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The Scarlet Pimpernel
By Baroness Orczy

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Marguerite listened--half-dazed as she was--to the
fast-retreating, firm footsteps of the four men.

All nature was so still that she, lying with her ear close to
the ground, could distinctly trace the sound of their tread, as they
ultimately turned into the road, and presently the faint echo of the
old cart-wheels, the halting gait of the lean nag, told her that her
enemy was a quarter of a league away. How long she lay there she knew
not. She had lost count of time; dreamily she looked up at the
moonlit sky, and listened to the monotonous roll of the waves.

The invigorating scent of the sea was nectar to her wearied
body, the immensity of the lonely cliffs was silent and dreamlike.
Her brain only remained conscious of its ceaseless, its intolerable
torture of uncertainty.

She did not know!--

She did not know whether Percy was even now, at this moment,
in the hands of the soldiers of the Republic, enduring--as she had
done herself--the gibes and jeers of his malicious enemy. She did not
know, on the other hand, whether Armand's lifeless body did not lie
there, in the hut, whilst Percy had escaped, only to hear that his
wife's hands had guided the human bloodhounds to the murder of Armand
and his friends.

The physical pain of utter weariness was so great, that she
hoped confidently her tired body could rest here for ever, after all
the turmoil, the passion, and the intrigues of the last few
days--here, beneath that clear sky, within sound of the sea, and with
this balmy autumn breeze whispering to her a last lullaby. All was so
solitary, so silent, like unto dreamland. Even the last faint echo of
the distant cart had long ago died away, afar.

Suddenly. . .a sound. . .the strangest, undoubtedly, that
these lonely cliffs of France had ever heard, broke the silent
solemnity of the shore.

So strange a sound was it that the gentle breeze ceased to
murmur, the tiny pebbles to roll down the steep incline! So strange,
that Marguerite, wearied, overwrought as she was, thought that the
beneficial unconsciousness of the approach of death was playing her
half-sleeping senses a weird and elusive trick.

It was the sound of a good, solid, absolutely British "Damn!"

The sea gulls in their nests awoke and looked round in astonishment;
a distant and solitary owl set up a midnight hoot, the tall cliffs
frowned down majestically at the strange, unheard-of sacrilege.

Marguerite did not trust her ears. Half-raising herself on
her hands, she strained every sense to see or hear, to know the
meaning of this very earthly sound.

All was still again for the space of a few seconds; the same
silence once more fell upon the great and lonely vastness.

Then Marguerite, who had listened as in a trance, who felt she
must be dreaming with that cool, magnetic moonlight overhead, heard
again; and this time her heart stood still, her eyes large and
dilated, looked round her, not daring to trust her other sense.

"Odd's life! but I wish those demmed fellows had not hit quite so hard!"

This time it was quite unmistakable, only one particular pair
of essentially British lips could have uttered those words, in sleepy,
drawly, affected tones.

"Damn!" repeated those same British lips, emphatically.
"Zounds! but I'm as weak as a rat!"

In a moment Marguerite was on her feet.

Was she dreaming? Were those great, stony cliffs the gates of paradise?
Was the fragrant breath of the breeze suddenly caused by the flutter
of angels' wings, bringing tidings of unearthly joys to her, after
all her suffering, or--faint and ill--was she the prey of delirium?

She listened again, and once again she heard the same very
earthly sounds of good, honest British language, not the least akin to
whisperings from paradise or flutter of angels' wings.

She looked round her eagerly at the tall cliffs, the lonely
hut, the great stretch of rocky beach. Somewhere there, above or
below her, behind a boulder or inside a crevice, but still hidden from
her longing, feverish eyes, must be the owner of that voice, which
once used to irritate her, but now would make her the happiest woman
in Europe, if only she could locate it.

"Percy! Percy!" she shrieked hysterically, tortured between doubt
and hope, "I am here! Come to me! Where are you? Percy! Percy!. . ."

"It's all very well calling me, m'dear!" said the same sleepy,
drawly voice, "but odd's life, I cannot come to you: those demmed
frog-eaters have trussed me like a goose on a spit, and I am weak as a
mouse. . .I cannot get away."

And still Marguerite did not understand. She did not realise
for at least another ten seconds whence came that voice, so drawly, so
dear, but alas! with a strange accent of weakness and of suffering.
There was no one within sight. . .except by that rock. . .Great
God!. . .the Jew!. . .Was she mad or dreaming?. . .

His back was against the pale moonlight, he was half crouching,
trying vainly to raise himself with his arms tightly pinioned.
Marguerite ran up to him, took his head in both her hands. . .
and look straight into a pair of blue eyes, good-natured, even a
trifle amused--shining out of the weird and distorted mask of the Jew.

"Percy!. . .Percy!. . .my husband!" she gasped, faint with the
fulness of her joy. "Thank God! Thank God!"

"La! m'dear," he rejoined good-humouredly, "we will both do
that anon, an you think you can loosen these demmed ropes,
and release me from my inelegant attitude."

She had no knife, her fingers were numb and weak, but she
worked away with her teeth, while great welcome tears poured from her
eyes, onto those poor, pinioned hands.

"Odd's life!" he said, when at last, after frantic efforts on
her part, the ropes seemed at last to be giving way, "but I marvel
whether it has ever happened before, that an English gentleman allowed
himself to be licked by a demmed foreigner, and made no attempt to
give as good as he got."

It was very obvious that he was exhausted from sheer physical pain,
and when at last the rope gave way, he fell in a heap against the rock.

Marguerite looked helplessly round her.

"Oh! for a drop of water on this awful beach!" she cried in
agony, seeing that he was ready to faint again.

"Nay, m'dear," he murmured with his good-humoured smile,
"personally I should prefer a drop of good French brandy! an you'll
dive in the pocket of this dirty old garment, you'll find my
flask. . . . I am demmed if I can move."

When he had drunk some brandy, he forced Marguerite to do likewise.

"La! that's better now! Eh! little woman?" he said, with a
sigh of satisfaction. "Heigh-ho! but this is a queer rig-up for Sir
Percy Blakeney, Bart., to be found in by his lady, and no mistake.
Begad!" he added, passing his hand over his chin, "I haven't been
shaved for nearly twenty hours: I must look a disgusting object. As
for these curls. . ."

And laughingly he took off the disfiguring wig and curls, and
stretched out his long limbs, which were cramped from many hours'
stooping. Then he bent forward and looked long and searchingly into
his wife's blue eyes.

"Percy," she whispered, while a deep blush suffused her
delicate cheeks and neck, "if you only knew. . ."

"I do know, dear. . .everything," he said with infinite gentleness.

"And can you ever forgive?"

"I have naught to forgive, sweetheart; your heroism, your
devotion, which I, alas! so little deserved, have more than atoned
for that unfortunate episode at the ball."

"Then you knew?. . ." she whispered, "all the time. . ."

"Yes!" he replied tenderly, "I knew. . .all the time. . . .
But, begad! had I but known what a noble heart yours was, my Margot,
I should have trusted you, as you deserved to be trusted, and you
would not have had to undergo the terrible sufferings of the past few
hours, in order to run after a husband, who has done so much that
needs forgiveness."

They were sitting side by side, leaning up against a rock, and
he had rested his aching head on her shoulder. She certainly now
deserved the name of "the happiest woman in Europe."

"It is a case of the blind leading the lame, sweetheart, is it
not?" he said with his good-natured smile of old. "Odd's life! but I
do not know which are the more sore, my shoulders or your little feet."

He bent forward to kiss them, for they peeped out through her torn
stockings, and bore pathetic witness to her endurance and devotion.

"But Armand. . ." she said with sudden terror and remorse, as in
the midst of her happiness the image of the beloved brother,
for whose sake she had so deeply sinned, rose now before her mind.

"Oh! have no fear for Armand, sweetheart," he said tenderly,
"did I not pledge you my word that he should be safe? He with de
Tournay and the others are even now on board the DAY DREAM."

"But how?" she gasped, "I do not understand."

"Yet, `tis simple enough, m'dear," he said with that funny,
half-shy, half-inane laugh of his, "you see! when I found that that
brute Chauvelin meant to stick to me like a leech, I thought the best
thing I could do, as I could not shake him off, was to take him along
with me. I had to get to Armand and the others somehow, and all the
roads were patrolled, and every one on the look-out for your humble
servant. I knew that when I slipped through Chauvelin's fingers at
the `Chat Gris,' that he would lie in wait for me here, whichever way
I took. I wanted to keep an eye on him and his doings, and a British
head is as good as a French one any day."

Indeed it had proved to be infinitely better, and Marguerite's
heart was filled with joy and marvel, as he continued to recount to
her the daring manner in which he had snatched the fugitives away,
right from under Chauvelin's very nose.

"Dressed as the dirty old Jew," he said gaily, "I knew I
should not be recognized. I had met Reuben Goldstein in Calais
earlier in the evening. For a few gold pieces he supplied me with
this rig-out, and undertook to bury himself out of sight of everybody,
whilst he lent me his cart and nag."

"But if Chauvelin had discovered you," she gasped excitedly,
"your disguise was good. . .but he is so sharp."

"Odd's fish!" he rejoined quietly, "then certainly the game
would have been up. I could but take the risk. I know human nature
pretty well by now," he added, with a note of sadness in his cheery,
young voice, "and I know these Frenchmen out and out. They so loathe
a Jew, that they never come nearer than a couple of yards of him, and
begad! I fancy that I contrived to make myself look about as
loathesome an object as it is possible to conceive."

"Yes!--and then?" she asked eagerly.

"Zooks!--then I carried out my little plan: that is to say, at
first I only determined to leave everything to chance, but when I
heard Chauvelin giving his orders to the soldiers, I thought that Fate
and I were going to work together after all. I reckoned on the blind
obedience of the soldiers. Chauvelin had ordered them on pain of
death not to stir until the tall Englishman came. Desgas had thrown
me down in a heap quite close to the hut; the soldiers took no notice
of the Jew, who had driven Citoyen Chauvelin to this spot. I managed
to free my hands from the ropes, with which the brute had trussed me;
I always carry pencil and paper with me wherever I go, and I hastily
scrawled a few important instructions on a scrap of paper; then I
looked about me. I crawled up to the hut, under the very noses of the
soldiers, who lay under cover without stirring, just as Chauvelin had
ordered them to do, then I dropped my little note into the hut through
a chink in the wall, and waited. In this note I told the fugitives to
walk noiselessly out of the hut, creep down the cliffs, keep to the
left until they came to the first creek, to give a certain signal,
when the boat of the DAY DREAM, which lay in wait not far out to
sea, would pick them up. They obeyed implicitly, fortunately for them
and for me. The soldiers who saw them were equally obedient to
Chauvelin's orders. They did not stir! I waited for nearly half an
hour; when I knew that the fugitives were safe I gave the signal,
which caused so much stir."

And that was the whole story. It seemed so simple! and Marguerite
could be marvel at the wonderful ingenuity, the boundless pluck and
audacity which had evolved and helped to carry out this daring plan.

"But those brutes struck you!" she gasped in horror, at the
bare recollection of the fearful indignity.

"Well! that could not be helped," he said gently, "whilst my
little wife's fate was so uncertain, I had to remain here by her side.
Odd's life!" he added merrily, "never fear! Chauvelin will lose
nothing by waiting, I warrant! Wait till I get him back to
England!--La! he shall pay for the thrashing he gave me with
compound interest, I promise you."

Marguerite laughed. It was so good to be beside him, to hear
his cheery voice, to watch that good-humoured twinkle in his blue
eyes, as he stretched out his strong arms, in longing for that foe,
and anticipation of his well-deserved punishment.

Suddenly, however, she started: the happy blush left her
cheek, the light of joy died out of her eyes: she had heard a stealthy
footfall overhead, and a stone had rolled down from the top of the
cliffs right down to the beach below.

"What's that?" she whispered in horror and alarm.

"Oh! nothing, m'dear," he muttered with a pleasant laugh,
"only a trifle you happened to have forgotten. . .my friend,
Ffoulkes. . ."

"Sir Andrew!" she gasped.

Indeed, she had wholly forgotten the devoted friend and
companion, who had trusted and stood by her during all these hours of
anxiety and suffering. She remembered him how, tardily and with a
pang of remorse.

"Aye! you had forgotten him, hadn't you, m'dear?" said Sir
Percy merrily. "Fortunately, I met him, not far from the `Chat Gris.'
before I had that interesting supper party, with my friend
Chauvelin. . . . Odd's life! but I have a score to settle with that
young reprobate!--but in the meanwhile, I told him of a very long,
very circuitous road which Chauvelin's men would never suspect, just
about the time when we are ready for him, eh, little woman?"

"And he obeyed?" asked Marguerite, in utter astonishment.

"Without word or question. See, here he comes. He was not in
the way when I did not want him, and now he arrives in the nick of
time. Ah! he will make pretty little Suzanne a most admirable and
methodical husband."

In the meanwhile Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had cautiously worked his
way down the cliffs: he stopped once or twice, pausing to listen for
whispered words, which would guide him to Blakeney's hiding-place.

"Blakeney!" he ventured to say at last cautiously, "Blakeney!
are you there?"

The next moment he rounded the rock against which Sir Percy
and Marguerite were leaning, and seeing the weird figure still clad in
the Jew's long gaberdine, he paused in sudden, complete bewilderment.

But already Blakeney had struggled to his feet.

"Here I am, friend," he said with his funny, inane laugh, "all
alive! though I do look a begad scarecrow in these demmed things."

"Zooks!" ejaculated Sir Andrew in boundless astonishment as he
recognized his leader, "of all the. . ."

The young man had seen Marguerite, and happily checked the
forcible language that rose to his lips, at sight of the exquisite Sir
Percy in this weird and dirty garb.

"Yes!" said Blakeney, calmly, "of all the. . .hem!. . .My
friend!--I have not yet had time to ask you what you were doing in
France, when I ordered you to remain in London? Insubordination?
What? Wait till my shoulders are less sore, and, by Gad, see the
punishment you'll get."

"Odd's fish! I'll bear it," said Sir Andrew with a merry
laugh, "seeing that you are alive to give it. . . . Would you have
had me allow Lady Blakeney to do the journey alone? But, in the name
of heaven, man, where did you get these extraordinary clothes?"
"Lud! they are a bit quaint, ain't they?" laughed Sir Percy,
jovially, "But, odd's fish!" he added, with sudden earnestness and
authority, "now you are here, Ffoulkes, we must lose no more time:
that brute Chauvelin may send some one to look after us."

Marguerite was so happy, she could have stayed here for ever,
hearing his voice, asking a hundred questions. But at mention of
Chauvelin's name she started in quick alarm, afraid for the dear life
she would have died to save.

"But how can we get back?" she gasped; "the roads are full of
soldiers between here and Calais, and. . ."

"We are not going back to Calais, sweetheart," he said, "but
just the other side of Gris Nez, not half a league from here. The
boat of the DAY DREAM will meet us there."

"The boat of the DAY DREAM?"

"Yes!" he said, with a merry laugh; "another little trick of
mine. I should have told you before that when I slipped that note
into the hut, I also added another for Armand, which I directed him to
leave behind, and which has sent Chauvelin and his men running full
tilt back to the `Chat Gris' after me; but the first little note
contained my real instructions, including those to old Briggs. He had
my orders to go out further to sea, and then towards the west. When
well out of sight of Calais, he will send the galley to a little creek
he and I know of, just beyond Gris Nez. The men will look out for
me--we have a preconcerted signal, and we will all be safely aboard,
whilst Chauvelin and his men solemnly sit and watch the creek which is
`just opposite the "Chat Gris."'"

"The other side of Gris Nez? But I. . .I cannot walk, Percy,"
she moaned helplessly as, trying to struggle to her tired feet, she
found herself unable even to stand.

"I will carry you, dear," he said simply; "the blind leading
the lame, you know."

Sir Andrew was ready, too, to help with the precious burden,
but Sir Percy would not entrust his beloved to any arms but his own.

"When you and she are both safely on board the DAY DREAM,"
he said to his young comrade, "and I feel that Mlle. Suzanne's eyes
will not greet me in England with reproachful looks, then it will be
my turn to rest."

And his arms, still vigorous in spite of fatigue and
suffering, closed round Marguerite's poor, weary body, and lifted her
as gently as if she had been a feather.

Then, as Sir Andrew discreetly kept out of earshot, there were
many things said, or rather whispered, which even the autumn breeze
did not catch, for it had gone to rest.

All his fatigue was forgotten; his shoulders must have been
very sore, for the soldiers had hit hard, but the man's muscles seemed
made of steel, and his energy was almost supernatural. It was a weary
tramp, half a league along the stony side of the cliffs, but never for
a moment did his courage give way or his muscles yield to fatigue. On
he tramped, with firm footstep, his vigorous arms encircling the
precious burden, and. . .no doubt, as she lay, quiet and happy, at
times lulled to momentary drowsiness, at others watching, through the
slowly gathering morning light, the pleasant face with the lazy,
drooping blue eyes, ever cheerful, ever illumined with a good-humoured
smile, she whispered many things, which helped to shorten the weary
road, and acted as a soothing balsam to his aching sinews.

The many-hued light of dawn was breaking in the east, when at
last they reached the creek beyond Gris Nez. The galley lay in wait:
in answer to a signal from Sir Percy, she drew near, and two sturdy
British sailors had the honour of carrying my lady into the boat.

Half an hour later, they were on board the DAY DREAM. The
crew, who of necessity were in their master's secrets, and who were
devoted to him heart and soul, were not surprised to see him arriving
in so extraordinary a disguise.

Armand St. Just and the other fugitives were eagerly awaiting
the advent of their brave rescuer; he would not stay to hear the
expressions of their gratitude, but found the way to his private cabin
as quickly as he could, leaving Marguerite quite happy in the arms of
her brother.

Everything on board the DAY DREAM was fitted with that
exquisite luxury, so dear to Sir Percy Blakeney's heart, and by the
time they all landed at Dover he had found time to get into some of
the sumptuous clothes which he loved, and of which he always kept a
supply on board his yacht.

The difficulty was to provide Marguerite with a pair of shoes,
and great was the little middy's joy when my lady found that she could
put foot on English shore in his best pair.

The rest is silence!--silence and joy for those who had endured
so much suffering, yet found at last a great and lasting happiness.

But it is on record that at the brilliant wedding of Sir
Andrew Ffoulkes, Bart., with Mlle. Suzanne de Tournay de Basserive, a
function at which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and all the ELITE of
fashionable society were present, the most beautiful woman there was
unquestionably Lady Blakeney, whilst the clothes of Sir Percy Blakeney
wore were the talk of the JEUNESSE DOREE of London for many days.

It is also a fact that M. Chauvelin, the accredited agent of
the French Republican Government, was not present at that or
any other social function in London, after that memorable evening
at Lord Grenville's ball.



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