THE LEAGUE OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
They all looked a merry, even a happy party, as they sat round
the table; Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst, two typical
good-looking, well-born and well-bred Englishmen of that year of grace
1792, and the aristocratic French comtesse with her two children, who
had just escaped from such dire perils, and found a safe retreat at
last on the shores of protecting England.
In the corner the two strangers had apparently finished their
game; one of them arose, and standing with his back to the merry
company at the table, he adjusted with much with much deliberation his
large triple caped coat. As he did so, he gave one quick glance all
around him. Everyone was busy laughing and chatting, and he murmured
the words "All safe!": his companion then, with the alertness
long practice, slipped on to his knees in a moment, and the next had
crept noiselessly under the oak bench. The stranger then, with a loud
"Good-night," quietly walked out of the coffee-room.
Not one of those at the supper table had noticed this curious and silent
! Mammanoeuvre, but when the stranger finally closed the door of the coffee-room
behind him, they all instinctively sighed a sigh of relief.
"Alone, at last!" said Lord Antony, jovially.
Then the young Vicomte de Tournay rose, glass in hand, and
with the graceful affection peculiar to the times, he raised it aloft,
and said in broken English,--
"To His Majesty George Three of England. God bless him for
his hospitality to us all, poor exiles from France."
"His Majesty the King!" echoed Lord Antony and Sir Andrew as
they drank loyally to the toast.
"To His Majesty King Louis of France," added Sir Andrew, with
solemnity. "May God protect him, and give him victory over his
Everyone rose and drank this toast in silence. The fate of
the unfortunate King of France, then a prisoner of his own people,
seemed to cast a gloom even over Mr. Jellyband's pleasant countenance.
"And to M. le Comte de Tournay de Basserive," said Lord Antony,
"May we welcome him in England before many days are over."
"Ah, Monsieur," said the Comtesse, as with a slightly trembling
she conveyed her glass to her lips, "I scarcely dare to hope."
But already Lord Antony had served out the soup, and for the
next few moments all conversation ceased, while Jellyband and Sally
handed round the plates and everyone began to eat.
"Faith, Madame!" said Lord Antony, after a while, "mine was
idle toast; seeing yourself, Mademoiselle Suzanne and my friend the
Vicomte safely in England now, surely you must feel reasurred as to
the fate of Monsieur le Comte."
"Ah, Monsieur," replied the Comtesse, with a heavy sigh, "I
trust in God--I can but pray--and hope. . ."
"Aye, Madame!" here interposed Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, "trust
God by all means, but believe also a little in your English friends,
who have sworn to bring the Count safely across the Channel, even as
they have brought you to-day."
"Indeed, indeed, Monsieur," she replied, "I have the fullest
confidence in you and your friends. Your fame, I assure you, has
spread throughout the whole of France. The way some of my own friends
have escaped from the clutches of that awful revolutionary tribunal
was nothing short of a miracle--and all done by you and your friends--"
"We were but the hands, Madame la Comtesse. . ."
"But my husband, Monsieur," said the Comtesse, whilst unshed
tears seemed to veil her voice, "he is in such deadly peril--I would
never have left him, only. . .there were my children. . .I was torn
between my duty to him, and to them. They refused to go without
me. . .and you and your friends assured me so solemnly that my husband
would be safe. But, oh! now that I am here--amongst you all--in this
beautiful, free England--I think of him, flying for his life, hunted
like a poor beast. . .in such peril. . .Ah! I should not have left
him. . .I should not have left him!. . ."
The poor woman had completely broken down; fatigue, sorrow and
emotion had overmastered her rigid, aristocratic bearing. She was
crying gently to herself, whilst Suzanne ran up to her and tried to
kiss away her tears.
Lord Antony and Sir Andrew had said nothing to interrupt the
Comtesse whilst she was speaking. There was no doubt that they felt
deeply for her; their very silence testified to that--but in every
century, and ever since England has been what it is, an Englishman has
always felt somewhat ashamed of his own emotion and of his own
sympathy. And so the two young men said nothing, and busied
themselves in trying to hide their feelings, only succeeding in
looking immeasurably sheepish.
"As for me, Monsieur," said Suzanne, suddenly, as she looked
through a wealth of brown curls across at Sir Andrew, "I trust you
absolutely, and I KNOW that you will bring my dear father safely to
England, just as you brought us to-day."
This was said with so much confidence, such unuttered hope and
belief, that it seemed as if by magic to dry the mother's eyes, and to
bring a smile upon everybody's lips.
"Nay! You shame me, Mademoiselle," replied Sir Andrew;
"though my life is at your service, I have been but a humble tool in
the hands of our great leader, who organised and effected your escape."
He had spoken with so much warmth and vehemence that Suzanne's
eyes fastened upon him in undisguised wonder.
"Your leader, Monsieur?" said the Comtesse, eagerly. "Ah!
course, you must have a leader. And I did not think of that before!
But tell me where is he? I must go to him at once, and I and my
children must throw ourselves at his feet, and thank him for all that
he has done for us."
"Alas, Madame!" said Lord Antony, "that is impossible."
"Because the Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his
identity is only known under the solemn oath of secrecy to his
"The Scarlet Pimpernel?" said Suzanne, with a merry laugh.
"Why! what a droll name! What is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur?"
She looked at Sir Andrew with eager curiosity. The young
man's face had become almost transfigured. His eyes shone with
enthusiasm; hero-worship, love, admiration for his leader seemed
literally to glow upon his face. "The Scarlet Pimpernel,
Mademoiselle," he said at last "is the name of a humble English
wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of
the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better
succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do."
"Ah, yes," here interposed the young Vicomte, "I have heard
speak of this Scarlet Pimpernel. A little flower--red?--yes! They
say in Paris that every time a royalist escapes to England that devil,
Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, receives a paper with that
little flower dessinated in red upon it. . . . Yes?"
"Yes, that is so," assented Lord Antony.
"Then he will have received one such paper to-day?"
"Oh! I wonder what he will say!" said Suzanne, merrily. "I
have heard that the picture of that little red flower is the only
thing that frightens him."
"Faith, then," said Sir Andrew, "he will have many more
opportunities of studying the shape of that small scarlet flower."
"Ah, monsieur," sighed the Comtesse, "it all sounds like
romance, and I cannot understand it all."
"Why should you try, Madame?"
"But, tell me, why should your leader--why should you
all--spend your money and risk your lives--for it is your lives you
risk, Messieurs, when you set foot in France--and all for us French
men and women, who are nothing to you?"
"Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport," asserted Lord Antony, with
his jovial, loud and pleasant voice; "we are a nation of sportsmen,
you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between
the teeth of the hound."
"Ah, no, no, not sport only, Monsieur. . .you have a more
noble motive, I am sure for the good work you do."
"Faith, Madame, I would like you to find it then. . .as for
me, I vow, I love the game, for this is the finest sport I have yet
encountered.--Hair-breath escapes. . .the devil's own risks!--Tally
ho!--and away we go!"
But the Comtesse shook her head, still incredulously. To her
it seemed preposterous that these young men and their great leader,
all of them rich, probably wellborn, and young, should for no other
motive than sport, run the terrible risks, which she knew they were
constantly doing. Their nationality, once they had set foot in
France, would be no safeguard to them. Anyone found harbouring or
assisting suspected royalists would be ruthlessly condemned and
summarily executed, whatever his nationality might be. And this band
of young Englishmen had, to her own knowledge, bearded the implacable
and bloodthirsty tribunal of the Revolution, within the very walls of
Paris itself, and had snatched away condemned victims, almost from the
very foot of the guillotine. With a shudder, she recalled the events
of the last few days, her escape from Paris with her two children, all
three of them hidden beneath the hood of a rickety cart, and lying
amidst a heap of turnips and cabbages, not daring to breathe, whilst
the mob howled, "A la lanterne les aristos!" at the awful West
It had all occurred in such a miraculous way; she and her
husband had understood that they had been placed on the list of
"suspected persons," which meant that their trial and death were
matter of days--of hours, perhaps.
Then came the hope of salvation; the mysterious epistle,
signed with the enigmatical scarlet device; the clear, peremptory
directions; the parting from the Comte de Tournay, which had torn the
poor wife's heart in two; the hope of reunion; the flight with her two
children; the covered cart; that awful hag driving it, who looked like
some horrible evil demon, with the ghastly trophy on her whip handle!
The Comtesse looked round at the quaint, old-fashioned English
inn, the peace of this land of civil and religious liberty, and she
closed her eyes to shut out the haunting vision of that West
Barricade, and of the mob retreating panic-stricken when the old hag
spoke of the plague.
Every moment under that cart she expected recognition, arrest,
herself and her children tried and condemned, and these young
Englishmen, under the guidance of their brave and mysterious leader,
had risked their lives to save them all, as they had already saved
scores of other innocent people.
And all only for sport? Impossible! Suzanne's eyes as she sought
those of Sir Andrew plainly told him that she thought that HE at any
rate rescued his fellowmen from terrible and unmerited death, through
a higher and nobler motive than his friend would have her believe.
"How many are there in your brave league, Monsieur?" she asked
"Twenty all told, Mademoiselle," he replied, "one to command,
and nineteen to obey. All of us Englishmen, and all pledged to the
same cause--to obey our leader and to rescue the innocent."
"May God protect you all, Messieurs," said the Comtesse, fervently.
"He had done that so far, Madame."
"It is wonderful to me, wonderful!--That you should all be so
brave, so devoted to your fellowmen--yet you are English!--and in
France treachery is rife--all in the name of liberty and fraternity."
"The women even, in France, have been more bitter against us
aristocrats than the men," said the Vicomte, with a sigh.
"Ah, yes," added the Comtesse, while a look of haughty disdain
and intense bitterness shot through her melancholy eyes, "There was
that woman, Marguerite St. Just for instance. She denounced the
Marquis de St. Cyr and all his family to the awful tribunal of the
"Marguerite St. Just?" said Lord Antony, as he shot a quick
and apprehensive glance across at Sir Andrew.
"Marguerite St. Just?--Surely. . ."
"Yes!" replied the Comtesse, "surely you know her. She was
leading actress of the Comedie Francaise, and she married an
Englishman lately. You must know her--"
"Know her?" said Lord Antony. "Know Lady Blakeney--the most
fashionable woman in London--the wife of the richest man in England?
Of course, we all know Lady Blakeney."
"She was a school-fellow of mine at the convent in Paris,"
interposed Suzanne, "and we came over to England together to learn
your language. I was very fond of Marguerite, and I cannot believe
that she ever did anything so wicked."
"It certainly seems incredible," said Sir Andrew. "You say
that she actually denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr? Why should she
have done such a thing? Surely there must be some mistake--"
"No mistake is possible, Monsieur," rejoined the Comtesse,
coldly. "Marguerite St. Just's brother is a noted republican. There
was some talk of a family feud between him and my cousin, the Marquis
de St. Cyr. The St. Justs' are quite plebeian, and the republican
government employs many spies. I assure you there is no
mistake. . . . You had not heard this story?"
"Faith, Madame, I did hear some vague rumours of it, but in
England no one would credit it. . . . Sir Percy Blakeney, her
husband, is a very wealthy man, of high social position, the intimate
friend of the Prince of Wales. . .and Lady Blakeney leads both fashion
and society in London."
"That may be, Monsieur, and we shall, of course, lead a very
quiet life in England, but I pray god that while I remain in this
beautiful country, I may never meet Marguerite St. Just."
The proverbial wet-blanket seemed to have fallen over the merry little
company gathered round the table. Suzanne looked sad and silent;
Sir Andrew fidgeted uneasily with his fork, whilst the Comtesse,
encased in the plate-armour of her aristocratic prejudices, sat,
rigid and unbending, in her straight-backed chair. As for Lord Antony,
he looked extremely uncomfortable, and glanced once or twice apprehensively
towards Jellyband, who looked just as uncomfortable as himself.
"At what time do you expect Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney?" he
contrived to whisper unobserved, to mine host.
"Any moment, my lord," whispered Jellyband in reply.
Even as he spoke, a distant clatter was heard of an
approaching coach; louder and louder it grew, one or two shouts became
distinguishable, then the rattle of horses' hoofs on the uneven cobble
stones, and the next moment a stable boy had thrown open the
coffee-room door and rushed in excitedly.
"Sir Percy Blakeney and my lady," he shouted at the top of his
voice, "they're just arriving."
And with more shouting, jingling of harness, and iron hoofs
upon the stones, a magnificent coach, drawn by four superb bays, had
halted outside the porch of "The Fisherman's Rest."
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