ONE O'CLOCK PRECISELY!
Supper had been extremely gay. All those present declared
that never had Lady Blakeney been more adorable, nor that "demmed
idiot" Sir Percy more amusing.
His Royal Highness had laughed until the tears streamed down
his cheeks at Blakeney's foolish yet funny repartees. His doggerel
verse, "We seek him here, we seek him there," etc., was sung to
tune of "Ho! Merry Britons!" and to the accompaniment of glasses
knocked loudly against the table. Lord Grenville, moreover, had a
most perfect cook--some wags asserted that he was a scion of the old
French NOBLESSE, who having lost his fortune, had come to seek it in
the CUISINE of the Foreign Office.
Marguerite Blakeney was in her most brilliant mood, and surely
not a soul in that crowded supper-room had even an inkling of the
terrible struggle which was raging within her heart.
The clock was ticking so mercilessly on. It was long past
midnight, and even the Prince of Wales was thinking of leaving the
supper-table. Within the next half-hour the destinies of two brave
men would be pitted against one another--the dearly-beloved brother
and he, the unknown hero.
Marguerite had not tried to see Chauvelin during this last
hour; she knew that his keen, fox-like eyes would terrify her at once,
and incline the balance of her decision towards Armand. Whilst she
did not see him, there still lingered in her heart of hearts a vague,
undefined hope that "something" would occur, something big, enormous,
epoch-making, which would shift from her young, weak shoulders this
terrible burden of responsibility, of having to choose between two
such cruel alternatives.
But the minutes ticked on with that dull monotony which they
invariably seem to assume when our very nerves ache with their
After supper, dancing was resumed. His Royal Highness had
left, and there was general talk of departing among the older guests;
the young were indefatigable and had started on a new gavotte, which
would fill the next quarter of an hour.
Marguerite did not feel equal to another dance; there is a
limit to the most enduring of self-control. Escorted by a Cabinet
Minister, she had once more found her way to the tiny boudoir, still
the most deserted among all the rooms. She knew that Chauvelin must
be lying in wait for her somewhere, ready to seize the first possible
opportunity for a TETE-A-TETE. His eyes had met hers for a moment
after the `fore-supper minuet, and she knew that the keen diplomat,
with those searching pale eyes of his, had divined that her work was
Fate had willed it so. Marguerite, torn by the most terrible
conflict heart of woman can ever know, had resigned herself to its
decrees. But Armand must be saved at any cost; he, first of all, for
he was her brother, had been mother, father, friend to her ever since
she, a tiny babe, had lost both her parents. To think of Armand dying
a traitor's death on the guillotine was too horrible even to dwell
upon--impossible in fact. That could never be, never. . . . As for
the stranger, the hero. . .well! there, let Fate decide. Marguerite
would redeem her brother's life at the hands of the relentless enemy,
then let that cunning Scarlet Pimpernel extricate himself after that.
Perhaps--vaguely--Marguerite hoped that the daring plotter,
who for so many months had baffled an army of spies, would still
manage to evade Chauvelin and remain immune to the end.
She thought of all this, as she sat listening to the witty
discourse of the Cabinet Minister, who, no doubt, felt that he had
found in Lady Blakeney a most perfect listener. Suddenly she saw the
keen, fox-like face of Chauvelin peeping through the curtained
"Lord Fancourt," she said to the Minister, "will you do me
"I am entirely at your ladyship's service," he replied
"Will you see if my husband is still in the card-room? And if
he is, will you tell him that I am very tired, and would be glad to go
The commands of a beautiful woman are binding on all mankind,
even on Cabinet Ministers. Lord Fancourt prepared to obey instantly.
"I do not like to leave your ladyship alone," he said.
"Never fear. I shall be quite safe here--and, I think,
undisturbed. . .but I am really tired. You know Sir Percy will drive
back to Richmond. It is a long way, and we shall not--an we do not
hurry--get home before daybreak."
Lord Fancourt had perforce to go.
The moment he had disappeared, Chauvelin slipped into the
room, and the next instant stood calm and impassive by her side.
"You have news for me?" he said.
An icy mantle seemed to have suddenly settled round
Marguerite's shoulders; though her cheeks glowed with fire, she felt
chilled and numbed. Oh, Armand! will you ever know the terrible
sacrifice of pride, of dignity, of womanliness a devoted sister is
making for your sake?
"Nothing of importance," she said, staring mechanically before
her, "but it might prove a clue. I contrived--no matter how--to
detect Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in the very act of burning a paper at one
of these candles, in this very room. That paper I succeeded in
holding between my fingers for the space of two minutes, and to cast
my eyes on it for that of ten seconds."
"Time enough to learn its contents?" asked Chauvelin, quietly.
She nodded. Then continued in the same even, mechanical tone
"In the corner of the paper there was the usual rough device
of a small star-shaped flower. Above it I read two lines, everything
else was scorched and blackened by the flame."
"And what were the two lines?"
Her throat seemed suddenly to have contracted. For an instant
she felt that she could not speak the words, which might send a brave
man to his death.
"It is lucky that the whole paper was not burned," added
Chauvelin, with dry sarcasm, "for it might have fared ill with Armand
St. Just. What were the two lines citoyenne?"
"One was, `I start myself to-morrow,'" she said quietly, "the
other--'If you wish to speak to me, I shall be in the supper-room at
one o'clock precisely.'"
Chauvelin looked up at the clock just above the mantelpiece.
"Then I have plenty of time," he said placidly.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
She was pale as a statue, her hands were icy cold, her head
and heart throbbed with the awful strain upon her nerves. Oh, this
was cruel! cruel! What had she done to have deserved all this? Her
choice was made: had she done a vile action or one that was sublime?
The recording angel, who writes in the book of gold, alone could give
"What are you going to do?" she repeated mechanically.
"Oh, nothing for the present. After that it will depend."
"On whom I shall see in the supper-room at one o'clock
"You will see the Scarlet Pimpernel, of course. But you do
not know him."
"No. But I shall presently."
"Sir Andrew will have warned him."
"I think not. When you parted from him after the minuet he
stood and watched you, for a moment or two, with a look which gave me
to understand that something had happened between you. It was only
natural, was it not? that I should make a shrewd guess as to the
nature of that `something.' I thereupon engaged the young man in a
long and animated conversation--we discussed Herr Gluck's singular
success in London--until a lady claimed his arm for supper."
"I did not lose sight of him through supper. When we all came
upstairs again, Lady Portarles buttonholed him and started on the
subject of pretty Mlle. Suzanne de Tournay. I knew he would not move
until Lady Portarles had exhausted on the subject, which will not be
for another quarter of an hour at least, and it is five minutes to one
He was preparing to go, and went up to the doorway where,
drawing aside the curtain, he stood for a moment pointing out to
Marguerite the distant figure of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in close
conversation with Lady Portarles.
"I think," he said, with a triumphant smile, "that I may
safely expect to find the person I seek in the dining-room, fair
"There may be more than one."
"Whoever is there, as the clock strikes one, will be shadowed
by one of my men; of these, one, or perhaps two, or even three, will
leave for France to-morrow. ONE of these will be the `Scarlet
"I also, fair lady, will leave for France to-morrow. The
papers found at Dover upon the person of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes speak of
the neighborhood of Calais, of an inn which I know well, called `Le
Chat Gris,' of a lonely place somewhere on the coast--the Pere
Blanchard's hut--which I must endeavor to find. All these places are
given as the point where this meddlesome Englishman has bidden the
traitor de Tournay and others to meet his emissaries. But it seems
that he has decided not to send his emissaries, that `he will start
himself to-morrow.' Now, one of these persons whom I shall see anon
in the supper-room, will be journeying to Calais, and I shall follow
that person, until I have tracked him to where those fugitive
aristocrats await him; for that person, fair lady, will be the man
whom I have sought for, for nearly a year, the man whose energies has
outdone me, whose ingenuity has baffled me, whose audacity has set me
wondering--yes! me!--who have seen a trick or two in my time--the
mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel."
"And Armand?" she pleaded.
"Have I ever broken my word? I promise you that the day the
Scarlet Pimpernel and I start for France, I will send you that
imprudent letter of his by special courier. More than that, I will
pledge you the word of France, that the day I lay hands on that
meddlesome Englishman, St. Just will be here in England, safe in the
arms of his charming sister."
And with a deep and elaborate bow and another look at the
clock, Chauvelin glided out of the room.
It seemed to Marguerite that through all the noise, all the
din of music, dancing, and laughter, she could hear his cat-like
tread, gliding through the vast reception-rooms; that she could hear
him go down the massive staircase, reach the dining-room and open the
door. Fate HAD decided, had made her speak, had made her do a vile
and abominable thing, for the sake of the brother she loved. She lay
back in her chair, passive and still, seeing the figure of her
relentless enemy ever present before her aching eyes.
When Chauvelin reached the supper-room it was quite deserted.
It had that woebegone, forsaken, tawdry appearance, which reminds one
so much of a ball-dress, the morning after.
Half-empty glasses littered the table, unfolded napkins lay
about, the chairs--turned towards one another in groups of twos and
threes--very close to one another--in the far corners of the room,
which spoke of recent whispered flirtations, over cold game-pie and
champagne; there were sets of three and four chairs, that recalled
pleasant, animated discussions over the latest scandal; there were
chairs straight up in a row that still looked starchy, critical, acid,
like antiquated dowager; there were a few isolated, single chairs,
close to the table, that spoke of gourmands intent on the most
RECHERCHE dishes, and others overturned on the floor, that spoke
volumes on the subject of my Lord Grenville's cellars.
It was a ghostlike replica, in fact, of that fashionable
gathering upstairs; a ghost that haunts every house where balls and
good suppers are given; a picture drawn with white chalk on grey
cardboard, dull and colourless, now that the bright silk dresses and
gorgeously embroidered coats were no longer there to fill in the
foreground, and now that the candles flickered sleepily in their
Chauvelin smiled benignly, and rubbing his long, thin hands
together, he looked round the deserted supper-room, whence even the
last flunkey had retired in order to join his friends in the hall
below. All was silence in the dimly-lighted room, whilst the sound of
the gavotte, the hum of distant talk and laughter, and the rumble of
an occasional coach outside, only seemed to reach this palace of the
Sleeping Beauty as the murmur of some flitting spooks far away.
It all looked so peaceful, so luxurious, and so still, that
the keenest observer--a veritable prophet--could never have guessed
that, at this present moment, that deserted supper-room was nothing
but a trap laid for the capture of the most cunning and audacious
plotter those stirring times had ever seen.
Chauvelin pondered and tried to peer into the immediate
future. What would this man be like, whom he and the leaders of the
whole revolution had sworn to bring to his death? Everything about
him was weird and mysterious; his personality, which he so cunningly
concealed, the power he wielded over nineteen English gentlemen who
seemed to obey his every command blindly and enthusiastically, the
passionate love and submission he had roused in his little trained
band, and, above all, his marvellous audacity, the boundless impudence
which had caused him to beard his most implacable enemies, within the
very walls of Paris.
No wonder that in France the SOBRIQUET of the mysterious
Englishman roused in the people a superstitious shudder. Chauvelin
himself as he gazed round the deserted room, where presently the weird
hero would appear, felt a strange feeling of awe creeping all down his
But his plans were well laid. He felt sure that the Scarlet
Pimpernel had not been warned, and felt equally sure that Marguerite
Blakeney had not played him false. If she had. . . .a cruel look,
that would have made her shudder, gleamed in Chauvelin's keen, pale
eyes. If she had played him a trick, Armand St. Just would suffer the
But no, no! of course she had not played him false!
Fortunately the supper-room was deserted: this would make
Chauvelin's task all the easier, when presently that unsuspecting
enigma would enter it alone. No one was here now save Chauvelin
Stay! as he surveyed with a satisfied smile the solitude of
the room, the cunning agent of the French Government became aware of
the peaceful, monotonous breathing of some one of my Lord Grenville's
guests, who, no doubt, had supped both wisely and well, and was
enjoying a quiet sleep, away from the din of the dancing above.
Chauvelin looked round once more, and there in the corner of a
sofa, in the dark angle of the room, his mouth open, his eyes shut,
the sweet sounds of peaceful slumbers proceedings from his nostrils,
reclined the gorgeously-apparelled, long-limbed husband of the
cleverest woman in Europe.
Chauvelin looked at him as he lay there, placid, unconscious,
at peace with all the world and himself, after the best of suppers,
and a smile, that was almost one of pity, softened for a moment the
hard lines of the Frenchman's face and the sarcastic twinkle of his
Evidently the slumberer, deep in dreamless sleep, would not
interfere with Chauvelin's trap for catching that cunning Scarlet
Pimpernel. Again he rubbed his hands together, and, following the
example of Sir Percy Blakeney, he too, stretched himself out in the
corner of another sofa, shut his eyes, opened his mouth, gave forth
sounds of peaceful breathing, and. . .waited!
Top of Page
Room | The