suffered intensely. Though she laughed and chatted, though she
was more admired, more surrounded, more FETED than any woman there,
she felt like one condemned to death, living her last day upon
Her nerves were in a state
of painful tension, which had increased a hundredfold during that
brief hour which she had spent in her husband's company, between
the opera and the ball. The short ray of hope--that she might
find in this good-natured, lazy individual a valuable friend and
adviser--had vanished as quickly as it had come, the moment she
found herself alone with him. The same feeling of good-humoured
contempt which one feels for an animal or a faithful servant,
made her turn away with a smile from the man who should have been
her moral support in this heart-rending crisis through which she
was passing: who should have been her cool-headed adviser, when
feminine sympathy and sentiment tossed her hither and thither,
between her love for her brother, who was far away and in mortal
peril, and horror of the awful service which Chauvelin had exacted
from her, in exchange for Armand's safety.
There he stood, the moral support, the cool-headed adviser, surrounded
by a crowd of brainless, empty-headed young fops, who were even
now repeating from mouth to mouth, and with every sign of the
keenest enjoyment, a doggerel quatrain which he had just given
forth. Everywhere the absurd, silly words met her: people seemed
to have little else to speak about, even the Prince had asked
her, with a little laugh, whether she appreciated her husband's
latest poetic efforts.
"All done in the tying of a cravat," Sir Percy had declared to
his clique of admirers.
"We seek him here, we seek him there, Those Frenchies seek
him everywhere. Is he in heaven?--Is he in hell? That demmed,
Sir Percy's BON MOT had gone the round of the brilliant reception-rooms.
The Prince was enchanted. He vowed that life without Blakeney
would be but a dreary desert. Then, taking him by the arm, had
led him to the card-room, and engaged him in a long game of hazard.
Sir Percy, whose chief interest in most social gatherings seemed
to centre round the card-table, usually allowed his wife to flirt,
dance, to amuse or bore herself as much as she liked. And to-night,
having delivered himself of his BON MOT, he had left Marguerite
surrounded by a crowd of admirers of all ages, all anxious and
willing to help her to forget that somewhere in the spacious reception
rooms, there was a long, lazy being who had been fool enough to
suppose that the cleverest woman in Europe would settle down to
the prosaic bonds of English matrimony.
Her still overwrought nerves, her excitement and agitation, lent
beautiful Marguerite Blakeney much additional charm: escorted
by a veritable bevy of men of all ages and of most nationalities,
she called forth many exclamations of admiration from everyone
as she passed.
She would not allow herself any more time to think. Her early,
somewhat Bohemian training had made her something of a fatalist.
She felt that events would shape themselves, that the directing
of them was not in her hands. From Chauvelin she knew that she
could expect no mercy. He had set a price on Armand's head, and
left it to her to pay or not, as she chose.
Later on in the evening she caught sight of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
and Lord Antony Dewhurst, who seemingly had just arrived. She
noticed at once that Sir Andrew immediately made for little Suzanne
de Tournay, and that the two young people soon managed to isolate
themselves in one of the deep embrasures of the mullioned windows,
there to carry on a long conversation, which seemed very earnest
and very pleasant on both sides.
Both the young men looked a little haggard and anxious, but otherwise
they were irreproachably dressed, and there was not the slightest
sign, about their courtly demeanour, of the terrible catastrophe,
which they must have felt hovering round them and round their
That the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had no intention of abandoning
its cause, she had gathered through little Suzanne herself, who
spoke openly of the assurance she and her mother had had that
the Comte de Tournay would be rescued from France by the league,
within the next few days. Vaguely she began to wonder, as she
looked at the brilliant and fashionable in the gaily-lighted ball-room,
which of these worldly men round her was the mysterious "Scarlet
Pimpernel," who held the threads of such daring plots, and the
fate of valuable lives in his hands.
A burning curiosity seized her to know him: although for months
she had heard of him and had accepted his anonymity, as everyone
else in society had done; but now she longed to know--quite impersonally,
quite apart from Armand, and oh! quite apart from Chauvelin--only
for her own sake, for the sake of the enthusiastic admiration
she had always bestowed on his bravery and cunning.
He was at the ball, of course, somewhere, since Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
and Lord Antony Dewhurst were here, evidently expecting to meet
their chief--and perhaps to get a fresh MOT D'ORDRE from him.
Marguerite looked round at everyone, at the aristocratic high-typed
Norman faces, the squarely-built, fair-haired Saxon, the more
gentle, humorous caste of the Celt, wondering which of these betrayed
the power, the energy, the cunning which had imposed its will
and its leadership upon a number of high-born English gentlemen,
among whom rumour asserted was His Royal Highness himself.
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes? Surely not, with his gentle blue eyes, which
were looking so tenderly and longingly after little Suzanne, who
was being led away from the pleasant TETE-A-TETE by her stern
mother. Marguerite watched him across the room, as he finally
turned away with a sigh, and seemed to stand, aimless and lonely,
now that Suzanne's dainty little figure had disappeared in the
She watched him as he strolled towards the doorway, which led
to a small boudoir beyond, then paused and leaned against the
framework of it, looking still anxiously all round him.
Marguerite contrived for the moment to evade her present attentive
cavalier, and she skirted the fashionable crowd, drawing nearer
to the doorway, against which Sir Andrew was leaning. Why she
wished to get closer to him, she could not have said: perhaps
she was impelled by an all-powerful fatality, which so often seems
to rule the destinies of men.
Suddenly she stopped: her very heart seemed to stand still, her
eyes, large and excited, flashed for a moment towards that doorway,
then as quickly were turned away again. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was
still in the same listless position by the door, but Marguerite
had distinctly seen that Lord Hastings--a young buck, a friend
of her husband's and one of the Prince's set--had, as he quickly
brushed past him, slipped something into his hand.
For one moment longer--oh! it was the merest flash--Marguerite
paused: the next she had, with admirably played unconcern, resumed
her walk across the room--but this time more quickly towards that
doorway whence Sir Andrew had now disappeared.
All this, from the moment that Marguerite had caught sight of
Sir Andrew leaning against the doorway, until she followed him
into the little boudoir beyond, had occurred in less than a minute.
Fate is usually swift when she deals a blow.
Now Lady Blakeney had suddenly ceased to exist. It was Marguerite
St. Just who was there only: Marguerite St. Just who had passed
her childhood, her early youth, in the protecting arms of her
brother Armand. She had forgotten everything else--her rank, her
dignity, her secret enthusiasms--everything save that Armand stood
in peril of his life, and that there, not twenty feet away from
her, in the small boudoir which was quite deserted, in the very
hands of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, might be the talisman which would
save her brother's life.
Barely another thirty seconds had elapsed between the moment when
Lord Hastings slipped the mysterious "something" into Sir Andrew's
hand, and the one when she, in her turn, reached the deserted
boudoir. Sir Andrew was standing with his back to her and close
to a table upon which stood a massive silver candelabra. A slip
of paper was in his hand, and he was in the very act of perusing
Unperceived, her soft clinging robe making not the slightest sound
upon the heavy carpet, not daring to breathe until she had accomplished
her purpose, Marguerite slipped close behind him. . . . At that
moment he looked round and saw her; she uttered a groan, passed
her hand across her forehead, and murmured faintly:
"The heat in the room was terrible. . .I felt so faint. . . Ah!.
She tottered almost as if she would fall, and Sir Andrew, quickly
recovering himself, and crumpling in his hand the tiny note he
had been reading, was only apparently, just in time to support
"You are ill, Lady Blakeney?" he asked with much concern, "Let
me. . ."
"No, no, nothing--" she interrupted quickly. "A chair--quick."
She sank into a chair close to the table, and throwing back her
head, closing her eyes.
"There!" she murmured, still faintly; "the giddiness is passing
off. . . . Do not heed me, Sir Andrew; I assure you I already
At moments like these there is no doubt--and psychologists actually
assert it--that there is in us a sense which has absolutely nothing
to do with the other five: it is not that we see, it is not that
we hear or touch, yet we seem to do all three at once. Marguerite
sat there with her eyes apparently closed. Sir Andrew was immediately
behind her, and on her right was the table with the five-armed
candelabra upon it. Before her mental vision there was absolutely
nothing but Armand's face. Armand, whose life was in the most
imminent danger, and who seemed to be looking at her from a background
upon which were dimly painted the seething crowd of Paris, the
bare walls of the Tribunal of Public Safety, with Foucquier-Tinville,
the Public Prosecutor, demanding Armand's life in the name of
the people of France, and the lurid guillotine with its stained
knife waiting for another victim. . .Armand!. . .
For one moment there was dead silence in the little boudoir. Beyond,
from the brilliant ball-room, the sweet notes of the gavotte,
the frou-frou of rich dresses, the talk and laughter of a large
and merry crowd, came as a strange, weird accompaniment to the
drama which was being enacted here.
Sir Andrew had not uttered another word. Then it was that that
extra sense became potent in Marguerite Blakeney. She could not
see, for her two eyes were closed, she could not hear, for the
noise from the ball-room drowned the soft rustle of that momentous
scrap of paper; nevertheless she knew-as if she had both seen
and heard--that Sir Andrew was even now holding the paper to the
flame of one of the candles.
At the exact moment that it began to catch fire, she opened her
eyes, raised her hand and, with two dainty fingers, had taken
the burning scrap of paper from the young man's hand. Then she
blew out the flame, and held the paper to her nostril with perfect
"How thoughtful of you, Sir Andrew," she said gaily, "surely 'twas
your grandmother who taught you that the smell of burnt paper
was a sovereign remedy against giddiness."
She sighed with satisfaction, holding the paper tightly between
her jewelled fingers; that talisman which perhaps would save her
brother Armand's life. Sir Andrew was staring at her, too dazed
for the moment to realize what had actually happened; he had been
taken so completely by surprise, that he seemed quite unable to
grasp the fact that the slip of paper, which she held in her dainty
hand, was one perhaps on which the life of his comrade might depend.
Marguerite burst into a long, merry peal of laughter.
"Why do you stare at me like that?" she said playfully. "I assure
you I feel much better; your remedy has proved most effectual.
This room is most delightedly cool," she added, with the same
perfect composure, "and the sound of the gavotte from the ball-room
is fascinating and soothing."
She was prattling on in the most unconcerned and pleasant way,
whilst Sir Andrew, in an agony of mind, was racking his brains
as to the quickest method he could employ to get that bit of paper
out of that beautiful woman's hand. Instinctively, vague and tumultuous
thoughts rushed through his mind: he suddenly remembered her nationality,
and worst of all, recollected that horrible take anent the Marquis
de St. Cyr, which in England no one had credited, for the sake
of Sir Percy, as well as for her own.
"What? Still dreaming and staring?" she said, with a merry laugh,
"you are most ungallant, Sir Andrew; and now I come to think of
it, you seemed more startled than pleased when you saw me just
now. I do believe, after all, that it was not concern for my health,
nor yet a remedy taught you by your grandmother that caused you
to burn this tiny scrap of paper. . . . I vow it must have been
your lady love's last cruel epistle you were trying to destroy.
Now confess!" she added, playfully holding up the scrap of paper,
"does this contain her final CONGE, or a last appeal to kiss and
"Whichever it is, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, who was gradually
recovering his self-possession, "this little note is undoubtedly
mine, and. . ." Not caring whether his action was one that would
be styled ill-bred towards a lady, the young man had made a bold
dash for the note; but Marguerite's thoughts flew quicker than
his own; her actions under pressure of this intense excitement,
were swifter and more sure. She was tall and strong; she took
a quick step backwards and knocked over the small Sheraton table
which was already top-heavy, and which fell down with a crash,
together with the massive candelabra upon it.
She gave a quick cry of alarm:
"The candles, Sir Andrew--quick!"
There was not much damage done; one or two of the candles had
blown out as the candelabra fell; others had merely sent some
grease upon the valuable carpet; one had ignited the paper shade
aver it. Sir Andrew quickly and dexterously put out the flames
and replaced the candelabra upon the table; but this had taken
him a few seconds to do, and those seconds had been all that Marguerite
needed to cast a quick glance at the paper, and to note its contents--a
dozen words in the same distorted handwriting she had seen before,
and bearing the same device--a star-shaped flower drawn in red
When Sir Andrew once more looked at her, he only saw upon her
face alarm at the untoward accident and relief at its happy issue;
whilst the tiny and momentous note had apparently fluttered to
the ground. Eagerly the young man picked it up, and his face looked
much relieved, as his fingers closed tightly over it.
"For shame, Sir Andrew," she said, shaking her head with a playful
sigh, "making havoc in the heart of some impressionable duchess,
whilst conquering the affections of my sweet little Suzanne. Well,
well! I do believe it was Cupid himself who stood by you, and
threatened the entire Foreign Office with destruction by fire,
just on purpose to make me drop love's message, before it had
been polluted by my indiscreet eyes. To think that, a moment longer,
and I might have known the secrets of an erring duchess."
"You will forgive me, Lady Blakeney," said Sir Andrew, now as
calm as she was herself, "if I resume the interesting occupation
which you have interrupted?"
"By all means, Sir Andrew! How should I venture to thwart the
love-god again? Perhaps he would mete out some terrible chastisement
against my presumption. Burn your love-token, by all means!"
Sir Andrew had already twisted the paper into a long spill, and
was once again holding it to the flame of the candle, which had
remained alight. He did not notice the strange smile on the face
of his fair VIS-A-VIS, so intent was he on the work of destruction;
perhaps, had he done so, the look of relief would have faded from
his face. He watched the fateful note, as it curled under the
flame. Soon the last fragment fell on the floor, and he placed
his heel upon the ashes.
"And now, Sir Andrew," said Marguerite Blakeney, with the pretty
nonchalance peculiar to herself, and with the most winning of
smiles, "will you venture to excite the jealousy of your fair
lady by asking me to dance the minuet?"
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