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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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The historic ball given by the then Secretary of State for
Foreign Affairs--Lord Grenville--was the most brilliant function of
the year. Though the autumn season had only just begun, everybody who
was anybody had contrived to be in London in time to be present there,
and to shine at this ball, to the best of his or her respective

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had promised to be
present. He was coming on presently from the opera. Lord Grenville
himself had listened to the two first acts of ORPHEUS, before
preparing to receive his guests. At ten o'clock--an unusually late
hour in those days--the grand rooms of the Foreign Office, exquisitely
decorated with exotic palms and flowers, were filled to overflowing.
One room had been set apart for dancing, and the dainty strains of the
minuet made a soft accompaniment to the gay chatter, the merry
laughter of the numerous and brilliant company.

In a smaller chamber, facing the top of the fine stairway, the
distinguished host stood ready to receive his guests. Distinguished
men, beautiful women, notabilities from every European country had
already filed past him, had exchanged the elaborate bows and curtsies
with him, which the extravagant fashion of the time demanded, and
then, laughing and talking, had dispersed in the ball, reception, and
card rooms beyond.

Not far from Lord Grenville's elbow, leaning against one of
the console tables, Chauvelin, in his irreproachable black costume,
was taking a quiet survey of the brilliant throng. He noted that Sir
Percy and Lady Blakeney had not yet arrived, and his keen, pale eyes
glanced quickly towards the door every time a new-comer appeared.

He stood somewhat isolated: the envoy of the Revolutionary
Government of France was not likely to be very popular in England, at
a time when the news of the awful September massacres, and of the
Reign of Terror and Anarchy, had just begun to filtrate across the

In his official capacity he had been received courteously by
his English colleagues: Mr. Pitt had shaken him by the hand; Lord
Grenville had entertained him more than once; but the more intimate
circles of London society ignored him altogether; the women openly
turned their backs upon him; the men who held no official position
refused to shake his hand.

But Chauvelin was not the man to trouble himself about these
social amenities, which he called mere incidents in his diplomatic
career. He was blindly enthusiastic for the revolutionary cause, he
despised all social inequalities, and he had a burning love for his
own country: these three sentiments made him supremely indifferent to
the snubs he received in this fog-ridden, loyalist, old-fashioned

But, above all, Chauvelin had a purpose at heart. He firmly
believed that the French aristocrat was the most bitter enemy of
France; he would have wished to see every one of them annihilated: he
was one of those who, during this awful Reign of Terror, had been the
first to utter the historic and ferocious desire "that aristocrats
might have but one head between them, so that it might be cut off with
a single stroke of the guillotine." And thus he looked upon every
French aristocrat, who had succeeded in escaping from France, as so
much prey of which the guillotine had been unwarrantably cheated.
There is no doubt that those royalist EMIGRES, once they had managed
to cross the frontier, did their very best to stir up foreign
indignation against France. Plots without end were hatched in
England, in Belgium, in Holland, to try and induce some great power to
send troops into revolutionary Paris, to free King Louis, and to
summarily hang the bloodthirsty leaders of that monster republic.

Small wonder, therefore, that the romantic and mysterious
personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel was a source of bitter hatred to
Chauvelin. He and the few young jackanapes under his command, well
furnished with money, armed with boundless daring, and acute cunning,
had succeeded in rescuing hundreds of aristocrats from France.
Nine-tenths of the EMIGRES, who were FETED at the English court,
owed their safety to that man and to his league.

Chauvelin had sworn to his colleagues in Paris that he would
discover the identity of that meddlesome Englishman, entice him over
to France, and then. . .Chauvelin drew a deep breath of satisfaction
at the very thought of seeing that enigmatic head falling under the
knife of the guillotine, as easily as that of any other man.

Suddenly there was a great stir on the handsome staircase, all
conversation stopped for a moment as the majordomo's voice outside

"His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and suite, Sir Percy
Blakeney, Lady Blakeney."

Lord Grenville went quickly to the door to receive his exalted

The Prince of Wales, dressed in a magnificent court suit of
salmon-coloured velvet richly embroidered with gold, entered with
Marguerite Blakeney on his arm; and on his left Sir Percy, in gorgeous
shimmering cream satin, cut in the extravagant "Incroyable" style, his
fair hair free from powder, priceless lace at his neck and wrists, and
the flat CHAPEAU-BRAS under his arm.

After the few conventional words of deferential greeting, Lord
Grenville said to his royal guest,--

"Will your Highness permit me to introduce M. Chauvelin, the
accredited agent of the French Government?"

Chauvelin, immediately the Prince entered, had stepped
forward, expecting this introduction. He bowed very low, whilst the
Prince returned his salute with a curt nod of the head.

"Monsieur," said His Royal Highness coldly, "we will try to
forget the government that sent you, and look upon you merely as our
guest--a private gentleman from France. As such you are welcome,

"Monseigneur," rejoined Chauvelin, bowing once again.
"Madame," he added, bowing ceremoniously before Marguerite.

"Ah! my little Chauvelin!" she said with unconcerned gaiety,
and extending her tiny hand to him. "Monsieur and I are old friends,
your Royal Highness."

"Ah, then," said the Prince, this time very graciously, "you
are doubly welcome, Monsieur."

"There is someone else I would crave permission to present to
your Royal Highness," here interposed Lord Grenville.

"Ah! who is it?" asked the Prince.

"Madame la Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive and her family,
who have but recently come from France."

"By all means!--They are among the lucky ones then!"

Lord Grenville turned in search of the Comtesse, who sat at
the further end of the room.

"Lud love me!" whispered his Royal Highness to Marguerite, as
soon as he had caught sight of the rigid figure of the old lady; "Lud
love me! she looks very virtuous and very melancholy."

"Faith, your Royal Highness," she rejoined with a smile,
"virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when it is crushed."

"Virtue, alas!" sighed the Prince, "is mostly unbecoming to
your charming sex, Madame."

"Madame la Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive," said Lord
Grenville, introducing the lady.

"This is a pleasure, Madame; my royal father, as you know, is
ever glad to welcome those of your compatriots whom France has driven
from her shores."

"Your Royal Highness is ever gracious," replied the Comtesse
with becoming dignity. Then, indicating her daughter, who stood
timidly by her side: "My daughter Suzanne, Monseigneur," she said.

"Ah! charming!--charming!" said the Prince, "and now allow
me, Comtesse, to introduce you, Lady Blakeney, who honours us with her
friendship. You and she will have much to say to one another, I vow.
Every compatriot of Lady Blakeney's is doubly welcome for her
sake. . .her friends are our friends. . .her enemies, the enemies of

Marguerite's blue eyes had twinkled with merriment at this
gracious speech from her exalted friend. The Comtesse de Tournay, who
lately had so flagrantly insulted her, was here receiving a public
lesson, at which Marguerite could not help but rejoice. But the
Comtesse, for whom respect of royalty amounted almost to a religion,
was too well-schooled in courtly etiquette to show the slightest sign
of embarrassment, as the two ladies curtsied ceremoniously to one

"His Royal Highness is ever gracious, Madame," said
Marguerite, demurely, and with a wealth of mischief in her twinkling
blue eyes, "but there is no need for his kind of meditation. . . .
Your amiable reception of me at our last meeting still dwells
pleasantly in my memory."

"We poor exiles, Madame," rejoined the Comtesse, frigidly,
"show our gratitude to England by devotion to the wishes of

"Madame!" said Marguerite, with another ceremonious curtsey.

"Madame," responded the Comtesse with equal dignity.

The Prince in the meanwhile was saying a few gracious words to
the young Vicomte.

"I am happy to know you, Monsieur le Vicomte," he said. "I
knew your father well when he was ambassador in London."

"Ah, Monseigneur!" replied the Vicomte, "I was a leetle boy
then. . .and now I owe the honour of this meeting to our protector,
the Scarlet Pimpernel."

"Hush!" said the Prince, earnestly and quickly, as he
indicated Chauvelin, who had stood a little on one side throughout the
whole of this little scene, watching Marguerite and the Comtesse with
an amused, sarcastic little smile around his thin lips.

"Nay, Monseigneur," he said now, as if in direct response to
the Prince's challenge, "pray do not check this gentleman's display of
gratitude; the name of that interesting red flower is well known to
me--and to France."

The Prince looked at him keenly for a moment or two.

"Faith, then, Monsieur," he said, "perhaps you know more about
our national hero than we do ourselves. . .perchance you know who he
is. . . . See!" he added, turning to the groups round the room, "the
ladies hang upon your lips. . .you would render yourself popular among
the fair sex if you were to gratify their curiosity."

"Ah, Monseigneur," said Chauvelin, significantly, "rumour has
it in France that your Highness could--an you would--give the truest
account of that enigmatical wayside flower."

He looked quickly and keenly at Marguerite as he spoke; but
she betrayed no emotion, and her eyes met his quite fearlessly.

"Nay, man," replied the Prince, "my lips are sealed! and the
members of the league jealously guard the secret of their chief. . .so
his fair adorers have to be content with worshipping a shadow. Here
in England, Monsieur," he added, with wonderful charm and dignity, "we
but name the Scarlet Pimpernel, and every fair cheek is suffused with
a blush of enthusiasm. None have seen him save his faithful
lieutenants. We know not if he be tall or short, fair or dark,
handsome or ill-formed; but we know that he is the bravest gentleman
in all the world, and we all feel a little proud, Monsieur, when we
remember that he is an Englishman.

"Ah, Monsieur Chauvelin," added Marguerite, looking almost
with defiance across at the placid, sphinx-like face of the Frenchman,
"His Royal Highness should add that we ladies think of him as of a
hero of old. . .we worship him. . .we wear his badge. . .we tremble
for him when he is in danger, and exult with him in the hour of his

Chauvelin did no more than bow placidly both to the Prince and
to Marguerite; he felt that both speeches were intended--each in their
way--to convey contempt or defiance. The pleasure-loving, idle Prince
he despised: the beautiful woman, who in her golden hair wore a spray
of small red flowers composed of rubies and diamonds--her he held in
the hollow of hand: he could afford to remain silent and to wait events.

A long, jovial, inane laugh broke the sudden silence which had
fallen over everyone.
"And we poor husbands," came in slow, affected accents from
gorgeous Sir Percy, "we have to stand by. . .while they worship a
demmed shadow."

Everyone laughed--the Prince more loudly than anyone. The
tension of subdued excitement was relieved, and the next moment
everyone was laughing and chatting merrily as the gay crowd broke up
and dispersed in the adjoining rooms.



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