THE LEAGUE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
BY BARONESS ORCZY
AUTHOR OF "FLOWER O' THE LILY," "LORD TONY'S WIFE," "THE SCARLET
I SIR PERCY EXPLAINS
II A QUESTION OF PASSPORTS
III TWO GOOD PATRIOTS
IV THE OLD SCARECROW
V A FINE BIT OF WORK
VI HOW JEAN PIERRE MET THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
VII OUT OF THE JAWS OF DEATH
VIII THE TRAITOR
IX THE CABARET DE LA LIBERTE
X "NEEDS MUST—"
XI A BATTLE OF WITS
SIR PERCY EXPLAINS
It was not, Heaven help us all! a very uncommon occurrence these days: a
woman almost unsexed by misery, starvation, and the abnormal excitement
engendered by daily spectacles of revenge and of cruelty. They were to
be met with every day, round every street corner, these harridans, more
terrible far than were the men.
This one was still comparatively young, thirty at most; would have been
good-looking too, for the features were really delicate, the nose
chiselled, the brow straight, the chin round and small. But the mouth!
Heavens, what a mouth! Hard and cruel and thin-lipped; and those eyes!
sunken and rimmed with purple; eyes that told tales of sorrow and, yes!
of degradation. The crowd stood round her, sullen and apathetic; poor,
miserable wretches like herself, staring at her antics with lack-lustre
eyes and an ever-recurrent contemptuous shrug of the shoulders.
The woman was dancing, contorting her body in the small circle of light
formed by a flickering lanthorn which was hung across the street from
house to house, striking the muddy pavement with her shoeless feet, all
to the sound of a be-ribboned tambourine which she struck now and again
with her small, grimy hand. From time to time she paused, held out the
tambourine at arm's length, and went the round of the spectators, asking
for alms. But at her approach the crowd at once seemed to disintegrate,
to melt into the humid evening air; it was but rarely that a greasy
token fell into the outstretched tambourine. Then as the woman started
again to dance the crowd gradually reassembled, and stood, hands in
pockets, lips still sullen and contemptuous, but eyes watchful of the
spectacle. There were such few spectacles these days, other than the
monotonous processions of tumbrils with their load of aristocrats for
So the crowd watched, and the woman danced. The lanthorn overhead threw
a weird light on red caps and tricolour cockades, on the sullen faces of
the men and the shoulders of the women, on the dancer's weird antics and
her flying, tattered skirts. She was obviously tired, as a poor,
performing cur might be, or a bear prodded along to uncongenial
buffoonery. Every time that she paused and solicited alms with her
tambourine the crowd dispersed, and some of them laughed because she
"Voyons," she said with a weird attempt at gaiety, "a couple of sous for
the entertainment, citizen! You have stood here half an hour. You can't
have it all for nothing, what?"
The man—young, square-shouldered, thick-lipped, with the look of a
bully about his well-clad person—retorted with a coarse insult, which
the woman resented. There were high words; the crowd for the most part
ranged itself on the side of the bully. The woman backed against the
wall nearest to her, held feeble, emaciated hands up to her ears in a
vain endeavour to shut out the hideous jeers and ribald jokes which were
the natural weapons of this untamed crowd.
Soon blows began to rain; not a few fell upon the unfortunate woman. She
screamed, and the more she screamed the louder did the crowd jeer, the
uglier became its temper. Then suddenly it was all over. How it happened
the woman could not tell. She had closed her eyes, feeling sick and
dizzy; but she had heard a loud call, words spoken in English (a
language which she understood), a pleasant laugh, and a brief but
violent scuffle. After that the hurrying retreat of many feet, the click
of sabots on the uneven pavement and patter of shoeless feet, and then
She had fallen on her knees and was cowering against the wall, had lost
consciousness probably for a minute or two. Then she heard that pleasant
laugh again and the soft drawl of the English tongue.
"I love to see those beggars scuttling off, like so many rats to their
burrows, don't you, Ffoulkes?"
"They didn't put up much fight, the cowards!" came from another voice,
also in English. "A dozen of them against this wretched woman. What had
best be done with her?"
"I'll see to her," rejoined the first speaker. "You and Tony had best
find the others. Tell them I shall be round directly."
It all seemed like a dream. The woman dared not open her eyes lest
reality—hideous and brutal—once more confronted her. Then all at once
she felt that her poor, weak body, encircled by strong arms, was lifted
off the ground, and that she was being carried down the street, away
from the light projected by the lanthorn overhead, into the sheltering
darkness of a yawning porte cochere. But she was not then fully
When she reopened her eyes she was in what appeared to be the lodge of a
concierge. She was lying on a horsehair sofa. There was a sense of
warmth and of security around her. No wonder that it still seemed like a
dream. Before her stood a man, tall and straight, surely a being from
another world—or so he appeared to the poor wretch who, since
uncountable time, had set eyes on none but the most miserable dregs of
struggling humanity, who had seen little else but rags, and faces either
cruel or wretched. This man was clad in a huge caped coat, which made
his powerful figure seem preternaturally large. His hair was fair and
slightly curly above his low, square brow; the eyes beneath their heavy
lids looked down on her with unmistakable kindness.
The poor woman struggled to her feet. With a quick and pathetically
humble gesture she drew her ragged, muddy skirts over her ankles and her
tattered kerchief across her breast.
"I had best go now, Monsieur … citizen," she murmured, while a hot
flush rose to the roots of her unkempt hair. "I must not stop here….
"You are not going, Madame," he broke in, speaking now in perfect French
and with a great air of authority, as one who is accustomed to being
implicitly obeyed, "until you have told me how, a lady of culture and of
refinement, comes to be masquerading as a street-dancer. The game is a
dangerous one, as you have experienced to-night."
"It is no game, Monsieur … citizen," she stammered; "nor yet a
masquerade. I have been a street-dancer all my life, and—"
By way of an answer he took her hand, always with that air of authority
which she never thought to resent.
"This is not a street-dancer's hand; Madame," he said quietly. "Nor is
your speech that of the people."
She drew her hand away quickly, and the flush on her haggard face
"If you will honour me with your confidence, Madame," he insisted.
The kindly words, the courtesy of the man, went to the poor creature's
heart. She fell back upon the sofa and with her face buried in her arms
she sobbed out her heart for a minute or two. The man waited quite
patiently. He had seen many women weep these days, and had dried many a
tear through deeds of valour and of self-sacrifice, which were for ever
recorded in the hearts of those whom he had succoured.
When this poor woman had succeeded in recovering some semblance of
self-control, she turned her wan, tear-stained face to him and said
"My name is Madeleine Lannoy, Monsieur. My husband was killed during the
emeutes at Versailles, whilst defending the persons of the Queen and of
the royal children against the fury of the mob. When I was a girl I had
the misfortune to attract the attentions of a young doctor named Jean
Paul Marat. You have heard of him, Monsieur?"
The other nodded.
"You know him, perhaps," she continued, "for what he is: the most cruel
and revengeful of men. A few years ago he threw up his lucrative
appointment as Court physician to Monseigneur le Comte d'Artois, and
gave up the profession of medicine for that of journalist and
politician. Politician! Heaven help him! He belongs to the most
bloodthirsty section of revolutionary brigands. His creed is pillage,
murder, and revenge; and he chooses to declare that it is I who, by
rejecting his love, drove him to these foul extremities. May God forgive
him that abominable lie! The evil we do, Monsieur, is within us; it does
not come from circumstance. I, in the meanwhile, was a happy wife. My
husband, M. de Lannoy, who was an officer in the army, idolised me. We
had one child, a boy—"
She paused, with another catch in her throat. Then she resumed, with
calmness that, in view of the tale she told, sounded strangely weird:
"In June last year my child was stolen from me—stolen by Marat in
hideous revenge for the supposed wrong which I had done him. The details
of that execrable outrage are of no importance. I was decoyed from home
one day through the agency of a forged message purporting to come from a
very dear friend whom I knew to be in grave trouble at the time. Oh! the
whole thing was thoroughly well thought out, I can assure you!" she
continued, with a harsh laugh which ended in a heartrending sob. "The
forged message, the suborned servant, the threats of terrible reprisals
if anyone in the village gave me the slightest warning or clue. When the
whole miserable business was accomplished, I was just like a trapped
animal inside a cage, held captive by immovable bars of obstinate
silence and cruel indifference. No one would help me. No one ostensibly
knew anything; no one had seen anything, heard anything. The child was
gone! My servants, the people in the village—some of whom I could have
sworn were true and sympathetic—only shrugged their shoulders. 'Que
voulez-vous, Madame? Children of bourgeois as well as of aristos were
often taken up by the State to be brought up as true patriots and no
longer pampered like so many lap-dogs.'
"Three days later I received a letter from that inhuman monster, Jean
Paul Marat. He told me that he had taken my child away from me, not from
any idea of revenge for my disdain in the past, but from a spirit of
pure patriotism. My boy, he said, should not be brought up with the same
ideas of bourgeois effeteness and love of luxury which had disgraced the
nation for centuries. No! he should be reared amongst men who had
realised the true value of fraternity and equality and the ideal of
complete liberty for the individual to lead his own life, unfettered by
senseless prejudices of education and refinement. Which means,
Monsieur," the poor woman went on with passionate misery, "that my child
is to be reared up in the company of all that is most vile and most
degraded in the disease-haunted slums of indigent Paris; that, with the
connivance of that execrable fiend Marat, my only son will, mayhap, come
back to me one day a potential thief, a criminal probably, a
drink-sodden reprobate at best. Such things are done every day in this
glorious Revolution of ours—done in the sacred name of France and of
Liberty. And the moral murder of my child is to be my punishment for
daring to turn a deaf ear to the indign passion of a brute!"
Once more she paused, and when the melancholy echo of her broken voice
had died away in the narrow room, not another murmur broke the stillness
of this far-away corner of the great city.
The man did not move. He stood looking down upon the poor woman before
him, a world of pity expressed in his deep-set eyes. Through the
absolute silence around there came the sound as of a gentle flutter, the
current of cold air, mayhap, sighing through the ill-fitting shutters,
or the soft, weird soughing made by unseen things. The man's heart was
full of pity, and it seemed as if the Angel of Compassion had come at
his bidding and enfolded the sorrowing woman with his wings.
A moment or two later she was able to finish her pathetic narrative.
"Do you marvel, Monsieur," she said, "that I am still sane—still alive?
But I only live to find my child. I try and keep my reason in order to
fight the devilish cunning of a brute on his own ground. Up to now all
my inquiries have been in vain. At first I squandered money, tried
judicial means, set an army of sleuth-hounds on the track. I tried
bribery, corruption. I went to the wretch himself and abased myself in
the dust before him. He only laughed at me and told me that his love for
me had died long ago; he now was lavishing its treasures upon the
faithful friend and companion—that awful woman, Simonne Evrard—who had
stood by him in the darkest hours of his misfortunes. Then it was that I
decided to adopt different tactics. Since my child was to be reared in
the midst of murderers and thieves, I, too, would haunt their abodes. I
became a street-singer, dancer, what you will. I wear rags now and
solicit alms. I haunt the most disreputable cabarets in the lowest slums
of Paris. I listen and I spy; I question every man, woman, and child who
might afford some clue, give me some indication. There is hardly a house
in these parts that I have not visited and whence I have not been kicked
out as an importunate beggar or worse. Gradually I am narrowing the
circle of my investigations. Presently I shall get a clue. I shall! I
know I shall! God cannot allow this monstrous thing to go on!"
Again there was silence. The poor woman had completely broken down.
Shame, humiliation, passionate grief, had made of her a mere miserable
wreckage of humanity.
The man waited awhile until she was composed, then he said simply:
"You have suffered terribly, Madame; but chiefly, I think, because you
have been alone in your grief. You have brooded over it until it has
threatened your reason. Now, if you will allow me to act as your friend,
I will pledge you my word that I will find your son for you. Will you
trust me sufficiently to give up your present methods and place yourself
entirely in my hands? There are more than a dozen gallant gentlemen, who
are my friends, and who will help me in my search. But for this I must
have a free hand, and only help from you when I require it. I can find
you lodgings where you will be quite safe under the protection of my
wife, who is as like an angel as any man or woman I have ever met on
this earth. When your son is once more in your arms, you will, I hope,
accompany us to England, where so many of your friends have already
found a refuge. If this meets with your approval, Madame, you may
command me, for with your permission I mean to be your most devoted
Dante, in his wild imaginations of hell and of purgatory and fleeting
glimpses of paradise, never put before us the picture of a soul that was
lost and found heaven, after a cycle of despair. Nor could Madeleine
Lannoy ever explain her feelings at that moment, even to herself. To
begin with, she could not quite grasp the reality of this ray of hope,
which came to her at the darkest hour of her misery. She stared at the
man before her as she would on an ethereal vision; she fell on her knees
and buried her face in her hands.
What happened afterwards she hardly knew; she was in a state of
semi-consciousness. When she once more woke to reality, she was in
comfortable lodgings; she moved and talked and ate and lived like a
human being. She was no longer a pariah, an outcast, a poor,
half-demented creature, insentient save for an infinite capacity for
suffering. She suffered still, but she no longer despaired. There had
been such marvellous power and confidence in that man's voice when he
said: "I pledge you my word." Madeleine Lannoy lived now in hope and a
sweet sense of perfect mental and bodily security. Around her there was
an influence, too, a presence which she did not often see, but always
felt to be there: a woman, tall and graceful and sympathetic, who was
always ready to cheer, to comfort, and to help. Her name was Marguerite.
Madame Lannoy never knew her by any other. The man had spoken of her as
being as like an angel as could be met on this earth, and poor Madeleine
Lannoy fully agreed with him.
Even that bloodthirsty tiger, Jean Paul Marat, has had his apologists.
His friends have called him a martyr, a selfless and incorruptible
exponent of social and political ideals. We may take it that Simonne
Evrard loved him, for a more impassioned obituary speech was, mayhap,
never spoken than the one which she delivered before the National
Assembly in honour of that sinister demagogue, whose writings and
activities will for ever sully some of the really fine pages of that
But with those apologists we have naught to do. History has talked its
fill of the inhuman monster. With the more intimate biographists alone
has this true chronicle any concern. It is one of these who tells us
that on or about the eighteenth day of Messidor, in the year I of the
Republic (a date which corresponds with the sixth of July, 1793, of our
own calendar), Jean Paul Marat took an additional man into his service,
at the instance of Jeannette Marechal, his cook and maid-of-all-work.
Marat was at this time a martyr to an unpleasant form of skin disease,
brought on by the terrible privations which he had endured during the
few years preceding his association with Simonne Evrard, the faithful
friend and housekeeper, whose small fortune subsequently provided him
with some degree of comfort.
The man whom Jeannette Marechal, the cook, introduced into the household
of No. 30, Rue des Cordeliers, that worthy woman had literally picked
one day out of the gutter where he was grabbing for scraps of food like
some wretched starving cur. He appeared to be known to the police of the
section, his identity book proclaiming him to be one Paul Mole, who had
served his time in gaol for larceny. He professed himself willing to do
any work required of him, for the merest pittance and some kind of roof
over his head. Simonne Evrard allowed Jeannette to take him in, partly
out of compassion and partly with a view to easing the woman's own
burden, the only other domestic in the house—a man named Bas—being
more interested in politics and the meetings of the Club des Jacobins
than he was in his master's ailments. The man Mole, moreover, appeared
to know something of medicine and of herbs and how to prepare the warm
baths which alone eased the unfortunate Marat from pain. He was
powerfully built, too, and though he muttered and grumbled a great deal,
and indulged in prolonged fits of sulkiness, when he would not open his
mouth to anyone, he was, on the whole, helpful and good-tempered.
There must also have been something about his whole wretched personality
which made a strong appeal to the "Friend of the People," for it is
quite evident that within a few days Paul Mole had won no small measure
of his master's confidence.
Marat, sick, fretful, and worried, had taken an unreasoning dislike to
his servant Bas. He was thankful to have a stranger about him, a man who
was as miserable as he himself had been a very little while ago; who,
like himself, had lived in cellars and in underground burrows, and lived
on the scraps of food which even street-curs had disdained.
On the seventh day following Mole's entry into the household, and while
the latter was preparing his employer's bath, Marat said abruptly to
"You'll go as far as the Chemin de Pantin to-day for me, citizen. You
know your way?"
"I can find it, what?" muttered Mole, who appeared to be in one of his
"You will have to go very circumspectly," Marat went on, in his cracked
and feeble voice. "And see to it that no one spies upon your movements.
I have many enemies, citizen … one especially … a woman…. She is
always prying and spying on me…. So beware of any woman you see
lurking about at your heels."
Mole gave a half-audible grunt in reply.
"You had best go after dark," the other rejoined after awhile. "Come
back to me after nine o'clock. It is not far to the Chemin de
Pantin—just where it intersects the Route de Meaux. You can get there
and back before midnight. The people will admit you. I will give you a
ring—the only thing I possess…. It has little or no value," he added
with a harsh, grating laugh. "It will not be worth your while to steal
it. You will have to see a brat and report to me on his condition—his
appearance, what?… Talk to him a bit…. See what he says and let me
know. It is not difficult."
Mole helped the suffering wretch into his bath. Not a movement, not a
quiver of the eyelid betrayed one single emotion which he may have
felt—neither loathing nor sympathy, only placid indifference. He was
just a half-starved menial, thankful to accomplish any task for the sake
of satisfying a craving stomach. Marat stretched out his shrunken limbs
in the herbal water with a sigh of well-being.
"And the ring, citizen?" Mole suggested presently.
The demagogue held up his left hand—it was emaciated and disfigured by
disease. A cheap-looking metal ring, set with a false stone, glistened
upon the fourth finger.
"Take it off," he said curtly.
The ring must have all along been too small for the bony hand of the
once famous Court physician. Even now it appeared embedded in the flabby
skin and refused to slide over the knuckle.
"The water will loosen it," remarked Mole quietly.
Marat dipped his hand back into the water, and the other stood beside
him, silent and stolid, his broad shoulders bent, his face naught but a
mask, void and expressionless beneath its coating of grime.
One or two seconds went by. The air was heavy with steam and a medley of
evil-smelling fumes, which hung in the close atmosphere of the narrow
room. The sick man appeared to be drowsy, his head rolled over to one
side, his eyes closed. He had evidently forgotten all about the ring.
A woman's voice, shrill and peremptory, broke the silence which had
"Here, citizen Mole, I want you! There's not a bit of wood chopped up
for my fire, and how am I to make the coffee without firing, I should
like to know?"
"The ring, citizen," Mole urged gruffly.
Marat had been roused by the woman's sharp voice. He cursed her for a
noisy harridan; then he said fretfully:
"It will do presently—when you are ready to start. I said nine o'clock
… it is only four now. I am tired. Tell citizeness Evrard to bring me
some hot coffee in an hour's time…. You can go and fetch me the
Moniteur now, and take back these proofs to citizen Dufour. You will
find him at the 'Cordeliers,' or else at the printing works…. Come
back at nine o'clock…. I am tired now … too tired to tell you where
to find the house which is off the Chemin de Pantin. Presently will
Even while he spoke he appeared to drop into a fitful sleep. His two
hands were hidden under the sheet which covered the bath. Mole watched
him in silence for a moment or two, then he turned on his heel and
shuffled off through the ante-room into the kitchen beyond, where
presently he sat down, squatting in an angle by the stove, and started
with his usual stolidness to chop wood for the citizeness' fire.
When this task was done, and he had received a chunk of sour bread for
his reward from Jeannette Marechal, the cook, he shuffled out of the
place and into the street, to do his employer's errands.
Paul Mole had been to the offices of the Moniteur and to the printing
works of L'Ami du Peuple. He had seen the citizen Dufour at the Club
and, presumably, had spent the rest of his time wandering idly about the
streets of the quartier, for he did not return to the rue des Cordeliers
until nearly nine o'clock.
As soon as he came to the top of the street, he fell in with the crowd
which had collected outside No. 30. With his habitual slouchy gait and
the steady pressure of his powerful elbows, he pushed his way to the
door, whilst gleaning whisperings and rumours on his way.
"The citizen Marat has been assassinated."
"By a woman."
"A mere girl."
"A wench from Caen. Her name is Corday."
"The people nearly tore her to pieces awhile ago."
"She is as much as guillotined already."
The latter remark went off with a loud guffaw and many a ribald joke.
Mole, despite his great height, succeeded in getting through
unperceived. He was of no account, and he knew his way inside the house.
It was full of people: journalists, gaffers, women and men—the usual
crowd that come to gape. The citizen Marat was a great personage. The
Friend of the People. An Incorruptible, if ever there was one. Just look
at the simplicity, almost the poverty, in which he lived! Only the
aristos hated him, and the fat bourgeois who battened on the people.
Citizen Marat had sent hundreds of them to the guillotine with a stroke
of his pen or a denunciation from his fearless tongue.
Mole did not pause to listen to these comments. He pushed his way
through the throng up the stairs, to his late employer's lodgings on the
The anteroom was crowded, so were the other rooms; but the greatest
pressure was around the door immediately facing him, the one which gave
on the bathroom. In the kitchen on his right, where awhile ago he had
been chopping wood under a flood of abuse from Jeannette Marechal, he
caught sight of this woman, cowering by the hearth, her filthy apron
thrown over her head, and crying—yes! crying for the loathsome
creature, who had expiated some of his abominable crimes at the hands of
a poor, misguided girl, whom an infuriated mob was even now threatening
to tear to pieces in its rage.
The parlour and even Simonne's room were also filled with people: men,
most of whom Mole knew by sight; friends or enemies of the ranting
demagogue who lay murdered in the very bath which his casual servant had
prepared for him. Every one was discussing the details of the murder,
the punishment of the youthful assassin. Simonne Evrard was being loudly
blamed for having admitted the girl into citizen Marat's room. But the
wench had looked so simple, so innocent, and she said she was the bearer
of a message from Caen. She had called twice during the day, and in the
evening the citizen himself said that he would see her. Simonne had been
for sending her away. But the citizen was peremptory. And he was so
helpless … in his bath … name of a name, the pitiable affair!
No one paid much attention to Mole. He listened for a while to Simonne's
impassioned voice, giving her version of the affair; then he worked his
way stolidly into the bathroom.
It was some time before he succeeded in reaching the side of that awful
bath wherein lay the dead body of Jean Paul Marat. The small room was
densely packed—not with friends, for there was not a man or woman
living, except Simonne Evrard and her sisters, whom the bloodthirsty
demagogue would have called "friend"; but his powerful personality had
been a menace to many, and now they came in crowds to see that he was
really dead, that a girl's feeble hand had actually done the deed which
they themselves had only contemplated. They stood about whispering,
their heads averted from the ghastly spectacle of this miserable
creature, to whom even death had failed to lend his usual attribute of
The tiny room was inexpressibly hot and stuffy. Hardly a breath of
outside air came in through the narrow window, which only gave on the
bedroom beyond. An evil-smelling oil-lamp swung from the low ceiling and
shed its feeble light on the upturned face of the murdered man.
Mole stood for a moment or two, silent and pensive, beside that hideous
form. There was the bath, just as he had prepared it: the board spread
over with a sheet and laid across the bath, above which only the head
and shoulders emerged, livid and stained. One hand, the left, grasped
the edge of the board with the last convulsive clutch of supreme agony.
On the fourth finger of that hand glistened the shoddy ring which Marat
had said was not worth stealing. Yet, apparently, it roused the cupidity
of the poor wretch who had served him faithfully for these last few
days, and who now would once more be thrown, starving and friendless,
upon the streets of Paris.
Mole threw a quick, furtive glance around him. The crowd which had come
to gloat over the murdered Terrorist stood about whispering, with heads
averted, engrossed in their own affairs. He slid his hand
surreptitiously over that of the dead man. With dexterous manipulation
he lifted the finger round which glistened the metal ring. Death
appeared to have shrivelled the flesh still more upon the bones, to have
contracted the knuckles and shrunk the tendons. The ring slid off quite
easily. Mole had it in his hand, when suddenly a rough blow struck him
on the shoulder.
"Trying to rob the dead?" a stern voice shouted in his ear. "Are you a
disguised aristo, or what?"
At once the whispering ceased. A wave of excitement went round the room.
Some people shouted, others pressed forward to gaze on the abandoned
wretch who had been caught in the act of committing a gruesome deed.
"Robbing the dead!"
They were experts in evil, most of these men here. Their hands were
indelibly stained with some of the foulest crimes ever recorded in
history. But there was something ghoulish in this attempt to plunder
that awful thing lying there, helpless, in the water. There was also a
great relief to nerve-tension in shouting Horror and Anathema with
self-righteous indignation; and additional excitement in the suggested
"aristo in disguise."
Mole struggled vigorously. He was powerful and his fists were heavy. But
he was soon surrounded, held fast by both arms, whilst half a dozen
hands tore at his tattered clothes, searched him to his very skin, for
the booty which he was thought to have taken from the dead.
"Leave me alone, curse you!" he shouted, louder than his aggressors. "My
name is Paul Mole, I tell you. Ask the citizeness Evrard. I waited on
citizen Marat. I prepared his bath. I was the only friend who did not
turn away from him in his sickness and his poverty. Leave me alone, I
say! Why," he added, with a hoarse laugh, "Jean Paul in his bath was as
naked as on the day he was born!"
"'Tis true," said one of those who had been most active in rummaging
through Mole's grimy rags. "There's nothing to be found on him."
But suspicion once aroused was not easily allayed. Mole's protestations
became more and more vigorous and emphatic. His papers were all in
order, he vowed. He had them on him: his own identity papers, clear for
anyone to see. Someone had dragged them out of his pocket; they were
dank and covered with splashes of mud—hardly legible. They were handed
over to a man who stood in the immediate circle of light projected by
the lamp. He seized them and examined them carefully. This man was short
and slight, was dressed in well-made cloth clothes; his hair was held in
at the nape of the next in a modish manner with a black taffeta bow. His
hands were clean, slender, and claw-like, and he wore the tricolour
scarf of office round his waist which proclaimed him to be a member of
one of the numerous Committees which tyrannised over the people.
The papers appeared to be in order, and proclaimed the bearer to be Paul
Mole, a native of Besancon, a carpenter by trade. The identity book had
recently been signed by Jean Paul Marat, the man's latest employer, and
been counter-signed by the Commissary of the section.
The man in the tricolour scarf turned with some acerbity on the crowd
who was still pressing round the prisoner.
"Which of you here," he queried roughly, "levelled an unjust accusation
against an honest citizen?"
But, as usual in such cases, no one replied directly to the charge. It
was not safe these days to come into conflict with men like Mole. The
Committees were all on their side, against the bourgeois as well as
against the aristos. This was the reign of the proletariat, and the
sans-culotte always emerged triumphant in a conflict against the
well-to-do. Nor was it good to rouse the ire of citizen Chauvelin, one
of the most powerful, as he was the most pitiless members of the
Committee of Public Safety. Quiet, sarcastic rather than aggressive,
something of the aristo, too, in his clean linen and well-cut clothes,
he had not even yielded to the defunct Marat in cruelty and relentless
persecution of aristocrats.
Evidently his sympathies now were all with Mole, the out-at-elbows,
miserable servant of an equally miserable master. His pale-coloured,
deep-set eyes challenged the crowd, which gave way before him, slunk
back into the corners, away from his coldly threatening glance. Thus he
found himself suddenly face to face with Mole, somewhat isolated from
the rest, and close to the tin bath with its grim contents. Chauvelin
had the papers in his hand.
"Take these, citizen," he said curtly to the other. "They are all in
He looked up at Mole as he said this, for the latter, though his
shoulders were bent, was unusually tall, and Mole took the papers from
him. Thus for the space of a few seconds the two men looked into one
another's face, eyes to eyes—and suddenly Chauvelin felt an icy sweat
coursing down his spine. The eyes into which he gazed had a strange,
ironical twinkle in them, a kind of good-humoured arrogance, whilst
through the firm, clear-cut lips, half hidden by a dirty and ill-kempt
beard, there came the sound—oh! a mere echo—of a quaint and inane
The whole thing—it seemed like a vision—was over in a second.
Chauvelin, sick and faint with the sudden rush of blood to his head,
closed his eyes for one brief instant. The next, the crowd had closed
round him; anxious inquiries reached his re-awakened senses.
But he uttered one quick, hoarse cry:
"Hebert! A moi! Are you there?"
"Present, citizen!" came in immediate response. And a tall figure in the
tattered uniform affected by the revolutionary guard stepped briskly out
of the crowd. Chauvelin's claw-like hand was shaking visibly.
"The man Mole," he called in a voice husky with excitement. "Seize him
at once! And, name of a dog! do not allow a living soul in or out of the
Hebert turned on his heel. The next moment his harsh voice was heard
above the din and the general hubbub around:
"Quite safe, citizen!" he called to his chief. "We have the rogue right
There was much shouting and much cursing, a great deal of bustle and
confusion, as the men of the Surete closed the doors of the defunct
demagogue's lodgings. Some two score men, a dozen or so women, were
locked in, inside the few rooms which reeked of dirt and of disease.
They jostled and pushed, screamed and protested. For two or three
minutes the din was quite deafening. Simonne Evrard pushed her way up to
the forefront of the crowd.
"What is this I hear?" she queried peremptorily. "Who is accusing
citizen Mole? And of what, I should like to know? I am responsible for
everyone inside these apartments … and if citizen Marat were still
Chauvelin appeared unaware of all the confusion and of the woman's
protestations. He pushed his way through the crowd to the corner of the
anteroom where Mole stood, crouching and hunched up, his grimy hands
idly fingering the papers which Chauvelin had returned to him a moment
ago. Otherwise he did not move.
He stood, silent and sullen; and when Chauvelin, who had succeeded in
mastering his emotion, gave the peremptory command: "Take this man to
the depot at once. And do not allow him one instant out of your sight!"
he made no attempt at escape.
He allowed Hebert and the men to seize him, to lead him away. He
followed without a word, without a struggle. His massive figure was
hunched up like that of an old man; his hands, which still clung to his
identity papers, trembled slightly like those of a man who is very
frightened and very helpless. The men of the Surete handled him very
roughly, but he made no protest. The woman Evrard did all the
protesting, vowing that the people would not long tolerate such tyranny.
She even forced her way up to Hebert. With a gesture of fury she tried
to strike him in the face, and continued, with a loud voice, her insults
and objurgations, until, with a movement of his bayonet, he pushed her
roughly out of the way.
After that Paul Mole, surrounded by the guard, was led without ceremony
out of the house. Chauvelin gazed after him as if he had been brought
face to face with a ghoul.
Chauvelin hurried to the depot. After those few seconds wherein he had
felt dazed, incredulous, almost under a spell, he had quickly regained
the mastery of his nerves, and regained, too, that intense joy which
anticipated triumph is wont to give.
In the out-at-elbows, half-starved servant of the murdered Terrorist,
citizen Chauvelin, of the Committee of Public Safety, had recognised his
arch enemy, that meddlesome and adventurous Englishman who chose to hide
his identity under the pseudonym of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He knew that
he could reckon on Hebert; his orders not to allow the prisoner one
moment out of sight would of a certainty be strictly obeyed.
Hebert, indeed, a few moments later, greeted his chief outside the doors
of the depot with the welcome news that Paul Mole was safely under lock
"You had no trouble with him?" Chauvelin queried, with ill-concealed
"No, no! citizen, no trouble," was Hebert's quick reply. "He seems to be
a well-known rogue in these parts," he continued with a complacent
guffaw; "and some of his friends tried to hustle us at the corner of the
Rue de Tourraine; no doubt with a view to getting the prisoner away. But
we were too strong for them, and Paul Mole is now sulking in his cell
and still protesting that his arrest is an outrage against the liberty
of the people."
Chauvelin made no further remark. He was obviously too excited to speak.
Pushing past Hebert and the men of the Surete who stood about the dark
and narrow passages of the depot, he sought the Commissary of the
Section in the latter's office.
It was now close upon ten o'clock. The citizen Commissary Cuisinier had
finished his work for the day and was preparing to go home and to bed.
He was a family man, had been a respectable bourgeois in his day, and
though he was a rank opportunist and had sacrificed not only his
political convictions but also his conscience to the exigencies of the
time, he still nourished in his innermost heart a secret contempt for
the revolutionary brigands who ruled over France at this hour.
To any other man than citizen Chauvelin, the citizen Commissary would,
no doubt, have given a curt refusal to a request to see a prisoner at
this late hour of the evening. But Chauvelin was not a man to be denied,
and whilst muttering various objections in his ill-kempt beard,
Cuisinier, nevertheless, gave orders that the citizen was to be
conducted at once to the cells.
Paul Mole had in truth turned sulky. The turnkey vowed that the prisoner
had hardly stirred since first he had been locked up in the common cell.
He sat in a corner at the end of the bench, with his face turned to the
wall, and paid no heed either to his fellow-prisoners or to the
facetious remarks of the warder.
Chauvelin went up to him, made some curt remark. Mole kept an obstinate
shoulder turned towards him—a grimy shoulder, which showed naked
through a wide rent in his blouse. This portion of the cell was
well-nigh in total darkness; the feeble shaft of light which came
through the open door hardly penetrated to this remote angle of the
squalid burrow. The same sense of mystery and unreality overcame
Chauvelin again as he looked on the miserable creature in whom, an hour
ago, he had recognised the super-exquisite Sir Percy Blakeney. Now he
could only see a vague outline in the gloom: the stooping shoulders, the
long limbs, that naked piece of shoulder which caught a feeble reflex
from the distant light. Nor did any amount of none too gentle prodding
on the part of the warder induce him to change his position.
"Leave him alone," said Chauvelin curly at last. "I have seen all that I
wished to see."
The cell was insufferably hot and stuffy. Chauvelin, finical and queasy,
turned away with a shudder of disgust. There was nothing to be got now
out of a prolonged interview with his captured foe. He had seen him:
that was sufficient. He had seen the super-exquisite Sir Percy Blakeney
locked up in a common cell with some of the most scrubby and abject
rogues which the slums of indigent Paris could yield, having apparently
failed in some undertaking which had demanded for its fulfilment not
only tattered clothes and grimy hands, but menial service with a
beggarly and disease-ridden employer, whose very propinquity must have
been positive torture to the fastidious dandy.
Of a truth this was sufficient for the gratification of any revenge.
Chauvelin felt that he could now go contentedly to rest after an
evening's work excellently done.
He gave order that Mole should be put in a separate cell, denied all
intercourse with anyone outside or in the depot, and that he should be
guarded on sight day and night. After that he went his way.
The following morning citizen Chauvelin, of the Committee of Public
Safety, gave due notice to citizen Fouquier-Tinville, the Public
Prosecutor, that the dangerous English spy, known to the world as the
Scarlet Pimpernel, was now safely under lock and key, and that he must
be transferred to the Abbaye prison forthwith and to the guillotine as
quickly as might be. No one was to take any risks this time; there must
be no question either of discrediting his famous League or of obtaining
other more valuable information out of him. Such methods had proved
disastrous in the past.
There were no safe Englishmen these days, except the dead ones, and it
would not take citizen Fouquier-Tinville much thought or time to frame
an indictment against the notorious Scarlet Pimpernel, which would do
away with the necessity of a prolonged trial. The revolutionary
government was at war with England now, and short work could be made of
all poisonous spies.
By order, therefore, of the Committee of Public Safety, the prisoner,
Paul Mole, was taken out of the cells of the depot and conveyed in a
closed carriage to the Abbaye prison. Chauvelin had the pleasure of
watching this gratifying spectacle from the windows of the Commissariat.
When he saw the closed carriage drive away, with Hebert and two men
inside and two others on the box, he turned to citizen Commissary
Cuisinier with a sigh of intense satisfaction.
"There goes the most dangerous enemy our glorious revolution has had,"
he said, with an accent of triumph which he did not attempt to disguise.
Cuisinier shrugged his shoulders.
"Possibly," he retorted curtly. "He did not seem to me to be very
dangerous and his papers were quite in order."
To this assertion Chauvelin made no reply. Indeed, how could he explain
to this stolid official the subtle workings of an intriguing brain? Had
he himself not had many a proof of how little the forging of identity
papers or of passports troubled the members of that accursed League? Had
he not seen the Scarlet Pimpernel, that exquisite Sir Percy Blakeney,
under disguises that were so grimy and so loathsome that they would have
repelled the most abject, suborned spy?
Indeed, all that was wanted now was the assurance that Hebert—who
himself had a deadly and personal grudge against the Scarlet
Pimpernel—would not allow him for one moment out of his sight.
Fortunately as to this, there was no fear. One hint to Hebert and the
man was as keen, as determined, as Chauvelin himself.
"Set your mind at rest, citizen," he said with a rough oath. "I guessed
how matters stood the moment you gave me the order. I knew you would not
take all that trouble for a real Paul Mole. But have no fear! That
accursed Englishman has not been one second out of my sight, from the
moment I arrested him in the late citizen Marat's lodgings, and by
Satan! he shall not be either, until I have seen his impudent head fall
under the guillotine."
He himself, he added, had seen to the arrangements for the disposal of
the prisoner in the Abbaye: an inner cell, partially partitioned off in
one of the guard-rooms, with no egress of its own, and only a tiny
grated air-hole high up in the wall, which gave on an outside corridor,
and through which not even a cat could manage to slip. Oh! the prisoner
was well guarded! The citizen Representative need, of a truth, have no
fear! Three or four men—of the best and most trustworthy—had not left
the guard-room since the morning. He himself (Hebert) had kept the
accursed Englishman in sight all night, had personally conveyed him to
the Abbaye, and had only left the guard-room a moment ago in order to
speak with the citizen Representative. He was going back now at once,
and would not move until the order came for the prisoner to be conveyed
to the Court of Justice and thence to summary execution.
For the nonce, Hebert concluded with a complacent chuckle, the
Englishman was still crouching dejectedly in a corner of his new cell,
with little of him visible save that naked shoulder through his torn
shirt, which, in the process of transference from one prison to another,
had become a shade more grimy than before.
Chauvelin nodded, well satisfied. He commended Hebert for his zeal,
rejoiced with him over the inevitable triumph. It would be well to
avenge that awful humiliation at Calais last September. Nevertheless, he
felt anxious and nervy; he could not comprehend the apathy assumed by
the factitious Mole. That the apathy was assumed Chauvelin was keen
enough to guess. What it portended he could not conjecture. But that the
Englishman would make a desperate attempt at escape was, of course, a
foregone conclusion. It rested with Hebert and a guard that could
neither be bribed nor fooled into treachery, to see that such an attempt
What, however, had puzzled citizen Chauvelin all along was the motive
which had induced Sir Percy Blakeney to play the role of menial to Jean
Paul Marat. Behind it there lay, undoubtedly, one of those subtle
intrigues for which that insolent Scarlet Pimpernel was famous; and with
it was associated an attempt at theft upon the murdered body of the
demagogue … an attempt which had failed, seeing that the
supposititious Paul Mole had been searched and nothing suspicious been
found upon his person.
Nevertheless, thoughts of that attempted theft disturbed Chauvelin's
equanimity. The old legend of the crumpled roseleaf was applicable in
his case. Something of his intense satisfaction would pale if this final
enterprise of the audacious adventurer were to be brought to a
triumphant close in the end.
That same forenoon, on his return from the Abbaye and the depot,
Chauvelin found that a visitor was waiting for him. A woman, who gave
her name as Jeannette Marechal, desired to speak with the citizen
Representative. Chauvelin knew the woman as his colleague Marat's
maid-of-all-work, and he gave orders that she should be admitted at
Jeannette Marechal, tearful and not a little frightened, assured the
citizen Representative that her errand was urgent. Her late employer had
so few friends; she did not know to whom to turn until she bethought
herself of citizen Chauvelin. It took him some little time to
disentangle the tangible facts out of the woman's voluble narrative. At
first the words: "Child … Chemin de Pantin … Leridan," were only a
medley of sounds which conveyed no meaning to his ear. But when occasion
demanded, citizen Chauvelin was capable of infinite patience. Gradually
he understood what the woman was driving at.
"The child, citizen!" she reiterated excitedly. "What's to be done about
him? I know that citizen Marat would have wished—"
"Never mind now what citizen Marat would have wished," Chauvelin broke
in quietly. "Tell me first who this child is."
"I do not know, citizen," she replied.
"How do you mean, you do not know? Then I pray you, citizeness, what is
all this pother about?"
"About the child, citizen," reiterated Jeannette obstinately.
"The child whom citizen Marat adopted last year and kept at that awful
house on the Chemin de Pantin."
"I did not know citizen Marat had adopted a child," remarked Chauvelin
"No one knew," she rejoined. "Not even citizeness Evrard. I was the only
one who knew. I had to go and see the child once every month. It was a
wretched, miserable brat," the woman went on, her shrivelled old breast
vaguely stirred, mayhap, by some atrophied feeling of motherhood. "More
than half-starved … and the look in its eyes, citizen! It was enough
to make you cry! I could see by his poor little emaciated body and his
nice little hands and feet that he ought never to have been put in that
awful house, where—"
She paused, and that quick look of furtive terror, which was so often to
be met with in the eyes of the timid these days, crept into her wrinkled
"Well, citizeness," Chauvelin rejoined quietly, "why don't you proceed?
That awful house, you were saying. Where and what is that awful house of
which you speak?"
"The place kept by citizen Leridan, just by Bassin de l'Ourcq," the
woman murmured. "You know it, citizen."
Chauvelin nodded. He was beginning to understand.
"Well, now, tell me," he said, with that bland patience which had so oft
served him in good stead in his unavowable profession. "Tell me. Last
year citizen Marat adopted—we'll say adopted—a child, whom he placed
in the Leridans' house on the Pantin road. Is that correct?"
"That is just how it is, citizen. And I—"
"One moment," he broke in somewhat more sternly, as the woman's
garrulity was getting on his nerves. "As you say, I know the Leridans'
house. I have had cause to send children there myself. Children of
aristos or of fat bourgeois, whom it was our duty to turn into good
citizens. They are not pampered there, I imagine," he went on drily;
"and if citizen Marat sent his—er—adopted son there, it was not with a
view to having him brought up as an aristo, what?"
"The child was not to be brought up at all," the woman said gruffly. "I
have often heard citizen Marat say that he hoped the brat would prove a
thief when he grew up, and would take to alcoholism like a duck takes to
"And you know nothing of the child's parents?"
"Nothing, citizen. I had to go to Pantin once a month and have a look at
him and report to citizen Marat. But I always had the same tale to tell.
The child was looking more and more like a young reprobate every time I
"Did citizen Marat pay the Leridans for keeping the child?"
"Oh, no, citizen! The Leridans make a trade of the children by sending
them out to beg. But this one was not to be allowed out yet. Citizen
Marat's orders were very stern, and he was wont to terrify the Leridans
with awful threats of the guillotine if they ever allowed the child out
of their sight."
Chauvelin sat silent for a while. A ray of light had traversed the dark
and tortuous ways of his subtle brain. While he mused the woman became
impatient. She continued to talk on with the volubility peculiar to her
kind. He paid no heed to her, until one phrase struck his ear.
"So now," Jeannette Marechal was saying, "I don't know what to do. The
ring has disappeared, and the Leridans are suspicious."
"The ring?" queried Chauvelin curtly. "What ring?"
"As I was telling you, citizen," she replied querulously, "when I went
to see the child, the citizen Marat always gave me this ring to show to
the Leridans. Without I brought the ring they would not admit me inside
their door. They were so terrified with all the citizen's threats of the
"And now you say the ring has disappeared. Since when?"
"Well, citizen," replied Jeannette blandly, "since you took poor Paul
Mole into custody."
"What do you mean?" Chauvelin riposted. "What had Paul Mole to do with
the child and the ring?"
"Only this, citizen, that he was to have gone to Pantin last night
instead of me. And thankful I was not to have to go. Citizen Marat gave
the ring to Mole, I suppose. I know he intended to give it to him. He
spoke to me about it just before that execrable woman came and murdered
him. Anyway, the ring has gone and Mole too. So I imagine that Mole has
the ring and—"
"That's enough!" Chauvelin broke in roughly. "You can go!"
"You can go, I said," he reiterated sharply. "The matter of the child
and the Leridans and the ring no longer concerns you. You understand?"
"Y—y—yes, citizen," murmured Jeannette, vaguely terrified.
And of a truth the change in citizen Chauvelin's demeanour was enough to
scare any timid creature. Not that he raved or ranted or screamed. Those
were not his ways. He still sat beside his desk as he had done before,
and his slender hand, so like the talons of a vulture, was clenched upon
the arm of his chair. But there was such a look of inward fury and of
triumph in his pale, deep-set eyes, such lines of cruelty around his
thin, closed lips, that Jeannette Marechal, even with the picture before
her mind of Jean Paul Marat in his maddest moods, fled, with the
unreasoning terror of her kind, before the sternly controlled, fierce
passion of this man.
Chauvelin never noticed that she went. He sat for a long time, silent
and immovable. Now he understood. Thank all the Powers of Hate and
Revenge, no thought of disappointment was destined to embitter the
overflowing cup of his triumph. He had not only brought his arch-enemy
to his knees, but had foiled one of his audacious ventures. How clear
the whole thing was! The false Paul Mole, the newly acquired menial in
the household of Marat, had wormed himself into the confidence of his
employer in order to wrest from him the secret of the aristo's child.
Bravo! bravo! my gallant Scarlet Pimpernel! Chauvelin now could see it
all. Tragedies such as that which had placed an aristo's child in the
power of a cunning demon like Marat were not rare these days, and
Chauvelin had been fitted by nature and by temperament to understand and
appreciate an execrable monster of the type of Jean Paul Marat.
And Paul Mole, the grimy, degraded servant of the indigent demagogue,
the loathsome mask which hid the fastidious personality of Sir Percy
Blakeney, had made a final and desperate effort to possess himself of
the ring which would deliver the child into his power. Now, having
failed in his machinations, he was safe under lock and key—guarded on
sight. The next twenty-four hours would see him unmasked, awaiting his
trial and condemnation under the scathing indictment prepared by
Fouquier-Tinville, the unerring Public Prosecutor. The day after that,
the tumbril and the guillotine for that execrable English spy, and the
boundless sense of satisfaction that his last intrigue had aborted in
such a signal and miserable manner.
Of a truth Chauvelin at this hour had every cause to be thankful, and it
was with a light heart that he set out to interview the Leridans.
The Leridans, anxious, obsequious, terrified, were only too ready to
obey the citizen Representative in all things.
They explained with much complacency that, even though they were
personally acquainted with Jeannette Marechal, when the citizeness
presented herself this very morning without the ring they had refused
her permission to see the brat.
Chauvelin, who in his own mind had already reconstructed the whole
tragedy of the stolen child, was satisfied that Marat could not have
chosen more efficient tools for the execution of his satanic revenge
than these two hideous products of revolutionary Paris.
Grasping, cowardly, and avaricious, the Leridans would lend themselves
to any abomination for a sufficiency of money; but no money on earth
would induce them to risk their own necks in the process. Marat had
obviously held them by threats of the guillotine. They knew the power of
the "Friend of the People," and feared him accordingly. Chauvelin's
scarf of office, his curt, authoritative manner, had an equally
awe-inspiring effect upon the two miserable creatures. They became
absolutely abject, cringing, maudlin in their protestations of good-will
and loyalty. No one, they vowed, should as much as see the child—ring
or no ring—save the citizen Representative himself. Chauvelin, however,
had no wish to see the child. He was satisfied that its name was
Lannoy—for the child had remembered it when first he had been brought
to the Leridans. Since then he had apparently forgotten it, even though
he often cried after his "Maman!"
Chauvelin listened to all these explanations with some impatience. The
child was nothing to him, but the Scarlet Pimpernel had desired to
rescue it from out of the clutches of the Leridans; had risked his
all—and lost it—in order to effect that rescue! That in itself was a
sufficient inducement for Chauvelin to interest himself in the execution
of Marat's vengeance, whatever its original mainspring may have been.
At any rate, now he felt satisfied that the child was safe, and that the
Leridans were impervious to threats or bribes which might land them on
All that they would own to was to being afraid.
"Afraid of what?" queried Chauvelin sharply.
That the brat may be kidnapped … stolen. Oh! he could not be decoyed
… they were too watchful for that! But apparently there were
mysterious agencies at work….
"Mysterious agencies!" Chauvelin laughed aloud at the suggestion. The
"mysterious agency" was even now rotting in an obscure cell at the
Abbaye. What other powers could be at work on behalf of the brat?
Well, the Leridans had had a warning!
"A letter," the man said gruffly. "But as neither my wife nor I can
"Why did you not speak of this before?" broke in Chauvelin roughly. "Let
me see the letter."
The woman produced a soiled and dank scrap of paper from beneath her
apron. Of a truth she could not read its contents, for they were writ in
English in the form of a doggerel rhyme which caused Chauvelin to utter
a savage oath.
"When did this come?" he asked. "And how?"
"This morning, citizen," the woman mumbled in reply. "I found it outside
the door, with a stone on it to prevent the wind from blowing it away.
What does it mean, citizen?" she went on, her voice shaking with terror,
for of a truth the citizen Representative looked as if he had seen some
weird and unearthly apparition.
He gave no reply for a moment or two, and the two catiffs had no
conception of the tremendous effort at self-control which was hidden
behind the pale, rigid mask of the redoubtable man.
"It probably means nothing that you need fear," Chauvelin said quietly
at last. "But I will see the Commissary of the Section myself, and tell
him to send a dozen men of the Surete along to watch your house and be
at your beck and call if need be. Then you will feel quite safe, I
"Oh, yes! quite safe, citizen!" the woman replied with a sigh of genuine
relief. Then only did Chauvelin turn on his heel and go his way.
But that crumpled and soiled scrap of paper given to him by the woman
Leridan still lay in his clenched hand as he strode back rapidly
citywards. It seemed to scorch his palm. Even before he had glanced at
the contents he knew what they were. That atrocious English doggerel,
the signature—a five-petalled flower traced in crimson! How well he
"We seek him here, we seek him there!"
The most humiliating moments in Chauvelin's career were associated with
that silly rhyme, and now here it was, mocking him even when he knew
that his bitter enemy lay fettered and helpless, caught in a trap, out
of which there was no escape possible; even though he knew for a
positive certainty that the mocking voice which had spoken those rhymes
on that far-off day last September would soon be stilled for ever.
No doubt one of that army of abominable English spies had placed this
warning outside the Leridans' door. No doubt they had done that with a
view to throwing dust in the eyes of the Public Prosecutor and causing a
confusion in his mind with regard to the identity of the prisoner at the
Abbaye, all to the advantage of their chief.
The thought that such a confusion might exist, that Fouquier-Tinville
might be deluded into doubting the real personality of Paul Mole,
brought an icy sweat all down Chauvelin's spine. He hurried along the
interminably long Chemin de Pantin, only paused at the Barriere du
Combat in order to interview the Commissary of the Section on the matter
of sending men to watch over the Leridans' house. Then, when he felt
satisfied that this would be effectively and quickly done, an
unconquerable feeling of restlessness prompted him to hurry round to the
lodgings of the Public Prosecutor in the Rue Blanche—just to see him,
to speak with him, to make quite sure.
Oh! he must be sure that no doubts, no pusillanimity on the part of any
official would be allowed to stand in the way of the consummation of all
his most cherished dreams. Papers or no papers, testimony or no
testimony, the incarcerated Paul Mole was the Scarlet Pimpernel—of this
Chauvelin was as certain as that he was alive. His every sense had
testified to it when he stood in the narrow room of the Rue des
Cordeliers, face to face—eyes gazing into eyes—with his sworn enemy.
Unluckily, however, he found the Public Prosecutor in a surly and
obstinate mood, following on an interview which he had just had with
citizen Commissary Cuisinier on the matter of the prisoner Paul Mole.
"His papers are all in order, I tell you," he said impatiently, in
answer to Chauvelin's insistence. "It is as much as my head is worth to
demand a summary execution."
"But I tell you that, those papers of his are forged," urged Chauvelin
"They are not," retorted the other. "The Commissary swears to his own
signature on the identity book. The concierge at the Abbaye swears that
he knows Mole, so do all the men of the Surete who have seen him. The
Commissary has known him as an indigent, good-for-nothing lubbard who
has begged his way in the streets of Paris ever since he was released
from gaol some months ago, after he had served a term for larceny. Even
your own man Hebert admits to feeling doubtful on the point. You have
had the nightmare, citizen," concluded Fouquier-Tinville with a harsh
"But, name of a dog!" broke in Chauvelin savagely. "You are not
proposing to let the man go?"
"What else can I do?" the other rejoined fretfully. "We shall get into
terrible trouble if we interfere with a man like Paul Mole. You know
yourself how it is these days. We should have the whole of the rabble of
Paris clamouring for our blood. If, after we have guillotined him, he is
proved to be a good patriot, it will be my turn next. No! I thank you!"
"I tell you, man," retorted Chauvelin desperately, "that the man is not
Paul Mole—that he is the English spy whom we all know as the Scarlet
"EH BIEN!" riposted Fouquier-Tinville. "Bring me more tangible proof
that our prisoner is not Paul Mole and I'll deal with him quickly
enough, never fear. But if by to-morrow morning you do not satisfy me on
the point … I must let him go his way."
A savage oath rose to Chauvelin's lips. He felt like a man who has been
running, panting to reach a goal, who sees that goal within easy
distance of him, and is then suddenly captured, caught in invisible
meshes which hold him tightly, and against which he is powerless to
struggle. For the moment he hated Fouquier-Tinville with a deadly
hatred, would have tortured and threatened him until he wrung a consent,
an admission, out of him.
Name of a name! when that damnable English spy was actually in his
power, the man was a pusillanimous fool to allow the rich prize to slip
from his grasp! Chauvelin felt as if he were choking; his slender
fingers worked nervily around his cravat; beads of perspiration trickled
unheeded down his pallid forehead.
Then suddenly he had an inspiration—nothing less! It almost seemed as
if Satan, his friend, had whispered insinuating words into his ear. That
scrap of paper! He had thrust it awhile ago into the breast pocket of
his coat. It was still there, and the Public Prosecutor wanted a
tangible proof…. Then, why not….?
Slowly, his thoughts still in the process of gradual coordination,
Chauvelin drew that soiled scrap of paper out of his pocket.
Fouquier-Tinville, surly and ill-humoured, had his back half-turned
towards him, was moodily picking at his teeth. Chauvelin had all the
leisure which he required. He smoothed out the creases in the paper and
spread it out carefully upon the desk close to the other man's elbow.
Fouquier-Tinville looked down on it, over his shoulder.
"What is that?" he queried.
"As you see, citizen," was Chauvelin's bland reply. "A message, such as
you yourself have oft received, methinks, from our mutual enemy, the
But already the Public Prosecutor had seized upon the paper, and of a
truth Chauvelin had no longer cause to complain of his colleague's
indifference. That doggerel rhyme, no less than the signature, had the
power to rouse Fouquier-Tinville's ire, as it had that of disturbing
Chauvelin's well-studied calm.
"What is it?" reiterated the Public Prosecutor, white now to the lips.
"I have told you, citizen," rejoined Chauvelin imperturbably. "A message
from that English spy. It is also the proof which you have demanded of
me—the tangible proof that the prisoner, Paul Mole, is none other than
the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"But," ejaculated the other hoarsely, "where did you get this?"
"It was found in the cell which Paul Mole occupied in the depot of the
Rue de Tourraine, where he was first incarcerated. I picked it up there
after he was removed … the ink was scarcely dry upon it."
The lie came quite glibly to Chauvelin's tongue. Was not every method
good, every device allowable, which would lead to so glorious an end?
"Why did you not tell me of this before?" queried Fouquier-Tinville,
with a sudden gleam of suspicion in his deep-set eyes.
"You had not asked me for a tangible proof before," replied Chauvelin
blandly. "I myself was so firmly convinced of what I averred that I had
well-nigh forgotten the existence of this damning scrap of paper."
Damning indeed! Fouquier-Tinville had seen such scraps of paper before.
He had learnt the doggerel rhyme by heart, even though the English
tongue was quite unfamiliar to him. He loathed the English—the entire
nation—with all that deadly hatred which a divergence of political aims
will arouse in times of acute crises. He hated the English government,
Pitt and Burke and even Fox, the happy-go-lucky apologist of the young
Revolution. But, above all, he hated that League of English spies—as he
was pleased to call them—whose courage, resourcefulness, as well as
reckless daring, had more than once baffled his own hideous schemes of
murder, of pillage, and of rape.
Thank Beelzebub and his horde of evil spirits, citizen Chauvelin had
been clear-sighted enough to detect that elusive Pimpernel under the
disguise of Paul Mole.
"You have deserved well of your country," said Tinville with lusty
fervour, and gave Chauvelin a vigorous slap on the shoulder. "But for
you I should have allowed that abominable spy to slip through our
"I have succeeded in convincing you, citizen?" Chauvelin retorted dryly.
"Absolutely!" rejoined the other. "You may now leave the matter to me.
And 'twill be friend Mole who will be surprised to-morrow," he added
with a harsh guffaw, "when he finds himself face to face with me, before
a Court of Justice."
He was all eagerness, of course. Such a triumph for him! The indictment
of the notorious Scarlet Pimpernel on a charge of espionage would be the
crowning glory of his career! Let other men look to their laurels! Those
who brought that dangerous enemy of revolution to the guillotine would
for ever be proclaimed as the saviours of France.
"A short indictment," he said, when Chauvelin, after a lengthy
discussion on various points, finally rose to take his leave, "but a
scathing one! I tell you, citizen Chauvelin, that to-morrow you will be
the first to congratulate me on an unprecedented triumph."
He had been arguing in favour of a sensational trial and no less
sensational execution. Chauvelin, with his memory harking back on many
mysterious abductions at the very foot of the guillotine, would have
liked to see his elusive enemy quietly put to death amongst a batch of
traitors, who would help to mask his personality until after the
guillotine had fallen, when the whole of Paris should ring with the
triumph of this final punishment of the hated spy.
In the end, the two friends agreed upon a compromise, and parted well
pleased with the turn of events which a kind Fate had ordered for their
own special benefit.
Thus satisfied, Chauvelin returned to the Abbaye. Hebert was safe and
trustworthy, but Hebert, too, had been assailed with the same doubts
which had well-nigh wrecked Chauvelin's triumph, and with such doubts in
his mind he might slacken his vigilance.
Name of a name! every man in charge of that damnable Scarlet Pimpernel
should have three pairs of eyes wherewith to watch his movements. He
should have the alert brain of a Robespierre, the physical strength of a
Danton, the relentlessness of a Marat. He should be a giant in sheer
brute force, a tiger in caution, an elephant in weight, and a mouse in
Name of a name! but 'twas only hate that could give such powers to any
Hebert, in the guard-room, owned to his doubts. His comrades, too,
admitted that after twenty-four hours spent on the watch, their minds
were in a whirl. The Citizen Commissary had been so sure—so was the
chief concierge of the Abbaye even now; and the men of the Surete!…
they themselves had seen the real Mole more than once … and this man
in the cell…. Well, would the citizen Representative have a final good
look at him?
"You seem to forget Calais, citizen Hebert," Chauvelin said sharply,
"and the deadly humiliation you suffered then at the hands of this man
who is now your prisoner. Surely your eyes should have been, at least,
as keen as mine own."
Anxious, irritable, his nerves well-nigh on the rack, he nevertheless
crossed the guard-room with a firm step and entered the cell where the
prisoner was still lying upon the palliasse, as he had been all along,
and still presenting that naked piece of shoulder through the hole in
"He has been like this the best part of the day," Hebert said with a
shrug of the shoulders. "We put his bread and water right under his
nose. He ate and he drank, and I suppose he slept. But except for a good
deal of swearing, he has not spoken to any of us."
He had followed his chief into the cell, and now stood beside the
palliasse, holding a small dark lantern in his hand. At a sign from
Chauvelin he flashed the light upon the prisoner's averted head.
Mole cursed for awhile, and muttered something about "good patriots" and
about "retribution." Then, worried by the light, he turned slowly round,
and with fish-like, bleary eyes looked upon his visitor.
The words of stinging irony and triumphant sarcasm, all fully prepared,
froze on Chauvelin's lips. He gazed upon the prisoner, and a weird sense
of something unfathomable and mysterious came over him as he gazed. He
himself could not have defined that feeling: the very next moment he was
prepared to ridicule his own cowardice—yes, cowardice! because for a
second or two he had felt positively afraid.
Afraid of what, forsooth? The man who crouched here in the cell was his
arch-enemy, the Scarlet Pimpernel—the man whom he hated most bitterly
in all the world, the man whose death he desired more than that of any
other living creature. He had been apprehended by the very side of the
murdered man whose confidence he had all but gained. He himself
(Chauvelin) had at that fateful moment looked into the factitious Mole's
eyes, had seen the mockery in them, the lazy insouciance which was the
chief attribute of Sir Percy Blakeney. He had heard a faint echo of that
inane laugh which grated upon his nerves. Hebert had then laid hands
upon this very same man; agents of the Surete had barred every ingress
and egress to the house, had conducted their prisoner straightway to the
depot and thence to the Abbaye, had since that moment guarded him on
sight, by day and by night. Hebert and the other men as well as the
chief warder, all swore to that!
No, no! There could be no doubt! There was no doubt! The days of magic
were over! A man could not assume a personality other than his own; he
could not fly out of that personality like a bird out of its cage. There
on the palliasse in the miserable cell were the same long limbs, the
broad shoulders, the grimy face with the three days' growth of stubbly
beard—the whole wretched personality of Paul Mole, in fact, which hid
the exquisite one of Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart. And yet!…
A cold sweat ran down Chauvelin's spine as he gazed, mute and immovable,
into those fish-like, bleary eyes, which were not—no! they were not
those of the real Scarlet Pimpernel.
The whole situation became dreamlike, almost absurd. Chauvelin was not
the man for such a mock-heroic, melodramatic situation. Commonsense,
reason, his own cool powers of deliberation, would soon reassert
themselves. But for the moment he was dazed. He had worked too hard, no
doubt; had yielded too much to excitement, to triumph, and to hate. He
turned to Hebert, who was standing stolidly by, gave him a few curt
orders in a clear and well-pitched voice. Then he walked out of the
cell, without bestowing another look on the prisoner.
Mole had once more turned over on his palliasse and, apparently, had
gone to sleep. Hebert, with a strange and puzzled laugh, followed his
chief out of the cell.
At first Chauvelin had the wish to go back and see the Public
Prosecutor—to speak with him—to tell him—what? Yes, what? That he,
Chauvelin, had all of a sudden been assailed with the same doubts which
already had worried Hebert and the others?—that he had told a
deliberate lie when he stated that the incriminating doggerel rhyme had
been found in Mole's cell? No, no! Such an admission would not only be
foolish, it would be dangerous now, whilst he himself was scarce
prepared to trust to his own senses. After all, Fouquier-Tinville was in
the right frame of mind for the moment. Paul Mole, whoever he was, was
safely under lock and key.
The only danger lay in the direction of the house on the Chemin de
Pantin. At the thought Chauvelin felt giddy and faint. But he would
allow himself no rest. Indeed, he could not have rested until something
approaching certainty had once more taken possession of his soul. He
could not—would not—believe that he had been deceived. He was still
prepared to stake his very life on the identity of the prisoner at the
Abbaye. Tricks of light, the flash of the lantern, the perfection of the
disguise, had caused a momentary illusion—nothing more.
Nevertheless, that awful feeling of restlessness which had possessed him
during the last twenty-four hours once more drove him to activity. And
although commonsense and reason both pulled one way, an eerie sense of
superstition whispered in his ear the ominous words, "If, after all!"
At any rate, he would see the Leridans, and once more make sure of them;
and, late as was the hour, he set out for the lonely house on the Pantin
Just inside the Barriere du Combat was the Poste de Section, where
Commissary Burban was under orders to provide a dozen men of the Surete,
who were to be on the watch round and about the house of the Leridans.
Chauvelin called in on the Commissary, who assured him that the men were
at their post.
Thus satisfied, he crossed the Barriere and started at a brisk walk down
the long stretch of the Chemin de Pantin. The night was dark. The
rolling clouds overhead hid the face of the moon and presaged the storm.
On the right, the irregular heights of the Buttes Chaumont loomed out
dense and dark against the heavy sky, whilst to the left, on ahead, a
faintly glimmering, greyish streak of reflected light revealed the
proximity of the canal.
Close to the spot where the main Route de Meux intersects the Chemin de
Pantin, Chauvelin slackened his pace. The house of the Leridans now lay
immediately on his left; from it a small, feeble ray of light, finding
its way no doubt through an ill-closed shutter, pierced the surrounding
gloom. Chauvelin, without hesitation, turned up a narrow track which led
up to the house across a field of stubble. The next moment a peremptory
challenge brought him to a halt.
"Who goes there?"
"Public Safety," replied Chauvelin. "Who are you?"
"Of the Surete," was the counter reply. "There are a dozen of us about
"When did you arrive?"
"Some two hours ago. We marched out directly after you left the orders
at the Commissariat."
"You are prepared to remain on the watch all night?"
"Those are our orders, citizen," replied the man.
"You had best close up round the house, then. And, name of a dog!" he
added, with a threatening ring in his voice. "Let there be no slackening
of vigilance this night. No one to go in or out of that house, no one to
approach it under any circumstances whatever. Is that understood?"
"Those were our orders from the first, citizen," said the man simply.
"And all has been well up to now?"
"We have seen no one, citizen."
The little party closed in around their chief and together they marched
up to the house. Chauvelin, on tenterhooks, walked quicker than the
others. He was the first to reach the door. Unable to find the bell-pull
in the dark, he knocked vigorously.
The house appeared silent and wrapped in sleep. No light showed from
within save that one tiny speck through the cracks of an ill-fitting
shutter, in a room immediately overhead.
In response to Chauvelin's repeated summons, there came anon the sound
of someone moving in one of the upstairs rooms, and presently the light
overhead disappeared, whilst a door above was heard to open and to close
and shuffling footsteps to come slowly down the creaking stairs.
A moment or two later the bolts and bars of the front door were
unfastened, a key grated in the rusty lock, a chain rattled in its
socket, and then the door was opened slowly and cautiously.
The woman Leridan appeared in the doorway. She held a guttering tallow
candle high above her head. Its flickering light illumined Chauvelin's
"Ah! the citizen Representative!" the woman ejaculated, as soon as she
recognised him. "We did not expect you again to-day, and at this late
hour, too. I'll tell my man—"
"Never mind your man," broke in Chauvelin impatiently, and pushed
without ceremony past the woman inside the house. "The child? Is it
He could scarcely control his excitement. There was a buzzing, as of an
angry sea, in his ears. The next second, until the woman spoke, seemed
like a cycle of years.
"Quite safe, citizen," she said placidly. "Everything is quite safe. We
were so thankful for those men of the Surete. We had been afraid before,
as I told the citizen Representative, and my man and I could not rest
for anxiety. It was only after they came that we dared go to bed."
A deep sigh of intense relief came from the depths of Chauvelin's heart.
He had not realised himself until this moment how desperately anxious he
had been. The woman's reassuring words appeared to lift a crushing
weight from his mind. He turned to the man behind him.
"You did not tell me," he said, "that some of you had been here
"We have not been here before," the sergeant in charge of the little
platoon said in reply. "I do not know what the woman means."
"Some of your men came about three hours ago," the woman retorted; "less
than an hour after the citizen Representative was here. I remember that
my man and I marvelled how quickly they did come, but they said that
they had been on duty at the Barriere du Combat when the citizen
arrived, and that he had dispatched them off at once. They said they had
run all the way. But even so, we thought it was quick work—"
The words were smothered in her throat in a cry of pain, for, with an
almost brutal gesture, Chauvelin had seized her by the shoulders.
"Where are those men?" he queried hoarsely. "Answer!"
"In there, and in there," the woman stammered, well-nigh faint with
terror as she pointed to two doors, one on each side of the passage.
"Three in each room. They are asleep now, I should say, as they seem so
quiet. But they were an immense comfort to us, citizen … we were so
thankful to have them in the house…."
But Chauvelin had snatched the candle from her hand. Holding it high
above his head, he strode to the door on the right of the passage. It
was ajar. He pushed it open with a vicious kick. The room beyond was in
"Is anyone here?" he queried sharply.
Nothing but silence answered him. For a moment he remained there on the
threshold, silent and immovable as a figure carved in stone. He had just
a sufficiency of presence of mind and of will power not to drop the
candle, to stand there motionless, with his back turned to the woman and
to the men who had crowded in, in his wake. He would not let them see
the despair, the rage and grave superstitious fear, which distorted
every line of his pallid face.
He did not ask about the child. He would not trust himself to speak, for
he had realised already how completely he had been baffled. Those
abominable English spies had watched their opportunity, had worked on
the credulity and the fears of the Leridans and, playing the game at
which they and their audacious chief were such unconquerable experts,
they had made their way into the house under a clever ruse.
The men of the Surete, not quite understanding the situation, were
questioning the Leridans. The man, too, corroborated his wife's story.
Their anxiety had been worked upon at the moment that it was most acute.
After the citizen Representative left them, earlier in the evening, they
had received another mysterious message which they had been unable to
read, but which had greatly increased their alarm. Then, when the men of
the Surete came…. Ah! they had no cause to doubt that they were men of
the Surete!… their clothes, their speech, their appearance … figure
to yourself, even their uniforms! They spoke so nicely, so reassuringly.
The Leridans were so thankful to see them! Then they made themselves
happy in the two rooms below, and for additional safety the Lannoy child
was brought down from its attic and put to sleep in the one room with
the men of the Surete.
After that the Leridans went to bed. Name of a dog! how were they to
blame? Those men and the child had disappeared, but they (the Leridans)
would go to the guillotine swearing that they were not to blame.
Whether Chauvelin heard all these jeremiads, he could not afterwards
have told you. But he did not need to be told how it had all been done.
It had all been so simple, so ingenious, so like the methods usually
adopted by that astute Scarlet Pimpernel! He saw it all so clearly
before him. Nobody was to blame really, save he himself—he, who alone
knew and understood the adversary with whom he had to deal.
But these people here should not have the gratuitous spectacle of a man
enduring the torments of disappointment and of baffled revenge. Whatever
Chauvelin was suffering now would for ever remain the secret of his own
soul. Anon, when the Leridans' rasping voices died away in one of the
more distant portions of the house and the men of the Surete were busy
accepting refreshment and gratuity from the two terrified wretches, he
had put down the candle with a steady hand and then walked with a firm
step out of the house.
Soon the slender figure was swallowed up in the gloom as he strode back
rapidly towards the city.
Citizen Fouquier-Tinville had returned home from the Palais at a very
late hour that same evening. His household in his simple lodgings in the
Place Dauphine was already abed: his wife and the twins were asleep. He
himself had sat down for a moment in the living-room, in dressing-gown
and slippers, and with the late edition of the Moniteur in his hand, too
tired to read.
It was half-past ten when there came a ring at the front door bell.
Fouquier-Tinville, half expecting citizen Chauvelin to pay him a final
visit, shuffled to the door and opened it.
A visitor, tall, well-dressed, exceedingly polite and urbane, requested
a few minutes' conversation with citizen Fouquier-Tinville.
Before the Public Prosecutor had made up his mind whether to introduce
such a late-comer into his rooms, the latter had pushed his way through
the door into the ante-chamber, and with a movement as swift as it was
unexpected, had thrown a scarf round Fouquier-Tinville's neck and wound
it round his mouth, so that the unfortunate man's call for help was
smothered in his throat.
So dexterously and so rapidly indeed had the miscreant acted, that his
victim had hardly realised the assault before he found himself securely
gagged and bound to a chair in his own ante-room, whilst that dare-devil
stood before him, perfectly at his ease, his hands buried in the
capacious pockets of his huge caped coat, and murmuring a few casual
words of apology.
"I entreat you to forgive, citizen," he was saying in an even and
pleasant voice, "this necessary violence on my part towards you. But my
errand is urgent, and I could not allow your neighbours or your
household to disturb the few minutes' conversation which I am obliged to
have with you. My friend Paul Mole," he went on, after a slight pause,
"is in grave danger of his life owing to a hallucination on the part of
our mutual friend citizen Chauvelin; and I feel confident that you
yourself are too deeply enamoured of your own neck to risk it wilfully
by sending an innocent and honest patriot to the guillotine."
Once more he paused and looked down upon his unwilling interlocutor,
who, with muscles straining against the cords that held him, and with
eyes nearly starting out of their sockets in an access of fear and of
rage, was indeed presenting a pitiful spectacle.
"I dare say that by now, citizen," the brigand continued imperturbably,
"you will have guessed who I am. You and I have oft crossed invisible
swords before; but this, methinks, is the first time that we have met
face to face. I pray you, tell my dear friend M. Chauvelin that you have
seen me. Also that there were two facts which he left entirely out of
his calculations, perfect though these were. The one fact was that there
were two Paul Moles—one real and one factitious. Tell him that, I pray
you. It was the factitious Paul Mole who stole the ring and who stood
for one moment gazing into clever citizen Chauvelin's eyes. But that
same factitious Paul Mole had disappeared in the crowd even before your
colleague had recovered his presence of mind. Tell him, I pray you, that
the elusive Pimpernel whom he knows so well never assumes a fanciful
disguise. He discovered the real Paul Mole first, studied him, learned
his personality, until his own became a perfect replica of the miserable
caitiff. It was the false Paul Mole who induced Jeannette Marechal to
introduce him originally into the household of citizen Marat. It was he
who gained the confidence of his employer; he, for a consideration,
borrowed the identity papers of his real prototype. He again who for a
few francs induced the real Paul Mole to follow him into the house of
the murdered demagogue and to mingle there with the throng. He who
thrust the identity papers back into the hands of their rightful owner
whilst he himself was swallowed up by the crowd. But it was the real
Paul Mole who was finally arrested and who is now lingering in the
Abbaye prison, whence you, citizen Fouquier-Tinville, must free him on
the instant, on pain of suffering yourself for the nightmares of your
"The second fact," he went on with the same good-humoured pleasantry,
"which our friend citizen Chauvelin had forgotten was that, though I
happen to have aroused his unconquerable ire, I am but one man amongst a
league of gallant English gentlemen. Their chief, I am proud to say; but
without them, I should be powerless. Without one of them near me, by the
side of the murdered Marat, I could not have rid myself of the ring in
time, before other rough hands searched me to my skin. Without them, I
could not have taken Madeleine Lannoy's child from out that terrible
hell, to which a miscreant's lustful revenge had condemned the poor
innocent. But while citizen Chauvelin, racked with triumph as well as
with anxiety, was rushing from the Leridans' house to yours, and thence
to the Abbaye prison, to gloat over his captive enemy, the League of the
Scarlet Pimpernel carefully laid and carried out its plans at leisure.
Disguised as men of the Surete, we took advantage of the Leridans'
terror to obtain access into the house. Frightened to death by our
warnings, as well as by citizen Chauvelin's threats, they not only
admitted us into their house, but actually placed Madeleine Lannoy's
child in our charge. Then they went contentedly to bed, and we, before
the real men of the Surete arrived upon the scene, were already safely
out of the way. My gallant English friends are some way out of Paris by
now, escorting Madeleine Lannoy and her child into safety. They will
return to Paris, citizen," continued the audacious adventurer, with a
laugh full of joy and of unconquerable vitality, "and be my henchmen as
before in many an adventure which will cause you and citizen Chauvelin
to gnash your teeth with rage. But I myself will remain in Paris," he
concluded lightly. "Yes, in Paris; under your very nose, and entirely at
The next second he was gone, and Fouquier-Tinville was left to marvel if
the whole apparition had not been a hideous dream. Only there was no
doubt that he was gagged and tied to a chair with cords: and here his
wife found him, an hour later, when she woke from her first sleep,
anxious because he had not yet come to bed.
A QUESTION OF PASSPORTS
Bibot was very sure of himself. There never was, never had been, there
never would be again another such patriotic citizen of the Republic as
was citizen Bibot of the Town Guard.
And because his patriotism was so well known among the members of the
Committee of Public Safety, and his uncompromising hatred of the
aristocrats so highly appreciated, citizen Bibot had been given the most
important military post within the city of Paris.
He was in command of the Porte Montmartre, which goes to prove how
highly he was esteemed, for, believe me, more treachery had been going
on inside and out of the Porte Montmartre than in any other quarter of
Paris. The last commandant there, citizen Ferney, was guillotined for
having allowed a whole batch of aristocrats—traitors to the Republic,
all of them—to slip through the Porte Montmartre and to find safety
outside the walls of Paris. Ferney pleaded in his defence that these
traitors had been spirited away from under his very nose by the devil's
agency, for surely that meddlesome Englishman who spent his time in
rescuing aristocrats—traitors, all of them—from the clutches of Madame
la Guillotine must be either the devil himself, or at any rate one of
his most powerful agents.
"Nom de Dieu! just think of his name! The Scarlet Pimpernel they call
him! No one knows him by any other name! and he is preternaturally tall
and strong and superhumanly cunning! And the power which he has of being
transmuted into various personalities—rendering himself quite
unrecognisable to the eyes of the most sharp-seeing patriot of France,
must of a surety be a gift of Satan!"
But the Committee of Public Safety refused to listen to Ferney's
explanations. The Scarlet Pimpernel was only an ordinary mortal—an
exceedingly cunning and meddlesome personage it is true, and endowed
with a superfluity of wealth which enabled him to break the thin crust
of patriotism that overlay the natural cupidity of many Captains of the
Town Guard—but still an ordinary man for all that! and no true lover of
the Republic should allow either superstitious terror or greed to
interfere with the discharge of his duties which at the Porte Montmartre
consisted in detaining any and every person—aristocrat, foreigner, or
otherwise traitor to the Republic—who could not give a satisfactory
reason for desiring to leave Paris. Having detained such persons, the
patriot's next duty was to hand them over to the Committee of Public
Safety, who would then decide whether Madame la Guillotine would have
the last word over them or not.
And the guillotine did nearly always have the last word to say, unless
the Scarlet Pimpernel interfered.
The trouble was, that that same accursed Englishman interfered at times
in a manner which was positively terrifying. His impudence, certes,
passed all belief. Stories of his daring and of his impudence were
abroad which literally made the lank and greasy hair of every patriot
curl with wonder. 'Twas even whispered—not too loudly, forsooth—that
certain members of the Committee of Public Safety had measured their
skill and valour against that of the Englishman and emerged from the
conflict beaten and humiliated, vowing vengeance which, of a truth, was
still slow in coming.
Citizen Chauvelin, one of the most implacable and unyielding members of
the Committee, was known to have suffered overwhelming shame at the
hands of that daring gang, of whom the so-called Scarlet Pimpernel was
the accredited chief. Some there were who said that citizen Chauvelin
had for ever forfeited his prestige, and even endangered his head by
measuring his well-known astuteness against that mysterious League of
But then Bibot was different!
He feared neither the devil, nor any Englishman. Had the latter the
strength of giants and the protection of every power of evil, Bibot was
ready for him. Nay! he was aching for a tussle, and haunted the purlieus
of the Committees to obtain some post which would enable him to come to
grips with the Scarlet Pimpernel and his League.
Bibot's zeal and perseverance were duly rewarded, and anon he was
appointed to the command of the guard at the Porte Montmartre.
A post of vast importance as aforesaid; so much so, in fact, that no
less a person than citizen Jean Paul Marat himself came to speak with
Bibot on that third day of Nivose in the year I of the Republic, with a
view to impressing upon him the necessity of keeping his eyes open, and
of suspecting every man, woman, and child indiscriminately until they
had proved themselves to be true patriots.
"Let no one slip through your fingers, citizen Bibot," Marat admonished
with grim earnestness. "That accursed Englishman is cunning and
resourceful, and his impudence surpasses that of the devil himself."
"He'd better try some of his impudence on me!" commented Bibot with a
sneer, "he'll soon find out that he no longer has a Ferney to deal with.
Take it from me, citizen Marat, that if a batch of aristocrats escape
out of Paris within the next few days, under the guidance of the d—d
Englishman, they will have to find some other way than the Porte
"Well said, citizen!" commented Marat. "But be watchful to-night …
to-night especially. The Scarlet Pimpernel is rampant in Paris just
"The ci-devant Duc and Duchesse de Montreux and the whole of their
brood—sisters, brothers, two or three children, a priest, and several
servants—a round dozen in all, have been condemned to death. The
guillotine for them to-morrow at daybreak! Would it could have been
to-night," added Marat, whilst a demoniacal leer contorted his face
which already exuded lust for blood from every pore. "Would it could
have been to-night. But the guillotine has been busy; over four hundred
executions to-day … and the tumbrils are full—the seats bespoken in
advance—and still they come…. But to-morrow morning at daybreak
Madame la Guillotine will have a word to say to the whole of the
"But they are in the Conciergerie prison surely, citizen! out of the
reach of that accursed Englishman?"
"They are on their way, an I mistake not, to the prison at this moment.
I came straight on here after the condemnation, to which I listened with
true joy. Ah, citizen Bibot! the blood of these hated aristocrats is
good to behold when it drips from the blade of the guillotine. Have a
care, citizen Bibot, do not let the Montreux crowd escape!"
"Have no fear, citizen Marat! But surely there is no danger! They have
been tried and condemned! They are, as you say, even now on their
way—well guarded, I presume—to the Conciergerie prison!—to-morrow at
daybreak, the guillotine! What is there to fear?"
"Well! well!" said Marat, with a slight tone of hesitation, "it is best,
citizen Bibot, to be over-careful these times."
Even whilst Marat spoke his face, usually so cunning and so vengeful,
had suddenly lost its look of devilish cruelty which was almost
superhuman in the excess of its infamy, and a greyish hue—suggestive of
terror—had spread over the sunken cheeks. He clutched Bibot's arm, and
leaning over the table he whispered in his ear:
"The Public Prosecutor had scarce finished his speech to-day, judgment
was being pronounced, the spectators were expectant and still, only the
Montreux woman and some of the females and children were blubbering and
moaning, when suddenly, it seemed from nowhere, a small piece of paper
fluttered from out the assembly and alighted on the desk in front of the
Public Prosecutor. He took the paper up and glanced at its contents. I
saw that his cheeks had paled, and that his hand trembled as he handed
the paper over to me."
"And what did that paper contain, citizen Marat?" asked Bibot, also
speaking in a whisper, for an access of superstitious terror was
gripping him by the throat.
"Just the well-known accursed device, citizen, the small scarlet flower,
drawn in red ink, and the few words: 'To-night the innocent men and
women now condemned by this infamous tribunal will be beyond your
"And no sign of a messenger?"
"And when did——"
"Hush!" said Marat peremptorily, "no more of that now. To your post,
citizen, and remember—all are suspect! let none escape!"
The two men had been sitting outside a small tavern, opposite the Porte
Montmartre, with a bottle of wine between them, their elbows resting on
the grimy top of a rough wooden table. They had talked in whispers, for
even the walls of the tumble-down cabaret might have had ears.
Opposite them the city wall—broken here by the great gate of
Montmartre—loomed threateningly in the fast-gathering dusk of this
winter's afternoon. Men in ragged red shirts, their unkempt heads
crowned with Phrygian caps adorned with a tricolour cockade, lounged
against the wall, or sat in groups on the top of piles of refuse that
littered the street, with a rough deal plank between them and a greasy
pack of cards in their grimy fingers. Guns and bayonets were propped
against the wall. The gate itself had three means of egress; each of
these was guarded by two men with fixed bayonets at their shoulders, but
otherwise dressed like the others, in rags—with bare legs that looked
blue and numb in the cold—the sans-culottes of revolutionary Paris.
Bibot rose from his seat, nodding to Marat, and joined his men.
From afar, but gradually drawing nearer, came the sound of a ribald
song, with chorus accompaniment sung by throats obviously surfeited with
For a moment—as the sound approached—Bibot turned back once more to
the Friend of the People.
"Am I to understand, citizen," he said, "that my orders are not to let
anyone pass through these gates to-night?"
"No, no, citizen," replied Marat, "we dare not do that. There are a
number of good patriots in the city still. We cannot interfere with
their liberty or—"
And the look of fear of the demagogue—himself afraid of the human
whirlpool which he has let loose—stole into Marat's cruel, piercing
"No, no," he reiterated more emphatically, "we cannot disregard the
passports issued by the Committee of Public Safety. But examine each
passport carefully, citizen Bibot! If you have any reasonable ground for
suspicion, detain the holder, and if you have not——"
The sound of singing was quite near now. With another wink and a final
leer, Marat drew back under the shadow of the cabaret, and Bibot
swaggered up to the main entrance of the gate.
"Qui va la?" he thundered in stentorian tones as a group of some
half-dozen people lurched towards him out of the gloom, still shouting
hoarsely their ribald drinking song.
The foremost man in the group paused opposite citizen Bibot, and with
arms akimbo, and legs planted well apart tried to assume a rigidity of
attitude which apparently was somewhat foreign to him at this moment.
"Good patriots, citizen," he said in a thick voice which he vainly tried
to render steady.
"What do you want?" queried Bibot.
"To be allowed to go on our way unmolested."
"What is your way?"
"Through the Porte Montmartre to the village of Barency."
"What is your business there?"
This query delivered in Bibot's most pompous manner seemed vastly to
amuse the rowdy crowd. He who was the spokesman turned to his friends
and shouted hilariously:
"Hark at him, citizens! He asks me what is our business. Oh, citizen
Bibot, since when have you become blind? A dolt you've always been, else
you had not asked the question."
But Bibot, undeterred by the man's drunken insolence, retorted gruffly:
"Your business, I want to know."
"Bibot! my little Bibot!" cooed the bibulous orator now in dulcet tones,
"dost not know us, my good Bibot? Yet we all know thee, citizen—Captain
Bibot of the Town Guard, eh, citizens! Three cheers for the citizen
When the noisy shouts and cheers from half a dozen hoarse throats had
died down, Bibot, without more ado, turned to his own men at the gate.
"Drive these drunken louts away!" he commanded; "no one is allowed to
Loud protest on the part of the hilarious crowd followed, then a slight
scuffle with the bayonets of the Town Guard. Finally the spokesman,
somewhat sobered, once more appealed to Bibot.
"Citizen Bibot! you must be blind not to know me and my mates! And let
me tell you that you are doing yourself a deal of harm by interfering
with the citizens of the Republic in the proper discharge of their
duties, and by disregarding their rights of egress through this gate, a
right confirmed by passports signed by two members of the Committee of
He had spoken now fairly clearly and very pompously. Bibot, somewhat
impressed and remembering Marat's admonitions, said very civilly:
"Tell me your business then, citizen, and show me your passports. If
everything is in order you may go your way."
"But you know me, citizen Bibot?" queried the other.
"Yes, I know you—unofficially, citizen Durand."
"You know that I and the citizens here are the carriers for citizen
Legrand, the market gardener of Barency?"
"Yes, I know that," said Bibot guardedly, "unofficially."
"Then, unofficially, let me tell you, citizen, that unless we get to
Barency this evening, Paris will have to do without cabbages and
potatoes to-morrow. So now you know that you are acting at your own risk
and peril, citizen, by detaining us."
"Your passports, all of you," commanded Bibot.
He had just caught sight of Marat still sitting outside the tavern
opposite, and was glad enough, in this instance, to shelve his
responsibility on the shoulders of the popular "Friend of the People."
There was general searching in ragged pockets for grimy papers with
official seals thereon, and whilst Bibot ordered one of his men to take
the six passports across the road to citizen Marat for his inspection,
he himself, by the last rays of the setting winter sun, made close
examination of the six men who desired to pass through the Porte
As the spokesman had averred, he—Bibot—knew every one of these men.
They were the carriers to citizen Legrand, the Barency market gardener.
Bibot knew every face. They passed with a load of fruit and vegetables
in and out of Paris every day. There was really and absolutely no cause
for suspicion, and when citizen Marat returned the six passports,
pronouncing them to be genuine, and recognising his own signature at the
bottom of each, Bibot was at last satisfied, and the six bibulous
carriers were allowed to pass through the gate, which they did, arm in
arm, singing a wild curmagnole, and vociferously cheering as they
emerged out into the open.
But Bibot passed an unsteady hand over his brow. It was cold, yet he was
in a perspiration. That sort of thing tells on a man's nerves. He
rejoined Marat, at the table outside the drinking booth, and ordered a
fresh bottle of wine.
The sun had set now, and with the gathering dusk a damp mist descended
on Montmartre. From the wall opposite, where the men sat playing cards,
came occasional volleys of blasphemous oaths. Bibot was feeling much
more like himself. He had half forgotten the incident of the six
carriers, which had occurred nearly half an hour ago.
Two or three other people had, in the meanwhile, tried to pass through
the gates, but Bibot had been suspicious and had detained them all.
Marat having commended him for his zeal took final leave of him. Just as
the demagogue's slouchy, grimy figure was disappearing down a side
street there was the loud clatter of hoofs from that same direction, and
the next moment a detachment of the mounted Town Guard, headed by an
officer in uniform, galloped down the ill-paved street.
Even before the troopers had drawn rein the officer had hailed Bibot.
"Citizen," he shouted, and his voice was breathless, for he had
evidently ridden hard and fast, "this message to you from the citizen
Chief Commissary of the Section. Six men are wanted by the Committee of
Public Safety. They are disguised as carriers in the employ of a market
gardener, and have passports for Barency!… The passports are stolen:
the men are traitors—escaped aristocrats—and their spokesman is that
d—d Englishman, the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Bibot tried to speak; he tugged at the collar of his ragged shirt; an
awful curse escaped him.
"Ten thousand devils!" he roared.
"On no account allow these people to go through," continued the officer.
"Keep their passports. Detain them!… Understand?"
Bibot was still gasping for breath even whilst the officer, ordering a
quick "Turn!" reeled his horse round, ready to gallop away as far as he
"I am for the St. Denis Gate—Grosjean is on guard there!" he shouted.
"Same orders all round the city. No one to leave the gates!…
His troopers fell in. The next moment he would be gone, and those cursed
aristocrats well in safety's way.
The hoarse shout at last contrived to escape Bibot's parched throat. As
if involuntarily, the officer drew rein once more.
"What is it? Quick!—I've no time. That confounded Englishman may be at
the St. Denis Gate even now!"
"Citizen Captain," gasped Bibot, his breath coming and going like that
of a man fighting for his life. "Here!… at this gate!… not half an
hour ago … six men … carriers … market gardeners … I seemed to
know their faces…."
"Yes! yes! market gardener's carriers," exclaimed the officer gleefully,
"aristocrats all of them … and that d—d Scarlet Pimpernel. You've got
them? You've detained them?… Where are they?… Speak, man, in the
name of hell!…"
"Gone!" gasped Bibot. His legs would no longer bear him. He fell
backwards on to a heap of street debris and refuse, from which lowly
vantage ground he contrived to give away the whole miserable tale.
"Gone! half an hour ago. Their passports were in order!… I seemed to
know their faces! Citizen Marat was here…. He, too—"
In a moment the officer had once more swung his horse round, so that the
animal reared, with wild forefeet pawing the air, with champing of bit,
and white foam scattered around.
"A thousand million curses!" he exclaimed. "Citizen Bibot, your head
will pay for this treachery. Which way did they go?"
A dozen hands were ready to point in the direction where the merry party
of carriers had disappeared half an hour ago; a dozen tongues gave
rapid, confused explanations.
"Into it, my men!" shouted the officer; "they were on foot! They can't
have gone far. Remember the Republic has offered ten thousand francs for
the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Already the heavy gates had been swung open, and the officer's voice
once more rang out clear through a perfect thunder-clap of fast
"Ventre a terre! Remember!—ten thousand francs to him who first sights
the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
The thunder-clap died away in the distance, the dust of four score hoofs
was merged in the fog and in the darkness; the voice of the captain was
raised again through the mist-laden air. One shout … a shout of
triumph … then silence once again.
Bibot had fainted on the heap of debris.
His comrades brought him wine to drink. He gradually revived. Hope came
back to his heart; his nerves soon steadied themselves as the heavy
beverage filtrated through into his blood.
"Bah!" he ejaculated as he pulled himself together, "the troopers were
well-mounted … the officer was enthusiastic; those carriers could not
have walked very far. And, in any case, I am free from blame. Citoyen
Marat himself was here and let them pass!"
A shudder of superstitious terror ran through him as he recollected the
whole scene: for surely he knew all the faces of the six men who had
gone through the gate. The devil indeed must have given the mysterious
Englishman power to transmute himself and his gang wholly into the
bodies of other people.
More than an hour went by. Bibot was quite himself again, bullying,
commanding, detaining everybody now.
At that time there appeared to be a slight altercation going on, on the
farther side of the gate. Bibot thought it his duty to go and see what
the noise was about. Someone wanting to get into Paris instead of out of
it at this hour of the night was a strange occurrence.
Bibot heard his name spoken by a raucous voice. Accompanied by two of
his men he crossed the wide gates in order to see what was happening.
One of the men held a lanthorn, which he was swinging high above his
head. Bibot saw standing there before him, arguing with the guard by the
gate, the bibulous spokesman of the band of carriers.
He was explaining to the sentry that he had a message to deliver to the
citizen commanding at the Porte Montmartre.
"It is a note," he said, "which an officer of the mounted guard gave me.
He and twenty troopers were galloping down the great North Road not far
from Barency. When they overtook the six of us they drew rein, and the
officer gave me this note for citizen Bibot and fifty francs if I would
deliver it tonight."
"Give me the note!" said Bibot calmly.
But his hand shook as he took the paper; his face was livid with fear
The paper had no writing on it, only the outline of a small scarlet
flower done in red—the device of the cursed Englishman, the Scarlet
"Which way did the officer and the twenty troopers go," he stammered,
"after they gave you this note?"
"On the way to Calais," replied the other, "but they had magnificent
horses, and didn't spare them either. They are a league and more away by
All the blood in Bibot's body seemed to rush up to his head, a wild
buzzing was in his ears….
And that was how the Duc and Duchesse de Montreux, with their servants
and family, escaped from Paris on that third day of Nivose in the year I
of the Republic.
TWO GOOD PATRIOTS
Being the deposition of citizeness Fanny Roussell, who was brought up,
together with her husband, before the Tribunal of the Revolution on a
charge of treason—both being subsequently acquitted.
My name is Fanny Roussell, and I am a respectable married woman, and as
good a patriot as any of you sitting there.
Aye, and I'll say it with my dying breath, though you may send me to the
guillotine … as you probably will, for you are all thieves and
murderers, every one of you, and you have already made up your minds
that I and my man are guilty of having sheltered that accursed
Englishman whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel … and of having helped
him to escape.
But I'll tell you how it all happened, because, though you call me a
traitor to the people of France, yet am I a true patriot and will prove
it to you by telling you exactly how everything occurred, so that you
may be on your guard against the cleverness of that man, who, I do
believe, is a friend and confederate of the devil … else how could he
have escaped that time?
Well! it was three days ago, and as bitterly cold as anything that my
man and I can remember. We had no travellers staying in the house, for
we are a good three leagues out of Calais, and too far for the folk who
have business in or about the harbour. Only at midday the coffee-room
would get full sometimes with people on their way to or from the port.
But in the evenings the place was quite deserted, and so lonely that at
times we fancied that we could hear the wolves howling in the forest of
It was close on eight o'clock, and my man was putting up the shutters,
when suddenly we heard the tramp of feet on the road outside, and then
the quick word, "Halt!"
The next moment there was a peremptory knock at the door. My man opened
it, and there stood four men in the uniform of the 9th Regiment of the
Line … the same that is quartered at Calais. The uniform, of course, I
knew well, though I did not know the men by sight.
"In the name of the People and by the order of the Committee of Public
Safety!" said one of the men, who stood in the forefront, and who, I
noticed, had a corporal's stripe on his left sleeve.
He held out a paper, which was covered with seals and with writing, but
as neither my man nor I can read, it was no use our looking at it.
Hercule—that is my husband's name, citizens—asked the corporal what
the Committee of Public Safety wanted with us poor hoteliers of a
"Only food and shelter for to-night for me and my men," replied the
corporal, quite civilly.
"You can rest here," said Hercule, and he pointed to the benches in the
coffee-room, "and if there is any soup left in the stockpot, you are
welcome to it."
Hercule, you see, is a good patriot, and he had been a soldier in his
day…. No! no … do not interrupt me, any of you … you would only be
saying that I ought to have known … but listen to the end.
"The soup we'll gladly eat," said the corporal very pleasantly. "As for
shelter … well! I am afraid that this nice warm coffee-room will not
exactly serve our purpose. We want a place where we can lie hidden, and
at the same time keep a watch on the road. I noticed an outhouse as we
came. By your leave we will sleep in there."
"As you please," said my man curtly.
He frowned as he said this, and it suddenly seemed as if some vague
suspicion had crept into Hercule's mind.
The corporal, however, appeared unaware of this, for he went on quite
"Ah! that is excellent! Entre nous, citizen, my men and I have a
desperate customer to deal with. I'll not mention his name, for I see
you have guessed it already. A small red flower, what?… Well, we know
that he must be making straight for the port of Calais, for he has been
traced through St. Omer and Ardres. But he cannot possibly enter Calais
city to-night, for we are on the watch for him. He must seek shelter
somewhere for himself and any other aristocrat he may have with him,
and, bar this house, there is no other place between Ardres and Calais
where he can get it. The night is bitterly cold, with a snow blizzard
raging round. I and my men have been detailed to watch this road, other
patrols are guarding those that lead toward Boulogne and to Gravelines;
but I have an idea, citizen, that our fox is making for Calais, and that
to me will fall the honour of handing that tiresome scarlet flower to
the Public Prosecutor en route for Madame la Guillotine."
Now I could not really tell you, citizens, what suspicions had by this
time entered Hercule's head or mine; certainly what suspicions we did
have were still very vague.
I prepared the soup for the men and they ate it heartily, after which my
husband led the way to the outhouse where we sometimes stabled a
traveller's horse when the need arose.
It is nice and dry, and always filled with warm, fresh straw. The
entrance into it immediately faces the road; the corporal declared that
nothing would suit him and his men better.
They retired to rest apparently, but we noticed that two men remained on
the watch just inside the entrance, whilst the two others curled up in
Hercule put out the lights in the coffee-room, and then he and I went
upstairs—not to bed, mind you—but to have a quiet talk together over
the events of the past half-hour.
The result of our talk was that ten minutes later my man quietly stole
downstairs and out of the house. He did not, however, go out by the
front door, but through a back way which, leading through a
cabbage-patch and then across a field, cuts into the main road some two
hundred metres higher up.
Hercule and I had decided that he would walk the three leagues into
Calais, despite the cold, which was intense, and the blizzard, which was
nearly blinding, and that he would call at the post of gendarmerie at
the city gates, and there see the officer in command and tell him the
exact state of the case. It would then be for that officer to decide
what was to be done; our responsibility as loyal citizens would be
Hercule, you must know, had just emerged from our cabbage-patch on to
the field when he was suddenly challenged:
"Qui va la?"
He gave his name. His certificate of citizenship was in his pocket; he
had nothing to fear. Through the darkness and the veil of snow he had
discerned a small group of men wearing the uniform of the 9th Regiment
of the Line.
"Four men," said the foremost of these, speaking quickly and
commandingly, "wearing the same uniform that I and my men are wearing
… have you seen them?"
"Yes," said Hercule hurriedly.
"Where are they?"
"In the outhouse close by."
The other suppressed a cry of triumph.
"At them, my men!" he said in a whisper, "and you, citizen, thank your
stars that we have not come too late."
"These men …" whispered Hercule. "I had my suspicions."
"Aristocrats, citizen," rejoined the commander of the little party, "and
one of them is that cursed Englishman—the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Already the soldiers, closely followed by Hercule, had made their way
through our cabbage-patch back to the house.
The next moment they had made a bold dash for the barn. There was a
great deal of shouting, a great deal of swearing and some firing, whilst
Hercule and I, not a little frightened, remained in the coffee-room,
anxiously awaiting events.
Presently the group of soldiers returned, not the ones who had first
come, but the others. I noticed their leader, who seemed to be
He looked very cheerful, and laughed loudly as he entered the
coffee-room. From the moment that I looked at his face I knew, somehow,
that Hercule and I had been fooled, and that now, indeed, we stood eye
to eye with that mysterious personage who is called the Scarlet
I screamed, and Hercule made a dash for the door; but what could two
humble and peaceful citizens do against this band of desperate men, who
held their lives in their own hands? They were four and we were two, and
I do believe that their leader has supernatural strength and power.
He treated us quite kindly, even though he ordered his followers to bind
us down to our bed upstairs, and to tie a cloth round our mouths so that
our cries could not be distinctly heard.
Neither my man nor I closed an eye all night, of course, but we heard
the miscreants moving about in the coffee-room below. But they did no
mischief, nor did they steal any of the food or wines.
At daybreak we heard them going out by the front door, and their
footsteps disappearing toward Calais. We found their discarded uniforms
lying in the coffee-room. They must have entered Calais by daylight,
when the gates were opened—just like other peaceable citizens. No doubt
they had forged passports, just as they had stolen uniforms.
Our maid-of-all-work released us from our terrible position in the
course of the morning, and we released the soldiers of the 9th Regiment
of the Line, whom we found bound and gagged, some of them wounded, in
That same afternoon we were arrested, and here we are, ready to die if
we must, but I swear that I have told you the truth, and I ask you, in
the name of justice, if we have done anything wrong, and if we did not
act like loyal and true citizens, even though we were pitted against an
emissary of the devil?
THE OLD SCARECROW
Nobody in the quartier could quite recollect when it was that the new
Public Letter-Writer first set up in business at the angle formed by the
Quai des Augustins and the Rue Dauphine, immediately facing the Pont
Neuf; but there he certainly was on the 28th day of February, 1793, when
Agnes, with eyes swollen with tears, a market basket on her arm, and a
look of dreary despair on her young face, turned that selfsame angle on
her way to the Pont Neuf, and nearly fell over the rickety construction
which sheltered him and his stock-in-trade.
"Oh, mon Dieu! citizen Lepine, I had no idea you were here," she
exclaimed as soon as she had recovered her balance.
"Nor I, citizeness, that I should have the pleasure of seeing you this
morning," he retorted.
"But you were always at the other corner of the Pont Neuf," she argued.
"So I was," he replied, "so I was. But I thought I would like a change.
The Faubourg St. Michel appealed to me; most of my clients came to me
from this side of the river—all those on the other side seem to know
how to read and write."
"I was just going over to see you," she remarked.
"You, citizeness," he exclaimed in unfeigned surprise, "what should
procure a poor public writer the honour of—"
"Hush, in God's name!" broke in the young girl quickly as she cast a
rapid, furtive glance up and down the quai and the narrow streets which
converged at this angle.
She was dressed in the humblest and poorest of clothes, her skimpy shawl
round her shoulders could scarce protect her against the cold of this
cruel winter's morning; her hair was entirely hidden beneath a frilled
and starched cap, and her feet were encased in coarse worsted stockings
and sabots, but her hands were delicate and fine, and her face had that
nobility of feature and look of patient resignation in the midst of
overwhelming sorrow which proclaimed a lofty refinement both of soul and
The old Letter-Writer was surveying the pathetic young figure before him
through his huge horn-rimmed spectacles, and she smiled on him through
her fast-gathering tears. He used to have his pitch at the angle of the
Pont Neuf, and whenever Agnes had walked past it, she had nodded to him
and bidden him "Good morrow!" He had at times done little commissions
for her and gone on errands when she needed a messenger; to-day, in the
midst of her despair, she had suddenly thought of him and that rumour
credited him with certain knowledge which she would give her all to
She had sallied forth this morning with the express purpose of speaking
with him; but now suddenly she felt afraid, and stood looking at him for
a moment or two, hesitating, wondering if she dared tell him—one never
knew these days into what terrible pitfall an ill-considered word might
A scarecrow he was, that old Public Letter-Writer, more like a great,
gaunt bird than a human being, with those spectacles of his, and his
long, very sparse and very lanky fringe of a beard which fell from his
cheeks and chin and down his chest for all the world like a crumpled
grey bib. He was wrapped from head to foot in a caped coat which had
once been green in colour, but was now of many hues not usually seen in
rainbows. He wore his coat all buttoned down the front, like a
dressing-gown, and below the hem there peeped out a pair of very large
feet encased in boots which had never been a pair. He sat upon a
rickety, straw-bottomed chair under an improvised awning which was made
up of four poles and a bit of sacking. He had a table in front of him—a
table partially and very insecurely propped up by a bundle of old papers
and books, since no two of its four legs were completely whole—and on
the table there was a neckless bottle half-filled with ink, a few sheets
of paper and a couple of quill pens.
The young girl's hesitation had indeed not lasted more than a few
Furtively, like a young creature terrified of lurking enemies, she once
more glanced to right and left of her and down the two streets and the
river bank, for Paris was full of spies these days—human bloodhounds
ready for a few sous to sell their fellow-creatures' lives. It was
middle morning now, and a few passers-by were hurrying along wrapped to
the nose in mufflers, for the weather was bitterly cold.
Agnes waited until there was no one in sight, then she leaned forward
over the table and whispered under her breath:
"They say, citizen, that you alone in Paris know the whereabouts of the
English milor'—of him who is called the Scarlet Pimpernel…."
"Hush-sh-sh!" said the old man quickly, for just at that moment two men
had gone by, in ragged coats and torn breeches, who had leered at Agnes
and her neat cap and skirt as they passed. Now they had turned the angle
of the street and the old man, too, sank his voice to a whisper.
"I know nothing of any Englishman," he muttered.
"Yes, you do," she rejoined insistently. "When poor Antoine Carre was
somewhere in hiding and threatened with arrest, and his mother dared not
write to him lest her letter be intercepted, she spoke to you about the
English milor', and the English milor' found Antoine Carre and took him
and his mother safely out of France. Mme. Carre is my godmother…. I
saw her the very night when she went to meet the English milor' at his
commands. I know all that happened then…. I know that you were the
"And if I was," he muttered sullenly as he fiddled with his pen and
paper, "maybe I've had cause to regret it. For a week after that Carre
episode I dared not show my face in the streets of Paris; for nigh on a
fortnight I dared not ply my trade … I have only just ventured again
to set up in business. I am not going to risk my old neck again in a
"It is a matter of life and death," urged Agnes, as once more the tears
rushed to her pleading eyes and the look of misery settled again upon
"Your life, citizeness?" queried the old man, "or that of citizen-deputy
"Hush!" she broke in again, as a look of real terror now overspread her
face. Then she added under her breath: "You know?"
"I know that Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines is fiancee to the
citizen-deputy Arnould Fabrice," rejoined the old man quietly, "and that
it is Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines who is speaking with me now."
"You have known that all along?"
"Ever since mademoiselle first tripped past me at the angle of the Pont
Neuf dressed in winsey kirtle and wearing sabots on her feet…."
"But how?" she murmured, puzzled, not a little frightened, for his
knowledge might prove dangerous to her. She was of gentle birth, and as
such an object of suspicion to the Government of the Republic and of the
Terror; her mother was a hopeless cripple, unable to move: this together
with her love for Arnould Fabrice had kept Agnes de Lucines in France
these days, even though she was in hourly peril of arrest.
"Tell me what has happened," the old man said, unheeding her last
anxious query. "Perhaps I can help …"
"Oh! you cannot—the English milor' can and will if only we could know
where he is. I thought of him the moment I received that awful man's
letter—and then I thought of you…."
"Tell me about the letter—quickly," he interrupted her with some
impatience. "I'll be writing something—but talk away, I shall hear
every word. But for God's sake be as brief as you can."
He drew some paper nearer to him and dipped his pen in the ink. He
appeared to be writing under her dictation. Thin, flaky snow had begun
to fall and settled in a smooth white carpet upon the frozen ground, and
the footsteps of the passers-by sounded muffled as they hurried along.
Only the lapping of the water of the sluggish river close by broke the
absolute stillness of the air.
Agnes de Lucines' pale face looked ethereal in this framework of white
which covered her shoulders and the shawl crossed over her bosom: only
her eyes, dark, appealing, filled with a glow of immeasurable despair,
appeared tensely human and alive.
"I had a letter this morning," she whispered, speaking very rapidly,
"from citizen Heriot—that awful man—you know him?"
"He used to be valet in the service of deputy Fabrice. Now he, too, is a
member of the National Assembly … he is arrogant and cruel and vile.
He hates Arnould Fabrice and he professes himself passionately in love
"Yes, yes!" murmured the old man, "but the letter?"
"It came this morning. In it he says that he has in his possession a
number of old letters, documents and manuscripts which are quite enough
to send deputy Fabrice to the guillotine. He threatens to place all
those papers before the Committee of Public Safety unless … unless
She paused, and a deep blush, partly of shame, partly of wrath, suffused
her pale cheeks.
"Unless you accept his grimy hand in marriage," concluded the man dryly.
Her eyes gave him answer. With pathetic insistence she tried now to
glean a ray of hope from the old scarecrow's inscrutable face. But he
was bending over his writing: his fingers were blue with cold, his great
shoulders were stooping to his task.
"Citizen," she pleaded.
"Hush!" he muttered, "no more now. The very snowflakes are made up of
whispers that may reach those bloodhounds yet. The English milor' shall
know of this. He will send you a message if he thinks fit."
"Not another word, in God's name! Pay me five sous for this letter and
pray Heaven that you have not been watched."
She shivered and drew her shawl closer round her shoulders, then she
counted out five sous with elaborate care and laid them out upon the
table. The old man took up the coins. He blew into his fingers, which
looked paralysed with the cold. The snow lay over everything now; the
rough awning had not protected him or his wares.
Agnes turned to go. The last she saw of him, as she went up the rue
Dauphine, was one broad shoulder still bending over the table, and clad
in the shabby, caped coat all covered with snow like an old Santa Claus.
It was half-an-hour before noon, and citizen-deputy Heriot was preparing
to go out to the small tavern round the corner where he habitually took
his dejeuner. Citizen Rondeau, who for the consideration of ten sous a
day looked after Heriot's paltry creature-comforts, was busy tidying up
the squalid apartment which the latter occupied on the top floor of a
lodging-house in the Rue Cocatrice. This apartment consisted of three
rooms leading out of one another; firstly there was a dark and narrow
antichambre wherein slept the aforesaid citizen-servant; then came a
sitting-room sparsely furnished with a few chairs, a centre table and an
iron stove, and finally there was the bedroom wherein the most
conspicuous object was a large oak chest clamped with wide iron hinges
and a massive writing-desk; the bed and a very primitive washstand were
in an alcove at the farther end of the room and partially hidden by a
At exactly half-past seven that morning there came a peremptory knock at
the door of the antichambre, and as Rondeau was busy in the bedroom,
Heriot went himself to see who his unexpected visitor might be. On the
landing outside stood an extraordinary-looking individual—more like a
tall and animated scarecrow than a man—who in a tremulous voice asked
if he might speak with the citizen Heriot.
"That is my name," said the deputy gruffly, "what do you want?"
He would have liked to slam the door in the old scarecrow's face, but
the latter, with the boldness which sometimes besets the timid, had
already stepped into the anti-chambre and was now quietly sauntering
through to the next room into the one beyond. Heriot, being a
representative of the people and a social democrat of the most advanced
type, was supposed to be accessible to every one who desired speech with
him. Though muttering sundry curses, he thought it best not to go
against his usual practice, and after a moment's hesitation he followed
his unwelcome visitor.
The latter was in the sitting-room by this time; he had drawn a chair
close to the table and sat down with the air of one who has a perfect
right to be where he is; as soon as Heriot entered he said placidly:
"I would desire to speak alone with the citizen-deputy."
And Heriot, after another slight hesitation, ordered Rondeau to close
the bedroom door.
"Keep your ears open in case I call," he added significantly.
"You are cautious, citizen," merely remarked the visitor with a smile.
To this Heriot vouchsafed no reply. He, too, drew a chair forward and
sat opposite his visitor, then he asked abruptly: "Your name and
"My name is Lepine at your service," said the old man, "and by
profession I write letters at the rate of five sous or so, according to
length, for those who are not able to do it for themselves."
"Your business with me?" queried Heriot curtly.
"To offer you two thousand francs for the letters which you stole from
deputy Fabrice when you were his valet," replied Lepine with perfect
In a moment Heriot was on his feet, jumping up as if he had been stung;
his pale, short-sighted eyes narrowed till they were mere slits, and
through them he darted a quick, suspicious glance at the extraordinary
out-at-elbows figure before him. Then he threw back his head and laughed
till the tears streamed down his cheeks and his sides began to ache.
"This is a farce, I presume, citizen," he said when he had recovered
something of his composure.
"No farce, citizen," replied Lepine calmly. "The money is at your
disposal whenever you care to bring the letters to my pitch at the angle
of the Rue Dauphine and the Quai des Augustins, where I carry on my
"Whose money is it? Agnes de Lucines' or did that fool Fabrice send
"No one sent me, citizen. The money is mine—a few savings I possess—I
honour citizen Fabrice—I would wish to do him service by purchasing
certain letters from you."
Then as Heriot, moody and sullen, remained silent and began pacing up
and down the long, bare floor of the room, Lepine added persuasively,
"Well! what do you say? Two thousand francs for a packet of letters—not
a bad bargain these hard times."
"Get out of this room," was Heriot's fierce and sudden reply.
"Get out of this room!"
"As you please," said Lepine as he, too, rose from his chair. "But
before I go, citizen Heriot," he added, speaking very quietly, "let me
tell you one thing. Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines would far sooner cut
off her right hand than let yours touch it even for one instant. Neither
she nor deputy Fabrice would ever purchase their lives at such a price."
"And who are you—you mangy old scarecrow?" retorted Heriot, who was
getting beside himself with rage, "that you should assert these things?
What are those people to you, or you to them, that you should interfere
in their affairs?"
"Your question is beside the point, citizen," said Lepine blandly; "I am
here to propose a bargain. Had you not better agree to it?"
"Never!" reiterated Heriot emphatically.
"Two thousand francs," reiterated the old man imperturbably.
"Not if you offered me two hundred thousand," retorted the other
fiercely. "Go and tell that, to those who sent you. Tell them that
I—Heriot—would look upon a fortune as mere dross against the delight
of seeing that man Fabrice, whom I hate beyond everything in earth or
hell, mount up the steps to the guillotine. Tell them that I know that
Agnes de Lucines loathes me, that I know that she loves him. I know that
I cannot win her save by threatening him. But you are wrong, citizen
Lepine," he continued, speaking more and more calmly as his passions of
hatred and of love seemed more and more to hold him in their grip; "you
are wrong if you think that she will not strike a bargain with me in
order to save the life of Fabrice, whom she loves. Agnes de Lucines will
be my wife within the month, or Arnould Fabrice's head will fall under
the guillotine, and you, my interfering friend, may go to the devil, if
"That would be but a tame proceeding, citizen, after my visit to you,"
said the old man, with unruffled sang-froid. "But let me, in my turn,
assure you of this, citizen Heriot," he added, "that Mlle. de Lucines
will never be your wife, that Arnould Fabrice will not end his valuable
life under the guillotine—and that you will never be allowed to use
against him the cowardly and stolen weapon which you possess."
Heriot laughed—a low, cynical laugh and shrugged his thin shoulders:
"And who will prevent me, I pray you?" he asked sarcastically.
The old man made no immediate reply, but he came just a step or two
closer to the citizen-deputy and, suddenly drawing himself up to his
full height, he looked for one brief moment down upon the mean and
sordid figure of the ex-valet. To Heriot it seemed as if the whole man
had become transfigured; the shabby old scarecrow looked all of a sudden
like a brilliant and powerful personality; from his eyes there flashed
down a look of supreme contempt and of supreme pride, and Heriot—unable
to understand this metamorphosis which was more apparent to his inner
consciousness than to his outward sight, felt his knees shake under him
and all the blood rush back to his heart in an agony of superstitious
From somewhere there came to his ear the sound of two words: "I will!"
in reply to his own defiant query. Surely those words uttered by a man
conscious of power and of strength could never have been spoken by the
dilapidated old scarecrow who earned a precarious living by writing
letters for ignorant folk.
But before he could recover some semblance of presence of mind citizen
Lepine had gone, and only a loud and merry laugh seemed to echo through
the squalid room.
Heriot shook off the remnant of his own senseless terror; he tore open
the door of the bedroom and shouted to Rondeau, who truly was thinking
that the citizen-deputy had gone mad:
"After him!—after him! Quick! curse you!" he cried.
"After whom?" gasped the man.
"The man who was here just now—an aristo."
"I saw no one—but the Public Letter-Writer, old Lepine—I know him
"Curse you for a fool!" shouted Heriot savagely, "the man who was here
was that cursed Englishman—the one whom they call the Scarlet
Pimpernel. Run after him—stop him, I say!"
"Too late, citizen," said the other placidly; "whoever was here before
is certainly half-way down the street by now."
"No use, Ffoulkes," said Sir Percy Blakeney to his friend half-an-hour
later, "the man's passions of hatred and desire are greater than his
The two men were sitting together in one of Sir Percy Blakeney's many
lodgings—the one in the Rue des Petits Peres—and Sir Percy had just
put Sir Andrew Ffoulkes au fait with the whole sad story of Arnould
Fabrice's danger and Agnes de Lucines' despair.
"You could do nothing with the brute, then?" queried Sir Andrew.
"Nothing," replied Blakeney. "He refused all bribes, and violence would
not have helped me, for what I wanted was not to knock him down, but to
get hold of the letters."
"Well, after all, he might have sold you the letters and then denounced
Fabrice just the same."
"No, without actual proofs he could not do that. Arnould Fabrice is not
a man against whom a mere denunciation would suffice. He has the
grudging respect of every faction in the National Assembly. Nothing but
irrefutable proof would prevail against him—and bring him to the
"Why not get Fabrice and Mlle. de Lucines safely over to England?"
"Fabrice would not come. He is not of the stuff that emigres are made
of. He is not an aristocrat; he is a republican by conviction, and a
demmed honest one at that. He would scorn to run away, and Agnes de
Lucines would not go without him."
"Then what can we do?"
"Filch those letters from that brute Heriot," said Blakeney calmly.
"House-breaking, you mean!" commented Sir Andrew Ffoulkes dryly.
"Petty theft, shall we say?" retorted Sir Percy. "I can bribe the lout
who has charge of Heriot's rooms to introduce us into his master's
sanctum this evening when the National Assembly is sitting and the
citizen-deputy safely out of the way."
And the two men—one of whom was the most intimate friend of the Prince
of Wales and the acknowledged darling of London society—thereupon fell
to discussing plans for surreptitiously entering a man's room and
committing larceny, which in normal times would entail, if discovered, a
long term of imprisonment, but which, in these days, in Paris, and
perpetrated against a member of the National Assembly, would certainly
be punished by death.
Citizen Rondeau, whose business it was to look after the creature
comforts of deputy Heriot, was standing in the antichambre facing the
two visitors whom he had just introduced into his master's apartments,
and idly turning a couple of gold coins over and over between his grimy
"And mind, you are to see nothing and hear nothing of what goes on in
the next room," said the taller of the two strangers; "and when we go
there'll be another couple of louis for you. Is that understood?"
"Yes! it's understood," grunted Rondeau sullenly; "but I am running
great risks. The citizen-deputy sometimes returns at ten o'clock, but
sometimes at nine…. I never know."
"It is now seven," rejoined the other; "we'll be gone long before nine."
"Well," said Rondeau surlily, "I go out now for my supper. I'll return
in half an hour, but at half-past eight you must clear out."
Then he added with a sneer:
"Citizens Legros and Desgas usually come back with deputy Heriot of
nights, and citizens Jeanniot and Bompard come in from next door for a
game of cards. You wouldn't stand much chance if you were caught here."
"Not with you to back up so formidable a quintette of stalwarts,"
assented the tall visitor gaily. "But we won't trouble about that just
now. We have a couple of hours before us in which to do all that we
want. So au revoir, friend Rondeau … two more louis for your
complaisance, remember, when we have accomplished our purpose."
Rondeau muttered something more, but the two strangers paid no further
heed to him; they had already walked to the next room, leaving Rondeau
in the antichambre.
Sir Percy Blakeney did not pause in the sitting-room where an oil lamp
suspended from the ceiling threw a feeble circle of light above the
centre table. He went straight through to the bedroom. Here, too, a
small lamp was burning which only lit up a small portion of the
room—the writing-desk and the oak chest—leaving the corners and the
alcove, with its partially drawn curtains, in complete shadow.
Blakeney pointed to the oak chest and to the desk.
"You tackle the chest, Ffoulkes, and I will go for the desk," he said
quietly, as soon as he had taken a rapid survey of the room. "You have
Ffoulkes nodded, and anon in this squalid room, ill-lit, ill-ventilated,
barely furnished, was presented one of the most curious spectacles of
these strange and troublous times: two English gentlemen, the
acknowledged dandies of London drawing-rooms, busy picking locks and
filing hinges like any common house-thieves.
Neither of them spoke, and a strange hush fell over the room—a hush
only broken by the click of metal against metal, and the deep breathing
of the two men bending to their task. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was working
with a file on the padlocks of the oak chest, and Sir Percy Blakeney,
with a bunch of skeleton keys, was opening the drawers of the
writing-desk. These, when finally opened, revealed nothing of any
importance; but when anon Sir Andrew was able to lift the lid of the oak
chest, he disclosed an innumerable quantity of papers and documents tied
up in neat bundles, docketed and piled up in rows and tiers to the very
top of the chest.
"Quick to work, Ffoulkes," said Blakeney, as in response to his friend's
call he drew a chair forward and, seating himself beside the chest,
started on the task of looking through the hundreds of bundles which lay
before him. "It will take us all our time to look through these."
Together now the two men set to work—methodically and quietly—piling
up on the floor beside them the bundles of papers which they had already
examined, and delving into the oak chest for others. No sound was heard
save the crackling of crisp paper and an occasional ejaculation from
either of them when they came upon some proof or other of Heriot's
propensity for blackmail.
"Agnes de Lucines is not the only one whom this brute is terrorising,"
murmured Blakeney once between his teeth; "I marvel that the man ever
feels safe, alone in these lodgings, with no one but that weak-kneed
Rondeau to protect him. He must have scores of enemies in this city who
would gladly put a dagger in his heart or a bullet through his back."
They had been at work for close on half an hour when an exclamation of
triumph, quickly smothered, escaped Sir Percy's lips.
"By Gad, Ffoulkes!" he said, "I believe I have got what we want!"
With quick, capable hands he turned over a bundle which he had just
extracted from the chest. Rapidly he glanced through them. "I have them,
Ffoulkes," he reiterated more emphatically as he put the bundle into his
pocket; "now everything back in its place and—"
Suddenly he paused, his slender hand up to his lips, his head turned
toward the door, an expression of tense expectancy in every line of his
"Quick, Ffoulkes," he whispered, "everything back into the chest, and
the lid down."
"What ears you have," murmured Ffoulkes as he obeyed rapidly and without
question. "I heard nothing."
Blakeney went to the door and bent his head to listen.
"Three men coming up the stairs," he said; "they are on the landing
"Have we time to rush them?"
"No chance! They are at the door. Two more men have joined them, and I
can distinguish Rondeau's voice, too."
"The quintette," murmured Sir Andrew. "We are caught like two rats in a
Even as he spoke the opening of the outside door could be distinctly
heard, then the confused murmur of many voices. Already Blakeney and
Ffoulkes had with perfect presence of mind put the finishing touches to
the tidying of the room—put the chairs straight, shut down the lid of
the oak chest, closed all the drawers of the desk.
"Nothing but good luck can save us now," whispered Blakeney as he
lowered the wick of the lamp. "Quick now," he added, "behind that
tapestry in the alcove and trust to our stars."
Securely hidden for the moment behind the curtains in the dark recess of
the alcove the two men waited. The door leading into the sitting-room
was ajar, and they could hear Heriot and his friends making merry
irruption into the place. From out the confusion of general conversation
they soon gathered that the debates in the Chamber had been so dull and
uninteresting that, at a given signal, the little party had decided to
adjourn to Heriot's rooms for their habitual game of cards. They could
also hear Heriot calling to Rondeau to bring bottles and glasses, and
vaguely they marvelled what Rondeau's attitude might be like at this
moment. Was he brazening out the situation, or was he sick with terror?
Suddenly Heriot's voice came out more distinctly.
"Make yourselves at home, friends," he was saying; "here are cards,
dominoes, and wine. I must leave you to yourselves for ten minutes
whilst I write an important letter."
"All right, but don't be long," came in merry response.
"Not longer than I can help," rejoined Heriot. "I want my revenge
against Bompard, remember. He did fleece me last night."
"Hurry on, then," said one of the men. "I'll play Desgas that return
game of dominoes until then."
"Ten minutes and I'll be back," concluded Heriot.
He pushed open the bedroom door. The light within was very dim. The two
men hidden behind the tapestry could hear him moving about the room
muttering curses to himself. Presently the light of the lamp was shifted
from one end of the room to the other. Through the opening between the
two curtains Blakeney could just see Heriot's back as he placed the lamp
at a convenient angle upon his desk, divested himself of his overcoat
and muffler, then sat down and drew pen and paper closer to him. He was
leaning forward, his elbow resting upon the table, his fingers fidgeting
with his long, lank hair. He had closed the door when he entered, and
from the other room now the voices of his friends sounded confused and
muffled. Now and then an exclamation: "Double!" "Je … tiens!"
"Cinq-deux!" an oath, a laugh, the click of glasses and bottles came out
more clearly; but the rest of the time these sounds were more like a
droning accompaniment to the scraping of Heriot's pen upon the paper
when he finally began to write his letter.
Two minutes went by and then two more. The scratching of Heriot's pen
became more rapid as he appeared to be more completely immersed in his
work. Behind the curtain the two men had been waiting: Blakeney ready to
act, Ffoulkes equally ready to interpret the slightest signal from his
The next minute Blakeney had stolen out of the alcove, and his two
hands—so slender and elegant looking, and yet with a grip of steel—had
fastened themselves upon Heriot's mouth, smothering within the space of
a second the cry that had been half-uttered. Ffoulkes was ready to
complete the work of rendering the man helpless: one handkerchief made
an efficient gag, another tied the ankles securely. Heriot's own
coat-sleeves supplied the handcuffs, and the blankets off the bed tied
around his legs rendered him powerless to move. Then the two men lifted
this inert mass on to the bed and Ffoulkes whispered anxiously: "Now,
Heriot's overcoat, hat, and muffler lay upon a chair. Sir Percy, placing
a warning finger upon his lips, quickly divested himself of his own
coat, slipped that of Heriot on, twisted the muffler round his neck,
hunched up his shoulders, and murmuring: "Now for a bit of luck!" once
more lowered the light of the lamp and then went to the door.
"Rondeau!" he called. "Hey, Rondeau!" And Sir Percy himself was
surprised at the marvellous way in which he had caught the very
inflection of Heriot's voice.
"Hey, Rondeau!" came from one of the players at the table, "the
citizen-deputy is calling you!"
They were all sitting round the table: two men intent upon their game of
dominoes, the other two watching with equal intentness. Rondeau came
shuffling out of the antichambre. His face, by the dim light of the oil
lamp, looked jaundiced with fear.
"Rondeau, you fool, where are you?" called Blakeney once again.
The next moment Rondeau had entered the room. No need for a signal or an
order this time. Ffoulkes knew by instinct what his chief's bold scheme
would mean to them both if it succeeded. He retired into the darkest
corner of the room as Rondeau shuffled across to the writing-desk. It
was all done in a moment. In less time than it had taken to bind and gag
Heriot, his henchman was laid out on the floor, his coat had been taken
off him, and he was tied into a mummy-like bundle with Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes' elegant coat fastened securely round his arms and chest. It
had all been done in silence. The men in the next room were noisy and
intent on their game; the slight scuffle, the quickly smothered cries
had remained unheeded.
"Now, what next?" queried Sir Andrew Ffoulkes once more.
"The impudence of the d—- l, my good Ffoulkes," replied Blakeney in a
whisper, "and may our stars not play us false. Now let me make you look
as like Rondeau as possible—there! Slip on his coat—now your hair over
your forehead—your coat-collar up—your knees bent—that's better!" he
added as he surveyed the transformation which a few deft strokes had
made in Sir Andrew Ffoulkes' appearance. "Now all you have to do is to
shuffle across the room—here's your prototype's handkerchief—of
dubious cleanliness, it is true, but it will serve—blow your nose as
you cross the room, it will hide your face. They'll not heed you—keep
in the shadows and God guard you—I'll follow in a moment or two … but
don't wait for me."
He opened the door, and before Sir Andrew could protest his chief had
pushed him out into the room where the four men were still intent on
their game. Through the open door Sir Percy now watched his friend who,
keeping well within the shadows, shuffled quietly across the room. The
next moment Sir Andrew was through and in the antichambre. Blakeney's
acutely sensitive ears caught the sound of the opening of the outer
door. He waited for a while, then he drew out of his pocket the bundle
of letters which he had risked so much to obtain. There they were neatly
docketed and marked: "The affairs of Arnould Fabrice."
Well! if he got away to-night Agnes de Lucines would be happy and free
from the importunities of that brute Heriot; after that he must persuade
her and Fabrice to go to England and to freedom.
For the moment his own safety was terribly in jeopardy; one false
move—one look from those players round the table…. Bah! even then—!
With an inward laugh he pushed open the door once more and stepped into
the room. For the moment no one noticed him; the game was at its most
palpitating stage; four shaggy heads met beneath the lamp and four pairs
of eyes were gazing with rapt attention upon the intricate maze of the
Blakeney walked quietly across the room; he was just midway and on a
level with the centre table when a voice was suddenly raised from that
tense group beneath the lamp: "Is it thou, friend Heriot?"
Then one of the men looked up and stared, and another did likewise and
exclaimed: "It is not Heriot!"
In a moment all was confusion, but confusion was the very essence of
those hair-breadth escapes and desperate adventures which were as the
breath of his nostrils to the Scarlet Pimpernel. Before those four men
had had time to jump to their feet, or to realise that something was
wrong with their friend Heriot, he had run across the room, his hand was
on the knob of the door—the door that led to the antichambre and to
Bompard, Desgas, Jeanniot, Legros were at his heels, but he tore open
the door, bounded across the threshold, and slammed it to with such a
vigorous bang that those on the other side were brought to a momentary
halt. That moment meant life and liberty to Blakeney; already he had
crossed the antichambre. Quite coolly and quietly now he took out the
key from the inner side of the main door and slipped it to the outside.
The next second—even as the four men rushed helter-skelter into the
antichambre he was out on the landing and had turned the key in the
His prisoners were safely locked in—in Heriot's apartments—and Sir
Percy Blakeney, calmly and without haste, was descending the stairs of
the house in the Rue Cocatrice.
The next morning Agnes de Lucines received, through an anonymous
messenger, the packet of letters which would so gravely have compromised
Arnould Fabrice. Though the weather was more inclement than ever, she
ran out into the streets, determined to seek out the old Public
Letter-Writer and thank him for his mediation with the English milor,
who surely had done this noble action.
But the old scarecrow had disappeared.
A FINE BIT OF WORK
"Sh!… sh!… It's the Englishman. I'd know his footstep anywhere—"
"God bless him!" murmured petite maman fervently.
Pere Lenegre went to the door; he stepped cautiously and with that
stealthy foot-tread which speaks in eloquent silence of daily, hourly
danger, of anguish and anxiety for lives that are dear.
The door was low and narrow—up on the fifth floor of one of the huge
tenement houses in the Rue Jolivet in the Montmartre quarter of Paris. A
narrow stone passage led to it—pitch-dark at all times, but dirty, and
evil-smelling when the concierge—a free citizen of the new
democracy—took a week's holiday from his work in order to spend whole
afternoons either at the wineshop round the corner, or on the Place du
Carrousel to watch the guillotine getting rid of some twenty aristocrats
an hour for the glorification of the will of the people.
But inside the small apartment everything was scrupulously neat and
clean. Petite maman was such an excellent manager, and Rosette was busy
all the day tidying and cleaning the poor little home, which Pere
Lenegre contrived to keep up for wife and daughter by working fourteen
hours a day in the government saddlery.
When Pere Lenegre opened the narrow door, the entire framework of it was
filled by the broad, magnificent figure of a man in heavy caped coat and
high leather boots, with dainty frills of lace at throat and wrist, and
elegant chapeau-bras held in the hand.
Pere Lenegre at sight of him, put a quick finger to his own quivering
"Anything wrong, vieux papa?" asked the newcomer lightly.
The other closed the door cautiously before he made reply. But petite
maman could not restrain her anxiety.
"My little Pierre, milor?" she asked as she clasped her wrinkled hands
together, and turned on the stranger her tear-dimmed restless eyes.
"Pierre is safe and well, little mother," he replied cheerily. "We got
him out of Paris early this morning in a coal cart, carefully hidden
among the sacks. When he emerged he was black but safe. I drove the cart
myself as far as Courbevoie, and there handed over your Pierre and those
whom we got out of Paris with him to those of my friends who were going
straight to England. There's nothing more to be afraid of, petite
maman," he added as he took the old woman's wrinkled hands in both his
own; "your son is now under the care of men who would die rather than
see him captured. So make your mind at ease, Pierre will be in England,
safe and well, within a week."
Petite maman couldn't say anything just then because tears were choking
her, but in her turn she clasped those two strong and slender hands—the
hands of the brave Englishman who had just risked his life in order to
save Pierre from the guillotine—and she kissed them as fervently as she
kissed the feet of the Madonna when she knelt before her shrine in
Pierre had been a footman in the household of unhappy Marie Antoinette.
His crime had been that he remained loyal to her in words as well as in
thought. A hot-headed but nobly outspoken harangue on behalf of the
unfortunate queen, delivered in a public place, had at once marked him
out to the spies of the Terrorists as suspect of intrigue against the
safety of the Republic. He was denounced to the Committee of Public
Safety, and his arrest and condemnation to the guillotine would have
inevitably followed had not the gallant band of Englishmen, known as the
League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, succeeded in effecting his escape.
What wonder that petite maman could not speak for tears when she clasped
the hands of the noble leader of that splendid little band of heroes?
What wonder that Pere Lenegre, when he heard that his son was safe
murmured a fervent: "God bless you, milor, and your friends!" and that
Rosette surreptitiously raised the fine caped coat to her lips, for
Pierre was her twin-brother, and she loved him very dearly.
But already Sir Percy Blakeney had, with one of his characteristic
cheery words, dissipated the atmosphere of tearful emotion which
oppressed these kindly folk.
"Now, Papa Lenegre," he said lightly, "tell me why you wore such a
solemn air when you let me in just now."
"Because, milor," replied the old man quietly, "that d——d concierge,
Jean Baptiste, is a black-hearted traitor."
Sir Percy laughed, his merry, infectious laugh.
"You mean that while he has been pocketing bribes from me, he has
denounced me to the Committee."
Pere Lenegre nodded: "I only heard it this morning," he said, "from one
or two threatening words the treacherous brute let fall. He knows that
you lodge in the Place des Trois Maries, and that you come here
frequently. I would have given my life to warn you then and there,"
continued the old man with touching earnestness, "but I didn't know
where to find you. All I knew was that you were looking after Pierre."
Even while the man spoke there darted from beneath the Englishman's
heavy lids a quick look like a flash of sudden and brilliant light out
of the lazy depths of his merry blue eyes; it was one of those glances
of pure delight and exultation which light up the eyes of the true
soldier when there is serious fighting to be done.
"La, man," he said gaily, "there was no cause to worry. Pierre is safe,
remember that! As for me," he added with that wonderful insouciance
which caused him to risk his life a hundred times a day with a shrug of
his broad shoulders and a smile upon his lips; "as for me, I'll look
after myself, never fear."
He paused awhile, then added gravely: "So long as you are safe, my good
Lenegre, and petite maman, and Rosette."
Whereupon the old man was silent, petite maman murmured a short prayer,
and Rosette began to cry. The hero of a thousand gallant rescues had
received his answer.
"You, too, are on the black list, Pere Lenegre?" he asked quietly.
The old man nodded.
"How do you know?" queried the Englishman.
"Through Jean Baptiste, milor."
"Still that demmed concierge," muttered Sir Percy.
"He frightened petite maman with it all this morning, saying that he
knew my name was down on the Sectional Committee's list as a 'suspect.'
That's when he let fall a word or two about you, milor. He said it is
known that Pierre has escaped from justice, and that you helped him to
"I am sure that we shall get a domiciliary visit presently," continued
Pere Lenegre, after a slight pause. "The gendarmes have not yet been,
but I fancy that already this morning early I saw one or two of the
Committee's spies hanging about the house, and when I went to the
workshop I was followed all the time."
The Englishman looked grave: "And tell me," he said, "have you got
anything in this place that may prove compromising to any of you?"
"No, milor. But, as Jean Baptiste said, the Sectional Committee know
about Pierre. It is because of my son that I am suspect."
The old man spoke quite quietly, very simply, like a philosopher who has
long ago learned to put behind him the fear of death. Nor did petite
maman cry or lament. Her thoughts were for the brave milor who had saved
her boy; but her fears for her old man left her dry-eyed and dumb with
There was silence in the little room for one moment while the angel of
sorrow and anguish hovered round these faithful and brave souls, then
the Englishman's cheery voice, so full of spirit and merriment, rang out
once more—he had risen to his full, towering height, and now placed a
kindly hand on the old man's shoulder:
"It seems to me, my good Lenegre," he said, "that you and I haven't many
moments to spare if we mean to cheat those devils by saving your neck.
Now, petite maman," he added, turning to the old woman, "are you going
to be brave?"
"I will do anything, milor," she replied quietly, "to help my old man."
"Well, then," said Sir Percy Blakeney in that optimistic, light-hearted
yet supremely authoritative tone of which he held the secret, "you and
Rosette remain here and wait for the gendarmes. When they come, say
nothing; behave with absolute meekness, and let them search your place
from end to end. If they ask you about your husband say that you believe
him to be at his workshop. Is that clear?"
"Quite clear, milor," replied petite maman.
"And you, Pere Lenegre," continued the Englishman, speaking now with
slow and careful deliberation, "listen very attentively to the
instructions I am going to give you, for on your implicit obedience to
them depends not only your own life but that of these two dear women. Go
at once, now, to the Rue Ste. Anne, round the corner, the second house
on your right, which is numbered thirty-seven. The porte cochere stands
open, go boldly through, past the concierge's box, and up the stairs to
apartment number twelve, second floor. Here is the key of the
apartment," he added, producing one from his coat pocket and handing it
over to the old man. "The rooms are nominally occupied by a certain
Maitre Turandot, maker of violins, and not even the concierge of the
place knows that the hunchbacked and snuffy violin-maker and the
meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel, whom the Committee of Public Safety would
so love to lay by the heels, are one and the same person. The apartment,
then, is mine; one of the many which I occupy in Paris at different
times," he went on. "Let yourself in quietly with this key, walk
straight across the first room to a wardrobe, which you will see in
front of you. Open it. It is hung full of shabby clothes; put these
aside, and you will notice that the panels at the back do not fit very
closely, as if the wardrobe was old or had been badly put together.
Insert your fingers in the tiny aperture between the two middle panels.
These slide back easily: there is a recess immediately behind them. Get
in there; pull the doors of the wardrobe together first, then slide the
back panels into their place. You will be perfectly safe there, as the
house is not under suspicion at present, and even if the revolutionary
guard, under some meddle-some sergeant or other, chooses to pay it a
surprise visit, your hiding-place will be perfectly secure. Now is all
that quite understood?"
"Absolutely, milor," replied Lenegre, even as he made ready to obey Sir
Percy's orders, "but what about you? You cannot get out of this house,
milor," he urged; "it is watched, I tell you."
"La!" broke in Blakeney, in his light-hearted way, "and do you think I
didn't know that? I had to come and tell you about Pierre, and now I
must give those worthy gendarmes the slip somehow. I have my rooms
downstairs on the ground floor, as you know, and I must make certain
arrangements so that we can all get out of Paris comfortably this
evening. The demmed place is no longer safe either for you, my good
Lenegre, or for petite maman and Rosette. But wherever I may be,
meanwhile, don't worry about me. As soon as the gendarmes have been and
gone, I'll go over to the Rue Ste. Anne and let you know what
arrangements I've been able to make. So do as I tell you now, and in
Heaven's name let me look after myself."
Whereupon, with scant ceremony, he hustled the old man out of the room.
Pere Lenegre had contrived to kiss petite maman and Rosette before he
went. It was touching to see the perfect confidence with which these
simple-hearted folk obeyed the commands of milor. Had he not saved
Pierre in his wonderful, brave, resourceful way? Of a truth he would
know how to save Pere Lenegre also. But, nevertheless, anguish gripped
the women's hearts; anguish doubly keen since the saviour of Pierre was
also in danger now.
When Pere Lenegre's shuffling footsteps had died away along the flagged
corridor, the stranger once more turned to the two women.
"And now, petite maman," he said cheerily, as he kissed the old woman on
both her furrowed cheeks, "keep up a good heart, and say your prayers
with Rosette. Your old man and I will both have need of them."
He did not wait to say good-bye, and anon it was his firm footstep that
echoed down the corridor. He went off singing a song, at the top of his
voice, for the whole house to hear, and for that traitor, Jean Baptiste,
to come rushing out of his room marvelling at the impudence of the man,
and cursing the Committee of Public Safety who were so slow in sending
the soldiers of the Republic to lay this impertinent Englishman by the
A quarter of an hour later half dozen men of the Republican Guard, with
corporal and sergeant in command, were in the small apartment on the
fifth floor of the tenement house in the Rue Jolivet. They had demanded
an entry in the name of the Republic, had roughly hustled petite maman
and Rosette, questioned them to Lenegre's whereabouts, and not satisfied
with the reply which they received, had turned the tidy little home
topsy-turvy, ransacked every cupboard, dislocated every bed, table or
sofa which might presumably have afforded a hiding place for a man.
Satisfied now that the "suspect" whom they were searching for was not on
the premises, the sergeant stationed four of his men with the corporal
outside the door, and two within, and himself sitting down in the centre
of the room ordered the two women to stand before him and to answer his
questions clearly on pain of being dragged away forthwith to the St.
Lazare house of detention.
Petite maman smoothed out her apron, crossed her arms before her, and
looked the sergeant quite straight in the face. Rosette's eyes were full
of tears, but she showed no signs of fear either, although her
shoulder—where one of the gendarmes had seized it so roughly—was
"Your husband, citizeness," asked the sergeant peremptorily, "where is
"I am not sure, citizen," replied petite maman. "At this hour he is
generally at the government works in the Quai des Messageries."
"He is not there now," asserted the sergeant. "We have knowledge that he
did not go back to his work since dinner-time."
Petite maman was silent.
"Answer," ordered the sergeant.
"I cannot tell you more, citizen sergeant," she said firmly. "I do not
"You do yourself no good, woman, by this obstinacy," he continued
roughly. "My belief is that your husband is inside this house, hidden
away somewhere. If necessary I can get orders to have every apartment
searched until he is found: but in that case it will go much harder with
you and with your daughter, and much harder too with your husband than
if he gave us no trouble and followed us quietly."
But with sublime confidence in the man who had saved Pierre and who had
given her explicit orders as to what she should do, petite maman, backed
by Rosette, reiterated quietly:
"I cannot tell you more, citizen sergeant, I do not know."
"And what about the Englishman?" queried the sergeant more roughly, "the
man they call the Scarlet Pimpernel, what do you know of him?"
"Nothing, citizen," replied petite maman, "what should we poor folk know
of an English milor?"
"You know at any rate this much, citizeness, that the English milor
helped your son Pierre to escape from justice."
"If that is so," said petite maman quietly, "it cannot be wrong for a
mother to pray to God to bless her son's preserver."
"It behooves every good citizen," retorted the sergeant firmly, "to
denounce all traitors to the Republic."
"But since I know nothing about the Englishman, citizen sergeant—?"
And petite maman shrugged her thin shoulders as if the matter had ceased
to interest her.
"Think again, citizeness," admonished the sergeant, "it is your
husband's neck as well as your daughter's and your own that you are
risking by so much obstinacy."
He waited a moment or two as if willing to give the old woman time to
speak: then, when he saw that she kept her thin, quivering lips
resolutely glued together he called his corporal to him.
"Go to the citizen Commissary of the Section," he commanded, "and ask
for a general order to search every apartment in No. 24 Rue Jolivet.
Leave two of our men posted on the first and third landings of this
house and leave two outside this door. Be as quick as you can. You can
be back here with the order in half an hour, or perhaps the committee
will send me an extra squad; tell the citizen Commissary that this is a
big house, with many corridors. You can go."
The corporal saluted and went.
Petite maman and Rosette the while were still standing quietly in the
middle of the room, their arms folded underneath their aprons, their
wide-open, anxious eyes fixed into space. Rosette's tears were falling
slowly, one by one down her cheeks, but petite maman was dry-eyed. She
was thinking, and thinking as she had never had occasion to think
She was thinking of the brave and gallant Englishman who had saved
Pierre's life only yesterday. The sergeant, who sat there before her,
had asked for orders from the citizen Commissary to search this big
house from attic to cellar. That is what made petite maman think and
The brave Englishman was in this house at the present moment: the house
would be searched from attic to cellar and he would be found, taken, and
brought to the guillotine.
The man who yesterday had risked his life to save her boy was in
imminent and deadly danger, and she—petite maman—could do nothing to
Every moment now she thought to hear milor's firm tread resounding on
stairs or corridor, every moment she thought to hear snatches of an
English song, sung by a fresh and powerful voice, never after to-day to
be heard in gaiety again.
The old clock upon the shelf ticked away these seconds and minutes while
petite maman thought and thought, while men set traps to catch a
fellow-being in a deathly snare, and human carnivorous beasts lay
lurking for their prey.
Another quarter of an hour went by. Petite maman and Rosette had hardly
moved. The shadows of evening were creeping into the narrow room,
blurring the outlines of the pieces of furniture and wrapping all the
corners in gloom.
The sergeant had ordered Rosette to bring in a lamp. This she had done,
placing it upon the table so that the feeble light glinted upon the belt
and buckles of the sergeant and upon the tricolour cockade which was
pinned to his hat. Petite maman had thought and thought until she could
think no more.
Anon there was much commotion on the stairs; heavy footsteps were heard
ascending from below, then crossing the corridors on the various
landings. The silence which reigned otherwise in the house, and which
had fallen as usual on the squalid little street, void of traffic at
this hour, caused those footsteps to echo with ominous power.
Petite maman felt her heart beating so vigorously that she could hardly
breathe. She pressed her wrinkled hands tightly against her bosom.
There were the quick words of command, alas! so familiar in France just
now, the cruel, peremptory words that invariably preceded an arrest,
preliminaries to the dragging of some wretched—often wholly
harmless—creature before a tribunal that knew neither pardon nor mercy.
The sergeant, who had become drowsy in the close atmosphere of the tiny
room, roused himself at the sound and jumped to his feet. The door was
thrown open by the men stationed outside even before the authoritative
words, "Open! in the name of the Republic!" had echoed along the narrow
The sergeant stood at attention and quickly lifted his hand to his
forehead in salute. A fresh squad of some half-dozen men of the
Republican Guard stood in the doorway; they were under the command of an
officer of high rank, a rough, uncouth, almost bestial-looking creature,
with lank hair worn the fashionable length under his greasy
chapeau-bras, and unkempt beard round an ill-washed and bloated face.
But he wore the tricolour sash and badge which proclaimed him one of the
military members of the Sectional Committee of Public Safety, and the
sergeant, who had been so overbearing with the women just now, had
assumed a very humble and even obsequious manner.
"You sent for a general order to the sectional Committee," said the
new-comer, turning abruptly to the sergeant after he had cast a quick,
searching glance round the room, hardly condescending to look on petite
maman and Rosette, whose very souls were now gazing out of their
"I did, citizen commandant," replied the sergeant.
"I am not a commandant," said the other curtly. "My name is Rouget,
member of the Convention and of the Committee of Public Safety. The
sectional Committee to whom you sent for a general order of search
thought that you had blundered somehow, so they sent me to put things
"I am not aware that I committed any blunder, citizen," stammered the
sergeant dolefully. "I could not take the responsibility of making a
domiciliary search all through the house. So I begged for fuller
"And wasted the Committee's time and mine by such nonsense," retorted
Rouget harshly. "Every citizen of the Republic worthy of the name should
know how to act on his own initiative when the safety of the nation
"I did not know—I did not dare—" murmured the sergeant, obviously
cowed by this reproof, which had been delivered in the rough,
overbearing tones peculiar to these men who, one and all, had risen from
the gutter to places of importance and responsibility in the
"Silence!" commanded the other peremptorily. "Don't waste any more of my
time with your lame excuses. You have failed in zeal and initiative.
That's enough. What else have you done? Have you got the man Lenegre?"
"No, citizen. He is not in hiding here, and his wife and daughter will
not give us any information about him."
"That is their look-out," retorted Rouget with a harsh laugh. "If they
give up Lenegre of their own free will the law will deal leniently with
them, and even perhaps with him. But if we have to search the house for
him, then it means the guillotine for the lot of them."
He had spoken these callous words without even looking on the two
unfortunate women; nor did he ask them any further questions just then,
but continued speaking to the sergeant:
"And what about the Englishman? The sectional Committee sent down some
spies this morning to be on the look-out for him on or about this house.
Have you got him?"
"Not yet, citizen. But—"
"Ah ca, citizen sergeant," broke in the other brusquely, "meseems that
your zeal has been even more at fault than I had supposed. Have you done
anything at all, then, in the matter of Lenegre or the Englishman?"
"I have told you, citizen," retorted the sergeant sullenly, "that I
believe Lenegre to be still in this house. At any rate, he had not gone
out of it an hour ago—that's all I know. And I wanted to search the
whole of this house, as I am sure we should have found him in one of the
other apartments. These people are all friends together, and will always
help each other to evade justice. But the Englishman was no concern of
mine. The spies of the Committee were ordered to watch for him, and when
they reported to me I was to proceed with the arrest. I was not set to
do any of the spying work. I am a soldier, and obey my orders when I get
"Very well, then, you'd better obey them now, citizen sergeant," was
Rouget's dry comment on the other man's surly explanation, "for you seem
to have properly blundered from first to last, and will be hard put to
it to redeem your character. The Republic, remember, has no use for
The sergeant, after this covert threat, thought it best, apparently, to
keep his tongue, whilst Rouget continued, in the same aggressive,
"Get on with your domiciliary visits at once. Take your own men with
you, and leave me the others. Begin on this floor, and leave your sentry
at the front door outside. Now let me see your zeal atoning for your
past slackness. Right turn! Quick march!"
Then it was that petite maman spoke out. She had thought and thought,
and now she knew what she ought to do; she knew that that cruel, inhuman
wretch would presently begin his tramp up and down corridors and stairs,
demanding admittance at every door, entering every apartment. She knew
that the man who had saved her Pierre's life was in hiding somewhere in
the house—that he would be found and dragged to the guillotine, for she
knew that the whole governing body of this abominable Revolution was
determined not to allow that hated Englishman to escape again.
She was old and feeble, small and thin—that's why everyone called her
petite maman—but once she knew what she ought to do, then her spirit
overpowered the weakness of her wizened body.
Now she knew, and even while that arrogant member of an execrated
murdering Committee was giving final instructions to the sergeant,
petite maman said, in a calm, piping voice:
"No need, citizen sergeant, to go and disturb all my friends and
neighbours. I'll tell you where my husband is."
In a moment Rouget had swung round on his heel, a hideous gleam of
satisfaction spread over his grimy face, and he said, with an ugly
"So! you have thought better of it, have you? Well, out with it! You'd
better be quick about it if you want to do yourselves any good."
"I have my daughter to think of," said petite maman in a feeble,
querulous way, "and I won't have all my neighbours in this house made
unhappy because of me. They have all been kind neighbours. Will you
promise not to molest them and to clear the house of soldiers if I tell
you where Lenegre is?"
"The Republic makes no promises," replied Rouget gruffly. "Her citizens
must do their duty without hope of a reward. If they fail in it, they
are punished. But privately I will tell you, woman, that if you save us
the troublesome and probably unprofitable task of searching this
rabbit-warren through and through, it shall go very leniently with you
and with your daughter, and perhaps—I won't promise, remember—perhaps
with your husband also."
"Very good, citizen," said petite maman calmly. "I am ready."
"Ready for what?" he demanded.
"To take you to where my husband is in hiding."
"Oho! He is not in the house, then?"
"Where is he, then?"
"In the Rue Ste. Anne. I will take you there."
Rouget cast a quick, suspicious glance on the old woman, and exchanged
one of understanding with the sergeant.
"Very well," he said after a slight pause. "But your daughter must come
along too. Sergeant," he added, "I'll take three of your men with me; I
have half a dozen, but it's better to be on the safe side. Post your
fellows round the outer door, and on my way to the rue Ste. Anne I will
leave word at the gendarmerie that a small reinforcement be sent on to
you at once. These can be here in five minutes; until then you are quite
Then he added under his breath, so that the women should not hear: "The
Englishman may still be in the house. In which case, hearing us depart,
he may think us all gone and try to give us the slip. You'll know what
to do?" he queried significantly.
"Of course, citizen," replied the sergeant.
"Now, then, citizeness—hurry up."
Once more there was tramping of heavy feet on stone stairs and
corridors. A squad of soldiers of the Republican Guard, with two women
in their midst, and followed by a member of the Committee of Public
Safety, a sergeant, corporal and two or three more men, excited much
anxious curiosity as they descended the steep flights of steps from the
Pale, frightened faces peeped shyly through the doorways at sound of the
noisy tramp from above, but quickly disappeared again at sight of the
grimy scarlet facings and tricolour cockades.
The sergeant and three soldiers remained stationed at the foot of the
stairs inside the house. Then citizen Rouget roughly gave the order to
proceed. It seemed strange that it should require close on a dozen men
to guard two women and to apprehend one old man, but as the member of
the Committee of Public Safety whispered to the sergeant before he
finally went out of the house: "The whole thing may be a trap, and one
can't be too careful. The Englishman is said to be very powerful; I'll
get the gendarmerie to send you another half-dozen men, and mind you
guard the house until my return."
Five minutes later the soldiers, directed by petite maman, had reached
No. 37 Rue Ste. Anne. The big outside door stood wide open, and the
whole party turned immediately into the house.
The concierge, terrified and obsequious, rushed—trembling—out of his
"What was the pleasure of the citizen soldiers?" he asked.
"Tell him, citizeness," commanded Rouget curtly.
"We are going to apartment No. 12 on the second floor," said petite
maman to the concierge.
"Have you a key of the apartment?" queried Rouget.
"No, citizen," stammered the concierge, "but—"
"Well, what is it?" queried the other peremptorily.
"Papa Turandot is a poor, harmless maker of volins," said the concierge.
"I know him well, though he is not often at home. He lives with a
daughter somewhere Passy way, and only uses this place as a workshop. I
am sure he is no traitor."
"We'll soon see about that," remarked Rouget dryly.
Petite maman held her shawl tightly crossed over her bosom: her hands
felt clammy and cold as ice. She was looking straight out before her,
quite dry-eyed and calm, and never once glanced on Rosette, who was not
allowed to come anywhere near her mother.
As there was no duplicate key to apartment No. 12, citizen Rouget
ordered his men to break in the door. It did not take very long: the
house was old and ramshackle and the doors rickety. The next moment the
party stood in the room which a while ago the Englishman had so
accurately described to pere Lenegre in petite maman's hearing.
There was the wardrobe. Petite maman, closely surrounded by the
soldiers, went boldly up to it; she opened it just as milor had
directed, and pushed aside the row of shabby clothes that hung there.
Then she pointed to the panels that did not fit quite tightly together
at the back. Petite maman passed her tongue over her dry lips before she
"There's a recess behind those panels," she said at last. "They slide
back quite easily. My old man is there."
"And God bless you for a brave, loyal soul," came in merry, ringing
accent from the other end of the room. "And God save the Scarlet
These last words, spoken in English, completed the blank amazement which
literally paralysed the only three genuine Republican soldiers
there—those, namely, whom Rouget had borrowed from the sergeant. As for
the others, they knew what to do. In less than a minute they had
overpowered and gagged the three bewildered soldiers.
Rosette had screamed, terror-stricken, from sheer astonishment, but
petite maman stood quite still, her pale, tear-dimmed eyes fixed upon
the man whose gay "God bless you!" had so suddenly turned her despair
How was it that in the hideous, unkempt and grimy Rouget she had not at
once recognised the handsome and gallant milor who had saved her
Pierre's life? Well, of a truth he had been unrecognisable, but now that
he tore the ugly wig and beard from his face, stretched out his fine
figure to its full height, and presently turned his lazy, merry eyes on
her, she could have screamed for very joy.
The next moment he had her by the shoulders and had imprinted two
sounding kisses upon her cheeks.
"Now, petite maman," he said gaily, "let us liberate the old man."
Pere Lenegre, from his hiding-place, had heard all that had been going
on in the room for the last few moments. True, he had known exactly what
to expect, for no sooner had he taken possession of the recess behind
the wardrobe than milor also entered the apartment and then and there
told him of his plans not only for pere's own safety, but for that of
petite maman and Rosette who would be in grave danger if the old man
followed in the wake of Pierre.
Milor told him in his usual light-hearted way that he had given the
Committee's spies the slip.
"I do that very easily, you know," he explained. "I just slip into my
rooms in the Rue Jolivet, change myself into a snuffy and hunchback
violin-maker, and walk out of the house under the noses of the spies. In
the nearest wine-shop my English friends, in various disguises, are all
ready to my hand: half a dozen of them are never far from where I am in
case they may be wanted."
These half-dozen brave Englishmen soon arrived one by one: one looked
like a coal-heaver, another like a seedy musician, a third like a
coach-driver. But they all walked boldly into the house and were soon
all congregated in apartment No. 12. Here fresh disguises were assumed,
and soon a squad of Republican Guards looked as like the real thing as
Pere Lenegre admitted himself that though he actually saw milor
transforming himself into citizen Rouget, he could hardly believe his
eyes, so complete was the change.
"I am deeply grieved to have frightened and upset you so, petite maman,"
now concluded milor kindly, "but I saw no other way of getting you and
Rosette out of the house and leaving that stupid sergeant and some of
his men behind. I did not want to arouse in him even the faintest breath
of suspicion, and of course if he had asked me for the written orders
which he was actually waiting for, or if his corporal had returned
sooner than I anticipated, there might have been trouble. But even
then," he added with his usual careless insouciance, "I should have
thought of some way of baffling those brutes."
"And now," he concluded more authoritatively, "it is a case of getting
out of Paris before the gates close. Pere Lenegre, take your wife and
daughter with you and walk boldly out of this house. The sergeant and
his men have not vacated their post in the Rue Jolivet, and no one else
can molest you. Go straight to the Porte de Neuilly, and on the other
side wait quietly in the little cafe at the corner of the Avenue until I
come. Your old passes for the barriers still hold good; you were only
placed on the 'suspect' list this morning, and there has not been a hue
and cry yet about you. In any case some of us will be close by to help
you if needs be."
"But you, milor," stammered pere Lenegre, "and your friends—?"
"La, man," retorted Blakeney lightly, "have I not told you before never
to worry about me and my friends? We have more ways than one of giving
the slip to this demmed government of yours. All you've got to think of
is your wife and your daughter. I am afraid that petite maman cannot
take more with her than she has on, but we'll do all we can for her
comfort until we have you all in perfect safety—in England—with
Neither pere Lenegre, nor petite maman, nor Rosette could speak just
then, for tears were choking them, but anon when milor stood nearer,
petite maman knelt down, and, imprisoning his slender hand in her brown,
wrinkled ones, she kissed it reverently.
He laughed and chided her for this.
"'Tis I should kneel to you in gratitude, petite maman," he said
earnestly, "you were ready to sacrifice your old man for me."
"You have saved Pierre, milor," said the mother simply.
A minute later pere Lenegre and the two women were ready to go. Already
milor and his gallant English friends were busy once more transforming
themselves into grimy workmen or seedy middle-class professionals.
As soon as the door of apartment No. 12 finally closed behind the three
good folk, my lord Tony asked of his chief:
"What about these three wretched soldiers, Blakeney?"
"Oh! they'll be all right for twenty-four hours. They can't starve till
then, and by that time the concierge will have realised that there's
something wrong with the door of No. 12 and will come in to investigate
the matter. Are they securely bound, though?"
"And gagged! Rather!" ejaculated one of the others. "Odds life,
Blakeney!" he added enthusiastically, "that was a fine bit of work!"
HOW JEAN PIERRE MET THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
As told by Himself
Ah, monsieur! the pity of it, the pity! Surely there are sins which le
bon Dieu Himself will condone. And if not—well, I had to risk His
displeasure anyhow. Could I see them both starve, monsieur? I ask you!
and M. le Vicomte had become so thin, so thin, his tiny, delicate bones
were almost through his skin. And Mme. la Marquise! an angel, monsieur!
Why, in the happy olden days, before all these traitors and assassins
ruled in France, M. and Mme. la Marquise lived only for the child, and
then to see him dying—yes, dying, there was no shutting one's eyes to
that awful fact—M. le Vicomte de Mortain was dying of starvation and of
There we were all herded together in a couple of attics—one of which
little more than a cupboard—at the top of a dilapidated half-ruined
house in the Rue des Pipots—Mme. la Marquise, M. le Vicomte and I—just
think of that, monsieur! M. le Marquis had his chateau, as no doubt you
know, on the outskirts of Lyons. A loyal high-born gentleman; was it
likely, I ask you, that he would submit passively to the rule of those
execrable revolutionaries who had murdered their King, outraged their
Queen and Royal family, and, God help them! had already perpetrated
every crime and every abomination for which of a truth there could be no
pardon either on earth or in Heaven? He joined that plucky but, alas!
small and ill-equipped army of royalists who, unable to save their King,
were at least determined to avenge him.
Well, you know well enough what happened. The counter-revolution failed;
the revolutionary army brought Lyons down to her knees after a siege of
two months. She was then marked down as a rebel city, and after the
abominable decree of October 9th had deprived her of her very name, and
Couthon had exacted bloody reprisals from the entire population for its
loyalty to the King, the infamous Laporte was sent down in order finally
to stamp out the lingering remnants of the rebellion. By that time,
monsieur, half the city had been burned down, and one-tenth and more of
the inhabitants—men, women, and children—had been massacred in cold
blood, whilst most of the others had fled in terror from the appalling
scene of ruin and desolation. Laporte completed the execrable work so
ably begun by Couthon. He was a very celebrated and skilful doctor at
the Faculty of Medicine, now turned into a human hyena in the name of
Liberty and Fraternity.
M. le Marquis contrived to escape with the scattered remnant of the
Royalist army into Switzerland. But Mme la Marquise throughout all these
strenuous times had stuck to her post at the chateau like the valiant
creature that she was. When Couthon entered Lyons at the head of the
revolutionary army, the whole of her household fled, and I was left
alone to look after her and M. le Vicomte.
Then one day when I had gone into Lyons for provisions, I suddenly
chanced to hear outside an eating-house that which nearly froze the
marrow in my old bones. A captain belonging to the Revolutionary Guard
was transmitting to his sergeant certain orders, which he had apparently
The orders were to make a perquisition at ten o'clock this same evening
in the chateau of Mortaine as the Marquis was supposed to be in hiding
there, and in any event to arrest every man, woman, and child who was
found within its walls.
"Citizen Laporte," the captain concluded, "knows for a certainty that
the ci-devant Marquise and her brat are still there, even if the Marquis
has fled like the traitor that he is. Those cursed English spies who
call themselves the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel have been very
active in Lyons of late, and citizen Laporte is afraid that they might
cheat the guillotine of the carcase of those aristos, as they have
already succeeded in doing in the case of a large number of traitors."
I did not, of course, wait to hear any more of that abominable talk. I
sped home as fast as my old legs would carry me. That self-same evening,
as soon as it was dark, Mme. la Marquise, carrying M. le Vicomte in her
arms and I carrying a pack with a few necessaries on my back, left the
ancestral home of the Mortaines never to return to it again: for within
an hour of our flight a detachment of the revolutionary army made a
descent upon the chateau; they ransacked it from attic to cellar, and
finding nothing there to satisfy their lust of hate, they burned the
stately mansion down to the ground.
We were obliged to take refuge in Lyons, at any rate for a time. Great
as was the danger inside the city, it was infinitely greater on the high
roads, unless we could arrange for some vehicle to take us a
considerable part of the way to the frontier, and above all for some
sort of passports—forged or otherwise—to enable us to pass the various
toll-gates on the road, where vigilance was very strict. So we wandered
through the ruined and deserted streets of the city in search of
shelter, but found every charred and derelict house full of miserable
tramps and destitutes like ourselves. Half dead with fatigue, Mme. la
Marquise was at last obliged to take refuge in one of these houses which
was situated in the Rue des Pipots. Every room was full to overflowing
with a miserable wreckage of humanity thrown hither by the tide of
anarchy and of bloodshed. But at the top of the house we found an attic.
It was empty save for a couple of chairs, a table and a broken-down
bedstead on which were a ragged mattress and pillow.
Here, monsieur, we spent over three weeks, at the end of which time M.
le Vicomte fell ill, and then there followed days, monsieur, through
which I would not like my worst enemy to pass.
Mme. la Marquise had only been able to carry away in her flight what
ready money she happened to have in the house at the time. Securities,
property, money belonging to aristocrats had been ruthlessly confiscated
by the revolutionary government in Lyons. Our scanty resources rapidly
became exhausted, and what was left had to be kept for milk and
delicacies for M. le Vicomte. I tramped through the streets in search of
a doctor, but most of them had been arrested on some paltry charge or
other of rebellion, whilst others had fled from the city. There was only
that infamous Laporte—a vastly clever doctor, I knew—but as soon take
a lamb to a hungry lion as the Vicomte de Mortaine to that bloodthirsty
Then one day our last franc went and we had nothing left. Mme. la
Marquise had not touched food for two days. I had stood at the corner of
the street, begging all the day until I was driven off by the gendarmes.
I had only obtained three sous from the passers-by. I bought some milk
and took it home for M. le Vicomte. The following morning when I entered
the larger attic I found that Mme. la Marquise had fainted from
I spent the whole of the day begging in the streets and dodging the
guard, and even so I only collected four sous. I could have got more
perhaps, only that at about midday the smell of food from an
eating-house turned me sick and faint, and when I regained consciousness
I found myself huddled up under a doorway and evening gathering in fast
around me. If Mme. la Marquise could go two days without food I ought to
go four. I struggled to my feet; fortunately I had retained possession
of my four sous, else of a truth I would not have had the courage to go
back to the miserable attic which was the only home I knew.
I was wending my way along as fast as I could—for I knew that Mme. la
Marquise would be getting terribly anxious—when, just as I turned into
the Rue Blanche, I spied two gentlemen—obviously strangers, for they
were dressed with a luxury and care with which we had long ceased to be
familiar in Lyons—walking rapidly towards me. A moment or two later
they came to a halt, not far from where I was standing, and I heard the
taller one of the two say to the other in English—a language with which
I am vaguely conversant: "All right again this time, what, Tony?"
Both laughed merrily like a couple of schoolboys playing truant, and
then they disappeared under the doorway of a dilapidated house, whilst I
was left wondering how two such elegant gentlemen dared be abroad in
Lyons these days, seeing that every man, woman and child who was dressed
in anything but threadbare clothes was sure to be insulted in the
streets for an aristocrat, and as often as not summarily arrested as a
However, I had other things to think about, and had already dismissed
the little incident from my mind, when at the bottom of the Rue Blanche
I came upon a knot of gaffers, men and women, who were talking and
gesticulating very excitedly outside the door of a cook-shop. At first I
did not take much notice of what was said: my eyes were glued to the
front of the shop, on which were displayed sundry delicacies of the kind
which makes a wretched, starved beggar's mouth water as he goes by; a
roast capon especially attracted my attention, together with a bottle of
red wine; these looked just the sort of luscious food which Mme. la
Marquise would relish.
Well, sir, the law of God says: "Thou shalt not covet!" and no doubt
that I committed a grievous sin when my hungry eyes fastened upon that
roast capon and that bottle of Burgundy. We also know the stories of
Judas Iscariot and of Jacob's children who sold their own brother Joseph
into slavery—such a crime, monsieur, I took upon my conscience then;
for just as the vision of Mme. la Marquise eating that roast capon and
drinking that Burgundy rose before my eyes, my ears caught some
fragments of the excited conversation which was going on all around me.
"He went this way!" someone said.
"No; that!" protested another.
"There's no sign of him now, anyway."
The owner of the shop was standing on his own doorstep, his legs wide
apart, one arm on his wide hip, the other still brandishing the knife
wherewith he had been carving for his customers.
"He can't have gone far," he said, as he smacked his thick lips.
"The impudent rascal, flaunting such fine clothes—like the aristo that
"Bah! these cursed English! They are aristos all of them! And this one
with his followers is no better than a spy!"
"Paid by that damned English Government to murder all our patriots and
to rob the guillotine of her just dues."
"They say he had a hand in the escape of the ci-devant Duc de Sermeuse
and all his brats from the very tumbril which was taking them to
A cry of loathing and execration followed this statement. There was
vigorous shaking of clenched fists and then a groan of baffled rage.
"We almost had him this time. If it had not been for these confounded,
"I would give something," concluded the shopkeeper, "if we could lay him
by the heels."
"What would you give, citizen Dompierre?" queried a woman in the crowd,
with a ribald laugh, "one of your roast capons?"
"Aye, little mother," he replied jovially, "and a bottle of my best
Burgundy to boot, to drink confusion to that meddlesome Englishman and
his crowd and a speedy promenade up the steps of the guillotine."
Monsieur, I assure you that at that moment my heart absolutely stood
still. The tempter stood at my elbow and whispered, and I deliberately
smothered the call of my conscience. I did what Joseph's brethren did,
what brought Judas Iscariot to hopeless remorse. There was no doubt that
the hue and cry was after the two elegantly dressed gentlemen whom I had
seen enter the dilapidated house in the Rue Blanche. For a second or two
I closed my eyes and deliberately conjured up the vision of Mme. la
Marquise fainting for lack of food, and of M. le Vicomte dying for want
of sustenance; then I worked my way to the door of the shop and accosted
the burly proprietor with as much boldness as I could muster.
"The two Englishmen passed by me at the top of the Rue Blanche," I said
to him. "They went into a house … I can show you which it is—-"
In a moment I was surrounded by a screeching, gesticulating crowd. I
told my story as best I could; there was no turning back now from the
path of cowardice and of crime. I saw that brute Dompierre pick up the
largest roast capon from the front of his shop, together with a bottle
of that wine which I had coveted; then he thrust both these treasures
into my trembling hands and said:
And we all started to run up the street, shouting: "Death to the English
spies!" I was the hero of the expedition. Dompierre and another man
carried me, for I was too weak to go as fast as they wished. I was
hugging the capon and the bottle of wine to my heart; I had need to do
that, so as to still the insistent call of my conscience, for I felt a
coward—a mean, treacherous, abominable coward!
When we reached the house and I pointed it out to Dompierre, the crowd
behind us gave a cry of triumph. In the topmost storey a window was
thrown open, two heads appeared silhouetted against the light within,
and the cry of triumph below was answered by a merry, prolonged laugh
I was too dazed to realise very clearly what happened after that.
Dompierre, I know, kicked open the door of the house, and the crowd
rushed in, in his wake. I managed to keep my feet and to work my way
gradually out of the crowd. I must have gone on mechanically, almost
unconsciously, for the next thing that I remember with any distinctness
was that I found myself once more speeding down the Rue Blanche, with
all the yelling and shouting some little way behind me.
With blind instinct, too, I had clung to the capon and the wine, the
price of my infamy. I was terribly weak and felt sick and faint, but I
struggled on for a while, until my knees refused me service and I came
down on my two hands, whilst the capon rolled away into the gutter, and
the bottle of Burgundy fell with a crash against the pavement,
scattering its precious contents in every direction.
There I lay, wretched, despairing, hardly able to move, when suddenly I
heard rapid and firm footsteps immediately behind me, and the next
moment two firm hands had me under the arms, and I heard a voice saying:
"Steady, old friend. Can you get up? There! Is that better?"
The same firm hands raised me to my feet. At first I was too dazed to
see anything, but after a moment or two I was able to look around me,
and, by the light of a street lanthorn immediately overhead, I
recognised the tall, elegantly dressed Englishman and his friend, whom I
had just betrayed to the fury of Dompierre and a savage mob.
I thought that I was dreaming, and I suppose that my eyes betrayed the
horror which I felt, for the stranger looked at me scrutinisingly for a
moment or two, then he gave the quaintest laugh I had ever heard in all
my life, and said something to his friend in English, which this time I
failed to understand.
Then he turned to me:
"By my faith," he said in perfect French—so that I began to doubt if he
was an English spy after all—"I verily believe that you are the clever
rogue, eh? who obtained a roast capon and a bottle of wine from that
fool Dompierre. He and his boon companions are venting their wrath on
you, old compeer; they are calling you liar and traitor and cheat, in
the intervals of wrecking what is left of the house, out of which my
friend and I have long since escaped by climbing up the neighbouring
gutter-pipes and scrambling over the adjoining roofs."
Monsieur, will you believe me when I say that he was actually saying all
this in order to comfort me? I could have sworn to that because of the
wonderful kindliness which shone out of his eyes, even through the
good-humoured mockery wherewith he obviously regarded me. Do you know
what I did then, monsieur? I just fell on my knees and loudly thanked
God that he was safe; at which both he and his friend once again began
to laugh, for all the world like two schoolboys who had escaped a
whipping, rather than two men who were still threatened with death.
"Then it WAS you!" said the taller stranger, who was still laughing so
heartily that he had to wipe his eyes with his exquisite lace
"May God forgive me," I replied.
The next moment his arm was again round me. I clung to him as to a rock,
for of a truth I had never felt a grasp so steady and withal so gentle
and kindly, as was his around my shoulders. I tried to murmur words of
thanks, but again that wretched feeling of sickness and faintness
overcame me, and for a second or two it seemed to me as if I were
slipping into another world. The stranger's voice came to my ear, as it
were through cotton-wool.
"The man is starving," he said. "Shall we take him over to your
lodgings, Tony? They are safer than mine. He may be able to walk in a
minute or two, if not I can carry him."
My senses at this partly returned to me, and I was able to protest
"No, no! I must go back—I must—kind sirs," I murmured. "Mme. la
Marquise will be getting so anxious."
No sooner were these foolish words out of my mouth than I could have
bitten my tongue out for having uttered them; and yet, somehow, it
seemed as if it was the stranger's magnetic personality, his magic voice
and kindly act towards me, who had so basely sold him to his enemies,
which had drawn them out of me. He gave a low, prolonged whistle.
"Mme. la Marquise?" he queried, dropping his voice to a whisper.
Now to have uttered Mme. la Marquise de Mortaine's name here in Lyons,
where every aristocrat was termed a traitor and sent without trial to
the guillotine, was in itself an act of criminal folly, and yet—you may
believe me, monsieur, or not—there was something within me just at that
moment that literally compelled me to open my heart out to this
stranger, whom I had so basely betrayed, and who requited my abominable
crime with such gentleness and mercy. Before I fully realised what I was
doing, monsieur, I had blurted out the whole history of Mme. la
Marquise's flight and of M. le Vicomte's sickness to him. He drew me
under the cover of an open doorway, and he and his friend listened to me
without speaking a word until I had told them my pitiable tale to the
When I had finished he said quietly:
"Take me to see Mme. la Marquise, old friend. Who knows? perhaps I may
be able to help."
Then he turned to his friend.
"Will you wait for me at my lodgings, Tony," he said, "and let Ffoulkes
and Hastings know that I may wish to speak with them on my return?"
He spoke like one who had been accustomed all his life to give command,
and I marvelled how his friend immediately obeyed him. Then when the
latter had disappeared down the dark street, the stranger once more
turned to me.
"Lean on my arm, good old friend," he said, "and we must try and walk as
quickly as we can. The sooner we allay the anxieties of Mme. la Marquise
I was still hugging the roast capon with one arm, with the other I clung
to him as together we walked in the direction of the Rue des Pipots. On
the way we halted at a respectable eating-house, where my protector gave
me some money wherewith to buy a bottle of good wine and sundry
provisions and delicacies which we carried home with us.
Never shall I forget the look of horror which came in Mme. la Marquise's
eyes when she saw me entering our miserable attic in the company of a
stranger. The last of the little bit of tallow candle flickered in its
socket. Madame threw her emaciated arms over her child, just like some
poor hunted animal defending its young. I could almost hear the cry of
terror which died down in her throat ere it reached her lips. But then,
monsieur, to see the light of hope gradually illuminating her pale, wan
face as the stranger took her hand and spoke to her—oh! so gently and
so kindly—was a sight which filled my poor, half-broken heart with joy.
"The little invalid must be seen by a doctor at once," he said, "after
that only can we think of your ultimate safety."
Mme. la Marquise, who herself was terribly weak and ill, burst out
crying. "Would I not have taken him to a doctor ere now?" she murmured
through her tears. "But there is no doctor in Lyons. Those who have not
been arrested as traitors have fled from this stricken city. And my
little Jose is dying for want of medical care."
"Your pardon, madame," he rejoined gently, "one of the ablest doctors in
France is at present in Lyons—-"
"That infamous Laporte," she broke in, horrified. "He would snatch my
sick child from my arms and throw him to the guillotine."
"He would save your boy from disease," said the stranger earnestly, "his
own professional pride or professional honour, whatever he might choose
to call it, would compel him to do that. But the moment the doctor's
work was done, that of the executioner would commence."
"You see, milor," moaned Madame in pitiable agony, "that there is no
hope for us."
"Indeed there is," he replied. "We must get M. le Vicomte well
first—after that we shall see."
"But you are not proposing to bring that infamous Laporte to my child's
bedside!" she cried in horror.
"Would you have your child die here before your eyes," retorted the
stranger, "as he undoubtedly will this night?"
This sounded horribly cruel, and the tone in which it was said was
commanding. There was no denying its truth. M. le Vicomte was dying. I
could see that. For a moment or two madame remained quite still, with
her great eyes, circled with pain and sorrow, fixed upon the stranger.
He returned her gaze steadily and kindly, and gradually that frozen look
of horror in her pale face gave place to one of deep puzzlement, and
through her bloodless lips there came the words, faintly murmured: "Who
He gave no direct reply, but from his little finger he detached a ring
and held it out for her to see. I saw it too, for I was standing close
by Mme. la Marquise, and the flickering light of the tallow candle fell
full upon the ring. It was of gold, and upon it there was an exquisitely
modelled, five-petalled little flower in vivid red enamel.
Madame la Marquise looked at the ring, then once again up into his face.
He nodded assent, and my heart seemed even then to stop its beating as I
gazed upon his face. Had we not—all of us—heard of the gallant Scarlet
Pimpernel? And did I not know—far better than Mme. la Marquise
herself—the full extent of his gallantry and his self-sacrifice? The
hue and cry was after him. Human bloodhounds were even now on his track,
and he spoke calmly of walking out again in the streets of Lyons and of
affronting that infamous Laporte, who would find glory in sending him to
death. I think he guessed what was passing in my mind, for he put a
finger up to his lip and pointed significantly to M. le Vicomte.
But it was beautiful to see how completely Mme. la Marquise now trusted
him. At his bidding she even ate a little of the food and drank some
wine—and I was forced to do likewise. And even when anon he declared
his intention of fetching Laporte immediately, she did not flinch. She
kissed M. le Vicomte with passionate fervour, and then gave the stranger
her solemn promise that the moment he returned she would take refuge in
the next room and never move out of it until after Laporte had departed.
When he went I followed him to the top of the stairs. I was speechless
with gratitude and also with fears for him. But he took my hand and
said, with that same quaint, somewhat inane laugh which was so
characteristic of him:
"Be of good cheer, old fellow! Those confounded murderers will not get
me this time."
Less than half an hour later, monsieur, citizen Laporte, one of the most
skilful doctors in France and one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants this
execrable Revolution has known, was sitting at the bedside of M. le
Vicomte de Mortaine, using all the skill, all the knowledge he possessed
in order to combat the dread disease of which the child was dying, ere
he came to save him—as he cynically remarked in my hearing—for the
I heard afterwards how it all came about.
Laporte, it seems, was in the habit of seeing patients in his own house
every evening after he had settled all his business for the day. What a
strange contradiction in the human heart, eh, monsieur? The tiger turned
lamb for the space of one hour in every twenty-four—the butcher turned
healer. How well the English milor had gauged the strange personality of
that redoubtable man! Professional pride—interest in intricate
cases—call it what you will—was the only redeeming feature in
Laporte's abominable character. Everything else in him, every thought,
every action was ignoble, cruel and vengeful.
Milor that night mingled with the crowd who waited on the human hyena to
be cured of their hurts. It was a motley crowd that filled the dreaded
pro-consul's ante-chamber—men, women and children—all of them too much
preoccupied with their own troubles to bestow more than a cursory glance
on the stranger who, wrapped in a dark mantle, quietly awaited his turn.
One or two muttered curses were flung at the aristo, one or two spat in
his direction to express hatred and contempt, then the door which gave
on the inner chamber would be flung open—a number called—one patient
would walk out, another walk in—and in the ever-recurring incident the
stranger for the nonce was forgotten.
His turn came—his number being called—it was the last on the list, and
the ante-chamber was now quite empty save for him. He walked into the
presence of the pro-consul. Claude Lemoine, who was on guard in the room
at the time, told me that just for the space of two seconds the two men
looked at one another. Then the stranger threw back his head and said
"There's a child dying of pleurisy, or worse, in an attic in the Rue des
Pipots. There's not a doctor left in Lyons to attend on him, and the
child will die for want of medical skill. Will you come to him, citizen
It seems that for a moment or two Laporte hesitated.
"You look to me uncommonly like an aristo, and therefore a traitor," he
said, "and I've half a mind—"
"To call your guard and order my immediate arrest," broke in milor with
a whimsical smile, "but in that case a citizen of France will die for
want of a doctor's care. Let me take you to the child's bedside, citizen
doctor, you can always have me arrested afterwards."
But Laporte still hesitated.
"How do I know that you are not one of those English spies?" he began.
"Take it that I am," rejoined milor imperturbably, "and come and see the
Never had a situation been carried off with so bold a hand. Claude
Lemoine declared that Laporte's mouth literally opened for the call
which would have summoned the sergeant of the guard into the room and
ordered the summary arrest of this impudent stranger. During the veriest
fraction of a second life and death hung in the balance for the gallant
English milor. In the heart of Laporte every evil passion fought the one
noble fibre within him. But the instinct of the skilful healer won the
battle, and the next moment he had hastily collected what medicaments
and appliances he might require, and the two men were soon speeding
along the streets in the direction of the Rue des Pipots.
* * * * *
During the whole of that night, milor and Laporte sat together by the
bedside of M. le Vicomte. Laporte only went out once in order to fetch
what further medicaments he required. Mme. la Marquise took the
opportunity of running out of her hiding-place in order to catch a
glimpse of her child. I saw her take milor's hand and press it against
her heart in silent gratitude. On her knees she begged him to go away
and leave her and the boy to their fate. Was it likely that he would go?
But she was so insistent that at last he said:
"Madame, let me assure you that even if I were prepared to play the
coward's part which you would assign to me, it is not in my power to do
so at this moment. Citizen Laporte came to this house under the escort
of six picked men of his guard. He has left these men stationed on the
landing outside this door."
Madame la Marquise gave a cry of terror, and once more that pathetic
look of horror came into her face. Milor took her hand and then pointed
to the sick child.
"Madame," he said, "M. le Vicomte is already slightly better. Thanks to
medical skill and a child's vigorous hold on life, he will live. The
rest is in the hands of God."
Already the heavy footsteps of Laporte were heard upon the creaking
stairs. Mme. la Marquise was forced to return to her hiding-place.
Soon after dawn he went. M. le Vicomte was then visibly easier. Laporte
had all along paid no heed to me, but I noticed that once or twice
during his long vigil by the sick-bed his dark eyes beneath their
overhanging brows shot a quick suspicious look at the door behind which
cowered Mme. la Marquise. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind then that
he knew quite well who his patient was.
He gave certain directions to milor—there were certain fresh
medicaments to be got during the day. While he spoke there was a
sinister glint in his eyes—half cynical, wholly menacing—as he looked
up into the calm, impassive face of milor.
"It is essential for the welfare of the patient that these medicaments
be got for him during the day," he said dryly, "and the guard have
orders to allow you to pass in and out. But you need have no fear," he
added significantly, "I will leave an escort outside the house to
accompany you on your way."
He gave a mocking, cruel laugh, the meaning of which was unmistakable.
His well-drilled human bloodhounds would be on the track of the English
spy, whenever the latter dared to venture out into the streets.
Mme. la Marquise and I were prisoners for the day. We spent it in
watching alternately beside M. le Vicomte. But milor came and went as
freely as if he had not been carrying his precious life in his hands
every time that he ventured outside the house.
In the evening Laporte returned to see his patient, and again the
following morning, and the next evening. M. le Vicomte was making rapid
progress towards recovery.
The third day in the morning Laporte pronounced his patient to be out of
danger, but said that he would nevertheless come again to see him at the
usual hour in the evening. Directly he had gone, milor went out in order
to bring in certain delicacies of which the invalid was now allowed to
partake. I persuaded Madame to lie down and have a couple of hours' good
sleep in the inner attic, while I stayed to watch over the child.
To my horror, hardly had I taken up my stand at the foot of the bed when
Laporte returned; he muttered something as he entered about having left
some important appliance behind, but I was quite convinced that he had
been on the watch until milor was out of sight, and then slipped back in
order to find me and Madame here alone.
He gave a glance at the child and another at the door of the inner
attic, then he said in a loud voice:
"Yes, another twenty-four hours and my duties as doctor will cease and
those of patriot will re-commence. But Mme. la Marquise de Mortaine need
no longer be in any anxiety about her son's health, nor will Mme. la
Guillotine be cheated of a pack of rebels."
He laughed, and was on the point of turning on his heel when the door
which gave on the smaller attic was opened and Mme. la Marquise appeared
upon the threshold.
Monsieur, I had never seen her look more beautiful than she did now in
her overwhelming grief. Her face was as pale as death, her eyes, large
and dilated, were fixed upon the human monster who had found it in his
heart to speak such cruel words. Clad in a miserable, threadbare gown,
her rich brown hair brought to the top of her head like a crown, she
looked more regal than any queen.
But proud as she was, monsieur, she yet knelt at the feet of that
wretch. Yes, knelt, and embraced his knees and pleaded in such pitiable
accents as would have melted the heart of a stone. She pleaded,
monsieur—ah, not for herself. She pleaded for her child and for me, her
faithful servant, and she pleaded for the gallant gentleman who had
risked his life for the sake of the child, who was nothing to him.
"Take me!" she said. "I come of a race that have always known how to
die! But what harm has that innocent child done in this world? What harm
has poor old Jean-Pierre done, and, oh … is the world so full of brave
and noble men that the bravest of them all be so unjustly sent to
Ah, monsieur, any man, save one of those abject products of that hideous
Revolution, would have listened to such heartrending accents. But this
man only laughed and turned on his heel without a word.
* * * * *
Shall I ever forget the day that went by? Mme. la Marquise was well-nigh
prostrate with terror, and it was heartrending to watch the noble
efforts which she made to amuse M. le Vicomte. The only gleams of
sunshine which came to us out of our darkness were the brief appearances
of milor. Outside we could hear the measured tramp of the guard that had
been set there to keep us close prisoners. They were relieved every six
hours, and, in fact, we were as much under arrest as if we were already
incarcerated in one of the prisons of Lyons.
At about four o'clock in the afternoon milor came back to us after a
brief absence. He stayed for a little while playing with M. le Vicomte.
Just before leaving he took Madame's hand in his and said very
earnestly, and sinking his voice to the merest whisper:
"To-night! Fear nothing! Be ready for anything! Remember that the League
of the Scarlet Pimpernel have never failed to succour, and that I hereby
pledge you mine honour that you and those you care for will be out of
Lyons this night."
He was gone, leaving us to marvel at his strange words. Mme. la Marquise
after that was just like a person in a dream. She hardly spoke to me,
and the only sound that passed her lips was a quaint little lullaby
which she sang to M. le Vicomte ere he dropped off to sleep.
The hours went by leaden-footed. At every sound on the stairs Madame
started like a frightened bird. That infamous Laporte usually paid his
visits at about eight o'clock in the evening, and after it became quite
dark, Madame sat at the tiny window, and I felt that she was counting
the minutes which still lay between her and the dreaded presence of that
At a quarter before eight o'clock we heard the usual heavy footfall on
the stairs. Madame started up as if she had been struck. She ran to the
bed—almost like one demented, and wrapping the one poor blanket round
M. le Vicomte, she seized him in her arms. Outside we could hear
Laporte's raucous voice speaking to the guard. His usual query: "Is all
well?" was answered by the brief: "All well, citizen." Then he asked if
the English spy were within, and the sentinel replied: "No, citizen, he
went out at about five o'clock and has not come back since."
"Not come back since five o'clock?" said Laporte with a loud curse.
"Pardi! I trust that that fool Caudy has not allowed him to escape."
"I saw Caudy about an hour ago, citizen," said the man.
"Did he say anything about the Englishman then?"
It seemed to us, who were listening to this conversation with bated
breath, that the man hesitated a moment ere he replied; then he spoke
with obvious nervousness.
"As a matter of fact, citizen," he said, "Caudy thought then that the
Englishman was inside the house, whilst I was equally sure that I had
seen him go downstairs an hour before."
"A thousand devils!" cried Laporte with a savage oath, "if I find that
you, citizen sergeant, or Caudy have blundered there will be trouble for
To the accompaniment of a great deal more swearing he suddenly kicked
open the door of our attic with his boot, and then came to a standstill
on the threshold with his hands in the pockets of his breeches and his
legs planted wide apart, face to face with Mme. la Marquise, who
confronted him now, herself like a veritable tigress who is defending
He gave a loud, mocking laugh.
"Ah, the aristos!" he cried, "waiting for that cursed Englishman, what?
to drag you and your brat out of the claws of the human tiger…. Not
so, my fine ci-devant Marquise. The brat is no longer sick—he is well
enough, anyhow, to breathe the air of the prisons of Lyons for a few
days pending a final rest in the arms of Mme. la Guillotine. Citizen
sergeant," he called over his shoulder, "escort these aristos to my
carriage downstairs. When the Englishman returns, tell him he will find
his friends under the tender care of Doctor Laporte. En avant, little
mother," he added, as he gripped Mme. la Marquise tightly by the arm,
"and you, old scarecrow," he concluded, speaking to me over his
shoulder, "follow the citizen sergeant, or——"
Mme. la Marquise made no resistance. As I told you, she had been, since
dusk, like a person in a dream; so what could I do but follow her noble
example? Indeed, I was too dazed to do otherwise.
We all went stumbling down the dark, rickety staircase, Laporte leading
the way with Mme. la Marquise, who had M. le Vicomte tightly clasped in
her arms. I followed with the sergeant, whose hand was on my shoulder; I
believe that two soldiers walked behind, but of that I cannot be sure.
At the bottom of the stairs through the open door of the house I caught
sight of the vague outline of a large barouche, the lanthorns of which
threw a feeble light upon the cruppers of two horses and of a couple of
men sitting on the box.
Mme. la Marquise stepped quietly into the carriage. Laporte followed
her, and I was bundled in in his wake by the rough hands of the
soldiery. Just before the order was given to start, Laporte put his head
out of the window and shouted to the sergeant:
"When you see Caudy tell him to report himself to me at once. I will be
back here in half an hour; keep strict guard as before until then,
The next moment the coachman cracked his whip, Laporte called loudly,
"En avant!" and the heavy barouche went rattling along the ill-paved
Inside the carriage all was silence. I could hear Mme. la Marquise
softly whispering to M. le Vicomte, and I marvelled how wondrously
calm—nay, cheerful, she could be. Then suddenly I heard a sound which
of a truth did make my heart stop its beating. It was a quaint and
prolonged laugh which I once thought I would never hear again on this
earth. It came from the corner of the barouche next to where Mme. la
Marquise was so tenderly and gaily crooning to her child. And a kindly
voice said merrily:
"In half an hour we shall be outside Lyons. To-morrow we'll be across
the Swiss frontier. We've cheated that old tiger after all. What say
you, Mme. la Marquise?"
It was milor's voice, and he was as merry as a school-boy.
"I told you, old Jean-Pierre," he added, as he placed that firm hand
which I loved so well upon my knee, "I told you that those confounded
murderers would not get me this time."
And to think that I did not know him, as he stood less than a quarter of
an hour ago upon the threshold of our attic in the hideous guise of that
abominable Laporte. He had spent two days in collecting old clothes that
resembled those of that infamous wretch, and in taking possession of one
of the derelict rooms in the house in the Rue des Pipots. Then while we
were expecting every moment that Laporte would order our arrest, milor
assumed the personality of the monster, hoodwinked the sergeant on the
dark staircase, and by that wonderfully audacious coup saved Mme. la
Marquise, M. le Vicomte and my humble self from the guillotine.
Money, of which he had plenty, secured us immunity on the way, and we
were in safety over the Swiss frontier, leaving Laporte to eat out his
tigerish heart with baffled rage.
OUT OF THE JAWS OF DEATH
Being a fragment from the diary of Valentine Lemercier, in the
possession of her great-granddaughter.
We were such a happy family before this terrible Revolution broke out;
we lived rather simply, but very comfortably, in our dear old home just
on the borders of the forest of Compiegne. Jean and Andre were the
twins; just fifteen years old they were when King Louis was deposed from
the throne of France which God had given him, and sent to prison like a
common criminal, with our beautiful Queen Marie Antoinette and the Royal
children, and Madame Elizabeth, who was so beloved by the poor!
Ah! that seems very, very long ago now. No doubt you know better than I
do all that happened in our beautiful land of France and in lovely Paris
about that time: goods and property confiscated, innocent men, women,
and children condemned to death for acts of treason which they had never
It was in August last year that they came to "Mon Repos" and arrested
papa, and maman, and us four young ones and dragged us to Paris, where
we were imprisoned in a narrow and horribly dank vault in the Abbaye,
where all day and night through the humid stone walls we heard cries and
sobs and moans from poor people, who no doubt were suffering the same
sorrows and the same indignities as we were.
I had just passed my nineteenth birthday, and Marguerite was only
thirteen. Maman was a perfect angel during that terrible time; she kept
up our courage and our faith in God in a way that no one else could have
done. Every night and morning we knelt round her knee and papa sat close
beside her, and we prayed to God for deliverance from our own
afflictions, and for the poor people who were crying and moaning all the
But of what went on outside our prison walls we had not an idea, though
sometimes poor papa would brave the warder's brutalities and ask him
questions of what was happening in Paris every day.
"They are hanging all the aristos to the street-lamps of the city," the
man would reply with a cruel laugh, "and it will be your turn next."
We had been in prison for about a fortnight, when one day—oh! shall I
ever forget it?—we heard in the distance a noise like the rumbling of
thunder; nearer and nearer it came, and soon the sound became less
confused, cries and shrieks could be heard above that rumbling din; but
so weird and menacing did those cries seem that instinctively—though
none of us knew what they meant—we all felt a nameless terror grip our
Oh! I am not going to attempt the awful task of describing to you all
the horrors of that never-to-be-forgotten day. People, who to-day cannot
speak without a shudder of the September massacres, have not the
remotest conception of what really happened on that awful second day of
We are all at peace and happy now, but whenever my thoughts fly back to
that morning, whenever the ears of memory recall those hideous yells of
fury and of hate, coupled with the equally horrible cries for pity,
which pierced through the walls behind which the six of us were
crouching, trembling, and praying, whenever I think of it all my heart
still beats violently with that same nameless dread which held it in its
deathly grip then.
Hundreds of men, women, and children were massacred in the prisons of
that day—it was a St. Bartholomew even more hideous than the last.
Maman was trying in vain to keep our thoughts fixed upon God—papa sat
on the stone bench, his elbows resting on his knees, his head buried in
his hands; but maman was kneeling on the floor, with her dear arms
encircling us all and her trembling lips moving in continuous prayer.
We felt that we were facing death—and what a death, O my God!
Suddenly the small grated window—high up in the dank wall—became
obscured. I was the first to look up, but the cry of terror which rose
from my heart was choked ere it reached my throat.
Jean and Andre looked up, too, and they shrieked, and so did Marguerite,
and papa jumped up and ran to us and stood suddenly between us and the
window like a tiger defending its young.
But we were all of us quite silent now. The children did not even cry;
they stared, wide-eyed, paralysed with fear.
Only maman continued to pray, and we could hear papa's rapid and
stertorous breathing as he watched what was going on at that window
Heavy blows were falling against the masonry round the grating, and we
could hear the nerve-racking sound of a file working on the iron bars;
and farther away, below the window, those awful yells of human beings
transformed by hate and fury into savage beasts.
How long this horrible suspense lasted I cannot now tell you; the next
thing I remember clearly is a number of men in horrible ragged clothing
pouring into our vault-like prison from the window above; the next
moment they rushed at us simultaneously—or so it seemed to me, for I
was just then recommending my soul to God, so certain was I that in that
same second I would cease to live.
It was all like a dream, for instead of the horrible shriek of satisfied
hate which we were all expecting to hear, a whispering voice, commanding
and low, struck our ears and dragged us, as it were, from out the abyss
of despair into the sudden light of hope.
"If you will trust us," the voice whispered, "and not be afraid, you
will be safely out of Paris within an hour."
Papa was the first to realise what was happening; he had never lost his
presence of mind even during the darkest moment of this terrible time,
and he said quite calmly and steadily now:
"What must we do?"
"Persuade the little ones not to be afraid, not to cry, to be as still
and silent as may be," continued the voice, which I felt must be that of
one of God's own angels, so exquisitely kind did it sound to my ear.
"They will be quiet and still without persuasion," said papa; "eh,
And Jean, Andre, and Marguerite murmured: "Yes!" whilst maman and I drew
them closer to us and said everything we could think of to make them
still more brave.
And the whispering, commanding voice went on after awhile:
"Now will you allow yourselves to be muffled and bound, and, after that,
will you swear that whatever happens, whatever you may see or hear, you
will neither move nor speak? Not only your own lives, but those of many
brave men will depend upon your fulfilment of this oath."
Papa made no reply save to raise his hand and eyes up to where God
surely was watching over us all. Maman said in her gentle, even voice:
"For myself and my children, I swear to do all that you tell us."
A great feeling of confidence had entered into her heart, just as it had
done into mine. We looked at one another and knew that we were both
thinking of the same thing: we were thinking of the brave Englishman and
his gallant little band of heroes, about whom we had heard many
wonderful tales—how they had rescued a number of innocent people who
were unjustly threatened with the guillotine; and we all knew that the
tall figure, disguised in horrible rags, who spoke to us with such a
gentle yet commanding voice, was the man whom rumour credited with
supernatural powers, and who was known by the mysterious name of "The
Hardly had we sworn to do his bidding than his friends most
unceremoniously threw great pieces of sacking over our heads, and then
proceeded to tie ropes round our bodies. At least, I know that that is
what one of them was doing to me, and from one or two whispered words of
command which reached my ear I concluded that papa and maman and the
children were being dealt with in the same summary way.
I felt hot and stifled under that rough bit of sacking, but I would not
have moved or even sighed for worlds. Strangely enough, as soon as my
eyes and ears were shut off from the sounds and sights immediately round
me, I once more became conscious of the horrible and awful din which was
going on, not only on the other side of our prison walls, but inside the
whole of the Abbaye building and in the street beyond.
Once more I heard those terrible howls of rage and of satisfied hatred,
uttered by the assassins who were being paid by the government of our
beautiful country to butcher helpless prisoners in their hundreds.
Suddenly I felt myself hoisted up off my feet and slung up on to a pair
of shoulders that must have been very powerful indeed, for I am no light
weight, and once more I heard the voice, the very sound of which was
delight, quite close to my ear this time, giving a brief and
"All ready!—remember your part—en avant!"
Then it added in English. "Here, Tony, you start kicking against the
door whilst we begin to shout!"
I loved those few words of English, and hoped that maman had heard them
too, for it would confirm her—as it did me—in the happy knowledge that
God and a brave man had taken our rescue in hand.
But from that moment we might have all been in the very ante-chamber of
hell. I could hear the violent kicks against the heavy door of our
prison, and our brave rescuers seemed suddenly to be transformed into a
cageful of wild beasts. Their shouts and yells were as horrible as any
that came to us from the outside, and I must say that the gentle, firm
voice which I had learnt to love was as execrable as any I could hear.
Apparently the door would not yield, as the blows against it became more
and more violent, and presently from somewhere above my head—the window
presumably—there came a rough call, and a raucous laugh:
"Why? what in the name of—— is happening here?"
And the voice near me answered back equally roughly: "A quarry of
six—but we are caught in this confounded trap—get the door open for
us, citizen—we want to get rid of this booty and go in search for
A horrible laugh was the reply from above, and the next instant I heard
a terrific crash; the door had at last been burst open, either from
within or without, I could not tell which, and suddenly all the din, the
cries, the groans, the hideous laughter and bibulous songs which had
sounded muffled up to now burst upon us with all their hideousness.
That was, I think, the most awful moment of that truly fearful hour. I
could not have moved then, even had I wished or been able to do so; but
I knew that between us all and a horrible, yelling, murdering mob there
was now nothing—except the hand of God and the heroism of a band of
Together they gave a cry—as loud, as terrifying as any that were
uttered by the butchering crowd in the building, and with a wild rush
they seemed to plunge with us right into the thick of the awful melee.
At least, that is what it all felt like to me, and afterwards I heard
from our gallant rescuer himself that that is exactly what he and his
friends did. There were eight of them altogether, and we four young ones
had each been hoisted on a pair of devoted shoulders, whilst maman and
papa were each carried by two men.
I was lying across the finest pair of shoulders in the world, and close
to me was beating the bravest heart on God's earth.
Thus burdened, these eight noble English gentlemen charged right through
an army of butchering, howling brutes, they themselves howling with the
fiercest of them.
All around me I heard weird and terrific cries: "What ho! citizens—what
have you there?"
"Six aristos!" shouted my hero boldly as he rushed on, forging his way
through the crowd.
"What are you doing with them?" yelled a raucous voice.
"Food for the starving fish in the river," was the ready response.
"Stand aside, citizen," he added, with a round curse; "I have my orders
from citizen Danton himself about these six aristos. You hinder me at
He was challenged over and over again in the same way, and so were his
friends who were carrying papa and maman and the children; but they were
always ready with a reply, ready with an invective or a curse; with eyes
that could not see, one could imagine them as hideous, as vengeful, as
cruel as the rest of the crowd.
I think that soon I must have fainted from sheer excitement and terror,
for I remember nothing more till I felt myself deposited on a hard
floor, propped against the wall, and the stifling piece of sacking taken
off my head and face.
I looked around me, dazed and bewildered; gradually the horrors of the
past hour came back to me, and I had to close my eyes again, for I felt
sick and giddy with the sheer memory of it all.
But presently I felt stronger and looked around me again. Jean and Andre
were squatting in a corner close by, gazing wide-eyed at the group of
men in filthy, ragged clothing, who sat round a deal table in the centre
of a small, ill-furnished room.
Maman was lying on a horsehair sofa at the other end of the room, with
Marguerite beside her, and papa sat in a low chair by her side, holding
The voice I loved was speaking in its quaint, somewhat drawly cadence:
"You are quite safe now, my dear Monsieur Lemercier," it said; "after
Madame and the young people have had a rest, some of my friends will
find you suitable disguises, and they will escort you out of Paris, as
they have some really genuine passports in their possessions, which we
obtain from time to time through the agency of a personage highly placed
in this murdering government, and with the help of English banknotes.
Those passports are not always unchallenged, I must confess," added my
hero with a quaint laugh; "but to-night everyone is busy murdering in
one part of Paris, so the other parts are comparatively safe."
Then he turned to one of his friends and spoke to him in English:
"You had better see this through, Tony," he said, "with Hastings and
Mackenzie. Three of you will be enough; I shall have need of the
No one seemed to question his orders. He had spoken, and the others made
ready to obey. Just then papa spoke up:
"How are we going to thank you, sir?" he asked, speaking broken English,
but with his habitual dignity of manner.
"By leaving your welfare in our hands, Monsieur," replied our gallant
Papa tried to speak again, but the Englishman put up his hand to stop
any further talk.
"There is no time now, Monsieur," he said with gentle courtesy. "I must
leave you, as I have much work yet to do."
"Where are you going, Blakeney?" asked one of the others.
"Back to the Abbaye prison," he said; "there are other women and
children to be rescued there!"
Not one of them had really trusted him for some time now. Heaven and his
conscience alone knew what had changed my Lord Kulmsted from a loyal
friend and keen sportsman into a surly and dissatisfied
adherent—adherent only in name.
Some say that lack of money had embittered him. He was a confirmed
gambler, and had been losing over-heavily of late; and the League of the
Scarlet Pimpernel demanded sacrifices of money at times from its
members, as well as of life if the need arose. Others averred that
jealousy against the chief had outweighed Kulmsted's honesty. Certain it
is that his oath of fealty to the League had long ago been broken in the
spirit. Treachery hovered in the air.
But the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, with that indomitable optimism of
his, and almost maddening insouciance, either did not believe in
Kulmsted's disloyalty or chose not to heed it.
He even asked him to join the present expedition—one of the most
dangerous undertaken by the League for some time, and which had for its
object the rescue of some women of the late unfortunate Marie
Antoinette's household: maids and faithful servants, ruthlessly
condemned to die for their tender adherence to a martyred queen. And yet
eighteen pairs of faithful lips had murmured words of warning.
It was towards the end of November, 1793. The rain was beating down in a
monotonous drip, drip, drip on to the roof of a derelict house in the
Rue Berthier. The wan light of a cold winter's morning peeped in through
the curtainless window and touched with its weird grey brush the pallid
face of a young girl—a mere child—who sat in a dejected attitude on a
rickety chair, with elbows leaning on the rough deal table before her,
and thin, grimy fingers wandering with pathetic futility to her tearful
In the farther angle of the room a tall figure in dark clothes was made
one, by the still lingering gloom, with the dense shadows beyond.
"We have starved," said the girl, with rebellious tears. "Father and I
and the boys are miserable enough, God knows; but we have always been
From out the shadows in that dark corner of the room there came the
sound of an oath quickly suppressed.
"Honest!" exclaimed the man, with a harsh, mocking laugh, which made the
girl wince as if with physical pain. "Is it honest to harbour the
enemies of your country? Is it honest—-"
But quickly he checked himself, biting his lips with vexation, feeling
that his present tactics were not like to gain the day.
He came out of the gloom and approached the girl with every outward sign
of eagerness. He knelt on the dusty floor beside her, his arms stole
round her meagre shoulders, and his harsh voice was subdued to tones of
"I was only thinking of your happiness, Yvonne," he said tenderly; "of
poor blind papa and the two boys to whom you have been such a devoted
little mother. My only desire is that you should earn the gratitude of
your country by denouncing her most bitter enemy—an act of patriotism
which will place you and those for whom you care for ever beyond the
reach of sorrow or of want."
The voice, the appeal, the look of love, was more than the poor, simple
girl could resist. Milor was so handsome, so kind, so good.
It had all been so strange: these English aristocrats coming here, she
knew not whence, and who seemed fugitives even though they had plenty of
money to spend. Two days ago they had sought shelter like malefactors
escaped from justice—in this same tumbledown, derelict house where she,
Yvonne, with her blind father and two little brothers, crept in of
nights, or when the weather was too rough for them all to stand and beg
in the streets of Paris.
There were five of them altogether, and one seemed to be the chief. He
was very tall, and had deep blue eyes, and a merry voice that went
echoing along the worm-eaten old rafters. But milor—the one whose arms
were encircling her even now—was the handsomest among them all. He had
sought Yvonne out on the very first night when she had crawled shivering
to that corner of the room where she usually slept.
The English aristocrats had frightened her at first, and she was for
flying from the derelict house with her family and seeking shelter
elsewhere; but he who appeared to be the chief had quickly reassured
her. He seemed so kind and good, and talked so gently to blind papa, and
made such merry jests with Francois and Clovis that she herself could
scarce refrain from laughing through her tears.
But later on in the night, milor—her milor, as she soon got to call
him—came and talked so beautifully that she, poor girl, felt as if no
music could ever sound quite so sweetly in her ear.
That was two days ago, and since then milor had often talked to her in
the lonely, abandoned house, and Yvonne had felt as if she dwelt in
Heaven. She still took blind papa and the boys out to beg in the
streets, but in the morning she prepared some hot coffee for the English
aristocrats, and in the evening she cooked them some broth. Oh! they
gave her money lavishly; but she quite understood that they were in
hiding, though what they had to fear, being English, she could not
And now milor—her milor—was telling her that these Englishmen, her
friends, were spies and traitors, and that it was her duty to tell
citizen Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety all about them
and their mysterious doings. And poor Yvonne was greatly puzzled and
deeply distressed, because, of course, whatever milor said, that was the
truth; and yet her conscience cried out within her poor little bosom,
and the thought of betraying those kind Englishmen was horrible to her.
"Yvonne," whispered milor in that endearing voice of his, which was like
the loveliest music in her ear, "my little Yvonne, you do trust me, do
"With all my heart, milor," she murmured fervently.
"Then, would you believe it of me that I would betray a real friend?"
"I believe, milor, that whatever you do is right and good."
A sigh of infinite relief escaped his lips.
"Come, that's better!" he said, patting her cheek kindly with his hand.
"Now, listen to me, little one. He who is the chief among us here is the
most unscrupulous and daring rascal whom the world has ever known. He it
is who is called the 'Scarlet Pimpernel!'"
"The Scarlet Pimpernel!" murmured Yvonne, her eyes dilated with
superstitious awe, for she too had heard of the mysterious Englishman
and of his followers, who rescued aristocrats and traitors from the
death to which the tribunal of the people had justly condemned them, and
on whom the mighty hand of the Committee of Public Safety had never yet
been able to fall.
"This Scarlet Pimpernel," said milor earnestly after a while, "is also
mine own most relentless enemy. With lies and promises he induced me to
join him in his work of spying and of treachery, forcing me to do this
work against which my whole soul rebels. You can save me from this hated
bondage, little one. You can make me free to live again, make me free to
love and place my love at your feet."
His voice had become exquisitely tender, and his lips, as he whispered
the heavenly words, were quite close to her ear. He, a great gentleman,
loved the miserable little waif whose kindred consisted of a blind
father and two half-starved little brothers, and whose only home was
this miserable hovel, whence milor's graciousness and bounty would soon
Do you think that Yvonne's sense of right and wrong, of honesty and
treachery, should have been keener than that primeval instinct of a
simple-hearted woman to throw herself trustingly into the arms of the
man who has succeeded in winning her love?
Yvonne, subdued, enchanted, murmured still through her tears:
"What would milor have me do?"
Lord Kulmsted rose from his knees satisfied.
"Listen to me, Yvonne," he said. "You are acquainted with the
Englishman's plans, are you not?"
"Of course," she replied simply. "He has had to trust me."
"Then you know that at sundown this afternoon I and the three others are
to leave for Courbevoie on foot, where we are to obtain what horses we
can whilst awaiting the chief."
"I did not know whither you and the other three gentlemen were going,
milor," she replied; "but I did know that some of you were to make a
start at four o'clock, whilst I was to wait here for your leader and
prepare some supper against his coming."
"At what time did he tell you that he would come?"
"He did not say; but he did tell me that when he returns he will have
friends with him—a lady and two little children. They will be hungry
and cold. I believe that they are in great danger now, and that the
brave English gentleman means to take them away from this awful Paris to
a place of safety."
"The brave English gentleman, my dear," retorted milor, with a sneer,
"is bent on some horrible work of spying. The lady and the two children
are, no doubt, innocent tools in his hands, just as I am, and when he no
longer needs them he will deliver them over to the Committee of Public
Safety, who will, of a surety, condemn them to death. That will also be
my fate, Yvonne, unless you help me now."
"Oh, no, no!" she exclaimed fervently. "Tell me what to do, milor, and I
will do it."
"At sundown," he said, sinking his voice so low that even she could
scarcely hear, "when I and the three others have started on our way, go
straight to the house I spoke to you about in the Rue Dauphine—you know
where it is?"
"Oh, yes, milor."
"You will know the house by its tumbledown portico and the tattered red
flag that surmounts it. Once there, push the door open and walk in
boldly. Then ask to speak with citizen Robespierre."
"Robespierre?" exclaimed the child in terror.
"You must not be afraid, Yvonne," he said earnestly; "you must think of
me and of what you are doing for me. My word on it—Robespierre will
listen to you most kindly."
"What shall I tell him?" she murmured.
"That a mysterious party of Englishmen are in hiding in this house—that
their chief is known among them as the Scarlet Pimpernel. The rest leave
to Robespierre's discretion. You see how simple it is?"
It was indeed very simple! Nor did the child recoil any longer from the
ugly task which milor, with suave speech and tender voice, was so
ardently seeking to impose on her.
A few more words of love, which cost him nothing, a few kisses which
cost him still less, since the wench loved him, and since she was young
and pretty, and Yvonne was as wax in the hands of the traitor.
Silence reigned in the low-raftered room on the ground floor of the
house in the Rue Dauphine.
Citizen Robespierre, chairman of the Cordeliers Club, the most
bloodthirsty, most Evolutionary club of France, had just re-entered the
He walked up to the centre table, and through the close atmosphere,
thick with tobacco smoke, he looked round on his assembled friends.
"We have got him," he said at last curtly.
"Got him! Whom?" came in hoarse cries from every corner of the room.
"That Englishman," replied the demagogue, "the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
A prolonged shout rose in response—a shout not unlike that of a caged
herd of hungry wild beasts to whom a succulent morsel of flesh has
unexpectedly been thrown.
"Where is he?" "Where did you get him?" "Alive or dead?" And many more
questions such as these were hurled at the speaker from every side.
Robespierre, calm, impassive, immaculately neat in his tightly fitting
coat, his smart breeches, and his lace cravat, waited awhile until the
din had somewhat subsided. Then he said calmly:
"The Scarlet Pimpernel is in hiding in one of the derelict houses in the
Snarls of derision as vigorous as the former shouts of triumph drowned
the rest of his speech.
"Bah! How often has that cursed Scarlet Pimpernel been said to be alone
in a lonely house? Citizen Chauvelin has had him at his mercy several
times in lonely houses."
And the speaker, a short, thick-set man with sparse black hair plastered
over a greasy forehead, his shirt open at the neck, revealing a powerful
chest and rough, hairy skin, spat in ostentatious contempt upon the
"Therefore will we not boast of his capture yet, citizen Roger," resumed
Robespierre imperturbably. "I tell you where the Englishman is. Do you
look to it that he does not escape."
The heat in the room had become intolerable. From the grimy ceiling an
oil-lamp, flickering low, threw lurid, ruddy lights on tricolour
cockades, on hands that seemed red with the blood of innocent victims of
lust and hate, and on faces glowing with desire and with anticipated
"Who is the informer?" asked Roger at last.
"A girl," replied Robespierre curtly. "Yvonne Lebeau, by name; she and
her family live by begging. There are a blind father and two boys; they
herd together at night in the derelict house in the Rue Berthier. Five
Englishmen have been in hiding there these past few days. One of them is
their leader. The girl believes him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"Why has she not spoken of this before?" muttered one of the crowd, with
"Frightened, I suppose. Or the Englishman paid her to hold her tongue."
"Where is the girl now?"
"I am sending her straight home, a little ahead of us. Her presence
should reassure the Englishman whilst we make ready to surround the
house. In the meanwhile, I have sent special messengers to every gate of
Paris with strict orders to the guard not to allow anyone out of the
city until further orders from the Committee of Public Safety. And now,"
he added, throwing back his head with a gesture of proud challenge,
"citizens, which of you will go man-hunting to-night?"
This time the strident roar of savage exultation was loud and deep
enough to shake the flickering lamp upon its chain.
A brief discussion of plans followed, and Roger—he with the broad,
hairy chest and that gleam of hatred for ever lurking in his deep-set,
shifty eyes—was chosen the leader of the party.
Thirty determined and well-armed patriots set out against one man, who
mayhap had supernatural powers. There would, no doubt, be some
aristocrats, too, in hiding in the derelict house—the girl Lebeau, it
seems, had spoken of a woman and two children. Bah! These would not
count. It would be thirty to one, so let the Scarlet Pimpernel look to
From the towers of Notre Dame the big bell struck the hour of six, as
thirty men in ragged shirts and torn breeches, shivering beneath a cold
November drizzle, began slowly to wend their way towards the Rue
They walked on in silence, not heeding the cold or the rain, but with
eyes fixed in the direction of their goal, and nostrils quivering in the
evening air with the distant scent of blood.
At the top of the Rue Berthier the party halted. On ahead—some two
hundred metres farther—Yvonne Lebeau's little figure, with her ragged
skirt pulled over her head and her bare feet pattering in the mud, was
seen crossing one of those intermittent patches of light formed by
occasional flickering street lamps, and then was swallowed up once more
by the inky blackness beyond.
The Rue Berthier is a long, narrow, ill-paved and ill-lighted street,
composed of low and irregular houses, which abut on the line of
fortifications at the back, and are therefore absolutely inaccessible
save from the front.
Midway down the street a derelict house rears ghostly debris of roofs
and chimney-stacks upward to the sky. A tiny square of yellow light,
blinking like a giant eye through a curtainless window, pierced the wall
of the house. Roger pointed to that light.
"That," he said, "is the quarry where our fox has run to earth."
No one said anything; but the dank night air seemed suddenly alive with
all the passions of hate let loose by thirty beating hearts.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, who had tricked them, mocked them, fooled them so
often, was there, not two hundred metres away; and they were thirty to
one, and all determined and desperate.
The darkness was intense.
Silently now the party approached the house, then again they halted,
within sixty metres of it.
The whisper could scarce be heard, so low was it, like the sighing of
the wind through a misty veil.
"Who is it?" came in quick challenge from Roger.
"Is he there?" was the eager whispered query.
"Not yet. But he may come at any moment. If he saw a crowd round the
house, mayhap he would not come."
"He cannot see a crowd. The night is as dark as pitch."
"He can see in the darkest night," and the girl's voice sank to an awed
whisper, "and he can hear through a stone wall."
Instinctively, Roger shuddered. The superstitious fear which the
mysterious personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel evoked in the heart of
every Terrorist had suddenly seized this man in its grip.
Try as he would, he did not feel as valiant as he had done when first he
emerged at the head of his party from under the portico of the
Cordeliers Club, and it was with none too steady a voice that he ordered
the girl roughly back to the house. Then he turned once more to his men.
The plan of action had been decided on in the Club, under the presidency
of Robespierre; it only remained to carry the plans through with
From the side of the fortifications there was, of course, nothing to
fear. In accordance with military regulations, the walls of the houses
there rose sheer from the ground without doors or windows, whilst the
broken-down parapets and dilapidated roofs towered forty feet above the
The derelict itself was one of a row of houses, some inhabited, others
quite abandoned. It was the front of that row of houses, therefore, that
had to be kept in view. Marshalled by Roger, the men flattened their
meagre bodies against the walls of the houses opposite, and after that
there was nothing to do but wait.
To wait in the darkness of the night, with a thin, icy rain soaking
through ragged shirts and tattered breeches, with bare feet frozen by
the mud of the road—to wait in silence while turbulent hearts beat
well-nigh to bursting—to wait for food whilst hunger gnaws the
bowels—to wait for drink whilst the parched tongue cleaves to the roof
of the mouth—to wait for revenge whilst the hours roll slowly by and
the cries of the darkened city are stilled one by one!
Once—when a distant bell tolled the hour of ten—a loud prolonged
laugh, almost impudent in its suggestion of merry insouciance, echoed
through the weird silence of the night.
Roger felt that the man nearest to him shivered at that sound, and he
heard a volley or two of muttered oaths.
"The fox seems somewhere near," he whispered. "Come within. We'll wait
for him inside his hole."
He led the way across the street, some of the men following him.
The door of the derelict house had been left on the latch. Roger pushed
Silence and gloom here reigned supreme; utter darkness, too, save for a
narrow streak of light which edged the framework of a door on the right.
Not a sound stirred the quietude of this miserable hovel, only the
creaking of boards beneath the men's feet as they entered.
Roger crossed the passage and opened the door on the right. His friends
pressed closely round to him and peeped over his shoulder into the room
A guttering piece of tallow candle, fixed to an old tin pot, stood in
the middle of the floor, and its feeble, flickering light only served to
accentuate the darkness that lay beyond its range. One or two rickety
chairs and a rough deal table showed vaguely in the gloom, and in the
far corner of the room there lay a bundle of what looked like heaped-up
rags, but from which there now emerged the sound of heavy breathing and
also a little cry of fear.
"Yvonne," came in feeble, querulous accents from that same bundle of
wretchedness, "are these the English milors come back at last?"
"No, no, father," was the quick whispered reply.
Roger swore a loud oath, and two puny voices began to whimper piteously.
"It strikes me the wench has been fooling us," muttered one of the men
The girl had struggled to her feet. She crouched in the darkness, and
two little boys, half-naked and shivering, were clinging to her skirts.
The rest of the human bundle seemed to consist of an oldish man, with
long, gaunt legs and arms blue with the cold. He turned vague, wide-open
eyes in the direction whence had come the harsh voices.
"Are they friends, Yvonne?" he asked anxiously.
The girl did her best to reassure him.
"Yes, yes, father," she whispered close to his ear, her voice scarce
above her breath; "they are good citizens who hoped to find the English
milor here. They are disappointed that he has not yet come."
"Ah! but he will come, of a surety," said the old man in that querulous
voice of his. "He left his beautiful clothes here this morning, and
surely he will come to fetch them." And his long, thin hand pointed
towards a distant corner of the room.
Roger and his friends, looking to where he was pointing, saw a parcel of
clothes, neatly folded, lying on one of the chairs. Like so many wild
cats snarling at sight of prey, they threw themselves upon those
clothes, tearing them out from one another's hands, turning them over
and over as if to force the cloth and satin to yield up the secret that
lay within their folds.
In the skirmish a scrap of paper fluttered to the ground. Roger seized
it with avidity, and, crouching on the floor, smoothed the paper out
against his knee.
It contained a few hastily scrawled words, and by the feeble light of
the fast-dying candle Roger spelt them out laboriously:
"If the finder of these clothes will take them to the cross-roads
opposite the foot-bridge which leads straight to Courbevoie, and will do
so before the clock of Courbevoie Church has struck the hour of
midnight, he will be rewarded with the sum of five hundred francs."
"There is something more, citizen Roger," said a raucous voice close to
"Look! Look, citizen—in the bottom corner of the paper!"
"A scrawl done in red," said Roger, trying to decipher it.
"It looks like a small flower."
"That accursed Scarlet Pimpernel!"
And even as he spoke the guttering tallow candle, swaying in its socket,
suddenly went out with a loud splutter and a sizzle that echoed through
the desolate room like the mocking laugh of ghouls.
Once more the tramp through the dark and deserted streets, with the
drizzle—turned now to sleet—beating on thinly clad shoulders. Fifteen
men only on this tramp. The others remained behind to watch the house.
Fifteen men, led by Roger, and with a blind old man, a young girl
carrying a bundle of clothes, and two half-naked children dragged as
camp-followers in the rear.
Their destination now was the sign-post which stands at the cross-roads,
past the footbridge that leads to Courbevoie.
The guard at the Maillot Gate would have stopped the party, but Roger,
member of the Committee of Public Safety, armed with his papers and his
tricolour scarf, overruled Robespierre's former orders, and the party
mached out of the gate.
They pressed on in silence, instinctively walking shoulder to shoulder,
vaguely longing for the touch of another human hand, the sound of a
voice that would not ring weirdly in the mysterious night.
There was something terrifying in this absolute silence, in such intense
darkness, in this constant wandering towards a goal that seemed for ever
distant, and in all this weary, weary fruitless waiting; and these men,
who lived their life through, drunken with blood, deafened by the cries
of their victims, satiated with the moans of the helpless and the
innocent, hardly dared to look around them, lest they should see
ghoulish forms flitting through the gloom.
Soon they reached the cross-roads, and in the dense blackness of the
night the gaunt arms of the sign-post pointed ghostlike towards the
The men hung back, wrapped in the darkness as in a pall, while Roger
"Hola! Is anyone there?" he called softly.
Then, as no reply came, he added more loudly:
"Hola! A friend—with some clothes found in the Rue Berthier. Is anyone
here? Hola! A friend!"
But only from the gently murmuring river far away the melancholy call of
a waterfowl seemed to echo mockingly:
Just then the clock of Courbevoie Church struck the midnight hour.
"It is too late," whispered the men.
They did not swear, nor did they curse their leader. Somehow it seemed
as if they had expected all along that the Englishman would evade their
vengeance yet again, that he would lure them out into the cold and into
the darkness, and then that he would mock them, fool them, and finally
disappear into the night.
It seemed futile to wait any longer. They were so sure that they had
"Who goes there?"
The sound of naked feet and of wooden sabots pattering on the distant
footbridge had caused Roger to utter the quick challenge.
"Hola! Hola! Are you there?" was the loud, breathless response.
The next moment the darkness became alive with men moving quickly
forward, and raucous shouts of "Where are they?" "Have you got them?"
"Don't let them go!" filled the air.
"Got whom?" "Who are they?" "What is it?" were the wild counter-cries.
"The man! The girl! The children! Where are they?"
"What? Which? The Lebeau family? They are here with us."
Where, indeed? To a call to them from Roger there came no answer, nor
did a hasty search result in finding them—the old man, the two boys,
and the girl carrying the bundle of clothes had vanished into the night.
"In the name of—-, what does this mean?" cried hoarse voices in the
The new-comers, breathless, terrified, shaking with superstitious fear,
tried to explain.
"The Lebeau family—the old man, the girl, the two boys—we discovered
after your departure, locked up in the cellar of the house—prisoners."
"But, then—the others?" they gasped.
"The girl and the children whom you saw must have been some aristocrats
in disguise. The old man who spoke to you was that cursed
Englishman—the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
And as if in mocking confirmation of these words there suddenly rang,
echoing from afar, a long and merry laugh.
"The Scarlet Pimpernel!" cried Roger. "In rags and barefooted! At him,
citizens; he cannot have got far!"
"Hush! Listen!" whispered one of the men, suddenly gripping him by the
And from the distance—though Heaven only knew from what direction—came
the sound of horses' hoofs pawing the soft ground; the next moment they
were heard galloping away at breakneck speed.
The men turned to run in every direction, blindly, aimlessly, in the
dark, like bloodhounds that have lost the trail.
One man, as he ran, stumbled against a dark mass prone upon the ground.
With a curse on his lips, he recovered his balance.
"Hold! What is this?" he cried.
Some of his comrades gathered round him. No one could see anything, but
the dark mass appeared to have human shape, and it was bound round and
round with cords. And now feeble moans escaped from obviously human
"What is it? Who is it?" asked the men.
"An Englishman," came in weak accents from the ground.
"I am called Kulmsted."
"Bah! An aristocrat!"
"No! An enemy of the Scarlet Pimpernel, like yourselves. I would have
delivered him into your hands. But you let him escape you. As for me, he
would have been wiser if he had killed me."
They picked him up and undid the cords from round his body, and later on
took him with them back into Paris.
But there, in the darkness of the night, in the mud of the road, and
beneath the icy rain, knees were shaking that had long ago forgotten how
to bend, and hasty prayers were muttered by lips that were far more
accustomed to blaspheme.
THE CABARET DE LA LIBERTE
A loud curse accompanied this last throw, and shouts of ribald laughter
"No luck, Guidal!"
"Always at the tail end of the cart, eh, citizen?"
"Do not despair yet, good old Guidal! Bad beginnings oft make splendid
Then once again the dice rattled in the boxes; those who stood around
pressed closer round the gamesters; hot, avid faces, covered with sweat
and grime, peered eagerly down upon the table.
"Eight and eleven—nineteen!"
"Twelve and zero! By Satan! Curse him! Just my luck!"
"Four and nine—thirteen! Unlucky number!"
"Now then—once more! I'll back Merri! Ten assignats of the most
worthless kind! Who'll take me that Merri gets the wench in the end?"
This from one of the lookers-on, a tall, cadaverous-looking creature,
with sunken eyes and broad, hunched-up shoulders, which were perpetually
shaken by a dry, rasping cough that proclaimed the ravages of some
mortal disease, left him trembling as with ague and brought beads of
perspiration to the roots of his lank hair. A recrudescence of
excitement went the round of the spectators. The gamblers sitting round
a narrow deal table, on which past libations had left marks of sticky
rings, had scarce room to move their elbows.
"Nineteen and four—twenty-three!"
"You are out of it, Desmonts!"
"Twelve and twelve!"
"There! What did I tell you?"
"Wait! wait! Now, Merri! Now! Remember I have backed you for ten
assignats, which I propose to steal from the nearest Jew this very
"Thirteen and twelve! Twenty-five, by all the demons and the ghouls!"
came with a triumphant shout from the last thrower.
"Merri has it! Vive Merri!" was the unanimous and clamorous response.
Merri was evidently the most popular amongst the three gamblers. Now he
sprawled upon the bench, leaning his back against the table, and
surveyed the assembled company with the air of an Achilles having
vanquished his Hector.
"Good luck to you and to your aristo!" began his backer lustily—would,
no doubt, have continued his song of praise had not a violent fit of
coughing smothered the words in his throat. The hand which he had raised
in order to slap his friend genially on the back now went with a
convulsive clutch to his own chest.
But his obvious distress did not apparently disturb the equanimity of
Merri, or arouse even passing interest in the lookers-on.
"May she have as much money as rumour avers," said one of the men
Merri gave a careless wave of his grubby hand.
"More, citizen; more!" he said loftily.
Only the two losers appeared inclined to scepticism.
"Bah!" one of them said—it was Desmonts. "The whole matter of the
woman's money may be a tissue of lies!"
"And England is a far cry!" added Guidal.
But Merri was not likely to be depressed by these dismal croakings.
"'Tis simple enough," he said philosophically, "to disparage the goods
if you are not able to buy."
Then a lusty voice broke in from the far corner of the room:
"And now, citizen Merri, 'tis time you remembered that the evening is
hot and your friends thirsty!"
The man who spoke was a short, broad-shouldered creature, with crimson
face surrounded by a shock of white hair, like a ripe tomato wrapped in
"And let me tell you," he added complacently, "that I have a cask of rum
down below, which came straight from that accursed country, England, and
is said to be the nectar whereon feeds that confounded Scarlet
Pimpernel. It gives him the strength, so 'tis said, to intrigue
successfully against the representatives of the people."
"Then by all means, citizen," concluded Merri's backer, still hoarse and
spent after his fit of coughing, "let us have some of your nectar. My
friend, citizen Merri, will need strength and wits too, I'll warrant,
for, after he has married the aristo, he will have to journey to England
to pluck the rich dowry which is said to lie hidden there."
"Cast no doubt upon that dowry, citizen Rateau, curse you!" broke in
Merri, with a spiteful glance directed against his former rivals, "or
Guidal and Desmonts will cease to look glum, and half my joy in the
aristo will have gone."
After which, the conversation drifted to general subjects, became
hilarious and ribald, while the celebrated rum from England filled the
close atmosphere of the narrow room with its heady fumes.
Open to the street in front, the locality known under the pretentious
title of "Cabaret de la Liberte" was a favoured one among the flotsam
and jetsam of the population of this corner of old Paris; men and
sometimes women, with nothing particular to do, no special means of
livelihood save the battening on the countless miseries and sorrows
which this Revolution, which was to have been so glorious, was bringing
in its train; idlers and loafers, who would crawl desultorily down the
few worn and grimy steps which led into the cabaret from the level of
the street. There was always good brandy or eau de vie to be had there,
and no questions asked, no scares from the revolutionary guards or the
secret agents of the Committee of Public Safety, who knew better than to
interfere with the citizen host and his dubious clientele. There was
also good Rhine wine or rum to be had, smuggled across from England or
Germany, and no interference from the spies of some of those countless
Committees, more autocratic than any ci-devant despot. It was, in fact,
an ideal place wherein to conduct those shady transactions which are
unavoidable corollaries of an unfettered democracy. Projects of
burglary, pillage, rapine, even murder, were hatched within this
underground burrow, where, as soon as evening drew in, a solitary, smoky
oil-lamp alone cast a dim light upon faces that liked to court the
darkness, and whence no sound that was not meant for prying ears found
its way to the street above. The walls were thick with grime and smoke,
the floor mildewed and cracked; dirt vied with squalor to make the place
a fitting abode for thieves and cut-throats, for some of those sinister
night-birds, more vile even than those who shrieked with satisfied lust
at sight of the tumbril, with its daily load of unfortunates for the
On this occasion the project that was being hatched was one of the most
abject. A young girl, known by some to be possessed of a fortune, was
the stake for which these workers of iniquity gambled across one of mine
host's greasy tables. The latest decree of the Convention, encouraging,
nay, commanding, the union of aristocrats with so-called patriots, had
fired the imagination of this nest of jail-birds with thoughts of
glorious possibilities. Some of them had collected the necessary
information; and the report had been encouraging.
That self-indulgent aristo, the ci-devant banker Amede Vincent, who had
expiated his villainies upon the guillotine, was known to have been
successful in abstracting the bulk of his ill-gotten wealth and
concealing it somewhere—it was not exactly known where, but thought to
be in England—out of the reach, at any rate, of deserving patriots.
Some three or four years ago, before the glorious principles of Liberty,
Equality, and Fraternity had made short shrift of all such pestilential
aristocrats, the ci-devant banker, then a widower with an only daughter,
Esther, had journeyed to England. He soon returned to Paris, however,
and went on living there with his little girl in comparative retirement,
until his many crimes found him out at last and he was made to suffer
the punishment which he so justly deserved. Those crimes consisted for
the most part in humiliating the aforesaid deserving patriots with his
benevolence, shaming them with many kindnesses, and the simplicity of
his home-life, and, above all, in flouting the decrees of the
Revolutionary Government, which made every connection with ci-devant
churches and priests a penal offence against the security of the State.
Amede Vincent was sent to the guillotine, and the representatives of the
people confiscated his house and all his property on which they could
lay their hands; but they never found the millions which he was supposed
to have concealed. Certainly his daughter Esther—a young girl, not yet
nineteen—had not found them either, for after her father's death she
went to live in one of the poorer quarters of Paris, alone with an old
and faithful servant named Lucienne. And while the Committee of Public
Safety was deliberating whether it would be worth while to send Esther
to the guillotine, to follow in her father's footsteps, a certain number
of astute jail-birds plotted to obtain possession of her wealth.
The wealth existed, over in England; of that they were ready to take
their oath, and the project which they had formed was as ingenious as it
was diabolic: to feign a denunciation, to enact a pretended arrest, to
place before the unfortunate girl the alternative of death or marriage
with one of the gang, were the chief incidents of this inquitous
project, and it was in the Cabaret de la Liberte that lots were thrown
as to which among the herd of miscreants should be the favoured one to
play the chief role in the sinister drama.
The lot fell to Merri; but the whole gang was to have a share in the
putative fortune—even Rateau, the wretched creature with the hacking
cough, who looked as if he had one foot in the grave, and shivered as if
he were stricken with ague, put in a word now and again to remind his
good friend Merri that he, too, was looking forward to his share of the
spoils. Merri, however, was inclined to repudiate him altogether.
"Why should I share with you?" he said roughly, when, a few hours later,
he and Rateau parted in the street outside the Cabaret de la Liberte.
"Who are you, I would like to know, to try and poke your ugly nose into
my affairs? How do I know where you come from, and whether you are not
some crapulent spy of one of those pestilential committees?"
From which eloquent flow of language we may infer that the friendship
between these two worthies was not of very old duration. Rateau would,
no doubt, have protested loudly, but the fresh outer air had evidently
caught his wheezy lungs, and for a minute or two he could do nothing but
cough and splutter and groan, and cling to his unresponsive comrade for
support. Then at last, when he had succeeded in recovering his breath,
he said dolefully and with a ludicrous attempt at dignified reproach:
"Do not force me to remind you, citizen Merri, that if it had not been
for my suggestion that we should all draw lots, and then play hazard
as to who shall be the chosen one to woo the ci-devant millionairess,
there would soon have been a free fight inside the cabaret, a number of
broken heads, and no decision whatever arrived at; whilst you, who were
never much of a fighter, would probably be lying now helpless, with a
broken nose, and deprived of some of your teeth, and with no chance of
entering the lists for the heiress. Instead of which, here you are, the
victor by a stroke of good fortune, which you should at least have the
good grace to ascribe to me."
Whether the poor wretch's argument had any weight with citizen Merri, or
whether that worthy patriot merely thought that procrastination would,
for the nonce, prove the best policy, it were impossible to say. Certain
it is that in response to his companion's tirade he contented himself
with a dubious grunt, and without another word turned on his heel and
went slouching down the street.
For the persistent and optimistic romanticist, there were still one or
two idylls to be discovered flourishing under the shadow of the grim and
relentless Revolution. One such was that which had Esther Vincent and
Jack Kennard for hero and heroine. Esther, the orphaned daughter of one
of the richest bankers of pre-Revolution days, now a daily governess and
household drudge at ten francs a week in the house of a retired butcher
in the Rue Richelieu, and Jack Kennard, formerly the representative of a
big English firm of woollen manufacturers, who had thrown up his
employment and prospects in England in order to watch over the girl whom
he loved. He, himself an alien enemy, an Englishman, in deadly danger of
his life every hour that he remained in France; and she, unwilling at
the time to leave the horrors of revolutionary Paris while her father
was lingering at the Conciergerie awaiting condemnation, as such
forbidden to leave the city. So Kennard stayed on, unable to tear
himself away from her, and obtained an unlucrative post as accountant in
a small wine shop over by Montmartre. His life, like hers, was hanging
by a thread; any day, any hour now, some malevolent denunciation might,
in the sight of the Committee of Public Safety, turn the eighteen years
old "suspect" into a living peril to the State, or the alien enemy into
a dangerous spy.
Some of the happiest hours these two spent in one another's company were
embittered by that ever-present dread of the peremptory knock at the
door, the portentous: "Open, in the name of the Law!" the perquisition,
the arrest, to which the only issue, these days, was the guillotine.
But the girl was only just eighteen, and he not many years older, and at
that age, in spite of misery, sorrow, and dread, life always has its
compensations. Youth cries out to happiness so insistently that
happiness is forced to hear, and for a few moments, at the least, drives
care and even the bitterest anxiety away.
For Esther Vincent and her English lover there were moments when they
believed themselves to be almost happy. It was in the evenings mostly,
when she came home from her work and he was free to spend an hour or two
with her. Then old Lucienne, who had been Esther's nurse in the happy,
olden days, and was an unpaid maid-of-all-work and a loved and trusted
friend now, would bring in the lamp and pull the well-darned curtains
over the windows. She would spread a clean cloth upon the table and
bring in a meagre supper of coffee and black bread, perhaps a little
butter or a tiny square of cheese. And the two young people would talk
of the future, of the time when they would settle down in Kennard's old
home, over in England, where his mother and sister even now were eating
out their hearts with anxiety for him.
"Tell me all about the South Downs," Esther was very fond of saying;
"and your village, and your house, and the rambler roses and the
She never tired of hearing, or he of telling. The old Manor House,
bought with his father's savings; the garden which was his mother's
hobby; the cricket pitch on the village green. Oh, the cricket! She
thought that so funny—the men in high, sugar-loaf hats, grown-up men,
spending hours and hours, day after day, in banging at a ball with a
"Oh, Jack! The English are a funny, nice, dear, kind lot of people. I
She remembered so well that happy summer which she had spent with her
father in England four years ago. It was after the Bastille had been
stormed and taken, and the banker had journeyed to England with his
daughter in something of a hurry. Then her father had talked of
returning to France and leaving her behind with friends in England. But
Esther would not be left. Oh, no! Even now she glowed with pride at the
thought of her firmness in the matter. If she had remained in England
she would never have seen her dear father again. Here remembrances grew
bitter and sad, until Jack's hand reached soothingly, consolingly out to
her, and she brushed away her tears, so as not to sadden him still more.
Then she would ask more questions about his home and his garden, about
his mother and the dogs and the flowers; and once more they would forget
that hatred and envy and death were already stalking their door.
"Open, in the name of the Law!"
It had come at last. A bolt from out the serene blue of their happiness.
A rough, dirty, angry, cursing crowd, who burst through the heavy door
even before they had time to open it. Lucienne collapsed into a chair,
weeping and lamenting, with her apron thrown over her head. But Esther
and Kennard stood quite still and calm, holding one another by the hand,
just to give one another courage.
Some half dozen men stalked into the little room. Men? They looked like
ravenous beasts, and were unspeakably dirty, wore soiled tricolour
scarves above their tattered breeches in token of their official status.
Two of them fell on the remnants of the meagre supper and devoured
everything that remained on the table—bread, cheese, a piece of
home-made sausage. The others ransacked the two attic-rooms which had
been home for Esther and Lucienne: the little living-room under the
sloping roof, with the small hearth on which very scanty meals were wont
to be cooked, and the bare, narrow room beyond, with the iron bedstead,
and the palliasse on the floor for Lucienne.
The men poked about everywhere, struck great, spiked sticks through the
poor bits of bedding, and ripped up the palliasse. They tore open the
drawers of the rickety chest and of the broken-down wardrobe, and did
not spare the unfortunate young girl a single humiliation or a single
Kennard, burning with wrath, tried to protest.
"Hold that cub!" commanded the leader of the party, almost as soon as
the young Englishman's hot, indignant words had resounded above the din
of overturned furniture. "And if he opens his mouth again throw him into
the street!" And Kennard, terrified lest he should be parted from
Esther, thought it wiser to hold his peace.
They looked at one another, like two young trapped beasts—not
despairing, but trying to infuse courage one into the other by a look of
confidence and of love. Esther, in fact, kept her eyes fixed on her
good-looking English lover, firmly keeping down the shudder of loathing
which went right through her when she saw those awful men coming nigh
her. There was one especially whom she abominated worse than the others,
a bandy-legged ruffian, who regarded her with a leer that caused her an
almost physical nausea. He did not take part in the perquisition, but
sat down in the centre of the room and sprawled over the table with the
air of one who was in authority. The others addressed him as "citizen
Merri," and alternately ridiculed and deferred to him. And there was
another, equally hateful, a horrible, cadaverous creature, with huge
bare feet thrust into sabots, and lank hair, thick with grime. He did
most of the talking, even though his loquacity occasionally broke down
in a racking cough, which literally seemed to tear at his chest, and
left him panting, hoarse, and with beads of moisture upon his low,
Of course, the men found nothing that could even remotely be termed
compromising. Esther had been very prudent in deference to Kennard's
advice; she also had very few possessions. Nevertheless, when the
wretches had turned every article of furniture inside out, one of them
"What do we do next, citizen Merri?"
"Do?" broke in the cadaverous creature, even before Merri had time to
reply. "Do? Why, take the wench to—to—"
He got no further, became helpless with coughing. Esther, quite
instinctively, pushed the carafe of water towards him.
"Nothing of the sort!" riposted Merri sententiously. "The wench stays
Both Esther and Jack had much ado to suppress an involuntary cry of
relief, which at this unexpected pronouncement had risen to their lips.
The man with the cough tried to protest.
"But—" he began hoarsely.
"I said, the wench stays here!" broke in Merri peremptorily. "Ah ca!" he
added, with a savage imprecation. "Do you command here, citizen Rateau,
or do I?"
The other at once became humble, even cringing.
"You, of course, citizen," he rejoined in his hollow voice. "I would
"Remark nothing," retorted the other curtly. "See to it that the cub is
out of the house. And after that put a sentry outside the wench's door.
No one to go in and out of here under any pretext whatever. Understand?"
Kennard this time uttered a cry of protest. The helplessness of his
position exasperated him almost to madness. Two men were holding him
tightly by his sinewy arms. With an Englishman's instinct for a fight,
he would not only have tried, but also succeeded in knocking these two
down, and taken the other four on after that, with quite a reasonable
chance of success. That tuberculous creature, now! And that bandy-legged
ruffian! Jack Kennard had been an amateur middle-weight champion in his
day, and these brutes had no more science than an enraged bull! But even
as he fought against that instinct he realised the futility of a
struggle. The danger of it, too—not for himself, but for her. After
all, they were not going to take her away to one of those awful places
from which the only egress was the way to the guillotine; and if there
was that amount of freedom there was bound to be some hope. At twenty
there is always hope!
So when, in obedience to Merri's orders, the two ruffians began to drag
him towards the door, he said firmly:
"Leave me alone. I'll go without this unnecessary struggling."
Then, before the wretches realised his intention, he had jerked himself
free from them and run to Esther.
"Have no fear," he said to her in English, and in a rapid whisper. "I'll
watch over you. The house opposite. I know the people. I'll manage it
somehow. Be on the look-out."
They would not let him say more, and she only had the chance of
responding firmly: "I am not afraid, and I'll be on the look-out." The
next moment Merri's compeers seized him from behind—four of them this
Then, of course, prudence went to the winds. He hit out to the right and
left. Knocked two of those recreants down, and already was prepared to
seize Esther in his arms, make a wild dash for the door, and run with
her, whither only God knew, when Rateau, that awful consumptive
reprobate, crept slyly up behind him and dealt him a swift and heavy
blow on the skull with his weighted stick. Kennard staggered, and the
bandits closed upon him. Those on the floor had time to regain their
feet. To make assurance doubly sure, one of them emulated Rateau's
tactics, and hit the Englishman once more on the head from behind. After
that, Kennard became inert; he had partly lost consciousness. His head
ached furiously. Esther, numb with horror, saw him bundled out of the
room. Rateau, coughing and spluttering, finally closed the door upon the
unfortunate and the four brigands who had hold of him.
Only Merri and that awful Rateau had remained in the room. The latter,
gasping for breath now, poured himself out a mugful of water and drank
it down at one draught. Then he swore, because he wanted rum, or brandy,
or even wine. Esther watched him and Merri, fascinated. Poor old
Lucienne was quietly weeping behind her apron.
"Now then, my wench," Merri began abruptly, "suppose you sit down here
and listen to what I have to say."
He pulled a chair close to him and, with one of those hideous leers
which had already caused her to shudder, he beckoned her to sit. Esther
obeyed as if in a dream. Her eyes were dilated like those of one in a
waking trance. She moved mechanically, like a bird attracted by a
serpent, terrified, yet unresisting. She felt utterly helpless between
these two villainous brutes, and anxiety for her English lover seemed
further to numb her senses. When she was sitting she turned her gaze,
with an involuntary appeal for pity, upon the bandy-legged ruffian
beside her. He laughed.
"No! I am not going to hurt you," he said with smooth condescension,
which was far more loathsome to Esther's ears than his comrades' savage
oaths had been. "You are pretty and you have pleased me. 'Tis no small
matter, forsooth!" he added, with loud-voiced bombast, "to have earned
the good-will of citizen Merri. You, my wench, are in luck's way. You
realise what has occurred just now. You are amenable to the law which
has decreed you to be suspect. I hold an order for your arrest. I can
have you seized at once by my men, dragged to the Conciergerie, and from
thence nothing can save you—neither your good looks nor the protection
of citizen Merri. It means the guillotine. You understand that, don't
She sat quite still; only her hands were clutched convulsively together.
But she contrived to say quite firmly:
"I do, and I am not afraid."
Merri waved a huge and very dirty hand with a careless gesture.
"I know," he said with a harsh laugh. "They all say that, don't they,
"Until the time comes," assented that worthy dryly.
"Until the time comes," reiterated the other. "Now, my wench," he added,
once more turning to Esther, "I don't want that time to come. I don't
want your pretty head to go rolling down into the basket, and to receive
the slap on the face which the citizen executioner has of late taken to
bestowing on those aristocratic cheeks which Mme. la Guillotine has
finally blanched for ever. Like this, you see."
And the inhuman wretch took up one of the round cushions from the
nearest chair, held it up at arm's length, as if it were a head which he
held by the hair, and then slapped it twice with the palm of his left
hand. The gesture was so horrible and withal so grotesque, that Esther
closed her eyes with a shudder, and her pale cheeks took on a leaden
hue. Merri laughed aloud and threw the cushion down again.
"Unpleasant, what? my pretty wench! Well, you know what to expect …
unless," he added significantly, "you are reasonable and will listen to
what I am about to tell you."
Esther was no fool, nor was she unsophisticated. These were not times
when it was possible for any girl, however carefully nurtured and
tenderly brought up, to remain ignorant of the realities and the
brutalities of life. Even before Merri had put his abominable
proposition before her, she knew what he was driving at.
Marriage—marriage to him! that ignoble wretch, more vile than any dumb
creature! In exchange for her life!
It was her turn now to laugh. The very thought of it was farcical in its
very odiousness. Merri, who had embarked on his proposal with
grandiloquent phraseology, suddenly paused, almost awed by that strange,
"By Satan and all his ghouls!" he cried, and jumped to his feet, his
cheeks paling beneath the grime.
Then rage seized him at his own cowardice. His egregious vanity, wounded
by that laughter, egged him on. He tried to seize Esther by the waist.
But she, quick as some panther on the defence, had jumped up, too, and
pounced upon a knife—the very one she had been using for that happy
little supper with her lover a brief half hour ago. Unguarded,
unthinking, acting just with a blind instinct, she raised it and cried
"If you dare touch me, I'll kill you!"
It was ludicrous, of course. A mouse threatening a tiger. The very next
moment Rateau had seized her hand and quietly taken away the knife.
Merri shook himself like a frowsy dog.
"Whew!" he ejaculated. "What a vixen! But," he added lightly, "I like
her all the better for that—eh, Rateau? Give me a wench with a
temperament, I say!"
But Esther, too, had recovered herself. She realised her helplessness,
and gathered courage from the consciousness of it! Now she faced the
infamous villain more calmly.
"I will never marry you," she said loudly and firmly. "Never! I am not
afraid to die. I am not afraid of the guillotine. There is no shame
attached to death. So now you may do as you please—denounce me, and
send me to follow in the footsteps of my dear father, if you wish. But
whilst I am alive you will never come nigh me. If you ever do but lay a
finger upon me, it will be because I am dead and beyond the reach of
your polluting touch. And now I have said all that I will ever say to
you in this life. If you have a spark of humanity left in you, you will,
at least, let me prepare for death in peace."
She went round to where poor old Lucienne still sat, like an insentient
log, panic-stricken. She knelt down on the floor and rested her arm on
the old woman's knees. The light of the lamp fell full upon her, her
pale face, and mass of chestnut-brown hair. There was nothing about her
at this moment to inflame a man's desire. She looked pathetic in her
helplessness, and nearly lifeless through the intensity of her pallor,
whilst the look in her eyes was almost maniacal.
Merri cursed and swore, tried to hearten himself by turning on his
friend. But Rateau had collapsed—whether with excitement or the ravages
of disease, it were impossible to say. He sat upon a low chair, his long
legs, his violet-circled eyes staring out with a look of hebetude and
overwhelming fatigue. Merri looked around him and shuddered. The
atmosphere of the place had become strangely weird and uncanny; even the
tablecloth, dragged half across the table, looked somehow like a shroud.
"What shall we do, Rateau?" he asked tremulously at last.
"Get out of this infernal place," replied the other huskily. "I feel as
if I were in my grave-clothes already."
"Hold your tongue, you miserable coward! You'll make the aristo think
that we are afraid."
"Well?" queried Rateau blandly. "Aren't you?"
"No!" replied Merri fiercely. "I'll go now because … because … well!
because I have had enough to-day. And the wench sickens me. I wish to
serve the Republic by marrying her, but just now I feel as if I should
never really want her. So I'll go! But, understand!" he added, and
turned once more to Esther, even though he could not bring himself to go
nigh her again. "Understand that to-morrow I'll come again for my
answer. In the meanwhile, you may think matters over, and, maybe, you'll
arrive at a more reasonable frame of mind. You will not leave these
rooms until I set you free. My men will remain as sentinels at your
He beckoned to Rateau, and the two men went out of the room without
The whole of that night Esther remained shut up in her apartment in the
Petite Rue Taranne. All night she heard the measured tramp, the
movements, the laughter and loud talking of men outside her door. Once
or twice she tried to listen to what they said. But the doors and walls
in these houses of old Paris were too stout to allow voices to filter
through, save in the guise of a confused murmur. She would have felt
horribly lonely and frightened but for the fact that in one window on
the third floor in the house opposite the light of a lamp appeared like
a glimmer of hope. Jack Kennard was there, on the watch. He had the
window open and sat beside it until a very late hour; and after that he
kept the light in, as a beacon, to bid her be of good cheer.
In the middle of the night he made an attempt to see her, hoping to
catch the sentinels asleep or absent. But, having climbed the five
stories of the house wherein she dwelt, he arrived on the landing
outside her door and found there half a dozen ruffians squatting on the
stone floor and engaged in playing hazard with a pack of greasy cards.
That wretched consumptive, Rateau, was with them, and made a facetious
remark as Kennard, pale and haggard, almost ghostlike, with a white
bandage round his head, appeared upon the landing.
"Go back to bed, citizen," the odious creature said, with a raucous
laugh. "We are taking care of your sweetheart for you."
Never in all his life had Jack Kennard felt so abjectly wretched as he
did then, so miserably helpless. There was nothing that he could do,
save to return to the lodging, which a kind friend had lent him for the
occasion, and from whence he could, at any rate, see the windows behind
which his beloved was watching and suffering.
When he went a few moments ago, he had left the porte cochere ajar. Now
he pushed it open and stepped into the dark passage beyond. A tiny
streak of light filtrated through a small curtained window in the
concierge's lodge; it served to guide Kennard to the foot of the narrow
stone staircase which led to the floors above. Just at the foot of the
stairs, on the mat, a white paper glimmered in the dim shaft of light.
He paused, puzzled, quite certain that the paper was not there five
minutes ago when he went out. Oh! it may have fluttered in from the
courtyard beyond, or from anywhere, driven by the draught. But, even so,
with that mechanical action peculiar to most people under like
circumstances, he stooped and picked up the paper, turned it over
between his fingers, and saw that a few words were scribbled on it in
pencil. The light was too dim to read by, so Kennard, still quite
mechanically, kept the paper in his hand and went up to his room. There,
by the light of the lamp, he read the few words scribbled in pencil:
"Wait in the street outside."
Nothing more. The message was obviously not intended for him, and yet….
A strange excitement possessed him. If it should be! If…! He had
heard—everyone had—of the mysterious agencies that were at work, under
cover of darkness, to aid the unfortunate, the innocent, the helpless.
He had heard of that legendary English gentleman who had before now
defied the closest vigilance of the Committees, and snatched their
intended victims out of their murderous clutches, at times under their
If this should be…! He scarce dared put his hope into words. He could
not bring himself really to believe. But he went. He ran downstairs and
out into the street, took his stand under a projecting doorway nearly
opposite the house which held the woman he loved, and leaning against
the wall, he waited.
After many hours—it was then past three o'clock in the morning, and the
sky of an inky blackness—he felt so numb that despite his will a kind
of trance-like drowsiness overcame him. He could no longer stand on his
feet; his knees were shaking; his head felt so heavy that he could not
keep it up. It rolled round from shoulder to shoulder, as if his will no
longer controlled it. And it ached furiously. Everything around him was
very still. Even "Paris-by-Night," that grim and lurid giant, was for
the moment at rest. A warm summer rain was falling; its gentle,
pattering murmur into the gutter helped to lull Kennard's senses into
somnolence. He was on the point of dropping off to sleep when something
suddenly roused him. A noise of men shouting and laughing—familiar
sounds enough in these squalid Paris streets.
But Kennard was wide awake now; numbness had given place to intense
quivering of all his muscles, and super-keenness of his every sense. He
peered into the darkness and strained his ears to hear. The sound
certainly appeared to come from the house opposite, and there, too, it
seemed as if something or things were moving. Men! More than one or two,
surely! Kennard thought that he could distinguish at least three
distinct voices; and there was that weird, racking cough which
proclaimed the presence of Rateau.
Now the men were quite close to where he—Kennard—still stood cowering.
A minute or two later they had passed down the street. Their hoarse
voices soon died away in the distance. Kennard crept cautiously out of
his hiding-place. Message or mere coincidence, he now blessed that
mysterious scrap of paper. Had he remained in his room, he might really
have dropped off to sleep and not heard these men going away. There were
three of them at least—Kennard thought four. But, anyway, the number of
watch-dogs outside the door of his beloved had considerably diminished.
He felt that he had the strength to grapple with them, even if there
were still three of them left. He, an athlete, English, and master of
the art of self-defence; and they, a mere pack of drink-sodden brutes!
Yes! He was quite sure he could do it. Quite sure that he could force
his way into Esther's rooms and carry her off in his arms—whither? God
alone knew. And God alone would provide.
Just for a moment he wondered if, while he was in that state of
somnolence, other bandits had come to take the place of those that were
going. But this thought he quickly dismissed. In any case, he felt a
giant's strength in himself, and could not rest now till he had tried
once more to see her. He crept very cautiously along; was satisfied that
the street was deserted.
Already he had reached the house opposite, had pushed open the porte
cochere, which was on the latch—when, without the slightest warning, he
was suddenly attacked from behind, his arms seized and held behind his
back with a vice-like grip, whilst a vigorous kick against the calves of
his legs caused him to lose his footing and suddenly brought him down,
sprawling and helpless, in the gutter, while in his ear there rang the
hideous sound of the consumptive ruffian's racking cough.
"What shall we do with the cub now?" a raucous voice came out of the
"Let him lie there," was the quick response. "It'll teach him to
interfere with the work of honest patriots."
Kennard, lying somewhat bruised and stunned, heard this decree with
thankfulness. The bandits obviously thought him more hurt than he was,
and if only they would leave him lying here, he would soon pick himself
up and renew his attempt to go to Esther. He did not move, feigning
unconsciousness, even though he felt rather than saw that hideous Rateau
stooping over him, heard his stertorous breathing, the wheezing in his
"Run and fetch a bit of cord, citizen Desmonts," the wretch said
presently. "A trussed cub is safer than a loose one."
This dashed Kennard's hopes to a great extent. He felt that he must act
quickly, before those brigands returned and rendered him completely
helpless. He made a movement to rise—a movement so swift and sudden as
only a trained athlete can make. But, quick as he was, that odious,
wheezing creature was quicker still, and now, when Kennard had turned on
his back, Rateau promptly sat on his chest, a dead weight, with long
legs stretched out before him, coughing and spluttering, yet wholly at
Oh! the humiliating position for an amateur middle-weight champion to
find himself in, with that drink-sodden—Kennard was sure that he was
drink-sodden—consumptive sprawling on the top of him!
"Don't trouble, citizen Desmonts," the wretch cried out after his
retreating companions. "I have what I want by me."
Very leisurely he pulled a coil of rope out of the capacious pocket of
his tattered coat. Kennard could not see what he was doing, but felt it
with supersensitive instinct all the time. He lay quite still beneath
the weight of that miscreant, feigning unconsciousness, yet hardly able
to breathe. That tuberculous caitiff was such a towering weight. But he
tried to keep his faculties on the alert, ready for that surprise spring
which would turn the tables, at the slightest false move on the part of
But, as luck would have it, Rateau did not make a single false move. It
was amazing with what dexterity he kept Kennard down, even while he
contrived to pinion him with cords. An old sailor, probably, he seemed
so dexterous with knots.
My God! the humiliation of it all. And Esther a helpless prisoner,
inside that house not five paces away! Kennard's heavy, wearied eyes
could perceive the light in her window, five stories above where he lay,
in the gutter, a helpless log. Even now he gave a last desperate shriek:
But in a second the abominable brigand's hand came down heavily upon his
mouth, whilst a raucous voice spluttered rather than said, right through
an awful fit of coughing:
"Another sound, and I'll gag as well as bind you, you young fool!"
After which, Kennard remained quite still.
Esther, up in her little attic, knew nothing of what her English lover
was even then suffering for her sake. She herself had passed, during the
night, through every stage of horror and of fear. Soon after midnight
that execrable brigand Rateau had poked his ugly, cadaverous face in at
the door and peremptorily called for Lucienne. The woman, more dead than
alive now with terror, had answered with mechanical obedience.
"I and my friends are thirsty," the man had commanded. "Go and fetch us
a litre of eau-de-vie."
Poor Lucienne stammered a pitiable: "Where shall I go?"
"To the house at the sign of 'Le fort Samson,' in the Rue de Seine,"
replied Rateau curtly. "They'll serve you well if you mention my name."
Of course Lucienne protested. She was a decent woman, who had never been
inside a cabaret in her life.
"Then it's time you began," was Rateau's dry comment, which was greeted
with much laughter from his abominable companions.
Lucienne was forced to go. It would, of course, have been futile and
madness to resist. This had occurred three hours since. The Rue de Seine
was not far, but the poor woman had not returned. Esther was left with
this additional horror weighing upon her soul. What had happened to her
unfortunate servant? Visions of outrage and murder floated before the
poor girl's tortured brain. At best, Lucienne was being kept out of the
way in order to make her—Esther—feel more lonely and desperate! She
remained at the window after that, watching that light in the house
opposite and fingering her prayer-book, the only solace which she had.
Her attic was so high up and the street so narrow, that she could not
see what went on in the street below. At one time she heard a great
to-do outside her door. It seemed as if some of the bloodhounds who were
set to watch her had gone, or that others came. She really hardly cared
which it was. Then she heard a great commotion coming from the street
immediately beneath her: men shouting and laughing, and that awful
creature's rasping cough.
At one moment she felt sure that Kennard had called to her by name. She
heard his voice distinctly, raised as if in a despairing cry.
After that, all was still.
So still that she could hear her heart beating furiously, and then a
tear falling from her eyes upon her open book. So still that the gentle
patter of the rain sounded like a soothing lullaby. She was very young,
and was very tired. Out, above the line of sloping roofs and chimney
pots, the darkness of the sky was yielding to the first touch of dawn.
The rain ceased. Everything became deathly still. Esther's head fell,
wearied, upon her folded arms.
Then, suddenly, she was wide awake. Something had roused her. A noise.
At first she could not tell what it was, but now she knew. It was the
opening and shutting of the door behind her, and then a quick, stealthy
footstep across the room. The horror of it all was unspeakable. Esther
remained as she had been, on her knees, mechanically fingering her
prayer-book, unable to move, unable to utter a sound, as if paralysed.
She knew that one of those abominable creatures had entered her room,
was coming near her even now. She did not know who it was, only guessed
it was Rateau, for she heard a raucous, stertorous wheeze. Yet she could
not have then turned to look if her life had depended upon her doing so.
The whole thing had occurred in less than half a dozen heart-beats. The
next moment the wretch was close to her. Mercifully she felt that her
senses were leaving her. Even so, she felt that a handkerchief was being
bound over her mouth to prevent her screaming. Wholly unnecessary this,
for she could not have uttered a sound. Then she was lifted off the
ground and carried across the room, then over the threshold. A vague,
subconscious effort of will helped her to keep her head averted from
that wheezing wretch who was carrying her. Thus she could see the
landing, and two of those abominable watchdogs who had been set to guard
The ghostly grey light of dawn came peeping in through the narrow dormer
window in the sloping roof, and faintly illumined their sprawling forms,
stretched out at full length, with their heads buried in their folded
arms and their naked legs looking pallid and weird in the dim light.
Their stertorous breathing woke the echoes of the bare, stone walls.
Esther shuddered and closed her eyes. She was now like an insentient
log, without power, or thought, or will—almost without feeling.
Then, all at once, the coolness of the morning air caught her full in
the face. She opened her eyes and tried to move, but those powerful arms
held her more closely than before. Now she could have shrieked with
horror. With returning consciousness the sense of her desperate position
came on her with its full and ghastly significance, its awe-inspiring
details. The grey dawn, the abandoned wretch who held her, and the
stillness of this early morning hour, when not one pitying soul would be
astir to lend her a helping hand or give her the solace of mute
sympathy. So great, indeed, was this stillness that the click of the
man's sabots upon the uneven pavement reverberated, ghoul-like and
And it was through that awesome stillness that a sound suddenly struck
her ear, which, in the instant, made her feel that she was not really
alive, or, if alive, was sleeping and dreaming strange and impossible
dreams. It was the sound of a voice, clear and firm, and with a
wonderful ring of merriment in its tones, calling out just above a
whisper, and in English, if you please:
"Look out, Ffoulkes! That young cub is as strong as a horse. He will
give us all away if you are not careful."
A dream? Of course it was a dream, for the voice had sounded very close
to her ear; so close, in fact, that … well! Esther was quite sure that
her face still rested against the hideous, tattered, and grimy coat
which that repulsive Rateau had been wearing all along. And there was
the click of his sabots upon the pavement all the time. So, then, the
voice and the merry, suppressed laughter which accompanied it, must all
have been a part of her dream. How long this lasted she could not have
told you. An hour and more, she thought, while the grey dawn yielded to
the roseate hue of morning. Somehow, she no longer suffered either
terror or foreboding. A subtle atmosphere of strength and of security
seemed to encompass her. At one time she felt as if she were driven
along in a car that jolted horribly, and when she moved her face and
hands they came in contact with things that were fresh and green and
smelt of the country. She was in darkness then, and more than three
parts unconscious, but the handkerchief had been removed from her mouth.
It seemed to her as if she could hear the voice of her Jack, but far
away and indistinct; also the tramp of horses' hoofs and the creaking of
cart-wheels, and at times that awful, rasping cough, which reminded her
of the presence of a loathsome wretch, who should not have had a part in
her soothing dream.
Thus many hours must have gone by.
Then, all at once, she was inside a house—a room, and she felt that she
was being lowered very gently to the ground. She was on her feet, but
she could not see where she was. There was furniture; a carpet; a
ceiling; the man Rateau with the sabots and the dirty coat, and the
merry English voice, and a pair of deep-set blue eyes, thoughtful and
lazy and infinitely kind.
But before she could properly focus what she saw, everything began to
whirl and to spin around her, to dance a wild and idiotic saraband,
which caused her to laugh, and to laugh, until her throat felt choked
and her eyes hot; after which she remembered nothing more.
The first thing of which Esther Vincent was conscious, when she returned
to her senses, was of her English lover kneeling beside her. She was
lying on some kind of couch, and she could see his face in profile, for
he had turned and was speaking to someone at the far end of the room.
"And was it you who knocked me down?" he was saying, "and sat on my
chest, and trussed me like a fowl?"
"La! my dear sir," a lazy, pleasant voice riposted, "what else could I
do? There was no time for explanations. You were half-crazed, and would
not have understood. And you were ready to bring all the nightwatchmen
about our ears."
"I am sorry!" Kennard said simply. "But how could I guess?"
"You couldn't," rejoined the other. "That is why I had to deal so
summarily with you and with Mademoiselle Esther, not to speak of good
old Lucienne, who had never, in her life, been inside a cabaret. You
must all forgive me ere you start upon your journey. You are not out of
the wood yet, remember. Though Paris is a long way behind, France itself
is no longer a healthy place for any of you."
"But how did we ever get out of Paris? I was smothered under a pile of
cabbages, with Lucienne on one side of me and Esther, unconscious, on
the other. I could see nothing. I know we halted at the barrier. I
thought we would be recognised, turned back! My God! how I trembled!"
"Bah!" broke in the other, with a careless laugh. "It is not so
difficult as it seems. We have done it before—eh, Ffoulkes? A
market-gardener's cart, a villainous wretch like myself to drive it,
another hideous object like Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Bart., to lead the
scraggy nag, a couple of forged or stolen passports, plenty of English
gold, and the deed is done!"
Esther's eyes were fixed upon the speaker. She marvelled now how she
could have been so blind. The cadaverous face was nothing but a splendid
use of grease paint! The rags! the dirt! the whole assumption of a
hideous character was masterly! But there were the eyes, deep-set, and
thoughtful and kind. How did she fail to guess?
"You are known as the Scarlet Pimpernel," she said suddenly. "Suzanne de
Tournai was my friend. She told me. You saved her and her family, and
now … oh, my God!" she exclaimed, "how shall we ever repay you?"
"By placing yourselves unreservedly in my friend Ffoulkes' hands," he
replied gently. "He will lead you to safety and, if you wish it, to
"If we wish it!" Kennard sighed fervently.
"You are not coming with us, Blakeney?" queried Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, and
it seemed to Esther's sensitive ears as if a tone of real anxiety and
also of entreaty rang in the young man's voice.
"No, not this time," replied Sir Percy lightly. "I like my character of
Rateau, and I don't want to give it up just yet. I have done nothing to
arouse suspicion in the minds of my savoury compeers up at the Cabaret
de la Liberte. I can easily keep this up for some time to come, and
frankly I admire myself as citizen Rateau. I don't know when I have
enjoyed a character so much!"
"You mean to return to the Cabaret de la Liberte!" exclaimed Sir Andrew.
"You will be recognised!"
"Not before I have been of service to a good many unfortunates, I hope."
"But that awful cough of yours! Percy, you'll do yourself an injury with
it one day."
"Not I! I like that cough. I practised it for a long time before I did
it to perfection. Such a splendid wheeze! I must teach Tony to do it
some day. Would you like to hear it now?"
He laughed, that perfect, delightful, lazy laugh of his, which carried
every hearer with it along the path of light-hearted merriment. Then he
broke into the awful cough of the consumptive Rateau. And Esther Vincent
instinctively closed her eyes and shuddered.
The children were all huddled up together in one corner of the room.
Etienne and Valentine, the two eldest, had their arms round the little
one. As for Lucile, she would have told you herself that she felt just
like a bird between two snakes—terrified and fascinated—oh! especially
by that little man with the pale face and the light grey eyes and the
slender white hands unstained by toil, one of which rested lightly upon
the desk, and was only clenched now and then at a word or a look from
the other man or from Lucile herself.
But Commissary Lebel just tried to browbeat her. It was not difficult,
for in truth she felt frightened enough already, with all this talk of
"traitors" and that awful threat of the guillotine.
Lucile Clamette, however, would have remained splendidly loyal in spite
of all these threats, if it had not been for the children. She was
little mother to them; for father was a cripple, with speech and mind
already impaired by creeping paralysis, and maman had died when little
Josephine was born. And now those fiends threatened not only her, but
Etienne who was not fourteen, and Valentine who was not much more than
ten, with death, unless she—Lucile—broke the solemn word which she had
given to M. le Marquis. At first she had tried to deny all knowledge of
M. le Marquis' whereabouts.
"I can assure M. le Commissaire that I do not know," she had persisted
quietly, even though her heart was beating so rapidly in her bosom that
she felt as if she must choke.
"Call me citizen Commissary," Lebel had riposted curtly. "I should take
it as a proof that your aristocratic sentiments are not so deep-rooted
as they appear to be."
"Yes, citizen!" murmured Lucile, under her breath.
Then the other one, he with the pale eyes and the slender white hands,
leaned forward over the desk, and the poor girl felt as if a mighty and
unseen force was holding her tight, so tight that she could neither
move, nor breathe, nor turn her gaze away from those pale, compelling
eyes. In the remote corner little Josephine was whimpering, and
Etienne's big, dark eyes were fixed bravely upon his eldest sister.
"There, there! little citizeness," the awful man said, in a voice that
sounded low and almost caressing, "there is nothing to be frightened of.
No one is going to hurt you or your little family. We only want you to
be reasonable. You have promised to your former employer that you would
never tell anyone of his whereabouts. Well! we don't ask you to tell us
"All that we want you to do is to write a letter to M. le Marquis—one
that I myself will dictate to you. You have written to M. le Marquis
before now, on business matters, have you not?"
"Yes, monsieur—yes, citizen," stammered Lucile through her tears.
"Father was bailiff to M. le Marquis until he became a cripple and now
"Do not write any letter, Lucile," Etienne suddenly broke in with
forceful vehemence. "It is a trap set by these miscreants to entrap M.
There was a second's silence in the room after this sudden outburst on
the part of the lad. Then the man with the pale face said quietly:
"Citizen Lebel, order the removal of that boy. Let him be kept in
custody till he has learned to hold his tongue."
But before Lebel could speak to the two soldiers who were standing on
guard at the door, Lucile had uttered a loud cry of agonised protest.
"No! no! monsieur!—that is citizen!" she implored. "Do not take Etienne
away. He will be silent…. I promise you that he will be silent …
only do not take him away! Etienne, my little one!" she added, turning
her tear-filled eyes to her brother, "I entreat thee to hold thy
The others, too, clung to Etienne, and the lad, awed and subdued,
relapsed into silence.
"Now then," resumed Lebel roughly, after a while, "let us get on with
this business. I am sick to death of it. It has lasted far too long
He fixed his blood-shot eyes upon Lucile and continued gruffly:
"Now listen to me, my wench, for this is going to be my last word.
Citizen Chauvelin here has already been very lenient with you by
allowing this letter business. If I had my way I'd make you speak here
and now. As it is, you either sit down and write the letter at citizen
Chauvelin's dictation at once, or I send you with that impudent brother
of yours and your imbecile father to jail, on a charge of treason
against the State, for aiding and abetting the enemies of the Republic;
and you know what the consequences of such a charge usually are. The
other two brats will go to a House of Correction, there to be detained
during the pleasure of the Committee of Public Safety. That is my last
word," he reiterated fiercely. "Now, which is it to be?"
He paused, the girl's wan cheeks turned the colour of lead. She
moistened her lips once or twice with her tongue; beads of perspiration
appeared at the roots of her hair. She gazed helplessly at her
tormentors, not daring to look on those three huddled-up little figures
there in the corner. A few seconds sped away in silence. The man with
the pale eyes rose and pushed his chair away. He went to the window,
stood there with his back to the room, those slender white hands of his
clasped behind him. Neither the commissary nor the girl appeared to
interest him further. He was just gazing out of the window.
The other was still sprawling beside the desk, his large, coarse
hand—how different his hands were!—was beating a devil's tatoo upon
the arm of his chair.
After a few minutes, Lucile made a violent effort to compose herself,
wiped the moisture from her pallid forehead and dried the tears which
still hung upon her lashes. Then she rose from her chair and walked
resolutely up to the desk.
"I will write the letter," she said simply.
Lebel gave a snort of satisfaction; but the other did not move from his
position near the window. The boy, Etienne, had uttered a cry of
"Do not give M. le Marquis away, Lucile!" he said hotly. "I am not
afraid to die."
But Lucile had made up her mind. How could she do otherwise, with these
awful threats hanging over them all? She and Etienne and poor father
gone, and the two young ones in one of those awful Houses of Correction,
where children were taught to hate the Church, to shun the Sacraments,
and to blaspheme God!
"What am I to write?" she asked dully, resolutely closing her ears
against her brother's protest.
Lebel pushed pen, ink and paper towards her and she sat down, ready to
"Write!" now came in a curt command from the man at the window. And
Lucile wrote at his dictation:
"MONSIEUR LE MARQUIS,—We are in grave trouble. My brother Etienne
and I have been arrested on a charge of treason. This means the
guillotine for us and for poor father, who can no longer speak; and
the two little ones are to be sent to one of those dreadful Houses
of Correction, where children are taught to deny God and to
blaspheme. You alone can save us, M. le Marquis; and I beg you on
my knees to do it. The citizen Commissary here says that you have
in your possession certain papers which are of great value to the
State, and that if I can persuade you to give these up, Etienne,
father and I and the little ones will be left unmolested. M. le
Marquis, you once said that you could never adequately repay my
poor father for all his devotion in your service. You can do it
now, M. le Marquis, by saving us all. I will be at the chateau a
week from to-day. I entreat you, M. le Marquis, to come to me then
and to bring the papers with you; or if you can devise some other
means of sending the papers to me, I will obey your behests.—I am,
M. le Marquis' faithful and devoted servant,
The pen dropped from the unfortunate girl's fingers. She buried her face
in her hands and sobbed convulsively. The children were silent, awed and
subdued—tired out, too. Only Etienne's dark eyes were fixed upon his
sister with a look of mute reproach.
Lebel had made no attempt to interrupt the flow of his colleague's
dictation. Only once or twice did a hastily smothered "What the—-!" of
astonishment escape his lips. Now, when the letter was finished and duly
signed, he drew it to him and strewed the sand over it. Chauvelin, more
impassive than ever, was once more gazing out of the window.
"How are the ci-devant aristos to get this letter?" the commissary
"It must be put in the hollow tree which stands by the side of the
stable gate at Montorgueil," whispered Lucile.
"And the aristos will find it there?"
"Yes. M. le Vicomte goes there once or twice a week to see if there is
anything there from one of us."
"They are in hiding somewhere close by, then?"
But to this the girl gave no reply. Indeed, she felt as if any word now
might choke her.
"Well, no matter where they are!" the inhuman wretch resumed, with
brutal cynicism. "We've got them now—both of them. Marquis! Vicomte!"
he added, and spat on the ground to express his contempt of such titles.
"Citizens Montorgueil, father and son—that's all they are! And as such
they'll walk up in state to make their bow to Mme. la Guillotine!"
"May we go now?" stammered Lucile through her tears.
Lebel nodded in assent, and the girl rose and turned to walk towards the
door. She called to the children, and the little ones clustered round
her skirts like chicks around the mother-hen. Only Etienne remained
aloof, wrathful against his sister for what he deemed her treachery.
"Women have no sense of honour!" he muttered to himself, with all the
pride of conscious manhood. But Lucile felt more than ever like a bird
who is vainly trying to evade the clutches of a fowler. She gathered the
two little ones around her. Then, with a cry like a wounded doe she ran
quickly out of the room.
As soon as the sound of the children's footsteps had died away down the
corridor, Lebel turned with a grunt to his still silent companion.
"And now, citizen Chauvelin," he said roughly, "perhaps you will be good
enough to explain what is the meaning of all this tomfoolery."
"Tomfoolery, citizen?" queried the other blandly. "What tomfoolery,
"Why, about those papers!" growled Lebel savagely. "Curse you for an
interfering busybody! It was I who got information that those
pestilential aristos, the Montorgueils, far from having fled the country
are in hiding somewhere in my district. I could have made the girl give
up their hiding-place pretty soon, without any help from you. What right
had you to interfere, I should like to know?"
"You know quite well what right I had, citizen Lebel," replied Chauvelin
with perfect composure. "The right conferred upon me by the Committee of
Public Safety, of whom I am still an unworthy member. They sent me down
here to lend you a hand in an investigation which is of grave importance
"I know that!" retorted Lebel sulkily. "But why have invented the story
of the papers?"
"It is no invention, citizen," rejoined Chauvelin with slow emphasis.
"The papers do exist. They are actually in the possession of the
Montorgueils, father and son. To capture the two aristos would be not
only a blunder, but criminal folly, unless we can lay hands on the
papers at the same time."
"But what in Satan's name are those papers?" ejaculated Lebel with a
"Think, citizen Lebel! Think!" was Chauvelin's cool rejoinder. "Methinks
you might arrive at a pretty shrewd guess." Then, as the other's bluster
and bounce suddenly collapsed upon his colleague's calm, accusing gaze,
the latter continued with impressive deliberation:
"The papers which the two aristos have in their possession, citizen, are
receipts for money, for bribes paid to various members of the Committee
of Public Safety by Royalist agents for the overthrow of our glorious
Republic. You know all about them, do you not?"
While Chauvelin spoke, a look of furtive terror had crept into Lebel's
eyes; his cheeks became the colour of lead. But even so, he tried to
keep up an air of incredulity and of amazement.
"I?" he exclaimed. "What do you mean, citizen Chauvelin? What should I
know about it?"
"Some of those receipts are signed with your name, citizen Lebel,"
retorted Chauvelin forcefully. "Bah!" he added, and a tone of savage
contempt crept into his even, calm voice now. "Heriot, Foucquier, Ducros
and the whole gang of you are in it up to the neck: trafficking with our
enemies, trading with England, taking bribes from every quarter for
working against the safety of the Republic. Ah! if I had my way, I would
let the hatred of those aristos take its course. I would let the
Montorgueils and the whole pack of Royalist agents publish those
infamous proofs of your treachery and of your baseness to the entire
world, and send the whole lot of you to the guillotine!"
He had spoken with so much concentrated fury, and the hatred and
contempt expressed in his pale eyes were so fierce that an involuntary
ice-cold shiver ran down the length of Lebel's spine. But, even so, he
would not give in; he tried to sneer and to keep up something of his
former surly defiance.
"Bah!" he exclaimed, and with a lowering glance gave hatred for hatred,
and contempt for contempt. "What can you do? An I am not mistaken, there
is no more discredited man in France to-day than the unsuccessful
tracker of the Scarlet Pimpernel."
The taunt went home. It was Chauvelin's turn now to lose countenance, to
pale to the lips. The glow of virtuous indignation died out of his eyes,
his look became furtive and shamed.
"You are right, citizen Lebel," he said calmly after a while.
"Recriminations between us are out of place. I am a discredited man, as
you say. Perhaps it would have been better if the Committee had sent me
long ago to expiate my failures on the guillotine. I should at least not
have suffered, as I am suffering now, daily, hourly humiliation at
thought of the triumph of an enemy, whom I hate with a passion which
consumes my very soul. But do not let us speak of me," he went on
quietly. "There are graver affairs at stake just now than mine own."
Lebel said nothing more for the moment. Perhaps he was satisfied at the
success of his taunt, even though the terror within his craven soul
still caused the cold shiver to course up and down his spine. Chauvelin
had once more turned to the window; his gaze was fixed upon the distance
far away. The window gave on the North. That way, in a straight line,
lay Calais, Boulogne, England—where he had been made to suffer such
bitter humiliation at the hands of his elusive enemy. And immediately
before him was Paris, where the very walls seemed to echo that mocking
laugh of the daring Englishman which would haunt him even to his grave.
Lebel, unnerved by his colleague's silence, broke in gruffly at last:
"Well then, citizen," he said, with a feeble attempt at another sneer,
"if you are not thinking of sending us all to the guillotine just yet,
perhaps you will be good enough to explain just how the matter stands?"
"Fairly simply, alas!" replied Chauvelin dryly. "The two Montorgueils,
father and son, under assumed names, were the Royalist agents who
succeeded in suborning men such as you, citizen—the whole gang of you.
We have tracked them down, to this district, have confiscated their
lands and ransacked the old chateau for valuables and so on. Two days
later, the first of a series of pestilential anonymous letters reached
the Committee of Public Safety, threatening the publication of a whole
series of compromising documents if the Marquis and the Vicomte de
Montorgueil were in any way molested, and if all the Montorgueil
property is not immediately restored."
"I suppose it is quite certain that those receipts and documents do
exist?" suggested Lebel.
"Perfectly certain. One of the receipts, signed by Heriot, was sent as a
"My God!" ejaculated Lebel, and wiped the cold sweat from his brow.
"Yes, you'll all want help from somewhere," retorted Chauvelin coolly.
"From above or from below, what? if the people get to know what
miscreants you are. I do believe," he added, with a vicious snap of his
thin lips, "that they would cheat the guillotine of you and, in the end,
drag you out of the tumbrils and tear you to pieces limb from limb!"
Once more that look of furtive terror crept into the commissary's
"Thank the Lord," he muttered, "that we were able to get hold of the
"At my suggestion," retorted Chauvelin curtly. "I always believe in
threatening the weak if you want to coerce the strong. The Montorgueils
cannot resist the wench's appeal. Even if they do at first, we can apply
the screw by clapping one of the young ones in gaol. Within a week we
shall have those papers, citizen Lebel; and if, in the meanwhile, no one
commits a further blunder, we can close the trap on the Montorgueils
without further trouble."
Lebel said nothing more, and after a while Chauvelin went back to the
desk, picked up the letter which poor Lucile had written and watered
with her tears, folded it deliberately and slipped it into the inner
pocket of his coat.
"What are you going to do?" queried Lebel anxiously.
"Drop this letter into the hollow tree by the side of the stable gate at
Montorgueil," replied Chauvelin simply.
"What?" exclaimed the other. "Yourself?"
"Why, of course! Think you I would entrust such an errand to another
A couple of hours later, when the two children had had their dinner and
had settled down to play in the garden, and father been cosily tucked up
for his afternoon sleep, Lucile called her brother Etienne to her. The
boy had not spoken to her since that terrible time spent in the presence
of those two awful men. He had eaten no dinner, only sat glowering,
staring straight out before him, from time to time throwing a look of
burning reproach upon his sister. Now, when she called to him, he tried
to run away, was halfway up the stairs before she could seize hold of
"Etienne, mon petit!" she implored, as her arms closed around his
"Let me go, Lucile!" the boy pleaded obstinately.
"Mon petit, listen to me!" she pleaded. "All is not lost, if you will
stand by me."
"All is lost, Lucile!" Etienne cried, striving to keep back a flood of
passionate tears. "Honour is lost. Your treachery has disgraced us all.
If M. le Marquis and M. le Vicomte are brought to the guillotine, their
blood will be upon our heads."
"Upon mine alone, my little Etienne," she said sadly. "But God alone can
judge me. It was a terrible alternative: M. le Marquis, or you and
Valentine and little Josephine and poor father, who is so helpless! But
don't let us talk of it. All is not lost, I am sure. The last time that
I spoke with M. le Marquis—it was in February, do you remember?—he was
full of hope, and oh! so kind. Well, he told me then that if ever I or
any of us here were in such grave trouble that we did not know where to
turn, one of us was to put on our very oldest clothes, look as like a
bare-footed beggar as we could, and then go to Paris to a place called
the Cabaret de la Liberte in the Rue Christine. There we were to ask for
the citizen Rateau, and we were to tell him all our troubles, whatever
they might be. Well! we are in such trouble now, mon petit, that we
don't know where to turn. Put on thy very oldest clothes, little one,
and run bare-footed into Paris, find the citizen Rateau and tell him
just what has happened: the letter which they have forced me to write,
the threats which they held over me if I did not write it—everything.
Already the boy's eyes were glowing. The thought that he individually
could do something to retrieve the awful shame of his sister's treachery
spurred him to activity. It needed no persuasion on Lucile's part to
induce him to go. She made him put on some old clothes and stuffed a
piece of bread and cheese into his breeches pocket.
It was close upon a couple of leagues to Paris, but that run was one of
the happiest which Etienne had ever made. And he did it bare-footed,
too, feeling neither fatigue nor soreness, despite the hardness of the
road after a two weeks' drought, which had turned mud into hard cakes
and ruts into fissures which tore the lad's feet till they bled.
He did not reach the Cabaret de la Liberte till nightfall, and when he
got there he hardly dared to enter. The filth, the squalor, the hoarse
voices which rose from that cellar-like place below the level of the
street, repelled the country-bred lad. Were it not for the desperate
urgency of his errand he never would have dared to enter. As it was, the
fumes of alcohol and steaming, dirty clothes nearly choked him, and he
could scarce stammer the name of "citizen Rateau" when a gruff voice
presently demanded his purpose.
He realised now how tired he was and how hungry. He had not thought to
pause in order to consume the small provision of bread and cheese
wherewith thoughtful Lucile had provided him. Now he was ready to faint
when a loud guffaw, which echoed from one end of the horrible place to
the other, greeted his timid request.
"Citizen Rateau!" the same gruff voice called out hilariously. "Why,
there he is! Here, citizen! there's a blooming aristo to see you."
Etienne turned his weary eyes to the corner which was being indicated to
him. There he saw a huge creature sprawling across a bench, with long,
powerful limbs stretched out before him. Citizen Rateau was clothed,
rather than dressed, in a soiled shirt, ragged breeches and tattered
stockings, with shoes down at heel and faded crimson cap. His face
looked congested and sunken about the eyes; he appeared to be asleep,
for stertorous breathing came at intervals from between his parted lips,
whilst every now and then a racking cough seemed to tear at his broad
Etienne gave him one look, shuddering with horror, despite himself, at
the aspect of this bloated wretch from whom salvation was to come. The
whole place seemed to him hideous and loathsome in the extreme. What it
all meant he could not understand; all that he knew was that this seemed
like another hideous trap into which he and Lucile had fallen, and that
he must fly from it—fly at all costs, before he betrayed M. le Marquis
still further to these drink-sodden brutes. Another moment, and he
feared that he might faint. The din of a bibulous song rang in his ears,
the reek of alcohol turned him giddy and sick. He had only just enough
strength to turn and totter back into the open. There his senses reeled,
the lights in the houses opposite began to dance wildly before his eyes,
after which he remembered nothing more.
There is nothing now in the whole countryside quite so desolate and
forlorn as the chateau of Montorgueil, with its once magnificent park,
now overgrown with weeds, its encircling walls broken down, its terraces
devastated, and its stately gates rusty and torn.
Just by the side of what was known in happier times as the stable gate
there stands a hollow tree. It is not inside the park, but just outside,
and shelters the narrow lane, which skirts the park walls, against the
blaze of the afternoon sun.
Its beneficent shade is a favourite spot for an afternoon siesta, for
there is a bit of green sward under the tree, and all along the side of
the road. But as the shades of evening gather in, the lane is usually
deserted, shunned by the neighbouring peasantry on account of its eerie
loneliness, so different to the former bustle which used to reign around
the park gates when M. le Marquis and his family were still in
residence. Nor does the lane lead anywhere, for it is a mere loop which
gives on the main road at either end.
Henri de Montorgueil chose a peculiarly dark night in mid-September for
one of his periodical visits to the hollow-tree. It was close on nine
o'clock when he passed stealthily down the lane, keeping close to the
park wall. A soft rain was falling, the first since the prolonged
drought, and though it made the road heavy and slippery in places, it
helped to deaden the sound of the young man's furtive footsteps. The
air, except for the patter of the rain, was absolutely still. Henri de
Montorgueil paused from time to time, with neck craned forward, every
sense on the alert, listening, like any poor, hunted beast, for the
slightest sound which might betray the approach of danger.
As many a time before, he reached the hollow tree in safety, felt for
and found in the usual place the letter which the unfortunate girl
Lucile had written to him. Then, with it in his hand, he turned to the
stable gate. It had long since ceased to be kept locked and barred.
Pillaged and ransacked by order of the Committee of Public Safety, there
was nothing left inside the park walls worth keeping under lock and key.
Henri slipped stealthily through the gates and made his way along the
drive. Every stone, every nook and cranny of his former home was
familiar to him, and anon he turned into a shed where in former times
wheelbarrows and garden tools were wont to be kept. Now it was full of
debris, lumber of every sort. A more safe or secluded spot could not be
imagined. Henri crouched in the furthermost corner of the shed. Then
from his belt he detached a small dark lanthorn, opened its shutter, and
with the aid of the tiny, dim light read the contents of the letter. For
a long while after that he remained quite still, as still as a man who
has received a stunning blow on the head and has partly lost
consciousness. The blow was indeed a staggering one. Lucile Clamette,
with the invincible power of her own helplessness, was demanding the
surrender of a weapon which had been a safeguard for the Montorgueils
all this while. The papers which compromised a number of influential
members of the Committee of Public Safety had been the most perfect arms
of defence against persecution and spoliation.
And now these were to be given up: Oh! there could be no question of
that. Even before consulting with his father, Henri knew that the papers
would have to be given up. They were clever, those revolutionaries. The
thought of holding innocent children as hostages could only have
originated in minds attuned to the villainies of devils. But it was
unthinkable that the children should suffer.
After a while the young man roused himself from the torpor into which
the suddenness of this awful blow had plunged him. By the light of the
lanthorn he began to write upon a sheet of paper which he had torn from
"MY DEAR LUCILE," he wrote, "As you say, our debt to your father and to
you all never could be adequately repaid. You and the children shall
never suffer whilst we have the power to save you. You will find the
papers in the receptacle you know of inside the chimney of what used to
be my mother's boudoir. You will find the receptacle unlocked. One day
before the term you name I myself will place the papers there for you.
With them, my father and I do give up our lives to save you and the
little ones from the persecution of those fiends. May the good God guard
He signed the letter with his initials, H. de M. Then he crept back to
the gate and dropped the message into the hollow of the tree.
A quarter of an hour later Henri de Montorgueil was wending his way back
to the hiding place which had sheltered him and his father for so long.
Silence and darkness then held undisputed sway once more around the
hollow tree. Even the rain had ceased its gentle pattering. Anon from
far away came the sound of a church bell striking the hour of ten. Then
A few more minutes of absolute silence, then something dark and furtive
began to move out of the long grass which bordered the
roadside—something that in movement was almost like a snake. It dragged
itself along close to the ground, making no sound as it moved. Soon it
reached the hollow tree, rose to the height of a man and flattened
itself against the tree-trunk. Then it put out a hand, felt for the
hollow receptacle and groped for the missive which Henri de Montorgueil
had dropped in there a while ago.
The next moment a tiny ray of light gleamed through the darkness like a
star. A small, almost fragile, figure of a man, dressed in the
mud-stained clothes of a country yokel, had turned up the shutter of a
small lanthorn. By its flickering light he deciphered the letter which
Henri de Montorgueil had written to Lucile Clamette.
"One day before the term you name I myself will place the papers there
A sigh of satisfaction, quickly suppressed, came through his thin,
colourless lips, and the light of the lanthorn caught the flash of
triumph in his pale, inscrutable eyes.
Then the light was extinguished. Impenetrable darkness swallowed up that
slender, mysterious figure again.
Six days had gone by since Chauvelin had delivered his cruel
"either—or" to poor little Lucile Clamette; three since he had found
Henri de Montorgueil's reply to the girl's appeal in the hollow of the
tree. Since then he had made a careful investigation of the chateau, and
soon was able to settle it in his own mind as to which room had been
Madame la Marquise's boudoir in the past. It was a small apartment,
having direct access on the first landing of the staircase, and the one
window gave on the rose garden at the back of the house. Inside the
monumental hearth, at an arm's length up the wide chimney, a receptacle
had been contrived in the brickwork, with a small iron door which opened
and closed with a secret spring. Chauvelin, whom his nefarious calling
had rendered proficient in such matters, had soon mastered the workings
of that spring. He could now open and close the iron door at will.
Up to a late hour on the sixth night of this weary waiting, the
receptacle inside the chimney was still empty. That night Chauvelin had
determined to spend at the chateau. He could not have rested elsewhere.
Even his colleague Lebel could not know what the possession of those
papers would mean to the discredited agent of the Committee of Public
Safety. With them in his hands, he could demand rehabilitation, and
could purchase immunity from those sneers which had been so galling to
his arrogant soul—sneers which had become more and more marked, more
and more unendurable, and more and more menacing, as he piled up failure
on failure with every encounter with the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Immunity and rehabilitation! This would mean that he could once more
measure his wits and his power with that audacious enemy who had brought
about his downfall.
"In the name of Satan, bring us those papers!" Robespierre himself had
cried with unwonted passion, ere he sent him out on this important
mission. "We none of us could stand the scandal of such disclosures. It
would mean absolute ruin for us all."
And Chauvelin that night, as soon as the shades of evening had drawn in,
took up his stand in the chateau, in the small inner room which was
contiguous to the boudoir.
Here he sat, beside the open window, for hour upon hour, his every sense
on the alert, listening for the first footfall upon the gravel path
below. Though the hours went by leaden-footed, he was neither excited
nor anxious. The Clamette family was such a precious hostage that the
Montorgueils were bound to comply with Lucile's demand for the papers by
every dictate of honour and of humanity.
"While we have those people in our power," Chauvelin had reiterated to
himself more than once during the course of his long vigil, "even that
meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel can do nothing to save those cursed
The night was dark and still. Not a breath of air stirred the branches
of the trees or the shrubberies in the park; any footsteps, however
wary, must echo through that perfect and absolute silence. Chauvelin's
keen, pale eyes tried to pierce the gloom in the direction whence in all
probability the aristo would come. Vaguely he wondered if it would be
Henri de Montorgueil or the old Marquis himself who would bring the
"Bah! whichever one it is," he muttered, "we can easily get the other,
once those abominable papers are in our hands. And even if both the
aristos escape," he added mentally, "'tis no matter, once we have the
Anon, far away a distant church bell struck the midnight hour. The
stillness of the air had become oppressive. A kind of torpor born of
intense fatigue lulled the Terrorist's senses to somnolence. His head
fell forward on his breast….
Then suddenly a shiver of excitement went right through him. He was
fully awake now, with glowing eyes wide open and the icy calm of perfect
confidence ruling every nerve. The sound of stealthy footsteps had
reached his ear.
He could see nothing, either outside or in; but his fingers felt for the
pistol which he carried in his belt. The aristo was evidently alone;
only one solitary footstep was approaching the chateau.
Chauvelin had left the door ajar which gave on the boudoir. The
staircase was on the other side of that fateful room, and the door
leading to that was closed. A few minutes of tense expectancy went by.
Then through the silence there came the sound of furtive foot-steps on
the stairs, the creaking of a loose board and finally the stealthy
opening of the door.
In all his adventurous career Chauvelin had never felt so calm. His
heart beat quite evenly, his senses were undisturbed by the slightest
tingling of his nerves. The stealthy sounds in the next room brought the
movements of the aristo perfectly clear before his mental vision. The
latter was carrying a small dark lanthorn. As soon as he entered he
flashed its light about the room. Then he deposited the lanthorn on the
floor, close beside the hearth, and started to feel up the chimney for
the hidden receptacle.
Chauvelin watched him now like a cat watches a mouse, savouring these
few moments of anticipated triumph. He pushed open the door noiselessly
which gave on the boudoir. By the feeble light of the lanthorn on the
ground he could only see the vague outline of the aristo's back, bending
forward to his task; but a thrill went through him as he saw a bundle of
papers lying on the ground close by.
Everything was ready; the trap was set. Here was a complete victory at
last. It was obviously the young Vicomte de Montorgueil who had come to
do the deed. His head was up the chimney even now. The old Marquis's
back would have looked narrower and more fragile. Chauvelin held his
breath; then he gave a sharp little cough, and took the pistol from his
The sound caused the aristo to turn, and the next moment a loud and
merry laugh roused the dormant echoes of the old chateau, whilst a
pleasant, drawly voice said in English:
"I am demmed if this is not my dear old friend M. Chambertin! Zounds,
sir! who'd have thought of meeting you here?"
Had a cannon suddenly exploded at Chauvelin's feet he would, I think,
have felt less unnerved. For the space of two heart-beats he stood
there, rooted to the spot, his eyes glued on his arch-enemy, that
execrated Scarlet Pimpernel, whose mocking glance, even through the
intervening gloom, seemed to have deprived him of consciousness. But
that phase of helplessness only lasted for a moment; the next, all the
marvellous possibilities of this encounter flashed through the
Terrorist's keen mind.
Everything was ready; the trap was set! The unfortunate Clamettes were
still the bait which now would bring a far more noble quarry into the
mesh than even he—Chauvelin—had dared to hope.
He raised his pistol, ready to fire. But already Sir Percy Blakeney was
on him, and with a swift movement, which the other was too weak to
resist, he wrenched the weapon from his enemy's grasp.
"Why, how hasty you are, my dear M. Chambertin," he said lightly.
"Surely you are not in such a hurry to put a demmed bullet into me!"
The position now was one which would have made even a braver man than
Chauvelin quake. He stood alone and unarmed in face of an enemy from
whom he could expect no mercy. But, even so, his first thought was not
of escape. He had not only apprised his own danger, but also the immense
power which he held whilst the Clamettes remained as hostages in the
hands of his colleague Lebel.
"You have me at a disadvantage, Sir Percy," he said, speaking every whit
as coolly as his foe. "But only momentarily. You can kill me, of course;
but if I do not return from this expedition not only safe and sound, but
with a certain packet of papers in my hands, my colleague Lebel has
instructions to proceed at once against the girl Clamette and the whole
"I know that well enough," rejoined Sir Percy with a quaint laugh. "I
know what venomous reptiles you and those of your kidney are. You
certainly do owe your life at the present moment to the unfortunate girl
whom you are persecuting with such infamous callousness."
Chauvelin drew a sigh of relief. The situation was shaping itself more
to his satisfaction already. Through the gloom he could vaguely discern
the Englishman's massive form standing a few paces away, one hand buried
in his breeches pockets, the other still holding the pistol. On the
ground close by the hearth was the small lanthorn, and in its dim light
the packet of papers gleamed white and tempting in the darkness.
Chauvelin's keen eyes had fastened on it, saw the form of receipt for
money with Heriot's signature, which he recognised, on the top.
He himself had never felt so calm. The only thing he could regret was
that he was alone. Half a dozen men now, and this impudent foe could
indeed be brought to his knees. And this time there would be no risks
taken, no chances for escape. Somehow it seemed to Chauvelin as if
something of the Scarlet Pimpernel's audacity and foresight had gone
from him. As he stood there, looking broad and physically powerful,
there was something wavering and undecided in his attitude, as if the
edge had been taken off his former recklessness and enthusiasm. He had
brought the compromising papers here, had no doubt helped the
Montorgueils to escape; but while Lucile Clamette and her family were
under the eye of Lebel no amount of impudence could force a successful
It was Chauvelin now who appeared the more keen and the more alert; the
Englishman seemed undecided what to do next, remained silent, toying
with the pistol. He even smothered a yawn. Chauvelin saw his
opportunity. With the quick movement of a cat pouncing upon a mouse he
stooped and seized that packet of papers, would then and there have made
a dash for the door with them, only that, as he seized the packet, the
string which held it together gave way and the papers were scattered all
over the floor.
Receipts for money? Compromising letters? No! Blank sheets of paper, all
of them—all except the one which had lain tantalisingly on the top: the
one receipt signed by citizen Heriot. Sir Percy laughed lightly:
"Did you really think, my good friend," he said, "that I would be such a
demmed fool as to place my best weapon so readily to your hand?"
"Your best weapon, Sir Percy!" retorted Chauvelin, with a sneer. "What
use is it to you while we hold Lucile Clamette?"
"While I hold Lucile Clamette, you mean, my dear Monsieur Chambertin,"
riposted Blakeney with elaborate blandness.
"You hold Lucile Clamette? Bah! I defy you to drag a whole family like
that out of our clutches. The man a cripple, the children helpless! And
you think they can escape our vigilance when all our men are warned! How
do you think they are going to get across the river, Sir Percy, when
every bridge is closely watched? How will they get across Paris, when at
every gate our men are on the look-out for them?"
"They can't do it, my dear Monsieur Chambertin," rejoined Sir Percy
blandly, "else I were not here."
Then, as Chauvelin, fuming, irritated despite himself, as he always was
when he encountered that impudent Englishman, shrugged his shoulders in
token of contempt, Blakeney's powerful grasp suddenly clutched his arm.
"Let us understand one another, my good M. Chambertin," he said coolly.
"Those unfortunate Clamettes, as you say, are too helpless and too
numerous to smuggle across Paris with any chance of success. Therefore I
look to you to take them under your protection. They are all stowed away
comfortably at this moment in a conveyance which I have provided for
them. That conveyance is waiting at the bridgehead now. We could not
cross without your help; we could not get across Paris without your
august presence and your tricolour scarf of office. So you are coming
with us, my dear M. Chambertin," he continued, and, with force which was
quite irresistible, he began to drag his enemy after him towards the
door. "You are going to sit in that conveyance with the Clamettes, and I
myself will have the honour to drive you. And at every bridgehead you
will show your pleasing countenance and your scarf of office to the
guard and demand free passage for yourself and your family, as a
representative member of the Committee of Public Safety. And then we'll
enter Paris by the Porte d'Ivry and leave it by the Batignolles; and
everywhere your charming presence will lull the guards' suspicions to
rest. I pray you, come! There is no time to consider! At noon to-morrow,
without a moment's grace, my friend Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, who has the
papers in his possession, will dispose of them as he thinks best unless
I myself do claim them from him."
While he spoke he continued to drag his enemy along with him, with an
assurance and an impudence which were past belief. Chauvelin was trying
to collect his thoughts; a whirl of conflicting plans were running riot
in his mind. The Scarlet Pimpernel in his power! At any point on the
road he could deliver him up to the nearest guard … then still hold
the Clamettes and demand the papers….
"Too late, my dear Monsieur Chambertin!" Sir Percy's mocking voice broke
in, as if divining his thoughts. "You do not know where to find my
friend Ffoulkes, and at noon to-morrow, if I do not arrive to claim
those papers, there will not be a single ragamuffin in Paris who will
not be crying your shame and that of your precious colleagues upon the
Chauvelin's whole nervous system was writhing with the feeling of
impotence. Mechanically, unresisting now, he followed his enemy down the
main staircase of the chateau and out through the wide open gates. He
could not bring himself to believe that he had been so completely
foiled, that this impudent adventurer had him once more in the hollow of
"In the name of Satan, bring us back those papers!" Robespierre had
commanded. And now he—Chauvelin—was left in a maze of doubt; and the
vital alternative was hammering in his brain: "The Scarlet Pimpernel—or
those papers—-" Which, in Satan's name, was the more important? Passion
whispered "The Scarlet Pimpernel!" but common sense and the future of
his party, the whole future of the Revolution mayhap, demanded those
compromising papers. And all the while he followed that relentless enemy
through the avenues of the park and down the lonely lane. Overhead the
trees of the forest of Sucy, nodding in a gentle breeze, seemed to mock
He had not arrived at a definite decision when the river came in sight,
and when anon a carriage lanthorn threw a shaft of dim light through the
mist-laden air. Now he felt as if he were in a dream. He was thrust
unresisting into a closed chaise, wherein he felt the presence of
several other people—children, an old man who was muttering
ceaselessly. As in a dream he answered questions at the bridge to a
guard whom he knew well.
"You know me—Armand Chauvelin, of the Committee of Public Safety!"
As in a dream, he heard the curt words of command:
"Pass on, in the name of the Republic!"
And all the while the thought hammered in his brain: "Something must be
done! This is impossible! This cannot be! It is not I—Chauvelin—who am
sitting here, helpless, unresisting. It is not that impudent Scarlet
Pimpernel who is sitting there before me on the box, driving me to utter
And yet it was all true. All real. The Clamette children were sitting in
front of him, clinging to Lucile, terrified of him even now. The old man
was beside him—imbecile and not understanding. The boy Etienne was up
on the box next to that audacious adventurer, whose broad back appeared
to Chauvelin like a rock on which all his hopes and dreams must for ever
The chaise rattled triumphantly through the Batignolles. It was then
broad daylight. A brilliant early autumn day after the rains. The sun,
the keen air, all mocked Chauvelin's helplessness, his humiliation. Long
before noon they passed St. Denis. Here the barouche turned off the main
road, halted at a small wayside house—nothing more than a cottage.
After which everything seemed more dreamlike than ever. All that
Chauvelin remembered of it afterwards was that he was once more alone in
a room with his enemy, who had demanded his signature to a number of
safe-conducts, ere he finally handed over the packet of papers to him.
"How do I know that they are all here?" he heard himself vaguely
muttering, while his trembling fingers handled that precious packet.
"That's just it!" his tormentor retorted airily. "You don't know. I
don't know myself," he added, with a light laugh. "And, personally, I
don't see how either of us can possibly ascertain. In the meanwhile, I
must bid you au revoir, my dear M. Chambertin. I am sorry that I cannot
provide you with a conveyance, and you will have to walk a league or
more ere you meet one, I fear me. We, in the meanwhile, will be well on
our way to Dieppe, where my yacht, the Day Dream, lies at anchor, and I
do not think that it will be worth your while to try and overtake us. I
thank you for the safe-conducts. They will make our journey exceedingly
pleasant. Shall I give your regards to M. le Marquis de Montorgueil or
to M. le Vicomte? They are on board the Day Dream, you know. Oh! and I
was forgetting! Lady Blakeney desired to be remembered to you."
The next moment he was gone. Chauvelin, standing at the window of the
wayside house, saw Sir Percy Blakeney once more mount the box of the
chaise. This time he had Sir Andrew Ffoulkes beside him. The Clamette
family were huddled together—happy and free—inside the vehicle. After
which there was the usual clatter of horses' hoofs, the creaking of
wheels, the rattle of chains. Chauvelin saw and heard nothing of that.
All that he saw at the last was Sir Percy's slender hand, waving him a
After which he was left alone with his thoughts. The packet of papers
was in his hand. He fingered it, felt its crispness, clutched it with a
fierce gesture, which was followed by a long-drawn-out sigh of intense
No one would ever know what it had cost him to obtain these papers. No
one would ever know how much he had sacrificed of pride, revenge and
hate in order to save a few shreds of his own party's honour.
A BATTLE OF WITS
What had happened was this:
Tournefort, one of the ablest of the many sleuth-hounds employed by the
Committee of Public Safety, was out during that awful storm on the night
of the twenty-fifth. The rain came down as if it had been poured out of
buckets, and Tournefort took shelter under the portico of a tall,
dilapidated-looking house somewhere at the back of St. Lazare. The night
was, of course, pitch dark, and the howling of the wind and beating of
the rain effectually drowned every other sound.
Tournefort, chilled to the marrow, had at first cowered in the angle of
the door, as far away from the draught as he could. But presently he
spied the glimmer of a tiny light some little way up on his left, and
taking this to come from the concierge's lodge, he went cautiously along
the passage intending to ask for better shelter against the fury of the
elements than the rickety front door afforded.
Tournefort, you must remember, was always on the best terms with every
concierge in Paris. They were, as it were, his subordinates; without
their help he never could have carried on his unavowable profession
quite so successfully. And they, in their turn, found it to their
advantage to earn the good-will of that army of spies, which the
Revolutionary Government kept in its service, for the tracking down of
all those unfortunates who had not given complete adhesion to their
tyrannical and murderous policy.
Therefore, in this instance, Tournefort felt no hesitation in claiming
the hospitality of the concierge of the squalid house wherein he found
himself. He went boldly up to the lodge. His hand was already on the
latch, when certain sounds which proceeded from the interior of the
lodge caused him to pause and to bend his ear in order to listen. It was
Tournefort's metier to listen. What had arrested his attention was the
sound of a man's voice, saying in a tone of deep respect:
"Bien, Madame la Comtesse, we'll do our best."
No wonder that the servant of the Committee of Public Safety remained at
attention, no longer thought of the storm or felt the cold blast
chilling him to the marrow. Here was a wholly unexpected piece of good
luck. "Madame la Comtesse!" Peste! There were not many such left in
Paris these days. Unfortunately, the tempest of the wind and the rain
made such a din that it was difficult to catch every sound which came
from the interior of the lodge. All that Tournefort caught definitely
were a few fragments of conversation.
"My good M. Bertin …" came at one time from a woman's voice. "Truly I
do not know why you should do all this for me."
And then again: "All I possess in the world now are my diamonds. They
alone stand between my children and utter destitution."
The man's voice seemed all the time to be saying something that sounded
cheerful and encouraging. But his voice came only as a vague murmur to
the listener's ears. Presently, however, there came a word which set his
pulses tingling. Madame said something about "Gentilly," and directly
afterwards: "You will have to be very careful, my dear M. Bertin. The
chateau, I feel sure, is being watched."
Tournefort could scarce repress a cry of joy. "Gentilly? Madame la
Comtesse? The chateau?" Why, of course, he held all the necessary
threads already. The ci-devant Comte de Sucy—a pestilential aristo if
ever there was one!—had been sent to the guillotine less than a
fortnight ago. His chateau, situated just outside Gentilly, stood empty,
it having been given out that the widow Sucy and her two children had
escaped to England. Well! she had not gone apparently, for here she was,
in the lodge of the concierge of a mean house in one of the desolate
quarters of Paris, begging some traitor to find her diamonds for her,
which she had obviously left concealed inside the chateau. What a haul
for Tournefort! What commendation from his superiors! The chances of a
speedy promotion were indeed glorious now! He blessed the storm and the
rain which had driven him for shelter to this house, where a poisonous
plot was being hatched to rob the people of valuable property, and to
aid a few more of those abominable aristos in cheating the guillotine of
their traitorous heads.
He listened for a while longer, in order to get all the information that
he could on the subject of the diamonds, because he knew by experience
that those perfidious aristos, once they were under arrest, would sooner
bite out their tongues than reveal anything that might be of service to
the Government of the people. But he learned little else. Nothing was
revealed of where Madame la Comtesse was in hiding, or how the diamonds
were to be disposed of once they were found. Tournefort would have given
much to have at least one of his colleagues with him. As it was, he
would be forced to act single-handed and on his own initiative. In his
own mind he had already decided that he would wait until Madame la
Comtesse came out of the concierge's lodge, and that he would follow her
and apprehend her somewhere out in the open streets, rather than here
where her friend Bertin might prove to be a stalwart as well as a
desperate man, ready with a pistol, whilst he—Tournefort—was unarmed.
Bertin, who had, it seemed, been entrusted with the task of finding the
diamonds, could then be shadowed and arrested in the very act of
filching property which by decree of the State belonged to the people.
So he waited patiently for a while. No doubt the aristo would remain
here under shelter until the storm had abated. Soon the sound of voices
died down, and an extraordinary silence descended on this miserable,
abandoned corner of old Paris. The silence became all the more marked
after a while, because the rain ceased its monotonous pattering and the
soughing of the wind was stilled. It was, in fact, this amazing
stillness which set citizen Tournefort thinking. Evidently the aristo
did not intend to come out of the lodge to-night. Well! Tournefort had
not meant to make himself unpleasant inside the house, or to have a
quarrel just yet with the traitor Bertin, whoever he was; but his hand
was forced and he had no option.
The door of the lodge was locked. He tugged vigorously at the bell again
and again, for at first he got no answer. A few minutes later he heard
the sound of shuffling footsteps upon creaking boards. The door was
opened, and a man in night attire, with bare, thin legs and tattered
carpet slippers on his feet, confronted an exceedingly astonished
servant of the Committee of Public Safety. Indeed, Tournefort thought
that he must have been dreaming, or that he was dreaming now. For the
man who opened the door to him was well known to every agent of the
Committee. He was an ex-soldier who had been crippled years ago by the
loss of one arm, and had held the post of concierge in a house in the
Ruelle du Paradis ever since. His name was Grosjean. He was very old,
and nearly doubled up with rheumatism, had scarcely any hair on his head
or flesh on his bones. At this moment he appeared to be suffering from a
cold in the head, for his eyes were streaming and his narrow, hooked
nose was adorned by a drop of moisture at its tip. In fact, poor old
Grosjean looked more like a dilapidated scarecrow than a dangerous
conspirator. Tournefort literally gasped at sight of him, and Grosjean
uttered a kind of croak, intended, no doubt, for complete surprise.
"Citizen Tournefort!" he exclaimed. "Name of a dog! What are you doing
here at this hour and in this abominable weather? Come in! Come in!" he
added, and, turning on his heel, he shuffled back into the inner room,
and then returned carrying a lighted lamp, which he set upon the table.
"Amelie left a sup of hot coffee on the hob in the kitchen before she
went to bed. You must have a drop of that."
He was about to shuffle off again when Tournefort broke in roughly:
"None of that nonsense, Grosjean! Where are the aristos?"
"The aristos, citizen?" queried Grosjean, and nothing could have looked
more utterly, more ludicrously bewildered than did the old concierge at
this moment. "What aristos?"
"Bertin and Madame la Comtesse," retorted Tournefort gruffly. "I heard
"You have been dreaming, citizen Tournefort," the old man said, with a
husky little laugh. "Sit down, and let me get you some coffee—"
"Don't try and hoodwink me, Grosjean!" Tournefort cried now in a sudden
access of rage. "I tell you that I saw the light. I heard the aristos
talking. There was a man named Bertin, and a woman he called 'Madame la
Comtesse,' and I say that some devilish royalist plot is being hatched
here, and that you, Grosjean, will suffer for it if you try and shield
"But, citizen Tournefort," replied the concierge meekly, "I assure you
that I have seen no aristos. The door of my bedroom was open, and the
lamp was by my bedside. Amelie, too, has only been in bed a few minutes.
You ask her! There has been no one, I tell you—no one! I should have
seen and heard them—the door was open," he reiterated pathetically.
"We'll soon see about that!" was Tournefort's curt comment.
But it was his turn indeed to be utterly bewildered. He searched—none
too gently—the squalid little lodge through and through, turned the
paltry sticks of furniture over, hauled little Amelie, Grosjean's
granddaughter, out of bed, searched under the mattresses, and even poked
his head up the chimney.
Grosjean watched him wholly unperturbed. These were strange times, and
friend Tournefort had obviously gone a little off his head. The worthy
old concierge calmly went on getting the coffee ready. Only when
presently Tournefort, worn out with anger and futile exertion, threw
himself, with many an oath, into the one armchair, Grosjean remarked
"I tell you what I think it is, citizen. If you were standing just by
the door of the lodge you had the back staircase of the house
immediately behind you. The partition wall is very thin, and there is a
disused door just there also. No doubt the voices came from there. You
see, if there had been any aristos here," he added naively, "they could
not have flown up the chimney, could they?"
That argument was certainly unanswerable. But Tournefort was out of
temper. He roughly ordered Grosjean to bring the lamp and show him the
back staircase and the disused door. The concierge obeyed without a
murmur. He was not in the least disturbed or frightened by all this
blustering. He was only afraid that getting out of bed had made his cold
worse. But he knew Tournefort of old. A good fellow, but inclined to be
noisy and arrogant since he was in the employ of the Government.
Grosjean took the precaution of putting on his trousers and wrapping an
old shawl round his shoulders. Then he had a final sip of hot coffee;
after which he picked up the lamp and guided Tournefort out of the
The wind had quite gone down by now. The lamp scarcely flickered as
Grosjean held it above his head.
"Just here, citizen Tournefort," he said, and turned sharply to his
left. But the next sound which he uttered was a loud croak of
"That door has been out of use ever since I've been here," he muttered.
"And it certainly was closed when I stood up against it," rejoined
Tournefort, with a savage oath, "or, of course, I should have noticed
Close to the lodge, at right angles to it, a door stood partially open.
Tournefort went through it, closely followed by Grosjean. He found
himself in a passage which ended in a cul de sac on his right; on the
left was the foot of the stairs. The whole place was pitch dark save for
the feeble light of the lamp. The cul de sac itself reeked of dirt and
fustiness, as if it had not been cleaned or ventilated for years.
"When did you last notice that this door was closed?" queried
Tournefort, furious with the sense of discomfiture, which he would have
liked to vent on the unfortunate concierge.
"I have not noticed it for some days, citizen," replied Grosjean meekly.
"I have had a severe cold, and have not been outside my lodge since
Monday last. But we'll ask Amelie!" he added more hopefully.
Amelie, however, could throw no light upon the subject. She certainly
kept the back stairs cleaned and swept, but it was not part of her
duties to extend her sweeping operations as far as the cul de sac. She
had quite enough to do as it was, with grandfather now practically
helpless. This morning, when she went out to do her shopping, she had
not noticed whether the disused door did or did not look the same as
Grosjean was very sorry for his friend Tournefort, who appeared vastly
upset, but still more sorry for himself, for he knew what endless
trouble this would entail upon him.
Nor was the trouble slow in coming, not only on Grosjean, but on every
lodger inside the house; for before half an hour had gone by Tournefort
had gone and come back, this time with the local commissary of police
and a couple of agents, who had every man, woman and child in that house
out of bed and examined at great length, their identity books
searchingly overhauled, their rooms turned topsy-turvy and their
furniture knocked about.
It was past midnight before all these perquisitions were completed. No
one dared to complain at these indignities put upon peaceable citizens
on the mere denunciation of an obscure police agent. These were times
when every regulation, every command, had to be accepted without a
murmur. At one o'clock in the morning, Grosjean himself was thankful to
get back to bed, having satisfied the commissary that he was not a
But of anyone even remotely approaching the description of the ci-devant
Comtesse de Sucy, or of any man called Bertin, there was not the
But no feeling of discomfort ever lasted very long with citizen
Tournefort. He was a person of vast resource and great buoyancy of
True, he had not apprehended two exceedingly noxious aristos, as he had
hoped to do; but he held the threads of an abominable conspiracy in his
hands, and the question of catching both Bertin and Madame la Comtesse
red-handed was only a question of time. But little time had been lost.
There was always someone to be found at the offices of the Committee of
Public Safety, which were open all night. It was possible that citizen
Chauvelin would be still there, for he often took on the night shift, or
else citizen Gourdon.
It was Gourdon who greeted his subordinate, somewhat ill-humouredly, for
he was indulging in a little sleep, with his toes turned to the fire, as
the night was so damp and cold. But when he heard Tournefort's story, he
was all eagerness and zeal.
"It is, of course, too late to do anything now," he said finally, after
he had mastered every detail of the man's adventures in the Ruelle du
Paradis; "but get together half a dozen men upon whom you can rely, and
by six o'clock in the morning, or even five, we'll be on our way to
Gentilly. Citizen Chauvelin was only saying to-day that he strongly
suspected the ci-devant Comtesse de Sucy of having left the bulk of her
valuable jewellery at the chateau, and that she would make some effort
to get possession of it. It would be rather fine, citizen Tournefort,"
he added with a chuckle, "if you and I could steal a march on citizen
Chauvelin over this affair, what? He has been extraordinarily arrogant
of late and marvellously in favour, not only with the Committee, but
with citizen Robespierre himself."
"They say," commented Tournefort, "that he succeeded in getting hold of
some papers which were of great value to the members of the Committee."
"He never succeeded in getting hold of that meddlesome Englishman whom
they call the Scarlet Pimpernel," was Gourdon's final dry comment.
Thus was the matter decided on. And the following morning at daybreak,
Gourdon, who was only a subordinate officer on the Committee of Public
Safety, took it upon himself to institute a perquisition in the chateau
of Gentilly, which is situated close to the commune of that name. He was
accompanied by his friend Tournefort and a gang of half a dozen ruffians
recruited from the most disreputable cabarets of Paris.
The intention had been to steal a march on citizen Chauvelin, who had
been over arrogant of late; but the result did not come up to
expectations. By midday the chateau had been ransacked from attic to
cellar; every kind of valuable property had been destroyed, priceless
works of art irretrievably damaged. But priceless works of art had no
market in Paris these days; and the property of real value—the Sucy
diamonds namely—which had excited the cupidity or the patriotic wrath
of citizens Gourdon and Tournefort could nowhere be found.
To make the situation more deplorable still, the Committee of Public
Safety had in some unexplainable way got wind of the affair, and the two
worthies had the mortification of seeing citizen Chauvelin presently
appear upon the scene.
It was then two o'clock in the afternoon. Gourdon, after he had snatched
a hasty dinner at a neighbouring cabaret, had returned to the task of
pulling the chateau of Gentilly about his own ears if need be, with a
view to finding the concealed treasure.
For the nonce he was standing in the centre of the finely proportioned
hall. The rich ormolu and crystal chandelier lay in a tangled, broken
heap of scraps at his feet, and all around there was a confused medley
of pictures, statuettes, silver ornaments, tapestry and brocade
hangings, all piled up in disorder, smashed, tattered, kicked at now and
again by Gourdon, to the accompaniment of a savage oath.
The house itself was full of noises; heavy footsteps tramping up and
down the stairs, furniture turned over, curtains torn from their poles,
doors and windows battered in. And through it all the ceaseless
hammering of pick and axe, attacking these stately walls which had
withstood the wars and sieges of centuries.
Every now and then Tournefort, his face perspiring and crimson with
exertion, would present himself at the door of the hall. Gourdon would
query gruffly: "Well?"
And the answer was invariably the same: "Nothing!"
Then Gourdon would swear again and send curt orders to continue the
search, relentlessly, ceaselessly.
"Leave no stone upon stone," he commanded. "Those diamonds must be
found. We know they are here, and, name of a dog! I mean to have them."
When Chauvelin arrived at the chateau he made no attempt at first to
interfere with Gourdon's commands. Only on one occasion he remarked
"I suppose, citizen Gourdon, that you can trust your search party?"
"Absolutely," retorted Gourdon. "A finer patriot than Tournefort does
"Probably," rejoined the other dryly. "But what about the men?"
"Oh! they are only a set of barefooted, ignorant louts. They do as they
are told, and Tournefort has his eye on them. I dare say they'll
contrive to steal a few things, but they would never dare lay hands on
valuable jewellery. To begin with, they could never dispose of it.
Imagine a va-nu-pieds peddling a diamond tiara!"
"There are always receivers prepared to take risks."
"Very few," Gourdon assured him, "since we decreed that trafficking with
aristo property was a crime punishable by death."
Chauvelin said nothing for the moment. He appeared wrapped in his own
thoughts, listened for a while to the confused hubbub about the house,
then he resumed abruptly:
"Who are these men whom you are employing, citizen Gourdon?"
"A well-known gang," replied the other. "I can give you their names."
"If you please."
Gourdon searched his pockets for a paper which he found presently and
handed to his colleague. The latter perused it thoughtfully.
"Where did Tournefort find these men?" he asked.
"For the most part at the Cabaret de la Liberte—a place of very evil
repute down in the Rue Christine."
"I know it," rejoined the other. He was still studying the list of names
which Gourdon had given him. "And," he added, "I know most of these men.
As thorough a set of ruffians as we need for some of our work. Merri,
Guidal, Rateau, Desmonds. TIENS!" he exclaimed. "Rateau! Is Rateau here
"Why, of course! He was recruited, like the rest of them, for the day.
He won't leave till he has been paid, you may be sure of that. Why do
"I will tell you presently. But I would wish to speak with citizen
Just at this moment Tournefort paid his periodical visit to the hall.
The usual words, "Still nothing," were on his lips, when Gourdon curtly
ordered him to go and fetch the citizen Rateau.
A minute or two later Tournefort returned with the news that Rateau
could nowhere be found. Chauvelin received the news without any comment;
he only ordered Tournefort, somewhat roughly, back to his work. Then, as
soon as the latter had gone, Gourdon turned upon his colleague.
"Will you explain—" he began with a show of bluster.
"With pleasure," replied Chauvelin blandly. "On my way hither, less than
an hour ago, I met your man Rateau, a league or so from here."
"You met Rateau!" exclaimed Gourdon impatiently. "Impossible! He was
here then, I feel sure. You must have been mistaken."
"I think not. I have only seen the man once, when I, too, went to
recruit a band of ruffians at the Cabaret de la Liberte, in connection
with some work I wanted doing. I did not employ him then, for he
appeared to me both drink-sodden and nothing but a miserable,
consumptive creature, with a churchyard cough you can hear half a league
away. But I would know him anywhere. Besides which, he stopped and
wished me good morning. Now I come to think of it," added Chauvelin
thoughtfully, "he was carrying what looked like a heavy bundle under his
"A heavy bundle!" cried Gourdon, with a forceful oath. "And you did not
"I had no reason for suspecting him. I did not know until I arrived here
what the whole affair was about, or whom you were employing. All that
the Committee knew for certain was that you and Tournefort and a number
of men had arrived at Gentilly before daybreak, and I was then
instructed to follow you hither to see what mischief you were up to. You
acted in complete secrecy, remember, citizen Gourdon, and without first
ascertaining the wishes of the Committee of Public Safety, whose servant
you are. If the Sucy diamonds are not found, you alone will be held
responsible for their loss to the Government of the People."
Chauvelin's voice had now assumed a threatening tone, and Gourdon felt
all his audacity and self-assurance fall away from him, leaving him a
prey to nameless terror.
"We must round up Rateau," he murmured hastily. "He cannot have gone
"No, he cannot," rejoined Chauvelin dryly. "Though I was not specially
thinking of Rateau or of diamonds when I started to come hither. I did
send a general order forbidding any person on foot or horseback to enter
or leave Paris by any of the southern gates. That order will serve us
well now. Are you riding?"
"Yes. I left my horse at the tavern just outside Gentilly. I can get to
horse within ten minutes."
"To horse, then, as quickly as you can. Pay off your men and dismiss
them—all but Tournefort, who had best accompany us. Do not lose a
single moment. I'll be ahead of you and may come up with Rateau before
you overtake me. And if I were you, citizen Gourdon," he concluded, with
ominous emphasis, "I would burn one or two candles to your compeer the
devil. You'll have need of his help if Rateau gives us the slip."
The first part of the road from Gentilly to Paris runs through the
valley of the Biere, and is densely wooded on either side. It winds in
and out for the most part, ribbon-like, through thick coppice of
chestnut and birch. Thus it was impossible for Chauvelin to spy his
quarry from afar; nor did he expect to do so this side of the Hopital de
la Sante. Once past that point, he would find the road quite open and
running almost straight, in the midst of arid and only partially
He rode at a sharp trot, with his caped coat wrapped tightly round his
shoulders, for it was raining fast. At intervals, when he met an
occasional wayfarer, he would ask questions about a tall man who had a
consumptive cough, and who was carrying a cumbersome burden under his
Almost everyone whom he thus asked remembered seeing a personage who
vaguely answered to the description: tall and with a decided stoop—yes,
and carrying a cumbersome-looking bundle under his arm. Chauvelin was
undoubtedly on the track of the thief.
Just beyond Meuves he was overtaken by Gourdon and Tournefort. Here,
too, the man Rateau's track became more and more certain. At one place
he had stopped and had a glass of wine and a rest, at another he had
asked how close he was to the gates of Paris.
The road was now quite open and level; the irregular buildings of the
hospital appeared vague in the rain-sodden distance. Twenty minutes
later Tournefort, who was riding ahead of his companions, spied a tall,
stooping figure at the spot where the Chemin de Gentilly forks, and
where stands a group of isolated houses and bits of garden, which belong
to la Sante. Here, before the days when the glorious Revolution swept
aside all such outward signs of superstition, there had stood a Calvary.
It was now used as a signpost. The man stood before it, scanning the
At the moment that Tournefort first caught sight of him he appeared
uncertain of his way. Then for a while he watched Tournefort, who was
coming at a sharp trot towards him. Finally, he seemed to make up his
mind very suddenly and, giving a last, quick look round, he walked
rapidly along the upper road. Tournefort drew rein, waited for his
colleagues to come up with him. Then he told them what he had seen.
"It is Rateau, sure enough," he said. "I saw his face quite distinctly
and heard his abominable cough. He is trying to get into Paris. That
road leads nowhere but to the barrier. There, of course, he will be
The other two had also brought their horses to a halt. The situation had
become tense, and a plan for future action had at once to be decided on.
Already Chauvelin, masterful and sure of himself, had assumed command of
the little party. Now he broke in abruptly on Tournefort's vapid
"We don't want him stopped at the barrier," he said in his usual curt,
authoritative manner. "You, citizen Tournefort," he continued, "will
ride as fast as you can to the gate, making a detour by the lower road.
You will immediately demand to speak with the sergeant who is in
command, and you will give him a detailed description of the man Rateau.
Then you will tell him in my name that, should such a man present
himself at the gate, he must be allowed to enter the city unmolested."
Gourdon gave a quick cry of protest.
"Let the man go unmolested? Citizen Chauvelin, think what you are
"I always think of what I am doing," retorted Chauvelin curtly, "and
have no need of outside guidance in the process." Then he turned once
more to Tournefort. "You yourself, citizen," he continued, in sharp,
decisive tones which admitted of no argument, "will dismount as soon as
you are inside the city. You will keep the gate under observation. The
moment you see the man Rateau, you will shadow him, and on no account
lose sight of him. Understand?"
"You may trust me, citizen Chauvelin," Tournefort replied, elated at the
prospect of work which was so entirely congenial to him. "But will you
"I will tell you this much, citizen Tournefort," broke in Chauvelin with
some acerbity, "that though we have traced the diamonds and the thief so
far, we have, through your folly last night, lost complete track of the
ci-devant Comtesse de Sucy and of the man Bertin. We want Rateau to show
us where they are."
"I understand," murmured the other meekly.
"That's a mercy!" riposted Chauvelin dryly. "Then quickly man. Lose no
time! Try to get a few minutes' advance on Rateau; then slip in to the
guard-room to change into less conspicuous clothes. Citizen Gourdon and
I will continue on the upper road and keep the man in sight in case he
should think of altering his course. In any event, we'll meet you just
inside the barrier. But if, in the meanwhile, you have to get on
Rateau's track before we have arrived on the scene, leave the usual
indications as to the direction which you have taken."
Having given his orders and satisfied himself that they were fully
understood, he gave a curt command, "En avant," and once more the three
of them rode at a sharp trot down the road towards the city.
Citizen Rateau, if he thought about the matter at all, must indeed have
been vastly surprised at the unwonted amiability or indifference of
sergeant Ribot, who was in command at the gate of Gentilly. Ribot only
threw a very perfunctory glance at the greasy permit which Rateau
presented to him, and when he put the usual query, "What's in that
parcel?" and Rateau gave the reply: "Two heads of cabbage and a bunch of
carrots," Ribot merely poked one of his fingers into the bundle, felt
that a cabbage leaf did effectually lie on the top, and thereupon gave
the formal order: "Pass on, citizen, in the name of the Republic!"
without any hesitation.
Tournefort, who had watched the brief little incident from behind the
window of a neighbouring cabaret, could not help but chuckle to himself.
Never had he seen game walk more readily into a trap. Rateau, after he
had passed the barrier, appeared undecided which way he would go. He
looked with obvious longing towards the cabaret, behind which the
keenest agent on the staff of the Committee of Public Safety was even
now ensconced. But seemingly a halt within those hospitable doors did
not form part of his programme, and a moment or two later he turned
sharply on his heel and strode rapidly down the Rue de l'Oursine.
Tournefort allowed him a fair start, and then made ready to follow.
Just as he was stepping out of the cabaret he spied Chauvelin and
Gourdon coming through the gates. They, too, had apparently made a brief
halt inside the guard-room, where—as at most of the gates—a store of
various disguises was always kept ready for the use of the numerous
sleuth-hounds employed by the Committee of Public Safety. Here the two
men had exchanged their official garments for suits of sombre cloth,
which gave them the appearance of a couple of humble bourgeois going
quietly about their business. Tournefort had donned an old blouse,
tattered stockings, and shoes down at heel. With his hands buried in his
breeches' pockets, he, too, turned into the long narrow Rue de
l'Oursine, which, after a sharp curve, abuts on the Rue Mouffetard.
Rateau was walking rapidly, taking big strides with his long legs.
Tournefort, now sauntering in the gutter in the middle of the road, now
darting in and out of open doorways, kept his quarry well in sight.
Chauvelin and Gourdon lagged some little way behind. It was still
raining, but not heavily—a thin drizzle, which penetrated almost to the
marrow. Not many passers-by haunted this forlorn quarter of old Paris.
To right and left tall houses almost obscured the last, quickly-fading
light of the grey September day.
At the bottom of the Rue Mouffetard, Rateau came once more to a halt. A
network of narrow streets radiated from this centre. He looked all round
him and also behind. It was difficult to know whether he had a sudden
suspicion that he was being followed; certain it is that, after a very
brief moment of hesitation, he plunged suddenly into the narrow Rue
Contrescarpe and disappeared from view.
Tournefort was after him in a trice. When he reached the corner of the
street he saw Rateau, at the further end of it, take a sudden sharp turn
to the right. But not before he had very obviously spied his pursuer,
for at that moment his entire demeanour changed. An air of furtive
anxiety was expressed in his whole attitude. Even at that distance
Tournefort could see him clutching his bulky parcel close to his chest.
After that the pursuit became closer and hotter. Rateau was in and out
of that tight network of streets which cluster around the Place de
Fourci, intent, apparently, on throwing his pursuers off the scent, for
after a while he was running round and round in a circle. Now up the Rue
des Poules, then to the right and to the right again; back in the Place
de Fourci. Then straight across it once more to the Rue Contrescarpe,
where he presently disappeared so completely from view that Tournefort
thought that the earth must have swallowed him up.
Tournefort was a man capable of great physical exertion. His calling
often made heavy demands upon his powers of endurance; but never before
had he grappled with so strenuous a task. Puffing and panting, now
running at top speed, anon brought to a halt by the doubling-up tactics
of his quarry, his great difficulty was the fact that citizen Chauvelin
did not wish the man Rateau to be apprehended; did not wish him to know
that he was being pursued. And Tournefort had need of all his wits to
keep well under the shadow of any projecting wall or under cover of open
doorways which were conveniently in the way, and all the while not to
lose sight of that consumptive giant, who seemed to be playing some
intricate game which well-nigh exhausted the strength of citizen
What he could not make out was what had happened to Chauvelin and to
Gourdon. They had been less than three hundred metres behind him when
first this wild chase in and out of the Rue Contrescarpe had begun. Now,
when their presence was most needed, they seemed to have lost track both
of him—Tournefort—and of the very elusive quarry. To make matters more
complicated, the shades of evening were drawing in very fast, and these
narrow streets of the Faubourg were very sparsely lighted.
Just at this moment Tournefort had once more caught sight of Rateau,
striding leisurely this time up the street. The worthy agent quickly
took refuge under a doorway and was mopping his streaming forehead, glad
of this brief respite in the mad chase, when that awful churchyard cough
suddenly sounded so close to him that he gave a great jump and well-nigh
betrayed his presence then and there. He had only just time to withdraw
further still into the angle of the doorway, when Rateau passed by.
Tournefort peeped out of his hiding-place, and for the space of a dozen
heart beats or so, remained there quite still, watching that broad back
and those long limbs slowly moving through the gathering gloom. The next
instant he perceived Chauvelin standing at the end of the street.
Rateau saw him too—came face to face with him, in fact, and must have
known who he was for, without an instant's hesitation and just like a
hunted creature at bay, he turned sharply on his heel and then ran back
down the street as hard as he could tear. He passed close to within half
a metre of Tournefort, and as he flew past he hit out with his left fist
so vigorously that the worthy agent of the Committee of Public Safety,
caught on the nose by the blow, staggered and measured his length upon
the flagged floor below.
The next moment Chauvelin had come by. Tournefort, struggling to his
feet, called to him, panting:
"Did you see him? Which way did he go?"
"Up the Rue Bordet. After him, citizen!" replied Chauvelin grimly,
between his teeth.
Together the two men continued the chase, guided through the intricate
mazes of the streets by their fleeing quarry. They had Rateau well in
sight, and the latter could no longer continue his former tactics with
success now that two experienced sleuth-hounds were on his track.
At a given moment he was caught between the two of them. Tournefort was
advancing cautiously up the Rue Bordet; Chauvelin, equally stealthily,
was coming down the same street, and Rateau, once more walking quite
leisurely, was at equal distance between the two.
There are no side turnings out of the Rue Bordet, the total length of
which is less than fifty metres; so Tournefort, feeling more at his
ease, ensconced himself at one end of the street, behind a doorway,
whilst Chauvelin did the same at the other. Rateau, standing in the
gutter, appeared once more in a state of hesitation. Immediately in
front of him the door of a small cabaret stood invitingly open; its
signboard, "Le Bon Copain," promised rest and refreshment. He peered up
and down the road, satisfied himself presumably that, for the moment,
his pursuers were out of sight, hugged his parcel to his chest, and then
suddenly made a dart for the cabaret and disappeared within its doors.
Nothing could have been better. The quarry, for the moment, was safe,
and if the sleuth-hounds could not get refreshment, they could at least
get a rest. Tournefort and Chauvelin crept out of their hiding-places.
They met in the middle of the road, at the spot where Rateau had stood a
while ago. It was then growing dark and the street was innocent of
lanterns, but the lights inside the cabaret gave a full view of the
interior. The lower half of the wide shop-window was curtained off, but
above the curtain the heads of the customers of "Le Bon Copain," and the
general comings and goings, could very clearly be seen.
Tournefort, never at a loss, had already climbed upon a low projection
in the wall of one of the houses opposite. From this point of vantage he
could more easily observe what went on inside the cabaret, and in short,
jerky sentences he gave a description of what he saw to his chief.
"Rateau is sitting down … he has his back to the window … he has put
his bundle down close beside him on the bench … he can't speak for a
minute, for he is coughing and spluttering like an old walrus…. A
wench is bringing him a bottle of wine and a hunk of bread and
cheese…. He has started talking … is talking volubly … the people
are laughing … some are applauding…. And here comes Jean Victor, the
landlord … you know him, citizen … a big, hulking fellow, and as
good a patriot as I ever wish to see…. He, too, is laughing and
talking to Rateau, who is doubled up with another fit of coughing—"
Chauvelin uttered an exclamation of impatience:
"Enough of this, citizen Tournefort. Keep your eye on the man and hold
your tongue. I am spent with fatigue."
"No wonder," murmured Tournefort. Then he added insinuatingly: "Why not
let me go in there and apprehend Rateau now? We should have the diamonds
"And lose the ci-devant Comtesse de Sucy and the man Bertin," retorted
Chauvelin with sudden fierceness. "Bertin, who can be none other than
that cursed Englishman, the—"
He checked himself, seeing Tournefort was gazing down on him, with awe
and bewilderment expressed in his lean, hatchet face.
"You are losing sight of Rateau, citizen," Chauvelin continued calmly.
"What is he doing now?"
But Tournefort felt that this calmness was only on the surface;
something strange had stirred the depths of his chief's keen, masterful
mind. He would have liked to ask a question or two, but knew from
experience that it was neither wise nor profitable to try and probe
citizen Chauvelin's thoughts. So after a moment or two he turned back
obediently to his task.
"I can't see Rateau for the moment," he said, "but there is much talking
and merriment in there. Ah! there he is, I think. Yes, I see him!… He
is behind the counter, talking to Jean Victor … and he has just thrown
some money down upon the counter…. gold too! name of a dog…."
Then suddenly, without any warning, Tournefort jumped down from his post
of observation. Chauvelin uttered a brief:
"What the——- are you doing, citizen?"
"Rateau is going," replied Tournefort excitedly. "He drank a mug of wine
at a draught and has picked up his bundle, ready to go."
Once more cowering in the dark angle of a doorway, the two men waited,
their nerves on edge, for the reappearance of their quarry.
"I wish citizen Gourdon were here," whispered Tournefort. "In the
darkness it is better to be three than two."
"I sent him back to the Station in the Rue Mouffetard," was Chauvelin's
curt retort; "there to give notice that I might require a few armed men
presently. But he should be somewhere about here by now, looking for us.
Anyway, I have my whistle, and if—"
He said no more, for at that moment the door of the cabaret was opened
from within and Rateau stepped out into the street, to the accompaniment
of loud laughter and clapping of hands which came from the customers of
the "Bon Copain."
This time he appeared neither in a hurry nor yet anxious. He did not
pause in order to glance to right or left, but started to walk quite
leisurely up the street. The two sleuth-hounds quietly followed him.
Through the darkness they could only vaguely see his silhouette, with
the great bundle under his arm. Whatever may have been Rateau's fears of
being shadowed awhile ago, he certainly seemed free of them now. He
sauntered along, whistling a tune, down the Montagne Ste. Genevieve to
the Place Maubert, and thence straight towards the river.
Having reached the bank, he turned off to his left, sauntered past the
Ecole de Medecine and went across the Petit Pont, then through the New
Market, along the Quai des Orfevres. Here he made a halt, and for awhile
looked over the embankment at the river and then round about him, as if
in search of something. But presently he appeared to make up his mind,
and continued his leisurely walk as far as the Pont Neuf, where he
turned sharply off to his right, still whistling, Tournefort and
Chauvelin hard upon his heels.
"That whistling is getting on my nerves," muttered Tournefort irritably;
"and I haven't heard the ruffian's churchyard cough since he walked out
of the 'Bon Copain.'"
Strangely enough, it was this remark of Tournefort's which gave
Chauvelin the first inkling of something strange and, to him, positively
awesome. Tournefort, who walked close beside him, heard him suddenly
mutter a fierce exclamation.
"Name of a dog!"
"What is it, citizen?" queried Tournefort, awed by this sudden outburst
on the part of a man whose icy calmness had become proverbial throughout
"Sound the alarm, citizen!" cried Chauvelin in response. "Or, by Satan,
he'll escape us again!"
"But—" stammered Tournefort in utter bewilderment, while, with fingers
that trembled somewhat, he fumbled for his whistle.
"We shall want all the help we can," retorted Chauvelin roughly. "For,
unless I am much mistaken, there's more noble quarry here than even I
could dare to hope!"
Rateau in the meanwhile had quietly lolled up to the parapet on the
right-hand side of the bridge, and Tournefort, who was watching him with
intense keenness, still marvelled why citizen Chauvelin had suddenly
become so strangely excited. Rateau was merely lolling against the
parapet, like a man who has not a care in the world. He had placed his
bundle on the stone ledge beside him. Here he waited a moment or two,
until one of the small craft upon the river loomed out of the darkness
immediately below the bridge. Then he picked up the bundle and threw it
straight into the boat. At that same moment Tournefort had the whistle
to his lips. A shrill, sharp sound rang out through the gloom.
"The boat, citizen Tournefort, the boat!" cried Chauvelin. "There are
plenty of us here to deal with the man."
Immediately, from the quays, the streets, the bridges, dark figures
emerged out of the darkness and hurried to the spot. Some reached the
bridgehead even as Rateau made a dart forward, and two men were upon him
before he succeeded in running very far. Others had scrambled down the
embankment and were shouting to some unseen boatman to "halt, in the
name of the people!"
But Rateau gave in without a struggle. He appeared more dazed than
frightened, and quietly allowed the agents of the Committee to lead him
back to the bridge, where Chauvelin had paused, waiting for him.
A minute or two later Tournefort was once more beside his chief. He was
carrying the precious bundle, which, he explained, the boatman had given
up without question.
"The man knew nothing about it," the agent said. "No one, he says, could
have been more surprised than he was when this bundle was suddenly flung
at him over the parapet of the bridge."
Just then the small group, composed of two or three agents of the
Committee, holding their prisoner by the arms, came into view. One man
was walking ahead and was the first to approach Chauvelin. He had a
small screw of paper in his hand, which he gave to his chief.
"Found inside the lining of the prisoner's hat, citizen," he reported
curtly, and opened the shutter of a small, dark lantern which he wore at
Chauvelin took the paper from his subordinate. A weird, unexplainable
foreknowledge of what was to come caused his hand to shake and beads of
perspiration to moisten his forehead. He looked up and saw the prisoner
standing before him. Crushing the paper in his hand he snatched the
lantern from the agent's belt and flashed it in the face of the quarry
who, at the last, had been so easily captured.
Immediately a hoarse cry of disappointment and of rage escaped his
"Who is this man?" he cried.
One of the agents gave reply:
"It is old Victor, the landlord of the 'Bon Copain.' He is just a fool,
who has been playing a practical joke."
Tournefort, too, at sight of the prisoner had uttered a cry of dismay
and of astonishment.
"Victor!" he exclaimed. "Name of a dog, citizen, what are you doing
But Chauvelin had gripped the man by the arm so fiercely that the latter
swore with the pain.
"What is the meaning of this?" he queried roughly.
"Only a bet, citizen," retorted Victor reproachfully. "No reason to fall
on an honest patriot for a bet, just as if he were a mad dog."
"A joke? A bet?" murmured Chauvelin hoarsely, for his throat now felt
hot and parched. "What do you mean? Who are you, man? Speak, or I'll—"
"My name is Jean Victor," replied the other. "I am the landlord of the
'Bon Copain.' An hour ago a man came into my cabaret. He was a queer,
consumptive creature, with a churchyard cough that made you shiver. Some
of my customers knew him by sight, told me that the man's name was
Rateau, and that he was an habitue of the 'Liberte,' in the Rue
Christine. Well; he soon fell into conversation, first with me, then
with some of my customers—talked all sorts of silly nonsense, made
absurd bets with everybody. Some of these he won, and others he lost;
but I must say that when he lost he always paid up most liberally. Then
we all got excited, and soon bets flew all over the place. I don't
rightly know how it happened at the last, but all at once he bet me that
I would not dare to walk out then and there in the dark, as far as the
Pont Neuf, wearing his blouse and hat and carrying a bundle the same as
his under my arm. I not dare?… I, Jean Victor, who was a fine fighter
in my day! I bet him a gold piece that I would and he said that he would
make it five if I came back without my bundle, having thrown it over the
parapet into any passing boat. Well, citizen!" continued Jean Victor
with a laugh, "I ask you, what would you have done? Five gold pieces
means a fortune these hard times, and I tell you the man was quite
honest and always paid liberally when he lost. He slipped behind the
counter and took off his blouse and hat, which I put on. Then we made up
a bundle with some cabbage heads and a few carrots, and out I came. I
didn't think there could be anything wrong in the whole affair—just the
tomfoolery of a man who has got the betting mania and in whose pocket
money is just burning a hole. And I have won my bet," concluded Jean
Victor, still unabashed, "and I want to go back and get my money. If you
don't believe me, come with me to my CABARET. You will find the citizen
Rateau there, for sure; and I know that I shall find my five gold
Chauvelin had listened to the man as he would to some weird dream-story,
wherein ghouls and devils had played a part. Tournefort, who was
watching him, was awed by the look of fierce rage and grim hopelessness
which shone from his chief's pale eyes. The other agents laughed. They
were highly amused at the tale, but they would not let the prisoner go.
"If Jean Victor's story is true, citizen," their sergeant said, speaking
to Chauvelin, "there will be witnesses to it over at 'Le Bon Copain.'
Shall we take the prisoner straightway there and await further orders?"
Chauvelin gave a curt acquiescence, nodding his head like some
insentient wooden automaton. The screw of paper was still in his hand;
it seemed to sear his palm. Tournefort even now broke into a grim laugh.
He had just undone the bundle which Jean Victor had thrown over the
parapet of the bridge. It contained two heads of cabbage and a bunch of
carrots. Then he ordered the agents to march on with their prisoner, and
they, laughing and joking with Jean Victor, gave a quick turn, and soon
their heavy footsteps were echoing down the flagstones of the bridge.
* * * * *
Chauvelin waited, motionless and silent, the dark lantern still held in
his shaking hand, until he was quite sure that he was alone. Then only
did he unfold the screw of paper.
It contained a few lines scribbled in pencil—just that foolish rhyme
which to his fevered nerves was like a strong irritant, a poison which
gave him an unendurable sensation of humiliation and impotence:
"We seek him here, we seek him there!
Chauvelin seeks him everywhere!
Is he in heaven? Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel!"
He crushed the paper in his hand and, with a loud groan, of misery, fled
over the bridge like one possessed.
Madame la Comtesse de Sucy never went to England. She was one of those
French women who would sooner endure misery in their own beloved country
than comfort anywhere else. She outlived the horrors of the Revolution
and speaks in her memoirs of the man Bertin. She never knew who he was
nor whence he came. All that she knew was that he came to her like some
mysterious agent of God, bringing help, counsel, a semblance of
happiness, at the moment when she was at the end of all her resources
and saw grim starvation staring her and her children in the face. He
appointed all sorts of strange places in out-of-the-way Paris where she
was wont to meet him, and one night she confided to him the history of
her diamonds, and hardly dared to trust his promise that he would get
them for her.
Less than twenty-four hours later he brought them to her, at the poor
lodgings in the Rue Blanche which she occupied with her children under
an assumed name. That same night she begged him to dispose of them. This
also he did, bringing her the money the next day.
She never saw him again after that.
But citizen Tournefort never quite got over his disappointment of that
night. Had he dared, he would have blamed citizen Chauvelin for the
discomfiture. It would have been better to have apprehended the man
Rateau while there was a chance of doing so with success.
As it was, the impudent ruffian slipped clean away, and was never heard
of again either at the "Bon Copain" or at the "Liberte." The customers
at the cabaret certainly corroborated the story of Jean Victor. The man
Rateau, they said, had been honest to the last. When time went on and
Jean Victor did not return, he said that he could no longer wait, had
work to do for the Government over the other side of the water and was
afraid he would get punished if he dallied. But, before leaving, he laid
the five gold pieces on the table. Every one wondered that so humble a
workman had so much money in his pocket, and was withal so lavish with
it. But these were not the times when one inquired too closely into the
presence of money in the pocket of a good patriot.
And citizen Rateau was a good patriot, for sure.
And a good fellow to boot!
They all drank his health in Jean Victor's sour wine; then each went his