt then?"
"Yet you would forbid me to go after a deadlier quarry than the fox.
You deign to tell me that I may hunt till the frost begins again. And I
will obey you, sir, and run a pack of wolves to earth who are after an
unfortunate woman and two defenceless children. I will hunt them down
and redeem my solemn word to a man who is breaking his heart at thought
of what his wife and little children must endure in the hands of
inhuman brutes. You would not forbid me to hunt the fox, sir. He has
done nothing more heinous than rob a hen-roost or two. Then why should
I run him to earth and let the wolves have their way?"
"Sport, man, sport!" His Highness broke in impatiently; "Fox-hunting
is the noblest sport on earth, and methought you were a sportsman."
"And I'll back my favourite sport against any that has ever been
invented for whipping up the blood of a man and making him feel akin to
the gods. And now in winter with the keen air fanning one's cheeks,
with the night wrapping you round with its sable mantle, with woman or
child clinging to you, their weak arms holding tightly to your waist,
with human wolves behind you, while you ride for dear life through
unknown country, riding, riding, not knowing where you may land, out of
one death-trap into another, that, Your Highness, is the sport
for me. I have tasted of it and so I know. Ask Ffoulkes, ask Tony, ask
any of the others, heroes they, every one of them. Fine men all, brave
men, and all of them obeying my slightest command. Sport, sir! Had you
but tasted it once, you would never ask me to forgo it again!"
Never once did Blakeney raise his voice while he spoke. It never
even shook. But the words came tumbling out of his mouth with the
rapidity of running water. His voice while it was pitched low and as if
muffled, became more sonorous, more vibrant, compelling attention with
the overwhelming force of the passion within. He was looking straight
out before him, with head thrown back, seeing as it were the vision
which he had invoked: the loneliness, the blackness of the night, and
those weak arms clinging round his waist. Hearing the thunder of hoofs
behind him, scenting the hot breath of wolves in pursuit, and the
approach of death which mayhap had marked him for its own. Ride on,
thou gay adventurer! Ride on! For dear life, not your own but theirs,
the weak, the innocent, the helpless. Ride on! Ride on! while
beneficent darkness still lingers and the first grey streak of dawn
tinges the east with its light. Ride! gaily ride while the thunder of
hoofs behind you grows weaker and slowly dies away, and the breath of
human wolves thirsting for blood is lost in the odour of the frosty
air. Yes! here was the adventurer born, the reckless gambler, ready to
toss his life against any odds of chance, forgetting everything save
the thrill of the moment when even love is compelled to yield to the
unconquerable spirit of dare-devilment in the name of mercy and the
call of the oppressed for self-sacrifice.
Even the Prince, sybarite though he was, was held in thrall by the
fascination of this extraordinary personality: courtier, lover, prince
of dandies and king of adventurers. Less than an hour ago he had seen
him an a ball-room dressed in the latest fashion, with priceless lace
at throat and wrists, bandying inanities with brainless women, the butt
and darling of society, the maker of merriment and laughter. How
difficult it was to imagine this same man in rough and scanty clothing,
unwashed, unshorn, dwelling in derelict huts on vermin-infested boards,
or cowering in the scrub like some wild animal in its lair.
He, the Prince of Wales, the future King of England, had listened to
that man in silence realising how futile his royal commands must sound
after the inspired words of this visionary. And when Sir Percy had
finished speaking, the silence still persisted. Any comment after this
would almost seem like sacrilege. There was a mission here expounded
that must surely have its inspiration from the God of Love Himself.
After a time the silence, broken only by the solemn ticking of a
monumental clock over the mantelpiece, became strangely oppressive. It
seemed as if Fate had taken her stand at the gambler's elbow and defied
the two opponents—the wife, the friend—who pitted their weakness
against her strength. Blakeney himself was the first to break in with
his shy laugh and a quaint ejaculation:
"Good Lord! It must be that demmed punch getting into my head. Will
Your Highness forgive me?"
"Forgive you? What have I to forgive?"
"Disobedience to royal commands for one thing, sir. The way I've
made a fool of myself for another."
"You are determined to go then?"
"Would Your Highness have an English gentleman break his solemn
"The risks are too great, my friend," the Prince insisted. "You are
getting too well known over there. And you will be up against a woman
this time, remember."
"Marvellous thought, isn't it, sir?"
"And women have sharper vision than men."
"I hope this one has. If she is as stupid as my old friend Chauvelin
she won't give us a good run for our money."
"Percy," the Prince protested, "you are incorrigible."
And thus was the incident closed, the interview at an end. Soon
Blakeney begged permission to take his leave. He had ordered his coach
to be brought round to Carlton House Terrace for he knew that there was
nothing Marguerite loved better than a drive through the night air
after ball or rout in a stuffy atmosphere.
The major-domo was summoned to see that the coach was duly at the
gate. For a few minutes while Sir Percy went to have a last look at his
horses Marguerite was left alone with the Prince of Wales. He took hold
of her hand and raised it deferentially to his lips.
"I have done my best, Lady Blakeney," he pleaded.
"I am eternally grateful, Your Highness," she murmured.
He went on with unusual solemnity:
"I am not a religious man, gracious lady, but to-night I will
implore the good God on my knees to guard your husband from any kind of
After Blakeney and his wife had left, the Prince of Wales remained
for a long time absorbed in a kind of contemplation. He had seldom if
ever been so moved as he had been to-night by the stripping naked of a
soul—the soul of his friend whom he had never truly understood until
now. And he, the voluptuary, the hedonist, felt for the first—perhaps
the only time in his life—a vague longing, almost an envy of that
spirit which animated the personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and
gave to him with all the hardships and selflessness necessary for the
fulfilment of a self-imposed duty an overflowing cup of happiness and
"God grant her persuasive eloquence," he murmured to himself, when
the time came to retire for the night. He was thinking of Marguerite,
and the futile appeal she, poor woman, would also make to keep her
beloved from fulfilling that duty which in this case might so easily
lead to his death: one mistake, one slight mischance and one of the
most precious lives in the land would be sacrificed on the altar of an
CHAPTER IX. THE BITTER LESSON
Marguerite had hardly spoken a word during the interview between her
husband and his royal friend. She had sat by gazing into the fitful
flames of the log-fire and listening, listening while torturing anxiety
went on gnawing at her heart. Nor did she speak during the drive back
to their home in Richmond. She loved the drive and to-night the
air—which was damp and soft and had brought about the thaw—was sweet
and invigorating. The four greys seemed to have the devil in their legs
and Percy had another in his sensitive hands. He drove at breakneck
speed over the cobblestones of suburban London, and over the squelchy
road by the river.
An hour or so later Marguerite, having taken off her brocaded gown,
donned a comfortable wrap and dismissed her maids, went to find her
husband in the library where she knew he would be sitting now working
away and elaborating the plan which he had formed for the rescue of
Madame de Saint-Lucque and her children.
The evening in the
salon of the Duchesse de Roncevaux had
been torture to Marguerite, for while the abbé spoke so eloquently of
the Scarlet Pimpernel she had detected every change in Percy's face.
Others present only saw in him the fashionable dandy, the fop, the
nincompoop who readily allowed himself to be the butt of empty-headed
women, but she, his wife, knew just what was going on in his mind: she
saw every subtle expression in the eyes, the flicker of the lids, the
almost imperceptible set of his firm lips, and clenching of his hand.
But she never questioned him about his plans. She had learned the
bitter lesson of waiting. She knew that no power on earth—not even his
love for her—could move him once he had heard the call of innocents in
Just when she reached the bottom of the stairs, the library door was
thrown open by Percy's confidential valet. She heard Percy's voice from
inside the room saying in French: "I will give you further instructions
in the morning." A voice, unknown to her, replied: "At your commands,
A small, spare man dressed in sober black came out of the room
followed by the valet, who remained at attention whilst Marguerite, in
her turn, passed into the library.
Percy was sitting at his desk with a map of Northern France spread
out before him. He appeared to be tracing with one finger a route which
he had marked out on it. At sight of that map and of Percy's obvious
absorption, a pitiful cry was wrung from the poor woman's aching heart.
She put her arms round him and murmured in a desperate appeal:
"If you love me, do not go!"
It was useless, of course. She knew that well enough. All he did was
to take hold of her hands and press her soft palms against his lips.
But his eyes soon wandered back to his desk. He picked up a paper on
which were written a few lines in a small foreign-looking hand.
"Listen to this, m'dear," he said softly. "Our loyal friend Chartier
of the Comédie Français has sent me the report I asked him for by
special courier. You know how well informed he always is. He has such
marvellous opportunities in the theatre and out of it. And this is what
"'Chauvelin has been summoned back to Paris. Is not expected to
return to Mézières for some time. Has reported to the C. of P.S. on the
subject of the St. L's. Committee is sending their most famous spy to
track down the woman and her two children. His name is André Renaud. He
will arrive in M., so I understand, sometime in February. Up to the
hour of writing no trace has been found of the woman and children, but
believed to be still in the province not far from M.'"
He read the letter through quite slowly, as if he meant her to weigh
every word. He then folded up the paper and slipped it in the inner
pocket of his coat, murmuring softly the while:
"A stage coach plies between Barlemont in Belgium over the frontier
to Mézières. That will be the best route for us to follow."
"Percy," she entreated, her voice choked with sobs.
Once again he pressed her soft palms to his lips.
"Light of my life," he said in a whisper close to her ear, "pray to
God that I may not get there too late."
"Percy," she reiterated with infinite tenderness, "do not go."
She sank down on her knees. His arm rested on the arm of his chair.
She laid her head down on it. Her hair fell in soft golden ripples all
over her neck and shoulders. She felt his hand gently stroking her hair.
"Have no fear for me, my beloved, he said lightly, "those devils
will never get me, I'll swear. But I am sorry," he added with a rueful
smile, "that I shall not come to grips with my friend Chauvelin this
time. This André Renaud won't be nearly so amusing. As for Mam'zelle
Guillotine . . . Well! A nous deux, Mam'zelle.
He paused, gave a light-hearted laugh and then said with sudden
"Joy of my heart! Have I not pledged my word to Saint-Lucque?"
Yes! he had pledged his word. Marguerite knew that well enough, also
that he had proudly asserted: "The Scarlet Pimpernel never fails."
Nor would he fail, of that Marguerite was convinced. Strange as it
may seem she knew within herself even at this hour of torturing
anxiety, that Madame de Saint-Lucque and the two little girls would be
brought safely to England—and that very soon. But it was his life, his
precious life, that was more and more certainly in jeopardy every time
he went over to France. His anonymity was no longer absolute. Putting
his arch-enemy Chauvelin aside, there must be quite a number of others
who would recognise him as the Scarlet Pimpernel directly they saw him.
Had he not spent weeks in the Conciergerie prison, when those devils
tried to starve him into revealing the whereabouts of the unfortunate
Dauphin? His warders and tormentors saw him day after day: any one of
them would know him again, would even, perhaps, be able to pierce his
cleverest disguise. And there were others! So many, many others and all
of them on the look-out for the big reward promised for the capture of
the English spy.
Useless? Of course it was useless. To-morrow or perhaps the next day
he would steal away in the night, and she, Marguerite, would be left to
mourn and to wait. Her arms tightened round him and she murmured in his
"If you go, I go with you."
Before he could move or utter another word she had passed
soundlessly out of the room.
And the day after next the social chronicle contained the
announcement that Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney had left Richmond on a
visit to friends in Leicestershire where they intended staying while
the mild weather lasted. For the next twenty-four hours this somewhat
sudden departure of these two leaders of fashion gave ample food for
gossip over the coffee-cups. But everyone agreed that Sir Percy was
eccentric. No one really knew how to take him, or Lady Blakeney for the
matter of that. And then there were other matters to gossip about: the
probable marriage of the Prince of Wales in the near future for one
thing: the last phase of the trial of Warren Hastings for another.
And of course the Prince of Dandies and his lady would soon be back,
for the thaw was not likely to last.
CHAPTER X. A UNIQUE PERSONAGE
There is actually no authentic portrayal in existence of Gabrielle
Damiens, the daughter of the "regicide," who was known during the early
days of the revolution throughout the province of Artois as "Mam'zelle
Guillotine." The only inkling one has of what she probably looked like
comes from a sketch attributed to Louis David, at that time Director of
Fine Arts and member of the National Convention. It is without doubt,
like all David's work, an idealised representation of that odious, if
remarkable woman. Even through the artist's pure and classical
treatment of his subject, the woman's coarseness, not to say brutality,
is apparent in the low forehead, the wide flat nostrils, the prominent
eyes beneath the heavy brows, and above all in the full thick lips
slightly parted, displaying a row of teeth sharp and long like the
fangs of a wolf.
Nevertheless, one or two intimate chronicles of the time assert that
Gabrielle Damiens had une beauté de diable. Thus might a Queen
of Darkness be beautiful. Her figure was tall and well-proportioned
suggesting great physical strength, and though her dark eyes seldom
betrayed any emotion save of fury or hatred, her coarse lips would
sometimes part in a smile, not of joy but of sensual pleasure which
fascinated when it did not repel. Women, even the most ignoble harpies
of this revolutionary period hated and feared her, but men like Marat
and Danton looked upon her as the arch-fiend of the revolution and
worshipped her as those of their kind worshipped the devil.
It was said of that inhuman monster Marat that he had been
passionately in love with her.
Gabrielle Damiens occupied an apartment in what had been until a
year ago the episcopal palace in Mézières. The bishop was now deposed.
He was in hiding, so it was thought, somewhere in the forest, looked
after surreptitiously by a few faithful peasants of the district, who
did this act of charity at risk of their lives. The revolutionary
government took over the palace, stripped it of everything of value
that happened to be in it, desecrated the chapel and converted the fine
reception-rooms on the ground floor into offices for the use of the
local Committee of Public Safety, which now held its sittings in what
had been the bishop's private oratory.
The floor above was assigned to Citizeness Gabrielle Damiens at her
special request for her private residence. It was her friend Maximilien
Robespierre, one of the most prominent members in the Convention who
had obtained for her the position of Public Executioner in his native
Province of Artois. The story of how a woman came to be appointed to
such an odious post was a curious one. When Gabrielle Damiens was
liberated from the Bastille after sixteen years' incarceration, and
when full recollection came to her of how and by whose influence she
came to be arrested, her one dominating thought was Revenge. Her mind,
which had always been active, concentrated on schemes to accomplish
that one supreme object. All sorts of different plans presented
themselves before her in turn—spying, denunciations, underground work
of every sort and kind—she rejected them all. Her diabolic temperament
thirsted not for revenge only but for the actual blood of her enemies,
of Saint-Lucque, who had engineered her incarceration in the Bastille,
a living tomb in which she spent the best sixteen years of her life.
And Saint-Lucque, it seems, was married and happy with his wife and
young children. At thought of them Gabrielle Damiens became like those
legendary vampires thirsting for the life-blood of the entire brood.
But how to attain her heart's desire? Gabrielle thought and thought
and gradually a plan formed itself in her mind. A scheme. Only a vision
at first but with the possibility of becoming a realisation, more
wonderful, more stupendous than anything that had ever been done
before. She saw herself like Sanson of Paris or Carrier of Nantes, the
promoter and artisan of her own desires. She saw her hands, those large
hands of hers with the short spatulate finger-tips dealing out death
not vicariously but actually; deaths which she had for years madly
longed to witness. The guillotine! Why not?
What a vision! What if it became a reality? She foresaw
difficulties, of course. Even in these topsy-turvy times a female
wielder of the guillotine had not yet been thought of. But Robespierre
was her friend and so was Marat. They were men of influence and both
had the same kind of temperament as herself, cruel, vengeful and
unscrupulous. It is to them that she turned. They whom she presently
consulted, whose prestige she invoked. She was sure of Robespierre's
approval. And Marat . . .? Well, Marat would come to heel like a
snarling dog whatever she demanded of him. A flash of her eyes, a touch
of her hand and he became her slave.
She sent for those two men one day. There was a short recess in the
sittings of the Convention at the time and Robespierre had taken the
opportunity of going down to his native province of Artois on business
of his own, whilst Marat at Gabrielle's summons posted at once from
Paris as he would have done from the furthest confines of France if she
had called to him.
And so they came to her apartment which had once been a saintly
bishop's oratory, and Gabrielle Damiens, "the regicide's daughter,"
stood before them, tall, spare, admirably poised. She was dressed like
a man in crimson shirt and breeches: the sleeves of her shirt were
rolled up to display her muscular arms, her bare feet were thrust into
"Do I not look like a man?" she challenged them. Robespierre nodded
assent. Marat measured her with a tigerish glance.
"Mam'zelle Guillotine, what?" he murmured raucously.
"You call me Gabriel Damiens," the woman went on, "and you will
present me to your committees as the son, not the daughter of François
Damiens who was tortured and put to death by cowardly aristos to
conceal their own misdeeds. You will explain that I was imprisoned in
the Bastille for sixteen years for being my father's son. A good story
eh?" she concluded defiantly.
"Excellent!" was Maximilien Robespierre's curt comment whilst Marat
looked her up and down and gave a harsh laugh.
"You'll get found out pretty soon,
ma belle," he said.
The woman shrugged: "Would that matter?" she retorted. "If I do my
work well, which I certainly will, they will be satisfied and not care
whether I am man or woman."
And so it came to pass that the Province of Artois boasted of that
unique personage, a female executioner. She did not get found out till
after those awful days in September when two hundred helpless prisoners
were massacred in the prisons of Paris and in the surging crowd the
murderers had their clothes torn off their backs. "Gabriel Damiens,"
summoned from Artois by Danton to give a hand in the butchery,
accomplished, they said, the prodigies of patriotic ardour, by slaying
no fewer than twenty women with "his" own hand. The revolutionary
government, overruled at the time by the Extremists, desired to reward
those who had served it well on that horrible occasion and Gabrielle
Damiens had her reward by seeing her appointment confirmed as Public
Executioner in the Province of Artois, despite her sex. She had not
overestimated her valor when she said to her friends: "I'll do my work
well! They will be satisfied with me."
And they were. Gabrielle Damiens, whenever the guillotine in the
Province happened to be idle, filled in her time with public speaking.
The days were already dawning when the tigers of the revolution were
ready to devour one another. Denunciation against one party was eagerly
listened to by the other. Extremists were at the throats of the
Moderates. Failing them they were at one another's. Not one man who had
been foolhardy enough to throw himself into the vortex of public life
felt that his head was safe upon his shoulders and the daughter of
François Damiens "the regicide" saw to it that those who were avowedly
or covertly her enemies became the victims of those who were her
She had a caustic tongue and great power of oratory. Inflamed by her
passions of hate and revenge she knew how to sway the populace by
fierce attacks on those who had incurred her wrath. She would stand, as
Camille Desmoulins had done four years before in Paris, on a table in
the public park, holding a pistol in each hand; her harsh voice would
ring out above the heads of the crowd gathered round her improvised
rostrum. She knew, none better, how to pillory aristos and
capitalists in the face of this poor, half-starved multitude, as
potential assassins ready to sell the Republic to foreign usurers for
gold. They would listen spell-bound, shivering under their miserable
rags, a prey to a nameless fear of coming events which would mean death
for them, and probably starvation for their wives and children.
And Gabrielle, feeling that she held these people by the magic of
her eloquence, would stand there with flashing eyes, her cropped hair
standing up on end around her head like a disordered mane, a blood-red
flush covering her face like a veil. To the men her fascination soon
became irresistible. When she spoke she could do with them what she
liked, twist them round her little finger. Her face had in it at times
an almost demoniac expression. She was no longer young, and loneliness,
semi-starvation for sixteen years in the Bastille had robbed her of any
charm she may have had in youth, but there was no denying that she had
an extraordinary and compelling personality; and that her very
brutishness had a certain attraction for these half-crazed
CHAPTER XI. BAFFLED
Close upon a year had gone by since Gabrielle Damiens had donned
male attire, and exercised the gruesome profession of Public
Executioner. A year during which her hatred for an entire caste
must—one would have thought—have been appeased to a certain extent,
for in the Province of Artois, through its proximity to the capital
where the storm of revolution raged more furiously than elsewhere, the
guillotine wielded by her hand had been at work day after day, and
noble heads, intellectual and saintly heads, had fallen like corn under
the harvester's scythe. But Gabrielle's blood-lust knew no appeasement
yet. Her desire for vengeance demanded the death of those who had
ruined her life and made of it for sixteen years a real hell upon
earth. It was Saint-Lucque now Marquis of that name, it was his wife
and his children on whom Gabrielle had concentrated the full venom of
her wrath. It was for their blood that her very soul had thirsted ever
since she had been turned out of the Bastille a free woman, physically
free, but an abject slave to her passions. Ever since that day she had
worked for their destruction, had put spies on their track when they
left their chateau in Artois and became wanderers on the face of France
as so many of their kindred had done. At last the spies had run the
head of the house to earth, he and his son, a boy of fourteen, who were
hiding in the little village of Orcival close to Rocroi, under the
protection of the old curé of the parish who had not yet been
dispossessed of his benefice owing to the affection in which he was
held by the village folk.
The old man had been expecting dispossession, with it arrest and the
inevitable guillotine. It was the usual fate of those servants of God
who were prepared to give up their lives rather than fail in their
spiritual duties to their flock. He had been tutor to the young Vicomte
de Saint-Lucque, and had gladly given shelter under his roof to
Monsieur le Marquis and the boy, while Madame la Marquise and the two
little girls remained in hiding in another corner of the province not
far from the Belgian frontier. The blow fell with such suddenness that
neither Monsieur le Marquis and his son, nor the priest himself were
able to escape arrest: they were incarcerated in the police
commissariat of Mézières and the following day found them on the way to
Paris for trial on a charge of high treason against the Republic. This
was for Gabrielle Damiens the happiest day she had experienced for the
past twenty years. Trusting in her powers of persuasion, she had no
doubt that she could induce the authorities up in Paris to allow the
execution of the three aristos to take place in Mézières. "It
would," she argued in a letter which she wrote to the Public
Prosecutor, "help to quell certain subversive tendencies in the
province, and demonstrate as nothing else could do the power and the
determination of the Republic to deal mercilessly with traitors and
Twenty-four hours later the blow came crashing down over her fondest
hopes. The coach which conveyed the aristos to Paris was held up
by highwaymen in the late afternoon in the forest of Mézières. The
brigands had commenced operations by cutting the saddle-girths under
the bellies of the soldiers' horses, had held a pistol at the driver's
head and driven away the coach under cover of the gathering night. The aristos had vanished. What the brigands had done with them was not
yet known. But Gabrielle was not deceived by the story. She knew well
enough that the pseudo-highwaymen were none other than the gang of
English spies who were the avowed enemies of revolutionary France and
spent their time in endeavouring to cheat the Republic of her right to
punish the traitors who had conspired against her safety. In that
endeavour be it said those abominable spies always succeeded. The
escape of the ci-devant aristos and of the priest Prud'hon was a
case in point.
Fuming with rage like a wild beast baffled and foiled of its prey,
Gabrielle Damiens appeared before the local Committee of Public Safety,
in sitting the morning after the outrage, spouting forth invective and
abuse, coupled with threats which caused every man there to put his
hand up to his cravat. Every member of the august assembly endeavored
to fasten the responsibility of the affair on his nearest neighbour,
and tempers ran high while Gabrielle raged and stormed like a harpy.
The sergeant who had been in charge of the escort received a full
measure of censure and vituperation. He had given a detailed account as
far as he was able of the extraordinary event from the moment when the
first pistol-shot was fired and the words "Halt and deliver!" rang
suddenly out of the gloom. This was immediately followed by a general
mêlée, and when a few minutes later the coach was incontinently driven
away and he and the troopers were on the point of re-mounting they
found that their saddle-girths had been tampered with and they, not
being circus-riders were unable to give chase.
"With that infernal din going on," the unfortunate man went on to
explain, "with pistols cracking all the time, with hoarse words of
command from the unseen foe, with the plunging and rearing of horses
and the creaking of coach-wheels, I could not get my men to hear me.
They had drawn their sabres but found that in the narrow road, with the
thicket on either side and with the fast gathering gloom they could not
use their arms without fear of wounding their horses or their comrades.
Not one of us had actually seen the attackers, they seemed to have
emerged out of the ground, and at once to have vanished again. Rain and
sleet were lashed into our faces by the wind. It was hell and
pandemonium, I assure you, citizens. You may send me to the guillotine,
but all I could say before my judges would be to repeat the story that
I have told you now, which is the truth."
The sergeant was not sent to the guillotine for the simple reason
that revolutionary France, now at war with half Europe, had need of all
the man-power she could muster. High-placed officers might be put to
death without compunction for they were aristos and therefore
traitors to the Republic, but men like this wretched sergeant were
trained soldiers, and they were of the people, nor could they very well
be spared. The man, then, was kept in gaol for a week: he was
browbeaten and kept in constant fear of death, until the Committee of
Public Safety was satisfied that his spirit was sufficiently broken,
after which he was sent with written orders to the General commanding
the revolutionary troops in the eastern provinces that he be put in the
thickest of the fight so that he might have a chance of showing his
mettle and redeeming by outstanding bravery his tarnished reputation.
So much for him. It is to be supposed that out there on the Belgian
front he spent many a sleepless night brooding over the extraordinary
events of that memorable afternoon, and that the story of the
mysterious English spies and their legendary chief was told and retold
many a time round the bivouac fires, together with several additions
and improvements to make it more palpitating than it already was!
CHAPTER XII. CHAUVELIN TAKES A HAND
A few days later in the luxurious apartment on the first floor of
the episcopal palace Gabrielle Damiens was pacing up and down the floor
like a hungry panther that has been cheated of its prey. Her dark hair,
still innocent of grey, stood out all round her head in a crazy tangle,
for she had been pulling at it with both hands whenever a fresh access
of rage got beyond her control. Hoarse ejaculations found their way
from time to time through her quivering lips. She would then pause by
the centre table, pick up a bottle and pour some of its contents into a
glass. The liquid was clear like water. But it was water only in name: eau de vie, water of life, Gabrielle drank it down at one gulp.
"The fools!" she muttered thickly after she had drunk; "the cowards!"
And then she went on: "If I had my way with them . . ."
"You would deprive the armies of the Republic of a number of good
soldiers," a quiet voice here broke in. "Is that it?"
"Bah!" the woman retorted, "the armies have no use for cowards!"
The man who had spoken was sitting by the table, with elbows resting
thereon. His long claw-like fingers were interlocked and made a support
for his chin. He was a small spare man who would have appeared
insignificant but for his pale, sunken eyes, which now and then flashed
with a cold, glittering light like those of a cat on the prowl in the
night. He was dressed in sober black and wore his dark hair tied at the
nape of the neck with a black bow.
"It is not like you, Citizeness Damiens," he went on, with a
sarcastic curl of his thin lips, "to brood over the past."
The woman shrugged.
"I would have liked to have the handling of that sergeant's head,"
"Of course you would," the man responded, with a note of irony in
his even voice. He paused for a moment or two, his pale eyes fixed on
Gabrielle and then went on coolly:
"But you would rather have the handling of the
Marquise de Saint-Lucque and her daughters. Am I not right?"
Gabrielle made no immediate response to this. She had come to a halt
in the middle of the room with a half-filled glass of eau de vie
in her hand, which she was on the point of conveying to her lips. At
the name, Saint-Lucque, she suddenly became as if petrified. She
stood absolutely still with the glass in her hand half-way up to her
lips, rigid as a granite statue. Her face was entirely expressionless,
like a death-mask, her eyes were entirely glassy, her lips were pressed
tightly together. The man noted all this and smiled. It was a
complacent, satisfied kind of smile, and his head nodded up and down
once or twice.
"I am right, am I not, citizeness?" he reiterated after a moment or
Gabrielle drank down the
eau de vie. Life appeared to come
back into her eyes. She put the glass down and sank into a chair as if
exhausted, passed her outspread fingers through her tousled hair, gave
a deep sigh and said finally:
"Chauvelin, if you mention that woman again, I believe I should
Chauvelin gave a dry chuckle.
"As bad as that, citizeness?" he queried.
"And worse," she retorted.
"And useless, shall we say?" the man went on flippantly. "My death
would serve no purpose as far as you are concerned, and it would be
good old Sanson of Paris who would have the handling of your handsome
He paused a moment, his pale eyes fixed on the woman as a snake
fixes its eyes on the prey it covets. She said nothing either. Her
mouth was set in a line of obstinacy and her eyes still glowered with
fury. And so there was silence between these two, while up on the wall
the old white-faced clock ticked away the seconds of time with
irritating monotony. Chauvelin picked up a long quill, held it between
two claw-like fingers and toyed with it, tap-tapping it against the
table. He never took his eyes off her, noted every quiver of her
over-strung nerves, and the power of his own self-control over her
unruly temper. As soon as he was satisfied that he had obtained a
certain mastery over her he resumed:
"Do not let us quarrel, citizeness," he said, with smooth urbanity,
"or bandy empty threats. We have need of one another, you and I, as I
will presently show you . . . if you will listen to me."
And as she still remained obstinately silent he added more
"Will you listen, citizeness?"
Whereupon she replied sullenly:
"I am listening. What is it you want?"
"Nothing but your attention for the moment."
"Well? Go on."
"I am about to give you sound advice, and I know that you do not
usually take advice kindly. But will you make an exception in my
favour, circumstances being what they are?"
"Well!" she rejoined with a shrug; "I sent for you, didn't I? It
wasn't in order to get you to make love to me."
Chauvelin ignored the gibe and went on placidly:
"The escape of the three
aristos through the agency of those
damnable English spies is a nasty blow, not only for you personally,
citizeness, but a blow to the prestige of all the local authorities of
this province. That is so, is it not?"
As she gave no reply, he continued in the same suave, urbane tone:
"You will also admit, citizeness, that a repetition of such an
incident would gravely compromise the reputation, not to say the lives
of all the members of your local government."
He paused for a moment or two, and then added with ironic emphasis:
"Including yours, Mam'zelle Guillotine."
He no longer waited for her to speak. He could read the workings of
her mind as he would an open book, knew that she cared for nothing at
this moment, except the satisfaction of her vengeful hate, and that he
would get nothing out of her until he had finally succeeded in
persuading her that her interests and her desires were identical with
his. And so he went on:
"That is why, citizeness, you and I must become allies—not enemies.
Your one desire in life, now that Saint-Lucque himself has escaped you,
is to bring the rest of the family—the wife and the two remaining
children—to justice. My one aim so long as I have breath in my body
left will be to lay the English spies and their chief, the Scarlet
Pimpernel, by the heels."
Gabrielle gave a shrug. "Pshaw!" she muttered contemptuously. What
cared she about Chauvelin's grudge against the English spies? Give her
the Saint-Lucque woman and her two brats and let Chauvelin deal with
that legendary Scarlet Pimpernel as best he could. She for one did not
believe in his existence at all.
"I care nothing about your English spies," she said presently. "Give
me the Saint-Lucque brood . . ."
"You'll never get them, citizeness," he retorted with firm emphasis,
"while the Scarlet Pimpernel is alive."
"Never!" he reiterated forcibly.
"Well! You have tried often enough to get him, my good man, and you
have failed every time, haven't you?"
"I know it. The man is a genius. A devil, if you like. So far he has
baffled me. I am willing to admit my many failures. But I'll not fail
this time if you, citizeness, will help me."
Gabrielle broke into a loud, prolonged, mirthless laugh.
"So that's it, is it?" she rapped out harshly. "I am to be the tool
of your selfish intrigues."
She jumped to her feet, and brought her clenched fist banging down
upon the table.
"It is not for me," she went on, hurling vituperation upon
vituperation on the silent, smooth-tongued man, who sat quietly by
allowing the flood of her wrath to pass unchallenged over his head: "it
is not for me and my just cause that your are setting your crooked mind
at work. Allies indeed! Friends! You care nothing for the punishment of
traitors like that Saint-Lucques brood; all you think of is your petty
revenge on the man who has made a fool of you, that creature of your
own imagination—the Scarlet Pimpernel."
She sank back into the chair, pausing for want of breath, for she
had gradually raised her voice to a strident pitch, screaming at
Chauvelin, who for once in his life was completely dumbfounded. He had
not expected this outburst, had apparently not read quite deeply enough
into the workings of this half-demented woman's mind, a woman whom, by
the way, he heartily despised but whom he believed to have so
completely mastered that she would be as putty in his hands. In point
of fact, she was right when she said that he cared nothing about the
Saint-Lucque women, except as a means to his ends. It was the Scarlet
Pimpernel he wanted to destroy and he had set his brain to work to
devise a trap into which that chivalrous dandy would be fated to fall.
For the moment, however, he allowed the full flood of Gabrielle's
vituperations to flow unchecked over his head. He was not the man to be
intimidated by the fury of any woman, not even of this one who had the
reputation of always getting the better of those who were bold enough
to oppose her. He remained silent for the moment, with pale eyes fixed
upon the irate harpy, his long, thin fingers drumming a tattoo upon the
table-top. Soon, however, a thin, sarcastic smile curled around his
lips, and when Gabrielle came to a halt, panting with exhaustion, he
put in calmly;
"Are you not rather unjust towards me now, citizeness? You accuse me
of scheming for the destruction of the Scarlet Pimpernel rather than
for the punishment of three aristos. But let me remind you that
while that audacious spy and his accursed league are at large they will
never allow the Saint-Lucque women to be tried and condemned either
here or in Paris. Never! They will plan their rescue, wherever they may
be, and the will succeed in snatching them from under your nose,
whatever you may do, even from the very steps of your guillotine."
He paused, letting his words sink into the woman's consciousness,
and he had the satisfaction of noting that comprehension of his point
of view did gradually filtrate into her mind. The look of rage slowly
faded out of her eyes and her breath came and went more slowly through
her parted lips. Presently she said with amazing calm:
"Yes! I see what you mean, and I dare say you are right. It would be
the death of me if those women slipped through my fingers in the end."
"They won't," Chauvelin rejoined decisively, "once you have those
English spies out of the way, and do not forget, citizeness, that the
capture and death of the Scarlet Pimpernel will be a political event of
the first magnitude and that you will reap as rich a reward as has ever
been bestowed on any man or woman before."
He could no longer be in doubt now that he held her attention. Her
expressive face showed plainly that she was listening, listening
eagerly, and that it rested with him to hold her attention to the end
and to force his will upon her. His will! She must bow to it. She must!
His plan was so fine, so perfect! So certain of success. But he must
have her co-operation. Without it he could not succeed. What a
humiliation for this master-sleuth, this incomparable tracker of spies,
to see himself dependent on a woman's whim for what meant his whole
future, probably his life!
Ah, well! Ends had justified the means in many intrigues before now.
Mentally, Chauvelin had counted his cards and could well be satisfied
that he held the ace of trumps. Leaning well forward, with forearms
resting on the table and hands clasped, he took as it were a final
survey of this woman on whom so much depended. She sat opposite to him,
lounging in an armchair, one leg crossed over the other, her hands
thrust in the pockets of her breeches. She was the first to speak.
"Well!" she said, "what about that wonderful scheme of yours? Your
tongue does not seem to be as glib as usual, I am thinking."
"I want to put the matter as briefly as I can before you,
citizeness," Chauvelin gave answer; "but first of all, tell me, do you
know where the Saint-Lucque women are hiding?"
"No, I don't," she replied curtly.
"Because I am surrounded by fools and cowards" traitors I call them.
. . . The committee and their sleuths are all alike. . . . Dolts, I
"Obviously then, if your own people cannot track those
we have got to find someone who can."
"I won't have a stranger meddling here, you know," Gabrielle snapped
out quickly; "I sent for you because it is you I want. Why cannot you .
Chauvelin gravely shook his head.
"I have been summoned back to Paris, and I must return immediately.
It is a matter connected with the arrest of a ci-devant
sewing-maid who was intimately acquainted with the Capet family. The
Committee of Public Safety fear the intervention of the English spies
on her behalf. They have sent for me," he reiterated solemnly, "and I
"I can arrange that," she retorted with her usual arrogance.
He shook his head once again.
"It would be the guillotine for us both," he rejoined, "if owning to
any failure on my part or to any interference from you, the ci-devant
sewing-maid were spirited away by the Scarlet Pimpernel."
He gave a short dry laugh and added:
"I don't know what you feel about it, citizeness, but there are one
or two things I want to do before my unworthy head rolls into old
Gabrielle swore under her breath.
"I hate strangers," she reasserted, muttering hoarsely through her
teeth: "I will not have a stranger here."
"The man I have in my mind, citizeness, is one of the finest
trackers of aristos in the country."
"I hate strangers," she reiterated sullenly.
"Yet, you admit that you cannot trust your own spies to track the
Saint-Lucque women to their hiding-place."
Gabrielle gave no reply to that and for a few minutes there was
absolute silence in this room where two minds were busy scheming for
the death of a helpless woman and her innocent children. Absolute
silence, but the white-faced clock ticked on marking the passage of
time towards eternity.
"What's the man's name?" Gabrielle queried at last.
"André Renaud, one of the ablest men on the staff of the Chief
Commissariat in Paris," was Chauvelin's glib answer.
"And you are sure," she insisted, "that he can run that hateful
brood to earth?"
"Quite sure. He will bring his own subordinates with him and within
three days you will know where the three women are in hiding."
"And twenty-four hours later we have them under lock and key," she
concluded with a sigh of satisfaction.
"Ready for conveyance to Paris. . . ."
But Gabrielle wouldn't have that.
"Don't be a fool, Chauvelin," she snapped out at him; "haven't I
told you that I want the handling of those three cursed women myself.
Isn't my guillotine good enough for that vermin? I tell you I will not
have them sent to Paris."
"And they won't be. Not all the way, at any rate."
"I don't understand what you mean by 'not all the way.' I wish you
wouldn't talk in riddles."
"It is quite simple, citizeness. As soon as the
under arrest, let the fact be bruited abroad far and wide. The ci-devant Saint-Lucques are, I understand, very well known in the
province and their arrest is sure to cause a sensation. In fact the
greater the sensation the better it will suit my . . . our plan. After
that let it be also known that the three women will be conveyed to
Paris on a given day, for trial and summary condemnation. Surely you
can guess what will inevitably follow?"
"You mean that the English spies . . .?"
"Exactly. Flushed with their recent success, they will at once be on
the warpath, devising a plan for the rescue of these so-called innocent
victims of our wicked revolution."
"Go on, man! Go on! I am getting interested."
"For the journey to Paris—do not interrupt me again I pray you—you
must choose just such another day as served the English spies so well
in the case of the other Saint-Lucques and the priest—you want a mist
or thin drizzle, lashing wind or driven rain. Do not have too big an
escort: four to six men will suffice. Having settled on the day you
will have a diligence ready in the earliest dawn shuttered so that no
one can get so much as a peep into the interior."
"You don't want the crowd to see the prisoners inside the coach?"
"The prisoners will not be in the coach, citizeness."
"What do you mean? . . . not in the coach?"
"In the coach, citizeness, there will be a half a dozen picked men
of your own local gendarmerie armed with pistols, ready to meet the
surprise attack, which those English spies will of a certainty have
engineered for the rescue of the aristos."
Gabrielle now was sitting quite still, with elbows on the table, her
head resting against her hand. Her eyes were aglow gazing straight out
before her as if she were already seeing a vision of the drama which
Chauvelin had so graphically foreshadowed.
"I see it all," she murmured after a minute or two.
"You can rely on the Chief Commissary here, I suppose," Chauvelin
"He is my friend," she replied curtly; "he will do what I want."
"That's good, as we must have his co-operation. Will you tell him to
order the driver, who had best be a trained soldier, to arrange a
breakdown at twilight on the loneliest bit of road in the forest."
"That's simple enough as you say, providing . . ."
"Providing what?" Chauvelin threw a quick anxious glance at
Gabrielle. Her manner had suddenly undergone a change. A moment ago her
enthusiasm had seemed at fever-pitch. The scheme was grand and certain
of success. She saw it all in a series of mental visions. The coach
coming to a halt, the spies on the watch. The sudden attack on the
diligence filled with stalwarts armed to the teeth. Yes! armed to the
teeth. Six to one or more. All very well, providing they had to deal
with an ordinary human being, say an eccentric Englishman. Or the usual
type of adventurous spy, out for money or promotion. But this man—this
legendary creature with his impenetrable anonymity—the Scarlet
Pimpernel . . .
Instinctively she shrugged, obviously in doubt, her expressive face
showing an inkling almost of fear. Chauvelin was sharp enough to note
all this. Her doubts, her fears, and the reason for both. He gave a
harsh mocking laugh and said in direct answer to her thoughts:
"Those misgivings which I can see have reared their ugly heads in
your mind are unworthy of you, citizeness. I know that people in this
country have talked of the Scarlet Pimpernel as if he were some kind of
superhuman being bearing a charmed life, and those fools over in
England are inclined to foster that belief. Now I know the man. I have
seen him and spoken with him and I give you my word that there is
nothing unearthly about him except his unfailing luck and . . . well,
yes! . . . his physical courage. But let me assure you once more,
citizeness, that the aristos whom you hate will never be sent to
the guillotine while the Scarlet Pimpernel is alive. Never."
Chauvelin had risen from the table while he gave Gabrielle this
assurance. She made no movement while he picked up his hat and cape and
made a move towards the door, but he was quite shrewd enough to note
that at last his solemn words of warning had their desired effect. His
hand had already hold of the latch when she spoke abruptly:
"Where are you going, Chauvelin?"
"To interview the Chief Commissary of your section . . . with your
permission that is . . . By the way, what is his name?"
"Well! I'll go and have a talk with Citizen Lescar. I shan't have
the same difficulty with him as I had with you, citizeness," he went on
with a wry smile. "There is a reward of ten thousand livres for the
capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, if taken alive. The largest share of
that will go to the Chief Commissary of the district in which the
capture has taken place. I imagine that our friend Lescar will not be
lacking in zeal."
"No," Gabrielle returned with a mocking laugh; "money is the goad
which moves you all."
"Perhaps," Chauvelin was willing to admit. After which he asked: "Is
there anything else you wish me to do, citizeness?"
"No," she replied at first and then said: "Yes!"
"At your service, citizeness."
"You can tell those dolts up in Paris to send their sleuth down at
once. We'll see what he can do."
CHAPTER XIII. The English Spy
The whole Province of Artois was seething by now with the wrath at
the audacity of the English spies, and during the long winter evenings,
round homely firesides or cabaret tables, that masterstroke
accomplished in the forest of Mézières was discussed and commented on
in all its aspects.
Just think on it! Three
aristos who were being sent to Paris
for trial were absolutely spirited away from under the very nose of the
highly efficient police administration of the province. Spirited away!
There was no other word for it! And the whole thing was obviously the
work of those abominable English, who were emissaries of the devil, for
no flesh and blood human creature could have engineered so damnable a
trick and then disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them up.
No wonder that the good Artesians looked upon this hoodwinking of
their Chief Commissary as the work of the devil, and their desire for
revenge of the impudent spy was roused to positive fury. The very name
of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the leader of that gang of brigands, had but
to be mentioned to make the entire population of the province see red.
That barefaced, insolent Englishman and his equally brazen followers
must be laid by the heels and handed over to the tender mercies of the
citizeness Damiens who would have her quick way with them. Everyone was
contemplating with joy the prospect of seeing those blonde heads—they
must be blonde since they were English, drop one by one into the basket
of Mam'zelle Guillotine. "Not before she had slapped their ugly faces
for them," was the express wish formulated by the women, who, as usual,
were more rabid than the men.
The intensity of public feeling in Artois against the English spy
soon became known in the capital, and Chauvelin, as soon as he arrived
in Paris, did his best to magnify every incident that went to prove
that the Artesians would be heart and soul in any enterprise directed
against the Scarlet Pimpernel. It spite of his many failures in the
direction of that elusive personage, he still had the ear of the
Committee of Public Safety who did not undervalue his real worth, and
though, at the special sitting convened for the purpose, several
members were inclined to scoff when Chauvelin expounded his plan for
the capture of the spies—seeing the number of times that his
masterstrokes had ended in failures—nevertheless when it was put to
the vote, the majority decided in favour of the plan being carried
through, starting with the arrest of the Saint-Lucque woman and her two
daughters. They were to be the bait that must inevitably draw that
league of dare-devils into the clever trap laid for them.
Citizen Renaud who had earned his spurs as the most astute sleuth in
the service of the Committee, second only to Citizen Chauvelin himself,
was the man finally selected for this preliminary work. The three
aristos were in hiding somewhere between Mézières and the Belgian
frontier, where picked men of the revolutionary guard were on duty
night and day as a living barrier against the escape of traitors over
the border. Commissioned and non-commissioned officers were one and all
ready to swear that no women had crossed the frontier into Belgium
since last the aristos took flight from their old home and
became wanderers in the land. The ci-devant Marquis and his son,
together with a priest, had in due course been arrested, rescued and
taken to England, while the three women had disappeared.
CHAPTER XIV. LE PARC AUX DAIMS
In these days travellers whose calling or business took them through
Arras and Mézières to the Belgian frontier could not fail to note the
derelict piece of land situated off the main road some two or three
leagues before coming to Rocroi. The land still showed signs of having
once been an extensive park surrounding a small château. The château in
this year of the Republic was falling into ruins. It had been abandoned
close on ten years ago, when the then owners, scenting the fast
approaching revolutionary storm tried to sell it, failed after repeated
efforts, and finally abandoned it, taking themselves and their goods
over to their native Flanders and leaving Mother Nature in possession
of the house and the park, hoping no doubt to return after the storm
had broken or blown over, and to find the château, if not the garden,
very much as they had left it.
But Mother Nature is noteworthily the worst care-taker in the world.
Civilisation and man's handiwork are needed to fight rust and decay.
The park was first to go back to the wild. Flower-beds quickly became
weed-beds; shrubs and fruit trees died for lack of pruning and of
water, garden statuary split and broke in the course of two severe
winters, and lay on the ground, pedestal and all beneath a blanket of
fungus and of moss. After three years under Mother Nature's régime le Parc aux Daims prês Rocroi, dans la province d'Artois, was
nothing but a piece of derelict land and its château a mere mass of
brick and crumbling plaster, broken woodwork and leaky roof, through
the cracked tiles of which rain quickly found its devastating way.
Soon the place got the reputation of being haunted. Country folk
avoided going near it. At first, when the family had gone, leaving no
one to look after the place, enterprising schoolboys would roam through
the orchard in quest of apples, and thrifty housewives tried to raise
cabbages and spinach on what had once been the vegetable garden. But
after a time strange noises were heard to proceed from the château on
dark winter nights, while certain mysterious lights were seen through
the windows to be moving erratically to and fro, to flicker and
presently to die out, only to reappear later or else on the next dark
night. The enterprising schoolboys were scared out of their wits one
evening in November, when unseen feet trod over the rough ground,
making a noise like the crackling of firewood, although there was no
firewood lying about; thrifty housewives had seen to that. After this
mysterious episode apples hung unheeded on the old trees, and in due
course fell to the ground and lay there rotting until the next season,
and housewives gave the vegetable garden a wide berth, fearing the bane
of cabbage grown on unhallowed soil.
And here in the derelict
Parc aux Daims there was enacted in
the year three of the Republic—corresponding with our 1794—a quiet
little idyll of loyalty on the one hand and of courage on the other.
At the earnest entreaty of his wife, and the advice of devoted
friends, Monsieur de Saint-Lucque, taking his young son with him, had
sought shelter in Abbé Prud'hon's presbytery, situated in a village in
the vicinity of Rocroi; he confided his wife and two little daughters
to the care of an old couple on whose loyalty he would have staked his
life. The Guidals had been faithful servants of his family for close on
half a century. They owned a small farm in the next village and were
people to whom the unfortunate Saint-Lucque felt he could entrust with
the utmost confidence those three women so dear to him. This occurred
in the early autumn of 1793, and for time everything went well both in
the presbytery and in the farm near Rocroi. But the trouble was that
communication between the two places was fraught with so much danger
that it had to be discontinued chiefly at the demand of old man Guidal.
Weeks and months went by while the unfortunate Saint-Lucque nearly
broke his heart with anxiety over his beloved wife and daughters and
Madame de Saint-Lucque was equally distraught with grief at being
parted from her husband and only son. Matters, however, unfortunate
though they were, might have gone on a little while longer, had not
Christmas come along. The kind hearted abbé determined on that solemn
occasion to carry a message through to the farm.
The inevitable happened. The old priest was waylaid by spies of the
local Committee of Public Safety and caught in the act of carrying
about with him papers of a suspicious nature. The immediate result of
his well-meant action was a perquisition in the presbytery, followed by
the arrest of Monsieur de Saint-Lucque with his young son, and also of
the abbé himself; the latter on a charge of harbouring aristos
who were traitors to the Republic.
But the cruel hand of fate had not done with striking at the unhappy
Saint-Lucques yet. The law of the Suspect—that most iniquitous of all
the edicts passed by the National Convention—had just come into force.
By its enactment the very fact that a man or woman or even a child, was
as much as suspected of treason, made them liable to summary arrest and
more often than not to the sentence of death.
Guidal, a worthy and timorous peasant, was terrified of the
guillotine. He flatly refused to allow Madame de Saint-Lucque and her
children to remain at the farm any longer. How did he know when he
might become suspect of harbouring aristos? He had not the pluck
to say this to the unfortunate lady himself, but deputed his wife for
this very unpleasant task. The woman, genuinely horrified at what she
called the act of an ingrate and a coward, argued and protested, but
the old farmer was adamant. There is no worse counsellor or tempter in
the world than fear, and Guidal was frightened to death.
At first, no doubt, he had been actuated by loyalty to his former
employers, but as times got more and more troublous and the
revolutionary waves rose higher and higher, when they broke over the
countryside, it became more and more dangerous to aid aristos to
escape from justice. To harbour them was reckoned to be a capital
offence punishable by death.
And now this awful Law of the Suspect! Guidal was loyal, he was good
and honest, but he was not going to risk his neck for anybody. In the
end he told his wife, Marianne, that if Madame de Saint-Lucque did not
leave the farm within twenty-four hours, he would himself denounce her
and her children to the Commissary of Police.
With her heart beating well-nigh to suffocation, Eve de Saint-Lucque
overheard the discussion that was going on. Her fate and that of her
little girls were being debated by these two poor ignorant rustics.
There could be only one issue to the threat uttered by Guidal. She was
a pious woman and a loving wife and mother; what could she do but
remain on her knees praying to God for protection, while the woman
Guidal ran to the next village, to the presbytery and in a flood of
tears told the heart-rending tale to the kind old abbé.
Before anything could be done, however, or any decision come to, the
Marquis de Saint-Lucque, the little Vicomte and the abbé himself were
arrested and dragged to Mézières pending their being taken to Paris for
trial and sentence.
And when Marianne returned to the farm, she found that Madame de
Saint-Lucque had left the house at dead of night with her two little
She had put together a small bundle of primary necessities, had
wrapped the children up in all the warm clothing she possessed, and
holding each one by the hand, she wandered down the road in the
direction of Mézières. Where to go she knew not, only away, away from
the danger of denunciation, of arrest and the awful, inevitable
guillotine. Her two little girls! Innocent children! To think that
there could be such inhuman beasts in the world, in this beautiful
France, who would injure them. Who would, Heavens above! put them to
Of her husband and her son she had no news whatever. In her heart
she cherished the one hope that they were still safe under the care of
the Abbé Prud'hon. But of this she could not be sure, and she dared not
question people, for fear of compromising those whom she cared for most
in all the world.
There followed for the poor woman days of unspeakable misery: days
in which she heard her children cry out: "Maman, j'ai faim!" and
was unable to give them food. Her children! days, when feeling herself
tracked like a wild animal, she became a wanderer on the face of the
earth. The weather was cold, but, fortunately, it was dry. With the two
little girls clinging to her skirts she roamed down the country roads
around Rocroi getting as near the Belgian frontier as she dared,
plunging into the woods, hiding in the undergrowth whenever her keen
ear detected the slightest sound of approaching footsteps, or the
clatter of distant horses' hoofs. And there she would remain crouching
sometimes for hours on end, hugging the children as close to her as she
could so as to impart some of the warmth inside her to their tender
bodies. Then when she felt that immediate danger was past, she would
wander out of the wood once more and go along the road, begging for a
few sous or something to eat for her hungry little ones from the
barefooted passer-by or at the door of the meanest-looking peasant's
hut, where news of whole-sale arrests or the iniquitous Law of the
Suspect had not yet found its way. For many nights she and the children
slept in derelict farm buildings or tumble-down outhouses, and once or
twice out in the open. She was almost at the end of her tether when her
wanderings brought her to the neighbourhood of the Parc aux Daims
. The place was not altogether unknown to her, but while she was still
at the Guidals she had heard rumours that the house was visited by
ghosts. She had no superstitious fears herself, but came readily to the
conclusion that it was soldiers of the Republican Guard or of the
military police that haunted the place and had on that account never
dared to go near it. But hunger and cold drove her thither one evening,
when the children were almost perished with cold, and to add to her
misery snow began to fall.
The whole property, garden, orchard and a piece of pasture land,
was, as Madame de Saint-Lucque knew, enclosed by a low wall surmounted
by iron work, which for the most part was broken down and a prey to
rust and decay. The iron gate, too, was off its hinges and lying on the
ground in a state of complete dilapidation, obstructing the access to
the drive which in its turn led up to the perron of the château. Eve
started to skirt the containing wall and presently came to a small
postern gate, or rather the remnants of one. Her ears keenly on the
alert, could detect no sound breaking through the stillness of the
night. She lifted first one little girl and then the other over the
broken stonework, and then passed through the gap in the wall. The snow
fell in large flakes and was already lying thick on the ground. No
light showed anywhere from the direction where the château stood out
like a solid block of darkness blacker than the night. Without looking
to right or left, but trusting to her instinct to guide her, she made
her way through a wilderness of weeds to the house.
Presently she found herself at the foot of a short flight of stone
steps leading to the perron. These she mounted and came to the front
door, which was wide open. Through this she passed. The place was as
dark as pitch. All that Eve could do was to grope her way round. She
appeared to be in a square vestibule on which gave several doors, all
of which were open. On the left she stumbled against the bottom of a
marble staircase with what seemed to the touch like a wrought-iron
The little girls, frightened of the dark and shivering with cold,
were crying. Eve gathered them to her as a mother-hen does her chicks,
and led them through one of the open doors. The room in which she now
entered was obviously large and lofty. Vaguely through the gloom she
perceived the dim greyish light of three tall windows, the glass of
which was broken for the most part. But they were in the lee of the
wind and here, at any rate, was shelter against the cold and the snow.
While groping her way about, Eve barked her shins against pieces of
furniture that seemed to be lying topsy-turvily about. She set a chair
or two up on their legs and lifted her precious children up on these.
She had a bit of stale bread and a couple of apples in her pocket which
she gave them to munch, and then went on groping. She could have
screamed for joy when her hands encountered what was obviously a thick
carpet rolled up into a bundle. It is wonderful what the ingenuity of a
devoted mother will invent for the well-being of her children. To lay
the heavy carpet out on the wooden floor, well away from the night air,
to pick up the little girls, lay them down on the carpet and roll it
over them, was soon done. The carpet was large and there was warmth in
it for Eve also, and though she did not sleep much that night, she had
the joy of hearing the even breathing of these two most precious beings
At daybreak the next morning Eve de Saint-Lucque explored the place
where she had found temporary refuge. The room where she and the
children had spent the night was one of three in enfilade, with double
doors opening one into the other. All three were littered with
furniture mostly broken. All three had tall windows with broken glass,
oak floors and an air of complete desolation.
Going out to the vestibule, Eve perceived the marble staircase on
her right leading to the story above, and, opposite, facing the bottom
of the stairs, another tall double door which gave on a very large room
with vaulted ceiling and a monumental mantelpiece, obviously a room
used in the olden days of luxury and hospitality as a banqueting-hall.
Soon after that the children woke. They were warm, but they were
hungry. Eve wandered out into what had once been a beautiful garden,
but was nothing now but a wilderness of weeds. Beyond it, not far from
the house, was the orchard. A few miserable apples still hung upon the
trees. Eve gathered the best ones and gave them to the children to eat.
Thank God for the good health and sturdy constitution with which they
were endowed, or never could they have outlived the privations of the
past two weeks.
Eve then wandered out into the road to beg. And this she did the
following day also and the day after that, always like some small
defenceless animal scenting an enemy in every flutter of a leaf or the
crackle of tiny twigs in the woods. On the whole, passers-by were kind.
The carriage-way which branches off the main road and winds along in a
series of curves to the gateway of the Parc aux Daims was no
longer a frequented one these days. No longer did luxurious equipages
wend their way to the hospitable château, or gaily bedight cavaliers on
prancing horses come cantering down the lane. Only now and then did a
market cart go by, taking produce for delivery to the villages around,
or an occasional passer-by—farmer or peasant—come stumping along in
sabots. They were indigent most of them, the men and the women; but
most of them had a sou to spare for the sad-eyed beggar in ragged black
clothes in whom it would have been hard to recognise the proud and
beautiful Marquise de Saint-Lucque. And when pockets were void of sous,
there would be a bit of hard cheese or stale bread, a few apples or a
drop of milk, and Eve de Saint-Lucque would murmur in gratitude through
her tears: "May le bon Dieu reward you."
On the third day when she had taken her stand in the road at some
little distance from the park gates, and stretched out her hand to
occasional passers-by, she saw a woman come along who had a good-sized
bundle slung over her shoulders. She seemed very weary. As this woman
drew near, Eve perceived that she was none other than Marianne Guidal,
the farmer's wife.
At sight of Madame de Saint-Lucque she threw her arms up in the air
and cried excitedly: "At last! At last!" She seized hold of Eve's hands
and covered them with kisses.
"Madame la Marquise! Madame la Marquise!" she continued almost
sobbing, and would have fallen on her knees had not Eve restrained her.
"Marianne! My goodness Marianne!" the latter admonished, "in
Heaven's name, be careful! there may be prying eyes and ears about!"
Marianne quickly put her hand to her mouth.
"I have been hunting for Madame la—for you everywhere," she
resumed, sinking her voice to a whisper. "But I have not dared to
question people and I've had to be very careful where I went as I am
sure Guidal is watching me. Yesterday he went off to Rocroi Fair. It
lasts three days. He won't be back till late to-morrow. So I've been
able to get about and keep my ears open for any village gossip. And so
I heard casually that a poor woman—your pardon Madame la Mar——,
—had been begging the last day or two in the road near the Parc aux
Daims. I guessed it was Madame, so I put a few things together this
morning and came along."
She paused a moment, for she was evidently a prey to such deep
emotion that she was hardly able to speak. At last she said, her voice
shaking with excitement, her tear-dimmed eyes fixed on Eve de
"I had to come. God guided me hither. I came to tell you that
Monsieur le Marquis and Monsieur le Vicomte are now safe somewhere in
Belgium or in England, people said, and so is our good Abbé Prud'hon."
Eve gave a gasp as much of astonishment as of intense joy.
"Le bon Dieu be praised," she exclaimed fervently, "but what
"Monsieur le Marquis, Monsieur le Vicomte and the good abbé were
arrested the very night that Madame left the farm. I had run out to the
presbytery to let them know what Guidal had threatened to do. A few
hours later I heard about the arrests. The news was all over the
villages around. I was heart-broken and still more so when I realised
that Madame had gone, I knew not whither. Three or four days later it
was known in the entire district that the diligence in which Monsieur
le Marquis with the young Vicomte and the abbé were being taken to
Paris to be tried and put to death by those murdering devils, that the
diligence, I say, was waylaid by highwaymen in the forest of Mézières,
at dead of night, and driven away no one has ever known what direction.
Anyway, it vanished then and there with M. le Marquis, the Vicomte and
the abbé inside it. No one ever found a trace of it or of the
highwaymen or of the prisoners. It was as if the earth had swallowed
the lot of them. But I have heard it said more than once that le bon
Dieu himself sent one of his emissaries to save Monsieur le
Marquis, who had never harmed any man or woman in all his life, our
good abbé, who is such a saintly man, and the dear innocent little
Vicomte with them. The whole attack was so mysterious that the
highwaymen could not have been quite human. People talk of English
spies, but we poor country folk know nothing about that. All I know is
that I will pray to le bon Dieu on my knees every night for the
rest of my life that He may save Madame and the dear little
demoiselles, by any means which He thinks best."
Long after Marianne had ceased talking, which she had done very
volubly, Eve remained silent and contemplative savouring, as it were,
the joy of knowing that her husband and her son were safe, even though
she must continue to suffer, to care for her little girls and to avoid
compromising their safety by any careless word or act on her part.
Subconsciously she watched Marianne untying the knots which held her
bundle together. It fell apart displaying its contents: a bottle of
milk, a large piece of cheese, two loaves of bread, half a dozen
apples. Also a couple of horse blankets, thick and warm. It was these
that had made the bundle so bulky and heavy.
"I've boiled the milk," Marianne said; "it will keep for a day or
two, till I can come back."
With innate delicacy she had refrained from intruding by word or
look on Madame de Saint-Lucque's absorption, and now she asked with
"Would Madame deign to accept?"
She busied herself with doing up the bundle of provisions again. Eve
could only murmur:
"Marianne, my dear, good Marianne!" She put her arms round the old
woman's shoulders and kissed her on both cheeks. "How can I ever thank
you?" she said, and took the precious bundle from her. "But you must
not come again," she went on firmly, "for our sakes as well as your
own, you must not come again. It is too dangerous, and much too far for
you to walk. If people have already noticed me, I shall have to try and
find shelter elsewhere, at any rate for a few days, and then perhaps
come back here. But you must not come, Marianne dear. Promise you won't
Again she kissed the old woman's wrinkled cheeks and Marianne gave a
reluctant promise which obviously she did not mean to keep. After which
Eve, carrying the bundle of provisions which meant food for the two
children for several days to come, turned back towards the Parc aux
Daims, while Marianne, who by now was in a flood of tears, went
away in the opposite direction.
There followed three days of comparative relief from hardship, of
happiness at the news brought by Marianne, as well as the joy of having
sufficient food for the two little girls. Eve only ate what kept body
and soul together, but the children ate heartily and were luckily in
quite good health.
She saw nothing of Marianne during those three days, but this was
not because of the promise the good woman had made, but because the
farmer had returned from Rocroi Fair a day earlier than was expected.
He said very little to his wife, and appeared sullen and irritable. On
the third day following Marianne's first visit to the Parc aux Daims
, he pleaded important business in the neighbourhood which, he said,
would take up the best part of the morning. Marianne, thinking herself
free, made her way with a few more provisions to the park gates, hoping
to see Madame de Saint-Lucque again. Her husband suspecting her
intention waylaid her: saw her turn into the side-road which leads to
the Park aux Daims. He went straight to Mézières and that same
afternoon gave information to the Commissary of Police that the ci-devant Saint-Lucque woman with her two children were hiding in
the derelict château.
CHAPTER XV. WHATEVER HAPPENS
Eve de Saint-Lucque knew, of course, nothing during those few days
of the terrible danger which threatened her and her children through
the rancour of Guidal. The fact that her husband and her son had been
rescued in such a mysterious way through an unexplicable agency, had
not only given her a great measure of happiness, but also a wonderful
feeling of hope. She could not account for that hope, but she certainly
felt it. Deep down in her heart she felt it, and for the first time for
many weeks and months she went about singing to herself for very joy.
Sitting with one little girl on her knee, and the other squatting on
the ground at her feet she would recall for them little childish songs
of long ago, or tales of three little bears or of the seven dwarfs
which enchanted them and caused them to break into the full-throated
laughter which she loved to hear.
Only the nights were still terribly trying. They were so long and so
cold, and the consequent inactivity so very hard to endure.
Marianne had put tinder and a couple of candles in that first bundle
which she brought, but the danger of revealing her presence by allowing
a light to filtrate through the windows was far too great to allow of
such a luxury. Nor would Eve take the children out with her, even into
the garden; their shrill young voices or their laughter might, she
feared, attract the attention of a casual passer-by. And any passer-by
might be an enemy these days.
Before Marianne's welcome visit she had gone out by day into the
road to beg for food, and wandered out at night because of the feeling
of peace the deserted garden gave her. Whatever ghosts had been wont to
haunt the place had evidently found more congenial headquarters. With
ears on the qui vive for the slightest sound that might betoken
danger, Eve would then stroll as far as the orchard where a few winter
apples still hung half withered on the trees. She never heard as much
as a faint rustle among the leaves or the crackling of dry twigs in the
undergrowth. Never, until that evening, the third since Marianne's
visit. The moon was nearly at its full then, and though she hid her
face behind a bank of clouds, the night itself was not very dark. A
grey light hovered over the park as far as the surrounding wall, and
the air was damp and quite still. Eve wandered as far as the postern
gate. Resting her elbows on the broken piece of the wall she glanced up
and down the road. It was completely deserted. Not a soul in sight. Not
a cat on the prowl.
And chancing to look down on the edge of the road the other side of
the wall, she saw something white lying there. Something white which
looked like a piece of paper weighted down by a stone. Had it not been
for the stone Eve would have thought no more about it. A piece of paper
fallen out of the hand of a passer-by probably. But the stone? Someone
must have weighted the paper down with a stone. Why? Curiosity impelled
Eve first to lean out further over the wall, and then to slip out by
the postern, to kneel down by the roadside and timorously to move the
stone and extricate that piece of paper. Who put it there? Who put the
stone over it, and did it contain a message intended for her? At first
she thought it might be a message from Marianne. Dear, kind,
thoughtless Marianne! Any passer-by might have picked it up and God
only knew what mischief this might cause.
With the paper in her hand Eve quickly slipped back through the
broken-down postern and made her way quickly to the château. Groping
about in the dark she found one of the candles and the tinder. She had
before now explored the house sufficiently to know that there was a
large wall-cupboard in one of the rooms in which she could safely
venture to light the candle and let it burn for a few minutes, at any
rate, while she crouched in its deepest recess just long enough to
peruse the contents of the mysterious missive.
She had to read it through two or three times before she took in its
full significance. This is what it said:
"Your husband, your son and Abbé Prud'hon are safe in England. You
and your little ones will soon join them. Whatever happens do not lose
your faith or your trust in those who have pledged their honour to save
you and who have never failed to keep their word. Destroy this as soon
as read. And remember . . . whatever happens do not lose your faith."
This message was so wonderful, so stupendous that no wonder Eve's
poor aching head could not take it all at once.
It was impossible these days to live in France either openly or in
hiding, without knowing something about a mysterious agency known as
the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and its activities. In most places
throughout the country, villages and small townships situated at some
distance from the large cities, the leader of this gang of English
spies, as they were called, was believed to be a kind of supernatural
being, either an evil or a good spirit, according to taste or political
views. To the Terrorists who ruled France, he was the devil incarnate.
To the unfortunates whom fear of death compelled to remain in hiding,
he was a messenger of God sent to bring into their hearts hope of
deliverance and of life.
To Eve de Saint-Lucque he was that and more. She had heard before
now of mysterious messages and this was obviously one, for in the
right-hand corner, by way of signature, there was a rough drawing in
red chalk of a small five-petalled flower. Marianne had already told
her that rumour had it that Monsieur le Marquis, the little Vicomte and
the good abbé had been rescued by an unknown agency when they were
being taken to Paris for trial which could only have one dire issue.
And now this wonderful message! This promise! This pledge! This word of
honour given! She and her children were soon to join those dear ones in
England, in that hospitable land of the free. A promise! A pledge! How
could she fail to believe and to trust?
"Whatever happens do not lose your faith." It was so clear, so
categorical! such a message of hope and of comfort. No! No! a thousand
times No. She would never lose her faith. This she now swore before
God, as she knelt by the side of her sleeping children. She buried her
face in her hands and sobbed out her heart in an ecstasy of joy and
CHAPTER XVI. A MASTER SLEUTH
It was on this same day that Citizen André Renaud, the master
sleuth, arrived direct from Paris. He presented his credentials as
special envoy of the Committee of Public Safety, first to the Chief
Commissary of Police of Mézières, and then asked to be received by
Citizeness Damiens, at whose special request he had been sent down from
He was ushered into the presence of Mam'zelle Guillotine. She was in
a towering rage, turned on the newcomer like a wild cat, showered a
volley of abuse and vituperation on the unfortunate man who stood in
the doorway mute and obviously flabbergasted at this stormy reception,
his credentials, with large seals dangling therefrom, held in his
trembling hand, towards the irate harpy. She was marching up and down
the long room still muttering curses and generally behaving more like
an animal in a rage than a human being.
At last she snatched the paper out of the man's hand. Without as
much as glancing down on them, she tore them across and threw them into
"So much for you," she cried hoarsely, and gave him a resounding
smack on the cheek, "and so much for your Paris and your Committee. You
are nothing but traitors and cowards—traitors, I tell you,
and—cowards. But I'll teach you what it costs to fool and cheat
Gabrielle Damiens. Mam'zelle Guillotine, they call me. Did you know
that? I'll give you and your d— Committee a taste of my guillotine."
And so she went on yelling and screaming, letting herself go to the
full extent of her stupendous rage, while the sleuth, still mute and
obviously thrown out of countenance, was picking up the torn pieces of
paper, smoothing them out and thrusting them into the pocket of his
coat. It was only when the rabid fury paused at last, exhausted and
breathless, and, pouring out a mugful of eau de vie drained it
at a draught, that he ventured at last to put in a word.
"But what have I done?" he murmured meekly.
Gabrielle put down the empty mug and turned to glance at the sleuth
who was ruefully nursing his smarting cheek. She looked him up and down
once or twice and gave a contemptuous shrug. Not that she did not like
the look of the man. She did. She liked his large face, especially now
that one cheek was flaming red, his blonde, tousled hair, his big
coarse hands and powerful legs, and after that one shrug of contempt, a
tigerish grin spread over her face. This the sleuth was quick to note
and all at once he broke into a loud guffaw. And this also appeared to
please Mam'zelle Guillotine. He came further into the room, towards
her. He had a funny rolling gait, like that of a seaman, and now came
to a halt with those big legs of his wide apart, his arms outspread,
and coarse hands displaying the hard-skinned palms all disfigured with
callosities and warts.
Like to like. Gabrielle Damiens's look, which she gave him now,
became quite appreciative. She remained contemplative and silent for a
moment or two, and he reiterated with a self-confident smirk this time:
"What have I done to anger you, citizeness?"
"You have arrived exactly twenty-four hours too late, my friend,"
she replied dryly, "and those twenty-four hours will cost you dear,
"Twenty-four hours too late. What do you mean?" he queried.
"Just what I said."
He said nothing more for the moment, pulled a chair towards him,
straddled it, rested his great arms across its back and looked her
square in the face.
"What exactly did you say, my pigeon?" he then asked.
"I said that you have come to Mézières twenty-four hours too late."
"The ci-devant Saint-Lucque woman is in hiding with her two
brats in a deserted house close by here. We are proceeding with her
arrest this very night."
Citizen André Renaud broke into another loud guffaw.
"Oh!" he said, "is that it? I do the work and someone else gets the
credit, while I get my face slapped and a torrent of abuse. You are
really impayable, my pigeon."
"You do the work?" Gabrielle retorted; "it was Citizen Guidal, the
farmer. . . ."
"Of course, it was Citizen Guidal, the farmer, my subordinate, who
has been under my orders for the past three days," the sleuth broke in,
and brought his large palm with a resounding slap on his thigh. "And he
has been clever enough to fool you, my cabbage, into believing that a
fool like that could track an aristo to her hiding-place. Why,
farmer Guidal has about as much brains as one of his own calves. And
what did you give him by way of payment for this information,
citizeness? Public money—or a kiss? What?"
And he was roaring with laughter all the time, with that
full-throated laughter that Gabrielle loved to hear. But she was
feeling completely bewildered now.
"Do you mean to tell me . . ." she began.
And once again he broke in:
"I mean to tell you, my cabbage, that you have been fooled. Do you
suppose," he went on with an attempt at seriousness, "that the
Committee of Public Safety—not a provincial one, remember, but the
Head Committee up in Paris-would have sent me down here to assist you
in running to earth the Saint-Lucque women, if any local groundling
could do the work for you?"
To this she made no reply, and he drew the torn credentials from his
pocket and held them out to Gabrielle.
"Don't tear them up again," he admonished her; "now that my work
here is done, I am going back to Paris and I shall want them."
Gabrielle didn't look at the papers again. She felt bewildered and
"I'll send for farmer Guidal," she said.
"Yes, do!" he assented. "I'll comb his hair for him. The master
sleuth, eh, what? Why didn't he find the aristos for you before?
Why did you have to send to Paris for me? I was here two days ago. It
took me twenty-four hours, exactly, to trace the Saint-Lucque aristos
to that place—what is it called?"
"The Parc aux Daims."
"And another twenty-four to make sure that the woman and the brats
were the traitors you wanted. The Committee in Paris put me on the
track of your friend the farmer. He was useful. I have a second
subordinate working for me also. He, too, will be coming presently to
denounce the ci-devants and to take credit like your friend
Guidal, for having tracked them. You have been fooled, my pigeon,
fooled. We'll say nothing more about it. But be careful that you do not
get fooled again, and give away public money—it was not just a kiss,
was it?—to liars and traitors. There might be trouble, you know."
His final outburst of laughter was so hearty that it rang out from
attic to cellar of the episcopal mansion. He rubbed his large hands
together, banged Gabrielle with easy familiarity on the shoulder, and
gave a chuckle of complete self-confidence.
Indeed it was his self-confidence, his self-assurance that had
finally subjugated Mam'zelle Guillotine. Like to like. They became the
best of friends after this. She allowed him to sit down very close to
her, laid her head against his shoulder, and soon was in ecstasy over
the wonderful stories he told her of his exploits as a tracker of aristos. He stretched out his spatulate fingers and moved them up
and down to demonstrate their vice-like grip round the necks of
"If you want more work of that sort done," he added complacently,
"before I go back to Paris, just command me. I will do it for you, my
He took hold of her hand and rubbed its palm against the thick
stubble of his three-days' beard on his chin and upper lip. He had a
way of purring like a wheezy old tom-cat. After which he pinched her
ear and said in conclusion:
"Yes! I will do that work for you, citizeness, and for France, and
leave you to do the rest, Mam'zelle Guillotine."
Yes! Gabrielle Damiens did like Citizen André Renaud, the master
sleuth from Paris, very much.
CHAPTER XVII. THUNDER CRASH
Eve de Saint-Lucque had not known for months and years so much
happiness as she did the whole of this day. With the knowledge that her
husband and son were safe, and the certainty that she and the little
girls would soon be with them and that they would all be re-united over
in England with no daily tales of horror to poison the pure air of
heaven, or danger of death hovering over their heads, she went about
all day singing softly to herself and kissed her children over and over
again for very joy of living. The flames of trust and love were burning
brightly in her heart.
And then the blow fell like a thunder crash.
It was six o'clock in the afternoon: a wan, grey light still hovered
over the open country. The last two days had been comparatively mild,
but when the shades of evening began to draw in, a heavy bank of
lead-coloured clouds gathered in the east and gradually spread over the
sky. It soon got very cold. There was snow coming, Eve felt sure,
shivering in her worn-out black dress. It would soon be bed-time for
the children, she thought, and was thankful, because then she could
make them snug and warm, rolled up in the old drawing-room carpet.
Vaguely she wondered if anything was going to happen and when? She
marvelled and tried to conjecture how the mysterious agency, the
wonderful Scarlet Pimpernel, would work for her salvation. Would she
presently hear the tramp of horses' hoofs and hear the hoarde of heroic
rescuers come riding down the drive? Would she see these emissaries
from heaven come dashing into the château and hear their rallying calls
as one by one they would seize the children and finally herself and
carry them off in their arms, away, away from terror and from death,
away to happy England.
And suddenly she heard footsteps on the road beyond the gates. Not
the tramp of horses' hoofs or the rallying call of heroic rescuers, but
heavy, measured steps which came up the drive, approached the perron
and then mounted the outside steps to the front door. In a moment Eve
de Saint-Lucque's happy exultation was changed to sudden fear, stark
agonizing fear. She strained her ears to listen. Two men had just
crossed the threshold of the front door. Two men or perhaps a man and a
woman. Eve couldn't quite tell but already instinct had told her that
here was danger, deadly danger for herself and for her children. She
struggled to her feet and tiptoed to the folding doors, which were the
sole barriers between her and that enemy, who had come through the
darkness as the messenger of death. But there was neither latch nor
bolt on the doors. They were rickety and hung loosely on their hinges.
Eve went back to the improvised beds where the little girls were
lying. They had been asleep but now they woke and Mariette, the little
one, began to cry: "Maman! what is it?"
"Hush, my pigeon," the distraught mother murmured, "say your prayers
and ask the good God to protect us."
The footsteps had now got as far as the vestibule. They came to a
halt and a man's voice called loudly:
"Open that door!"
Eve could not have moved for very life. She remained crouching by
the side of her children, with her protecting arms round them. Her
limbs were paralysed and her eyes were fixed on the door, through the
chinks of which she perceived the dim light of a lantern.
The next moment the doors were roughly thrown open, and in the
framework a man and a woman appeared. He was wrapped in a dark cloak
from his neck down to his knees, and wore a felt hat which completely
hid the upper part of his face. But it was not on him that Eve de
Saint-Lucque fixed her horrified gaze. She was looking on the woman on
whose face the light from the lantern drew deep and grotesque shadows.
The features coarsened with age, brought back memories of the past, and
involuntarily Eve's lips gave a murmur:
The woman laughed. It was a harsh and a cruel laugh. Her dark eyes
glowed, with a kind of savage triumph. She chuckled and took a step or
two into the room.
"Aye, Eve de Nesle!" she said harshly. "It is Gabrielle Damiens
right enough. You did not expect to see me again in this world, did
you, after your precious mother and your cowardly husband consigned me
to a living tomb?"
She stood there in the darkness, her tall gaunt frame silhouetted
against the dim light of the lantern. To Eve de Saint-Lucque she
appeared as the very incarnation of the spirit of evil, of the power of
darkness come to dash her fondest hopes and drag her down into the
abyss of despair. The woman went on speaking slowly, as if she had
weighed every word before she uttered them.
"For sixteen years did I linger in a dungeon in the Bastille, while
you, Eve de Saint-Lucque, lived your life of happiness and luxury with
the dastard who had betrayed me and cast me off like a worn-out shoe.
Sixteen years! during which my life was at a standstill, and one hope
alone compelled death to pass me by. The hope that I should live to see
what I see now."
Slowly Eve rose to her feet. The depth of her misery was so immense
that in spite of her shorter stature she seemed to tower over the other
woman through the very sublimity of her despair. Her slender body
appeared as a protective shield between this creature of evil and her
"May God forgive you," she murmured. "You tried to do a great wrong
sixteen years ago, but I had nothing to do with your punishment."
"That is as it may be," Gabrielle retorted with a shrug, "but let me
assure you that I shall have everything to do with your punishment.
Your miserable husband has escaped but I'll guarantee that he will be
wishing himself dead before I have done with you and your brats."
After which she turned to her companion.
"You can go now, Citizen Renaud," she said curtly. "You have done
your work well and I'll do the rest."
"You are satisfied," the man responded, "that these
are the women you want?"
"Yes. I am satisfied."
"Sergeant Meridol is just outside with half a dozen troopers. I'll
send them along to you." He looked Eve de Saint-Lucque up and down
seeming to appraise her weakness; then pointing at her over his
shoulder with a grimy thumb he went on with a sneer: "I don't think you
need fear trouble from her until they come."
He turned on his heel and strode out of the room and across the
vestibule. Eve's sensitive ears caught the sound of his footsteps going
down the perron steps and treading the garden path, and after a few
minutes she heard his voice calling out: "Citizen sergeant." And
another voice answering from a distance: "Present, citizen."
Gabrielle Damiens had remained in the room leaning against the
door-jamb, her arms crossed over her sunken bosom. Eve de Saint-Lucque
could perceive the vague outline of her silhouetted against the light
behind. She closed her eyes trying to shut out this vision of cruelty
and of impending doom. Gabrielle never said another word. She seemed
just to be gloating in silence at sight of the hopelessness of this
woman whom she hated with such brutal intensity.
The measured tread of the sergeant and the guard were heard coming
up the path, mounting the perron and presently coming to a halt in the
vestibule. The sergeant took one more step forward. Gabrielle, turning
to him, demanded gruffly:
"Everything ready, citizen sergeant?"
"Everything, citizeness," the man replied. "I have a couple of good
horses harnessed to a covered cart, and as you see the commandant has
given me a half a dozen men."
Gabrielle threw one last malevolent look on Eve de Saint-Lucque and
the two children, after which she turned and strode out of the room and
across the vestibule to the front door without uttering another word.
Her footsteps not unlike those of a man resounded down the perron steps
and on the frozen ground outside. Then only did Eve open her eyes, and
fixed them on the soldiers who had lined up behind their sergeant and
were standing at attention the other side of the folding doors. Two of
them carried stable lanterns. All were armed with bayonets. They wore
the promiscuous shabby uniforms affected by the Republican army: they
had red caps on their heads adorned with tricolour cockades. The
sergeant now stalked further into the room. He gave a word of command
to the men and they followed him in, making straight for Eve and the
place where the children lay.
"What do you want?" Eve demanded.
"You and the two brats," the sergeant gave curt reply. "Come
quietly," he added sternly, "or there will be trouble."
Two of the men seized hold of her while the others pulled away the
old carpet that covered the children.
Eve de Saint-Lucque fought like a lioness, while the two men tried
to drag her to the door.
"Leave me alone," she cried while she struggled. "We'll come quietly
if you leave us alone."
The men let her go and the sergeant ordered her to put some clothes
on the children. The soldiers stood about while Eve collected what warm
clothing she had for the little girls and with trembling hands managed
to get them dressed. She took the two horse blankets which Marianne had
brought her and wrapped these round the children's shoulders. The
sergeant said roughly:
"That's enough now. We can't stay here all night." And turning to
the men he commanded:
"Pick up these brats and take them outside."
Then, of course, prudence went to the wind. Eve de Saint-Lucque felt
her senses going. She became a mad woman, seized hold of a chair, swung
it over her head threatening to hurl it at the first man who approached
her children, would have done it too the next moment had not one of the
soldiers at a word from the sergeant dealt her a blow on the head with
the butt-end of his bayonet. She fell in a pathetic heap to the ground,
not seriously hurt, only stunned, for the blow had not been a heavy
one. To soldiers of the Republic detailed to apprehend fugitive aristos, the general orders were to bring in their prisoners alive.
"Pick up the woman and the brats," the sergeant said reiterating his
former order. Eve de Saint-Lucque was unconscious. Mercifully she was
spared the sight of seeing her children in the arms of men who were
followers of regicides and wholesale murderers. Soon the jolting and
creaking of wheels grinding on the axles brought her back to her
senses. She and her two little girls had been bundled into a hooded
cart, and were lying side by side on its hard wooden flooring. Both the
children were crying and calling pitiably for "Maman!" Madame de
Saint-Lucque feeling ill and sick from the blow contrived nevertheless
to gather the little ones closer to her. Fortunately they were well
wrapped up in the thick horse blankets, and their tiny hands felt quite
warm. One of these blankets had also been thrown over her, and she did
not feel the cold.
The cart went slowly jolting along over the rough roads. Through the
canvas hood Eve perceived vague forms stumping along the ground,
keeping pace with the cart, and heard the measured footsteps of the
troopers each side of her. The children had cried themselves to sleep
and both were now cuddled up against their mother. Eve was wide awake.
Satisfied that the children were asleep and fairly comfortable, she
tried to gather her wits together. As her mind gradually cleared, she
became aware of the two words that seemed to stand before her mental
vision in letters of fire: "Whatever happens!"
Was it comprehensible? Was it possible that this mysterious behest
could apply to the terrible event that had just taken place? "Whatever
happens!" the behest had gone on to say, "do not lose your faith or
your trust in those who have pledged their honour to save you, and who
have never failed to keep their word."
Eve had obeyed the command to destroy the missive as soon as read.
But she had committed every word to memory. Until a few hours ago these
words had been to her like a profession of faith and of hope. She had
sworn before God that she would never lose her faith. But now that
faith began to waver, and hope to recede into clouds of despair, she
recited them sotto voce over and over again forcing hope to
return to her, and faith to revive.
"Whatever happens" was comprehensive, she kept on reiterating to
herself, forcing herself with all the will-power she possessed to trust
and to believe. Whatever happens! the words at the close of the missive
had been underlined. Whatever happens, her arrest and that of her
children, the terror, the humiliation, the terrible predicament in
which she now was, being driven along, whither she knew not, guarded by
a posse of soldiers who of a surety would never allow her to
escape—were all these horrors hinted at in the magic word: "Whatever"?
"Oh my God!" she murmured, and hugged her children closer to her,
"grant me faith, make me trust those brave men who have sworn to
protect me and my innocent little ones."
CHAPTER XVIII. AT THE COMMISSARIAT
The Commissariat of Police, Section City of Mézières, stood, an
isolated building, at a corner of the Market Square. It was being
guarded day and night by a detachment of the local police which, to
make assurance doubly sure, had been reinforced by half a company of
troopers with a sergeant and two corporals, all of them trained and
experienced men. It had gradually leaked out, though still kept in the
deepest secrecy, that an expedition was being set on foot which had for
its object nothing less than the apprehension of that gang of English
spies and their audacious chief who had set the revolutionary
government by the ears for the past three years, by aiding aristos
and traitors to escape justice. The reward for the apprehension of the
master spy was a matter of ten thousand livres, of which every man who
aided in the capture would receive his share, in consequence of which
there was no lack of keenness on the part of police and troopers,
keenness which amounted to enthusiasm.
On the morning following the arrest of Madame de Saint-Lucque and
her children, two men and a woman sat in conference on the upper floor
of the Commissariat. The men were the Chief Commissary, Citizen Henri
Lescar, and the Citizen André Renaud, the reputed master sleuth, the
stranger sent down from Paris to assist the authorities of the province
in the difficult task of apprehending the Saint-Lucque family of
traitors. The woman was Gabrielle Damiens.
Though the conference was being held at a round table it was pretty
evident that the dominating personality among these three officials was
The Chief Commissary of Police, Citizen Henri Lescar, had a paper
covered with writing in his hands and had just completed the reading of
it out loud. He then laid the paper down on the table in front of him
and said firmly:
"These are my orders. Citizen Chauvelin sent them down to me himself
from Paris by special courier. They were drafted by the Head Section of
the Committee of Public Safety who sat in special session for the
purpose. And these orders," he concluded decisively, "I must obey."
Gabrielle Damiens on the other hand was making no secret of her
determination to disobey those orders, wherever they came from. The
Saint-Lucque woman and her children were now under arrest, and she had
made up her mind as to what she wanted done with the prisoners. Nothing
would do but she must have her way, and let the Committee of Public
Safety mind its own affairs. In the Province of Artois the will of
Mam'zelle Guillotine, in her own estimation at any rate, was law. She
spoke in a loud voice and with forceful gestures, bringing her fist
down now and again on the table with such a crash that everything on it
shook and rattled: the ink spluttered out of the ink-pot, and the
grease from the tallow candles flew in all directions.
The men listened to her, dominated by the power of this woman's
personality. But at first they had protested.
"I think," Renaud the sleuth had put in tentatively, "that we ought
to obey the orders from Paris."
And the Chief Commissary reiterated with a dubious shake of the head:
"They were transmitted to us through Citizen Chauvelin at the
bidding of the Committee of Public Safety, who sat in special session
in order to discuss the whole question."
This was one of the occasions on which Citizeness Damiens brought
her fist down with a bang on the table and the Chief Commissary's
immaculate waistcoat was sprinkled with ink and with tallow.
"What do I care," she queried defiantly, "about any Committee of
Public Safety and their orders? As for Chauvelin, he is only a fool
with one fixed idea—the capture of the English spy. But things here in
this province are going to be done my way, let me tell you. If they are
She shrugged, a shrug which implied a threat that neither of the two
men dared apparently to disregard. Renaud did put in a feeble: "But . .
"There is no but about it," Gabrielle retorted forcibly. "Chauvelin
has already used every argument to try and persuade me that the capture
of that cursed English spy is of more importance to the government than
bringing aristos and traitors to justice. That may be. I dare
say he is right, but he has blundered so often that I do not trust his
much-vaunted acumen. The capture of that Scarlet Pimpernel may be all
very well, but I won't allow the Saint-Lucque brood to slip through my
fingers. Let me tell you that. And if you two idiots," she went on with
a chuckle and a coarse oath, "go against my will, I can assure you that
you will no longer have need of your cravats."
She looked so resolute and so fierce that instinctively the hands of
the two men went up to their necks. Chief Commissary Lescar's cheeks
had turned a greenish colour, the glance with which he met the woman's
savage glare was furtive and terror-stricken. But the sleuth did not
allow himself to be intimidated for long. He edged his chair closer to
Gabrielle's, put on an amorous air whilst his arm stole round her
"You know, my cabbage," he murmured, "that you can always reckon on
your little André to do what you want."
Gabrielle coolly shook herself free from his embrace.
"My little André," she retorted dryly, "had better do what I want or
. . ."
"Don't let's quarrel, my pigeon," the man went on with fulsome
adulation; "give me a kiss. You are my queen, you know, the only love
of my life, my beautiful adorable goddess."
And as she turned, half willing to respond to this maudlin flattery,
he broke into one of those loud guffaws which experience had taught him
always got the better of her irascible moods.
"Did my little cabbage really think," he queried between bursts of
immoderate laughter, "that her André would want to thwart her in
Thus was peace restored between the lovers. What could the
unfortunate Commissary do after that but agree to everything that
Mam'zelle Guillotine desired? It was, anyway, the safer attitude to
take up, for Gabrielle Damiens could be a relentless enemy, and she had
power too to enforce her will. So he waited patiently and in silence
while a kind of rough bill-ing and coo-ing went on at the other end of
the table, whispered endearments, pinching of cheeks and ears, all
intermingled with prolonged outbursts of laughter. At last he ventured
"Then what is it you wish to do, Citizeness Damiens?" he asked
Gabrielle thrust her ardent lover away from her and turned in her
usual resolute way to the Chief Commissary.
"How does the whole affair stand at the present moment?" she
"The women were arrested last evening, as you know, citizeness . . ."
"I know all that," Gabrielle broke in dryly; "that is not what I was
asking. Where are the aristos now?"
"In the cells down below," the Commissary replied.
Gabrielle was silent for a moment or two. A deep frown appeared
between her brows, giving an almost sinister expression to her face.
Her thoughts were concentrated on the one thing that her very soul
desired, the death of Eve de Saint-Lucque and the two children. Let
that elusive Scarlet Pimpernel do his worst; all that she, Gabrielle
Damiens, lived for these days was to see the heads of these three women
fall under the knife of the guillotin—her guillotine, hers, wielded by
her own hand, and to hear the death-rattle in their throats.
The two men had waited in silence while she appeared buried in
thought. At last she spoke.
"The diligence from Rocroi was due in on Wednesday. It does not go
back until Monday. Now I want it brought round here to the back door. I
want the Saint-Lucque woman—not the children, mind—to be taken in it
to Paris to-morrow, along with a half a dozen fully armed men, who will
travel inside the coach with her. And I imagine," she added with a
harsh laugh, "that she will not have a very agreeable journey. I
propose that we make a start soon after daybreak. I will drive the
diligence myself and come to a halt on the crest of the hill in the
forest where we shall expect to get in touch with the English spies.
The escort shall dismount, we'll eat and drink and pretend to go to
"Though I am not proposing to obey every command of Citizen
Chauvelin," she continued after a slight pause, "I consider him a
shrewd man, even though he is in disgrace. He is quite convinced and I
am sure he is right that the Scarlet Pimpernel will be at his tricks
again and risk everything in an attempt to drag the Saint-Lucque women
out of our clutches. Anyway, I shall be ready for him. The trap is set
for the English vermin to fall into, and when we have got him and his
followers we'll truss them like so many calves, throw them into the
diligence and, as I said, I will drive them myself for immediate
slaughter to Paris. The men from inside the coach will then march back
to Mézières and wait there for further orders. I'll warrant," she
concluded with a complacent chuckle, "that no man or superman, spirit
of evil or mere audacious spy, will snatch the reins out of these
She spread out her large, coarse hands—hands that had dealt death
to many innocent men, women and children. Renaud captured one of them
and raised it to his lips.
He broke into the loud guffaw which Gabrielle loved to hear: but it
was only a wry smile that curled round the Chief Commissary's lips.
"You are willing, citizeness," he ventured to ask, "to take full
responsibility for this direct disobedience to orders?"
"What orders?" Gabrielle questioned with a shrug.
"That the three
aristos shall remain here in the cells until
after the capture of the English spies has been effected."
Another shrug from Gabrielle and a contemptuous "Pshaw!" After which
she said decisively, weighing every word and emphasising it by a tap of
her finger on the table-top:
"Did you not hear me say, Citizen Commissary, that I want the
Saint-Lucque woman to be taken to Paris in the diligence to-morrow,
along with half a dozen fully armed men? I spoke pretty clearly, it
seems to me."
"Quite clearly, my sweet dove," André Renaud put in with a smirk.
The Commissary ventured on a final protest, a very weak one this
"Orders state categorically that there should be no prisoners in the
diligence. Only half a dozen picked men fully armed and . . ."
Gabrielle looked him up and down for a moment or two before she
broke in dryly:
"That cravat of yours does not become you, Citizen Lescar. Are you
tired of wearing it?"
The threat was obvious. The Commissary swallowed hard. His throat
was dry and his cheeks were the colour of ashes.
André Renaud burst into a loud guffaw.
"No use for cravats, Citizen Commissary," he chortled, "if one runs
counter to my turtle-dove here."
He then turned to Gabrielle and put his arm round her shoulder,
trying to draw her nearer to him.
"And what does my lovely one wish her little André to do in all
this?" he asked with an affected simper.
She shook herself roughly free from him.
"You, André," she replied curtly, "will take charge of the cart into
which the two Saint-Lucque brats must be thrown sometime during the
night, when there are no prying eyes about. The woman, on the other
hand, must be taken in the same way from the cells to the diligence, as
secretly as possible, and given in charge of the picked men in there.
The brats must be securely bound in the cart against possible escape.
It will be the Citizen Commissary's business to see that all this is
properly done: the diligence brought round here to the back door, half
a dozen picked men armed to the teeth settled inside, and the woman
thrust in quietly sometime during the night. Everything done, in fact,
according to my orders," Gabrielle said finally, and cast an imperious
glance on the unfortunate Lescar, now reduced to abject silence.
She waited a moment or two before turning to Renaud.
"Weather permitting, I shall make an early start with the diligence
to-morrow," she said to him, "and take what escort I may require. How
many men has the citizen captain promised you?"
"Two dozen, my pigeon," he replied.
"Including the six picked men?"
"Then I'll have twelve troopers with me, and you can have the rest.
I shall drive the diligence myself, as I said before, and the picked
men will be inside ready for the attack. As soon as we have got the
English spies we'll have them bound and gagged and thrown into the
coach. We'll drive post-haste to Grécourt and wait for you there."
"For me, my cabbage?"
"You will have made a start half an hour after I have gone. You will
drive the cart yourself and go round by Parny and Labat. Make a halt at
Grécourt. If I am not there wait for me. If I am there first I'll wait
for you. Anyway, it must be at Grécourt that we join forces, and all
drive happily to Paris together: the English spies in the diligence,
the three women in the cart, two dozen men to escort us and see that
the devil himself does not interfere. After that, hey, presto! the
tribunal and the guillotine for that lot of vermin, what?"
"And promotion for us all," Renaud put in jovially, turning to the
Chief Commissary, "not forgetting the reward of ten thousand livres of
which you and I will pocket the largest share, eh, my friend?"
He brought his huge hand down with such force on Lescar's shoulder
that the poor little man nearly fell off his chair. A fit of coughing
took his breath away. Renaud cast adoring glances on his "little
"Isn't she wonderful?" he ejaculated fulsomely, and once more tried
to draw her closer to him. But she shook him off as roughly as before.
"Leave off behaving like a maudlin fool," she said harshly.
She turned to the Chief Commissary and queried:
"Have I made everything clear?" Are you going to follow my
instructions? That is what I want to know." Citizen Lescar was making
violent efforts to recover his dignity. Difficult under the
circumstances. He had been dominated by this woman, been made to feel
abject through sheer terror for his life. He, the chief magistrate in
this district, who ought to have it in his power to order her arrest
for contempt of the law, for flouting the commands of the Committee of
Public Safety; but he couldn't do it. He dared not. He felt humiliated
and abject, yet writhing within himself for what he knew was sheer
cowardice. That ever-present fear held him down in craven bondage—the
fear of the guillotine, of the Committee of Public Safety, of Gabrielle
Damiens. He knew not which he feared the most.
At last he said, putting on as pompous an air as he could:
"Since you are taking the lead in this affair, citizeness,
everything will be done in accordance with your wishes."
Gabrielle drew a deep sigh of satisfaction.
"I think that is a wise decision, Citizen Commissary," she said
dryly. A contemptuous smile curled round her full lips. She had got her
way, and knew well enough what had brought this man to heel: but like
most dominating women she despised the men who surrendered their will
While this brief passage of arms went on inside the Commissariat, a
tumult in the street below which had been slight at first was growing
in volume. A number of people had congregated at the corner of the
Market Square, and something, apparently, had annoyed them. A very
usual thing these days. Crowds collected in desultory fashion with no
known purpose. The women would start grumbling about something or
other. There was so much to grumble at. The price of flour, the
scarcity of milk, just anything and everything that was very obviously
the fault of the government up in Paris. Then the men would take the
matter up. Growling and threatening. Drowning the women's shrill voices
with their vituperations.
The government? Bah! What are they doing save talking and promising.
Promising! always promising! The capture of the English spies, the
punishment of all the aristos! The execution of the oppressors
of the people! But what came of those promises. Nothing at all. Flour
and lard were as dear as ever, and milk more and more unobtainable
every day. And what about the English spies? They had been at their
tricks again and put the whole of the province to shame. And those aristos, the women whom Mam'zelle Guillotine has sworn to execute
with her own hands, what about them? Promises, promises, sacré
name of a dog! Why was nothing done?
"Where are the
aristos?" came in a strident call from the
And the men shouted: "Have the English spies got at them again?"
Loud and ribald laughter greeted this suggestion. Citizen Lescar
whose nerves had not yet recovered from repeated shocks, looked at
Gabrielle with the eyes of a dog that has been whipped and fears
further punishment. Pathetic eyes they were in their avowal of
helplessness and reliance on moral support from this strong-willed
woman. But all he got from her was another contemptuous shrug and a
"Hadn't you better reassure them, Citizen Commissary," she said,
"before they throw stones at these windows?"
She watched him with that withering glance of hers while he was
obviously trying to gain time by collecting papers together, blowing
his nose, smoothing his hair, all of it with hands that shook visibly.
"Try not to be such a craven," Gabrielle snapped out at last. "Go
out to them like a successful general about to proclaim a smashing
victory. You have the aristos under arrest, haven't you? And a
trap set for the English spies from which they cannot escape? Tell them
so, like a man, and don't look like a whipped cur if you can help it.
The revolutionary government has no use for curs, remember."
Thus placed between the devil and the deep sea, the fear of the
Committee in Paris and terror of this vitriolic woman, the unfortunate
Lescar had no alternative but to obey. He rose in grim silence and
tinkled a hand-bell. A subordinate entered to whom he gave orders for
the front door of the Commissariat to be thrown open.
"And don't forget to have the diligence sent round to the back door,
Citizen Commissary. I expect the driver can still be found at the Ecu d'Or," were Gabrielle's final commands to her victim as,
without casting another glance at his tormentor, he followed his
subordinate down the stairs.
A few cheers and an equal number of cat-calls greeted him as he
stepped out on the perron.
Somehow, now that he no longer felt the eyes of Mam'zelle Guillotine
looking down on him with contempt or with fury, he felt more of a man.
He looked down on the crowd below, almost unafraid. The cheers had
heartened him: the cat-calls he did not hear, or else mistook them for
cheers also. Gabrielle's final words had given him his clue. Now that
she wasn't there to prod him with her irony he felt proud and sure of
himself, and knew just what he meant to say. He would speak like a
successful general, and proclaim victory. There he stood now on the top
of the perron this winter's morning casting vague and grotesque shadows
on his lean face, his long thin nose and pointed chin. He raised his
hand demanding silence.
"Citizens," he began in a firm tone of voice, and loudly enough for
all to hear, "this is a great day for us all, for we have wiped out the
blot from the escutcheon of our beloved province. The impudent English
spies got the better of us once, but we have turned the tables on them
this time. The three aristos, whom you all know to have been
oppressors of the poor, and traitors to the Republic, are under arrest.
Citizen Renaud, a stranger to us all, but as great a patriot as ever
served his country, came all the way from Paris to track these vermin,
these snakes to their lair. Now we have got them safely under lock and
key here in the Commissariat and to-morrow we will convey them, under
sufficient escort this time, to Paris, where they will be tried on a
charge of high treason, judged and condemned to death. Our esteemed
citizeness Gabrielle Damiens will have the privilege of presiding over
their execution here in Mézières. Long live the Republic!"
All this and more did Citizen Lescar say to the assembled townsfolk,
who cheered him to the echoes. And having done this he was conscious of
a great sense of relief. He had been given his orders by that irascible
and dangerous harpy, whose dictates under the present conditions
prevailing in France, no man would ever dare to disobey: these orders
ran counter in some respects to those which he had received from Paris,
but she didn't care; she had made her own plans for the conveyance of
the aristos and for the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and
had shouldered full responsibility for her disobedience. In case of
failure she must also shoulder the blame and suffer the punishment.
CHAPTER XIX. THE INTERLOPER
The news of the arrest of Madame de Saint-Lucque and her daughters
created a great stir not only in Mézières itself but throughout the
neighbourhood. Madame de Saint-Lucque belonged as it were to the
district. Her mother was the daughter of a local estate agent, became
for a time King's favourite, was created Comtesse de Nesle and played
for some six or eight years a great role in the court life of Paris and
Versailles. Her daughter Eve was generally believed to be the daughter
of Louis XV, who engineered her marriage with the Vicomte—afterwards
Marquis—de Saint-Lucque. The marriage was a very happy one: there were
three children—a boy and two girls—and all seemed couleur de rose
until the outbreak of the revolution, when persecution followed,
flight from the ancestral home, separation, arrest and constant danger
The Marquis de Saint-Lucque and his son had been rescued from the
clutches of the Terrorists through the agency of the mysterious Scarlet
Pimpernel. This fact had rankled in the midst of all patriotic
Artesians, who looked upon this successful feat of the English spies as
a disgrace and a direct insult to the whole of their province and their
local revolutionary guard. The news that the ci-devant Marquise
and her children had at last been run to earth and were now under
arrest soothed their wounded pride to a certain extent. Not that the
Saint-Lucques were any of them disliked in the district. Monsieur le
Marquis—as he was termed in those pre-revolution days—often came to
Tourteron, where Madame had inherited the château and demense of that
name from her grandfather, the estate agent. He had made himself very
popular with the working people round about the neighbourhood. He was
good-looking—the women liked him for that—he was genial, open-handed
and not proud. Madame was also very much liked. She was a good mother
and devoted wife, virtues very much appreciated in provincial France in
those olden days, when the King and Court gave a sad example of
immorality and loose living, and she took a real and personal interest
in the families of the poor, and the hard-working housewives whom she
But, of course, these things were all of the past. There were no
such persons as Monsieur le Marquis and Madame la Marquise now, when
all men and all women were equal in the sight of the government of
France and an era of Liberty and Fraternity had set in throughout the
country. The fact that Fraternity seemed to mean that every man's hand
was raised against every other who did not agree with his views did not
strike the poor ignorant farmer or charcoal-burner as peculiar. The
government had declared that aristos were traitors and avowed
enemies of wage-earners whom they had reduced to slavery. They plotted
with foreigners for the destruction of France and must be exterminated
as vermin, root and crop. And that was that.
Men with stentorian voices and wearing tricolour scarves round their
waists toured the country in luxurious chaises and harangued the
populace of towns and villages from improvised rostrums set up outside
estaminets or public buildings. With impassioned words and gestures
they pilloried those who had dared to own land which rightfully
belonged to tillers of the soil or houses which were obviously the
property of those who had built them with their own hands. The fact
that some of those houses, like the château of Labat, had been built
two or three hundred years ago, had nothing to do with the principle
enunciated by these wine-shop orators and the impecunious Artesians
were ready enough to swallow the bait cast to them by these
mischief-makers intent on fishing in troubled waters.
Everything then was made ready for the start on the morrow. The
ci-devant Marquise was hustled in the small hours of the morning
into the diligence which stood outside the back door of the
Commissariat of Police.
She was not allowed to bid good-bye to her children who had been
incarcerated in a separate cell from hers. The poor woman had been
gagged and trussed with cords, and been rendered half unconscious by
blows before the men detailed for this abominable work succeeded in
getting her locked up in the diligence. Only an hour later was the gag
removed from her mouth, and her arms and legs freed from the cords.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself propped up in a corner of
the vehicle and all around her there were a number of men who stood or
sat there in stony silence, filling all the available space inside the
coach. It remained at a standstill, and the only light by which Eve was
able to take stock of her surroundings came from a small lantern
outside. After a time she tried to speak, asked a timid question or two
but she received no answer. It would be impossible even to attempt to
describe what that poor woman suffered in mind and body during the
whole of that awful night. To call her experience a nightmare would be
to understate what she went through. For it was no dream. Rather was it
hell upon earth. The parting from her children had been the worst of
the many ordeals she had had to undergo in these past four years of
anxiety and sorrow; and now, when she sat huddled in a corner of the
diligence not knowing what had become of them and with those grim and
silent men keeping guard over her, she thought that she had at last
reached the abysmal depths of misery. In vain did she try and infuse
hope into her stricken soul. In vain did she make brave efforts to keep
two magic words before her mind: "Whatever happens . . ." She kept on
reiterating them, forcing herself to trust and believe but alas! no
longer succeeding. Surely when those brave Englishmen planed her rescue
they had not anticipated this.
The dawn broke, grey and dim, and very cold. It had snowed all
night. The diligence was driven round to the open Market Square in
front of the main door of the Commissariat, where a score of troopers
from the 61st Regiment of Cavalry were already lined up.
Citizeness Damiens was early on the scene, giving orders, seeing to it
that every man had his arms and accoutrements in perfect condition,
encouraging, admonishing, full of excitement and energy. Once she
opened the door of the diligence and peeped in to have a look at the
men inside, and also to gloat over her victim. She called out with a
"This is what it felt like, Eve de Nesle, inside a dungeon of the
Bastille with nothing to dream of for sixteen years except revenge. I
thought you would like to know."
She slammed the door and turned to find herself in the embrace of
"That's right, my cabbage," he said and imprinted a smacking kiss on
her neck; "don't spare that vermin. Give it them hot and strong."
He had arrived on the scene with another score of troopers for use
as escort if required. A hooded cart into which the two young daughters
of Madame de Saint-Lucque had been hustled, as their mother had been,
under cover of the grey dawn was drawn up in the narrow street at the
side door of the Commissariat.
The military pageant thus formed on the market place was quite
imposing. Two score of troopers, the huge diligence and in the
forefront an orderly holding the handsome white charger of Citizen
André Renaud. The latter was in close conversation with the Chief
Commissary. His massive arm was round Gabrielle's neck, and every few
moments his loud guffaws would ring out through the frosty air right
across the market place.
A huge crowd had assembled by now and cheered the soldiers, the
Chief Commissary and Mam'zelle Guillotine with lusty energy. The
morning was raw and frosty and it was still snowing. The
troopers—ill-clad and ill-shod as were most of the regiments of the
Republic—were inclined to grumble. The old clock on the municipal
building had just struck seven and there was talk of making a start.
The Chief Commissary was bidding the travellers farewell and wishing
them luck: Gabrielle was preparing to climb up to the box-seat of the
diligence when there appeared to be some commotion at the further end
of the market place. Shrill voices were heard asking hurried questions.
"Art sure they were the English spies?"
"In the Parc aux Daims?"
The crowd round the diligence thinned out a little as several
quidnuncs turned to find out what was causing the tumult over there. A
young labourer was, it seems, the centre of attraction in a small knot
of excited townsfolk. He was being thrust forward by them across the
square in the direction of the Commissariat.
"Go and tell the Citizen Commissary."
And above the hubbub three words twice repeated rang out clearly:
"The Scarlet Pimpernel!"
It struck Citizen Lescar like a blow on the side of the head.
"What is that?" he thundered. And: "Who is this lad? What does he
"He has news for you, Citizen Commissary," shouted a man from out
"Go on, boy," urged one of the women, "tell the Citizen Commissary.
Don't be afraid."
The boy was now quite close to the Commissary, but he stood there,
looking scared, mute as a carp and scratching his head.
"What is it?" thundered Lescar. "Who is this lad?"
"Jean Bernays," somebody said, "the shepherd."
"What does he want? Name of a dog! Won't anyone speak?"
"He says that there is a gang of foreigners, English he thinks, in
hiding in the Parc aux Daims."
"Name of a name!" the Commissary swore hoarsely, and seizing the boy
by the shoulder he gave him a vigorous shake. The lad immediately began
Here Gabrielle intervened. She knew the village lads in the district
and that there was nothing ever to be gained by trying to bully them.
They at once became scared and dumb.
"Tell me, boy," she said and thrust her tall form between Lescar and
the shepherd: "Didst see the foreigners last night or only this
The boy sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand before
"I only saw them this morning. I was looking after the farmer's
sheep. It was maybe four o'clock. Very dark it was. They weren't there
"What were they doing?"
The boy shrugged. "Just moving about," he said.
"How didst know they were foreigners?"
"Well! I didn't understand what they said. And then one man caught
sight of me. I was watching them from the gate. He offered me money to
run away and to hold my tongue. He spoke like a foreigner."
"Then what didst thou do?"
"I took the money and ran to farmer Matthieu and told him what I had
"What did farmer Matthieu say?"
"Told me to get up behind him on his horse. He was just going off to
Charleville market. From Charleville I ran all the way to here."
"Where is the money the foreigners gave thee?" the Commissary
The boy did not like that, would have run away had he dared.
Gabrielle thrust a hand summarily into his breeches' pocket,
encountered a screw of paper which she drew out and unfolded. It was
crumpled and dirty: inside it there were a few silver coins.
"Something is written here," she said and handed the paper over to
Renaud. "Can you read it, citizen? I can't."
Nor could the clever sleuth from Paris. He gazed on the dirty scrap
of paper and so did Gabrielle. In the end it was Chief Commissary
Lescar who looked over Renaud's shoulder and then pointed with a
triumphant finger to the last word of the mysterious writing: and
whether you could read the rest or not made no matter, for that one
word did stand out clearly and unmistakably and it was scribbled in red
chalk: P I M P E R N E L.
The Chief Commissary, the sleuth and Gabrielle Damiens gazed at one
another for a moment, open-mouthed, dumbfounded—just long enough for
the shepherd to seize his opportunity, snatch his money out of the
woman's hand and run away across the square. The Chief commissary was
the first to speak.
"I am going after him," he said resolutely.
"After whom?" Gabrielle demanded.
"After that accursed English spy. Citizen sergeant," he commanded,
"you and twenty of your men come with me. I am for the Parc aux Daims."
He called to one of the troopers to dismount and bring his horse
round to him. In vain did Renaud protest.
"You can't take all these troopers away like that," he said;
"Citizeness Damiens and I cannot be left to make a start without
"You will not need to make a start," Lescar retorted gruffly, "until
I come back with my prisoner, that impudent Scarlet Pimpernel."
"But the prisoners . . ." Renaud went on expostulating.
"If you are afraid," the Commissary broke in, "send round to the
barracks for reinforcements. I am going to the Parc aux Daims with
Sergeant Méridol and twenty men to capture my quarry while I know where
I can get it."
A horse was brought round to him and he prepared to mount when
Gabrielle's harsh voice once again intervened.
"You are making a fool of yourself, Citizen Lescar," she said
roughly. "The purpose of the Scarlet Pimpernel is to get at the aristos. If we get him or when we get him, it will be when he is at
one of his tricks either here or in the forest, or in fact anywhere on
the road. To run after him when we have set such a fine trap for him is
But the Chief Commissary had been too long under the domination of
this tyrant in petticoats. He refused to listen to her now.
"My duty," he said resolutely, "is to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel.
I have had orders to that effect over and over again for the past three
years. If I allow this opportunity to slip by I should be a traitor to
the Republic. Already I have wasted too much time in talk and
He swung himself into the saddle and called again to the sergeant.
"Citizen sergeant," he commanded, "you will accompany me with twenty
of these men. The others remain here with Citizeness Damiens, and
Citizen Renaud will send to the barracks for as many more as he wants."
In vain did Renaud swear and protest: in vain did Gabrielle growl
like an angry tiger: they were both of them powerless in face of the
Chief Commissary's superior authority over the soldiers.
"En avant!" he cried, and set off across the square followed
by sergeant and troopers.
"En avant!" and the cavalcade rode away with much jingling of
harness and clatter of hoofs on the stone pavement and to the
accompaniment of loud cheers from the crowd. Young and old, men and
women, yelled themselves hoarse with enthusiasm. Admittedly the worthy
townsfolk cared nothing about Citizen Renaud who remained standing
there looking somewhat sheepish. He was a stranger to them. Nobody knew
him. He had certainly been credited with having tracked the female aristos to their hiding-place, but there the matter ended. Many
there were who had listened with indignation to the altercation between
him and Citizen Lescar. What right, they thought, had this Parisian
interloper to interfere with their Chief Commissary in the exercise of
his duty. The Chief Commissary was entirely within his rights when he
decided to go at once and capture that abominable English spy, who had
led the entire province by the nose with his devilish tricks of helping
traitors to escape from justice, and it was past any worthy Artesian's
comprehension that Citizeness Damiens—herself a god patriot if ever
there was one—should have backed up a stranger against one of their
own townsfolk. But there! What can one expect from a woman in love? And
Mam'zelle Guillotine's infatuation for the Parisian was no longer a
mere rumour but a fact known to all who had their wits about them.
Thus had the crowd watched the proceedings with mixed feelings of
approbation for their Chief Commissary and a certain measure of
hostility towards Renaud, and after the cheering for Lescar and his
cavalcade had subsided there was some booing and hissing directed at
Two soldiers were standing together on the fringe of the crowd at
the junction of the market place with the narrow street on which gave
the side door of the Commissariat. They were ill-shod and ill-clothed
in the same haphazard uniforms as their comrades of the 61st
regiment. Now and then they both looked over their shoulder down the
narrow street where the hooded cart was drawn up.
Presently they were joined by a third man, who was dressed as they
were, whereupon all three drew back a few steps from the edge of the
"You have the orders?" one of them asked.
They spoke in French. Only a keen ear would have detected the
foreign accent in their speech, which was scarcely audible through the
hubbub and chattering of the crowd.
The newcomer now said:
"When the hubbub is at its height, and the attention of the entire
crowd is concentrated on what goes on in the market place, we must work
our way unobserved down this narrow street to the cart, garrotte the
troopers in charge of it—driver and two troopers—throw them into the
cart and drive away like hell, take first turning on the right and
drive straight on after that. The chief will meet us soon after on the
"Is that all?" one of the others asked.
"Yes! The chief warns us to pay no heed to what goes on in the
market place, however startling it may be."
"I wonder what he is thinking of?"
"Something desperate, I take it."
"God protect him!" sighed one of the men.
"To-day and always," the others echoed simultaneously.
Renaud, evidently both furious with things in general and perplexed
as to what he had better do in view of the hostility of the crowd,
turned for advice to Gabrielle Damiens.
"What shall I do now, my pigeon?" he asked dolefully.
She was standing by the near front wheel of the diligence giving
orders to the corporal left in command of her escort.
"Take the reins yourself," she was saying to the soldier, "and drive
as far as Grécourt and wait for me there. I will take the reins after
Then only did she condescend to notice the somewhat foolish-looking
"What does my little cabbage wish me to do?" he reiterated meekly.
"Stay here," she replied dryly, "and see that the two brats in the
cart are not spirited away from under your nose. With half the
population of Mézières standing round gaping at you, you would be a
fool and worse to let that happen. In the meanwhile send round to the
barracks for a score more soldiers. When you have them here you can
make a start just as if nothing had happened."
"But you, my love . . ." Renaud ventured to say.
"I shall stay here till that fool Lescar returns either with that
English devil in which case I should like to get a squint at the
impudent rascal before Paris claims him, or without him which I imagine
will be the case. I shall then ride to Grécourt and pick up the
diligence there. And everything," she concluded, "will go on just as I
The corporal had already obeyed orders, climbed to the box-seat of
the diligence and taken up the reins. Gabrielle gave the order: "En
avant," and the old vehicle giving a great shake like a frowsy dog
wakened from sleep, started on its way with much creaking of wheels and
grinding of axles. The escort thundered to right and left of it, their
horses; hoofs drawing sparks from the stony ground. The crowd
forgetting for the moment to boo at the stranger broke into a cheer and
the young ones among them ran across the square in the wake of the
cavalcade, until it turned into the main road and was lost to view.
The master sleuth remained standing where he was, looking the
picture of indecision and bewilderment. He tried to recapture
Gabrielle's attention by amorous glances, but she only gave him a
contemptuous shrug, and without another word turned on her heel and
went up the perron steps into the Commissariat.
CHAPTER XX. THE COURIER
Chief Commissary Lescar was in the meantime riding hell for leather
at the head of his troop of stalwarts on the hard road which winds its
tortuous way between Mézières and Rocroi. The Parc aux Daims lay about
midway between the two cities, to the right of this main artery; a
narrow way, little more than a lane, led up to its front gate. Lescar
communicated itself to the soldiers who saw in this expedition the
foundation of their future fortune.
"On! On citizens!" the Chief Commissary had cried out lustily at the
start; "we'll have that abominable English spy under lock and key, and
out share of ten thousand livres in our pockets before the day is out."
So on the rode, twenty of them, a sufficient number surely of
well-equipped soldiers of the Republic to put to rout that elusive and
dangerous adventurer the Scarlet Pimpernel. On they rode heedless of
their empty stomachs and of the inclemency of the weather. An hour or
so went by. The weather had turned bright and frosty and the men were
hard put to it to prevent their horses from slipping. At a word of
command from Lescar they drew rein to give the wearied beasts a
"We'll be at the Parc long before midday," the Commissary said,
wishing to put heart into the men. "There will be at least a hundred
livres for each of you if we bring back that Scarlet Pimpernel alive."
A quarter of an hour later they turned into the secondary road which
led to the Parc aux Daims. Presently they drew rein once more. The
château and the park were in sight.
"Now citizen soldiers," Lescar enjoined the men, "attention! Keep
your eyes open! Let nothing escape you. The English spies will be on
He paused a moment, rose in his stirrups and gazed out in the
direction of the Parc.
"They have taken shelter inside the château," he said. "I don't see
anything moving in the garden."
"En avant!" he commanded.
The narrow road was bordered with grass. Covered with frozen snow it
deadened the clatter of horses' hoofs. Absolute silence reigned around.
Lescar proceeded cautiously. He knew the ground well and avoiding what
had been the drive and the main gate he made straight for the
broken-down postern in the encircling wall. The men passed through
behind him, at foot pace, one by one. The château lay at a distance of
some two hundred metres to the left. The Commissary gave the order to
dismount and to tether the horses to some tall pine trees which formed
a spinney close by. While the men obeyed, he stepped out into the open
and took a quick survey of the stretch of parkland before him. The
quietude all around disconcerted him. Surely those devilish English
spies had not slipped through his fingers after all. He was beginning
to wish he had listened to Mam'zelle Guillotine's advice and remained
with these good troopers on guard round the aristos. As she
rightly said the purpose of the Scarlet Pimpernel was the rescue of the aristos. It always was. Perhaps it was foolish to try and run him
to earth. The challenge should come from him.
The silence which reigned in park and château was certainly strange.
Alone the breeze which had sprung up in the last few moments made a
weird sound as it moaned through the leafless twigs of the old trees
and the lifeless foliage of evergreen shrubs. Calling to Sergeant
Méridol to accompany him Lescar went down on hands and knees and
holding his pistol in his right hand, he crept forward cautiously in
the direction of the château, closely followed by the sergeant. The
broken unshuttered windows seemed to stare at him like giant eyes.
Lifeless yet alert. Had the English spies decamped or were they behind
those windows, watching him as he moved soundlessly through the tall
grass and tangled undergrowth.
Far be it from me to suggest that Chief Commissary Lescar was in any
way afraid; rather was he conscious of a feeling of excitement, as if
something stupendous was about to happen, something that would prove to
be the turning-point of his whole career. Now he came to a halt and
beckoned to the sergeant to do the same. They were within a hundred
metres of the château. The perron and wide-open front door were clearly
visible. Still not a sound from there.
"Go back and tell the men to come along," Lescar murmured under his
breath. "I have a feeling that the English spies are in there and are
waiting for us."
He didn't wait for the men but crept along under cover of the
shrubbery right up to the perron. Pistol in hand, ready for anything he
mounted the short flight of steps and peeped through the front door
into the vestibule. Not a sound. No sign of any living soul. He passed
through the front door taking stock of his surroundings. He had been
inside the château before. Long ago when it was inhabited, and before
it had fallen into decay. He was familiar with the two smaller rooms in
front of him, with the staircase on the left and, on the right, the
door which gave on the largest room in the house where receptions and
big dinners were wont to be held.
But all the doors were closed now and Lescar did not feel like
pushing any of them open while he was alone in case those English
devils were on the other side ready to pounce on any intruder. The next
moment, however, his straining ears caught the sound of the troopers
approaching. Sergeant Méridol was the first to mount the perron and to
step over the threshold. The men soon followed. Cocked pistols in hand
they filed in through the front door into the vestibule.
The Chief Commissary indicated the door on the right. The soldiers
visibly impressed by the silence and by the aspect of this derelict
building seemed none too eager to obey, whereupon Lescar, closely
followed by the sergeant, strode to the door and kicked it open. It
flew back with a loud cracking and banging, disclosing a sight which
caused every man there to gasp with astonishment. The room was large
and lofty and must at one time have looked imposing, before the paper
on the walls had peeled off in strips and the windows were broken. But
it was not the aspect of the room itself that roused the men first to
surprise and then to excitement, it was the long table which stretched
along it from end to end, a table laden with all sorts of good things,
most of them unknown to these poor half-starved soldiers of the
Republic: meat, bread, cheese, and what's more, three dozen or more
bottles of wine, with corks drawn, all ready for a score of hungry,
thirsty men who had been in the saddle for three hours and were half
perished with cold and fatigue. In vain did Sergeant Méridol attempt to
intervene, in vain did Lescar command, threaten, entreat in the name of
the Republic; discipline, never very easily enforced in these days of
liberty and equality, was thrown to the winter wind that came in gusts
through the broken windows. The men, uttering a portentous cheer,
pushing and jostling, tumbling over one another, made helter-skelter
for the festive board, seized on slabs of meat and hunks of bread and
grabbed the thrice-welcome bottles of wine, which in most cases were
emptied almost at a draught. The sergeant, of course, was caught in the
vortex. In face of such a marvellous spread, he would have been more
than human had he allowed duty to interfere with his enjoyment of it.
As for the Chief Commissary, after he had raged and stormed, after
he had threatened sergeant and troopers with exemplary punishment, he
realised that he was wasting his breath. The scene before him was like
the realisation of a human torrent which nothing on earth had the power
to stay. He himself remained dumbfounded, unconscious of hunger, thirst
or fatigue, conscious only of a weird sensation of something stupendous
and fateful to come. No, no! Things were not as they should be. This
mysterious repast laid out by unseen hands in a derelict house savoured
of witchcraft or the machinations of a devil. The question was: what
devil had engineered and brought about this amazing situation and lured
twenty good patriots to such a flagrant dereliction of duty. Lescar
turned his head away so as not to gaze any longer on this guzzling,
already half-besotted, crowd of men whom he had brought hither to help
him come to grips with the most audacious adventurer known. In spite of
the cold outside, the large room had become hot and stuffy, the
atmosphere reeked of the smell of meat, of hot breaths and the fumes of
wine: the weird silence which a while ago had reigned in the empty
house had given place to sounds of smacking lips and of working jaws.
Disgusted with sight and sound he made his way to the window and
stood gazing out on the wintry landscape, the snow-covered ground, the
leafless trees. The whole aspect of this deserted parkland seemed like
an emblem of the despondency of his soul. He felt lonely and
misunderstood, and suddenly gazing out across the park his eyes became
aware of something moving over by the broken-down postern gate. The
next moment he was able to distinguish that "something" to be a horse
picking its way across the overgrown lawn and through the tangled
shrubbery. There were two men in the saddle: one of them a soldier in
uniform, the other riding behind him had his arm round his companion's
waist. His head drooped over the other's shoulder. He appeared half
fainting with exhaustion.
Lescar was out on the perron in a trice. The rider had already drawn
rein at the foot of the steps.
"Where are you from?" Lescar called out to him.
"From Mézières, citizen," the soldier replied.
"Citizen Renaud sent me to tell you that all was well. The diligence
is well on the way and he himself was thinking of making a start with
the other aristos. He doesn't want to wait much longer as he
wants to make Grécourt before nightfall. He sent to the barracks for
more men. They only could spare half a dozen, but citizen Renaud says
that these are quite sufficient."
Lescar made no comment on the news. He was wondering in his mind
where his own interests lay in this tangled affair. Should he return to
his post in Mézières and let the matter of the Scarlet Pimpernel drift?
He certainly didn't feel that he would have much chance against the
English spies should they return in numbers, and with most of his troop
in a state of intoxication. Or should he stand his ground and with the
few men who had remained sober, like this newcomer and Sergeant
Méridol, effect the wonderful capture which would mean a fortune and
his name inscribed on the golden roll of patriots who had rendered
signal service to the Republic? It was a difficult problem to solve.
The Chief Commissary remained silently brooding for a minute or two and
then bethought himself of the man who had ridden behind the soldier.
"Who are you?" he demanded abruptly.
The man appeared almost exhausted, and at Lescar's peremptory
question he gave a start and almost rolled out of the saddle. He would
have measured his length on the ground had not Lescar run down the
perron steps and caught him ere he fell. He was a youngish man decently
dressed, save that his clothes were stained with the dirt and mud of
"Your pardon, citizen," he murmured, "but I have ridden all the way
from Paris without drawing rein."
"Who are you?" Lescar reiterated, "and what do you want?"
The man drew a sealed letter from the inner pocket of his coat.
"I am courier in the service of the Committee of Public Safety," he
said; "I have orders to deliver this to no one but the Chief Commissary
of the Mézières Section himself. My credentials are inside," he added
and handed the letter to Lescar who at once broke the seal and quickly
unfolded the missive.
"I met the courier outside Mézières," the soldier put in. "He was
asking for the Chief Commissary. I thought I had best bring him along
with me. And as he—"
But he got no further for he was suddenly interrupted by a cry of
horror twice repeated from Citizen Lescar, who in his turn appeared as
if he was about to measure his length on the ground. "A horse!" the
Chief Commissary exclaimed hoarsely. "I must to Mézières at once."
Without waiting to see if the courier or the soldier followed him he
ran across the park as fast as the undergrowth and the weedy grass
would allow him in the direction of the spinney where his troopers'
horses were tethered.
"Follow me," he cried over his shoulder to the soldier, "and let the
courier come too."
The two men were inclined to grumble, but Lescar gave them no time
"It is a matter of life and death," he shouted as he ran, "and all
those louts over in the château are either drugged or drunk."
After a moment's hesitation the soldier thought it best to obey,
whilst the courier appeared unwilling to be left alone in this derelict
spot. At any rate he climbed slowly and rather painfully back into the
saddle, and the wearied mount with its double burden picked its way to
the spinney where the Chief Commissary was just getting to horse,
looking so scared and so death-like pale that the soldier called out
"What has happened, citizen? You look scared to death."
But Lescar who had run on the rough ground nearly all the way from
the château was hardly able to speak.
"Get fresh horses both of you . . ." he gasped, "and follow me."
CHAPTER XXI. AN OUTRAGE
To gather one's thoughts together, to think at all, was quite out of
the question. Lescar's brain was at a standstill, all he could do was
to ride, ride on, with hope and despair warring in his mind, despair
for the most part gaining the upper hand. He had thrust the letter in
the inner pocket of his coat and his hand remained there clutching that
fateful missive which, undoubtedly, did mean life or death to him.
The wintry sun was past the meridian now and had begun its downward
course to the west. Soon the shades of evening would be drawing in and
the market cart with the two female aristos would be driven,
Satan alone knew whither. And the unfortunate Commissary rode on at
breakneck speed, with just enough sense to avoid the frozen puddles on
the road, and to take advantage of any patches of mud where a feeble
thaw had set in under the midday sun. The two men followed more
leisurely. The were, in fact, some little way behind when the town of
Mézières at last came in sight.
Ten minutes later Lescar on ahead had reached the first isolated
house of the city; another five and his horse's hoofs were drawing
sparks from the stones of the main street. The Market Square could
already be perceived through the mist-laden atmosphere. Lescar strained
his eyes to see what was going on. There was quite a good crowd there
still apparently, hanging about in a desultory fashion. And there was a
sprinkling of uniforms to be seen among the throng. In the midst of it
all there was Citizen Renaud, who held his white charger by the bridle.
Gabrielle Damiens ran down the steps of the Commissariat just then and
flung herself into his arms.
Lescar gave a cry of jubilation. All was well.
Renaud had just called out:
"One more kiss, my pigeon, and I go."
Gabrielle threw her arms round his neck. The crowd closed in round
them, and forgetting its hostility to the stranger, gave the lovers a
loud cheer as they exchanged kiss after kiss.
Another minute and Lescar was across the square. He drew rein so
abruptly that his horse reared and snorted and the crowd in dismay
scattered in all directions. Gabrielle dragged herself out of her
"What's all this?" she demanded harshly.
"If it is not the Citizen Commissary," ejaculated a woman in the
Whereupon Renaud, in the act of mounting his white charger,
exclaimed with an oath:
"That cursed fool again!"
"What do you want?" Gabrielle demanded as Lescar dismounted in
double-quick time and nearly knocked Mam'zelle over, so close to her
did he land.
"Have you got the spy? Where is he?" she went on peremptorily, and
the men and women in the crowd questioned him eagerly. "Where is the
With a dramatic gesture worthy of the finest classical traditions,
Lescar pointed to the man on the white charger and spoke the one word
at the top of his voice so that all might hear:
Gabrielle shrugged and muttered: "The man is drunk." The whole crowd
turned to look on Citizen Renaud, who was evidently of the same opinion
as Mam'zelle, for he only shrugged and with a click of the tongue urged
his horse to start. With a yell that would have shamed a wild beast in
a rage, Lescar threw up his arms and with a vigorous working of his
elbows forged his way through the crowd to the very side of Renaud and
seized the bridle of the prancing white charger.
"I tell you all," he screamed, in a voice hoarse with excitement,
"that if you let this man out of your sight you will be the blackest
traitors that ever betrayed your country."
Renaud raised his whip and with it struck the Chief Commissary on
the head. An outrage against the chief authority of the town. The
population resented it. It had appeared dumbfounded for the moment, but
now it rose in its wrath and with many murmurings gathered round their
Commissary and the man on the white charger, effectually impeding the
latter's movements. It was once again a case of animosity against the
stranger and loyalty to one of their own kin. Renaud struck out right
and left with his whip.
"Let me pass, you dolts," he cried, while Lescar, who had yelled
himself hoarse, tried to recover his breath before starting to yell
"En avant!" Renaud shouted to the escort of troopers, who had
much ado to keep their horses quiet in the midst of all this turmoil.
"This man is mad or drunk."
Gabrielle in the meanwhile had also forged her way to the side of
her lover. She came to a halt, facing Lescar with flaming eyes.
"What's all this?" she demanded. "Speak, man, ere I denounce you as
the traitor you so freely talk about."
"Don't let this man go," Lescar countered, "and I'll tell you."
"Citizen Renaud stays here," Gabrielle responded firmly. And the
sleuth accustomed to obey this masterful woman turned to her, holding
his horse in check.
"All right, my pigeon," he murmured, "but it's getting late and I
can't waste my time with this fool."
"Never mind about your time, citizen," she retorted dryly. "You stay
here, understand? I want to hear what the Chief Commissary has to say,
and that's enough. Now then, citizen, speak up."
The crowd gathered more closely round the principal actors in this
rather puzzling drama, pressing near to one another in an endeavour to
get some warmth into their blood, for it was very cold. The women drew
their shawls—if they happened to have any—tightly round their
shoulders. The men's noses and hands were blue. Their bare feet in
their wooden sabots were nearly frozen. But the situation as it now
appeared provided excitement enough to make their discomfort seem
unimportant. The Chief Commissary looked to be in a fever of agitation.
Mam'zelle Guillotine was obviously puzzled, whilst the stranger was in
a towering rage. The young corporal in command of the troopers who
formed the escort round the cart tried to push his way through the
throng, but it had become so dense and the hostility of the people so
marked that he ordered three of the men to join him, whilst the others
were told to remain with the cart on the fringe of the crowd, one to
hold the reins and the others on guard.
"Speak up, Citizen Commissary," the woman shouted to Lescar, and the
men echoed the cry. "Speak up!"
Lescar dived into the pocket of his coat. He drew out the papers
which the courier from Paris had brought him. He put on a pompous air
and forced himself to speak slowly and steadily.
"The Committee of Public Safety sitting in Paris," he began, "sent
me a courier this morning with a letter which was to be delivered into
no other hands but mine. Here are his credentials."
He unfolded one of the papers and with a grandiose gesture held it
out to Gabrielle, who snatched it out of his hand. She had become, as
it were, the spokesman of the assembly. The paper bore the signature of
two of the principal members of the Committee of Public Safety and also
its official seal. It stated that the bearer was an accredited courier
to the Committee and had been entrusted with a private letter addressed
to the Chief Commissary of the district of Mézières; the letter to be
delivered into his own hands.
"Yes, that's in order," Gabrielle declared. "Where's the courier?"
"Not far behind," the Commissary replied. "I rode along full tilt,
he followed more slowly. He'll be here in a few minutes."
While he spoke he unfolded the second communication, and, with a
flourish more dramatic than before, handed it to Gabrielle. Now there
was no one to equal Gabrielle Damiens for shouting, raging and storming
when she was roused, and both Citizen Renaud and the rest of the crowd
quite expected one of those violent outbursts from Mam'zelle Guillotine
while she ran her eyes down the paper which the Citizen Commissary had
given her. But the only sound that came through her lips was a growl
like that of a wild cat before it starts to spit and to scratch. The
crowd remained breathless. Waiting. Wondering. And suddenly the enraged
woman's arms shot out, she threw the paper back into the Commissary's
face and then with both hands she seized the man on the white charger
by the leg, and had dragged him off his horse before he realized what
was happening. Thus taken unawares and entirely helpless, he rolled
over and over on the ground. The horse reared, plunged, scattering the
bystanders, and the unfortunate man had the greatest difficulty in
warding off the more dangerous kicks form its hoofs, until the corporal
was able to seize the mettlesome beast by the bridle and to bring it to
comparative quiescence. But this didn't prove to be the end of the
wretched stranger's troubles, for Gabrielle had got hold of his whip
and with it was belabouring him on the head, the back, the shoulders
with such fury and such strength that he cried and cried again for
mercy. Nor did she desist till the whip broke. She threw it from her
and stood with arms akimbo, looking down on her half-conscious victim.
The man on whom she had lavished her kisses a few short minutes ago.
Her face looked positively evil.
True, the good Artesians were not altogether sorry to see the
arrogant stranger thus brought to pain and humiliation, for these were
days when the sight of physical and mental suffering was an all to
familiar one; the tumbrils and the guillotine made it an almost daily
spectacle for young and old, and even for children. They looked on it
as a part of this life's routine, as a distraction from the monotony of
weary, idle hours. But in this case the expression on Mam'zelle's face
was almost terrifying. There was contempt as well as rage in her eyes
and the strong vein of cruelty never wholly absent from her mien. They
were all of them dumbfounded, even the Chief Commissary had lost his
pompous air, and his excitement appeared to have calmed down. He and
Gabrielle, the stranger on the ground, the corporal on horseback
holding the white charger by the bridle and the three troopers, formed
a compact group, round which the throng now stood in a wide circle,
eager, expectant, awed into silence. But the silence did not last long.
Presently there rose a murmur. It began with the women whispering to
"What has he done?"
"Is he really the English spy?"
"The Scarlet Pimpernel?"
"The Commissary said so."
"He denounced him."
"But how did he know?"
And the murmur was taken up by the men, until there was a hum like a
swarm of hornets which filled the market.
"Is he the English spy?"
"How do they know?"
For somehow the stranger, much as they mistrusted him, did not
answer to their conception of what the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel was
like. He was tall, but should have been taller still, of Titanic
proportions, like the legendary giants: he should have looked less
human, more like the supernatural being of the nether world.
"He is not the Scarlet Pimpernel," some of the women asserted boldly.
"I don't believe it," the men said.
Gabrielle turned her glowering eyes on the Chief Commissary.
"Tell them," she commanded, "what is written in that letter."
Lescar smoothed out the crumpled paper which Gabrielle had thrown in
"Attention!" he cried loudly, and then went on:
"This letter comes to me from Citizen Renaud . . ."
"Citizen Renaud?" they exclaimed. "But the letter came by courier
from Paris, then how—?"
He then began to read:
"Citizen Chief Commissary of the Section of Mézières in the Province
"This is to warn you that there is an English spy known to his
followers as the Scarlet Pimpernel, who has been impersonating me these
few days past. I have reasons to believe that his latest activities
have been directed in your province. So, be on the look-out. I have
been detained in Paris, but will be in Mézières within the next
twenty-four hours. The Committee of Public Safety here in Paris is
sending its special courier to you for me, to bring you this urgent
"And," the Chief Commissary added, "the letter is signed André
Renaud, and bears the seal and stamp, as well as two signatures of
members of the Committee of Public Safety in Paris."
The unfortunate man, still lying in his semi-unconsciousness on the
ground, had made desperate efforts to regain his senses. He struggled
and wriggled his bruised body about until he was able to prop himself
up on his elbow. Looking up at his tormentor with an expression of
hatred at least as intense as her own: "You'll pay for this, Mam'zelle
Guillotine," he contrived to murmur between his teeth and then turned
his glance on the Chief Commissary, who was in the act of folding up
the momentous papers and thrusting them back into his pocket. The
expression of hatred in the stricken man's eyes lingered there also for
a few seconds, but soon changed to contempt as he broke into a forced,
immoderate laughter. But this hilarity was short-lived. The next moment
the crowd had suddenly, if somewhat tardily, realised the full
significance of the one horrible fact, namely that this man, this
intruding, arrogant stranger, was none other than the far-famed Scarlet
Pimpernel, the most dangerous enemy of France, who had devised the
abominable trick of impersonating a servant of the Republic in order to
save a batch of female traitors from the punishment their crimes
deserved. The fact that it was this same man who had brought about the
arrest of the ci-devant Marquise de Saint-Lucque was lost sight
of for the moment. What was remembered was the dramatic gesture of the
Chief Commissary pointing to this man when he was asked: "Where is the
English spy?" and his voice answering loudly so that all might hear:
The angry murmurings of the crowd turned to threats of violence.
"The Scarlet Pimpernel! That abominable English spy! That's what
this man was all the time, and we never guessed."
"Mam'zelle Guillotine!" one of the women shouted, "you'll know what
The man on the ground realised the danger he was in. Three or four
violent kicks had already been dealt to him.
The corporal ordered the troopers to close in round him to protect
him from further assaults from the crowd. This audacious English spy
was food for the guillotine, not for the mere sadistic entertainment of
a lot of provincial louts. They did their best to ward off the kicks
and blows that were freely aimed at the prostrate form of the stranger.
Whether it was a sudden inspiration or merely the powerful instinct
of self-preservation, who can tell? Certain it is that when matters
appeared at their blackest, when the troopers seemed unable to cope any
longer with the crowd which had become very violent, the stranger,
whoever he was, succeeded in regaining his feet. He looked to right and
left of him and over the heads of the multitude and uttered a
long-sustained cry of horror and affright.
"The cart," he exclaimed, "where is it?"
Where, indeed? The crowd parted, gazed in direction of the street
corner to which the stranger pointed with quaking hand.
"The cart!" the latter reiterated, choking with emotion, whilst men
and women vainly tried to switch off their minds from one horrible fact
to another, from the personality of one man, his duplicity, his
shameless impersonation, their own wrath and desire to punish, to the
outrageous trick played upon them by one whose identity could not be in
doubt for one moment. For the cart had gone. Vanished with the troopers
and their horses. While the attention of the crowd had been drawn to
the stranger and his presumed misdeeds, the female aristos had
been spirited away from under their nose. The cart had been driven away
under cover of the uproar and the gathering mist which enveloped the
narrow street. A couple of troopers had been left in charge of it when
the others with their corporal were called to protect the stranger from
further assaults from the irate and unruly crowd. Their horses had
vanished with them, whilst a third trooper who had been holding the
reins had also disappeared. When did this outrage happen? Whither had
all those men gone? Who could tell? And what in Satan's name had become
of the cart and horses?
Both Gabrielle and the Commissary had remained tongue-tied at first,
rigid as granite statues; the expression on the Commissary's face was
at first one of incredulity, then of bewilderment and finally of
horror. But Gabrielle's face remained expressionless, her face became
the colour of ashes, it looked like the face of the dead. She never
moved, not even when the Commissary gave a loud command to the troopers.
"After them, citizens, they cannot have gone far."
The corporal and the troopers jerked their horses' heads round and
set spurs to their flanks, scattering the crowd in all directions. Men
and women took up the cry: "They cannot have gone far," and swarmed all
over the market place, rushing blindly, aimlessly, hither and thither,
shouting confused suggestions to the bewildered soldiers.
"This way, citizen!"
"This is the short cut to Grécourt."
"They'd avoid that."
"Try the road to Labat."
The way into the side street and that street itself were soon
nothing but scenes of the wildest confusion in which men and women
effectively obstructed all possibility of pursuit.
"This way, citizen!"
And so on, while confusion was made more confounded at every moment.
There were at least half a dozen ways which led from the centre of the
town to anywhere. It was getting late in the afternoon. Evening began
to draw in. Soon a misty sleet mixed with snow began to fall and it was
difficult to distinguish anything beyond a fraction of a league ahead,
past the city lights.
It was all very well to keep on shouting and urging: "They cannot
have gone far." That might be true enough but the question was: "In
There were only three troopers, besides their corporal, and the
Chief Commissary who were mounted, and they might possibly have
overtaken the cart even though it was being driven at breakneck speed.
The corporal and one of the troopers went in one direction, the others
followed the Commissary while the young men in the crowd ran down the
various narrow streets which gave all round the Market Square. And with
it all there was rush and uproar and enough shouting, clatter of
horses' hoofs and of wooden shoes on the pavement stones, as to give
any fugitive all the warning required for a good get-away.
CHAPTER XXII. NIGHTMARE
Gabrielle, after those few minutes of stone-like stupefaction, had
pulled herself forcefully together. Hers was not a nature to allow
herself to be cowed by any man or any event. In spite of the
humiliation which she had endured and the many ups and downs of
exultation and of horror through which she had passed during this
fateful day, she was still Mam'zelle Guillotine, whose commands were
law in the Province of Artois, and at whose words the fiercest
Terrorists up in Paris were wont to tremble. Renaud, the sleuth, the
arrogant stranger on whom she had lavished her kisses a short hour ago,
and to whom she had administered such degrading punishment, was
standing there, by the white charger, with one hand on the bridle, and
was making serious efforts to shake off the feeling of giddiness caused
by the heavy blows on his head. They stood isolated now, these two, in
front of the Commissariat, the whole crowd having melted away,
scattered like leaves before the wind. Gabrielle turned a glance of
withering contempt on her former suitor and when she saw that he was
preparing to mount, she just seized him by the arm with a grip that was
like a vice and thrust him out of her way with such violence that he
nearly came down again on his knees. Another contemptuous glance, a
shrug, and it was she who had mounted the white charger.
"You stay where you are!" she commanded, "While I try to undo the
mischief you have done."
With a click of the tongue she set the horse to walk across the
Renaud shouted after her, his voice choked with hatred unspeakable.
"The mischief I have done? You devil incarnate, you shall pay for
this. Mark my words."
Whether she heard him or not is difficult to say. Certain it is that
she put her horse to the trot without once turning to him. Straight
ahead she rode across the square until she turned into the Grécourt
It was still snowing, but overhead the clouds were thin and from
behind them the wan light of the moon shed a faint, greyish aura over
the frozen landscape. Gabrielle knew every inch of the road and with
unerring hand and eyes guided her mount. At first she overtook one or
two detachments of voluntary search-parties who with much shouting and
any amount of voluble talk were still patrolling the road, hopeful of
coming up with the cart, which "could not have gone far." They cheered
Gabrielle as she went by.
Once past the foremost of these enthusiasts she put her horse to a
walk. Her eyes keen as those of a hawk pierced the darkness to right
and left of her. She had the feeling that it would be on this road that
she would come across some trace of that audacious Scarlet Pimpernel.
All around her the stillness could almost be felt. The snow fell in
large soft flakes. Not a breath of air stirred the leafless branches of
the tall poplars that bordered the road, and Gabrielle's keen ears
could not detect the slightest sound of distant wheels or horse's trot.
It was only half an hour later that the white charger suddenly shied at
a black, shapeless mass which lay by the roadside.
Gabrielle dismounted and holding the horse by the bridle went up to
the black mass which had frightened it. Two men, wearing the uniforms
of the 61st regiment, were lying half in and half out of the
ditch. They were tied to one another with cord, and a woolen scarf was
wound round the lower part of their faces. The snow lay over them like
a thin, white blanket. As Gabrielle approached them, they made a
combined vigorous effort to utter a cry of distress, but it was only a
faint gurgle that reached her ears. She threw the reins over her arm
and with strong capable hands she released the men of their bonds, and
unwound the scarf from round their mouths. Their teeth were chattering
and their arms and legs were trembling with the cold. She pulled one
man up by his coat collar and then the other, but never uttered a word
till she had them both in a sitting posture.
Once this was accomplished her peremptory questions came out sharp
"It was while you were hitting out at the English spy," one of the
men contrived to reply.
"The English spy?"
"Yes! We thought he was the man sent down here to track the
aristos. And he turned out to be that abominable Scarlet Pimpernel."
"Then what happened?"
"We could not help watching," and even through his chattering teeth
the soldier gave a chuckle. "It was such a fine sight seeing you
belabouring that spy."
"I stood on the front board," added the trooper who had been holding
the reins. "the better to see you. Name of a dog, I wouldn't have been
in his shoes for a pension."
"And the kisses you had been giving him . . ."
But Gabrielle was not in a mood to listen to any bantering. "Didn't
you hear me ask what happened?" she demanded harshly.
"Just this, citizeness," one of the troopers gave reply, the one who
was best able to speak; "when the whole crowd in the square was yelling
itself hoarse with laughter and when excitement was at its height, my
comrade and I were suddenly seized by the leg, dragged off our horses,
struck on the head, and rolled over on the ground. We were gagged and
bound and thrown into the cart before we could utter a sound."
"The same thing happened to me," said the other. "I held the reins,
and I was standing on the front board watching you flourishing that
whip, when I was seized by the legs and dragged down from the board. I
too was gagged and bound and thrown into the cart, and as I had struck
my head heavily against the wheel, I was too dizzy to offer any
"You were driven away in the cart?"
"Then and there, citizeness."
"Where is the cart now?"
"I don't know, citizeness. But it must be somewhere near here. I
just heard it come to a halt and the horses gallop away before I half
"Yes! They were taken out of the shafts. I could hear that. It was
not far from here."
"Where is your other comrade?"
"I don't know, citizeness. He was with us in the cart. Perhaps he is
still there now."
"Anyone else but you three dolts in the cart?"
"Yes! Two brats. And there were others, I think, but I could not
see," the soldier gave answer.
"Nor I," echoed the other.
"How many English spies were there?" Gabrielle asked again.
"I couldn't tell exactly, citizeness. There must have been at least
a dozen. They fell on us like a swarm of hornets."
"And that's a lie," Gabrielle asserted dryly. "A dozen? I don't
believe there were more than two or three— And perhaps only one," she
"I give you my word, citizeness—"
"Hold your tongue. You were nothing but a set of traitors and
"And that is unfair, citizeness. What could we do? When the cart
stopped we were dragged out and thrown down in this ditch and left to
perish of cold for all those devils knew. Wasn't that so, comrade?"
There was a grunt of assent, and Gabrielle queried again:
"Where is the cart now?"
"I don't know, citizeness."
To Gabrielle Damiens the whole of this story told jerkily by men
whose lips were shaking with cold, was like a nightmare from which she
would presently wake and find that nothing of it was real, that all of
it was only a hideous phantasmagoria brought before her mind by
mischievous emissaries of Satan and sent by him to worry and exasperate
her. That she, the strong-minded Amazon, the lion-hearted wielder of
the sword of justice, the indomitable scorner of men should thus have
been cozened, baffled, bamboozled like any groundling or village dolt
was inconceivable. It was maddening and for a time she felt as if her
wits had deserted her and she remained crouching there in the ditch
beside those two soldiers, with an expression in her face which, but
for the darkness, would have been terrifying.
The men never moved. They were sore in limb and their bodies were
almost inert. After a time Gabrielle appeared to gather her wits
together again. She struggled to her feet, paid no heed to the
soldiers, never spoke another word to them. She stood there with the
horse's reins swung over her arm, she, more solidly dark than the
surrounding darkness, and the white charger beside her like a ghost.
Her eyes tried to pierce the veil of snow, searching the gloom for an
outline of the cart. The men watched her when presently she mounted and
threw herself astride into the saddle. They went on watching as she
turned her horse's head back towards Mézières, put him to the trot and
was soon engulfed in the night. After which they in their turn
struggled to their feet and walked slowly back in the direction of the
They walked on in silence at first, stamping their feet and swinging
their arms across their chest striving to get the blood back into their
frozen limbs. At first and until the sound of the white charger's hoofs
died away in the distance down the road.
Had Gabrielle Damiens been endowed with super-human senses, she
would have been lost in wonderment, for as soon as the stillness of the
night became so absolute that it seemed almost palpable, it was broken
by a sound which, in this lonely bit of country, roused the barn-door
owl from its nightly contemplation and disturbed the prowling cat in
its chase after little birds.
"By George!" a voice suddenly broke forth through the gloom in a
language Mam'zelle Guillotine would not have understood, had she heard;
"I'm positively frozen stiff."
And another voice then echoed: "I've never been so cold in all my
"Got your flask handy, Glynde?"
The other fumbled into his inside pocket and handed a flask to his
"No, you go first," the latter said.
Both had a good pull at the flask.
"I hope we get horses at the
"The chief said we were certain to. It is a posting-inn, you know.
Stage-coaches get their relay there."
"Yes, I know. And with all this turmoil going on . . ."
The other man shrugged.
"Well! If we can't get horses we'll have to walk. It is not far and
I know the way."
"The walk will do us good," his friend commented with easy
"When I think what the chief has put up with . . ."
One of the men who spoke was Sir Philip Glynde, the owner of Glynde
Towers, one of the show places in East Anglia, with its famous racing
stables, its show gardens and hot-houses. The other was Viscount St.
Dennys, one of the richest men in England, who had been equerry to the
Prince of Wales till he gave up that position and all the pleasures
attached to it, in order to follow his chief in the path of obedience
and self-sacrifice. Accustomed to every luxury that the possession of a
large fortune can procure, sybarites both, they talked quite gaily of a
tramp in the night across country with an icy wind driving snow and
sleet into their faces, just as they had endured with equal gaiety and
as a matter of course, lying flat on hard frozen ground for over an
hour with teeth chattering and limbs growing stiff with cold and the
pressure of ropes around their body.
On ahead a bright light glinted through the gloom.
Ecu d'Or," Glynde remarked.
"Now for a mug of mulled wine," the other rejoined.
"If we get it the Lord be praised."
"If we don't may the devil take the landlord and his ugly wife."
On they tramped after that in silence till they came to the
posting-inn into which they turned and made straight for the
There was mulled wine made hot for the asking and the payment
thereof, and there were a couple of horses to be had also, old nags but
serviceable, anyway. Glynde gave a deep sigh when the obsequious
landlord closed his grasping hand over the pieces of gold which St.
Dennys had pressed into it.
"I almost wish the brute had not got us everything we wanted," he
said ruefully. "The thought of Blakeney at this moment sickens me."
St. Dennys agreed with him, but said more lightly:
"We've obeyed orders. Thank God we were able to do that. I was
dreadfully sorry for those kids."
"And there's the poor mother still knocking about somewhere."
"How in Heaven's name will the chief get her away?"
They drank the hot wine while the two nags, which they had been
forced to purchase at a preposterous price, were being saddled. Soon
they got to horse and rode away, into the night.
"What did they give thee?" the woman asked her husband, while he
busied himself putting up the shutters in the house and barring the
"Five louis," he replied curtly.
"They are either mad," the wife retorted, "or else English spies;
else they wouldn't have parted with all that money."
"It matters not what they are," the man rejoined with a shrug.
"Their money is good anyway."
CHAPTER XXIII. A MESSAGE
All these exciting events just described are put on record in the
archives of the city of Mézières: the arrival of the master sleuth from
Paris, the arrest of the ci-devant Marquise de Saint-Lucque and
her two children, and the preposterous accusation brought against the
envoy of the Committee of Public Safety by Citizen Chief Commissary
Lescar and the turmoil that ensued in consequence.
It is also on record that three days before this last event the
stage-coach which plies fortnightly between Barlemont in Belgium and
Paris, came to its habitual halt at the Ecu d'Or, the
posting-inn on the outskirts of Mézières. On this occasion it brought
its usual complement of travellers who were made to alight in order to
have their passports examined and their identity scrutinised. There
were not many strangers among the small crowd that tumbled
helter-skelter out of the lumbering vehicle which had brought them
jogging along the hard frozen road from the other side of the
Franco-Belgian frontier, and nearly shaken their souls out of their
bodies during four hours of this very trying journey. Half a dozen
passengers were allowed to pass immediately through the barrier where
the examination took place, and filed into what was still called the
coffee-room, though no coffee was ever dispensed there these days. Only
mugs of sour wine which was made hot if it was specially paid for, and
if the landlord and his wife happened to be in an amiable mood. This
privileged half-dozen hungry and thirsty travellers were French
citizens, farmers or shopkeepers who traded regularly with Belgium,
crossing the frontier backwards and forwards, and personally known to
the police. The others, they were Belgians of Dutch for the most part,
were kept waiting, standing out in the cold where innumerable questions
were put to them, their papers taken away from them and brought back
again, and countless other vexations put upon them till one of them, a
woman, collapsed, fainting with hunger and cold and had to be carried
indoors by her fellow sufferers. These were two men and another woman,
all obviously foreigners. One of the men, a stocky little fellow, was
described on his passport as of Dutch nationality, native of Batavia,
and skipper of the cargo ship Van Tromp of the Netherlands line.
He had landed in Antwerp with a load of coffee, part of which was
destined for a wholesale house in Paris. His papers were all in order.
They had been signed by the Dutch governor of Batavia and countersigned
in Antwerp by Citizen Duvernay, representing the revolutionary
government of France in the port of Antwerp. Nothing could be more
clear or above board, but the police inspector in charge of the
revision of foreign passports in the district was inexperienced and
officious. He gave himself airs of authority which annoyed the Dutch
skipper who became very truculent, heaped curses and abuse on the young
officer and was with difficulty restrained from coming to blows with
His fellow travellers, a man and a woman, did their best to soothe
the ruffled feelings of the irate Dutchman.
"Do, I pray you, intervene," the woman said to her companion, "we
shall never get away while this row is going on"
They had each their passports and other papers in one hand, and each
carried a small valise. The man thrust the papers without more ado
under the young officer's nose.
"If you could get us through quickly, citizen," he said
ingratiatingly, "we would be greatly beholden to you. My friend is cold
and hungry. We would like to get food and drink and beds for a night or
two before we proceed on our way. We are American citizens," he went
on, "and our papers are entirely in order."
With this he insinuated a handful of silver coins into the officer's
hand, whose manner at once underwent a change: his hand closed over the
money and thrust inside his tunic, after which he took the American's
papers and made a show of scrutinising them carefully.
Passports and papers were undoubtedly in order. They were signed by
Mr. John Adams, the first United States ambassador accredited to
England. Possibly, the officer of Mézières knew nothing at all of Mr.
John Adams, and very little of the United States of America, but he
knew all about Citizen Jean Lambert Tallien and Citizen Barras, two of
the most prominent members of the Convention, who had countersigned the
passports. The woman was described thereon as Madeleine St. Just and
the man as Honoré St. Just her brother, both citizens of the United
States, come to Europe in order to visit their cousin Louis St. Just,
the friend and intimate of Maximilien Robespierre himself, names indeed
to conjure with.
The police officer's manner became almost abject. Completely
ignoring the truculent Dutchman and his imperious demands, he stamped
passports and papers without further demur, did not order the valises
to be opened for examination, and even went to the length of escorting
these highly-connected foreigners as far as the inn and recommended
them to the special care and attention of the landlord and his
ill-favoured wife, with a whispered hint of the financial benefit that
would be derived from such attention. The landlord took the hint and
forgetting his status of free citizen of the Republic of France, and
its laws of Equality for all, became almost servile in his desire to
provide his guests with everything they desired.
However, they did not want much seemingly, only a couple of rooms
with a clean bed for two or three nights, and for the moment just a
quiet corner where they could sit and eat in peace. There was a lot of:
"This way, citizeness," from the landlord, and: "The coffee-room is
crowded, you will be better here," as he ushered the travellers into a
small parlour adjoining the larger room and summoned his wife to lay
the table and bring along the best food the Ecu d'Or could
Marguerite Blakeney sank on to the hard horse-hair sofa, and drew a
long sigh of relief. She gathered her cape closely round her and gave a
"You are cold, Lady Blakeney," her companion said with obvious
There was an iron stove in a corner of the room. A fire of logs was
roaring up the chimney. Marguerite held her hands to the blaze.
"And very tired, I am afraid," the man continued; "it has been such
a long journey."
"It was not so bad at first," she commented softly, "while Percy was
And her eyes seemed to search the flames as if seeking in them a
picture of the face and form she loved. They had only just parted. And
no journey, however trying, could be hard to bear while Percy was there
After a moment or two she spoke: "Sir Andrew!"
"Do you think we shall see Percy again to-day?"
"I don't know, Lady Blakeney . . ." Ffoulkes replied, paused a
moment or two and then added: "I am afraid not."
"He only left you the one message, didn't he?"
"That's all. He slipped the note into my hand when he got off the
coach at Bouillon and whispered the two words: "For her."
Sir Andrew took a crumpled paper from his pocket, gave it to
Marguerite. Her hand closed on it.
"You have seen yours?" she asked.
"What does it say?"
"Only one word: Wait."
"Not much, is it?" Marguerite commented with a fleeting little smile.
"I suppose Tony has gone by now," she added.
"I'll go and see, shall I?"
"You'll be all right here, won't you?" Sir Andrew asked anxiously.
"Of course I will. Don't worry about me. Our friend the landlord and
his grim-faced wife have scented a bribe and are as amiable as you
He picked up his hat and went out of the room.
After he had gone Marguerite sat for a while with that crumpled
paper in her hand. It was early afternoon, but the narrow room with its
dingy rep curtains and windows veiled in dust was already wrapped in
gloom. Only the red glow from the iron stove shed a warm light on
Marguerite's hand and the paper which she held. A confused murmur of
voices came from the crowded coffee-room next door. Presently a woman
came in carrying a lighted lamp which she set upon the table. She
certainly was grim-faced and surly, and looked askance at Marguerite
who paid no attention to her.
"I have some soup," she said curtly; "it is hot. Would you like
Marguerite said "Yes!" thinking more of Sir Andrew than of herself.
"There are also potatoes cooked in lard," the woman went on, "and a
small piece of pork. You had better have that too as there's nothing
She did not wait for a reply, and stumped out of the room.
As soon as she had gone, Marguerite smoothed out the paper which
contained Percy's last message to her. She swallowed the tears which
dimmed her eyes and pressed her lips against the paper whereon his dear
hand had rested.
And this is what she read:
"On my knees do I beg your forgiveness, my beloved, for the
discomfort and suffering you are enduring now. Would I had had the
heart not to listen when you said to me: 'If you go, I go with you.'
Your eyes, your lips, your lovely arms held me in bonds that no man
living should have dared to sever. 'If you love me, do not go,' you
entreated, and your exquisite voice broke in an agony of tears. Yet I,
like a madman, thought only of two little children who would need a
woman's care, and thought more of them and their helpless mother,
thought more of an ideal, of my duty and mine honour and of my solemn
pledge to Saint-Lucque, more of all that than I did of you. 'If you
love me,' you begged, 'do not go.' If I loved you! I love you with my
whole soul, with every fibre of my being, more than life and eternity,
but I could not love you, dear, so much, loved I not honour more. With
the help of my faithful lieutenants I will bring those defenceless
women safely to England according to my pledged word, then my arms will
close again around you and you will feel my whole soul in a kiss."
His whole soul! his wonderful, self-denying, high-minded soul. That
last day in London, how vividly did she recall it now, the rout at the
Duchesse de Roncevaux's mansion. The Abbé Prud'hon's tribute to the
heroism of her beloved, the intimate talk with the Prince of Wales, and
those few brief moments in the library when she made her last desperate
appeal to him in the name of love, and felt that appeal was useless and
that love stood vanquished before the inner instinct of the
sportsman-adventurer, the selfless humanitarian, the knight-errant who
had heard the call of the innocent and the weak.
This occurred three days ago. Since then Marguerite Blakeney and Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes had obeyed Percy's laconic instructions and waited.
Whether they were in danger or not, they neither knew nor cared.
Certainly not, declared Marguerite, for Percy was of a surety watching
over them. They were objects of special care from the landlord and his
wife, who took the money so lavishly poured into their hands and in
exchange did their best to secure the privacy of these American guests,
and to give them clean beds and as good food as the state of the
country allowed. Citizens of the great American Republic for whom the
great patriot General Lafayette had fought, were popular in France, and
the name of St. Just was also one to conjure with. And they still
waited in patience and in fortitude on this third day after their
arrival, while the most exciting incidents the city of Mézières had
ever known were occurring in the market place, while Mam'zelle
Guillotine belaboured her unfortunate swain with his riding-whip, while
the hooded cart with the Saint-Lucque children was spirited away and
their mother endured soul-racking agony inside the diligence that was
taking her off to Paris. Marguerite and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes heard vague
rumours that something unusual was going on in the city. Sound of many
voices raised in shrill staccato reached their ears, while they were
sitting in the parlour waiting for their meagre supper. People seemed
to be passing in and out of the front door all the time and the door of
the coffee-room kept on banging constantly.
When the woman brought in the supper she appeared less surly than
usual. Seemed actually inclined to talk. Her eyes were quite bright and
her cheeks flushed. Marguerite ventured to question her.
"Has anything special happened, citizeness? There seems to be such
The woman grunted and shrugged.
"Excitement!" she exclaimed. "I should think there was excitement
and to spare. They say that the English spy has been captured. The man
they have been hunting for for years."
Marguerite's self-control at this moment was super-human. She did
not gasp or catch her breath. She never moved. It was Sir Andrew who
"Oh! I have heard about him. Even in the United States of America
people talk about a mystic personage who goes by the name of the
Scarlet Pimpernel. I don't know what he is supposed to do. And have
they really got him?"
The woman gave another shrug and a short, harsh laugh.
"Not they," she said. "Our people are fools. It seems they collared
the wrong man."
"The wrong man?"
"Well, some people said he was the right man and some that he was
the wrong one. But what everyone in Mézières knows by now is that the
two aristos who should have been taken to Paris to be
guillotined—two little traitors, what?—were spirited away under the
very nose of Citizeness Damiens, the public executioner. It seems she
is mad with rage and the whole town is in a state of terror, wondering
on whom she will vent her fury."
Marguerite really was wonderful. How she kept motionless and
outwardly calm while she heard the woman actually stating the fact that
Percy had been captured is one of the secrets of her intrepid nature.
Sir Andrew remained standing close beside her, with one hand on her
shoulder. She put up hers and their two hands met in a pressure of
reassurance and of comfort.
As soon as the woman had gone Sir Andrew said:
"I don't believe for a moment that anything has happened to Percy.
You don't either, do you, Lady Blakeney?"
"No," she replied simply, "I do not."
"But with your permission I'll go and ascertain just what did occur
to give rise to the rumour. I might hear something. Shall I go?"
"Promise me you won't fret," he urged.
She looked up at him with a wan little smile.
"I promise," she said.
"I won't be long," were his final words before he went out.
He was back half an hour later.
"I've seen Tony," were the first words he spoke as soon as he had
closed the door behind him.
"Tony!" Marguerite exclaimed.
She was still sitting by the fire which now was burning low.
Ffoulkes put some logs on while he continued.
"I met him a few moments ago. He was coming this way and will meet
us on the Grécourt road. He gave me a scribbled note from Percy."
He took the note from his waistcoat pocket and read out its contents
by the light of the lamp.
"The Saint-Lucque children are quite safe. I am taking them to a
place I know of called Saint Félix. It is a derelict village this side
of Grécourt, slightly off the road on the right. You can't miss it. I
want you to meet me there. Your landlord at the Ecu d'Or has a
cabriolet and a good horse, which you can either hire or purchase
outright. Steal it if you must, bring plenty of provisions and drive
Ffoulkes thrust the paper into the stove. Marguerite watched it burn.
"Thank God!" she said, "he is safe. And there is at last something
for us to do."
"We had better pretend to eat some of this supper," Sir Andrew
rejoined, "and then talk about the cabriolet."
They sat down and tried to swallow a morsel. Marguerite asked:
"Did Tony say anything about the Saint-Lucque children?"
"Yes ye did. He was in it all. But he couldn't say much as it would
have been dangerous with so many people about."
"But what about Sir Philip Glynde and my Lord St. Dennys?"
Sir Andrew gave a short laugh. Quite a merry one.
"They are having a very hard time, poor devils," he said lightly.
"What do you mean?"
"Tony had been busy trussing them up like a pair of capons and left
them lying in a near-by field, getting frozen and cramped like the very
"Oh, they are quite happy, Lady Blakeney. Do not fret about them.
The chief's orders, you know. We'd all go to hell for him, if he
ordered us to go."
Marguerite made no reply to this. How could she? Ffoulkes, the loyal
lieutenant, had spoken and voiced the feelings of eighteen others as
true and brave as himself. She could only wonder within the depths of
her soul at the marvellous magnetism exercised by the one man who had
made her so infinitely proud and happy in his love.
They sat at the table a few minutes longer. The white-faced clock up
on the wall struck five. The shades of evening were rapidly drawing it.
Ffoulkes rose and went in search of the landlord. The question of
hiring a vehicle of some sort was then broached.
"We want to get to Grécourt before nightfall," Ffoulkes explained to
the man. "My aunt, the citizeness St. Just, the mother of the great
patriot my cousin, has been expecting us the last two days. We had not
intended to stay here so long, but my sister was tired after the
journey and we were very comfortable in your house."
A preposterous price was, of course, asked for the purchase, not the
hire, of an old-fashioned cabriolet, an equally aged horse and a basket
of provisions, such as could be got. The landlord made pretence of
being suspicious, talked of police and of taking risks by aiding
strangers to wander about the country without special permits. Such
risks and suspicious were naturally to be paid for along with the horse
and the cabriolet.
In the end the sight of half a dozen louis set all patriotic
scruples at rest. The cabriolet was brought round. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
took the reins whilst Marguerite, wrapped in shawl and mantle, snuggled
in the corner of the carriage under the hood.
On the road to Saint Félix, they met Lord Anthony Dewhurst, one of
the most elegant fops known in the society of London and Bath. He was
clothed in the promiscuous bits of uniform, tattered tunic and shoes
down at heels, his nose was blue and his fingers stiff. Sir Andrew drew
rein and Tony scrambled into the cabriolet by the side of Marguerite.
"What is Percy going to do about Madame de Saint-Lucque," she
murmured enquiringly, more to herself than to him.
"God and he alone know," Tony replied, then he added: "It is the
devil, the children being separated from their mother. It means two
tasks instead of one."
"But he'll do it," murmured Ffoulkes fervently.
"No doubt about that," Tony echoed under his breath.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE COSY CORNER
The Parc aux Daims is not by any means the only derelict
homestead in Artois. The province, owing to its proximity to the
capital, had already suffered much even in the early days of the
revolution when inflammatory speeches delivered outside and inside of
every cabaret by agents of the government had provoked a half-starved
peasantry into acts of brigandage and loot. And not only were these
acts directed against landlords and so-called aristos, but more
often than not well-to-do farmers and peasant proprietors even in a
small way, were faced with the fury of an enraged populace and saw
their homesteads invaded and destroyed, even though some of their most
virulent attackers had been their equals and friends in the past.
Thus it was with the once prosperous village of Saint Félix, distant
a couple of leagues from Mézières and less than half a league off the
Grécourt main road. In this year of grace and fraternity—that is
1794—it was nothing but a conglomeration of derelict cottages and a
jumble of stones, broken-down walls and charred remains of roofs, doors
and window-frames. The tower of the little church had partially
collapsed. It was leaning over at an acute angle with great fissures in
its sides, its pointed roof with great gaps open to rain and snow,
showed glimpses of its cracked bell, now for ever mute. What had been
the presbytery beside it had been burnt down to the ground.
Close to the presbytery there had once stood a substantially built
wayside inn with stables and outhouses. Its sign was Le bon petit
Coin (The Cosy Corner), and had been the property of a worthy
Artesian who had drawn home-brewed ale, tapped casks of local wine and
led a God-fearing life with his wife and family until a rabble led by
paid agitators from Paris had raided his house, set fire to it and
destroyed all his belongings till nothing but the crumbling walls
remained of what had been a prosperous business place and a happy
homestead. The innkeeper and his family drifted away, no one knew or
cared whither they went, or what became of them, nor is it the purpose
of this chronicle to follow up their traces. Enough that crumbling
walls and broken roof of the house withstood the ravages of autumn
gales, of winter snow and hail-storms better than the rest of the
village had done, and that as a freakish chance would have it, the sign Le bon petit Coin still dangled engagingly on its posts. But no one
ever went there. No traveller ever entered its inhospitable doors.
"The Cosy Corner"? It was anything but cosy on this bleak February
evening when a hooded cart drawn by a couple of horses came to a halt
beneath its creaking signpost. The man who had been driving it threw
down the reins and jumped down from the cart. At the back, under the
hood, there were two bundles wrapped in thick blankets. Live bundles,
through the thick folds of which came the sound of whimpering and
little human cries: "Maman?" The man went round to the back of
the cart. With infinite precaution he took up the bundles and carried
them into the derelict house. Through one room, which had obviously
been the public bar once, he carried the two bundles one by one, and
thence into an inner room, wherein, as there was no furniture whatever,
he deposited them with tender care on the wooden floor. He saw to it
that the blankets covered the small human forms efficiently against the
cold, and listened for a moment or two to the pathetic cries of "
Maman." He then took a bottle out of the pocket of his big coat. It
contained milk. Perhaps there was even a tiny, very tiny drop of brandy
in the milk.
"That will comfort you, you poor kids," he murmured to himself, and
insinuated the bottle into the small human mouths. There was some
spluttering, but swallowing also. The man gave a quaint little chuckle.
"I ought to have been a nursemaid!" he went on murmuring to himself. He
waited for a few moments longer, until gradually the cries of "Maman
" became more rare, and the two bundles of blankets no longer betrayed
any movement through their folds. He went out of the room and gave
himself a good stretch. "Sink me!" he muttered, "but I'm stiff. I never
thought a woman could hit so hard."
He went back to the cart and peeped down under the hood. It was
still snowing, but the evening had not yet fully drawn in, and he could
perceive the forms of three men lying on their sides across the floor
of the cart. They were trussed up with cords, and their knees were
drawn up to the middle of their chests. Their coats were wrapped round
their legs and shoulders, and scarves were wound round their mouths and
"Well," the man muttered again, "you can't come to much harm like
that, my friends, and cannot do much mischief either." He tied up the
horses to the ring in the wall, picked up an untidy bundle of something
soft from the driving-seat of the cart and finally turned into the
tap-room of the Cosy Corner.
This was none other than Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., the prince of
dandies, the enfant gâté of London and Bath society, the
brilliant sportsman, and always the smartest and gayest man in town. He
was anything but that just now when he staggered into the tap-room and
let himself go down on the floor. Now that there was nothing imperative
left to do, reaction set in, and in spite of indomitable will-power, he
was feeling giddy and sick. He ached in every limb. Felt himself all
over to see if there were any broken bones to deplore.
"Curse that virago! How she did hit!"
But he was light-hearted for all that. Physical discomfort—that's
all this was—had no hold on his spirits. Except for that feeling of
giddiness, caused by the blows on his head, he would have burst into
song or laughter.
"By George!" he thought, and chuckled inwardly. "How she must have
cursed when she learned that the kids had gone. And how she will swear,
and threaten and fulminate when—"
He paused abruptly in his reflection, for his keen ear had suddenly
detected the sound of wheels in the remote distance. He pulled himself
together, struggled to his feet, stretched out his arms, and there he
was now, a magnificent specimen of manhood, tall, broad, vigorous, as
if he had never known an ache or pain in his life.
Marguerite was nigh! Marguerite was coming! In five minutes she
would be here—in his arms. O God! grant a weak man strength to bear up
under the fullness of this joy!
A quarter of an hour later the tap-room of the Cosy Corner was
giving shelter to the three men who had watched the well-nigh tragic
drama enacted by Mam'zelle Guillotine and Chief Commissary Lescar, a
drama in which their beloved chief had been the all-too-willing victim.
They crouched on the creviced floor, closely huddled together, for
it was very cold. A stable lantern placed in front of them threw a
circle of dim light on the floor and on the primitive repast which they
were consuming at the moment; they were digging their young teeth into
hunks of stale bread and dry cheese and alternately taking pulls at
their respective flasks of brandy. They were dressed in the promiscuous
clothes that were served out to infantry regiments not required for
service in the more important towns. This meant that their breeches
were ragged, that they had no tunics or stockings, and that their shoes
were down at heels. And here they were, these sybarites, accustomed to
silks and satins, perfumes and Mechlin lace, to drinking old Burgundy
and feeding on turkeys and Strasburg patties, here they were munching
rye bread and drinking raw brandy and enjoying life to the full as they
had never done before.
With them at this hour was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes just come over with
Lady Blakeney from the neighbourhood of Mézières in a ramshackle
cabriolet purchased at a fabulous price from the landlord of the Ecu
d'Or. Poor Sir Andrew! He had gone through a bad moment when he
entered the tap-room of the Cosy Corner and there was greeted by Sir
Philip Glynde and my Lord St. Dennys with a stern demand for something
fit to eat.
"Something fit to eat?" Sir Andrew mimicked with biting irony. "You
gluttons! Haven't I given you luscious cheese and—-"
"Luscious cheese?" Sir Philip broke in with mock indignation. "St.
Dennys, did you hear that? And luscious bread I suppose he would call
this jaw-breaking crust."
"Now, listen to me, Ffoulkes," St. Dennys continued sternly. "Either
you delve once more into that basket which I saw reposing in the
vehicle which brought you here, and bring us along something fit for an
English gentleman to eat—-"
"Together with enough good wine to tickle his fastidious palate,"
the other put in.
Sir Andrew laughed and gave a shrug.
"Well, what is the alternative?" he asked gaily.
"Or you give us a good reason for not doing as we command"
"I'll give you the best of reasons," Ffoulkes retorted. "The
provisions were not intended for a set of gluttons like you. They will
be kept for the journey which lies ahead of us all. And let me tell you
that I will defend them against your predatory fingers to the last drop
of my blood."
"You inhuman monster," St. Dennys cried, and with this he flung a
lump of cheese at the head of Sir Andrew, who, still laughing, dodged
this first missile only to be pelted by others. He was forced
ultimately to cry for mercy. A free fight ensued such as all British
schoolboys revel in. And they were just schoolboys for the time being,
these brave followers of the Scarlet Pimpernel, full of high animal
spirits and the very joy of living.
When peace was at last restored, all four of them settled down once
more to their repast of dry bread and cheese.
Between the courses of this sumptuous repast they tried to give
Ffoulkes some account of what had gone on in Mézières this afternoon.
"Never in all my life," my Lord Tony was saying, "did I see anything
so appalling as the chief under the hand of that vixen, and Glynde, St.
Dennys and I being obliged to stand by, under strict orders not to
interfere and commit a murder. I tell you," he concluded emphatically,
"it was hell!"
A hearty, careless laugh broke in on the moodiness which had
suddenly fallen on the small company at recollection of the horror they
witnessed a few short hours ago. The laughter came from the inner room,
where Marguerite at this moment was held closely in her husband's arms,
while he whispered in her ear:
"You understand, don't you, my beloved?"
"No, Percy," she said resolutely, and threw her head back so as to
look him straight in the eyes. "I do not. What you wish me to do is
impossible. Impossible," she reiterated firmly.
A stable lantern was set on a projection in the wall, and by its dim
light Marguerite could just see her husband's face. His eyes were
looking down into hers and she could see that there was a merry twinkle
in them and that the lines round his mouth were set in a gently
It was then that this merry, careless laugh came to the ears of his
"What?" he enquired lightly. "Insubordination?"
"Percy!" she protested.
"I am not wishing you to do anything, my beloved," he said. "You are
a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The most adored. The
most revered amongst all. But you are a member, and I am your chief
whom you have sworn to obey in all things. And I am giving you a
That was all he said, speaking very softly; his voice was hardly
audible it was so low, just a trifle husky, but perfectly firm.
Marguerite buried her face against his shoulder. He went on with
"Look at me, my beloved. Are we not one, you and I? Have we not gone
through endless joy and often bitter sorrow together? This is one of
the moments in our life when we must work together—and suffer
"Why Percy? Why?" she broke in pitiably through her sobs.
"Because somewhere near here, within a stone's throw of this spot
which your dear presence has hallowed, there is a helpless, innocent
woman who is faced with death, a horrible death which she would have to
endure in loneliness and sorrow surpassing in intensity anything you
and I have ever known. Also because there are two little children in
this very room who will be motherless unless we come to their aid, you
and I, and because an English gentleman would stand for ever
dishonoured before you and his own conscience if he so shamefully broke
"But if I stayed with you Percy . . ." came as a final entreaty from
Marguerite's aching heart. The hood had fallen back from her head.
Through the gloom Percy's hand sought the waves of her soft golden hair
which rippled gently round her face and neck. With his handkerchief he
brushed gently, very gently the tears that were coursing down her
"I might fail, my adored one," was his calm reply. "Do you know what
that would mean to them and to me?"
She could no longer speak, her heart was so full of sorrow that she
thought it must surely break. And suddenly his mood changed. The tender
sentiment of a moment ago flew away into the unknown and the
adventurous spirit, the spirit of the sportsman, once more gained the
mastery over his strange personality.
"You do understand, don't you, my adored, my loyal helpmate," he
asked with his habitual light-hearted eagerness, "just what I want you
Marguerite unable to speak nodded in reply.
"You will take these two innocents with you in the cart. Glynde, St.
Dennys and Tony, who are still in their haphazard uniforms, will
accompany you. All three will sit on the driving-seat and will look
very imposing and official up there in their tattered uniforms.
Ffoulkes, of course, will have to remain under the hood with you. Tony
will drive you to Perignon, which is on the other side of the French
frontier not far from the city of Luxembourg. He knows the way quite
well as he has been along there with me more than once. It is one of
the loneliest corners in Eastern France. There is no proper road, only
a rather wide bridle-path through ploughed fields which skirts a few
isolated villages and avoids the approach to any city. Anyway, the news
of what has been going on in Mézières has not had time to spread itself
in that direction. There are no patrols along the paths and no
garrisons anywhere near. If, after the break of dawn, a few labourers
going to their work should gape at you, they will be over-awed at sight
of three soldiers of the Republic on the driving-seat of a market cart."
He broke off for the sole purpose of gazing anxiously into her
tear-filled eyes and to murmur with a short sigh: "How lovely you are,
my beloved!" and then went on in the same matter-of-fact tone of voice,
giving his direction clearly, succinctly, like a general issuing
commands, certain that they would be obeyed. "I have given Tony all the
necessary papers in case they are required. They are in perfect order,
signed by Tallien, Barras and our faithful friend, Armand Chauvelin.
These signatures are the most perfect specimens of forgery I have ever
seen in all my life, and I have had some experience in forged
safe-conducts, have I not? I need not tell you who did them, nor what I
paid for them. The fellow runs great risks every time he serves me, but
he must have put by a cosy little fortune by now and he knows that in
case of trouble he can always count on us—-"
Once again he paused, his eyes fixed into vacancy, his mind at work
on the great problem which he would confront on the morrow. The
children were safe, of that he was sure. So sure, in fact, that
something of his almost supernal confidence in himself had communicated
itself to Marguerite. She had contrived to swallow her tears and it was
in a steady voice that she put the all-important question to him:
"What about you, Percy?"
He gave a little chuckle.
"What about me?" he echoed with inimitable merriment. "Why,
sweetheart, I will be kissing your lovely hands—let me see—in a
sen'night from to-day at the Fisherman's Rest in Dover, while that nice
little baggage, Suzan Jellyband, will be seeing to the creature
comforts of poor Madame de Saint-Lucque. . . . Hush! my adored one," he
added quickly, and placed a finger over her mouth, for she had been on
the point of speaking. "If you say one word more I shall be tempted to
silence you with a kiss, and then . . . then God help me! for it would
be so difficult, so very difficult to slip away. Now you must try and
get a couple of hours' rest if not of sleep.
He stooped and picked up the bundle which he had brought with him in
the cart. Out of it he took a couple of cushions. One of these he
disposed upon the floor in a corner of the room, the other he propped
up against the wall. She watched him smiling.
"Promise me you will try and rest," he urged. "The children are
asleep and you must not worry about them any more, promise."
She contrived to say firmly "I promise," and did her best to appear
comfortably installed on one cushion with her head resting on the other.
He did not look at her again, turned the lantern so as to shade its
light from her eyes.
Before he left the room he said earnestly:
"You don't know what your presence here this time has meant to me.
God bless you."
In the meanwhile, in the tap-room after that one moment of subdued
emotion when their chief's laughter rang so merrily in their ears, Sir
Philip Glynde, his eyes fixed on the communicating door, murmured with
a quick sigh:
"Poor old Percy!"
"Don't say that!" Sir Andrew Ffoulkes protested earnestly, knowing
what was passing in the minds of the three friend. "Percy adores his
wife. We all know that. And she worships him. But those two wonderful
people would be the first to resent the idea of any of us being sorry
for them. They are prepared to sacrifice everything for the cause they
have at heart. Their lives, their entire fortune . . ."
"Their love?" put in one of the others.
"Their love, yes," Ffoulkes assented; and then added after a
second's hesitation: "He, at any rate. He has proved it more than once.
But, of course, with a glamorous woman like Lady Blakeney it is
difficult to guess just what she feels."
"What about you, Ffoulkes," St. Dennys put in with a smile. "You
ought to know what all that sort of thing feels like. The long
separations, the constant 'farewells.'"
None of the others passed a remark on this. They all knew Ffoulkes's
love for his young wife and that he, too, like all the others, was
ready to follow his chief wherever and whenever he was called. He, too,
like Blakeney, was ready for any sacrifice in the cause of suffering
humanity. As indeed they all were. But he and Blakeney were the only
married men in their ranks, and many a time had some of them like
Glynde or Tony or St. Dennys probed their hearts wondering whether if
they in their turn would be ready to sacrifice love for the sake of an
Sir Andrew gave a slight shrug.
"That's quite right, my dear fellow," he said lightly in answer to
St. Dennys, and with that reticence in matters of sentiment peculiar to
the Anglo-Saxon race. "But you see, Percy means so much to me, and I
have such an admiration for him as a man and as our chief, that when I
am working with him I seem to become different somehow . . . I feel
differently, I mean . . . about everything. . . . I dare say this
sounds queer, and I expect you all think me a bounder for saying it . .
. but there it is. . . ."
There was no answer to this, for obviously there was nothing that
could be said, and silence fell for a few moments on the congenial
But all of a sudden the communicating door was opened and Blakeney
"Well," he queried airily, "you four chatterers, have you had enough
of this sumptuous repast, and have you got a last drop of something to
drink for a thirsty man?"
Four flasks of brandy were immediately held up to him. He took two
and drained them both.
"I know what your were talking about. Your chief under the whip of a
"Don't, Percy," Tony exclaimed, "it was hellish."
Blakeney could not help laughing: the earnestness and the towering
rage of his friend filled him with boyish delight.
"I am sure it was," he admitted, "but how else were we going to
engage the attention of that huge crowd long enough to give you three
fellows time to deal with those poor kids, with the three troopers and
with the cart? And you did it splendidly. And that awful time you had
lying in the open field, trussed like a brace of chickens, frozen
nearly to death. My God! but you were wonderful! weren't they,
Ffoulkes? There are no finer men in the whole wide world than you
fellows who honour me by your friendship. God bless and reward you! You
have been wonderful to-day."
He appeared to be in the highest spirits though to the keen ears of
his devoted followers the voice of their valiant leader sounded perhaps
a trifle husky, a little less vibrant than usual.
"Thank Heaven!" he added with a short, quick sigh, "Lady Blakeney
will know nothing of what happened in Mézières."
"And she never will," Lord Tony declared fervently.
There was a short moment of silence until Blakeney exclaimed:
"Sink me! I never thought a woman could hit quite so hard. I had a
good wacking from my friend Chauvelin once. Not himself, but a pair of
lusty bullies. It would have made his heart glad to see me this
afternoon. Mam'zelle Guillotine hit twice as hard as his myrmidons did
that time in Calais. By George!" he concluded, with something
approaching admiration, "what a woman!"
"What are you going to do with her, Blakeney," Glynde asked, "when
you've got her?"
There arose an animated discussion as to what should be done with
the noted fury. Hanging was, of course, too good for her. Lifelong
imprisonment to repeat her experiences in the Bastille would be far too
merciful. Tony, who felt particularly bloodthirsty, had read something
about lynching in America. He would have liked to have seen the harpy
who had laid hands on his chief either burned at the stake or beaten to
death, something peculiarly painful and lingering, he urged.
Blakeney said nothing while the matter was being discussed. When the
arguments were finally silenced he rejoined:
"You sadistic young ruffians! But you won't get your way with
Mam'zelle Guillotine, you know."
As Blakeney made no immediate reply to this, Tony queried anxiously:
"You are not going to let her get away, Percy, are you?"
"No!" Blakeney answered. "I won't do that, I promise you."
The last sight Marguerite had of her husband was when she peeped out
under the hood at the back of the cart. His tall form was still vaguely
distinguishable through the fast gathering gloom. He stood, a solitary
figure, under the portico of the Cosy Corner. Bare-headed. The falling
snow made white patches on each of his shoulders. His face she could no
longer see. Tony clicked his tongue. The horse's hoofs grated against
the frozen road. The cart gave a lurch and moved slowly away into the
night. And darkness swallowed the solitary figure of the great leader,
who after a moment or two turned and went within.
CHAPTER XXV. THE MAN IN BLACK
Saint Félix is situated half a league, not more, from Grécourt. The
latter in itself is not much of a town, all it does is to serve as a
stopping-place for one or two diligences that did not halt in Mézières.
It also was noted for its fortnightly horse and cattle market which
used to be the scene of great activity in the olden days, and of
festive gatherings during the spring and summer months when music and
dancing went on all day and half the night, on the grass plots of the
cabarets around the market place, and copious drinking and jollity in
their respective rooms.
But all this merry-making was now a thing of the past. Farmers and
cattle-breeders did stroll into the city once a fortnight with their
live stock such as it was: poor half-starved animals they were for the
most part, because food was dear and scarce now that the brains of the
country concentrated on the quickest way to get rid of all landowners
who before this era of equality and fraternity had helped nature to
produce the necessities of life for man and beast.
It was the eve before market day when Gabrielle Damiens mounted on
her whilom swain's white charger rode into Grécourt. She was in an
anxious and moody frame of mind. The disappearance of the two
Saint-Lucque children, coming on the top of her disappointment over the
rescue of the Marquis and the young Vicomte, had dealt a smashing blow
not only to her pride, but chiefly to her burning passion of hatred and
After she had left the three soldiers on the road, she wandered on
horseback first into Mézières, then feeling unconquerable restlessness,
she prowled about in the fast-gathering darkness along the country
roads oblivious of time and place; like an unquiet spirit seeking
repose. At one time she almost lost her way. She hardly knew where she
was when she came on a deserted village, or rather what had been a
village once and was now only a mass of ruins. She gave the charger his
head and let him roam around the tumble-down cottages and what had once
been the village street.
"This must be Saint Félix," she thought. "And Grécourt must be over
She turned her horse's head in the direction in which she thought
the little township lay. The short interlude had caused her to gather
her roving thoughts together. But only momentarily. As soon as she
found herself on the right road once again, off they went at a tangent.
The image of that great, hulking creature, André Renaud, rose out of
the darkness confronting her mental vision. The problem of the man's
personality, his tempestuous wooing, his exuberant temperament puzzled
and harassed her brain, taunted her with its unfathomable mystery. If
the man whom she had kissed and trusted and subsequently chastised was
not the master sleuth sent to her from Paris, who and what was he? And
what had become of him while the crowd dispersed and she herself rode
away? She had no recollection of him after she had snatched the reins
of the white charger out of his hands and left him lying on the ground
muttering threats and imprecations.
She reached Grécourt in this confused state of mind. Even the sight
of the diligence which stood in the yard of the Bon Camarade
where she intended to spend the night did not rouse her out of her
moodiness. She drew rein. The ostler ran along to aid her to dismount.
Scorning his help she jumped down from the saddle. The landlord came
along quickly. His manner, when in the new arrival he recognised
Mam'zelle Guillotine, became almost servile.
"What did the citizeness require?"
"Supper and a room. I leave again early to-morrow." After which she
"When did the diligence come in?"
"About two hours ago, citizeness."
"Where is the corporal?"
"In the tap-room having supper."
"Many people in the tap-room?"
"A good number. It's market day to-morrow."
"I know that. I want my supper in a quiet corner. By the way, what
is your name?"
"Magnol Fernand. At your service, citizeness."
"Get me something hot then, Citizen Magnol, and be quick about it."
She made her way to the tap-room. It was of the usual pattern to be
found in varying sizes in every inn and cabaret of eastern France.
Drab-coloured walls that had once been white. An iron stove with inside
chimney rising to the blackened, raftered ceiling. A long, trestle
table in the middle of the room. Benches each side of it, and the
inevitable odour of boiled cabbage, garlic, damp clothes and humanity.
A score or more of men were sitting at the centre table consuming
platefuls of soup with much sound of gustation and smacking of lips.
Their steaming contents gave forth the insistent odour of garlic and
A girl with tousled hair and dressed in a promiscuous conglomeration
of rags, went round the table bearing hunks of bread on a platter. Her
name was apparently Philoméne. There was hardly any talking in the
room, except for occasional calls for Philoméne and for bread.
When the door was opened and Gabrielle came in a few heads were
turned in her direction. Not by any means all. Most of the men knew her
by sight as a matter of course, but these were not the days of cheery,
friendly greetings, and after a moment or two the smacking of lips and
plying of metal spoons went on as before. She strode across the room.
The landlord hovered round her and piloted her to a corner of the room
where two small tables were seemingly disposed for the reception of
privileged guests. One of these tables was occupied by a solitary
guest, a man dressed in sober black. Gabrielle bestowed on him a quick
appraising glance. She sat down at the other table. Philoméne brought
plates, fork, spoon and knife and set a candle on the table.
"What will the citizeness take?" the landlord asked.
"What is there?"
"Cabbage soup . . ."
"I can smell it. Whet else?"
"A piece of pork with beans."
"Potatoes . . ."
"Good. Bring me potatoes, beans and pork, and see that they are hot."
"Yes! Red. From the cask."
The landlord shuffled out of the room. Gabrielle sat on, waiting.
She tried hard not to appear to be scrutinising her fellow guest too
closely. Nevertheless, she took stock of him every time his head was
turned away. She could not see him very well because of the flickering
candlelight between her and her vision of him. She put him down as an
official of some sort. Police probably. His hair was very dark and
lanky. He wore it rather long at the back and tied at the nape of the
neck with a black ribbon. It was plastered down his forehead in a
rigid, straight line, which made it look like a black band just above
his bushy eyebrows. He looked well groomed, although his cheeks showed
dark blue against his sallow skin and the starched linen stock round
his throat. In her present mood Gabrielle felt intrigued. A
Marseillais, she thought, and wanted to hear him speak. Anyway, from
She called to Philoméne for salt.
Forestalling the girl, the stranger took the salt box from his own
table and placed it in front of Gabrielle. She gave him a curt "Thank
you," to which he responded: "At your service, citizeness," stressing
the last syllable of citoyen-ne as is the manner of those in the
"You are a stranger here, citizen?" Gabrielle asked.
"I am a stranger everywhere, citizeness," he replied, "even in Paris
from whence I came yesterday."
"Yes," thought Gabrielle, "you are distinctly of the South, my
friend. Your accent is slight but unmistakable."
"So you are from Paris, citizen?" she went on. "Are you making a
long stay in our province?
"How soon I can lay hands on a reputed criminal."
"I am of the secret police, Citizeness Damiens," the man replied
quietly, and with his left hand he turned back the lapel of his coat,
displaying a metal badge surmounted by a tricolour ribbon. It was then
that Gabrielle noticed that his right sleeve was pinned empty to his
"You know who I am?" was all she could think of saying at the moment.
"If I did not would I have revealed my mission to you?" he countered
He spoke all the time in an even, monotonous tone of voice, without
the slightest inflexion or emphasis, like one reciting a lesson learned
"What is that mission, citizen?" Gabrielle queried, this time in her
wonted peremptory way.
"As I have told you, citizeness, to hunt after a reputed criminal."
"If he is reputed I must know about him. I know every criminal in
the Province of Artois. Who is he?" she demanded, paused for a second
or two, and suddenly gave a gasp, exclaiming: "Do you mean the English
The stranger nodded.
"Do you know him, citizeness?"
"No," she faltered.
"Nevertheless, if rumour does not lie, you had him under your hand a
few hours ago. Why did you let him go?"
His voice was still quite even and only just audible, but there was
something stern now and rasping in its tone. He did not look at the
woman while he spoke, but over her shoulder on the drab-coloured wall
on which to the words "Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité," traced
thereon in black chalk, had been added the words: "ou la Mort."
He looked that way so insistently that Gabrielle, fascinated, turned
round to look. But she was not the woman ever to be intimidated by the
suggestion of a threat, wherever it came from. She gave a shrug and a
harsh, ironic laugh.
"If you have those sort of ideas in your head, citizen," she said
dryly, "You won't go far in your career."
"What do you mean?"
"That you are altogether on the wrong track. The man whom I
horsewhipped this afternoon is not the celebrated Scarlet Pimpernel."
"What makes you say that?"
"It was he who first called our attention to the disappearance of
"A clever trick, since he took you in."
"What do you mean by a clever trick?"
"He had to get out of your clutches, citizeness, or you would have
"I certainly would—" she began, paused a moment or two, then went
on: "Do you dare to assert that the man who has been spending the last
two days in Mézières, who effected the arrest of the traitor aristos
the ci-devant Saint-Lucque and her brats, and who was sent out
specially from Paris by Armand Chauvelin to aid me in the capture of
the Scarlet Pimpernel, do you dare to tell me that he was . . ."
"The Scarlet Pimpernel himself," the man broke in firmly. "He was
not sent out from Paris, citizeness. He only said he was."
"He was André Renaud—I saw his papers. They were sighed by
Maximilien Robespierre and two other members of the Committee of Public
Safety; André Renaud . . ."
"He was not André Renaud," the other broke in again with increased
"How do you know?"
"Because I happen to be André Renaud, citizeness." Gabrielle Damiens
gave such a start that the table on which she had leaned her elbows
gave a lurch, and the beer bottle which did duty for a candlestick
rolled down on the floor. The candle broke, the light went out and the
corner where these two sat in close conversation was in greater
obscurity than before.
Gabrielle's glowering eyes searched the face of the stranger through
"You!" she burst out, gasping for breath.
"Even I," the man responded coolly.
"I don't believe it . . . I don't believe it," she reiterated over
and over again, trying to steady her voice, and to stop her teeth from
"Why shouldn't you believe it, citizeness?" he retorted. "Who do you
suppose I am?"
"I don't know," she murmured gruffly.
He gave a short laugh.
"Well, I am not the Scarlet Pimpernel, am I, or I shouldn't be here
talking to you?"
That was true enough. Gabrielle passed the back of her hand across
her moist forehead. He went on:
"You have been believing and disbelieving so many things here
to-day, citizeness, no wonder you are bewildered, and," he added, with,
for the first time, the hint of a threat in what he said, "are like now
to commit the greatest blunder of your career. And let me tell you,
citizeness, that you are not quite so indispensable in the estimation
of the government that you can afford to commit blunder after blunder
as you have done in the past few days."
She pulled herself together, straightening out her massive
shoulders, and retorted defiantly:
"Blunders? I? You forget to whom you are talking, Citizen—"
"André Renaud," he put in with a thin smile.
Whereupon she gave a shrug.
"I don't believe it," she again persisted.
"It makes no matter," he countered coolly, "whether you believe in
me or not. I can do my duty without any help from you. I know all the
plans that have been made for the capture of the English spy, and I
also know that you, Citizeness Gabrielle Damiens, Mam'zelle Guillotine,
have run counter to the orders sent to you direct by the Committee of
Public Safety . . ."
"How do you know that?" she broke in roughly. "Who was . . ." She
paused abruptly, afraid that she was giving herself away.
"It was Citizen Armand Chauvelin who told me what the orders were,"
he put in quietly.
"I don't believe it," she reiterated with parrot-like insistence.
"Shall I tell you what they were . . . and how you contravened them?"
No reply to that from Gabrielle. She sat there a veritable statue of
obstinacy and sullenness, her elbows resting on the table, her chin
cupped in her hands. Her mind had got back to that awful state of
puzzlement and confusion of a while ago. The very name André Renaud,
seemed to be burning inside her brain with letters of fire. She tried
to recapture every phase of her association with the man. His arrival
at the episcopal palace, her rage against him because he had come when
the ci-devant Saint-Lucque woman was already under arrest, on a
denunciation from the farmer Guidal. Guidal! She had flung the name in
the man's face at the time, whereupon and with consummate
self-possession he had erased Guidal's very name from the tablets of
her memory. It came back to her now. What a fool she had been not to
confront the farmer with the man who called himself André Renaud and
claimed to be the master sleuth sent to her from Paris.
Then there was the man's personality, which now obtruded itself with
exasperating persistence before her troubled mind. The more she thought
of him the more did her brain reject the thought that that huge,
hulking male creature with his coarse ways and brutal love-making could
possibly be André Renaud the noted sleuth-hound, the tracker of
criminals and traitors, a calling requiring suavity of manner, tact,
effacement, every quality, in fact, which that rowdy, hoydenish lout
did not possess. English—that's what he was. He spoke French, but he
was English. He couldn't be anything but English—not with those huge
legs and immense shoulders. Frenchmen occasionally were broad and
powerful-looking, like this man opposite to her now. Though tall, a
Frenchman was graceful and soft of speech, unless he was the spokesman
of the government and was obliged to talk forcefully to a crowd of
Thoughts! Thoughts! Conjectures! There they were going round and
round in the whirlpool of Gabrielle's brain. Her dark, glowering eyes
remained fixed on the man who had set all this effervescence foaming
and boiling inside her, making her temples throb and sending her blood
rushing like a fiery torrent through her veins. He was almost
sinister-looking in his funereal clothes and that black hair which
looked like a mourning band round his forehead, with his measured
speech, his sallow skin and that empty sleeve. What a contrast to the
burly, noisy boor who had made love to her, to his showy clothes and
clumsy boots, his tousled yellow hair and florid skin.
Gabrielle Damiens visualising all this, remembering the other man's
fulsome adulation, and his resounding kisses, cursed herself for a
fool. Fortune and fame were in her grasp and she let everything go,
even the chance of realising a part of her revenge.
The ci-devant Marquis and the boy were gone, the two brats
also, probably. And all of this the work of a man who had bamboozled
her. Led her by the nose until she became like a despicable noodle,
mistrusting her own powers of which she had always been so justly proud.
"If I only could trust you," she burst out, staring like a wild cat
at the sober, placid figure of the man before her. "Whom else could you
trust, citizeness, if not the man who was sent down for the express
purpose of aiding you in the capture of the greatest prize that ever
fell to the lot of a patriot like yourself?"
He paused a moment. Looking her full in the face. Returning stare
for stare. His eyes looked more sinister than ever overshadowed by
those bushy eyebrows and surmounted by that band of straight black hair
which seemed to cut off the upper part of his face. It appeared to
begin at the eyes and to end just above the chin, where the stock of
snow-white linen presented such a crude contrast to his blue-black
cheeks and chin. He did look sinister, devilish, for there had crept a
look into his eyes that was both malefic and menacing.
"And that prize," he resumed after that short ominous pause, "you
actually allowed to slip out of your hands. You held him at your mercy
and you let him go."
"I horsewhipped him," she murmured, through clenched teeth.
"Do you think he cared? What you did was to give his followers time
to spirit away the two aristos. After that he disappeared. Or am
I wrong?" he concluded with biting sarcasm.
Slowly, gradually, step by step, Gabrielle saw her spirit breaking
and her will-power crumbling under the vague terror engendered in her
by this man's malignant personality. He dominated her. She was half
afraid of him, in a way that she had never been afraid of anyone in her
life before. She tried to think of him as a minor official, with far
less influence with the powers up in Paris than she had. She thought of
her own friends, of Robespierre, the virtual dictator of France, and of
others in commanding positions who knew and appreciated her patriotic
worth. They would stand by her, even if she had committed a blunder or
two or contravened a casual order.
Something that went on in her mind at this comforting thought must
have shown in her face, for the man broke in on her meditations:
"This is not the time to think of influential friends, citizeness.
The dogs of the revolution are at one another's throats. Robespierre is
at grips with Danton. Terror is the order of the day. The chase after
traitors is swift and hot. Nothing but a spectacular coup can
save you from death after the blunder you have committed, Mam'zelle
Having said this he rose.
"This place is insufferably hot," he said dryly. "I shall be at your
service in the courtyard, in close proximity to your diligence and in
close conversation with your troopers. I must feel assured that they
are worthy of the trust which you have placed in them."
He stalked out of the room, leaving Gabrielle Damiens sitting in the
gloom with her elbows on the table, her chin resting against her
clenched fists, her eyes glowering. Glowering like those of a wild cat.
Burning with hatred and with fear. She watched the man walk through the
room with a long, rather laboured stride. He was tall, but distinctly
round-shouldered, and stooped as he walked. How different, through
Gabrielle, to the rolling gait, the straight square shoulders, the
heavy tread of her whilom courtier.
Something had to be done about the whole thing. Gabrielle Damiens
was no fool. She knew even before this man began to threaten her that
if she allowed the English spy to slip through her fingers again it
would go ill—very ill—with her. And she would die un-avenged. The
hated Saint-Lucque, and the whole brood of them would be spirited away
if she blundered again. Well then, what had best be done? This man here
with his airs of incorruptible officialdom—imitator of Robespierre
what?—in his sober, well-cut clothes, might, after all, be of service.
Might have ideas worth considering. He was a blood-hound, a tracker, he
might have ideas. Time was getting short. There was the journey to
Paris on the morrow, and the certainty that the English spies would
work their coup in the forest of Mézières. Everyone thought
that. Everyone believed it. Chauvelin had expounded his theory before
the Committee of Public Safety, had submitted his plans for the capture
of the arch-enemy. The Committee had approved of the theory and agreed
to the plan. This man, this Marseillais with the stooping shoulders and
blue chin, had knowledge of all that. He seemed to know everything, in
fact, like one associated with the high powers in Paris. He knew all
about the orders transmitted to her by Chauvelin. He had heard of her
defiance and contravention of the orders.
There were calls for the landlord just then. They came from outside.
Sharp and peremptory they were, coming from one who was not used to
being kept waiting. Gabrielle thought she recognised the voice with its
accent from the South. At once there was a commotion. Citizen Magnol
ran in and out of the house, backwards and forwards from the tap-room
to the kitchen, carrying bottles and tins labelled "cloves" and
"nutmeg" or "sugar." After a time he came in carrying a huge bowl of
steaming mulled wine. Philoméne was hard on his heels, laden with a
number of pewter mugs.
"What's all this?" Gabrielle queried.
"Hot wine, citizeness, for the soldiers," the landlord replied.
"Who ordered it?"
"Citizen Renaud from Paris. He thought the men looked starved with
cold. . . . They certainly look it . . . This will do them good."
He took a ladle full of the hot stuff from the bowl, tasted it and
smacked his lips. The company at the trestle-table watched the
proceedings with covetous eyes. The men laughed. One of them said: "It
looks good." Another declared: "I'll have some of that, too, citizen
"So will I," said a third.
"And I," came lustily all down the length of the table.
"Make haste, citizen landlord," they all shouted at him, as he held
up the bowl with both hands and marched with it as with a trophy out of
the room. Philoméne ran in his wake, carrying a load of pewter mugs.
Their exit was accompanied by lusty cheers, which after a moment or two
found their echo in the yard outside.
Gabrielle struggled to her feet, feeling unaccountably weary. Her
legs felt heavy like lead. She picked up her mantle and, wrapping it
round her, stumped slowly out of the room.
André Renaud—was he really André Renaud?—was out there in the
yard. Half a dozen troopers were gathered round him, all laughing and
bandying jokes. The landlord had just come out carrying the bowl of
mulled wine. Philoméne was close behind him with the pewter mugs. They
came to a halt, Magnol holding up the bowl in accordance with the
custom of the country, for the customer who paid for the drink to
pronounce his approval. This the black-coated stranger did, he took the
ladle offered him by the landlord, and pronounced the mixture good.
The landlord assisted by Philoméne now went the round, distributing
the hot drink. The soldiers raised their mugs, cheering the
black-coated stranger. Nor were the men in the diligence forgotten.
From them, after their long confinement in the narrow space, came
huzzas and cheers more lustily than the rest.
"Shall we give the prisoner a hot drink, too?" the stranger
suggested. "It will put heart into her."
The corporal in charge was quite willing.
"Why shouldn't she get drunk, poor thing?" he said lightly.
He and the men were having a good time. They felt kindly disposed
towards that wretched woman, who was being trundled about in a jolting
vehicle with nothing short of trial and death at the end of this awful
journey. Once or twice during the day she had been jostled out by order
of the corporal in charge of the escort. She had been given food on
arrival at the Bon Camarade, when she was thrust in and out of
the coach as if she had been a bale of goods. But not once during this
long day did a word of complaint escape her lips. She sat in a corner
of the vehicle, motionless and silent. The soldiers were not cruel men,
not all of them by any means. There were some who felt quite sorry for
her, especially when Mam'zelle Guillotine came a while ago and had a
look at her. Such torrents of abuse as then poured from the lips of the
noted patriot, even the troopers had never heard before. But the woman
never moved. She scarcely seemed to hear. Yes, the men had been sorry
for her then. But, que voulez vous? Duty is duty, and
disobedience to orders punishable by death.
The corporal in charge was not averse to allowing the prisoner to
take a mug of hot wine at the hands of the stranger who was so
generously paying for this treat. There was nothing in his orders
against that. Two of the men even got out of the coach to make room for
him and helped him up the step because of his one arm, when he handed a
mug to the wretched woman and stood by while she drank it down.
Gabrielle had been standing all this while outside the door of the
inn gazing at the animated scene. Her glowing eyes followed every
movement of André Renaud. He had just come out of the diligence when he
caught sight of her. The lanthorn which hung from a rafter under the
projecting roof was above his head. The new style sugar-loaf hat which
he wore threw an irregular shadow over parts of his face. It also
caused him to look taller than she had thought him before, in spite of
his decided stoop. Below the hat the funereal looking band of black
hair encircled his forehead and the top of his long nose, were the only
features visible on his face.
Gabrielle strode across the yard, and he came on to meet her.
"What right had you," she demanded roughly, "to interfere with my
He was profuse in his apologies.
"A thousand pardons, citizeness," he pleaded with unwonted humility;
"I did it for the best. The men were getting restive as the cold got
into their bones. They will fight better now, being warm inside. I was
sure you would approve."
The false air of humility did not last long. Already his voice had
become harsh and his tone dictatorial. Gabrielle was up in arms.
"I am not starting before dawn," she declared curtly; "time for them
to freeze again before then."
Greatly to her surprise he seemed to acquiesce.
"You must do as you please," he responded dryly, paused a moment,
then added with a regretful sigh:
"And so we shall miss that elusive English spy again!"
"Miss him?" she countered. "Why should we, or rather I, miss him?"
"Because, as I said before, the men are already impatient and
restive, what with the cold and the delay. If you wait about here all
night their enthusiasm will fizzle out before you reach the forest. It
is only a fizgig now. You blame me for giving them a warm drink, but
they were more tired and dispirited than you think. Make a start soon,
citizeness," he urged with great earnestness, "their blood is warm now,
don't let it cool down again. You could be in the forest before the
dawn and the weather is just perfect for the capture of a gang of
marauders like those English spies."
Then, as she remained obstinately silent, he continued with a note
in his voice which sounded like a solemn warning:
"Your policy, citizeness, believe me, is to travel by night and to
rest by day. The English spies are night birds. They only fly about in
She was looking straight past him now, across the yard where the
bulky diligence with its inside load of picked men loomed out like a
huge black mass darker than the darkness around. It held the one thing
that to Gabrielle Damiens was more precious than anything on earth,
more precious than life itself—her chance of revenge. It was all very
well for this man here and for all the Committees in Paris to think
only of the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel; but for her, Gabrielle,
who had spent sixteen years in a living tomb to suit the ambitious
intrigues of the Saint-Lucque family, the thought of wreaking her
revenge on the entire brood outweighed any thought of patriotism or
personal advancement. That woman in the diligence meant more to her
than a whole army of English spies.
She stood there brooding, unable to make a decision. She felt that
in a way this man, André Renaud—was he really André Renaud—was right,
whoever he was. The English spies were night birds who flapped their
wings only in the night, and they were out to wrest that woman
Saint-Lucque out of her clutches. Yes! the man with the maimed arm was
probably right, and as for her, Gabrielle, the double capture was the
prize to aim for. There had been so much talk, so many intrigues and so
much mystery around the personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel, that she
herself was caught in the vortex of hatred against the man and in the
torrent of this mad longing to see him brought to ruin and to death.
The man who had made love to her! The man whom she had kissed! Who had
mocked and derided and flouted her! The man whom she had held at her
mercy under her whip-lash and whom she had allowed to escape from full
She hated him! By Satan and all his horde, how she did hate him!
"His was not really a clever impersonation," the man in black broke
in casually on her thoughts. "I wonder that you, citizeness, who have a
great reputation for shrewdness, were so easily taken in. You have met
men of the secret police before now, was he at all like any of them?
Just think of our mutual friend, Citizen Chauvelin. He is the master of
us all. We try to model ourselves on that pattern. Suave. Soft of
speech. Gentle of manner. There you have your successful tracker of
spies and criminals. Not a great hulking, blundering lout like the man
who courted your favours. Look at me, citizeness, and think of him and
then say which of us two is the most likely to trap those audacious
She did look at him. Suave. Soft of speech. Gentle of manner, he was
the very replica of Armand Chauvelin.
She had, however, remained as was her wont, obstinately silent, nor
did he say anything more for the moment. He allowed her gaze to travel
over his stooping figure, his lean jaw and empty sleeve; a slight,
ironical smile hovered round his lips. But this Gabrielle could not
see. Then there was silence between them for a time. A distant clock in
the city struck ten. The night was going to be very dark. Only a thin
film of snow fell intermixed with rain. It no longer spread a mantle of
white over the ground, rather did it turn to slush and mud as it fell.
The troopers when they had drunk their fill of the good mulled wine,
turned into the coach-house for shelter. The doors and windows of the
diligence had once again been hermetically closed on the six picked men
and their unfortunate prisoner. And gradually all signs of life were
stilled in the yard of the Bon Camarade. And darkness became
more dense. Almost palpable. The volets throughout the house had been
closed one by one, only the door into the inn had remained open, and
through it came filtrating a dim shaft of light.
These two, the man and the woman, remained as it were the sole
occupants of this dark and noiseless place. They were looking at one
another like two swordsmen about to engage. A few moments went by, and
then Gabrielle suddenly turned on her heel and went into the house. The
man did not follow her. He remained standing almost motionless under
the shelter of the projecting roof. He did not seem to feel the cold,
nor was he impatient. The distant clock struck the quarter after the
hour, and a minute later Gabrielle emerged once more out of the house.
She took no notice of the stranger, strode past him and called
loudly for the corporal in charge.
To him she gave the order to make an immediate start.
In a moment the
Bon Camarade awoke from its torpor. There was
running and shouting. Orders and counter orders. Horses pawing in their
stables, the clatter of their hoofs on the cobblestones of the yard.
Volets and windows thrown open, heads thrust out to see what was going
on. Ostlers and grooms busy. The landlord fussy and obsequious. The
team was put to. The carriage lanterns lighted and fixed in position.
The escort prepared to mount. A few street urchins ventured into the
yard and stood round the diligence gaping at its closed doors and
windows, watching the soldiers and the horses, passing criticisms and
remarks in their shrill childish voices.
And towering in this vortex of sound and movement the massive form
of Mam'zelle Guillotine wrapped in a fur-lined mantle, stood out by the
side of the tall, stooping figure clad in black, scarce distinguishable
from the darkness around. The master sleuth from Paris.
Gabrielle Damiens prepared to mount to the box-seat of the coach.
"I am driving," she announced briefly, speaking to him. "Are you
coming with me?"
"Not with you, citizeness," he replied. "I might hamper you. But
there will be a horse to spare for me here. I will start as soon as may
be and meet you at the cross-roads just before you come to Falize. Will
you wait for me there?"
"Falize itself would be better. We could pull up there."
"As you like, but the cross-roads would suit you best, citizeness.
If I am there, and I shall be, we would have command of the two roads
and could then decide which would be the safest to take."
"What do you mean by that?" Gabrielle demanded. She had one foot on
the axle of the near front wheel, preparing to mount.
"There has been a persistent rumour all day in Grécourt," he said in
a whisper, "that the English spies are mustering in this district. They
are said to be more numerous than they usually are. Some talk of a
dozen, others of two score. Of course, the story may only be a canard. But it is best you should be warned. I shall know more
about the rumour when I meet you, and, as I say, we'll take the road
that gives the best chance of safety."
"I am not afraid," Gabrielle muttered, and without another word she
climbed up to the box-seat and settled herself down, reins in hand, and
driving-apron stretched over her massive thighs. The corporal in charge
climbed up after her and sat down by her side.
A click of the tongue. A scraping and jolting and lurching. Much
pawing and snorting. The iron hoofs drawing sparks from the
cobblestones. The damp leather squeaking. The axles grinding. The metal
jingling. A shout from Gabrielle:
"The cross-roads then."
A resounding crack of the whip and the lumbering vehicle started on
CHAPTER XXVI. FORTUNE IN SIGHT
Long after the rumble of wheels had died away in the distance the
quidnuncs sat around in the tap-room arguing, talking, discussing they
knew not what, and drinking their favourite mulled wine. As a matter of
fact nothing very important had happened. Nothing so very unusual. The
farmers who had come to Grécourt with their live stock were the first
to say that the sight of a coach with closed doors and windows and
escorted by a posse of soldiers was not a rare occurrence in the city.
A fortnight or so ago-it may have been three weeks, just such a coach
had come through Grécourt on its way to Paris. Doors and windows
closed. An important detachment of soldiers from one of the local
regiments. Great secrecy. Everything, in fact, to arouse the curiosity
of patriots who wanted to know what all the mystery was about. In that
case it transpired that in the coach were three whilom aristos,
one of them none other than the ci-devant Marquis de
Saint-Lucque, who was known by all and sundry in the province. With him
was his son, a boy who should have been at school. And there was also a caoltin, the abbé Prud'hon. Not at all a bad man, any more than
Saint-Lucque and his boy were bad. But it seems that they really were
traitors to their country. They wanted to sell the whole of the
province of Artois to the Austrians, who were the arch-enemies of
France, and who would immediately grind all the Artesians under their
iron heel, seize their land, their crops, take their children into
bondage and their wives as serving-maids.
And it seems that Saint-Lucque, the abbé Prud'hon and even the boy
were all in a huge maleficent plot to do this evil thing. And so they
were arrested and were being driven to Paris in the diligence which
halted at the Bon Camarade, just as this other one had done this
very night. In Paris it seems all three of them were going to be tried
for treason. They would be condemned to death and then they were going
to be brought back to Mézières where Mam'zelle Guillotine was going to
make short work of them.
Yes, the worthy Artesian farmers nodded sagely, that was what
happened to traitors who conspired against the Republic and worked
against their own country and for the ruin of all the farmers who
toiled for the welfare and prosperity of France.
Unfortunately in that case things did not turn out quite in the way
that had been anticipated. For while the diligence conveying the
traitors to Paris was passing through the forest of Mézières, it was
held up by masked highwaymen who attacked the soldiers, killed and
wounded most of them, maimed the horses and finally drove the coach
away in the darkness, no one knew whither or in which direction. The
highwaymen were never apprehended and the traitors vanished as if they
had been spirited away by the devil himself.
That was the story that was told in the tap-room of the
Camarade on this February night, the eve of market day, by the
farmers and breeders gathered in Grécourt for the occasion. Their
spirits were not as high as they usually were. Money was scarce these
days, in spite of the fact that money-grabbers and aristos had
been put to death in hundreds, and the government up in Paris had
solemnly promised that when there were no more aristos in France
every labourer, every farmer, every toiler and worker would have the
fortunes that those traitors had stolen from the people and then
squandered like water. Every man in the country would be prosperous and
free to do just what he liked and never need do another stroke of work
if he had no mind to do it.
Well, promises were all right enough. But as far as agriculture in
the Province of Artois was concerned, there was less money to be made
out of it now than in the days when the ci-devant Saint-Lucque,
the Belforts and others were there to farm the land and pay good wages
to those who worked for them.
As for market day, it certainly was not the merry, profitable day it
used to be in the past. What about to-morrow? The weather was so bad.
Buyers would certainly be scarce and prices would come down to
"What we each want is money to drop down into our laps without
having to toil and moil for it. That is what the government has
promised us and nothing less should satisfy us."
The man who spoke was younger than the majority of the guests around
the table. This, no doubt, accounted for his lusty speech and
full-throated voice. Most of the others approved of what he said and
showed their appreciation by banging their half-empty mugs on the
table. "Money to drop down into our laps, without having to toil and
moil for it." No wonder the prospect appealed to all these harrased,
over-taxed, hard-working men.
"The government did promise . . ." somebody remarked.
"And nothing less should satisfy us," another echoed forcefully,
while mugs were again banged on the table-top.
Right through the hubbub of voices and the noise of metal against
the table, a clear, sharp voice suddenly resounded. It came from near
the door, through which the one-armed stranger had just entered the
room. He closed the door behind him, stood with his back to it, facing
the company, every man of whom had suddenly turned astonished,
enquiring eyes upon him. There was silence for a moment or two, while
the resonant voice appeared to have raised an echo in the low-raftered
room. The pewter mugs were slowly emptied. One old farmer gave a
"All very well talking," he said.
"Talking won't feed the stock or manure the ground," objected
"How are we going to set about it, citizen?" queried a third, with
"About making money drop into to your laps?" he countered.
There was a chorus of "Yes! yes! yes! how is it going to be done?"
"And when?" the youngster added, he who had first brought the
question on the tapis.
"When?" the man in black rejoined. "Not later than to-night."
Well, of course, that was something undreamed of. Something so
utterly foolish and impossible that the man who suggested it was either
a devil or just a mad-man. Roars of mocking laughter greeted him, when
he moved away from the door and took his stand at the head of the
table. Mocking laughter, jeers, ironical huzzas were hurled at him, and
cries of "How? How? How?"
By way of a reply the stranger called loudly for the landlord.
"Our throats are dry," he said; "we'll talk about this over full
mugs of mulled wine."
Magnol came in, looking rather scared. He had been on the point of
closing his house for the night, not being used to such late hours.
"Citizen landlord," the stranger commanded, turning to him, "a fresh
bowl of spiced wine, the best your cellar can procure. Into it you
shall pour a bottle of your best brandy. Make it hot and strong, well
spiced and as sweet as love. And now be quick about it. We have
important business to transact."
This all looked more serious than had at first appeared. The man in
black was certainly no devil or he never would have ordered a bowlful
of that excellent mulled wine, and all the more excellent with a bottle
of good brandy poured into it. He had the welfare of farmers and
stockbreeders of Artois at heart. No! No! he was no devil. A madman
perhaps, but his next words would settle that question. For the moment
he remained standing at the head of the table, obstinately silent,
paying no heed to the many questions, some sarcastic, others
encouraging and even peremptory, that were hurled at him from one end
of the table to the other. Until presently the landlord returned with
the bowl of hot wine and received a regular ovation, as he went the
round ladling the drink into the mugs.
"This man here," one of the drovers said to him, "tells us that he
is going to find a way of throwing money into our laps without our
having to do a handstir of work for it."
"More power to his elbow," Magnol assented, "but how is he going to
"Let's drink his health and see," a farmer suggested who,
apparently, had a practical turn of mind.
This was done, with much cheering, and a great deal of laughter
mostly sarcastic and sceptical.
"I thank you, friends," responded the man at the end of the table.
He scarcely touched the edge of his mug with his lips. "And now," he
went on, and allowed his resonant voice to reach every ear and so fill
every corner of the room. "enough of this and let us talk seriously.
You want to know how you can earn a substantial sum of money without
toiling and moiling for it. You can do it by thwarting the machinations
of a grasping harpy who to-morrow will, if you do not put a stop to it,
pocket the sum of two thousand louis which by right of justice should
A gasp went right round the table.
"Two thousand louis!" came bursting out from every mouth.
"Where would two thousand louis be coming from?"
"Can you tell us that?"
"From the government who is paying that sum of money in solid gold
to any party of French citizens who between them effect the capture of
the noted English spy known as the Scarlet Pimpernel."
It was a loud groan of disappointment that went the round this time
when the vibrant voice of the man in black ceased to resound through
"Oh! That!!!" was uttered in tones of withering contempt. Contempt
which was expressed in several less salubrious ways. They had all heard
of the English spy before, and they had been harangued before now by
representatives of the government who came down from Paris and talked,
and talked, and made all sorts of promises which where never kept. The
English spy! Yes! they knew all about him. A myth, what? An imaginary
personage whom no one had ever seen and whose personality was always
brought to the fore whenever any aristos who should have been
sent to the guillotine managed to evade justice. Whenever that happened
there was always a lot of talk. It was at once asserted that the local
police officials were not at fault. Of course they were not. The
Commissary was invariably spoken of as a man of lofty patriotism and of
great acumen. But obviously no man born of woman could grapple with a
supernatural creature, with a Titan of immense stature, fiery eyes,
hair that bristled and nostrils that emitted crackling flames.
Oh, yes! the good farmers and hard-working drovers and breeders had
all heard these stories before. They were not going to listen to them
again to-night. They drained their mugs, and grumbled as they drank.
"I am for bed," one of the men said and rose to go.
"So am I," concluded another.
In a moment most of them were on their feet. Moody and
disillusioned, they never thought of saying "Thank you!" for the warm
There was quite a stampede in the direction of the door, until that
same resonant voice called out: "Stop!" And the call was so compelling
that for the space of a minute of two the drive towards the door came
to a halt, and twenty pairs of eyes were once more turned in the
direction of the stranger.
"Are you fools or madmen?" he cried forcefully. "Are you really
going to throw away the one chance you will ever have of bringing ease
and comfort to your wives and children? Do you know what two thousand
louis means? They mean one hundred louis to each one of you. One
hundred louis to put in your pocket this very night. And for doing
what? Wresting the English spy from the clutches of a woman, who
already has more louis and is richer than any of you can ever hope to
"What woman?" someone shouted.
"Mam'zelle Guillotine, of course."
A few of the men gravely shook their heads, others murmured: "That
huzzy!" and muttered under their breath: "I wouldn't care to tackle
Be it noted that in spite of these grave misgivings on the part of
the older men, the younger ones looked eagerly up at the speaker.
Mam'zelle Guillotine had apparently not many friends among this
little crowd of country bumpkins. She had certainly become very
prominent and very powerful in the province, but many there were who
remembered her when in ragged kirtle and torn shift she wandered from
one village to another and from an improvised rostrum outside the local
inn spouted denunciation against every aristo, and every man who
possessed as much as a square bit of land. And when she had finished
spouting, she would drag a cap off the head of the man nearest to her
and hand it round begging—yes, begging—for a few sous to pay for a
bit of supper. And now she wore a fur-lined mantle and lived in
Mézières in a palace.
And with riches had come arrogance. She was dictatorial, tyrannical
as any aristo. She was feared, but she also was detested.
"Have you never realised," the stranger went on, not loudly but very
quietly, leaning slightly forward, his eyes under those beetling brows
searching the faces of his hearers, "have you never guessed that all
along the arrest of the ci-devant Saint-Lucque family, one after
the other, has been connected with the capture of the English spy? He
has been at work in your district for some time. Was it not he who
dragged the ci-devant Marquis and his son and the calotin
Prud'hon out of the clutches of Mam'zelle Guillotine? And now she
means to have her revenge on him. She means to capture the Scarlet
Pimpernel in the very act of trying to effect the escape of the woman
Saint-Lucque, and thus earn the full reward of two thousand louis
offered to any patriot who would lay that enemy of France by the heels."
"Lucky Mam'zelle Guillotine," he went on, certain now of holding the
attention of his audience. "She has the means of earning twenty times
as much money as would keep any one of you in affluence for the rest of
your lives. Lucky Mam'zelle Guillotine! And I'll tell you something
more, my friends, and that is that she already has the Scarlet
Pimpernel gagged and bound in that diligence which you saw standing
here in the yard for over two hours. How do you suppose I should know
anything of this affair, if it was not already accomplished? No, no,
Mam'zelle Guillotine is not one to talk till after a thing is done. And
I tell you she talked to me about it all in this very room. And she
laughed at me and mocked me and threw my helplessness in my face,
knowing that I could do nothing.
"She was right there, citizens. I was alone. What could I do? I had
not had the chance of talking to you all, of hearing from you that you
would join me in the most glorious expedition ever undertaken by twenty
patriots like yourselves."
Indeed, the man had no cause to complain of inattention. Never had
an orator so engrossed an audience. Young and old hung upon his words.
They exchanged glances, murmuring words of commendation. Eager, excited
were they all. Impatient. Expectant. Wanting to hear more about this
money, this gold, this fortune that could be theirs for the snatching.
"What must we do?" they asked.
"What must we do to be as lucky as Mam'zelle Guillotine?"
"Just do as I tell you," the speaker replied in stentorian accents,
"and the fortune is yours."
"Tell us, then."
"Speak up, citizen."
"We'll go to hell with you."
The man threw back his head and laughed. Laughed immoderately. And
the laughter came from the intense joyousness of his heart.
"Not to hell, citizens," he cried exultantly. "Only as far as the
cross-roads on this side of Falize."
He dropped his voice and once again spoke in that subdued tone which
was more impressive than any shouting could be.
"Some of you, if I mistake not," he said, "have brought in horses
for the sale of livestock to-morrow. They could not be put to better
use than the purpose which we have in view. If any man has a pistol let
him take it, or a sabre if he has one, a goodly knife, a garden tool, a
scythe, anything he can fight with. For there may be a bit of fighting,
let me tell you. Mam'zelle Guillotine and her myrmidons will not give
up their prize-capture without putting up a fight. Mounted on good
horses, we'll easily overtake the party at the cross-roads on this side
of Falize. I know they mean to call a halt there before deciding which
road which they will ultimately take. Both lead to Paris, one through
the forest, the other by a round-about way. Well! citizens, what do you
say? Shall we decide what their fate is to be? Shall we seize the coach
and its occupants, one of which is worth one hundred louis to every one
of you? Shall we? Shall we, citizens, who see your wives in ragged
kirtles and your children cold and hungry, shall we snatch this rich
booty from the hands of an overweening terrorist? What do you say?"
"Yes!" came from a score of sturdy throats, shouting in unison.
"Let's drink to it, then!" And the stranger raised his mug high
above his head. He went on once again in his full, vibrant voice. "To
the confusion of Mam'zelle Guillotine! To our success in snatching from
her the prize that is ours by right! To victory!"
And the mugs were emptied at one draft.
So compelling was this man's personality, so irresistible his
oratory, that these men, some young and eager, others older and sedate,
drank and shouted in a way that they never would have dared to do in a
more sober mood. To drink to the confusion of Mam'zelle Guillotine
would on normal occasions have entailed immediate arrest, prosecution
for treason, probably. But this occasion was abnormal. One hundred
louis dangling as a golden vision before the eyes of men who had never
looked forward to a carefree future, made warriors of these simple
country folk. They felt that the blood of heroes was coursing through
their veins. Even the grey-beards shouted: "To victory!" as heartily as
the youngsters. What would you? Money was so scarce these days!
Everyone was so poor. So poor! Starvation was stalking the land.
Children cried for bread. Work was grinding and wages small. No wonder
that the thought of capturing the mysterious English spy and seeing a
hundred louis fall into their laps inflamed the imagination of these
ignorant rustics. A hundred louis! And golden louis at that! No dirty
scraps of paper, mind you! And with nothing to do for it but an
So "Hurrah!" for the man who had shown them the way to this
marvellous good fortune.
There was only the unfortunate landlord, citizen Magnol, who did not
feel as happy as his customers. He had crept back into the tap-room and
had been standing in the doorway listening to the harangue of that
black-coated, one-armed stranger. He had witnessed the incitement to
treason, the appeal to the cupidity of a lot of witless boors, which of
a certainty would land the lot of them in gaol. He had heard the shouts
and the cheers, and he was terrified. When the cry to "Victory!" echoed
from one end of the tap-room to the other, he turned tail and ran
helter-skelter up the rickety stairs that led to the loft under the
sloping roof, and bolted into the attic where his wife was already in
bed. There he joined her, buried his face in the hard pillow and pulled
the blanket right over his head so as not to hear anything more of the
awful things that were going on down below.
But he was not destined to enjoy tranquillity for long. A few
moments during which his wife, roused from her first sleep, tried in
vain to get a word out of him. She had just turned over ready to go to
sleep again, having made up her mind that her Fernand had had one of
his many drinking bouts, when a heavy step came mounting up the rickety
stairs. The sound was followed by repeated hard knocks on the door and
a peremptory call for the citizen landlord. The door was thrown open
and the black-coated stranger who was making all this pother stalked
in. He carried a small lantern, which he flashed into the faces of
Magnol and his wife, who sat up straight in bed, shivering and shaking
"Citizen landlord," he said. And he spoke as one in authority. "A
grave injustice is being done to the loyal patriots who are at present
under your roof. They are determined that the wrong done to them shall
be righted this very night. I have told them how this can best be done,
and they are going in a perfectly peaceful frame of mind to put their
case before one of the highest authorities in the Province of Artois. I
will not mention names, but what the patriots propose to do is in
accordance with the laws of the Republic as passed by the National
Convention and in strict accordance with the Rights of Man."
He paused a moment, letting his words sink into the feeble minds of
these two terrified individuals. Magnol was staring round-eyed not at
the stranger, but into the flame of the lantern which appeared to
fascinate him and to render him motionless and mute. Only his teeth
chattered as if he suffered from ague. The woman had disappeared from
view. Her head was buried in the bedclothes.
The stranger continued in the same authoritative voice: "Citizen
landlord, two courses are open to you now. Either you side with the
patriots in the cause of justice, in which case, if you give them the
required help, there will be twenty golden louis for you . . ."
Once more he came to a halt. Magnol's fixed stare seemed suddenly to
become galvanised. Cupidity never entirely absent from a peasant's
nature gave a spark of vitality to his beady, black eyes. His gaze
shifted from the light of the lantern to the hand of the stranger, in
whose palm something jingled which sounded uncommonly like precious
"I am a good patriot," he murmured through his chattering teeth.
"I know you are," the stranger rejoined, "that's why I have come to
tell you that we count on you to side with us who are fellow patriots
and give us what help you can. For," he went on solemnly, emphasising
every word, "if you refuse to give us that help, I myself will denounce
you as aiding and abetting treason by lending your house to a pack of
conspirators and supplying them with food and drink."
Saying this, he turned back the lapel of his coat and allowed the
light of the lantern to flash on the metal badge beneath it, which
proclaimed him to be a high official of the national police force.
Magnol, scared and bewildered, passed the back of his hand over his
"I don't understand," he murmured; "on which side are you, citizen?"
"On your side if you give me the help I need. Dead against you if
Once more he allowed the precious metal to jingle in his hand. And
Magnol, scared out of his wits, murmured feebly:
"What must I do?"
"Get out of bed," the stranger commanded, "and come with me. You
will hand over to the patriots downstairs every gun, every pistol and
sabre, every scythe, axe or other tool which you have got stored in
"I haven't any stores," Magnol protested.
But he did get out of bed; the jingling metal was a magnet that
would have lured him to Gehenna.
"Well, let me see what you have got; and then we will talk."
So far so good. Citizen Magnol, like any landlord of a prosperous
country inn, had three or four serviceable guns, a pistol or two and a
good number of agricultural implements carefully stored away. He
allowed the twenty good patriots to help themselves to what they needed
and soon these worthies had laid hands on every available weapon likely
to be useful in a fight, if fight there was. And most of them hoped
that there would be a good scrap at the very least. Three of them
commandeered the guns, two others were quick enough to seize the
pistols, while some had to be content with sickles or scythes. One man
had a saw, another took a wood-chopper, and there were two or three who
had brought their own guns with them, on the chance of getting a
pot-shot at a hare.
After that there was a raid on the stables. Most of the men had come
into Grécourt on their own horses, and there were a few nags which had
been brought in for the sale, for those who had come on foot. There
were two fine, mettlesome young horses that had been brought in by a
farmer from Tourteron. These were at once appropriated by the stranger
without any protest from the owner.
Thus the little cavalcade was formed. They were lined up in the
yard, the horses champing and snorting in the cold night air. A pale
watery moon had rent the bank of clouds and peeped down on the amazing
scene more suggestive of mediæval times than of a winter's night in
revolutionary France. The stranger mounted on one young horse held the
other by the bridle. He gave the order to start and the cortége
filed past him with many a hearty cheer and loud huzzas.
When the last of them had turned out of the yard into the road, he
called to the landlord. Magnol had been standing by, gazing on the men,
on the horses, on the primitive arms glinting in the blue light of the
moon. He was like a man in a trance. He made sure that he was dreaming
and would presently wake up to the sound of snoring emitted by his
plethoric wife. He was still conscious of an awful feeling of terror,
of speeches round him, of Mam'zelle Guillotine wielding her instrument
of death, and of a tall, sable-clad figure spouting threats at him. A
The voice struck his senses as with a whip-lash. He staggered and
nearly measured his length on the ground. He blinked his eyes and
shielded his head with his arm, for something had been flung at him,
something that jingled as it fell at his feet.
The sound of the cavalcade galloping away down the road, the cheers
and huzzas were gradually getting fainter. But now there was a fresh
clang of hoofs on the cobblestones of the yard. Magnol pulled himself
together, tried to collect his scattered senses. He looked about him
and perceived a solitary rider wrapped from head to foot in a
voluminous mantle. The rider held a second horse by the bridle. In a
trice he was across the yard and disappeared round the angle of the
house. Magnol could hear the young horses prancing and champing and
finally settle down to a swift and fiery gallop.
Then only did Magnol stoop and pick up the missile that had been
flung at him.
It was a purse and contained twenty golden louis.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE FIGHT
The troopers round and in the diligence were on the alert. They
could hear in the distance the sound of horses' hoofs, the shouts and
laughter which proclaimed the approach of the English spy and his
followers. The English spy! whose capture would mean a goodly sum of
money in the pockets of every soldier here present this night. The
order to mount was given by the corporal, and in a trice half a dozen
stalwarts were in the saddle while six others inside the diligence sat
waiting with cocked pistols on their knees.
A few minutes of tense expectation went by, then suddenly round the
bend of the road the forms of a dozen or more horsemen galloping,
detached themselves from out of the gloom. At sight of the diligence
they gave a wild cry of triumph, and brandishing a collection of
miscellaneous weapons they rushed to the attack.
"Attention, citizen soldiers," the corporal commanded. "Shoot low.
We must have this English horde alive or we'll forfeit half the prize
Hardly were the words out of his mouth than with another outburst of
frenzied excitement the band of hot-headed farmers and drovers tumbled
helter-skelter out of their saddles and rushed to the attack. There was
the diligence in front of them looming out of the night like a huge
black mass. A fortress to be stormed as the Bastille, that monument of
tyranny, had been stormed and reduced four and a half years ago. While
some of the party started a hand-to-hand fight with the mounted
troopers, others made for the diligence. But before they had come
anywhere near it the corporal gave the word of command in a stentorian
voice. The carriage door was suddenly thrown open and out came the
half-dozen picked men, pistol in hand, eager and ready for the fight.
The result of this move was nothing short of disastrous for the
They were not in the best of trim, after being cooped up in an
airless box with only a few short periods of relaxation, for close on
twenty-four hours. But apart from that they were from the first at a
disadvantage. The attacking party rushed on them as they scrambled out
of the coach. Not only were they outnumbered, but as they were forced
to come out one by one through the narrow doors, they were fallen on
with fists and sickles or axes and soon a number of them were more or
less seriously wounded.
It was then that the corporal, who was in the thick of it all,
suddenly became aware that the man with whom he was at grips at the
moment was not the Scarlet Pimpernel at all or any of the English
spies, but farmer Papillon with whom he, Corporal Orgelet, had drunk a
mug or two of excellent mulled wine at the Bon Camarade in
Grécourt only a few hours ago. He had known Citizen Papillon ever since
they had run about together, barefooted ragamuffins in ragged breeches,
bent on raiding the nearest apple-orchards.
"What the devil does all this mean?" he thundered, as his friend
Papillon raised a powerful, menacing fist high above his head.
"It means that thou art a thief," the farmer fulminated in reply.
"Aye! a thief and a liar, and that I'll teach thee not to cheat thy
friends another time."
With this, he brought his fist down with a crash on his whilom
The fight, such as it was, degenerated into fisticuffs. Farmers and
drovers expert enough with a gun when out after a hare or a rabbit had
little experience in the use of a pistol or a sabre. Seeing that they
were not making any headway with these weapons they cast them
incontinently aside and relied on their fists, their sickles and
woodchoppers to wreak what mischief they could. And they did wreak any
amount of that, for they brought down and wounded a couple of horses,
which was an infamous thing to do, and had the effect of turning the
wrath of the soldiers into something like execration. They struck at
their assailants with their sabres, shouting:
"Take that, thou limb of Satan!"
"'Tis with Mam'zelle Guillotine thou wilt have to reckon."
Indeed, the troopers had already realised that here were no English
spies, only a set of drunken jackanapes who in their senseless frenzy
were actually daring to lay hands on the soldiers of the Republic. The
attack was either an insane hoax, or the result of some ghastly
misunderstanding. For the soldiers and the attacking party were all
friends together. There was Faret, the drover from Néthon and Constant
the washerwoman's son over St. Charles way, and there was Charon the
farmer as well as Papillon, and even Antoine, who was own cousin to
Corporal Orgelet. What in the devil's name was it all about? It was
very mysterious and extremely foolish.
It was also very serious.
These irresponsible fire-eaters would have to be taught a lesson.
They would have to learn to their cost that such wanton madness could
not remain unpunished and that a man who dares to attack a soldier of
the Republic and impede him in the execution of his duty must suffer
for his crime. The fight had only lasted a few minutes, but of the
thirty-two combatants who took part in it, on one side and the other,
there were at least a dozen lying wounded on the ground. And there were
the poor horses too. The whole affair might have become even more
tragic than it already was. So far the troopers had been unable to use
their pistols to good effect. The mounted men were slashing away with
their sabres, and the others who had turned out of the diligence, had
been at grips each with two or even three assailants who gave them no
respite but pounded away at them with their fists. Corporal Orgelet
himself was lying on the ground with his friend Papillon holding him
down. He had already received from his whilom boon-companion one or two
nasty cracks on the head, when with a clever twist of his body he
contrived to get hold of his pistol and to discharge it into Papillon's
thigh. The latter uttered a loud imprecation and rolled over on his
side yelling: "Assassin! Thou hast murdered me!"
The sudden report, however, had the good effect of sobering the
aggressors. It also brought the soldiers back to a sense of discipline,
and gave them the confidence which this extraordinary surprise attack
had so signally shaken. At once the fight between soldiers and
civilians assumed its just proportions, and after a few more pistol
shots had been discharged, a few more sabre thrusts gone home and a few
stalwarts had been sent rolling over on the ground, Orgelet was able to
call a "Halt!". The assailants were ready to surrender. He ordered them
to be mustered up. Groaning and cursing, for most of them had suffered
pretty severely at the hands of the soldiers, they were lined up,
guarded by the troopers, some of whom were in as pitiable a state as
themselves. The faint, grey gleam of a winter's night revealed some of
them standing, others kneeling or crouching, some with their faces
smeared with blood, their eyes bunged up and lips bleeding, all with
their hair hanging lank and wet over their eyes. They did indeed
present a sorry spectacle. Orgelet himself in a sad plight and dizzy
with many a crack on the head, passed up and down the short line,
eyeing the wretched men with wrath and contempt in his eyes.
"I ought to have the lot of you summarily shot," he said grimly.
"Yes! shot here and now. And I will do it, too," he bellowed at them,
"Unless you tell me at once what is the meaning of this abominable
"Thou can'st add murder to thy other crimes, citizen corporal,"
Papillon retorted loudly, "to thy lying and thy cheating, and joining
hands with Mam'zelle Guillotine to rob us of what was our due."
"Joining hands with Mam'zelle Guillotine to rob you?" Orgelet
countered, lost in bewilderment. "What the devil do you mean? Of what
did I rob you?"
"Of the reward due to us for the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"The capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel?" Orgelet thundered at them.
"You fools! You dolts! That is impossible now after the hellish row you
have been making."
"Do not lie to us, Orgelet," one of the wounded men responded. "We
know that thou didst capture the English spy in our district and that
thou and Mam'zelle Guillotine will share the prize money which is
rightly due to us. We came to avenge a wrong . . ."
"What balderdash is this?" Orgelet broke in gruffly. "Who says we
captured the English spy?"
"I do," declared Faret, the drover from Néthon.
Orgelet gave a shrug of contempt, a light had suddenly broken in on
the confusion of his mind. He was beginning to understand.
"If we captured him," he queried, "what have we done with him?"
"You've got him locked up in there." And with a dramatic gesture
Antoine, who was own cousin to Orgelet, pointed to the diligence.
"Thief! Liar, thy mother shall hear of this."
This was altogether too much for the corporal's gravity. He burst
out laughing and continued to laugh immoderately until feeling faint
and giddy with the pain in his head, he nearly measured his length on
"Ah!" he said, his voice still shaking with inward laughter, "is
that where that mysterious English spy is? . . . Well," he went on,
after a slight pause, "go and get him out, my friends."
Funnily enough, in the heat and excitement of the fight the one
object that had induced these madmen to commit the unpardonable folly
of attacking troopers of the Republican army had been lost sight of by
them. From the moment when they came to close quarters with the
soldiers, thoughts of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the English horde
vanished from their minds. The only idea that did remain fixed was the
question of a hundred louis apiece which these soldiers had filched
from them. But now, when Corporal Orgelet himself pointed to the
diligence and said: "Go and get him out," there was, in spite of wounds
and despite exhaustion, one concerted rush for the coach. Something
like a scramble, in fact, which left an unpleasant trail of blood in
its wake. The carriage door was still wide open. Farmer Papillon was
the first to set foot inside the coach. He groped about the interior
with his hands, administered vigorous kicks to supposed and
non-existent occupants. Kicks which only reached his unfortunate
boon-companions and drew groans and curses from them in response. Some
seven or eight of them succeeded in entering the coach and as they
tumbled one on the top of the other all they did was to aggravate their
woes and the soreness of their wounds.
And all the while Orgelet and the men stood outside whole-heartedly
enjoying the joke. For them the whole thing had degenerated into a
joke. Whether in the meanwhile the English spies had gone never to
return, whether their chance of earning a bit of money had vanished
into the night air, on the wings of noise and confusion and hard blows
freely dealt and received, they could form no idea as yet. One thing
only was certain, and that was that orders must be obeyed. Orders were
to fight to the last man and then proceed to Falize where Mam'zelle
Guillotine would rejoin the party. Orgelet, who was a good soldier and
good disciplinarian, rallied the troopers round him. He ordered the
wounded to enter the diligence, and the others to get back to horse.
The horses brought hither by the attacking party had wandered away
across fields for the most part. A few had stampeded and bolted back to
the stables whence they had come. Others again were presently
recaptured, after a short difference of opinion 'tween man and beast.
Those that were hurt must of necessity be walked along very quietly on
the lead. Fortunately their wounds were not serious and Falize was not
As for the miserable aggressors, there they were, crestfallen, and
dolefully nursing their wounds. It was easy to see that Corporal
Orgelet and the soldiers looked upon them with contempt and pity rather
than ill-feeling. The whole affair had been inglorious. Victory over
such rabble was nothing to be proud of. Orgelet mounted to the box-seat
and took the reins. The escort was formed once more. A crack of the
whip and a click of the tongue and the team settled into their collars.
The cumbrous vehicle once more started on its way, whilst a score of
discomfited and bedraggled rustics made their way as best they could
afoot or astride a horse, back to Grécourt.
CHAPTER XXVII. AT THE CROSS ROADS
Mam'zelle Guillotine had given the order to halt. It was here, at
the cross-roads, that André Renaud had promised to meet her. Falize was
distant less than a league away. The road ahead led straight to Paris.
There was the secondary road which, as Renaud said, also led by a
détour to the capital. Gabrielle was wishing he would soon come. The
drive had proved very wearisome, for the roads were heavy and so was
the old diligence with its load of armed troopers. And she felt lonely
and dispirited. Even the thought of that woman, the last of that family
which she hated with such intensity, failed to inflame her blood. The
woman was safe enough for the guillotine, but there should have been
five of that abominable brood to satisfy Gabrielle Damiens's lust for
the blood of the Saint-Lucques.
She gave the order to dismount and the troopers sat by the roadside,
or walked up and down the road trying to put warmth into their feet and
hands. The moon, peeping through a bank of clouds, made the whole scene
appear weird. It did not seem real. Not of this earth. Soon after the
start one of the team had gone lame. The corporal in charge was bending
over examining the fetlock. Gabrielle, restless and impatient, came
down from the box-seat. Wrapped in her warm mantle, with the hood over
her head, she looked like a huge furred animal stamping up and down to
keep herself warm. Her keen ears were attuned to catch the slightest
sound. She felt the tension that kept the men's nerves on edge. They,
of course, could do nothing but wait while the time dragged on and
there was no sign, as yet, of that mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel whom
they were out to capture.
The great lumbering vehicle loomed out of the wan grey light like
some grim, spectral monument.
And all at once a sound which caused the men to pause in their
pacing, to stand rigid and on the alert, ready to mount the very second
that the order was given. Gabrielle too had paused. Her heart seemed to
have stopped its beating. Her hot hands gripped the edge of her fur
mantle, and with a sharp twist of the head she threw the hood back,
away from her ears. The sound which she had heard was of two horses
galloping at tip-top speed from the direction of Grécourt. Two horses?
Would that be André Renaud? Or was chance really on her side and was it
the English spy with one of his followers who were coming this way? She
gave a quick appraising glance on the men and gave the order:
The men saw to the priming of their pistols, thrust them back into
their belts and drew their sabres. The corporal went round to the door
of the diligence, released the lock and to the men cooped up inside he
also spoke the one word: "Attention!"
"If that should be the English spies," Gabrielle said aloud, so that
the men might hear, "we are ready for them."
The order as far as the escort was concerned was to feign
inattention and wait for the attack. The English spies were wily, and
should they scent a trap they might scamper away to safety. And the men
stood still and waited, their nerves taut, their senses strained. They
were like greyhounds held in leash. And now with the Scarlet Pimpernel
almost in sight, they were straining the leash to breaking-point.
It was the corporal who first caught sight of the black-coated
stranger riding full tilt, from the direction of Grécourt and putting
on greater and greater speed as he neared the crossways.
"The stranger with the one arm, citizeness," he said to Gabrielle.
She drew a deep sigh of relief. André Renaud—she was sure of him
now—had not played her false. With him to give her the weight of his
personality with the troopers, she felt more sure of success. Here was
a man worthy of her trust. Of late she had felt—oh! so vaguely—a
certain weakening of her mettle. Once or twice she had felt conscious
of the one thing she had never dreamed of before—Fear. Yes! on two
occasions she had actually been afraid. Of whom? Of what? She could not
say. It was something indecisively connected with the man with one arm
and the fiery eyes under beetling brows. She had not actually been
afraid of him or of his threats. He was of the secret police, but she
did not fear the police. Her record for militant patriotism was
unblemished. At the same time she felt reassured that he was no enemy,
and was whole-heartedly on her side.
For Gabrielle Damiens was clever enough to know that her hold on the
people of Artois was beginning to slacken. Popular she had never been.
But she had been held in awe and that was what she liked. So far there
had been no outward sign of waning in the fear which she liked to
inspire. Fear? Yes! but no longer that kind of rough admiration which
her ruthlessness and free speech was wont to call forth. She had not
often indulged in tub-thumping oratory lately, but on the rare occasion
when she did, the crowd around her was much thinner than it used to be.
She was seldom cheered nowadays, and often she would see her audience
diminish in number while she talked. Men on the fringe of the crowd
would quietly steal away to the nearest cabaret. Women hardly ever came
to hear her.
All these thing were facts which had gradually forced themselves
upon her mind. They were the result of her absorption in the one great
object of her life, the destruction of the Saint-Lucque family.
Thoughts of her revenge obtruded themselves into her oratory until it
became dull through the monotony of its theme. The worthy Artesians got
tired of listening to vituperations hurled at this one family of aristos, when they wanted to hear all about the doings of the
Committee of Public Safety up in Paris, the execution of the Girondins,
the quarrels between the Moderates and the Terrorists and other more
Be that as it may, Gabrielle with her thoughts still centered on the
Saint-Lucques and her disappointment in connection with their rescue by
the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, was inclined after this to allow the
man from Paris, whoever he was, to dominate her.
He was out to capture the English spy, she to keep her hold on the
prisoner. True he was maimed and, as far as she could judge, past
middle-age, in spite of his jet-black hair—which she was sure was dyed
with walnut juice—but he had a commanding voice and would keep up the
soldiers' morale more easily than she could.
The rider drew rein, arriving at full tilt, and pulled the young
horses back on their haunches till they reared and beat the air with
their forefeet. In an instant he was out of the saddle and close to
Gabrielle. A voluminous dark mantle wrapped him up from head to foot,
and the bridle of the two horses were curled round his one arm, leaving
the hand free. He took hold of Gabrielle's wrist and drew her to the
side of the road out of earshot of the men.
"I don't want to scare them," he said to her in a whisper, "but the
rumour has gained ground and what's more it is true."
"The English spies have mustered a full force. Some put their
numbers down to half a hundred. They were in hiding all day in and
about Grécourt. As soon as you had made a start with the diligence they
seemed literally to spring out of the ground. So someone told me who
saw it all. They were all over the town, swarmed in the market place,
in the streets, the cabarets, everywhere. The inhabitants bolted into
shelter like rabbits lopping off to their burrows. They were scared out
of their wits. Some of them, however, ran to the police and demanded
protection. The police duly turned out. The English attacked them with
pistols. They killed and wounded a number of them, and then galloped
away, hell-for-leather, in this direction."
He still kept a hold on Gabrielle's wrist; but now, when he paused
for a moment in order to draw breath, she shook herself free and made
for the diligence.
"What are you going to do?" he demanded, and seized hold of her arm
"Make an immediate start," she replied curtly.
"How far will you get," he countered, "with that slow-going vehicle?
You cannot vanish into the night before the English rabble overtakes
you, and they are more numerous than your escort. They are well
mounted, too, let me tell you. Now I have two high-mettled horses here.
One for you, the other for myself."
"You are crazy!"
"You would be crazy, citizeness, if you tried to flee with that
lumbering vehicle, before a pack of well-mounted brigands."
"I would take the secondary road . . ."
"And risk losing the prisoner? The English spies would sight you
before you came to the bend of the road. And what chance would your men
have, out-numbered four to one?"
"I will not be parted from the prisoner," Gabrielle declared
"Why should you be?" he retorted. "Listen to me, citizeness. Name of
a dog! can't you understand that the only way to keep the prisoner out
of the clutches of the English spies is to leave the coach here
standing as a decoy, and to take the woman along with us?"
"Take the woman along with us?" she echoed fiercely. "What in the
name of Satan do you mean?"
"You take one horse, citizeness, and I the other. The prisoner can
ride pillion behind one of us. They are high-mettled three-year-olds,
these horses. We'll be well away before the English horde has
discovered that there is no one in the diligence, only the troopers.
Order your corporal to wait here and stand his ground. To fight to the
last man, and when he has captured the Scarlet Pimpernel, to throw him
into the coach and start at once for Falize, where we will meet him as
soon as we are satisfied that the storm has blown over and that the
coast is clear. Come, citizeness," he urged, "there is no time to lose."
He paused a moment, tensely expectant. Then as she still remained
silent and obstinate, he spoke the one word:
The night was so still that from far, very far away, a confusion of
sounds seemed to come floating on the midnight air. Only a murmur at
first. Nothing more. A buzzing as from a swarm of bees.
"Listen!" the man said again. And now his voice, though hoarse and
toneless, was soul- and spirit-stirring. Gabrielle stood motionless as
a statue and listened. She heard the distant murmur like a swarm of
bees. The buzzing and the droning. And then, through that confused
sound, something like a shout. So vague, so distant, it could scarcely
"The prisoner, citizeness. It is her they are after."
That compelling voice with its commanding note pierced the armour of
"Come," she commanded.
She strode to the diligence and he followed her with the horses.
With her own hands she opened the door of the coach. The atmosphere
inside was suffocating. There was a scramble and a scraping of feet, as
the troopers were roused from torpor.
"Present, citizeness," they muttered in unison.
"The prisoner," she commanded again.
"Here, citizeness," one of the soldiers responded.
They pushed and they jostled, each striving to snatch a breath of
fresh air at the open door. The unfortunate prisoner was pushed about
like a bundle of goods. A feeble moan escaped her lips.
"Hold the horses, citizeness," the stranger broke in curtly.
She obeyed mechanically, moving like an automaton. And like an
automaton she called the corporal and gave him what orders the stranger
had demanded of her: "Fight to the last man. . . . Throw the English
prisoner into the coach. . . . We will meet you at Falize." She watched
the man put his foot on the step of the vehicle and with his one arm
elbow his way to the woman's side, put that one arm round her and drag
her to him. He wrapped his voluminous mantle round her and held her
"To horse, citizeness," he urged with desperate intensity. Again she
obeyed and was already in the saddle, when the confusion of sounds far
away, suddenly became more distinct. A shout arose and then another.
Above the buzzing and the humming they arose and seemed to come from
many lusty throats. And through the shouting and the buzzing there was
a rolling and a drumming and the tramp of many hoofs.
On one high-mettled horse rode Gabrielle Damiens, known throughout
the Province of Artois as Mam'zelle Guillotine, on the other a man
wrapped in the folds of a black mantle had a woman in his arms.
The moon hid her light behind a bank of clouds.
Darkness fell once more over the land.
The riders galloped on and on into the night.
CHAPTER XXIX. HELL-FOR-LEATHER
Blakeney held Eve de Saint-Lucque close to him under the folds of
his voluminous mantle. Keeping to the edge of the road, where the
ground was soft, he gave the mettlesome three-year-old full rein. He
seemed indeed to have imbued his mount with all the devilment that was
in his own blood, enjoying to the full the noble sport which in an
earnest profession of faith he had extolled before his royal friend on
that winter's evening more than a sen'night ago, when surrounded by
every luxury that wealth and epicurism could devise, he had boldly
"I'll back my favourite sport against any that has ever been
invented for making a man feel akin to the gods. . . . With the keen
air fanning your cheeks, with the night wrapping you round. With woman
or child clinging to you, their weak arms holding tightly to your
waist, with human wolves behind you while you ride for dear life
through unknown country, riding, galloping, not knowing where you may
land, out of one death-trap into another . . . that, Your
Highness, is the sport for me . . ."
Gabrielle was doing her best to keep up with him. Something of his
wild animal spirits had got into her now. No longer dispirited, no
longer doubtful of success, she kept her mind fixed on this wonderful
victory which she had achieved over those whom she hated so bitterly.
True the other members of the execrated family had escaped her, but she
hugged herself with the comforting thought that the Saint-Lucque
children would be motherless, and their father a widower, and all of
them broken-hearted. And this was thanks to André Renaud—or whoever he
was—who had been the deus ex machina, the final instrument of
Galloping sometimes behind him, at others some little distance in
the rear, all that she could see of him through the gloom was the
square mass of his mantle, which enveloped him from the neck to the
knees. Yes, there was a devil in the man, she said to herself, while
she made vigorous efforts not to lag behind.
After the first ten minutes of this wild gallopade, when the sounds
of fighting, way over the cross-roads, had been swallowed up by the
night, she had ceased to try to determine whither she was being led.
She had lost all sense of direction. All she could do was to follow
blindly on. It was only after a long climb over a steep portion of the
road, when the man drew rein to give his horse a breather, that she
ventured on questioning him.
"What is our first objective?" she asked.
"The unknown," he cried joyously in response.
"The unknown?" she echoed grimly. "You are mad."
"By George! I believe I am," he assented, and peeped down through
the closure of his mantle at the burden which lay in his arms.
"We are not heading for Paris," she objected; "I do not even know
where we are."
"No more do I, citizeness," he responded with a happy chuckle. "But
we'll get somewhere in time. Before dawn if we are lucky. En avant,
citizeness, the unknown means victory to two of us over our enemies.
They'll never look for us there.
Even before he had finished speaking, he had touched his mount
slightly with a spur and off they were again, he with his burden under
his mantle, and she, galloping as close to him as she could, with her
thoughts once more beginning to whirl about in her brain and her nerves
strained to breaking-point.
At one time she thought that they were making tracks for Mézières.
It was too dark to see much and Gabrielle Damiens was not a country
wench, not a rustic who would know direction by instinct, by the way
the wind blew, and by the fleeting clouds. Less than five years ago she
was still a captive in the Bastille. Since then she had roamed in and
out of cities and knew little of the open country. She had not seen
much of her own Province of Artois. Mézières and its immediate
neighbourhood she knew, of course. She also knew Grécourt and Falize
and the main roads which led to Paris one way and to the Belgian
frontier the other. It was not along either of these roads they were
speeding now. Then whither were they going? Her tired eyes wandered
round striving to pierce the darkness of the night. Now and again, when
for a few brief moments the moon peeped through a fissure in the
clouds, she thought to perceive somewhere in the distance a
half-forgotten landmark: a jutting hillock, a belt of trees or the
white church steeple of an isolated village. And when presently the
road plunged into a thicket she thought it must be the forest of
Mézières. But the forest of Mézières was more dense, the undergrowth
thicker, the road in places more steep. It was here that the encounter
with the English spies was to have taken place. No, no! This was not
the forest of Mézières. Then what was it?
Once outside the belt of trees, her straining ears perceived the
sound of running water. Swift and turbulent. Where could this be? They
went over a bridge and to right and left she could hear the water
rushing and tumbling down from a height over rocky projections. The
rider on ahead put his horse to a trot, and she was able to come up to
him. Quite close. It seemed to her then as if at a short distance away
a few solid masses inky-black and grouped together loomed out of the
gloom darker than the night. A village probably.
"The unknown," he called out, with a ring of triumph in his voice,
and pointed in that direction. "En avant, citizeness."
And before she was aware of what was happening, he had caught hold
of her bridle rein, and thereafter she knew nothing more, for her mount
was being carried along with its stable companion, hell-for-leather at
She made an effort to wrench the bridle out of his hand, but it was
held in a grip that was as hard and as unyielding as steel. Half dazed
with fatigue and want of breath, she tried to slide down out of the
saddle. Her foot had just touched the ground the ground, when with a
vigorous jerk he drew rein. Panting and snorting and beating the air
with their hoofs, the horses presently came to a dead halt. Gabrielle
fell clean out of the saddle and lay in a heap on the ground. She was
on the point of swooning. Through a state of semi-consciousness, she
heard the man calling repeatedly for the landlord, and later on there
was a banging of shutters and creaking of door hinges. She lay quite
still for she was bruised all over and inexpressibly weary. Again she
heard the man's voice:
"Hey there! citizen landlord."
And she murmured: "Where am I?"
It was shortly before the dawn, a pale grey light in the east picked
out with a silvery sheen here and there a sloping roof or the topmost
branch of tall cypress trees. It was cold and damp. Gabrielle rolled
over on her side. She was lying prone on the mud of the road. Over her
head something squeaked with irritating persistency. She glanced up and
vaguely discerned a painted sign swinging on its post. She heard one
man's voice alternating with another.
"Travellers, citizen landlord. We have lost our way. Can you put us
up until daylight?"
There was some demur followed by a jingle of precious metal. After
which the other voice put in gruffly:
"I have one room. . . ."
"This purse contains a louis d'or, citizen landlord. If there were
two rooms there would be two louis."
Further demur apparently and then:
"It is too late for supper, anyway."
"If you bring us three mugs of hut mulled wine, there will be four
louis d'or inside this purse."
After which a shrill voice called from above:
"Don't be a fool, Mathieu. Let the travellers come in and give them
mulled wine while I get the rooms ready. It will cost you five louis,"
she went on after a slight pause, "and no questions asked."
The three of them sat at a table in the tap-room of this wayside
inn. The landlord had brought in three large pewter mugs filled to the
brim with steaming, spiced wine. There is no better drink in the world
than mulled wine concocted by a French countryman. Eve de Saint-Lucque,
looking a pitiful rag of femininity, gave a wan smile as Blakeney
persuaded her to drink.
"You too, citizeness," he said turning to Gabrielle, who sat there
sullen and mute doing her best to fight that intense weariness which
took all the life out of her. Blakeney drew a flask out of his pocket.
"The wine is good," he said, "but a drop of good old cognac will
He poured out the contents of his flask into Gabrielle's pewter mug.
She drank it all down at one draught.
A woman's footsteps were heard clattering down the wooden stairs.
"The rooms are ready," she announced curtly.
"And so are the five louis d'or," Blakeney responded gaily and
counted out the gold in the woman's wrinkled hand.
"Will you follow our kind hostess, citizeness," he said, lightly
touching Gabrielle on the shoulder. She gave no answer, spread out her
arms over the table and let her head drop down heavily upon them.
"I'll stay here," she murmured almost inaudibly.
Blakeney stood by for a moment looking down on her with an
expression in his face that was partly of contempt and partly of pity.
She never moved.
He then went over to the other side of the table where Eve de
Saint-Lucque sat fingering the pewter mug, and gazing out before her,
at Gabrielle for a time and then at him. Her eyes circled with purple,
her quivering lips, her wan and sunken cheeks, showed plainly the
extent to which this unfortunate and plucky woman had suffered. But in
spite of the pain which she still endured, in spite of intense fatigue,
bruised body and aching head, it was a pæan of praise and benediction
and reverence that her poor, weary eyes expressed as she looked on the
man to whom she owed her life and that of her children.
When she rested in his arms throughout this mad gallopade through
the darkness and the frosty air, he had at one moment peeped down at
her through the folds of his mantle and murmured just loudly enough for
her to hear:
"Your children are safe in the care of my friends. You are safe with
me. The Scarlet Pimpernel has kept his word."
She had snuggled up closer to him then, striving to make herself as
small, as little burdensome to him as she could. She had never seen him
yet, but from the moment that he dragged her out of the diligence, she
felt somehow secure in his protecting arms.
Now in this squalid room, with its drab walls and its menacing
inscriptions: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la Mort, with the
silence around only broken by the prosaic sound of the other woman's
stertorous breathing. Eve looked up and tried to make out something of
the mysterious personality of her rescuer. All she saw of him was the
top of his head masked by coal-black hair which lay across his forehead
like a funereal band. She saw a pair of bushy, black eyebrows, a long
thin nose, a chin buried in a white linen stock. The tallow candle set
on the table flickered in the draught. The sight which she got of that
curious face was fitful and intermittent, but in her own mind she was
quite sure that the black hair was a wig and that the nose was a false
one, and the beetling brow a final touch to what was obviously a
disguise. She gazed at him whilst an expression of puzzlement settled
into her eyes. Puzzlement that turned into an appeal. Would she ever
look into his face, his real face, she wondered. Would she ever behold
the man as he really was, or would he ever remain for her an enigma, a
mysterious entity, the hero of her dreams?
"Do you think you can bear it Madame?" he now asked. He had said
something else before that, but she had not heard. So she said simply:
"I can bear anything that you impose upon me. What is it?"
"Three, perhaps four days in a rickety, jolting cart with intervals
of rest in derelict cottages with a hard floor for a bed and straw for
a pillow. Can you bear it?"
"You mock me, sir," she countered with a smile, "by asking me this.
When do we start?"
"As soon as I have made arrangements with our rapacious landlord. In
the meanwhile try and snatch a couple of hours' sleep. The woman is
just outside. She will conduct you to your room."
He went to the door and called to the woman. When he turned back to
Eve she was standing beside Gabrielle's inert form. She raised
enquiring eyes to his.
"Will she be with us all the time?" she asked.
He gave a short, low laugh. Then he said with a curious sudden
change to earnestness.
"No, Madame, whatever the fool or the heathen may say, God is just."
He paused a moment, then added:
"We'll leave her here in the care of her master."
"Her master? You mean . . .?"
"I mean the master who has prompted all her actions in the past. He
will, I doubt not, looked after her now and in the future."
Eve, wondering what he meant, went thoughtfully to her room.
CHAPTER XXX. THE SILENT POOL
When Gabrielle roused herself from her drugged sleep, a pale wintry
sun was peeping in through the grimy window of the tap-room. It was
broad daylight. Half a dozen men were sitting at the table, some of
them were drinking wine, others eating some sort of savoury stew which
they ladled out for themselves out of a metal tureen. Gabrielle opened
her eyes and looked about her. She had no recollection whatever of
where she was. She sniffed the air like a hungry dog, the odour of the
stew had roused her and she was hungry. Her tongue felt parched and
clung to the roof of her mouth.
An elderly woman was busy about the room serving the men who called
for this, that and the other. They were all labourers or countrymen of
some sort. Gabrielle looked at them with bleared eyes. When her gaze
came to rest on the woman, she blinked and then called thickly for food
and drink. No one took much notice of her. The woman brought her a mug
and a bottle and set them on the table; she also brought a spoon and a
metal plate and Gabrielle helped herself to the savoury stew out of the
"There's a room ready for you upstairs," the woman said to her, "It
is paid for. You can go up if you like."
Gabrielle rose, she shook herself like a frowsy cur, for she felt
cold and stiff. Wrapping the fur mantle closely round her she strode
out of the room. A slaternly wench on the landing showed her up to the
attic where a truckle-bed had been made up for her. Gabrielle threw
herself down on the palliasse, closed her eyes and went to sleep.
Suddenly she opened her eyes, she was wide awake. It must have been
late in the afternoon. The last of a wintry twilight shed its wan light
through the cracked window of the squalid attic. Gabrielle rose. She
still felt cold and stiff and dizzy from the fatigue of that wild ride
through the night. She wandered down the rickety stairs and peeped into
the tap-room. The slaternly wench was there doing some perfunctory
cleaning of the table and setting down mugs, plates and spoons for
supper-guests. The landlord came stumping out form the back premises,
his sabots clattering on the tiled floor.
"Your room has been paid for for a week," he said gruffly, as soon
as he caught of Gabrielle. "Do you want to stay?"
She said: "Perhaps." And turning on her heel went in the direction
of the front door.
"The other two went at crack of dawn," the man went on. "They left a
small parcel for you. I'll go and get it."
He stumped back to the kitchen and returned after a moment or two
with something soft wrapped in a dirty scrap of paper, held tightly in
his hand. Gabrielle took the parcel from him. It was dark in the
passage, so she went back to the tap-room, sat down at the table and
drew the tallow candle nearer to her. She undid the parcel and spread
the contents out on the table. The landlord peered inquisitively over
"Why!" he exclaimed, "what on earth are these things?"
"As you see, citizen," Gabrielle replied. And the landlord declared
subsequently that never had he heard a woman's voice sound so strange
and inhuman. It was, he said, more like the growling of a wounded beast
than the voice of a woman. She fingered the things that were lying on
the table: a wig of black hair, a papier-mâché nose, a pair of false
eyebrows. She touched each thing with a hand that shook visibly. The
man picked them up one by one and quickly dropped them again, as if
they scorched his fingers.
"What devil's work is this?" he muttered.
"Devil's work, as you say, citizen landlord," she rejoined dully.
"The work of the English spy who was here in this very room a few hours
ago. Had you detained him, you would be richer now by a hundred louis.
Think of that, citizen landlord. Good night. Pleasant dreams."
She gave a curious, mirthless laugh, as if she were demented, so the
landlord said later on. She picked up one by one the miscellaneous
contents of the parcel, strode out of the room and went out into the
The last of the twilight had faded out of the sky. The village
street lay still and dark to right and left of the wayside inn, in the
doorway of which stood the lonely woman. She glanced up and down the
street, trying to distinguish some landmark or other in the gloom, or
perhaps just making up her mind as to which way to turn for her
solitary ramble in the night. The sound of running water came faintly
to her ear from the left. She turned in that direction, ambling along
aimlessly at first. Then as the sound grew more distinct, she quickened
her step, walked more resolutely along. Always in the darkness which
only revealed vaguely the edge of the road, and always in the direction
whence came the sound of running water.
Thus she came to the bridge which spanned the torrent, the bridge
over which she had ridden full tilt yesterday, with her bridle rein
held in a grip that was like steel, whilst she herself was held in
bondage and rendered helpless in the hands of a ruthless and relentless
"What is our first objective?" she had asked him then.
And he had replied: "The unknown."
And for her the unknown was a torrent that came scurrying and
tumbling down over rocky projections. She stood quite still, looking
down on the waters which she heard but could not see. On the right a
mossy path ran along the edge of the stream. Gabrielle turned her
wearied footsteps down that way. On she wandered with the sound of
running water falling on her ear like the accusing voice of a
"Thy revenge," it murmured, "where is it now? For it thou didst
scheme and murder and commit every crime that disgraced thy womanhood.
Where is it now? Those whom thy hatred has pursued are safe and happy
out of thy reach. Where art thou at this hour? Whither doest thou go?"
And idly wandering Gabrielle Damiens came to the pool wherein the
turbulent eddy found its rest. Here the swirl of the falling waters
caused innumerable bubbles to form and to burst again. Beyond the
swirl, the pool seemed to be placid and very still. Gabrielle came to a
halt, and looking down she tried to gauge the depth of the water, but
the night was like ebony and the over-hanging trees threw a further
veil of darkness over the silent pool. She stood quite still now, and
around her everything was still save for the occasional crackling of
dry twigs overhead or the movement of tiny furtive feet in the
undergrowth. She still had in her hands that collection of curious
objects—the wig, the false eyebrows, the nose made of papier-mâché
such as clowns wear at the circus. She fingered them lightly for a
while, then laid them down on a flat piece of projecting stone. There
was no wind and the things remained all night where she had put them.
The were found in the early morning by a couple of labourers on their
way to work. They wondered what on earth these things could possibly
be, and how they got there. No one ever knew.
Throughout the length and breadth of the Province of Artois no one
ever knew what had become of Mam'zelle Guillotine. She had come no one
knew whence. She went no one knew whither. Six months later the Reign
of Terror in France came to an end. The guillotine in the province was
no longer kept busy and an honest butcher of Mézières did all that
there was to do.
CHAPTER XXXI. AN INTERLUDE
Marguerite Blakeney was in her husband's arms. She was looking pale
and wan and her wonderful, luminous eyes still bore the traces of all
the tears which she had shed. She had been the first to arrive in Dover
at the Fisherman's Rest, in the company of Percy's devoted followers
and the two little children for whose sake he had thrown his precious
life in the balance of Fate, courting death with joy in his heart and a
smile on his lips. For close on a month Marguerite in her weary
travelling to Belgium and through Belgium on to England, had known
nothing of her adored husband, save that at every hour of the day and
night that heroic life was in deadly peril
Now when his arms were once more round her and she looked into his
merry deep-set eyes, the joy of reunion was almost more than she could
bear. She tried to make him tell her something of what he had endured
and gone through for the sake of an unfortunate woman and two innocent
children now happily reunited to husband, father and brother.
"Luck was on my side, light of my life," was all he said, "because
you were so near me all the time. And luck was backed by the courage
and understanding of brave men like Ffoulkes and Tony, Glynde and St.
Dennys, and your adorable self."
"But, Percy," she insisted, "if luck had failed you. If . . ."
"Luck, my beloved," he said, and once more that wonderful look of
the born adventurer, the gambler, the fearless sportsman, the look
which she dreaded to see more than any other, came back into his eyes;
"luck is just an old woman, m'dear, bald save for one hair on her head.
It is up to her courtier to seize her by that one hair when perchance
she flits by past him at arm's length. But, by George," he concluded
with his infectious, merry laugh, "having got hold of that hair, it is
up to him not to let it go. And that is all I did, my adored, I did not