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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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The day was well advanced when Marguerite woke, refreshed by
her long sleep. Louise had brought her some fresh milk and a dish of
fruit, and she partook of this frugal breakfast with hearty appetite.

Thoughts crowded thick and fast in her mind as she munched her
grapes; most of them went galloping away after the tall, erect figure
of her husband, whom she had watched riding out of site more than five
hours ago.

In answer to her eager inquiries, Louise brought back the news
that the groom had come home with Sultan, having left Sir Percy in
London. The groom thought that his master was about to get on board
his schooner, which was lying off just below London Bridge. Sir Percy
had ridden thus far, had then met Briggs, the skipper of the DAY
DREAM, and had sent the groom back to Richmond with Sultan and the
empty saddle.

This news puzzled Marguerite more than ever. Where could Sir
Percy be going just now in the DAY DREAM? On Armand's behalf, he
had said. Well! Sir Percy had influential friends everywhere.
Perhaps he was going to Greenwich, or. . .but Marguerite ceased to
conjecture; all would be explained anon: he said that he would come
back, and that he would remember.
A long, idle day lay before Marguerite. She was expecting a
visit of her old school-fellow, little Suzanne de Tournay. With all
the merry mischief at her command, she had tendered her request for
Suzanne's company to the Comtesse in the Presence of the Prince of
Wales last night. His Royal Highness had loudly applauded the notion,
and declared that he would give himself the pleasure of calling on the
two ladies in the course of the afternoon. The Comtesse had not dared
to refuse, and then and there was entrapped into a promise to send
little Suzanne to spend a long and happy day at Richmond with her

Marguerite expected her eagerly; she longed for a chat about
old schooldays with the child; she felt that she would prefer
Suzanne's company to that of anyone else, and together they would roam
through the fine old garden and rich deer park, or stroll along the

But Suzanne had not come yet, and Marguerite being dressed,
prepared to go downstairs. She looked quite a girl this morning in
her simple muslin frock, with a broad blue sash round her slim waist,
and the dainty cross-over fichu into which, at her bosom, she had
fastened a few late crimson roses.

She crossed the landing outside her own suite of apartments,
and stood still for a moment at the head of the fine oak staircase,
which led to the lower floor. On her left were her husband's
apartments, a suite of rooms which she practically never entered.

They consisted of bedroom, dressing and reception room, and at
the extreme end of the landing, of a small study, which, when Sir
Percy did not use it, was always kept locked. His own special and
confidential valet, Frank, had charge of this room. No one was ever
allowed to go inside. My lady had never cared to do so, and the other
servants, had, of course, not dared to break this hard-and-fast rule.

Marguerite had often, with that good-natured contempt which
she had recently adopted towards her husband, chaffed him about this
secrecy which surrounded his private study. Laughingly she had always
declared that he strictly excluded all prying eyes from his sanctum
for fear they should detect how very little "study" went on within its
four walls: a comfortable arm-chair for Sir Percy's sweet slumbers
was, no doubt, its most conspicuous piece of furniture.

Marguerite thought of all this on this bright October morning
as she glanced along the corridor. Frank was evidently busy with his
master's rooms, for most of the doors stood open, that of the study
amongst the others.

A sudden burning, childish curiosity seized her to have a peep
at Sir Percy's sanctum. This restriction, of course, did not apply to
her, and Frank would, of course, not dare to oppose her. Still, she
hoped that the valet would be busy in one of the other rooms, that she
might have that one quick peep in secret, and unmolested.

Gently, on tip-toe, she crossed the landing and, like Blue
Beard's wife, trembling half with excitement and wonder, she paused a
moment on the threshold, strangely perturbed and irresolute.

The door was ajar, and she could not see anything within. She
pushed it open tentatively: there was no sound: Frank was evidently
not there, and she walked boldly in.

At once she was struck by the severe simplicity of everything
around her: the dark and heavy hangings, the massive oak furniture,
the one or two maps on the wall, in no way recalled to her mind the
lazy man about town, the lover of race-courses, the dandified leader
of fashion, that was the outward representation of Sir Percy Blakeney.

There was no sign here, at any rate, of hurried departure.
Everything was in its place, not a scrap of paper littered the floor,
not a cupboard or drawer was left open. The curtains were drawn aside,
and through the open window the fresh morning air was streaming in.

Facing the window, and well into the centre of the room, stood
a ponderous business-like desk, which looked as if it had seen much
service. On the wall to the left of the desk, reaching almost from
floor to ceiling, was a large full-length portrait of a woman,
magnificently framed, exquisitely painted, and signed with the name of
Boucher. It was Percy's mother.

Marguerite knew very little about her, except that she had
died abroad, ailing in body as well as in mind, which Percy was still
a lad. She must have been a very beautiful woman once, when Boucher
painted her, and as Marguerite looked at the portrait, she could not
but be struck by the extraordinary resemblance which must have existed
between mother and son. There was the same low, square forehead,
crowned with thick, fair hair, smooth and heavy; the same deep-set,
somewhat lazy blue eyes beneath firmly marked, straight brows; and in
those eyes there was the same intensity behind that apparent laziness,
the same latent passion which used to light up Percy's face in the
olden days before his marriage, and which Marguerite had again noted,
last night at dawn, when she had come quite close to him, and had
allowed a note of tenderness to creep into her voice.

Marguerite studied the portrait, for it interested her: after
that she turned and looked again at the ponderous desk. It was
covered with a mass of papers, all neatly tied and docketed, which
looked like accounts and receipts arrayed with perfect method. It had
never before struck Marguerite--nor had she, alas! found it worth
while to inquire--as to how Sir Percy, whom all the world had credited
with a total lack of brains, administered the vast fortune which his
father had left him.

Since she had entered this neat, orderly room, she had been
taken so much by surprise, that this obvious proof of her husband's
strong business capacities did not cause her more than a passing
thought of wonder. But it also strengthened her in the now certain
knowledge that, with his worldly inanities, his foppish ways, and
foolish talk, he was not only wearing a mask, but was playing a
deliberate and studied part.

Marguerite wondered again. Why should he take all this trouble?
Why should he--who was obviously a serious, earnest man--wish to appear
before his fellow-men as an empty-headed nincompoop?

He may have wished to hide his love for a wife who held him in
contempt. . .but surely such an object could have been gained at less
sacrifice, and with far less trouble than constant incessant acting of
an unnatural part.

She looked round her quite aimlessly now: she was horribly
puzzled, and a nameless dread, before all this strange, unaccountable
mystery, had begun to seize upon her. She felt cold and uncomfortable
suddenly in this severe and dark room. There were no pictures on the
wall, save the fine Boucher portrait, only a couple of maps, both of
parts of France, one of the North coast and the other of the environs
of Paris. What did Sir Percy want with those, she wondered.

Her head began to ache, she turned away from this strange Blue
Beard's chamber, which she had entered, and which she did not understand.
She did not wish Frank to find her here, and with a fast look round,
she once more turned to the door. As she did so, her foot knocked
against a small object, which had apparently been lying close to the desk,
on the carpet, and which now went rolling, right across the room.

She stooped to pick it up. It was a solid gold ring, with a
flat shield, on which was engraved a small device.

Marguerite turned it over in her fingers, and then studied the
engraving on the shield. It represented a small star-shaped flower,
of a shape she had seen so distinctly twice before: once at the opera,
and once at Lord Grenville's ball.



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