THE SCRAP OF PAPER
Marguerite suffered intensely. Though she laughed and
chatted, though she was more admired, more surrounded, more FETED
than any woman there, she felt like one condemned to death, living her
last day upon this earth.
Her nerves were in a state of painful tension, which had
increased a hundredfold during that brief hour which she had spent in
her husband's company, between the opera and the ball. The short ray
of hope--that she might find in this good-natured, lazy individual a
valuable friend and adviser--had vanished as quickly as it had come,
the moment she found herself alone with him. The same feeling of
good-humoured contempt which one feels for an animal or a faithful
servant, made her turn away with a smile from the man who should have
been her moral support in this heart-rending crisis through which she
was passing: who should have been her cool-headed adviser, when
feminine sympathy and sentiment tossed her hither and thither, between
her love for her brother, who was far away and in mortal peril, and
horror of the awful service which Chauvelin had exacted from her, in
exchange for Armand's safety.
There he stood, the moral support, the cool-headed adviser,
surrounded by a crowd of brainless, empty-headed young fops, who were
even now repeating from mouth to mouth, and with every sign of the
keenest enjoyment, a doggerel quatrain which he had just given forth.
Everywhere the absurd, silly words met her: people seemed to have
little else to speak about, even the Prince had asked her, with a
little laugh, whether she appreciated her husband's latest poetic
"All done in the tying of a cravat," Sir Percy had declared to
his clique of admirers.
"We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?--Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel"
Sir Percy's BON MOT had gone the round of the brilliant
reception-rooms. The Prince was enchanted. He vowed that life
without Blakeney would be but a dreary desert. Then, taking him by
the arm, had led him to the card-room, and engaged him in a long game
Sir Percy, whose chief interest in most social gatherings
seemed to centre round the card-table, usually allowed his wife to
flirt, dance, to amuse or bore herself as much as she liked. And
to-night, having delivered himself of his BON MOT, he had left
Marguerite surrounded by a crowd of admirers of all ages, all anxious
and willing to help her to forget that somewhere in the spacious
reception rooms, there was a long, lazy being who had been fool enough
to suppose that the cleverest woman in Europe would settle down to the
prosaic bonds of English matrimony.
Her still overwrought nerves, her excitement and agitation,
lent beautiful Marguerite Blakeney much additional charm: escorted by
a veritable bevy of men of all ages and of most nationalities, she
called forth many exclamations of admiration from everyone as she
She would not allow herself any more time to think. Her
early, somewhat Bohemian training had made her something of a
fatalist. She felt that events would shape themselves, that the
directing of them was not in her hands. From Chauvelin she knew that
she could expect no mercy. He had set a price on Armand's head, and
left it to her to pay or not, as she chose.
Later on in the evening she caught sight of Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst, who seemingly had just arrived.
She noticed at once that Sir Andrew immediately made for little
Suzanne de Tournay, and that the two young people soon managed to
isolate themselves in one of the deep embrasures of the mullioned
windows, there to carry on a long conversation, which seemed very
earnest and very pleasant on both sides.
Both the young men looked a little haggard and anxious, but
otherwise they were irreproachably dressed, and there was not the
slightest sign, about their courtly demeanour, of the terrible
catastrophe, which they must have felt hovering round them and round
That the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had no intention of
abandoning its cause, she had gathered through little Suzanne herself,
who spoke openly of the assurance she and her mother had had that the
Comte de Tournay would be rescued from France by the league, within
the next few days. Vaguely she began to wonder, as she looked at the
brilliant and fashionable in the gaily-lighted ball-room, which of
these worldly men round her was the mysterious "Scarlet Pimpernel,"
who held the threads of such daring plots, and the fate of valuable
lives in his hands.
A burning curiosity seized her to know him: although for
months she had heard of him and had accepted his anonymity, as
everyone else in society had done; but now she longed to know--quite
impersonally, quite apart from Armand, and oh! quite apart from
Chauvelin--only for her own sake, for the sake of the enthusiastic
admiration she had always bestowed on his bravery and cunning.
He was at the ball, of course, somewhere, since Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst were here, evidently expecting to
meet their chief--and perhaps to get a fresh MOT D'ORDRE from him.
Marguerite looked round at everyone, at the aristocratic
high-typed Norman faces, the squarely-built, fair-haired Saxon, the
more gentle, humorous caste of the Celt, wondering which of these
betrayed the power, the energy, the cunning which had imposed its will
and its leadership upon a number of high-born English gentlemen, among
whom rumour asserted was His Royal Highness himself.
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes? Surely not, with his gentle blue eyes,
which were looking so tenderly and longingly after little Suzanne, who
was being led away from the pleasant TETE-A-TETE by her stern
mother. Marguerite watched him across the room, as he finally turned
away with a sigh, and seemed to stand, aimless and lonely, now that
Suzanne's dainty little figure had disappeared in the crowd.
She watched him as he strolled towards the doorway, which led
to a small boudoir beyond, then paused and leaned against the
framework of it, looking still anxiously all round him.
Marguerite contrived for the moment to evade her present
attentive cavalier, and she skirted the fashionable crowd, drawing
nearer to the doorway, against which Sir Andrew was leaning. Why she
wished to get closer to him, she could not have said: perhaps she was
impelled by an all-powerful fatality, which so often seems to rule the
destinies of men.
Suddenly she stopped: her very heart seemed to stand still,
her eyes, large and excited, flashed for a moment towards that
doorway, then as quickly were turned away again. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
was still in the same listless position by the door, but Marguerite
had distinctly seen that Lord Hastings--a young buck, a friend of her
husband's and one of the Prince's set--had, as he quickly brushed past
him, slipped something into his hand.
For one moment longer--oh! it was the merest flash--Marguerite paused:
the next she had, with admirably played unconcern, resumed her walk
across the room--but this time more quickly towards that doorway whence
Sir Andrew had now disappeared.
All this, from the moment that Marguerite had caught sight of
Sir Andrew leaning against the doorway, until she followed him into
the little boudoir beyond, had occurred in less than a minute. Fate
is usually swift when she deals a blow.
Now Lady Blakeney had suddenly ceased to exist. It was
Marguerite St. Just who was there only: Marguerite St. Just who had
passed her childhood, her early youth, in the protecting arms of her
brother Armand. She had forgotten everything else--her rank, her
dignity, her secret enthusiasms--everything save that Armand stood in
peril of his life, and that there, not twenty feet away from her, in
the small boudoir which was quite deserted, in the very hands of Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes, might be the talisman which would save her brother's
Barely another thirty seconds had elapsed between the moment
when Lord Hastings slipped the mysterious "something" into Sir
Andrew's hand, and the one when she, in her turn, reached the deserted
boudoir. Sir Andrew was standing with his back to her and close to a
table upon which stood a massive silver candelabra. A slip of paper
was in his hand, and he was in the very act of perusing its contents.
Unperceived, her soft clinging robe making not the slightest
sound upon the heavy carpet, not daring to breathe until she had
accomplished her purpose, Marguerite slipped close behind him. . . .
At that moment he looked round and saw her; she uttered a groan,
passed her hand across her forehead, and murmured faintly:
"The heat in the room was terrible. . .I felt so faint. . .
Ah!. . ."
She tottered almost as if she would fall, and Sir Andrew,
quickly recovering himself, and crumpling in his hand the tiny note he
had been reading, was only apparently, just in time to support her.
"You are ill, Lady Blakeney?" he asked with much concern, "Let
me. . ."
"No, no, nothing--" she interrupted quickly. "A
She sank into a chair close to the table, and throwing back
her head, closing her eyes.
"There!" she murmured, still faintly; "the giddiness is
passing off. . . . Do not heed me, Sir Andrew; I assure you I already
At moments like these there is no doubt--and psychologists
actually assert it--that there is in us a sense which has absolutely
nothing to do with the other five: it is not that we see, it is not
that we hear or touch, yet we seem to do all three at once.
Marguerite sat there with her eyes apparently closed. Sir Andrew was
immediately behind her, and on her right was the table with the
five-armed candelabra upon it. Before her mental vision there was
absolutely nothing but Armand's face. Armand, whose life was in the
most imminent danger, and who seemed to be looking at her from a
background upon which were dimly painted the seething crowd of Paris,
the bare walls of the Tribunal of Public Safety, with
Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, demanding Armand's life in
the name of the people of France, and the lurid guillotine with its
stained knife waiting for another victim. . .Armand!. . .
For one moment there was dead silence in the little boudoir.
Beyond, from the brilliant ball-room, the sweet notes of the gavotte,
the frou-frou of rich dresses, the talk and laughter of a large and
merry crowd, came as a strange, weird accompaniment to the drama which
was being enacted here.
Sir Andrew had not uttered another word. Then it was that
that extra sense became potent in Marguerite Blakeney. She could not
see, for her two eyes were closed, she could not hear, for the noise
from the ball-room drowned the soft rustle of that momentous scrap of
paper; nevertheless she knew-as if she had both seen and heard--that
Sir Andrew was even now holding the paper to the flame of one of the
At the exact moment that it began to catch fire, she opened
her eyes, raised her hand and, with two dainty fingers, had taken the
burning scrap of paper from the young man's hand. Then she blew out
the flame, and held the paper to her nostril with perfect unconcern.
"How thoughtful of you, Sir Andrew," she said gaily, "surely
'twas your grandmother who taught you that the smell of burnt paper
was a sovereign remedy against giddiness."
She sighed with satisfaction, holding the paper tightly
between her jewelled fingers; that talisman which perhaps would save
her brother Armand's life. Sir Andrew was staring at her, too dazed
for the moment to realize what had actually happened; he had been
taken so completely by surprise, that he seemed quite unable to grasp
the fact that the slip of paper, which she held in her dainty hand,
was one perhaps on which the life of his comrade might depend.
Marguerite burst into a long, merry peal of laughter.
"Why do you stare at me like that?" she said playfully. "I
assure you I feel much better; your remedy has proved most effectual.
This room is most delightedly cool," she added, with the same perfect
composure, "and the sound of the gavotte from the ball-room is
fascinating and soothing."
She was prattling on in the most unconcerned and pleasant way,
whilst Sir Andrew, in an agony of mind, was racking his brains as to
the quickest method he could employ to get that bit of paper out of
that beautiful woman's hand. Instinctively, vague and tumultuous
thoughts rushed through his mind: he suddenly remembered her
nationality, and worst of all, recollected that horrible take anent
the Marquis de St. Cyr, which in England no one had credited, for the
sake of Sir Percy, as well as for her own.
"What? Still dreaming and staring?" she said, with a merry
laugh, "you are most ungallant, Sir Andrew; and now I come to think
it, you seemed more startled than pleased when you saw me just now. I
do believe, after all, that it was not concern for my health, nor yet
a remedy taught you by your grandmother that caused you to burn this
tiny scrap of paper. . . . I vow it must have been your lady love's
last cruel epistle you were trying to destroy. Now confess!" she
added, playfully holding up the scrap of paper, "does this contain
final CONGE, or a last appeal to kiss and make friends?"
"Whichever it is, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, who was
gradually recovering his self-possession, "this little note is
undoubtedly mine, and. . ."
Not caring whether his action was one that would be styled
ill-bred towards a lady, the young man had made a bold dash for the
note; but Marguerite's thoughts flew quicker than his own; her actions
under pressure of this intense excitement, were swifter and more sure.
She was tall and strong; she took a quick step backwards and knocked
over the small Sheraton table which was already top-heavy, and which
fell down with a crash, together with the massive candelabra upon it.
She gave a quick cry of alarm:
"The candles, Sir Andrew--quick!"
There was not much damage done; one or two of the candles had
blown out as the candelabra fell; others had merely sent some grease
upon the valuable carpet; one had ignited the paper shade aver it.
Sir Andrew quickly and dexterously put out the flames and replaced the
candelabra upon the table; but this had taken him a few seconds to do,
and those seconds had been all that Marguerite needed to cast a quick
glance at the paper, and to note its contents--a dozen words in the
same distorted handwriting she had seen before, and bearing the same
device--a star-shaped flower drawn in red ink.
When Sir Andrew once more looked at her, he only saw upon her
face alarm at the untoward accident and relief at its happy issue;
whilst the tiny and momentous note had apparently fluttered to the
ground. Eagerly the young man picked it up, and his face looked much
relieved, as his fingers closed tightly over it.
"For shame, Sir Andrew," she said, shaking her head with a
playful sigh, "making havoc in the heart of some impressionable
duchess, whilst conquering the affections of my sweet little Suzanne.
Well, well! I do believe it was Cupid himself who stood by you, and
threatened the entire Foreign Office with destruction by fire, just on
purpose to make me drop love's message, before it had been polluted by
my indiscreet eyes. To think that, a moment longer, and I might have
known the secrets of an erring duchess."
"You will forgive me, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, now as
calm as she was herself, "if I resume the interesting occupation which
you have interrupted?"
"By all means, Sir Andrew! How should I venture to thwart the
love-god again? Perhaps he would mete out some terrible chastisement
against my presumption. Burn your love-token, by all means!"
Sir Andrew had already twisted the paper into a long spill,
and was once again holding it to the flame of the candle, which had
remained alight. He did not notice the strange smile on the face of
his fair VIS-A-VIS, so intent was he on the work of destruction;
perhaps, had he done so, the look of relief would have faded from his
face. He watched the fateful note, as it curled under the flame.
Soon the last fragment fell on the floor, and he placed his heel upon
"And now, Sir Andrew," said Marguerite Blakeney, with the
pretty nonchalance peculiar to herself, and with the most winning of
smiles, "will you venture to excite the jealousy of your fair lady
asking me to dance the minuet?"
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