Marguerite's breath stopped short; she seemed to
feel her very life standing still momentarily whilst she listened
to that voice and to that song. In the singer she had recognised
her husband. Chauvelin, too, had heard it, for he darted a quick
glance towards the door, then hurriedly took up his broad-brimmed
hat and clapped it over his head.
The voice drew nearer; for one brief second the
wild desire seized Marguerite to rush down the steps and fly across
the room, to stop that song at any cost, to beg the cheerful singer
to fly--fly for his life, before it be too late. She checked the
impulse just in time. Chauvelin would stop her before she reached
the door, and, moreover, she had no idea if he had any soldiers
posted within his call. Her impetuous act might prove the death-signal
of the man she would have died to save.
"Long reign over us, God save the King!"
sang the voice more lustily than ever. The next
moment the door was thrown open and there was dead silence for
a second or so.
Marguerite could not see the door; she held her
breath, trying to imagine what was happening.
Percy Blakeney on entering had, of course, at
once caught sight of the CURE at the table; his hesitation lasted
less than five seconds, the next moment, Marguerite saw his tall
figure crossing the room, whilst he called in a loud, cheerful
"Hello, there! no one about? Where's that fool
He wore the magnificent coat and riding-suit
which he had on when Marguerite last saw him at Richmond, so many
hours ago. As usual, his get-up was absolutely irreproachable,
the fine Mechlin lace at his neck and wrists were immaculate and
white, his fair hair was carefully brushed, and he carried his
eyeglass with his usual affected gesture. In fact, at this moment,
Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., might have been on his way to a garden-party
at the Prince of Wales', instead of deliberately, cold-bloodedly
running his head in a trap, set for him by his deadliest enemy.
He stood for a moment in the middle of the room,
whilst Marguerite, absolutely paralysed with horror, seemed unable
even to breathe.
Every moment she expected that Chauvelin would
give a signal, that the place would fill with soldiers, that she
would rush down and help Percy to sell his life dearly. As he
stood there, suavely unconscious, she very nearly screamed out
"Fly, Percy!--'tis your deadly enemy!--fly before
it be too late!"
But she had not time even to do that, for the
next moment Blakeney quietly walked to the table, and, jovially
clapped the CURE on the back, said in his own drawly, affected
"Odds's fish!. . .er. . .M. Chauvelin. . . . I
vow I never thought of meeting you here."
Chauvelin, who had been in the very act of conveying
soup to his mouth, fairly choked. His thin face became absolutely
purple, and a violent fit of coughing saved this cunning representative
of France from betraying the most boundless surprise he had ever
experienced. There was no doubt that this bold move on the part
of the enemy had been wholly unexpected, as far as he was concerned:
and the daring impudence of it completely nonplussed him for the
Obviously he had not taken the precaution of having
the inn surrounded with soldiers. Blakeney had evidently guessed
that much, and no doubt his resourceful brain had already formed
some plan by which he could turn this unexpected interview to
Marguerite up in the loft had not moved. She
had made a solemn promise to Sir Andrew not to speak to her husband
before strangers, and she had sufficient self-concontrol not to
throw herself unreasoningly and impulsively across his plans.
To sit still and watch these two men together was a terrible trial
of fortitude. Marguerite had heard Chauvelin give the orders for
the patrolling of all the roads. She knew that if Percy now left
the "Chat Gris"--in whatever direction he happened to go--he could
not go far without being sighted by some of Captain Jutley's men
on patrol. On the other hand, if he stayed, then Desgas would
have time to come back with the dozen men Chauvelin had specially
The trap was closing in, and Marguerite could
do nothing but watch and wonder. The two men looked such a strange
contrast, and of the two it was Chauvelin who exhibited a slight
touch of fear. Marguerite knew him well enough to guess what was
passing in his mind. He had no fear for his own person, although
he certainly was alone in a lonely inn with a man who was powerfully
built, and who was daring and reckless beyond the bounds of probability.
She knew that Chauvelin would willingly have braved perilous encounters
for the sake of the cause he had at heart, but what he did fear
was that this impudent Englishman would, by knocking him down,
double his own chances of escape; his underlings might not succeed
so sell in capturing the Scarlet Pimpernel, when not directed
by the cunning hand and the shrewd brain, which had deadly hate
for an incentive.
Evidently, however, the representative of the
French Government had nothing to fear for the moment, at the hands
of his powerful adversary. Blakeney, with his most inane laugh
and pleasant good-nature, was solemnly patting him on the back.
"I am so demmed sorry. . ." he was saying cheerfully,
"so very sorry. . .I seem to have upset you. . .eating soup, too.
. .nasty, awkward thing, soup. . .er. . .Begad!--a friend of mine
died once. . . er. . .choked. . .just like you. . .with a spoonful
And he smiled shyly, good-humouredly, down at
"Odd's life!" he continued, as soon as the latter
had somewhat recovered himself, "beastly hole this. . .ain't it
now? La! you don't mind?" he added, apologetically, as he sat
down on a chair close to the table and drew the soup tureen towards
him. "That fool Brogard seems to be asleep or something."
There was a second plate on the table, and he
calmly helped himself to soup, then poured himself out a glass
For a moment Marguerite wondered what Chauvelin
would do. His disguise was so good that perhaps he meant, on recovering
himself, to deny his identity: but Chauvelin was too astute to
make such an obviously false and childish move, and already he
too had stretched out his hand and said pleasantly,--
"I am indeed charmed to see you Sir Percy. You
must excuse me--h'm--I thought you the other side of the Channel.
Sudden surprise almost took my breath away."
"La!" said Sir Percy, with a good-humoured grin,
"it did that quite, didn't it--er--M.--er--Chaubertin?"
"I beg pardon--a thousand times. Yes--Chauvelin
of course. . . . Er. . .I never could cotton to foreign names.
. . ."
He was calmly eating his soup, laughing with
pleasant good-humour, as if he had come all the way to Calais
for the express purpose of enjoying supper at this filthy inn,
in the company of his arch-enemy.
For the moment Marguerite wondered why Percy
did not knock the little Frenchman down then and there--and no
doubt something of the sort must have darted through his mind,
for every now and then his lazy eyes seemed to flash ominously,
as they rested on the slight figure of Chauvelin, who had now
quite recovered himself and was also calmly eating his soup.
But the keen brain, which had planned and carried
through so many daring plots, was too far-seeing to take unnecessary
risks. This place, after all, might be infested with spies; the
innkeeper might be in Chauvelin's pay. One call on Chauvelin's
part might bring twenty men about Blakeney's ears for aught he
knew, and he might be caught and trapped before he could help,
or, at least, warn the fugitives. This he would not risk; he meant
to help the others, to get THEM safely away; for he had pledged
his word to them, and his word he WOULD keep. And whilst he ate
and chatted, he thought and planned, whilst, up in the loft, the
poor, anxious woman racked her brain as to what she should do,
and endured agonies of longing to rush down to him, yet not daring
to move for fear of upsetting his plans.
"I didn't know," Blakeney was saying jovially,
"that you. . . er. . .were in holy orders."
"I. . .er. . .hem. . ." stammered Chauvelin. The
calm impudence of his antagonist had evidently thrown him off
his usual balance.
"But, la! I should have known you anywhere,"
continued Sir Percy, placidly, as he poured himself out another
glass of wine, "although the wig and hat have changed you a bit."
"Do you think so?"
"Lud! they alter a man so. . .but. . .begad!
I hope you don't mind my having made the remark?. . .Demmed bad
form making remarks. . . . I hope you don't mind?"
"No, no, not at all--hem! I hope Lady Blakeney
is well," said Chauvelin, hurriedly changing the topic of conversation.
Blakeney, with much deliberation, finished his
plate of soup, drank his glass of wine, and, momentarily, it seemed
to Marguerite as if he glanced all round the room. "Quite well,
thank you," he said at last, drily. There was a pause, during
which Marguerite could watch these two antagonists who, evidently
in their minds, were measuring themselves against one another.
She could see Percy almost full face where he sat at the table
not ten yards from where she herself was crouching, puzzled, not
knowing what to do, or what she should think. She had quite controlled
her impulse now of rushing down hand disclosing herself to her
husband. A man capable of acting a part, in the way he was doing
at the present moment, did not need a woman's word to warn him
to be cautious.
Marguerite indulged in the luxury, dear to every
tender woman's heart, of looking at the man she loved. She looked
through the tattered curtain, across at the handsome face of her
husband, in whose lazy blue eyes, and behind whose inane smile,
she could now so plainly see the strength, energy, and resourcefulness
which had caused the Scarlet Pimpernel to be reverenced and trusted
by his followers. "There are nineteen of us ready to lay down
our lives for your husband, Lady Blakeney," Sir Andrew had said
to her; and as she looked at the forehead, low, but square and
broad, the eyes, blue, yet deep-set and intense, the whole aspect
of the man, of indomitable energy, hiding, behind a perfectly
acted comedy, his almost superhuman strength of will and marvellous
ingenuity, she understood the fascination which he exercised over
his followers, for had he not also cast his spells over her heart
and her imagination?
Chauvelin, who was trying to conceal his impatience
beneath his usual urbane manner, took a quick look at his watch.
Desgas should not be long: another two or three minutes, and this
impudent Englishman would be secure in the keeping of half a dozen
of Captain Jutley's most trusted men.
"You are on your way to Paris, Sir Percy?" he
"Odd's life, no," replied Blakeney, with a laugh.
"Only as far as Lille--not Paris for me. . .beastly uncomfortable
place Paris, just now. . .eh, Monsieur Chaubertin. . .beg pardon.
"Not for an English gentleman like yourself,
Sir Percy," rejoined Chauvelin, sarcastically, "who takes no interest
in the conflict that is raging there."
"La! you see it's no business of mine, and our
demmed government is all on your side of the business. Old Pitt
daren't say 'Bo' to a goose. You are in a hurry, sir," he added,
as Chauvelin once again took out his watch; "an appointment, perhaps.
. . . I pray you take no heed of me. . . . My time's my own."
He rose from the table and dragged a chair to
the hearth. Once more Marguerite was terribly tempted to go to
him, for time was getting on; Desgas might be back at any moment
with his men. Percy did not know that and. . .oh! how horrible
it all was--and how helpless she felt.
"I am in no hurry," continued Percy, pleasantly,
"but, la! I don't want to spend any more time than I can help
in this God-forsaken hole! But, begad! sir," he added, as Chauvelin
had surreptitiously looked at his watch for the third time, "that
watch of yours won't go any faster for all the looking you give
it. You are expecting a friend, maybe?"
"Not a lady--I trust, Monsieur l'Abbe," laughed
Blakeney; "surely the holy church does not allow?. . .eh?. . .what!
But, I say, come by the fire. . .it's getting demmed cold."
He kicked the fire with the heel of his boot,
making the logs blaze in the old hearth. He seemed in no hurry
to go, and apparently was quite unconscious of his immediate danger.
He dragged another chair to the fire, and Chauvelin, whose impatience
was by now quite beyond control, sat down beside the hearth, in
such a way as to command a view of the door. Desgas had been gone
nearly a quarter of an hour. It was quite plane to Marguerite's
aching senses that as soon as he arrived, Chauvelin would abandon
all his other plans with regard to the fugitives, and capture
this impudent Scarlet Pimpernel at once.
"Hey, M. Chauvelin," the latter was saying arily,
"tell me, I pray you, is your friend pretty? Demmed smart these
little French women sometimes--what? But I protest I need not
ask," he added, as he carelessly strode back towards the supper-table.
"In matters of taste the Church has never been backward. . . .
But Chauvelin was not listening. His every faculty
was now concentrated on that door through which presently Desgas
would enter. Marguerite's thoughts, too, were centered there,
for her ears had suddenly caught, through the stillness of the
night, the sound of numerous and measured treads some distance
It was Desgas and his men. Another three minutes
and they would be here! Another three minutes and the awful thing
would have occurred: the brave eagle would have fallen in the
ferret's trap! She would have moved now and screamed, but she
dared not; for whilst she heard the soldiers approaching, she
was looking at Percy and watching his every movement. He was standing
by the table whereon the remnants of the supper, plates, glasses,
spoons, salt and pepper-pots were scattered pell-mell. His back
was turned to Chauvelin and he was still prattling along in his
own affected and inane way, but from his pocket he had taken his
snuff-box, and quickly and suddenly he emptied the contents of
the pepper-pot into it.
Then he again turned with an inane laugh to Chauvelin,--
"Eh? Did you speak, sir?"
Chauvelin had been too intent on listening to
the sound of those approaching footsteps, to notice what his cunning
adversary had been doing. He now pulled himself together, trying
to look unconcerned in the very midst of his anticipated triumph.
"No," he said presently, "that is--as you were saying, Sir Percy--?"
"I was saying," said Blakeney, going up to Chauvelin,
by the fire, "that the Jew in Piccadilly has sold me better snuff
this time than I have ever tasted. Will you honour me, Monsieur
He stood close to Chauvelin in his own careless,
DEBONNAIRE way, holding out his snuff-box to his arch-enemy.
Chauvelin, who, as he told Marguerite once, had
seen a trick or two in his day, had never dreamed of this one.
With one ear fixed on those fast-approaching footsteps, one eye
turned to that door where Desgas and his men would presently appear,
lulled into false security by the impudent Englishman's airy manner,
he never even remotely guessed the trick which was being played
He took a pinch of snuff.
Only he, who has ever by accident sniffed vigorously
a dose of pepper, can have the faintest conception of the hopeless
condition in which such a sniff would reduce any human being.
Chauvelin felt as if his head would burst--sneeze
after sneeze seemed nearly to choke him; he was blind, deaf, and
dumb for the moment, and during that moment Blakeney quietly,
without the slightest haste, took up his hat, took some money
out of his pocket, which he left on the table, then calmly stalked
out of the room!
to Chapter 26 - THE JEW
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