At what particular moment the strange doubt first
crept into Marguerite's mind, she could not herself have said.
With the ring tightly clutched in her hand, she had run out of
the room, down the stairs, and out into the garden, where, in
complete seclusion, alone with the flowers, and the river and
the birds, she could look again at the ring, and study that device
Stupidly, senselessly, now, sitting beneath the
shade of an overhanging sycamore, she was looking at the plain
gold shield, with the star-shaped little flower engraved upon
Bah! It was ridiculous! she was dreaming! her
nerves were overwrought, and she saw signs and mysteries in the
most trivial coincidences. Had not everybody about town recently
made a point of affecting the device of that mysterious and heroic
Did she herself wear it embroidered on her gowns?
set in gems and enamel in her hair? What was there strange in
the fact that Sir Percy should have chosen to use the device as
a seal-ring? He might easily have done that. . .yes. . .quite
easily. . .and. . . besides. . .what connection could there be
between her exquisite dandy of a husband, with his fine clothes
and refined, lazy ways, and the daring plotter who rescued French
victims from beneath the very eyes of the leaders of a bloodthirsty
Her thoughts were in a whirl--her mind a blank.
. .She did not see anything that was going on around her, and
was quite startled when a fresh young voice called to her across
"CHERIE!--CHERIE! where are you?" and little
Suzanne, fresh as a rosebud, with eyes dancing with glee, and
brown curls fluttering in the soft morning breeze, came running
across the lawn.
"They told me you were in the garden," she went
on prattling merrily, and throwing herself with a pretty, girlish
impulse into Marguerite's arms, "so I ran out to give you a surprise.
You did not expect me quite so soon, did you, my darling little
Marguerite, who had hastily concealed the ring
in the folds of her kerchief, tried to respond gaily and unconcernedly
to the young girl's impulsiveness.
"Indeed, sweet one," she said with a smile, "it
is delightful to have you all to myself, and for a nice whole
long day. . . . You won't be bored?" "Oh! bored! Margot, how CAN
you say such a wicked thing. Why! when we were in the dear old
convent together, we were always happy when we were allowed to
be alone together."
"And to talk secrets."
The two young girls had linked their arms in
one another's and began wandering round the garden.
"Oh! how lovely your home is, Margot, darling,"
said little Suzanne, enthusiastically, "and how happy you must
"Aye, indeed! I ought to be happy--oughtn't I,
sweet one?" said Marguerite, with a wistful little sigh.
"How sadly you say it, CHERIE. . . . Ah, well,
I suppose now that you are a married woman you won't care to talk
secrets with me any longer. Oh! what lots and lots of secrets
we used to have at school! Do you remember?--some we did not even
confide to Sister Theresa of the Holy Angels--though she was such
"And now you have one all-important secret, eh,
little one?" said Marguerite, merrily, "which you are forthwith
going to confide in me. nay, you need not blush, CHERIE." she
added, as she saw Suzanne's pretty little face crimson with blushes.
"Faith, there's naught to be ashamed of! He is a noble and true
man, and one to be proud of as a lover, and. . .as a husband."
"Indeed, CHERIE, I am not ashamed," rejoined
Suzanne, softly; "and it makes me very, very proud to hear you
speak so well of him. I think maman will consent," she added thoughtfully,
"and I shall be--oh! so happy--but, of course, nothing is to be
thought of until papa is safe. . . ."
Marguerite started. Suzanne's father! the Comte
de Tournay!--one of those whose life would be jeopardised if Chauvelin
succeeded in establishing the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
She had understood all along from the Comtesse,
and also from one or two of the members of the league, that their
mysterious leader had pledged his honour to bring the fugitive
Comte de Tournay safely out of France. Whilst little Suzanne--unconscious
of all--save her own all-important little secret, went prattling
on. Marguerite's thoughts went back to the events of the past
Armand's peril, Chauvelin's threat, his cruel
"Either--or--" which she had accepted.
And then her own work in the matter, which should
have culminated at one o'clock in Lord Grenville's dining-room,
when the relentless agent of the French Government would finally
learn who was this mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, who so openly
defied an army of spies and placed himself so boldly, and for
mere sport, on the side of the enemies of France.
Since then she had heard nothing from Chauvelin.
She had concluded that he had failed, and yet, she had not felt
anxious about Armand, because her husband had promised her that
Armand would be safe.
But now, suddenly, as Suzanne prattled merrily
along, an awful horror came upon her for what she had done. Chauvelin
had told her nothing, it was true; but she remembered how sarcastic
and evil he looked when she took final leave of him after the
ball. Had he discovered something then? Had he already laid his
plans for catching the daring plotter, red-handed, in France,
and sending him to the guillotine without compunction or delay?
Marguerite turned sick with horror, and her hand
convulsively clutched the ring in her dress.
"You are not listening, CHERIE," said Suzanne,
reproachfully, as she paused in her long, highly interesting narrative.
"Yes, yes, darling--indeed I am," said Marguerite
with an effort, forcing herself to smile." "I love to hear you
talking. . . and your happiness makes me so very glad. . . . Have
no fear, we will manage to propitiate maman. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
is a noble English gentleman; he has money and position, the Comtesse
will not refuse her consent. . . . But. . .now, little one. .
.tell me. . . what is the latest news about your father?"
"Oh!" said Suzanne with mad glee, "the best we
could possibly hear. My Lord Hastings came to see maman early
this morning. He said that all is now well with dear papa, and
we may safely expect him here in England in less than four days."
"Yes," said Marguerite, whose glowing eyes were
fastened on Suzanne's lips, as she continued merrily:
"Oh, we have no fear now! You don't know, CHERIE,
that that great and noble Scarlet Pimpernel himself has gone to
save papa. He has gone, CHERIE. . .actually gone. . ." added Suzanne
excitedly, "He was in London this morning; he will be in Calais,
perhaps, to-morrow. . .where he will meet papa. . .and then. .
.and then. . ."
The blow had fallen. She had expected it all
along, though she had tried for the last half-hour to delude herself
and to cheat her fears. He had gone to Calais, had been in London
this morning. . .he. . .the Scarlet Pimpernel. . .Percy Blakeney.
. .her husband. . .whom she had betrayed last night to Chauvelin.
Percy. . .Percy. . .her husband. . .the Scarlet
Pimpernel. . . Oh! how could she have been so blind? She understood
it all now--all at once. . .that part he played--the mask he wore.
. .in order to throw dust in everybody's eyes.
And all for the sheer sport and devilry of course!--saving
men, women and children from death, as other men destroy and kill
animals for the excitement, the love of the thing. The idle, rich
man wanted some aim in life--he, and the few young bucks he enrolled
under his banner, had amused themselves for months in risking
their lives for the sake of an innocent few.
Perhaps he had meant to tell her when they were
first married; and then the story of the Marquis de St. Cyr had
come to his ears, and he had suddenly turned from her, thinking,
no doubt, that she might someday betray him and his comrades,
who had sworn to follow him; and so he had tricked her, as he
tricked all others, whilst hundreds now owed their lives to him,
and many families owed him both life and happiness.
The mask of an inane fop had been a good one,
and the part consummately well played. No wonder that Chauvelin's
spies had failed to detect, in the apparently brainless nincompoop,
the man whose reckless daring and resourceful ingenuity had baffled
the keenest French spies, both in France and in England. Even
last night when Chauvelin went to Lord Grenville's dining-room
to seek that daring Scarlet Pimpernel, he only saw that inane
Sir Percy Blakeney fast asleep in a corner of the sofa.
Had his astute mind guessed the secret, then?
Here lay the whole awful, horrible, amazing puzzle. In betraying
a nameless stranger to his fate in order to save her brother,
had Marguerite Blakeney sent her husband to his death?
No! no! no! a thousand times no! Surely Fate
could not deal a blow like that: Nature itself would rise in revolt:
her hand, when it held that tiny scrap of paper last night, would
have surely have been struck numb ere it committed a deed so appalling
and so terrible.
"But what is it, CHERIE?" said little Suzanne,
now genuinely alarmed, for Marguerite's colour had become dull
and ashen. "Are you ill, Marguerite? What is it?"
"Nothing, nothing, child," she murmured, as in
a dream. "Wait a moment. . .let me think. . .think!. . .You said.
. .the Scarlet Pimpernel had gone today. . . . ?"
"Marguerite, CHERIE, what is it? You frighten
me. . . ."
"It is nothing, child, I tell you. . .nothing.
. .I must be alone a minute--and--dear one. . .I may have to curtail
our time together to-day. . . . I may have to go away--you'll
"I understand that something has happened, CHERIE,
and that you want to be alone. I won't be a hindrance to you.
Don't think of me. My maid, Lucile, has not yet gone. . .we will
go back together. . .don't think of me."
She threw her arms impulsively round Marguerite.
Child as she was, she felt the poignancy of her friend's grief,
and with the infinite tact of her girlish tenderness, she did
not try to pry into it, but was ready to efface herself.
She kissed Marguerite again and again, then walked
sadly back across the lawn. Marguerite did not move, she remained
there, thinking. . .wondering what was to be done.
Just as little Suzanne was about to mount the
terrace steps, a groom came running round the house towards his
mistress. He carried a sealed letter in his hand. Suzanne instinctively
turned back; her heart told her that here perhaps was further
ill news for her friend, and she felt that poor Margot was not
in a fit state to bear any more.
The groom stood respectfully beside his mistress,
then he handed her the sealed letter.
"What is that?" asked Marguerite.
"Just come by runner, my lady."
Marguerite took the letter mechanically, and
turned it over in her trembling fingers.
"Who sent it?" she said.
"The runner said, my lady," replied the groom,
"that his orders were to deliver this, and that your ladyship
would understand from whom it came."
Marguerite tore open the envelope. Already her
instinct told her what it contained, and her eyes only glanced
at it mechanically.
It was a letter by Armand St. Just to Sir Andrew
Ffoulkes--the letter which Chauvelin's spies had stolen at "The
Fisherman's Rest," and which Chauvelin had held as a rod over
her to enforce her obedience.
Now he had kept his word--he had sent her back
St. Just's compromising letter. . .for he was on the track of
the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Marguerite's senses reeled, her very soul seemed
to be leaving her body; she tottered, and would have fallen but
for Suzanne's arm round her waist. With superhuman effort she
regained control over herself--there was yet much to be done.
"Bring that runner here to me," she said to the
servant, with much calm. "He has not gone?"
"No, my lady."
The groom went, and Marguerite turned to Suzanne.
"And you, child, run within. Tell Lucile to get
ready. I fear that I must send you home, child. And--stay, tell
one of the maids to prepare a travelling dress and cloak for me."
Suzanne made no reply. She kissed Marguerite
tenderly and obeyed without a word; the child was overawed by
the terrible, nameless misery in her friend's face.
A minute later the groom returned, followed by
the runner who had brought the letter.
"Who gave you this packet?" asked Marguerite.
"A gentleman, my lady," replied the man, "at
`The Rose and Thistle' inn opposite Charing Cross. He said you
"At `The Rose and Thistle'? What was he doing?"
"He was waiting for the coach, you ladyship,
which he had ordered."
"Yes, my lady. A special coach he had ordered.
I understood from his man that he was posting straight to Dover."
"That's enough. You may go." Then she turned
to the groom: "My coach and the four swiftest horses in the stables,
to be ready at once."
The groom and runner both went quickly off to
Marguerite remained standing for a moment on
the lawn quite alone. Her graceful figure was as rigid as a statue,
her eyes were fixed, her hands were tightly clasped across her
breast; her lips moved as they murmured with pathetic heart-breaking
"What's to be done? What's to be done? Where
to find him?--Oh, God! grant me light."
But this was not the moment for remorse and despair.
She had done--unwittingly--an awful and terrible thing--the very
worst crime, in her eyes, that woman ever committed--she saw it
in all its horror. Her very blindness in not having guessed her
husband's secret seemed now to her another deadly sin. She ought
to have known! she ought to have known!
How could she imagine that a man who could love
with so much intensity as Percy Blakeney had loved her from the
first--how could such a man be the brainless idiot he chose to
appear? She, at least, ought to have known that he was wearing
a mask, and having found that out, she should have torn it from
his face, whenever they were alone together.
Her love for him had been paltry and weak, easily
crushed by her own pride; and she, too, had worn a mask in assuming
a contempt for him, whilst, as a matter of fact, she completely
But there was no time now to go over the past.
By her own blindness she had sinned; now she must repay, not by
empty remorse, but by prompt and useful action.
Percy had started for Calais, utterly unconscious
of the fact that his most relentless enemy was on his heels. He
had set sail early that morning from London Bridge. Provided he
had a favourable wind, he would no doubt be in France within twenty-four
hours; no doubt he had reckoned on the wind and chosen this route.
Chauvelin, on the other hand, would post to Dover,
charter a vessel there, and undoubtedly reach Calais much about
the same time. Once in Calais, Percy would meet all those who
were eagerly waiting for the noble and brave Scarlet Pimpernel,
who had come to rescue them from horrible and unmerited death.
With Chauvelin's eyes now fixed upon his every movement, Percy
would thus not only be endangering his own life, but that of Suzanne's
father, the old Comte de Tournay, and of those other fugitives
who were waiting for him and trusting in him. There was also Armand,
who had gone to meet de Tournay, secure in the knowledge that
the Scarlet Pimpernel was watching over his safety.
All these lives and that of her husband, lay
in Marguerite's hands; these she must save, if human pluck and
ingenuity were equal to the task.
Unfortunately, she could not do all this quite
alone. Once in Calais she would not know where to find her husband,
whilst Chauvelin, in stealing the papers at Dover, had obtained
the whole itinerary. Above every thing, she wished to warn Percy.
She knew enough about him by now to understand
that he would never abandon those who trusted in him, that he
would not turn his back from danger, and leave the Comte de Tournay
to fall into the bloodthirsty hands that knew of no mercy. But
if he were warned, he might form new plans, be more wary, more
prudent. Unconsciously, he might fall into a cunning trap, but--once
warned--he might yet succeed.
And if he failed--if indeed Fate, and Chauvelin,
with all the resources at his command, proved too strong for the
daring plotter after all--then at least she would be there by
his side, to comfort, love and cherish, to cheat death perhaps
at the last by making it seem sweet, if they died both together,
locked in each other's arms, with the supreme happiness of knowing
that passion had responded to passion, and that all misunderstandings
were at an end.
Her whole body stiffened as with a great and
firm resolution. This she meant to do, if God gave her wits and
strength. Her eyes lost their fixed look; they glowed with inward
fire at the thought of meeting him again so soon, in the very
midst of most deadly perils; they sparkled with the joy of sharing
these dangers with him--of helping him perhaps--of being with
him at the last--if she failed.
The childlike sweet face had become hard and
set, the curved mouth was closed tightly over her clenched teeth.
She meant to do or die, with him and for his sake. A frown, which
spoke of an iron will and unbending resolution, appeared between
the two straight brows; already her plans were formed. She would
go and find Sir Andrew Ffoulkes first; he was Percy's best friend,
and Marguerite remembered, with a thrill, with what blind enthusiasm
the young man always spoke of his mysterious leader.
He would help her where she needed help; her
coach was ready. A change of raiment, and a farewell to little
Suzanne, and she could be on her way.
Without haste, but without hesitation, she walked
quietly into the house.
to Chapter 20 - THE FRIEND
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