Never for a moment did Marguerite Blakeney hesitate.
The last sounds outside the "Chat Gris" had died away in the night.
She had heard Desgas giving orders to his men, and then starting
off towards the fort, to get a reinforcement of a dozen more men:
six were not thought sufficient to capture the cunning Englishman,
whose resourceful brain was even more dangerous than his valour
and his strength.
Then a few minutes later, she heard the Jew's
husky voice again, evidently shouting to his nag, then the rumble
of wheels, and noise of a rickety cart bumping over the rough
Inside the inn, everything was still. Brogard
and his wife, terrified of Chauvelin, had given no sign of life;
they hoped to be forgotten, and at any rate to remain unperceived:
Marguerite could not even hear their usual volleys of muttered
She waited a moment or two longer, then she quietly
slipped down the broken stairs, wrapped her dark cloak closely
round her and slipped out of the inn.
The night was fairly dark, sufficiently so at
any rate to hide her dark figure from view, whilst her keen ears
kept count of the sound of the cart going on ahead. She hoped
by keeping well within the shadow of the ditches which lined the
road, that she would not be seen by Desgas' men, when they approached,
or by the patrols, which she concluded were still on duty.
Thus she started to do this, the last stage of
her weary journey, alone, at night, and on foot. Nearly three
leagues to Miquelon, and then on to the Pere Blanchard's hut,
wherever that fatal spot might be, probably over rough roads:
she cared not.
The Jew's nag could not get on very fast, and
though she was wary with mental fatigue and nerve strain, she
knew that she could easily keep up with it, on a hilly road, where
the poor beast, who was sure to be half-starved, would have to
be allowed long and frequent rests. The road lay some distance
from the sea, bordered on either side by shrubs and stunted trees,
sparsely covered with meagre foliage, all turning away from the
North, with their branches looking in the semi-darkness, like
stiff, ghostly hair, blown by a perpetual wind.
Fortunately, the moon showed no desire to peep
between the clouds, and Marguerite hugging the edge of the road,
and keeping close to the low line of shrubs, was fairly safe from
view. Everything around her was so still: only from far, very
far away, there came like a long soft moan, the sound of the distant
The air was keen and full of brine; after that
enforced period of inactivity, inside the evil-smelling, squalid
inn, Marguerite would have enjoyed the sweet scent of this autumnal
night, and the distant melancholy rumble of the autumnal night,
and the distant melancholy rumble of the waves; she would have
revelled in the calm and stillness of this lonely spot, a calm,
broken only at intervals by the strident and mournful cry of some
distant gull, and by the creaking of the wheels, some way down
the road: she would have loved the cool atmosphere, the peaceful
immensity of Nature, in this lonely part of the coast: but her
heart was too full of cruel foreboding, of a great ache and longing
for a being who had become infinitely dear to her.
Her feet slipped on the grassy bank, for she
thought it safest not to walk near the centre of the road, and
she found it difficult to keep up a sharp pace along the muddy
incline. She even thought it best not to keep too near to the
cart; everything was so still, that the rumble of the wheels could
not fail to be a safe guide.
The loneliness was absolute. Already the few
dim lights of Calais lay far behind, and on this road there was
not a sign of human habitation, not even the hut of a fisherman
or of a woodcutter anywhere near; far away on her right was the
edge of the cliff, below it the rough beach, against which the
incoming tide was dashing itself with its constant, distant murmur.
And ahead the rumble of the wheels, bearing an implacable enemy
to his triumph.
Marguerite wondered at what particular spot,
on this lonely coast, Percy could be at this moment. Not very
far surely, for he had had less than a quarter of an hour's start
of Chauvelin. She wondered if he knew that in this cool, ocean-scented
bit of France, there lurked many spies, all eager to sight his
tall figure, to track him to where his unsuspecting friends waited
for him, and then, to close the net over him and them.
Chauvelin, on ahead, jolted and jostled in the
Jew's vehicle, was nursing comfortable thoughts. He rubbed his
hands together, with content, as he thought of the web which he
had woven, and through which that ubiquitous and daring Englishman
could not hope to escape. As the time went on, and the old Jew
drove him leisurely but surely along the dark road, he felt more
and more eager for the grand finale of this exciting chase after
the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel. The capture of the audacious
plotter would be the finest leaf in Citoyen Chauvelin's wreath
of glory. Caught, red-handed, on the spot, in the very act of
aiding and abetting the traitors against the Republic of France,
the Englishman could claim no protection from his own country.
Chauvelin had, in any case, fully made up his mind that all intervention
should come too late.
Never for a moment did the slightest remorse
enter his heart, as to the terrible position in which he had placed
the unfortunate wife, who had unconsciously betrayed her husband.
As a matter of fact, Chauvelin had ceased even to think of her:
she had been a useful tool, that was all.
The Jew's lean nag did little more than walk.
She was going along at a slow jog trot, and her driver had to
give her long and frequent halts.
"Are we a long way yet from Miquelon?" asked Chauvelin
from time to time.
"Not very far, your Honour," was the uniform
"We have not yet come across your friend and
mine, lying in a heap in the roadway," was Chauvelin's sarcastic
"Patience, noble Excellency," rejoined the son
of Moses, "they are ahead of us. I can see the imprint of the
cart wheels, driven by that traitor, that son of the Amalekite."
"You are sure of the road?"
"As sure as I am of the presence of those ten
gold pieces in the noble Excellency's pockets, which I trust will
presently be mine."
"As soon as I have shaken hands with my friend
the tall stranger, they will certainly be yours."
"Hark, what was that?" said the Jew suddenly.
Through the stillness, which had been absolute,
there could now be heard distinctly the sound of horses' hoofs
on the muddy road.
"They are soldiers," he added in an awed whisper.
"Stop a moment, I want to hear," said Chauvelin.
Marguerite had also heard the sound of galloping
hoofs, coming towards the cart and towards herself. For some time
she had been on the alert thinking that Desgas and his squad would
soon overtake them, but these came from the opposite direction,
presumably from Miquelon. The darkness lent her sufficient cover.
She had perceived that the cart had stopped, and with utmost caution,
treading noiselessly on the soft road, she crept a little nearer.
Her heart was beating fast, she was trembling
in every limb; already she had guessed what news these mounted
men would bring. "Every stranger on these roads or on the beach
must be shadowed, especially if he be tall or stoops as if he
would disguise his height; when sighted a mounted messenger must
at once ride back and report." Those had been Chauvelin's orders.
Had then the tall stranger been sighted, and was this the mounted
messenger, come to bring the great news, that the hunted hare
had run its head into the noose at last?"
Marguerite, realizing that the cart had come to
a standstill, managed to slip nearer to it in the darkness; she
crept close up, hoping to get within earshot, to hear what the
messenger had to say.
She heard the quick words of challenge--
"Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite!" then Chauvelin's
Two men on horseback had halted beside the vehicle.
Marguerite could see them silhouetted against
the midnight sky. She could hear their voices, and the snorting
of their horses, and now, behind her, some little distance off,
the regular and measured tread of a body of advancing men: Desgas
and his soldiers.
There had been a long pause, during which, no
doubt, Chauvelin satisfied the men as to his identity, for presently,
questions and answers followed each other in quick succession.
"You have seen the stranger?" asked Chauvelin,
"No, citoyen, we have seen no tall stranger; we
came by the edge of the cliff."
"Less than a quarter of a league beyond Miquelon,
we came across a rough construction of wood, which looked like
the hut of a fisherman, where he might keep his tools and nets.
When we first sighted it, it seemed to be empty, and, at first
we thought that there was nothing suspicious about, until we saw
some smoke issuing through an aperture at the side. I dismounted
and crept close to it. It was then empty, but in one corner of
the hut, there was a charcoal fire, and a couple of stools were
also in the hut. I consulted with my comrades, and we decided
that they should take cover with the horses, well out of sight,
and that I should remain on the watch, which I did."
"Well! and did you see anything?"
"About half an hour later, I heard voices, citoyen,
and presently, two men came along towards the edge of the cliff;
they seemed to me to have come from the Lille Road. One was young,
the other quite old. They were talking in a whisper, to one another,
and I could not hear what they said." One was young, and the other
quite old. Marguerite's aching heart almost stopped beating as
she listened: was the young one Armand?--her brother?--and the
old one de Tournay--were they the two fugitives who, unconsciously,
were used as a decoy, to entrap their fearless and noble rescuer.
"The two men presently went into the hut," continued
the soldier, whilst Marguerite's aching nerves seemed to catch
the sound of Chauvelin's triumphant chuckle, "and I crept nearer
to it then. The hut is very roughly built, and I caught snatches
of their conversation."
"Yes?--Quick!--What did you hear?"
"The old man asked the young one if he were sure
that was right place. `Oh, yes,' he replied, `'tis the place sure
enough,' and by the light of the charcoal fire he showed to his
companion a paper, which he carried. `Here is the plan,' he said,
`which he gave me before I left London. We were to adhere strictly
to that plan, unless I had contrary orders, and I have had none.
Here is the road we followed, see. . .here the fork. . .here we
cut across the St. Martin Road. . .and here is the footpath which
brought us to the edge of the cliff.' I must have made a slight
noise then, for the young man came to the door of the hut, and
peered anxiously all round him. When he again joined his companion,
they whispered so low, that I could no longer hear them."
"Well?--and?" asked Chauvelin, impatiently.
"There were six of us altogether, patrolling
that part of the beach, so we consulted together, and thought
it best that four should remain behind and keep the hut in sight,
and I and my comrade rode back at once to make report of what
we had seen."
"You saw nothing of the tall stranger?"
"If your comrades see him, what would they do?"
"Not lose sight of him for a moment, and if he
showed signs of escape, or any boat came in sight, they would
close in on him, and, if necessary, they would shoot: the firing
would bring the rest of the patrol to the spot. In any case they
would not let the stranger go."
"Aye! but I did not want the stranger hurt--not
just yet," murmured Chauvelin, savagely, "but there, you've done
your best. The Fates grant that I may not be too late. . . ."
"We met half a dozen men just now, who have been
patrolling this road for several hours."
"They have seen no stranger either." "Yet he
is on ahead somewhere, in a cart or else. . .Here! there is not
a moment to lose. How far is that hut from here?"
"About a couple of leagues, citoyen."
"You can find it again?--at once?--without hesitation?"
"I have absolutely no doubt, citoyen."
"The footpath, to the edge of the cliff?--Even
in the dark?"
"It is not a dark night, citoyen, and I know
I can find my way," repeated the soldier firmly.
"Fall in behind then. Let your comrade take both
your horses back to Calais. You won't want them. Keep beside the
cart, and direct the Jew to drive straight ahead; then stop him,
within a quarter of a league of the footpath; see that he takes
the most direct road."
Whilst Chauvelin spoke, Desgas and his men were
fast approaching, and Marguerite could hear their footsteps within
a hundred yards behind her now. She thought it unsafe to stay
where she was, and unnecessary too, as she had heard enough. She
seemed suddenly to have lost all faculty even for suffering: her
heart, her nerves, her brain seemed to have become numb after
all these hours of ceaseless anguish, culminating in this awful
For now there was absolutely not the faintest
hope. Within two short leagues of this spot, the fugitives were
waiting for their brave deliverer. He was on his way, somewhere
on this lonely road, and presently he would join them; then the
well-laid trap would close, two dozen men, led by one whose hatred
was as deadly as his cunning was malicious, would close round
the small band of fugitives, and their daring leader. They would
all be captured. Armand, according to Chauvelin's pledged word
would be restored to her, but her husband, Percy, whom with every
breath she drew she seemed to love and worship more and more,
he would fall into the hands of a remorseless enemy, who had no
pity for a brave heart, no admiration for the courage of a noble
soul, who would show nothing but hatred for the cunning antagonist,
who had baffled him so long.
She heard the soldier giving a few brief directions
to the Jew, then she retired quickly to the edge of the road,
and cowered behind some low shrubs, whilst Desgas and his men
All fell in noiselessly behind the cart, and
slowly they all started down the dark road. Marguerite waited
until she reckoned that they were well outside the range of earshot,
then, she too in the darkness, which suddenly seemed to have become
more intense, crept noiselessly along.
to Chapter 28 - THE PERE BLANCHARD'S HUT
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