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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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A beautiful starlit night had followed on the day of incessant
rain: a cool, balmy, late summer's night, essentially English in its
suggestion of moisture and scent of wet earth and dripping leaves.

The magnificent coach, drawn by four of the finest
thoroughbreds in England, had driven off along the London road, with
Sir Percy Blakeney on the box, holding the reins in his slender
feminine hands, and beside him Lady Blakeney wrapped in costly furs.
A fifty-mile drive on a starlit summer's night! Marguerite had hailed
the notion of it with delight. . . . Sir Percy was an enthusiastic
whip; his four thoroughbreds, which had been sent down to Dover a
couple of days before, were just sufficiently fresh and restive to add
zest to the expedition and Marguerite revelled in anticipation of the
few hours of solitude, with the soft night breeze fanning her cheeks,
her thoughts wandering, whither away? She knew from old experience
that Sir Percy would speak little, if at all: he had often driven her
on his beautiful coach for hours at night, from point to point,
without making more than one or two casual remarks upon the weather or
the state of the roads. He was very fond of driving by night, and she
had very quickly adopted his fancy: as she sat next to him hour after
hour, admiring the dexterous, certain way in which he handled the
reins, she often wondered what went on in that slow-going head of his.
He never told her, and she had never cared to ask.

At "The Fisherman's Rest" Mr. Jellyband was going the round,
putting out the lights. His bar customers had all gone, but upstairs
in the snug little bedrooms, Mr. Jellyband had quite a few important
guests: the Comtesse de Tournay, with Suzannne, and the Vicomte, and
there were two more bedrooms ready for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord
Antony Dewhurst, if the two young men should elect to honour the
ancient hostelry and stay the night.

For the moment these two young gallants were comfortably installed in
the coffee-room, before the huge log-fire, which, in spite of the
mildness of the evening, had been allowed to burn merrily.

"I say, Jelly, has everyone gone?" asked Lord Tony, as the
worthy landlord still busied himself clearing away glasses and mugs.

"Everyone, as you see, my lord."

"And all your servants gone to bed?"

"All except the boy on duty in the bar, and," added Mr. Jellyband
with a laugh, "I expect he'll be asleep afore long, the rascal."

"Then we can talk here undisturbed for half an hour?"

"At your service, my lord. . . . I'll leave your candles on
the dresser. . .and your rooms are quite ready. . .I sleep at the top
of the house myself, but if your lordship'll only call loudly enough,
I daresay I shall hear."

"All right, Jelly. . .and. . .I say, put the lamp out--the fire'll give
us all the light we need--and we don't want to attract the passer-by."

"Al ri', my lord."

Mr. Jellyband did as he was bid--he turned out the quaint old
lamp that hung from the raftered ceiling and blew out all the candles.

"Let's have a bottle of wine, Jelly," suggested Sir Andrew.

"Al ri', sir!"

Jellyband went off to fetch the wine. The room now was quite
dark, save for the circle of ruddy and fitful light formed by the
brightly blazing logs in the hearth.

"Is that all, gentlemen?" asked Jellyband, as he returned with a
bottle of wine and a couple of glasses, which he placed on the table.

"That'll do nicely, thanks, Jelly!" said Lord Tony.

"Good-night, my lord! Good-night, sir!"

"Good-night, Jelly!"

The two young men listened, whilst the heavy tread of Mr.
Jellyband was heard echoing along the passage and staircase.
Presently even that sound died out, and the whole of "The Fisherman's
Rest" seemed wrapt in sleep, save the two young men drinking in
silence beside the hearth.

For a while no sound was heard, even in the coffee-room, save
the ticking of the old grandfather's clock and the crackling of the
burning wood.

"All right again this time, Ffoulkes?" asked Lord Antony at last.

Sir Andrew had been dreaming evidently, gazing into the fire,
and seeing therein, no doubt, a pretty, piquant face, with large brown
eyes and a wealth of dark curls round a childish forehead.

"Yes!" he said, still musing, "all right!"

"No hitch?"


Lord Antony laughed pleasantly as he poured himself out
another glass of wine.

"I need not ask, I suppose, whether you found the journey
pleasant this time?"

"No, friend, you need not ask," replied Sir Andrew, gaily.
"It was all right."

"Then here's to her very good health," said jovial Lord Tony.
"She's a bonnie lass, though she IS a French one. And here's to
your courtship--may it flourish and prosper exceedingly."

He drained his glass to the last drop, then joined his friend
beside the hearth.

"Well! you'll be doing the journey next, Tony, I expect,"
said Sir Andrew, rousing himself from his meditations, "you and
Hastings, certainly; and I hope you may have as pleasant a task as I
had, and as charming a travelling companion. You have no idea,
Tony. . . ."

"No! I haven't," interrupted his friend pleasantly, "but I'll
take your word for it. And now," he added, whilst a sudden
earnestness crept over his jovial young face, "how about business?"
The two young men drew their chairs closer together, and
instinctively, though they were alone, their voices sank to a whisper.

"I saw the Scarlet Pimpernel alone, for a few moments in
Calais," said Sir Andrew, "a day or two ago. He crossed over to
England two days before we did. He had escorted the party all the way
from Paris, dressed--you'll never credit it!--as an old market woman,
and driving--until they were safely out of the city--the covered cart,
under which the Comtesse de Tournay, Mlle. Suzanne, and the Vicomte
lay concealed among the turnips and cabbages. They, themselves, of
course, never suspected who their driver was. He drove them right
through a line of soldiery and a yelling mob, who were screaming, `A
bas les aristos!' But the market cart got through along with some
others, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, in shawl, petticoat and hood,
yelled `A bas les aristos!' louder than anybody. Faith!" added the
young man, as his eyes glowed with enthusiasm for the beloved leader,
"that man's a marvel! His cheek is preposterous, I vow!--and that's
what carries him through."

Lord Antony, whose vocabulary was more limited than that of
his friend, could only find an oath or two with which to show his
admiration for his leader.

"He wants you and Hastings to meet him at Calais," said Sir
Andrew, more quietly, "on the 2nd of next month. Let me see! that
will be next Wednesday."


"It is, of course, the case of the Comte de Tournay, this
time; a dangerous task, for the Comte, whose escape from his chateau,
after he had been declared a `suspect' by the Committee of Public
Safety, was a masterpiece of the Scarlet Pimpernel's ingenuity, is now
under sentence of death. It will be rare sport to get HIM out of
France, and you will have a narrow escape, if you get through at all.
St. Just has actually gone to meet him--of course, no one suspects St.
Just as yet; but after that. . .to get them both out of the country!
I'faith, `twill be a tough job, and tax even the ingenuity of our
chief. I hope I may yet have orders to be of the party."

"Have you any special instructions for me?"

"Yes! rather more precise ones than usual. It appears that
the Republican Government have sent an accredited agent over to
England, a man named Chauvelin, who is said to be terribly bitter
against our league, and determined to discover the identity of our
leader, so that he may have him kidnapped, the next time he attempts
to set foot in France. This Chauvelin has brought a whole army of
spies with him, and until the chief has sampled the lot, he thinks we
should meet as seldom as possible on the business of the league, and
on no account should talk to each other in public places for a time.
When he wants to speak to us, he will contrive to let us know."

The two young men were both bending over the fire for the
blaze had died down, and only a red glow from the dying embers cast a
lurid light on a narrow semicircle in front of the hearth. The rest
of the room lay buried in complete gloom; Sir Andrew had taken a
pocket-book from his pocket, and drawn therefrom a paper, which he
unfolded, and together they tried to read it by the dim red firelight.
So intent were they upon this, so wrapt up in the cause, the business
they had so much at heart, so precious was this document which came
from the very hand of their adored leader, that they had eyes and ears
only for that. They lost count of the sounds around them, of the
dropping of the crisp ash from the grate, of the monotonous ticking of
the clock, of the soft, almost imperceptible rustle of something on
the floor close beside them. A figure had emerged from under one of
the benches; with snake-like, noiseless movements it crept closer and
closer to the two young men, not breathing, only gliding along the
floor, in the inky blackness of the room.

"You are to read these instructions and commit them to
memory," said Sir Andrew, "then destroy them."

He was about to replace the letter-case into his pocket, when
a tiny slip of paper fluttered from it and fell on to the floor. Lord
Antony stooped and picked it up.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I don't know," replied Sir Andrew.

"It dropped out of your pocket just now. It certainly does
not seem to be with the other paper."

"Strange!--I wonder when it got there? It is from the chief,"
he added, glancing at the paper.

Both stooped to try and decipher this last tiny scrap of paper
on which a few words had been hastily scrawled, when suddenly a slight
noise atrracted their attention, which seemed to come from the passage

"What's that?" said both instinctively. Lord Antony crossed
the room towards the door, which he threw open quickly and suddenly;
at that very moment he received a stunning blow between the eyes,
which threw him back violently into the room. Simultaneously the
crouching, snake-like figure in the gloom had jumped up and hurled
itself from behind upon the unsuspecting Sir Andrew, felling him to
the ground.

All this occurred within the short space of two or three
seconds, and before either Lord Antony or Sir Andrew had time or
chance to utter a cry or to make the faintest struggle. They were
each seized by two men, a muffler was quickly tied round the mouth of
each, and they were pinioned to one another back to back, their arms,
hands, and legs securely fastened.

One man had in the meanwhile quietly shut the door; he wore a
mask and now stood motionless while the others completed their work.

"All safe, citoyen!" said one of the men, as he took a final
survey of the bonds which secured the two young men.

"Good!" replied the man at the door; "now search their pockets
and give me all the papers you find."

This was promptly and quietly done. The masked man having
taken possession of all the papers, listened for a moment or two if
there were any sound within "The Fisherman's Rest." Evidently
satisfied that this dastardly outrage had remained unheard, he once
more opened the door and pointed peremptorily down the passage. The
four men lifted Sir Andrew and Lord Antony from the ground, and as
quietly, as noiselessly as they had come, they bore the two pinioned
young gallants out of the inn and along the Dover Road into the gloom

In the coffee-room the masked leader of this daring attempt
was quickly glancing through the stolen papers.

"Not a bad day's work on the whole," he muttered, as he
quietly took off his mask, and his pale, fox-like eyes glittered in
the red glow of the fire. "Not a bad day's work."

He opened one or two letters from Sir Andrew Ffoulkes'
pocket-book, noted the tiny scrap of paper which the two young men had
only just had time to read; but one letter specially, signed Armand
St. Just, seemed to give him strange satisfaction.

"Armand St. Just a traitor after all," he murmured. "Now,
fair Marguerite Blakeney," he added viciously between his clenched
teeth, "I think that you will help me to find the Scarlet Pimpernel."



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