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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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In a moment the pleasant oak-raftered coffee-room of the inn
became the scene of hopeless confusion and discomfort. At the first
announcement made by the stable boy, Lord Antony, with a fashionable
oath, had jumped up from his seat and was now giving many and confused
directions to poor bewildered Jellyband, who seemed at his wits' end
what to do.

"For goodness' sake, man," admonished his lordship, "try to
keep Lady Blakeney talking outside for a moment while the ladies
withdraw. Zounds!" he added, with another more emphatic oath, "this
is most unfortunate."

"Quick Sally! the candles!" shouted Jellyband, as hopping
about from one leg to another, he ran hither and thither, adding to
the general discomfort of everybody.

The Comtesse, too, had risen to her feet: rigid and erect,
trying to hide her excitement beneath more becoming SANG-FROID, she
repeated mechanically,--

"I will not see her!--I will not see her!"

Outside, the excitement attendant upon the arrival of very
important guests grew apace.

"Good-day, Sir Percy!--Good-day to your ladyship! Your
servant, Sir Percy!"--was heard in one long, continued chorus, with
alternate more feeble tones of--"Remember the poor blind man! of your
charity, lady and gentleman!"

Then suddenly a singularly sweet voice was heard through all
the din.

"Let the poor man be--and give him some supper at my expense."

The voice was low and musical, with a slight sing-song in it,
and a faint SOUPCON of foreign intonation in the pronunciation of
the consonants.

Everyone in the coffee-room heard it and paused instinctively,
listening to it for a moment. Sally was holding the candles by the
opposite door, which led to the bedrooms upstairs, and the Comtesse
was in the act of beating a hasty retreat before that enemy who owned
such a sweet musical voice; Suzanne reluctantly was preparing to
follow her mother, while casting regretful glances towards the door,
where she hoped still to see her dearly-beloved, erstwhile

Then Jellyband threw open the door, still stupidly and blindly
hoping to avert the catastrophe, which he felt was in the air, and the
same low, musical voice said, with a merry laugh and mock

"B-r-r-r-r! I am as wet as a herring! DIEU! has anyone
ever seen such a contemptible climate?"

"Suzanne, come with me at once--I wish it," said the Comtesse,

"Oh! Mama!" pleaded Suzanne.

"My lady. . .er. . .h'm!. . .my lady!. . ." came in feeble
accents from Jellyband, who stood clumsily trying to bar the way.

"PARDIEU, my good man," said Lady Blakeney, with some impatience,
"what are you standing in my way for, dancing about like a turkey with
a sore foot? Let me get to the fire, I am perished with the cold."

And the next moment Lady Blakeney, gently pushing mine host on
one side, had swept into the coffee-room.

There are many portraits and miniatures extant of Marguerite
St. Just--Lady Blakeney as she was then--but it is doubtful if any of
these really do her singular beauty justice. Tall, above the average,
with magnificent presence and regal figure, it is small wonder that
even the Comtesse paused for a moment in involuntary admiration before
turning her back on so fascinating an apparition.

Marguerite Blakeney was then scarcely five-and-twenty, and her
beauty was at its most dazzling stage. The large hat, with its
undulating and waving plumes, threw a soft shadow across the classic
brow with the auerole of auburn hair--free at the moment from any
powder; the sweet, almost childlike mouth, the straight chiselled
nose, round chin, and delicate throat, all seemed set off by the
picturesque costume of the period. The rich blue velvet robe moulded
in its every line the graceful contour of the figure, whilst one tiny
hand held, with a dignity all its own, the tall stick adorned with a
large bunch of ribbons which fashionable ladies of the period had
taken to carrying recently.

With a quick glance all around the room, Marguerite Blakeney
had taken stock of every one there. She nodded pleasantly to Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes, whilst extending a hand to Lord Antony.

"Hello! my Lord Tony, why--what are YOU doing here in
Dover?" she said merrily.

Then, without waiting for a reply, she turned and faced the
Comtesse and Suzanne. Her whole face lighted up with additional
brightness, as she stretched out both arms towards the young girl.

"Why! if that isn't my little Suzanne over there. PARDIEU,
little citizeness, how came you to be in England? And Madame too?"

She went up effusive to them both, with not a single touch of
embarrassment in her manner or in her smile. Lord Tony and Sir Andrew
watched the little scene with eager apprehension. English though they
were, they had often been in France, and had mixed sufficiently with
the French to realise the unbending hauteur, the bitter hatred with
which the old NOBLESSE of France viewed all those who had helped to
contribute to their downfall. Armand St. Just, the brother of
beautiful Lady Blakeney--though known to hold moderate and
conciliatory views--was an ardent republican; his feud with the
ancient family of St. Cyr--the rights and wrongs of which no outsider
ever knew--had culminated in the downfall, the almost total extinction
of the latter. In France, St. Just and his party had triumphed, and
here in England, face to face with these three refugees driven from
their country, flying for their lives, bereft of all which centuries
of luxury had given them, there stood a fair scion of those same
republican families which had hurled down a throne, and uprooted an
aristocracy whose origin was lost in the dim and distant vista of
bygone centuries.

She stood there before them, in all the unconscious insolence of beauty,
and stretched out her dainty hand to them, as if she would, by that one act,
bridge over the conflict and bloodshed of the past decade.

"Suzanne, I forbid you to speak to that woman," said the Comtesse,
sternly, as she placed a restraining hand upon her daughter's arm.

She had spoken in English, so that all might hear and
understand; the two young English gentlemen was as well as the common
innkeeper and his daughter. The latter literally gasped with horror
at this foreign insolence, this impudence before her ladyship--who was
English, now that she was Sir Percy's wife, and a friend of the
Princess of Wales to boot.

As for Lord Antony and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, their very hearts
seemed to stand still with horror at this gratuitous insult. One of
them uttered an exclamation of appeal, the other one of warning, and
instinctively both glanced hurriedly towards the door, whence a slow,
drawly, not unpleasant voice had already been heard.

Alone among those present Marguerite Blakeney and these Comtesse
de Tournay had remained seemingly unmoved. The latter, rigid, erect
and defiant, with one hand still upon her daughter's arm, seemed
the very personification of unbending pride. For the moment Marguerite's
sweet face had become as white as the soft fichu which swathed her throat,
and a very keen observer might have noted that the hand which held the tall,
beribboned stick was clenched, and trembled somewhat.

But this was only momentary; the next instant the delicate
eyebrows were raised slightly, the lips curved sarcastically upwards,
the clear blue eyes looked straight at the rigid Comtesse, and with a
slight shrug of the shoulders--

"Hoity-toity, citizeness," she said gaily, "what fly stings you, pray?"

"We are in England now, Madame," rejoined the Comtesse, coldly,
"and I am at liberty to forbid my daughter to touch your hand
in friendship. Come, Suzanne."

She beckoned to her daughter, and without another look at
Marguerite Blakeney, but with a deep, old-fashioned curtsey to the two
young men, she sailed majestically out of the room.

There was silence in the old inn parlour for a moment, as the
rustle of the Comtesse's skirts died away down the passage.
Marguerite, rigid as a statue followed with hard, set eyes the upright
figure, as it disappeared through the doorway--but as little Suzanne,
humble and obedient, was about to follow her mother, the hard, set
expression suddenly vanished, and a wistful, almost pathetic and
childlike look stole into Lady Blakeney's eyes.

Little Suzanne caught that look; the child's sweet nature went
out to the beautiful woman, scarcely older than herself; filial
obedience vanished before girlish sympathy; at the door she turned,
ran back to Marguerite, and putting her arms round her, kissed her
effusively; then only did she follow her mother, Sally bringing up the
rear, with a final curtsey to my lady.

Suzanne's sweet and dainty impulse had relieved the unpleasant tension.
Sir Andrew's eyes followed the pretty little figure, until it had quite
disappeared, then they met Lady Blakeney's with unassumed merriment.

Marguerite, with dainty affection, had kissed her hand to the
ladies, as they disappeared through the door, then a humorous smile
began hovering round the corners of her mouth.

"So that's it, is it?" she said gaily. "La! Sir Andrew, did
you ever see such an unpleasant person? I hope when I grow old I
sha'n't look like that."

She gathered up her skirts and assuming a majestic gait,
stalked towards the fireplace.

"Suzanne," she said, mimicking the Comtesse's voice, "I forbid
you to speak to that woman!"

The laugh which accompanied this sally sounded perhaps a
trifled forced and hard, but neither Sir Andrew nor Lord Tony were
very keen observers. The mimicry was so perfect, the tone of the
voice so accurately reproduced, that both the young men joined in a
hearty cheerful "Bravo!"

"Ah! Lady Blakeney!" added Lord Tony, "how they must miss you
at the Comedie Francaise, and how the Parisians must hate Sir Percy
for having taken you away."

"Lud, man," rejoined Marguerite, with a shrug of her graceful
shoulders, "`tis impossible to hate Sir Percy for anything; his witty
sallies would disarm even Madame la Comtesse herself."

The young Vicomte, who had not elected to follow his mother in
her dignified exit, now made a step forward, ready to champion the
Comtesse should Lady Blakeney aim any further shafts at her. But
before he could utter a preliminary word of protest, a pleasant though
distinctly inane laugh, was heard from outside, and the next moment an
unusually tall and very richly dressed figure appeared in the doorway.



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