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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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The next quarter of an hour went by swiftly and noiselessly.
In the room downstairs, Brogard had for a while busied himself with
clearing the table, and re-arranging it for another guest.

It was because she watched these preparations that Marguerite
found the time slipping by more pleasantly. It was for Percy that
this semblance of supper was being got ready. Evidently Brogard had a
certain amount of respect for the tall Englishman, as he seemed to
take some trouble in making the place look a trifle less uninviting
than it had done before.

He even produced, from some hidden recess in the old dresser,
what actually looked like a table-cloth; and when he spread it out,
and saw it was full of holes, he shook his head dubiously for a while,
then was at much pains so to spread it over the table as to hide most
of its blemishes.

Then he got out a serviette, also old and ragged, but
possessing some measure of cleanliness, and with this he carefully
wiped the glasses, spoons and plates, which he put on the table.

Marguerite could not help smiling to herself as she watched
all these preparations, which Brogard accomplished to an accompaniment
of muttered oaths. Clearly the great height and bulk of the
Englishman, or perhaps the weight of his fist, had overawed this
free-born citizen of France, or he would never have been at such
trouble for any SACRRE ARISTO.

When the table was set--such as it was--Brogard surveyed it
with evident satisfaction. He then dusted one of the chairs with the
corner of his blouse, gave a stir to the stock-pot, threw a fresh
bundle of faggots on to the fire, and slouched out of the room.

Marguerite was left alone with her reflections. She had
spread her travelling cloak over the straw, and was sitting fairly
comfortably, as the straw was fresh, and the evil odours from below
came up to her only in a modified form.

But, momentarily, she was almost happy; happy because, when
she peeped through the tattered curtains, she could see a rickety
chair, a torn table-cloth, a glass, a plate and a spoon; that was all.
But those mute and ugly things seemed to say to her that they were
waiting for Percy; that soon, very soon, he would be here, that the
squalid room being still empty, they would be alone together.

That thought was so heavenly, that Marguerite closed her eyes
in order to shut out everything but that. In a few minutes she would
be alone with him; she would run down the ladder, and let him see her;
then he would take her in his arms, and she would let him see that,
after that, she would gladly die for him, and with him, for earth
could hold no greater happiness than that.

And then what would happen? She could not even remotely
conjecture. She knew, of course, that Sir Andrew was right, that
Percy would do everything he had set out to accomplish; that she--now
she was here--could do nothing, beyond warning him to be cautious,
since Chauvelin himself was on his track. After having cautioned him,
she would perforce have to see him go off upon the terrible and daring
mission; she could not even with a word or look, attempt to keep him
back. She would have to obey, whatever he told her to do, even
perhaps have to efface herself, and wait, in indescribable agony,
whilst he, perhaps, went to his death.

But even that seemed less terrible to bear than the thought
that he should never know how much she loved him--that at any rate
would be spared her; the squalid room itself, which seemed to be
waiting for him, told her that he would be here soon.

Suddenly her over-sensitive ears caught the sound of distant
footsteps drawing near; her heart gave a wild leap of joy! Was it
Percy at last? No! the step did not seem quite as long, nor quite as
firm as his; she also thought that she could hear two distinct sets of
footsteps. Yes! that was it! two men were coming this way.
Two strangers perhaps, to get a drink, or. . .

But she had not time to conjecture, for presently there was a
peremptory call at the door, and the next moment it was violently open
from the outside, whilst a rough, commanding voice shouted,--

"Hey! Citoyen Brogard! Hola!"

Marguerite could not see the newcomers, but, through a hole in
one of the curtains, she could observe one portion of the room below.

She heard Brogard's shuffling footsteps, as he came out of the
inner room, muttering his usual string of oaths. On seeing the
strangers, however, he paused in the middle of the room, well within
range of Marguerite's vision, looked at them, with even more withering
contempt than he had bestowed upon his former guests, and muttered,

Marguerite's heart seemed all at once to stop beating; her
eyes, large and dilated, had fastened on one of the newcomers, who, at
this point, had taken a quick step forward towards Brogard. He was
dressed in the soutane, broad-brimmed hat and buckled shoes habitual
to the French CURE, but as he stood opposite the innkeeper, he threw
open his soutane for a moment, displaying the tri-colour scarf of
officialism, which sight immediately had the effect of transforming
Brogard's attitude of contempt, into one of cringing obsequiousness.

It was the sight of this French CURE, which seemed to freeze the very
blood in Marguerite's veins. She could not see his face, which was
shaded by his broad-brimmed hat, but she recognized the thin, bony hands,
the slight stoop, the whole gait of the man! It was Chauvelin!

The horror of the situation struck her as with a physical
blow; the awful disappointment, the dread of what was to come, made
her very senses reel, and she needed almost superhuman effort, not to
fall senseless beneath it all.

"A plate of soup and a bottle of wine," said Chauvelin imperiously
to Brogard, "then clear out of here--understand? I want to be alone."

Silently, and without any muttering this time, Brogard obeyed.
Chauvelin sat down at the table, which had been prepared for the tall
Englishman, and the innkeeper busied himself obsequiously round him,
dishing up the soup and pouring out the wine. The man who had entered
with Chauvelin and whom Marguerite could not see, stood waiting close
by the door.

At a brusque sign from Chauvelin, Brogard had hurried back to
the inner room, and the former now beckoned to the man who had
accompanied him.

In him Marguerite at once recognised Desgas, Chauvelin's
secretary and confidential factotum, whom she had often seen in Paris,
in days gone by. He crossed the room, and for a moment or two
listened attentively at the Brogards' door.
"Not listening?" asked Chauvelin, curtly.

"No, citoyen."

For a moment Marguerite dreaded lest Chauvelin should order
Desgas to search the place; what would happen if she were to be
discovered, she hardly dared to imagine. Fortunately, however,
Chauvelin seemed more impatient to talk to his secretary than afraid
of spies, for he called Desgas quickly back to his side.

"The English schooner?" he asked.

"She was lost sight of at sundown, citoyen," replied Desgas,
"but was then making west, towards Cap Gris Nez."

"Ah!--good!--" muttered Chauvelin, "and now, about Captain
Jutley?--what did he say?"

"He assured me that all the orders you sent him last week have
been implicitly obeyed. All the roads which converge to this place
have been patrolled night and day ever since: and the beach and cliffs
have been most rigorously searched and guarded."

"Does he know where this `Pere Blanchard's' hut is?"

"No, citoyen, nobody seems to know of it by that name. There
are any amount of fisherman's huts all along the course. . .but. . ."

"That'll do. Now about tonight?" interrupted Chauvelin,

"The roads and the beach are patrolled as usual, citoyen, and
Captain Jutley awaits further orders."

"Go back to him at once, then. Tell him to send
reinforcements to the various patrols; and especially to those along
the beach--you understand?"

Chauvelin spoke curtly and to the point, and every word he
uttered struck at Marguerite's heart like the death-knell of her
fondest hopes.

"The men," he continued, "are to keep the sharpest possible
look-out for any stranger who may be walking, riding, or driving,
along the road or the beach, more especially for a tall stranger, whom
I need not describe further, as probably he will be disguised; but he
cannot very well conceal his height, except by stooping. You understand?"

"Perfectly, citoyen," replied Desgas.

"As soon as any of the men have sighted a stranger, two of
them are to keep him in view. The man who loses sight of the tall
stranger, after he is once seen, will pay for his negligence with his
life; but one man is to ride straight back here and report to me. Is
that clear?"

"Absolutely clear, citoyen."

"Very well, then. Go and see Jutley at once. See the
reinforcements start off for the patrol duty, then ask the captain to
let you have a half-a-dozen more men and bring them here with you.
You can be back in ten minutes. Go--"

Desgas saluted and went to the door.

As Marguerite, sick with horror, listened to Chauvelin's
directions to his underling, the whole of the plan for the capture of
the Scarlet Pimpernel became appallingly clear to her. Chauvelin
wished that the fugitives should be left in false security waiting in
their hidden retreat until Percy joined them. Then the daring plotter
was to be surrounded and caught red-handed, in the very act of aiding
and abetting royalists, who were traitors to the republic. Thus, if
his capture were noised abroad, even the British Government could not
legally protest in his favour; having plotted with the enemies of the
French Government, France had the right to put him to death.

Escape for him and them would be impossible. All the roads
patrolled and watched, the trap well set, the net, wide at present,
but drawing together tighter and tighter, until it closed upon the
daring plotter, whose superhuman cunning even could not rescue him
from its meshes now.

Desgas was about to go, but Chauvelin once more called him
back. Marguerite vaguely wondered what further devilish plans he
could have formed, in order to entrap one brave man, alone, against
two-score of others. She looked at him as he turned to speak to
Desgas; she could just see his face beneath the broad-brimmed,
CURES'S hat. There was at that moment so much deadly hatred, such
fiendish malice in the thin face and pale, small eyes, that
Marguerite's last hope died in her heart, for she felt that from this
man she could expect no mercy.

"I had forgotten," repeated Chauvelin, with a weird chuckle,
as he rubbed his bony, talon-like hands one against the other, with a
gesture of fiendish satisfaction. "The tall stranger may show fight.
In any case no shooting, remember, except as a last resort. I want
that tall stranger alive. . .if possible."

He laughed, as Dante has told us that the devils laugh at the
sight of the torture of the damned. Marguerite had thought that by
now she had lived through the whole gamut of horror and anguish that
human heart could bear; yet now, when Desgas left the house, and she
remained alone in this lonely, squalid room, with that fiend for
company, she felt as if all that she had suffered was nothing compared
with this. He continued to laugh and chuckle to himself for awhile,
rubbing his hands together in anticipation of his triumph.

His plans were well laid, and he might well triumph! Not a
loophole was left, through which the bravest, the most cunning man
might escape. Every road guarded, every corner watched, and in that
lonely hut somewhere on the coast, a small band of fugitives waiting
for their rescuer, and leading him to his death--nay! to worse than death.
That fiend there, in a holy man's garb, was too much of a devil to allow
a brave man to die the quick, sudden death of a soldier at the post of duty.

He, above all, longed to have the cunning enemy, who had so
long baffled him, helpless in his power; he wished to gloat over him,
to enjoy his downfall, to inflict upon him what moral and mental
torture a deadly hatred alone can devise. The brave eagle, captured,
and with noble wings clipped, was doomed to endure the gnawing of the
rat. And she, his wife, who loved him, and who had brought him to
this, could do nothing to help him.

Nothing, save to hope for death by his side, and for one brief
moment in which to tell him that her love--whole, true and
passionate--was entirely his.

Chauvelin was now sitting close to the table; he had taken off
his hat, and Marguerite could just see the outline of his thin profile
and pointed chin, as he bent over his meagre supper. He was evidently
quite contented, and awaited evens with perfect calm; he even seemed
to enjoy Brogard's unsavoury fare. Marguerite wondered how so much
hatred could lurk in one human being against another.

Suddenly, as she watched Chauvelin, a sound caught her ear, which
turned her very heart to stone. And yet that sound was not calculated
to inspire anyone with horror, for it was merely the cheerful sound
of a gay, fresh voice singing lustily, "God save the King!"



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