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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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The weariest nights, the longest days, sooner or later must
perforce come to an end.

Marguerite had spent over fifteen hours in such acute mental
torture as well-nigh drove her crazy. After a sleepless night, she
rose early, wild with excitement, dying to start on her journey,
terrified lest further obstacles lay in her way. She rose before
anyone else in the house was astir, so frightened was she, lest she
should miss the one golden opportunity of making a start.

When she came downstairs, she found Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
sitting in the coffee-room. He had been out half an hour earlier, and
had gone to the Admiralty Pier, only to find that neither the French
packet nor any privately chartered vessel could put out of Dover yet.
The storm was then at its fullest, and the tide was on the turn. If
the wind did not abate or change, they would perforce have to wait
another ten or twelve hours until the next tide, before a start could
be made. And the storm had not abated, the wind had not changed, and
the tide was rapidly drawing out.

Marguerite felt the sickness of despair when she heard this
melancholy news. Only the most firm resolution kept her from totally
breaking down, and thus adding to the young man's anxiety, which
evidently had become very keen.

Though he tried to hide it, Marguerite could see that Sir
Andrew was just as anxious as she was to reach his comrade and friend.
This enforced inactivity was terrible to them both.

How they spend that wearisome day at Dover, Marguerite could
never afterwards say. She was in terror of showing herself, lest
Chauvelin's spies happened to be about, so she had a private
sitting-room, and she and Sir Andrew sat there hour after hour, trying
to take, at long intervals, some perfunctory meals, which little Sally
would bring them, with nothing to do but to think, to conjecture, and
only occasionally to hope.

The storm had abated just too late; the tide was by then too
far out to allow a vessel to put off to sea. The wind had changed,
and was settling down to a comfortable north-westerly breeze--a
veritable godsend for a speedy passage across to France.

And there those two waited, wondering if the hour would ever
come when they could finally make a start. There had been one happy
interval in this long weary day, and that was when Sir Andrew went
down once again to the pier, and presently came back to tell
Marguerite that he had chartered a quick schooner, whose skipper was
ready to put to sea the moment the tide was favourable.

From that moment the hours seemed less wearisome; there was
less hopelessness in the waiting; and at last, at five o'clock in the
afternoon, Marguerite, closely veiled and followed by Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes, who, in the guise of her lacquey, was carrying a number of
impedimenta, found her way down to the pier.

Once on board, the keen, fresh sea-air revived her, the breeze
was just strong enough to nicely swell the sails of the FOAM CREST,
as she cut her way merrily towards the open.

The sunset was glorious after the storm, and Marguerite, as
she watched the white cliffs of Dover gradually disappearing from
view, felt more at peace and once more almost hopeful.

Sir Andrew was full of kind attentions, and she felt how lucky
she had been to have him by her side in this, her great trouble.

Gradually the grey coast of France began to emerge from the
fast-gathering evening mists. One or two lights could be seen
flickering, and the spires of several churches to rise out of the
surrounding haze.

Half an hour later Marguerite had landed upon French shore.
She was back in that country where at this very moment men slaughtered
their fellow-creatures by the hundreds, and sent innocent women and
children in thousands to the block.

The very aspect of the country and its people, even in this
remote sea-coast town, spoke of that seething revolution, three
hundred miles away, in beautiful Paris, now rendered hideous by the
constant flow of the blood of her noblest sons, by the wailing of the
widows, and the cries of fatherless children.

The men all wore red caps--in various stages of
cleanliness--but all with the tricolor cockade pinned on the
left-side. Marguerite noticed with a shudder that, instead of the
laughing, merry countenance habitual to her own countrymen, their
faces now invariably wore a look of sly distrust.

Every man nowadays was a spy upon his fellows: the most
innocent word uttered in jest might at any time be brought up as a
proof of aristocratic tendencies, or of treachery against the people.
Even the women went about with a curious look of fear and of hate
lurking in their brown eyes; and all watched Marguerite as she stepped
on shore, followed by Sir Andrew, and murmured as she passed along:

Otherwise their presence excited no further comment. Calais,
even in those days, was in constant business communication with
England, and English merchants were often seen on this coast. It was
well known that in view of the heavy duties in England, a vast deal of
French wines and brandies were smuggled across. This pleased the
French BOURGEOIS immensely; he liked to see the English Government
and the English king, both of whom he hated, cheated out of their
revenues; and an English smuggler was always a welcome guest at the
tumble-down taverns of Calais and Boulogne.

So, perhaps, as Sir Andrew gradually directed Marguerite
through the tortuous streets of Calais, many of the population, who
turned with an oath to look at the strangers clad in English fashion,
thought that they were bent on purchasing dutiable articles for their
own fog-ridden country, and gave them no more than a passing thought.

Marguerite, however, wondered how her husband's tall, massive
figure could have passed through Calais unobserved: she marvelled what
disguise he assumed to do his noble work, without exciting too much

Without exchanging more than a few words, Sir Andrew was
leading her right across the town, to the other side from that where
they had landed, and the way towards Cap Gris Nez. The streets were
narrow, tortuous, and mostly evil-smelling, with a mixture of stale
fish and damp cellar odours. There had been heavy rain here during
the storm last night, and sometimes Marguerite sank ankle-deep in the
mud, for the roads were not lighted save by the occasional glimmer
from a lamp inside a house.

But she did not heed any of these petty discomforts: "We may
meet Blakeney at the `Chat Gris,'" Sir Andrew had said, when they
landed, and she was walking as if on a carpet of rose-leaves, for she
was going to meet him almost at once.

At last they reached their destination. Sir Andrew evidently
knew the road, for he had walked unerringly in the dark, and had not
asked his way from anyone. It was too dark then for Marguerite to
notice the outside aspect of this house. The "Chat Gris," as Sir
Andrew had called it, was evidently a small wayside inn on the outskirts
of Calais, and on the way to Gris Nez. It lay some little distance
from the coast, for the sound of the sea seemed to come from afar.

Sir Andrew knocked at the door with the knob of his cane, and
from within Marguerite heard a sort of grunt and the muttering of a
number of oaths. Sir Andrew knocked again, this time more
peremptorily: more oaths were heard, and then shuffling steps seemed
to draw near the door. Presently this was thrown open, and Marguerite
found herself on the threshold of the most dilapidated, most squalid
room she had ever seen in all her life.

The paper, such as it was, was hanging from the walls in
strips; there did not seem to be a single piece of furniture in the
room that could, by the wildest stretch of imagination, be called
"whole." Most of the chairs had broken backs, others had no seats to
them, one corner of the table was propped up with a bundle of faggots,
there where the fourth leg had been broken.

In one corner of the room there was a huge hearth, over which
hung a stock-pot, with a not altogether unpalatable odour of hot soup
emanating therefrom. On one side of the room, high up in the wall,
there was a species of loft, before which hung a tattered blue-and-white
checked curtain. A rickety set of steps led up to this loft.

On the great bare walls, with their colourless paper, all
stained with varied filth, there were chalked up at intervals in great
bold characters, the words: "Liberte--Egalite--Fraternite."

The whole of this sordid abode was dimly lighted by an
evil-smelling oil-lamp, which hung from the rickety rafters of the
ceiling. It all looked so horribly squalid, so dirty and uninviting,
that Marguerite hardly dared to cross the threshold.

Sir Andrew, however, had stepped unhesitatingly forward.

"English travellers, citoyen!" he said boldly, and speaking in French.

The individual who had come to the door in response to Sir
Andrew's knock, and who, presumably, was the owner of this squalid
abode, was an elderly, heavily built peasant, dressed in a dirty blue
blouse, heavy sabots, from which wisps of straw protruded all round,
shabby blue trousers, and the inevitable red cap with the tricolour
cockade, that proclaimed his momentary political views. He carried a
short wooden pipe, from which the odour of rank tobacco emanated. He
looked with some suspicion and a great deal of contempt at the two
travellers, muttering "SACRRRES ANGLAIS!" and spat upon the ground
to further show his independence of spirit, but, nevertheless, he
stood aside to let them enter, no doubt well aware that these same
SACCRES ANGLAIS always had well-filled purses.

"Oh, lud!" said Marguerite, as she advanced into the room,
holding her handkerchief to her dainty nose, "what a dreadful hole!
Are you sure this is the place?"

"Aye! `this the place, sure enough," replied the young man
as, with his lace-edged, fashionable handkerchief, he dusted a chair
for Marguerite to sit on; "but I vow I never saw a more villainous

"Faith!" she said, looking round with some curiosity and a
great deal of horror at the dilapidated walls, the broken chairs, the
rickety table, "it certainly does not look inviting."

The landlord of the "Chat Gris"--by name, Brogard--had taken
no further notice of his guests; he concluded that presently they
would order supper, and in the meanwhile it was not for a free citizen
to show deference, or even courtesy, to anyone, however smartly they
might be dressed.

By the hearth sat a huddled-up figure clad, seemingly, mostly
in rags: that figure was apparently a woman, although even that would
have been hard to distinguish, except for the cap, which had once been
white, and for what looked like the semblance of a petticoat. She was
sitting mumbling to herself, and from time to time stirring the brew
in her stock-pot.

"Hey, my friend!" said Sir Andrew at last, "we should like
some supper. . . . The citoyenne there," he added, "is concocting
some delicious soup, I'll warrant, and my mistress has not tasted food
for several hours.

It took Brogard some few minutes to consider the question. A
free citizen does not respond too readily to the wishes of those who
happen to require something of him.

"SACRRRES ARISTOS!" he murmured, and once more spat upon the

Then he went very slowly up to a dresser which stood in a
corner of the room; from this he took an old pewter soup-tureen and
slowly, and without a word, he handed it to his better-half, who, in
the same silence, began filling the tureen with the soup out of her

Marguerite had watched all these preparations with absolute
horror; were it not for the earnestness of her purpose, she would
incontinently have fled from this abode of dirt and evil smells.

"Faith! our host and hostess are not cheerful people," said
Sir Andrew, seeing the look of horror on Marguerite's face. "I would
I could offer you a more hearty and more appetising meal. . .but I
think you will find the soup eatable and the wine good; these people
wallow in dirt, but live well as a rule."

"Nay! I pray you, Sir Andrew," she said gently, "be not anxious
about me. My mind is scarce inclined to dwell on thoughts of supper."

Brogard was slowly pursuing his gruesome preparations; he had
placed a couple of spoons, also two glasses on the table, both of
which Sir Andrew took the precaution of wiping carefully.

Brogard had also produced a bottle of wine and some bread, and
Marguerite made an effort to draw her chair to the table and to make
some pretence at eating. Sir Andrew, as befitting his ROLE of
lacquey, stood behind her chair.

"Nay, Madame, I pray you," he said, seeing that Marguerite
seemed quite unable to eat, "I beg of you to try and swallow some
food--remember you have need of all your strength."

The soup certainly was not bad; it smelt and tasted good.
Marguerite might have enjoyed it, but for the horrible surroundings.
She broke the bread, however, and drank some of the wine.

"Nay, Sir Andrew," she said, "I do not like to see you
standing. You have need of food just as much as I have. This
creature will only think that I am an eccentric Englishwoman eloping
with her lacquey, if you'll sit down and partake of this semblance of
supper beside me."

Indeed, Brogard having placed what was strictly necessary upon
the table, seemed not to trouble himself any further about his guests.
The Mere Brogard had quietly shuffled out of the room, and the man
stood and lounged about, smoking his evil-smelling pipe, sometimes
under Marguerite's very nose, as any free-born citizen who was
anybody's equal should do.

"Confound the brute!" said Sir Andrew, with native British
wrath, as Brogard leant up against the table, smoking and looking down
superciliously at these two SACRRRES ANGLAIS.

"In Heaven's name, man," admonished Marguerite, hurriedly,
seeing that Sir Andrew, with British-born instinct, was ominously
clenching his fist, "remember that you are in France, and that in this
year of grace this is the temper of the people."

"I'd like to scrag the brute!" muttered Sir Andrew, savagely.

He had taken Marguerite's advice and sat next to her at table,
and they were both making noble efforts to deceive one another, by
pretending to eat and drink.

"I pray you," said Marguerite, "keep the creature in a good
temper, so that he may answer the questions we must put to him."

"I'll do my best, but, begad! I'd sooner scrag him than
question him. Hey! my friend," he said pleasantly in French, and
tapping Brogard lightly on the shoulder, "do you see many of our
quality along these parts? Many English travellers, I mean?"

Brogard looked round at him, over his near shoulder, puffed
away at his pipe for a moment or two as he was in no hurry, then


"Ah!" said Sir Andrew, carelessly, "English travellers always
know where they can get good wine, eh! my friend?--Now, tell me, my
lady was desiring to know if by any chance you happen to have seen a
great friend of hers, an English gentleman, who often comes to Calais
on business; he is tall, and recently was on his way to Paris--my lady
hoped to have met him in Calais."

Marguerite tried not to look at Brogard, lest she should
betray before him the burning anxiety with which she waited for his
reply. But a free-born French citizen is never in any hurry to answer
questions: Brogard took his time, then he said very slowly,--

"Tall Englishman?--To-day!--Yes."

"Yes, to-day," muttered Brogard, sullenly. Then he quietly
took Sir Andrew's hat from a chair close by, put it on his own head,
tugged at his dirty blouse, and generally tried to express in
pantomime that the individual in question wore very fine clothes.
"SACRRE ARISTO!" he muttered, "that tall Englishman!"

Marguerite could scarce repress a scream.

"It's Sir Percy right enough," she murmured, "and not even in disguise!"

She smiled, in the midst of all her anxiety and through her
gathering tears, at the thought of "the ruling passion strong in
death"; of Percy running into the wildest, maddest dangers, with the
latest-cut coat upon his back, and the laces of his jabot unruffled.

"Oh! the foolhardiness of it!" she sighed. "Quick, Sir Andrew!
ask the man when he went."

"Ah yes, my friend," said Sir Andrew, addressing Brogard, with
the same assumption of carelessness, "my lord always wears beautiful
clothes; the tall Englishman you saw, was certainly my lady's friend.
And he has gone, you say?"

"He went. . .yes. . .but he's coming back. . .here--he ordered supper. . ."

Sir Andrew put his hand with a quick gesture of warning upon
Marguerite's arm; it came none too sone, for the next moment her wild,
mad joy would have betrayed her. He was safe and well, was coming
back here presently, she would see him in a few moments perhaps. . . .
Oh! the wildness of her joy seemed almost more than she could bear.

"Here!" she said to Brogard, who seemed suddenly to have been
transformed in her eyes into some heavenborn messenger of bliss.
"Here!--did you say the English gentleman was coming back here?"

The heaven-born messenger of bliss spat upon the floor, to
express his contempt for all and sundry ARISTOS, who chose to haunt
the "Chat Gris."

"Heu!" he muttered, "he ordered supper--he will come back. . .
SACRRE ANGLAIS!" he added, by way of protest against all this fuss
for a mere Englishman.

"But where is he now?--Do you know?" she asked eagerly,
placing her dainty white hand upon the dirty sleeve of his blue

"He went to get a horse and cart," said Brogard, laconically,
as with a surly gesture, he shook off from his arm that pretty hand
which princes had been proud to kiss.

"At what time did he go?"

But Brogard had evidently had enough of these questionings.
He did not think that it was fitting for a citizen--who was the equal
of anybody--to be thus catechised by these SACRRES ARISTOS, even
though they were rich English ones. It was distinctly more fitting to
his newborn dignity to be as rude as possible; it was a sure sign of
servility to meekly reply to civil questions.

"I don't know," he said surlily. "I have said enough,
VOYONS, LES ARISTOS!. . .He came to-day. He ordered supper. He
went out.--He'll come back. VOILA!"

And with this parting assertion of his rights as a citizen and
a free man, to be as rude as he well pleased, Brogard shuffled out of
the room, banging the door after him.



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